An older woman was walking uphill in the Père Lachaise Cemetery this past Tuesday. There may have been a couple of people also part of her party, but they were not sticking with her. Nevertheless she was gently smiling as she put one step in front of the other. Her weight would not have made that any easier.
I want to look all right.
I also want to know what I am about. A friend had accompanied me for his first visit to Père Lachaise, and I had thought I knew where to pick up the map to guide us to Maria Callas and Simone Signoret and Jim Morrison. Neither of us had brought a guidebook along or printed out an online map. We walked at times a little lost, a little disappointed that we were getting to Edith Piaf and Marcel Proust and, yes, even Jim Morrison but only because we watched where other visitors to the cemetery were collecting.
It was our last full day in Paris, and I would have liked fireworks.
It was warm. It was still. My shirt was moist in spots by the time I sat down, but I was fine. It was easy to remember the woman a few days earlier in Père Lachaise. I had sat down in Père Lachaise as well a little while after passing the woman and spoken to my friend about her.
I tried to explain to him how moving it had been to see this woman with every reason in the world to be out of sorts with the heat and the climb and the company and to find her smiling. It was as though she had been ready for all that a cemetery – and a cemetery like Père Lachaise – could bring to mind and was just happy that she could notice it. She was equal to this day. She was equal to the life that had brought her here and to the life that had ended here for so many people.
I tried to explain all this to my friend but halfway into the explanation I started crying. As he listened and rubbed my shoulder, I struggled for composure. I did not want him to think that I was crying about my own life and the way it might end one day. I did not want him to think I was offering anything but a reflection on the woman I had seen.
I wanted to look all right and sound all right. The more he listened, though, the more I knew I had never gotten to sound this way before. I was getting out into the afternoon air something in my heart, and a friend was ready to notice me as much as he noticed the great urban cemetery around us.
It was warm that afternoon in Père Lachaise. It eventually was still around our bench. My shirt was moist in spots by the time I got up, but I was fine.