I’m having my morning coffee at my desk in New Mexico and talking on the phone to my sister Hope, who’s on horseback in Montana.
When the phone rang, I was thinking about a funeral for a young woman, daughter of a friend, in a small village church, just south of Santa Fe.
Sometimes during the Sunday service, my eyes went to the window and the green slopes beyond the blue-roofed church. Remembering someone suddenly gone at 42 can make you wonder how you happen to be there at 65. Whatever ails you fades away when you look at the aching family in the front row.
My focus returned when the priest and the father and friends talk about beauty and art and joy in life, the spirit of the departed daughter. We sat on worn, wooden pews that look like they might have been carpentered by parishioners. It was a lovely service, short but heartfelt, in the rocky, cedar and pine-covered foothills, close to home, where she grew up.
Her father told a story of taking her to a big museum as a child, years before she went to Chicago for an advanced degree in art. The young girl broke into tears as she turned in a room, he said, overwhelmed by so much beautiful work.
I eagerly visited before and after the service with new acquaintances and friends of 40 years, but I am talked out by the time I reach home. I photograph the evening sky but can write only three words with certainty: “The light tonight.”
My friend Isabel spots the photograph among my posts about the funeral and other somber things on the Internet and emails me the Navajo prayer that begins, “In beauty may I walk…”
I wake this morning fearing that beauty is only a consolation less painful than love. But I also tell myself to believe in both.
I talk happily with my sister about weather and family, my young nephew’s baseball life, his dad’s summer guiding, her birthday two days away and the prospects of a brooding hen. It’s been wet this spring in Montana, too.
She reminds me of the view over the valley from where she sits her horse. And she recalls what her cowboy father used to say as he surveyed Montana landscapes in May or June.
“It’s as green as it’ll ever get,” he said.
*Note on photos: The photo of the church at Cañada de Los Alamos was not copyrighted or otherwise credited and pulled from the Internet. The Sandia sunset photo, like all of my photos, is from my iPhone or point-and-shoot.