I sat in a beautiful chapel this morning while a fierce wind blew outside. My mind wandered, the way minds do when your heart is too troubled to think clearly.
I thought about how funny the arc of a life is. You start out with lessons and homilies from your parents and teachers about what’s important in life. You listen, you absorb, you grow up, you reject; it couldn’t be simpler, really. When you’re young and rebellious and driven, you want to achieve and beat the world. Who has time for some of the earlier lessons in life about the importance of love and caring and human relationships? You’re too busy succeeding, running, climbing, piling up the laurels. Why show up, why live, if you’re not there to win and prove how extraordinary you are? Otherwise, why bother?
Time passes and, if you’re lucky, you get older. Maybe you’ve been fortunate, maybe you’ve had some successes in your life. Maybe, now that you’re older, you realize that the success you yearned for was nice and all that — but it was less important and less satisfying than you once thought. Other things — the stuff of those childhood lessons, like caring and love and other people — are what make life worth living. They’re the only measure of success that really counts.
I thought all of this as I sat at the memorial service of a friend, Tracy Lewis Curtis, who died too young at the age of 67. Around me, the chapel was crowded with people who loved her. Her friends, her children, her grandchildren. We all sat there, recalling her warmth, her exuberance, her openness. Even if you didn’t know her, all you had to do was look around the chapel and feel its fresh grief — and you knew that someone extraordinary had slipped away. Someone who’d loved and cared for others, who’d led the most successful life any of us could ever hope for.
He never forgot the first time he saw Tracy, her husband Greg said. It was as if his head had exploded — and he never wanted it to stop.
Outside, the wind continued to howl and the temperature plummeted and the news was dire and discouraging. I thought about everything I’d wanted when I was younger — the fireworks, the honors. How lucky I am to have reached the age when I can realize that causing a man’s head to explode, having him love you and marry you for it, having him never wanting it to stop — well, that was a life fully and beautifully lived. After a life of such fireworks and deep love, may this wonderful woman rest in peace.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)