My Aunt Cornelia has an unusual name, which has been changed to "Nini" by
her once young nieces and nephews, who found Cornelia too difficult to
pronounce, and to "Corey" by her old friends, who found Cornelia too formal
for their artsy California culture. When she moved to New York about 25
years ago she returned to her given name, and it fits her perfectly.
She plays the piano, speaks French, and discusses quantum physics with
my son with ease. She is an avid hiker, Sierra Club supporter, painter,
teacher and campaigner for environmental issues. She is also an adventurous
cook. Hint: Oxtail stew is in her recipe book.
A renaissance woman, she has influenced my choices in art, travel, and
ethics. Her paintings and sketches of German castles, Yosemite landmarks,
and abstracts fill my house and my thoughts. But her most important gifts
to me are intangible: her respect for the rhythm of life, her celebration
of winter solitude, her love of the Romatic poets, and her wisdom during
difficult times - "It is what it is."
She is 82 now, still observing life, still breathing, in and out, in and out.
The sketchpads have been set aside, though. The daily hikes have stopped.
It will not be long before the breathing stops and and the cancer that has
greedily invaded her brain returns her to the earth that she loves.
Friends stop by to serenade her, "You are my sunshine, my
only sunshine..." They bring over her paintings to decorate the stark
nursing home walls. They tell us, her nieces, what an important person
she has been, and still is, in their lives. They embrace us, because we are
connected to her. Another gift to us.
Whatever we call her, Nini, Corey, or Cornelia, those of
us fortunate enough to know her, are graced by her presence.
The earth is a better place because she has hiked its trails, weathered
its seasons, and loved its inhabitants.
Poem for the Living (by Theodora Kroeber)
When I am am dead
Cry for me a little,
Think of me sometimes
But not too much.
It is not good for you
Or your wife or your husband
Or your children
To allow your thoughts to dwell
Too long on the Dead.
Think of me now and again
As I was in life
At some moment
it is pleasant to recall.
But not for long.
Leave me in peace
As I shall leave
you, too, in peace.
While you live
Let your thoughts be with