It’s interesting how life brings things from the past into sudden and abrupt focus in the present. I always smile at these moments – because I think of them as the universe clearing it’s throat and nodding ‘pay attention’.
Yesterday I handed off a cooler of Oysters to a friend as we passed in the parking lot. Today the cooler came back with a note, “We replaced the oysters with a bottle of something”.
I was crazy busy all day and didn’t have time to look at what was in the cooer. Kaety was in Portland at Sea Grant week and I had to gather up all the children after work. When I finally got everyone fed and settled I unzipped the cooler and found a bottle of 2012 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir inside.
I put it on the counter and got out a wine glass and sat down and looked at it. It was a thoughtful and generous gift, but it was more than that. It was a reminder.
Rewind to 2008. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was spending my last year with my business parter and closest friend, Thea. She was battling breast cancer and things had gotten scary and hard. She had gone through multiple surgeries, and had gotten a pretty poor prognoses, but was determined to beat it.
We had spent years of our business life working with various vineyards in the Dundee hills developing Palm Pilot software to support vineyard managers. The software development process meant that we spent a lot of time with our clients, which were a half a dozen wine makers throughout the red hills. Our software product was an early forerunner to a lot of commercial products that eventually came in to support a burgeoning industry. The kind of business culture Thea and I created was built on a lot of personal connection and relationship which mean we came to know all of our clients as friends. We enjoyed their wine as art, science and spirituality.
We were due to visit Domaine Serene one afternoon. On the drive up Thea and I had a long talk about the uncertainty of her health and her desire to live each day as if it were her last. I thought that sounded pretty damn amazing and was curious to see what that kind of focus would do to the quality of our daily lives.
When we arrived the winemaker gave us both a big hug, and we settled in on the brick patio overlooking the most spectacular view in the Willamette Valley. He had glasses of their barrel tastings from their 2009 vintage Pinot waiting for us. We gushed, we deconstructed, and we talked business and life. I got a few curious glances from the winemaker – I nodded confirming that what he saw was real. She was dying. We both looked away from each other, and continued on with our conversation about the vines, bio-dynamic farming, and the complex joy and ecstasy that was expressed in the scent and flavor of the wine.
Thea and I made a valiant attempt to ‘live the day as if it were the last’. It was pretty intense and a bit socially awkward. Fortunately we were spending the day with winemakers who have a lot of latitude for intense and awkward.
Our day at Domaine Serene was the last day we made a client call together. On our drive home she announced that we would no longer be living each day as if it were the last. She decided it was the most depressing thing she could imaging and it was completely exhausting. We laughed hysterically at this revelation until we cried. The tears of laughter transformed into tear of grief. I pulled over and we held each other and cried and cried in big breathless sobs.
I carried on and managed the clients during the year as she succumbed to her cancer. At first she was felt terrible guilt that she was letting me and our business endeavor down and then she moved to resentment that I was carrying the relationships forward without her. Those were hard times.
In the waning months to come we’d occasionally open a bottle from one of our favorite client’s vineyards. She was on such high doses of morphine that she could only enjoy a sip or two. I’d encourage her to drink as much as she wanted. I’d watch as she nodded off to sleep taking the glass from her hand before she dropped it. I’d stand at the kitchen sink and finished both our glasses and look out onto the arbor tinged with fall colors and wonder how I was ever going to make it through this loss.
Today, I opened the bottle of Domaine Serene and cried for the loss of my friend as if it were yesterday. I remember that day on the patio and smile. Her completely sincere frustration and dismay that trying to live each day as if it were her last not being as efficient nor romantic as she had imaged still makes me laugh. She was always eventually pragmatic.
What did I learn, and what do I need to remember? That year of winding down into death taught me to live each day as if you have forever. No one moment should ever be burdened up with the weight of everything. We make mistakes, we sometimes don’t have the words, but when we can laugh and be free we have space to love naturally and openly.
As I smell the wine I am transformed into a space that is a magical mingle of nature and love. I remember looking at her and sharing that space and smiling. That moment between us lasts forever, and forever is exactly where love lives.