My friend Quincy is tall, striking, multi-talented and emphatic. Trust me, you don’t want to argue with her.
“You need to write about this,” she said. Then she repeated herself, fixing her laser-beam eyes on me. “You need to do it,” she said.
“This” was a memorial service for Mary Margaret Farrabee — a lovely, accomplished, vibrant woman who had done so many good works in our community. She would be missed by everyone who knew her, from family and close friends to people like me who knew her more casually.
Her service was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the southern edge of Austin. Attendance at the service was so large that it spilled over from the auditorium into an adjacent gallery, where the audio of the service was broadcast. I was in the gallery, sitting next to an old friend from law school. Forty years ago, she’d been small and peppery, with short, reddish hair. Today, she’s more reserved and her hair has turned white. She’s also a grandmother.
Waiting for the service to begin, she and I whispered comments about people we’d gone to law school with — the liberal feminist who’d turned Republican, the liberal feminist who’d become more radical, the state judge being scrutinized under a court of inquiry for his role as prosecutor in the Michael Morton case. We elbowed each other, we gossiped, we laughed, until it was time for us to be quiet.
Later, after the service was over, most of us went outside into the courtyard, with its limestone paths and open skies. With the record drought ongoing, it wouldn’t be a good year for wildflowers here or anywhere else in the state. But it was peaceful and sunlit outside, in one of the prettiest places in the city. How long had it been since I had been here? I had no idea. But it must have been years.
The day after Mary Margaret had died, I’d had lunch with a raucous group of women I love to be with — Ellen and Bonnie and Anita. We’d talked about our friend and her death, but then we moved on to other topics. What did we want for our own lives? What was most important to us? What did we want to leave behind? What did it mean to be a “good person”?
Later, we realized our conversation had been inspired by Mary Margaret’s life; she was a woman who’d lived fully and well, who had touched so many lives, done so much good. What were we, her friends, going to do with the time we had left?
Friends’ deaths and their memorial services are like that: They remind us of a single person — but also of ourselves and our own impermanence. At Mary Margaret’s service, I talked to a friend who’d recently had a stent put in his heart. To former neighbors I hadn’t seen in months. To old acquaintances I hardly recognized.
We spend so much of our time bent over electronic devices, rushing somewhere, never staying long, Quincy and I agreed when we spoke. What was so important that we were always in a hurry to get somewhere else, that we never had time — like this — to stand around and talk with old friends? A year from now, five years from now, would we be able to recall what had been so pressing at the time?
The sun grew warmer and our shadows shortened. The faces around me had changed, as, I knew, my own face had altered. I knew, too, that when all of us spoke about time being short, the remark had taken on a different, starker meaning than it once had.
Right now, I just wanted to stay here for as long as I could, warming myself in the sun, breathing in the fresh country air, talking and laughing and remembering. What could be more important, at this time of day, than lingering as long as I could?
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about failing as a Tiger Mom