My colleague and friend and amazing woman Patti DeNucci recently emailed me the YouTube video of Kelly Corrigan reading aloud her essay, Transcending, from her book, The Middle Place. It was so spectacular, I bought the book (newly released in paperback), just so I could retype and post the whole essay here. Thanks, Patti, for sharing; now, I'm spreading the word(s) － and if this doesn't make you buy the book, too, well . . . then I'll be mighty surprised:
I had one of those milestone birthdays a few months back. After the party got going, I tried to make a toast － something about friendship, something about my mother and her friends, who call themselves "The Pigeons" (a twist on The Hens) － but it was rowdy and my friend Shannon was heckling me, so I kept it short. Anyway, this what I wanted to say:
There were once a dozen Pigeons, but in the past few years, they lost two of the greats to cancer. On the Pigeons go, though, like women do, limping one minute, carrying someone the next. They started in the '60s, in suburban Philadelphia, with bridge and tennis and chardonnay (okay, vodka) and, over time, became something like a dedicated fleet, armed ships sailing together, weather be damned.
For me and women of my generation, it started with playdates, cutting carbs and meeting on Monday mornings in workout clothes to do awkward moves with large, colorful balls. And I can see exactly where it's heading.
We'll confer about jog bras and contractors and pediatricians. We'll gossip about babysitters, teachers, in-laws. We'll speculate about who had a shot of Botox, who cheats on their taxes, who cleans until midnight.
We'll celebrate each others' achievements: opening an exercise studio, a corner store, a jewelry business. We'll celebrate our kids' achievements: making the traveling team, singing in the choir, learning to knit or speak French or play the flute. We'll borrow eggs, earrings, extra chairs. We'll throw birthday parties for each other, and stain the rugs and shatter the wine glasses and mark up new counters with the odd slice of lemon. We'll worry about who seems down, who looks tired, who's drinking more and more. We'll say things we wish we hadn't, and have to find a way to regain each other's trust. Things will break － they always do. Many will be fixed.
We'll fret about our children: too shy, too angry, too needy. We'll brainstorm ways to help them become more resilient, patient, lighthearted. We'll protect them, fiercely － pulling little bodies from the deep end, double-latching windows, withholding car keys.
We'll bury our mothers and our fathers － shuttling our children off for sleepovers, jumping on red-eyes, telling each other stories that hurt to hear, about gasping, agonal breaths, hospice nurses, scars and bruises and scabs, and how skin papers shortly after a person passes. We will nod in agreement that it is as much an honor to witness a person leave this world as it is to watch a person come into it.
We'll admire each other for a fine creme brulee, a promotion, a finished marathon. We'll commiserate about commutes, layoffs, mortgage rates, the High School Musical soundtrack. We'll confide in each other about feeling anxious or angry or uninteresting, or how many pieces of Halloween candy we accidentally ate from our kids' bags. We'll confess that we text while driving or that we should be having more sex or that we yell at our kids every day. We'll admit that we believe in God, Jesus Christ, Heaven and Hell － or that we don't.
People will drift in and out. Book clubs will swell and thin. We'll write someone off and they'll reemerge later, and we'll remember both why we loved them and why we let them slip away, but we'll be softer and we'll want them back.
We'll give up things together － caffeine, Tylenol PM, catalogs, social smoking. We'll take up things, too － morning walks, hybrids, organic dairy, saying grace. We'll persuade each other to bake, sell, fold, stuff, paint, and write checks for our favorite nonprofits.
We'll diagnose each others' brown lawns, torn muscles, basement odors. We'll check each others' heads for lice, and examine new bumps and moles, and listen to lists of symptoms. We'll teach each other how to set a ring tone, make a slide show, download a movie.
We will call and say, "I heard the news," and whatever the news is, we will come running, probably with food. We'll insist on second opinions, lots of rest and the best surgeon. We will face diseases, many kinds, and will, temporarily, lose our hair, our figures and our minds.
Eventually, someone who's not supposed to die will － maybe one of us, maybe a husband, God forbid a child － and all this celebrating and sharing and confessing will make certain essential comforts possible. We'll rally around and hold each other up, and it won't be nearly enough, but it will help the time pass just a hair faster than it would have otherwise. We will wait patiently and lovingly for that first laugh after the loss. When it comes － and it will come － we will cry as we howl as we clutch as we circle. We will transcend, ladies. Because we did all this, in that worst moment, we will transcend.