Living to the point of tears: Two years and no time at all…

Live to the point of tears, Albert Camus

After Harold died and I was sorting through pictures, I came across these two favorites and the magnet to secure them onto my refrigerator. The portraits and caption accompanied me all year. They were among the very last items I packed up when I left our house of 17 years last August.

One of the many scraps of paper Harold left behind at the breakfast table, 2015.
There are scores of philosophers who have written their own commentary to Camus’ quote “Live to the point of tears”, and it wasn’t my initial intention in this post to add another. But I knew I wanted to include the photograph and then it struck me that the quote seemed an oddly appropriate description of the state of my heart and my life at this time.

Love through the years
The language of time – which is to say: “two years ago today Harold passed away” – isn’t something that grief respects particularly. Grief is non-linear; setting it’s own temporal rules where memory seems to fade in and out according to some whimsical design that emerges from one’s unconscious suddenly (or not so) bringing with it a presentness of the event at once disorienting and timeless. The compass of time becomes unmoored when the familiar signposts of a shared life no longer exist.

Paul Friedrichs and Jane Bernhardt have provided space in their home and their hearts!
Camus’ quote offers a number of toeholds for me in this terrain. For one, Harold was a man who lived life with great gusto right on the precipice of laughing or crying (and sometimes both simultaneously) as an expression of how life itself welled up in him — and overflowed. So too, for me, “living to the point of tears” has been — unwittingly — a kind of motto for this passage. It’s not as neat and tidy as I might like at times, but there seems to be an organic rightness to continuing to say a big “yes” to life in the aftermath of loss while staying open to the enormity of the turmoil it leaves in its wake. For me, as I know is true for so many others who navigate the inevitable tides of loss, the rudder that keeps things afloat has been the support and love of friends and family who have taken me in both literally and figuratively!

Housemate Leslie Novak with dear friend Marc Clopton

The winds of more change came quickly on the heels of Harold’s passing. Within a year, I had made the difficult decision to sell our house and find a new home for our beloved dog Muffin (who is happily living with a new and loving family!) However, the old adage “when a door closes, another opens” was in play and the act of letting go was met by new forms of healing. My dear friends Jane Bernhardt and Paul Friedrichs opened their home to me for housing Harold’s studio which is abuzz with activity. And another angel, Leslie Novak, together with Jason Novak and Lynne Taylor have brought me into their happy home – aka The Carriage House, where monthly house concerts of blues, alt rock and all manner of other good sounds fill the space with dance, music, good vibes and laughter.
Musicians and soulmates to us all, Lynne Taylor and Jason Novak of Banda de Goma, taking a break during Halloween performance, 2016 © Judith Thompson

On all fronts I am graced by a lightness of being to balance out the heaviness of grief. Harold’s work is receiving tremendous new audiences and admirers from Paris, to London, to Istanbul, to Atlanta, to New York and beyond. My two wonderful sisters travelled with me to Provence last fall for my first vacation in about 20 years, and soon I will be traveling back to England (after a great time with Harold’s work at Photo London) to watch my niece, Sarah Kotkowski, coach the Women’s Lacrosse team for Ireland in the World Cup, followed by a trip to the Scottish Highlands with my sister Ruth. It seems that when the heart breaks open with sadness, it allows the possibility of new joys as well.

Quote and drawing by Brain Andreas

Unfurling his laughter on my birthday 2014.
Some years ago, I became a fan of this whimsical artist and writer, Brain Andreas. I bought this poster of his words and drawing because they described for me the experience of knowing and loving Harold. His laughter unfurled, it reverberated, it still echoes inside me. The world…my world… will never be the same. He was a force of nature. His contagious spirit brought me to the point of tears for 27 years. It still does and I know it always will. I miss you Harold.

From Harold’s notebook, 1960’s