Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Empty Leopard Chair

My friend Elfrieda, is this charming, petite, older German woman, who is wise and generous beyond measure.  She lost her husband a little over a year ago and has been a regular presence of empathy, support and encouragement to me.  She knocked me over in an emotional multi-layered way.  She doesn't know it yet, but here it is...

Yesterday Elfrieda gave me a gift.  On the outside of the wrapping was a handwritten note, "Thank you for your uplifting spirit."  "Me?" I thought, "That seems so backwards, given how I feel about her.  How very sweet."  I opened the package, my heart dropped, overcome with sentiment.  Enclosed was a small book titled The Empty Chair, its cover image was that of an empty chair; stately, ornate, royal in appearance, quite beautiful. My first reaction, "OH MY GOSH! I have an empty chair - - Boomer's chair."

Boomer and I were shopping at Z Gallery, at the Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, IL during a Christmas season a long time ago.  It was a Friday night, a light snow was falling, holiday music in the background.  Currier and Ives awesomeness.   It was kind of a big deal, we'd never shopped together at a mall, rarely did after that.    Boomer favors online shopping.  Which is, in part, what makes this story so memorable for me.

Boomer's empty chair
We saw the faux leopard print Captain's Chair (image right) thinking it was very cool.  Its sleigh back styling inspired the nickname of Santa Chair. I dug it because of having a similar print chair in my home already.   Boomer really liked its size, the dark wood, all very manly.  The print gave it the cool edge.  Boomer was finally putting himself in the market for furniture; having lived the last 6 years, in a spacious 3,000 square foot house sparsely furnished with nothing but hand-me-down furniture from friends or run-down stuff only found in college frat houses. He had a sofa set in his family room so beyond donatability, that when you sat on it, you sank to the floor with little hope of ever getting out.  This Santa chair was a quantum leap in terms of classing up his home, or at least, bringing it closer in alignment with his mid-40's age.   When he sat in it, he loved it more.  The weird thing was his ambivalence on buying it.  It wasn't about price (this time).   

Boomer somehow didn't feel worthy of having such a lovely piece of furniture.  It was as though he didn't believe he deserved it.   A recurring theme that showed up often throughout our years - - a puzzling, and heartbreaking display of low self-worth and self-esteem.   He desired beauty, richness, finer things for others, those he loved most, but couldn't see it for himself.   A personal belief so deep that I believe contributed to why he's not here today (read Reality is the Bitch).

Boomer rallied and made arrangements to pick the chair up at another store with a friend (this is where price was his issue - - he didn't want to pay for delivery.)  The leopard chair quickly became the conversation piece and guest favorite  - - just like we thought it would.    He sat in it all the time.  I tried to, but it's so big and deep, it never worked for me.  I just love to look at it.  And so it was officially and forever more Boomer's chair.

Is the chair you're sitting on empty?
"Ridiculous! How can it be?"
  You're right, it can't be...because you're sitting on it.  
But it is possible for a person sitting on that chair to feel empty.  
Then, the chair is empty - even when occupied!  
~ excerpt from introduction to The Empty Chair

Within the week of Boomer's death, I had to relocate the chair to the other end of the room because of what the chair had symbolized in as many as the last 4 years:  a landing pad from a stumbling, fall-down stupor or protective, comfortable disguise of his deteriorating physicality and equilibrium failure, and a hiding place -- behind and under cushions -- for many a boozing bottle.  Neither is a memory I care to hold, yet that's all I had every time I walked in the house, the chair is first thing you see coming in both the front and back doors. Flashback images of my guy, in his chair, feeling empty.  It was torturous. 

The chair now rests in an opposite corner.  The grandeur of its size makes it ideal for a corner.  The perfect spot that has magically revitalized loving memories for me.  

I had an epiphany this morning as I laced up my shoes heading out for a 25 mile bike ride.  I was sitting on the edge of Boomer's chair...the place I sit every time I put on my shoes.  Even before, unless of course, Boomer was sitting there, I'd sit on the edge, chat with him while putting on my shoes.  I suddenly felt a warm feeling, a knowing his presence was there.  I felt tranquil contentment because all the loving memories of Boomer and his chair that I so cherish were restored.  The chair no longer feels empty. 
Things can go from the very worst
to the very best... just the blink of an eye.
~ Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, from The Empty Chair

Thank you Elfrieda, for your abounding gift.

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