Once Upon a Time, long, long ago, before existence existed, there was nothing but Darkness. A color so black it has never been seen again. And there was silence. It had been that way forever.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, millions of tiny lights, brighter than the brightest diamonds, and smaller than the smallest stars, appeared. They danced in the Darkness, choosing partners and forming groups and intricate patterns. There was nothing but beauty and joy. And it stayed that way for what seemed like forever.
Until once again, suddenly and unexpectedly, the tiny sparks began to descend to Earth. Each one had a specific destination and somehow knew exactly how to get there. They found the trees and flowers, whales and mice, and human beings. And they found a place to nestle softly and safely inside each and every one. Their sole purpose was to bring their beauty and joy to every living thing. Each spark was a soul.
I don’t know when this vision first became a part of me…if it was purely a figment of my imagination or a story I had heard or a picture I had seen. Perhaps it was a bit of each. I do know that from the time I was a child I had a spark, and that everyone and everything I loved had one too.
It has been a long time since I gave much thought to souls in general or my soul in particular.
Until this year.
2018 has been unlike any other year in my life. It included several diagnoses of serious illnesses which have caused me to redefine who I am, what my life will be like going forward and mortality. It went on to include mourning the deaths of two very close friends and now, the critical illness of my best friend. It has been the year of doctors and death beds. It is the year that I became reacquainted with the spark that is my soul, and the understanding that other souls are always with me.
It began when I was sitting at my dining room table, drinking a cup of tea. I was holding a warm mug in my hands, enjoying the aroma of apples and cinnamon. I did not feel alone. I knew in that moment that my long-deceased grandmother, Florence Blum Brown, was with me and that she had brought others with her.
She had chosen her companions with great care. Each of them a person who had died when I was quite young. And like her, they had always seemed ancient and almost untouchable. But I understood that they had something important to share, something I was supposed to take to heart and carry with me as I move into my old age. She had brought her three sisters; Theresa (Aunt Tessie), Regina (Aunt Reggie), and Hermione (Aunt Minnie).
Tesse was the oldest, the most conservative, and the heart of the family. She was tiny, almost frail and soft-spoken. A teacher of English and French, who demanded the best from each student and never let an unkind word or ignorant statement go unchallenged. She also baked the most incredible apple strudel, rolling the dough out on a long table, pounding it until it was so thin you could see through it, and then stuffing it with her secret filling.
Reggie was three years younger, short and stout. She walked fast, talked faster, and never let a good joke, even the bawdy ones, go untold. She was an accountant, a hard-nosed businesswoman, assertive and a feminist. Heaven help any man who attempted to get in her way! She always wore a hat when she went out, much to the chagrin of her sisters, as many of them were quite strange looking, some even ugly. She did not care what others thought, reveling in the attention.
Minnie was the baby. A classical concert pianist and the only one married. Her husband was an artist with a regional reputation. They lived in a large apartment on Riverside Drive, big enough to accommodate her two grand pianos and his studio. It was not big enough, however, to accommodate their enormous egos! She desperately wanted me to learn to play, and sent me home with a life-size cardboard cutout of the piano keyboard, instructing me to diligently practice my scales, and above all, to appreciate great music.
And so, it was, that in 2018, I met the souls who had been with me for all of my years. Each of them at different times and for different reasons, but always with love for the lonely little girl and the often-insecure woman who worked hard to make her place in the world and find her voice in it.
From Tessie, I inherited the love of teaching and language and the refusal to accept hurtful behavior, although unfortunately not the joy of baking.
From Reggie, I inherited a strong business sense; strong enough to allow me to succeed in my own business and overcome many obstacles, setbacks and even failures while still keeping my pride. My lifelong feminist attitudes and activities are a testament to her.
From Minnie I inherited the love of music and art. The things that saved me as a child and comfort me to this day. I never learned to play the piano, but I did learn to play the cello, and I think she was with me and proud whenever I played in the orchestra.
From my grandmother, Florence, I learned how to be lonely. Her melancholy is mine. And yet, there is a sweetness to it, as I hope there was for her. Whatever it was in her life that caused such sadness, she endured.
For women, dead for so many years, yet nurturing and protecting me, influencing and encouraging me, as I move through my life. Four souls, the sparks I always knew I had.
I am not alone. I never really was. And I never will be.
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.