Last weekend, I attended a memorial service for a college era friend named Mario Cavallini who died on 12/30 in a motor vehicle accident. His wife Sondra Ball had died earlier in the year. Another friend, Beverly, was with him in the car and now is in the ICU in Thomas Jefferson Hospital. Prayers surround and enfold her. Returned to the Friends meetinghouse Mario and Sondra had attended in South Jersey, surrounded by more than 100 people, from those overlapping soul circles I speak of often. Last time, the springtime grasses were sprouting; a sign of new life emerging, while today the snow that lay across the grass and parking lot offered a barren feeling. Most were part of their Quaker community, some from Mario’s workplace, some their family and still others part of the group of friends who have so deeply touched my life since we met more than 30 years ago. Destiny, it seems, had invited us to this beyond space and time place called Together, Inc. in Glassboro, NJ. Crisis intervention hotline, youth shelter, rape crisis program and women’s program, it was staffed primarily by earnest, idealistic psychology or sociology majors, determined to make a difference in the world. I like to think we did and still do.
Many of us (now in our 50’s and 60’s) went on to become teachers, therapists, counselors and clergy. I laugh when I think of two movies that link me to that time: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Chill. The first represented the wild child nature that I didn’t often indulge, until that film helped me to ‘be it, rather than dream it’ (a paraphrase of one of the lines from a song in the movie) and the second portrayed characters coming together for the funeral of a friend, about which we remarked: “That will be us in 15 years.” (the reunion and dynamics, not the funeral). Today, as I sat next to Gina, both having gotten there just as the service was starting, holding hands and hugging throughout, others of our friends were scattered amidst those celebrating Mario’s rich, full life in a Quaker service that had us sitting in contemplative silence until moved by Spirit to give share our inspiration. In a little while, I heard my own voice say that Mario was a true Renaissance Man, one of those rare souls who offered heart and head wisdom. We were all part of a patchwork quilt woven from love and passion, color and creativity, dedication and commitment and with Sondra and Mario’s passing, it would be easy to say that their patches were rent asunder. Not so, I realized…they just changed form and still hold their place in the fabric. I choose to wrap that soft quilt around me, particularly in times in which I face loss. With each friendship I create and sustain, the quilt becomes ever more beautiful and comforting.
A man at the service spoke about his encounters with Sondra and Mario. He had gotten to know each of them as individuals before he even knew they were married. He shared an insight that has remained with me. Something to the effect of getting to separate out the parts of himself that were truly himself from the parts that were Mario in him. When we create relationships, (co-dependence non-withstanding), we do become part of each other, drinking in the essence of the people in our lives
After the service, we perused two photo albums brought my another friend Cliff who had taken the pictures of Sondra and Mario’s lakeside sunrise wedding in a South Jersey park in the early 1980’s. Garbed in flowing robes, flowers in their hair, they appeared fresh scrubbed and baby-faced . Various images of friends, some we have not seen since those innocent days…we laughed as we (middle aged moment flailing/failing memory) challenged ourselves to put names to faces. One picture of me, in profile, long hair flowing in waves, hippie child incarnate. When Cliff sends it to me, I will post it. I often have dialogues with that version of me. She so desperately strived to be something she thought she wasn’t: “one of the cool kids” rather than the naive wannabe. Come to find out at our first reunion in 2000 or so, that all that efforting wasn’t necessary and that my perception was a bit skewed.
When we hugged our goodbyes and went back out into the cold, we carried the warmth of treasured friendship and declared that the next time we got together, it would be for a joyous occasion.
As I gaze back in wonder, I am immensely grateful for the heart and soul nourishment that is firmly rooted in my past while its branches reach ahead of even where I am planted at the moment.
Vaya Con Dios, Mario <3