After they’ve gone

I usually don’t tune in to watch the Academy Awards.
I sometimes take a peek at the red carpet gong show, and every now and then I watch the opening montage—except last year’s Seth MacFarlane and his particular brand of bullying in the name of entertainment turned me off completely and I vowed never to tune in again.
However, this year I knew Ellen would add a spirit of fun and she didn’t disappoint me.
The occasion had a feel of a house party; a bunch of friends getting together. And I must confess that after I listened to Jared Leto recognize his mother for her inspiration, I was hooked and stayed to the very end, which is very late in Nova Scotia to be watching television.
I could have taped it but I never seem to get around to that (something about delayed gratification).
At the “In Memoriam” segment of the show is where my heart gives a twist, and I sit up straight and I feel grief (or what feels like real raw grief) creeping up my spine.
I don’t know these people who have gone ahead; we’ve not been in the same room nor shared a cab ride nor consulted one another about our political views. Yet I feel the loss as if our lives were connected somehow.
I sucked in my breath when the first face who had been taken from us appeared. James Gandolfini. When I saw his smile, I knew for certain he wouldn’t be calling me to meet up on a Thursday afternoon, because Thursdays are a slow day for him—for coffee and a fruit scone.
We won’t be able to discuss his ability to play a nice-guy gangster on “The Sopranos,” and how I preferred him in “The Mexican” with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, where he must have honed his nice-guy thug image.
I won’t be able to remind him he has a young daughter and he needs to up his taking-care-of-himself regime. It’s all too late for that now.
I felt my heart lurch when I knew for certain Shirley Temple was gone, and I didn’t get to thank her for tap-dancing into my Saturdays on television when I was little and how I admired her curls and how I was envious of the pony she usually had when she wasn’t busy being an orphan.
I would have apologized to Shirley that none of us wanted her to grow up, not one single soul; we wanted her to stay little, innocent, and perfectly adorable.
I remember when Peggy Wood died. It was 1978 and a long time ago, but it’s my first memory of “In Memoriam” at the Oscars, or my oldest memory perhaps puts it more in perspective.
You remember Peggy. Mother Superior. “Sound of Music.” I cried when she died because I knew for sure she wouldn’t be coming to my bedside when I was stricken with a physical ailment.
She would have taken my hand and I wouldn’t have had to ask her to sing because she would just know that’s what I needed. She would turn and look out the window, and “lift thine eyes to the hills” and belt out “Climb Every Mountain,” though she would start softly, gently.
But that can’t happen now.
When those we thought immortal and unchanging die, we are reminded of our own frail imperfection and we mourn the loss of our memories. It’s the “In Memoriam” that I choose to linger with after the last award has been handed out—and before the less intelligent among us start debating the fashion blunders, and if Ellen was funny enough, and if someone had mispronounced a name, and if another’s acceptance speech was heartfelt enough.
I cling to the names that moved me with their artistic craft, with their courage to tell a story, with their ability to make us laugh, and especially to those who were extraordinarily ordinary.