June 24, 2012
Last week a wonderful friend, Eleanor Haas, died suddenly of a stroke. She was eighty-eight. Eleanor was part of a writing group I led for over ten years in her living room. (She disapproved of the original space we’d been assigned at PNCA and thought we needed something more comfortable, plus tea and treats.)
Eleanor was born in British Columbia. She was smart, funny, spirited, wise, and, as she grew old, found herself to be extremely curious about the process of aging even as it hurried on, overtook her, and brought along its sidekick, Limitations. She was amazed by life and, as our friend Thalia pointed out, led several lives within one: Marriage to a man, children, divorce, falling in love with another woman, moving to Mallorca, on to San Francisco and then, at 65, moving by herself to Portland. That was our good fortune.
In her 80s, she put a purple streak in her hair and got a tatoo and continued to find absolutely everything interesting. Her big loves were classical music, her grandchildren, and books. She cooked herself delicious dinners and sat down at a beautifully appointed table every night with a glass of wine to enjoy them.
She liked cities. She liked concerts. When she was more flexible, she’d liked gardening and hikes along Northwest trails with friends. When her back gave out, she took up yoga and made it better. Serious health issues came and went. Her hearing began to fail, but she still listened hard to whatever anyone said, and not only to what they said but how they said it. She listened for something new, something fresh that she could take to heart and use.
Many people have described her as irrepressible. That fits.
I’m glad our friend Eleanor Victoria lived a good life, but I can’t help wishing it had been longer.
I found a poem today that reminded me of the way Eleanor looked at aging. I immediately wished I’d had a chance to share it with her, but it’s not too late to share it with you.
Late Summer. Sunshine. The eucalyptus tree.
It is a fortune beyond any deserving
to be still here, with no more than everyday worries,
placidly arranging lines of poetry.
I consider a stick of cinnamon
bound in raffia, finches
in the grass, and a stubby bush
which this year mothered a lemon.
These days I speak less of death
than the mysteries of survival. I am
no longer lonely, not yet frail, and
after surgery, recognise each breath
as a miracle. My generation may not be
nimble but, forgive us,
we’d like to hold on, stubbornly
content – even while aging.
- Elaine Feinstein
Listen to this poem read by the author.
Read more about Elaine Feinstein here.