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04/08/2005

Sic transit gloria mundi

Lillian_narvett_morrow

Lillian Narvett Morrow
July 24, 1925–April 7, 2005

In the geography of the heart, there are many tribes and nations, but the one we call motherhood is not a country; it is a world—a world that, in our lifetimes, we shall have no end of exploring. Its oceans are so vast, there is no ship to circumnavigate them. Its continents stretch beyond the limits of our reckoning.

Yet motherhood—the force that gives motion to this great chain of being—is not unknowable. It has no maps, but it does give us guides, and the one chosen for me was, in a word, impeccable.

She was the Beatrice to my Dante—surefooted and wise and infinitely patient. I could not have been more lucky to have her, for she was the very substance of luck itself. On a summer evening, she would stroll with me in the grass, look down, and reach to pluck a four-leaf clover. She performed this small miracle so often, in fact, it became routine.

Her gifts were small, yet astonishing in their profusion. In her hands a scrambled-egg sandwich became a gastronomic masterpiece that would have made Escoffier weep. She could transform a Christmas tree into a Fabergé jewel. She turned grocery money into a stock market portfolio and a rough-hewn farm boy from Shippingport, Pennsylvania, into a man of the world. Her alchemical powers always seemed, to me at least, without limit.

No puzzle was ever invented that could defeat her. Alas, poor Rubik, she knew him well—and bested him in hours. The Sunday New York Times she did in pen, likewise the The Atlantic Monthly’s dread double-crostic.  She could read upside down as well as she could read rightside up. She handled words the way Einstein handled numbers, and her solutions were no less elegant.

And elegant she was, in every aspect of her being. She was always Queen of the May, belle of the ball, the one you pick out of the crowd. The summer before she became ill, I took her with my family to a concert with Livingston Taylor (the less-known, though no-less-talented, brother of James). Before the concert began, Livingston wandered among the crowd. He walked straight to my mother as if he knew her. She put out her hand and said, “Hello, I’m Lillian Morrow.” He said, “Pleased to meet you, I’m Livingston Taylor.”

“Oh, I know who you are,” she said. And I remember thinking, “Good God, that’s my 78-year-old mother—flirting with a pop star!”

She made everyone feel special, even pop stars. She was always reserved in her judgment. Like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, she was “often privy to the secret griefs of wild young men”—to say nothing of a few wild young women. I’m sure she listened to as many confessions in her lifetime as Pope John Paul II—though she never asked for penance.

Listening was her great gift, and she gave it without reservation. In her understanding you felt somehow redeemed. Without judgment or reproach, she made you want to do better, made you want to be worthy of the trust she placed in you.

She was wise in ways that could not come from experience alone—though she saw much in her 79 years and not all of it pretty. She venerated knowledge—and sought it in the books of wisdom she read throughout her lifetime. A love for the power of the written word was deep in her, a love that gave me my vocation, that made me who I am. She put the poet’s fire—the fire Dante called il foco che gli affina—in my soul.

She was my muse, my inspiration, my music. She sang beyond the genius of this world.

And her song will always live in my heart.

Posted by Rodger on April 8, 2005 at 08:43 AM | Permalink

Comments

Sincerest condolences, Rodger.

Posted by: B.A. Higgins | Apr 8, 2005 11:55:16 AM

My heartfelt condolences Rodger. She looks like a grand lady. We'll keep you and yours in our prayers.

Posted by: greg wallace | Apr 8, 2005 5:53:11 PM

Deepest condolences. Her face reflects the joy of life she must have given to yours.

Posted by: Maggie | Apr 10, 2005 8:51:04 AM

I'm so sorry, Rodger. She was a lovely person.

Posted by: Weasie | Apr 10, 2005 9:03:10 PM

So many people talked of her beauty and told me my children looked like her.

Posted by: Roseanne Narvett | May 30, 2005 12:45:26 PM

Eloquent eulogy Rodger

Posted by: Kathi Narvett Hopkins | Jun 3, 2005 2:37:07 PM

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