The Cheerfulness that Keeps Breaking Through

O gather up the brokenness

And bring it to me now The fragrance of those promises You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry The cross you left behind Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind

We were in kitchen, you and I. It was February, not long after we had received the worst of news. Outside it was still winter. I was cooking, and you were at the sink washing up. We were doing our best. Although life had changed utterly over the previous few weeks, we were doing our best.

‘We have to get this right,’ you said, after the shock of the diagnosis had sunk in. ‘We only get one shot at this.’

So that was what we were trying to do: to get it right. We were trying to find our way through everything with all the grace and all the kindness we could muster. And we were succeeding, more or less. For all of the sadness and the pain, there was pleasure and there was delight. Despite everything, life was often good. Despite everything, cheerfulness kept breaking through.

As I chopped vegetables and you washed up, Leonard sang to us — Leonard and the sublime Webb sisters. O longing of the branches / to lift the little bud, the Webb sisters sang, O longing of the arteries / To purify the blood.

It was then that you stopped and dried your hands. You turned to me and touched my arm. I put down the knife and turned to face you. You were crying, and I was too. So we hugged each other there in our narrow kitchen, and I squeezed my eyes closed, letting the sadness take hold. O let the heavens hear it / The penitential hymn / Come healing of the spirit / Come healing of the limb.

Then the song ended. We kissed, just once. I went back to my cooking, and you went back to your washing up. Because this was how we now lived.

Already that seems a long time ago. Now you are gone, and now Leonard is gone too. And these two things seem joined together in ways I cannot fully disentangle. I cried this morning when I woke to hear of Leonard’s death. I thought of you, and I thought of that evening as we went about our business in the kitchen, the ordinary business of our lives. And I cried.

So today — once I have finished writing this — I will get up. I will feed the cat, who is curled up beside me, keeping me company as I write. I will make breakfast. And I will listen to Leonard’s final album. I know that you would have loved it. I am sorry that you never had a chance to hear it. And as I listen, alongside the sadness, I know that there will also be gratitude. Gratitude for all the grace and all the kindness, all the friendship and the love, that we have both known this year. Gratitude for you, and for Leonard too. And gratitude for the cheerfulness that keeps on breaking through.

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