Flute Player & Listener: My Stories & Stuff May 10

“The Flute Player” on the right and “The Listener” (left) by Laura Woolschlager

These two were awkward to photograph. I purposely have them in a corner so they can gaze at each other as “The Flute Player” sends his music flying like birds for “The Listener” to hear.

The prints are by Laura Woolschlager, a longtime friend, who showed them at a benefit art exhibit my husband and I attended in late November, 1993. John and I had already agreed beforehand that we would not buy anything. Underline not buy. Underline anything. We already had more art than walls on which to hang it, including several paintings by Laura. When I expressed delight in these two prints, John—behind my back—quietly signaled to Laura that he would buy them. Presumably as a Christmas gift for me.

Days later he suffered the stroke that would leave him totally paralyzed and unable to speak for the final fourteen years of his life. By Christmas, he was in a rehab facility in Seattle, and I was at his side. A carefully wrapped package arrived from Laura containing the two prints and a long-sleeved cashmere sweater. She refused payment for the prints and suggested that when I wore the sweater, it should feel like John embracing me.

These prints are meaningful not only because of Laura’s generosity, but because they were harbingers of what was to come in our lives. The two lovers are separated. If Laura had placed them in a single painting, the idea would have lost its power. The flutist’s music escapes beyond the frame, beyond boundaries, as birds flying to his lover, the listener.

When someone becomes caregiver to a spouse, there is a new frame of reference, a separation of sorts, dictated by new responsibilities. What was once a shared landscape becomes two islands, individually afloat. Yet love itself deepens and soars, escaping all boundaries, flying free as birds, connecting across the divide.

(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider and possibly share the stories that make you treasure your own stuff.)

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