2014 was a remarkable year. I got called to the bar in 2014. I wrote my first legal essay that is currently being published in 2014. I went to Europe for the first time in 2014. There were moments of shock in 2014 – horrible losses that ran too deep to grieve aloud, balanced with such gracious acts of love and forgiveness that sense in ugliness could be found. I can place my mind on moments in time of people excelling and moving forward, and then of starring blankly and stupidly at the world – watching headlines of missing girls and missing airplanes, of a want of vaccinations and ceasefires – again, at a loss of how to find words that were enough.
But through all of these moments – all full of emotions that are too wide ranging, too disjointed and individually full of life to write about here – there is a night that stands out in my mind, unexpected and unique.
I know this profoundly outstanding woman who has, since I met her, been consistently profoundly outstanding. Beautiful, talented, scary smart, and kind. For me, this tall, walking, talking virtuoso changed my life just over and over. Years ago she gave me courage where there was none, gave me strength where there was fear, gave me hope where there was sadness – like she, herself, was the prayer of St. Francis. She gave me my voice and when people took it away from me, she marched up to me every time and made me reclaim it.
I ran into her at a recital at my former school and after excited exchanges I asked her how her partner was:
“Terrible, Emily. He’s dying.”
She proceeded to tell me that her partner, a brilliant scholar, had long been suffering Lou Gherig’s disease, and was now dying. Like her, he was an inspired and inspiring perfectionist and contributor in his area of expertise, dedicated to franco-Newfoundland culture. He was a doctor, a member of the Order of Canada, and annoyingly in love with his partner (this I know to be true as he would come to all of our lessons and ask me to just have a few minutes of her time…and this is what it is to be annoyingly in love with someone). I wondered if it was these shared traits, their mutually inspired souls desperate to contribute and to learn, that were the basis of their love.
She told me through tears, in perfect, eloquent language, of his suffering and of the schedule of their days now. She was tired – for herself and for him – and it was breaking my heart to see this person who had changed me for good just need a moment of peace so badly, and to know what it would take to get such a moment. After a sad discussion of how he was she got serious with me – I, who have always been so seriously serious about success and about “making it”.
She told me to go become great at what I want to do – go be great at law or go be great at music – and give my soul to it, and reach all the heights I want to reach, but, while I am doing that, above all do not forget to find someone to love because that is the most important thing. She told me that all of the things that we do are valuable and vital, but that at the end of the day they are simply the things that we do until we have someone that we love. She told me that to have someone to love and to be loved by is the epitome, it is the thing to aspire towards, it is the most important thing. She told me that at the end, we won’t show off our great intellect nor our accolades and awards. At the end, he has only her and that’s how she knows that to love and be loved is what matters.
To hear these words is not a surprise and they don’t teach some great new lesson. What is stark and important in them is the soul behind them. This extraordinary woman has achieved heights unimaginable to many people. She has been celebrated as Canada’s most brilliant soprano. She has travelled the world singing on stages and working with young singers until they, too, believe they can open their mouths, breathe to the pits of their being, and let loose a sound that is balanced, spinning, bright, even, with depth and with core, all the while expressing in French, or German, or Spanish, and simultaneously convinving those people in the audience that the person in front of them is a page boy or a sorcerer or a lovestruck teenage girl. To do this – to do this as well as she can do this – requires thoughtfulness, attention, dedication, discipline, intellect and time…so much time. So a life dedicated to craft, to contribution and learning, is the most important skill one needs. And yet it is not enough – none of the exalt, the celebration, the beauty that strikes the world when she is on the stage – without a person to love and to be loved by when the day is done.
Now, after the personal celebrations are finished, and the losses suffered have been mourned, and the world has been discussed at large, the story of this woman does not leave my mind. At the end, she told me, to love and be loved is the only thing that really matters. I have to think that if anyone knows it would be her.