I thought the French had invented this word to describe the 7 years that left wing President François Mitterrand lived with a right wing Prime Minister. But no, the word has ancient, albeit somewhat banal, origins – as well as denoting a political relationship it also refers to a a man and a woman living together.
The word has recently been drawing my attention to it because of the “contexte inhabituel” in which it has been parading. No later than Saturday morning a line from a book I was reading jumped out at me: “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it”. * It’s obvious. One knows this. So how come he is never invited to dinner? And why, when he comes unbidden to our table, do we refuse to acknowledge his presence until he is shouting to be served?
And the dying man whispers to his beloved, “Death cohabits with life, my love”.
She ponders this, between tears.
I look at my garden perched comfortably on the edge of winter, its green foliage still declaring its fidelity to summer, and I see no inconvenience with this type of cohabitation. There is no issue when flowers fade and die; when leaves fall to the ground; when the earth freezes. There is faith in this planet’s capacity to rotate around a sun predicted to last for many more millions of years. Lamenting the passing of a season hardly seems worthwhile. It is easy to let go of what is replaceable.
But when a man and woman have shared the same space for many years there can be no talk of the cycle of seasons when the Reaper appears at supper time and is still there for breakfast. When the loved one comes to dying, all thought turns binary and linear: he is; he will not be; he is not. How does one let go of what is irreplaceable?
And the dying man whispers to his beloved, “It’s much harder for the one left standing on the platform, my love”.
She knows this in her bereavement.
The sun shines on a blank heart and the wind comes down cold and dry from the Rhone Valley. Laughter and tears co-habit a half empty house and poetry mingles with the macabre. How much practice does one get at choosing coffins and urns? What happens when the crematorium is working to a tight schedule and there’s an overload on the system? Where do you find an adaptable priest that can fit you in between births, marriages and multiple parishes? And is it OK to play jazz at a funeral? And how on earth does one make sense out of administrative procedures when one’s life is no longer making any sense?
And the dead man whispers to his beloved, “It is my body that leaves you, my love, not I”.
She knows this too and yet still she weeps.
The last of the tomatoes are rotting quietly in the gathering autumn dampness. They will feed the earth for next year’s crop. A gardener will turn the soil, prune back the bushes and bury the remains of the summer. And life and death will continue their cohabitation uninterrupted with no particular regard for each other.
And she continues whispering softly to her beloved, “Thank you, my love, thank you”.
And when this is what it is and there is no denying it, just what – might happen next?
“When the saints go marchin’ in………..” at the beginning of November, make sure you’re “in that number”.
*”Firefly” – a short story appearing in a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami under the title “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”