ISABEL FERGUSON 1935 - 2010
I first met Isabel in September 2009, on Monhegan Island, Maine. I knew instantly she was one of those incredibly rare people we are lucky to meet-- someone entirely different from the others, someone with a telltale otherworldly aura. In the space of just a few days, Isabel changed my life with her gentle nature, encouraging words, and the gleeful way she greeted each day (literally, greeted the sunrise). We became pen pals.
When I was planning to return to Monhegan this past September, I let her know. My heart soared when she wrote to say that she would definitely be able to join me. We only had a couple of days together but, again, those days were so uplifting for me. Isabel was truly one of those Magic People that can put everyone they encounter right at ease. Her life story, what I knew of it, was fascinating. She was also working on a book about Mary Baker Eddy that I was eager to read.
Most recently, I emailed her to ask her about a book she'd recommended to me. She wrote back to say my timing was excellent, that she'd actually just packed up a copy of the book to put in the mail to me. That's how Isabel worked-- intuitively. I got the news last night that she died suddenly last week, the day before Thanksgiving. Though in reality we only spent, perhaps, eight days of our lives together, I feel as if I've lost a lifetime friend. I am so bummed. I can hear her voice in my head, with its faint English accent, suggesting that I channel my grief toward enjoying life's little details. And I will. But first I mourn.
Here is an excerpt of a column I wrote last year about meeting Isabel. I called her Bella in the piece. That first meeting came when I was wrestling with some internal demons.
Then something happened. I was in Maine to attend a knitting retreat and one night, during group knit, I happened to sit beside an older woman. Bella was not part of the retreat, but she was staying in our rooming house, and she knits, so she joined us. Did you ever meet someone who so instantly strikes you as the personification of calm that you wish to carry that person with you in your pocket the rest of your life?
Bella told me, in a lovely English accent, that she’s been visiting the island for over forty years. She detailed, in such a delicious manner, the sunrises she always seeks out, making them sound like the best experience anyone could have ever. Better than any meal you’ve eaten, any love affair you’ve had, any passionate physical exchange you’ve engaged in. Such were her marketing skills that I hauled my ass out of bed the next morning before dawn, hiked up to a little summit, and then, in the clearing, I stood still for a moment.
Bella sat atop a cliff, the picture of serenity, gazing across a glassy ocean. I made a little noise to let her know I was there and she beckoned me over. The clouds precluded precisely the spectacular show she’d described the night before, but it was no less wonderful. Because as Bella spoke in her calming voice, and passed along her binoculars, and noted the different birds - “Listen! That’s a chickadee!”— I thought to myself, on the heels of so much self-created ugly, just how much beauty there is in this world. A ridiculous abundance of it. So much so that, should we choose to, were we able, we could skip nearly all the ugly and just wrap ourselves in the beauty.
As we prepared to head back, Bella extracted what appeared to be a whistle from her pocket. She swung it open and revealed it for what it was—a jeweler’s loupe. Carefully she’d bend down to the tiniest flower, peer through her loupe, and then offer me a turn. “Isn’t that MAGNIFICENT?!” she would proclaim, as an intricate, detailed world came into focus.
I flew back to Austin carrying images of Bella in my heart.