Our friend Mayme Noda died last night. She’d had a cold for a week, which turned into pneumonia, and in just three days she declined and faded. Her family had all gathered, and they withdrew support last night at Darthmouth-Hitchcock, at sunset, with her bed facing out to the trees. She was 86. (Though you would never have thought “86” seeing her out raking leaves, yelling to Lafayette, making her New Year’s feasts, gardening, singing, dancing.)
We’re all stunned with how fast it happened. Kate called Mayme on Tuesday to see if a proposed-but-not-yet-scheduled dinner get-together would work for today, Saturday, and Mayme told her that “she’d been sick for a week,” and could we talk about it in a couple of days? No real hint of what was to come, even though she was admitted to the hospital just hours later, that same night.
It’s hard to think of Mayme as anything but vital, feisty, easy to laugh, kind, and as honest as a gust of winter wind with the promise of hot chocolate, inside. By the time we met her I think any falsehoods or pretentions (if she’d ever had them) had sloughed off her years past, like snow off a roof. She was wholly, brilliantly, and unapologetically herself, and because her presence was so clearly truthful, one couldn’t help but love her and listen to her and laugh. She gave everyone around her so much – her cookies, her pickles, her opinions – and her passage was so quick that I don’t think I know she’s gone, yet, on some level. I knew her for not even two years and I wept; I can’t imagine what her friends who’ve known her for decades are feeling.
We had a number of meals together, both at our places and hers, though not enough. We had conversations and gossip and Quaker Meetings, and she was unfailingly interested in Kate and I, as she was to nearly everyone she met. It’s hard for me, just entering my own “gosh, the kids these days” phase of life, to know how she could be so generous and engaged with people who were born over 50 years after she was, in 1919. I had been planning to go down the hill and record Mayme’s advice for the newly married, figuring that after 60 (!) years married, she might have some experience to empart. I’m sure she still does, somewhere, but I’ll just have to wonder.
That’s one of the many things I wish I’d asked sooner, though I don’t think the answers could ever have told me what I really wanted to know: how to be married for 60 years, how to never go entirely grey, how to live so authentically and with so much joy. I wish I had asked her how she was who she was, how she remained so committed to peace and justice for so many years despite suffering so much injustice herself, how she could so fervently love the world and those in it for so many, many years. There aren’t that many people in the world who could conceivably know such things (and who knows whether these are answers one can actually speak or understand, if spoken), and there’s one fewer, today.
I’m sad, not for Mayme, but for those still behind – for Lafayette, standing next to Mayme’s hospital bed stroking her hair and speaking to her, yesterday; for Kesaya and David, standing watch, for the stream of friends and Friends coming to say goodbye to her, just in the hour we were there, for the hundreds (thousands?) of students around the world – who have lost one of the pillars of their world. Nobody expected this.
We left the hospital at 6:30, leaving only family with her, and drove home slowly, in separate cars. We passed Jill running up the road as we drove home. “We’re meeting up at John and Mike’s to watch Mayme’s sunset!", she yelled as I rolled down my window, and so we parked our cars and put on our coats and walked over to the big tree outside the kitchen, where we had a clear view of Ascutney and the fading sky. It was a cool, clear evening, cold enough for a blanket, but the peepers were out, and Mike had opened a bottle of dessert riesling, “a wine for finishing a meal,” as he put it, and it too was cool and clear and sweet and sour. We sat for close to an hour, watching the light fade and telling stories and laughing, Marc and Jill and John and Mike and Kate and I.
This morning, half-awake in bed, I could hear Mayme’s voice very clearly, her tone and phrases, telling us about her gingersnaps, nudging Lafayette’s arm at his 90th birthday party a month ago, talking to us at Meeting and asking after Kate’s work at the hospital. The light she gave to the world for so long is still here all around us and will persist in the lives she touched, but I cannot help but cry for missed opportunities and the setting of her particular star. Godspeed and safe travels, Mayme.