by Anna Huckabee Tull
Each month, for the first twelve months after Marie Pechet’s passing, I will carry her Blog forward, sharing about Marie in ways that I hope you will find meaningful, connective, and honoring of our shared friend.
One late spring day, years ago, Marie and her (at the time) very young boys came for a screened-porch-picnic at my house. I supplied a meal and, also, my two sons to play with her sons. She surprised me with a gigantic, tissue-popping bag full of super fancy cheeses and multiple boxes of gourmet crackers. Down in the very bottom of the bag was a cutting board, exactly like this:
She explained to me that this was a new invention – a dishwasher-safe wooden cutting board. Hmmm, I thought, and pictured myself happily throwing it into the dishwasher and enjoying the low maintenance aspect of being able to do so.
I have to say, this gift she brought was elaborate. And lovely. Very unexpected. The cheeses were unusual and exotic. The crackers were bursting with fabulous, fibrous seeds. The cutting board was a significant hunk of beautiful striped blonde wood. It felt like she was giving me a piece of furniture!
In sharp contrast to all this, I am one of those people who, when backing out of my driveway en route to a social engagement, will suddenly think, “Oh, crap. I probably should have gotten something for the host.” But by then it’s too late to do much more than just run back to the kitchen in my bare feet, grab a bottle of red wine, and fork it over to the host in the most low key way possible when I arrive at my destination.
This gift from Marie was something thoughtful, and, it seemed, carefully considered. She had put energy into it. Does she know I am lazy in the kitchen? I wondered. Does she know that Cracker Barrel cheese is about as fancy as we get around here, most of the time? Why did she pick these things, and what does it mean?
We sat on a sun dappled porch, surrounded by our noisy boys, enjoying all this thoughtful, purposeful, generous booty that I had just scored. Eventually we ate our meal, they went on their way, and, over a period of weeks, my family consumed all the cheese shop cheeses and fabulous crackers and returned to our more modest pantry of selections.
But the cutting board… It slowly, over a period of literally years, took center stage in our kitchen.
It was set out on the table of hors d’oeuvres, covered in cheeses, when Marie and Tiron came back, years and years later, to attend a “Celebrating Anna’s New Book Contract” party in 2015.
It was seeing weekly use, among my other cutting boards, as I sat at my kitchen counter reading blog after blog and email after email from Marie, as she shared hope, sometimes despondence, and always courage and insight into why this life is so worth living and fighting for.
It had become the board I used most often by the time Marie wrote me to ask: Do you remember how we once talked about your writing a final blog post for me, when the time came?
On the day I came home from the intimate, tear-filled gathering where we helped Marie plan her funeral, that cutting board just happened to be sitting out on the table, where my husband was entertaining some friends with yet more crackers and cheese (a little fancier, these days, than just the old Cracker Barrel).
And then one night, very very soon after that, I felt restless in the night. I wandered out of my bed and ended up tossing and turning a bit in the guest room until I fell, finally, into one of those bottomlessly deep sleeps.
Those super-deep sleeps are rare and wonderful. They are the kind of sleep where, when you wake up in a bed that is not entirely familiar, you have to lay there before you even open your eyes, and think, “Where on earth could I possibly be?”
But before such a though even came to me, deep in that deepest of sleeps, I found myself having some kind of a dream. A very, very odd one.
Someone was struggling. There was great exertion. Something tight was struggling, struggling, struggling to loosen. In the dream, not knowing it was a dream, barely having any degree of consciousness at all, I knew only that I was in the presence of a diligent, focused, powerful p-u-u-u-u-l-l-l-l reaching toward some kind of –what?–I couldn’t say, at first. Only that the struggle was intense, sort of life-or-death feeling.
Life or death.
Life or death.
All of a sudden, I knew what it was.
Not a hypothesis. Not a hunch.
And in the very instant that I knew it…the struggle was complete.
My eyes eased open in the wintery darkness. I took a deep breath. It was early-early-early in the morning – a morning still black as night.
And Marie was gone.
I literally FELT this feeling, in my soul, in my body, in my being.
Marie’s struggle to find full release had worked its way right into my dream.
I lay there, knowing this, knowing she was gone, and thinking, simply, of that one singular phrase from Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy in Hamlet:
“Shuffle[d] off this mortal coil.”
Marie had made her exit. Tight and struggling, and then, finally, loose and free.
* * * * *
I checked later, about the timing of it. I needn’t have, because I knew. Even so, it felt good, and connective with the experience, to ask her family, “When exactly? What time, exactly…?”
The timing was the same.
I had the rare and powerful experience of feeling Marie leave. Even thought I was five towns over. Even though I had never “felt” her in that exact way before, and certainly not so powerfully. Even though I was fast asleep. Perhaps because I was fast asleep.
So I tell you this: it felt like a struggle–the way I experienced it. Like, for years and years and years so much of her energy had been about holding on–holding on as easily and joyfully as possible, yes, but holding on nonetheless, staying here, finding a way, over and over again, to navigate the illness and turn her consciousness toward health and possibility.
I think the “struggle” I felt was not regret about leaving, or a fight against death, because I believe Marie embraced her own death. If I knew her at all, I think I know that.
I think the struggle I felt was allllll the energy it took for her to “shift gears”…from “Let me stay” to “Okay, I accept this. Now is the time. Let me fly free…”
In the same way that a giant ship, out on the ocean, can’t just “turn left” but instead must shift, for the length of a full nautical mile, to completely change its course, I think I felt Marie deciding to shift. From deep within her soul, I think she decided she was ready, and then had to literally work to…untether herself from this mortal coil–the one we all still hold fast to, here on earth. The one from which she, finally, after so much love and so much light…cut free.
* * * * *
For reasons of which I am not entirely conscious, around the time Marie died, my family stopped keeping that cutting board down in the dark little kitchen crevice where we store all the other cutting boards. We started keeping it up in the light, right at the center of the sink.
I see it every day. I use it every day. I am much more of a cook these days (and, for the record, better at advance-planning gifts for hosts. Maybe these are influences of Marie.) When I use it, I stop for a moment to feel the cut I am making, into the peppers I am chopping for my salad, into the dates I break into bits for that amazing smoothie I love to make these days. I make a slice into a bright, life-bursting piece of food and I think of Marie–sometimes very consciously, other times somewhere deeper within myself. I think of her cutting free, in that moment when she chose to go. What a gift it was for me to be able to feel it. What a gift it is, now, for me to be able to share it here with those of you who continue to follow along and read this blog (thank you so much for that – I feel honored and I believe it is what Marie most hoped for!)
I think of the beauty of living a life to the best of your ability, and then realizing it is time, and making that final push to shift your orientation away from here, trusting others to rise up and carry on, and turning yourself over to something…FREE.
I invite you to try it–strange as it sounds. To find a piece of fruit, or a healthy vegetable–maybe a kick-ass kind of boutique cheese, even: put it on a nice safe cutting board and slice into it. Feeeeeel, just for a moment, all that hard work Marie put in, staying here with us as long as she did. And then, finish the slice and feel that too. The completion. The cut is made. And with it, surely, surely, Marie: The Freedom.
~Anna Huckabee Tull