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NOTIONS: The spark of one soul relights a somber space

May 29, 2006

It's 9 a.m. midweek in late May. While it's cool enough to warrant the wearing of wool socks, faded jeans and an old sweatshirt, the sun shines from a cloudless sky into my little downtown courtyard.

After ostensible eons of dreary, drizzly, rainy days, the bright stuff factors mightily into my mood this morning.

In its midst, I write to you from my living room sofa, my feet propped on a colorful, oversized ottoman piled neatly with magazines, newspapers and remote controls.

There are pencils scattered about, too-telltale signs of this crossword addict's habit.

And on the end table beside me, a mug of once-hot cinnamon tea rests atop the already-rifled sections of today's Star and New York Times, their pages trumpeting impending peril.

Yet on a morning magnificent as this-in a house once riven by loss but now made home again by love rekindled-newspaper headlines fraught with intrigue and scandal, war and corruption, terror and torment seem somehow less contemptible than they did just a few moons past.

Oh, how the spark of one soul can relight a somber space and reignite my long-dark universe.

You see, over there, on that café table in the alcove? There's a bouquet of fresh flowers I brought home from O'Malia's Sunday morning. I haven't done that in ages-and never would have done it for myself.

And there, on the kitchen counter, see that carnation burning crimson from that tiny bud vase? The hostess at the restaurant gave that to us on Mother's Day. (They don't do that when dads dine alone.)

And look there, at the bookshelf across the way. It's no longer lined with only the novels and newspaper essays I've collected over the years, but also with tomes on religion and spirituality, psychology, mythology and more.

And beyond the bay window, where, for more than a year, only silence reigned, dozens of doves, sparrows, wrens and finches flit about, singing their merry melodies as they swoop in for brunch at the old bird feeder Cheri and I pressed into the ground the day she moved in just a few weeks ago.

And upstairs on the deck-the deck that sat bare for years as I focused on cancer and mourning-flower boxes overflow with red and white, yellow and purple.

And there, along the veranda, you'll find the ferns and floral baskets I hung up last weekend, hoping against hope that nature's blend of sun and shade, summer breezes and gentle nurturing will help them, as their gardeners, flourish.

As I write to you on this May morning, Cheri's little Burmese cat, Mochi, rests on my right hip, purring his satisfied purr as he slowly shifts his gaze -back and forth, back and forth-from me to the birds in the window.

How patiently he watches. How subtly he ponders the pounce. How innocently he imagines his ferocious fangs sending fine feathers flying.

But his regal mug gives none of this away. He merely closes his eyes and murmurs his contented lullaby on my lap.

As page after calendar page flew by in the wake of my wife, Pam's, passing, I lived alone in the house we'd built-a house that, when it was our home, meant so much to us individually and together.

Somehow, I scrounged up enough for myself and my sons to eat (with a little help from Qdoba and other fine restaurants). Somehow, I didn't gain any weight (with the help of a high-strung metabolism). Somehow, I kept the place reasonably clean (with the help of an everyother-week housekeeper). Somehow, I did the laundry and changed the sheets (with no help at all, thank you).

But surviving falls far short of thriving. And living alone in a house bereaved feels more like the former.

Early on, some long-single women friends told me I'd learn to love the bachelor's life. They said I'd cherish the freedom. Said I'd relish the chance to read and write without interruption. Said I'd rue the day I had to tell someone where I was going, check in when that changed and apologize for arriving home late.

By contrast, a woman reader of this column wrote to say she doesn't know what it is about men, but we're just not able to live alone.

Well, count me in the "able" category. I can and did pull it off.

But I didn't like it.

What I do like is beloved memory, loving presence and a brightening future living side by side in the same space. And I like having some new art on the walls. And chirping birds beyond the window. And delicate flowers on the porch. And fresh songs on the stereo. And new cookbooks in the cupboard. And a house that feels like home again. P.S. You have to get off my lap now, Mochi. I gotta go to the office.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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