There’s a world of people out there who want you to notice them. They want it so badly that they try too hard — with their show of knowledge, their witticisms, their quick laughter.
It’s a whole world of people who want to make sure they get enough space and credit, since there’s never enough of either to go around. If I’m honest, I have to place myself in this group.
But there are other people who are different. They never want to be the center of attention. They talk quietly, they work unobtrusively, they can slip through life so smoothly and silently that you don’t really notice them or give them the credit they deserve.
To paraphrase the song, you never realize how wonderful they are till they’re gone.
In the past several years, I’ve been to funerals for three friends whose quiet lives ended too soon. I sat in chairs or pews, listening to muffled sobs around me, trying to understand what had been lost — and how I’d failed to fully appreciate these friends when they were alive.
Sometimes, that loss was evident from the beginning, from the first news of a death. Other times, it took weeks for those sharp pangs of missing someone to to seep in and hurt. Unexpected emptiness is its own kind of pain.
My friend Alana’s death affected me in the latter way. She and I had been friends for a few years. I’d liked and admired her, watching the way she dealt with a series of infirmities without feeling sorry for herself. Most recently, a stroke had robbed her of her lower field of vision.
She stayed intellectually engaged, though, going to concerts and lectures and reading books. When we met for lunch, we talked about those interests — but we often talked about our children, as well.
Alana had five sons she was fiercely devoted to (“A mother is only as happy as the least happy of her children,” she told me more than once; as usual, she was right). She spoke often of her son who had died from AIDS, as well as her four surviving sons, now grown.
That’s the way it is with good women friends. You come to know their kids almost as well as your own. Alana often asked about our daughter and son, who were half a generation younger than her children.
One way or another, before Alana’s death, she and I managed to put my daughter — an aspiring speechwriter — in touch with her son, who was an established speechwriter. In the five years since, Alana’s son has provided my daughter with guidance and encouragement in her career.
Every time my daughter mentions one of their meetings or conversations, I can’t help smiling. I think of my lunches with Alana and how loving and caring she was and how much I’ve missed her. But I think, too, of how pleased she’d be with our children’s continuing friendship through the years.
Going for good health? Exercise, eat well, gobble vitamins, get enough sleep.
Trying to be noticed? Make a lot of racket.
Seeking the slightest glimmers of immortality? Try a solid, loving friendship and keep passing it on.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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