WALKING THROUGH CLOUDS – Of the Intrepid Angela, Whom We Loved

When Angela Lain appeared at our Savannah Zona Rosa group, sporting short , curly hair, no makeup, or pretense at fashion, I liked her, her blonde boyishness, right away.

And as we read from a strong if rough first draft from her projected memoir, I was moved: the piece was about how much she both loved and hated her Savannah heritage, and her Savannah family with their incredible eccentricity, but also their propensity for drink, neither of which are unusual in my chosen city.

But more importantly, the story was about how she stepped in to save her teenage nephew when he was sinking, totally out of control and in danger of losing himself in drugs.

That Angela, his single, childless aunt, went to court to gain custody of him , and thereafter willingly and gracefully shouldered this enormous responsibility, amazed me – especially as I knew firsthand what such responsibility could cost in terms of stress, time and money: I had just spent two decades pulling two of my adult children away of the fire of addiction and mental illness.

Yes even though Angela willingly took on the care of others – there were, it turned out, others besides her nephew who depended on her love – she also seemed, more than most women, to be a free spirit – free of the baggage of husband, kids or grandkids, or slowing herself to the beat of the corporate world, and also one who readily and easily followed her dreams.

In Zona Rosa, we shared a taste for certain, edgy authors, Nick Flynn and Patti Smith among them, who not everyone in the group embraced. She also – as well as copying out whole passages from authors she loved, such as Robert Goolrick — sent me e-mails about subjects as diverse as Coco Chanel and who among her family were buried in which Savannah cemeteries, as well as the news that she planned to bring slavery into her memoir, tracing some slaves back all the way to Liberia.

I loved the way she would – instead of planning ahead for months – jump into her car, drive all the way to, say, Oxford, Mississippi, to a conference to meet a favorite author or two – something I had known her to do on more than one occasion. Another time, she brought in a piece about sitting in silence at a Zen retreat, and what it was like to become acquainted with her fellow meditators at the end of their two weeks together.

I was also learning that Angela, a Buddhist and a vegetarian, regularly sought out experiences that she felt would enhance her spirituality. Indeed, it was Angela who – after I came back from San Francisco with a Buddhist text I had ripped off from the Japanese hotel where I had stayed – explained to me the difference in Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism: “Tibetan Buddhism is more joyous, light-hearted,” she said, and as she spoke, I knew I wanted some of  that, and also what she had.

I soon learned, too, that she was also a world traveler, at home where ever she went; “I try to go to Paris every year,” she said casually at our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group. I also loved it when, on another occasion, she brought in an essay about going to Timbuku by herself, a challenge to any traveler, much less a woman alone (looking at the atlas, I saw it spelled by its French name, Tombouctou, in the middle of Africa in the middle of virtually nowhere – truly, as Wikipedia describes it, “a metaphor for a distant or outlandish place.”). It was a piece that inspired me to be more fearless in my own life and which I wanted immediately for our projected Zona Rosa essay collection, Women on the Verge. Indeed, Angela typified what I meant by that phrase, reminding me as she did of my older daughter, Laura, also a world traveler who scoffed at my need to have hotel reservations in place before traveling abroad: “I just go to the Traveler’s Aid desk wherever I am and ask for a room in my price range.”

And when Angela told us how easy it is to get on the metro and find a hotel room in Paris at the last minute, I nodded. But while I liked to think of myself as a risk taker, an adventurer, I knew that Angela was way ahead of me; also that she traveled light, while I didn’t, in more ways that one.

The next month, which was to be our March meeting, I was eager to continue our conversation about how she might push a little harder with her now-wonderful memoir. She had written me saying she didn’t want to do what she had seen many writers do – send her story out before it was ready, and before she had learned her craft. Now I felt that she had achieved the latter goal, and was ready to go forward.

But just before our meeting, Angela called to tell my sister Anne that she couldn’t be with us that night – that she had pneumonia. She was laughing, Anne said. Back home, I received the manuscript she had mailed me, and I emailed her, asking how she was and whether she’d like me to send her the critiqued pages before our next meeting. When I didn’t hear back, I felt uneasy – the week before I had read in the New York Times about a favorite woman author’s death at age 59 of a sudden infection. And I recalled how the vivacious Savannah Zona Rosan Sharon – around the same age – had just as suddenly disappeared from our lives, dead of an aneurysm.

Still, the following Saturday morning, when I learn that Angela has died of a blood clot to her brain the Thursday before, I walked around as though in shock, feeling the absence that we’re all still experiencing. It was – and is – impossible to imagine the vibrant, almost phosphorescent, spirit – that sprite, that constantly-on-the-move spirit —  that was Angela not being in this world with us. Immediately, there was flurry of e-mails among us, mourning our lost friend. Pat had written a poem for her, she wrote, and would read it at our next meeting. Gwen said Angela’s death had made her realize how short our time herw is and how we must make the best use of it. While Emily wrote, asking the quintessential question: “Where is she now?”

A couple of weeks later, as I again prepared for our Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group at Anne’s house in Atlanta, Anne came into the kitchen wondering how she could get a last minute ticket to Marseille so she could join us at our Zona Rosa retreat in the South of France this month.

And almost without thinking, I found myself saying, “Let’s ask Angela – she’ll know!”

When have you been affected by the unexpected death of a friend or acquaintance?

© Rosemary Daniell 2011

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2 Responses

  1. Very moving. Thank you for sharing this blog!

  2. Rosemary,

    We are both victims of loss, but I was not aware of this one. I only saw Sharon a couple of times, but she really was something else. You have written a beautiful tribute to her.

    My love to you,
    cj

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