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)

18 comments… add one
  • Beautiful blog. While I don’t have a man in my life, this old broad, has lots of love and a zest for life. Ilive and travel full-time in an RV with my dog, Maggie. You are so right in what is important in life, and I’m glad I finally joined the fabulous geezer club and learned it.

  • So sorry for the loss of your friend. What a beautiful tribute to her life and her obvious impact on friends, family and her husband. How true to realize the importance of the sparks in life and not just the fireworks. Sometimes glances are more poignant than words, touches are firmer than grasps and the littlest note has more wisdom than a novel.
    Thank you for the lovely blog

  • Thank you for sharing these reflections and the beautiful tribute to your dear friend.

  • Cindy A Link

    You are right, Ruth. Why can’t we convince the young that it’s all about the journey and not the destination? Just this morning, I was trying to think of a way to explain to my young daughter not to trust the world that says life is all about money and sex. But how to be believable about that when everything around us says otherwise?

  • Craig Link

    A beautiful elegy Ruth. Warm words on a cold day.

  • You are absolutely right. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.

  • This was beautiful, Ruth. So very true, and an important and timely reminder. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.

  • I’m sorry also. But after reading this I want to just go hug all of the people that are close to me. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Sheryl Link

    What a beautiful heartfelt tribute to your friend. I’m so sorry for what you and everyone has lost. She sounds like very special person. And I love how her husband expressed his love for her.

  • All of those dozens of categories at Stumble Upon, and I could not find one that fit this beautiful essay. So I labeled it “writing” so that I could tell people they need to vote in the Bloggies for The Geezer Sisters.

  • Merr Link

    We were recently at a 90th birthday party. Celebrations like that are so poignant, too, though in a bit of a different way.

  • So very true, and such wise words. When you lose someone, it really brings it all home that life isn’t about clawing your way to the top of the career heap. It’s about the people you love and who’ve loved you.

    My mom’s been in the hospital this week, and while lamenting about how I didn’t want to lose her but ultimately, I’d be ok with her floating onward to heaven, my daughter said, “Well, either way, she’ll be surrounded by people who love her.”

  • I am in awe of your writing this week. Well, always. But this post in particular.

  • “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.”

    Amen sister. I feel so sad after reading this, but also inspired. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend, and glad, too, that tragedy can help us remember what’s really important.

  • a lovely way to put the sorrow — and the joy — of knowing and remebering your friend at this moment. thank you.

  • I’m sorry for your loss, Ruth, and I so admire what a wonderful tribute you’ve written to your friend — and her marriage. I hope you and her husband find some comfort in these words during such a sad time.

  • Such a lovely tribute, Ruth. Loss is so hard to take, especially when it’s the loss of someone special. Thanks for sharing your perceptions. They’re always beautiful.

  • Your way with words always gets me thinking, Ruth. It’s wonderful when a tribute to someone suddenly crystallizes for us what constitutes a meaningful life. But how sad that we have to learn it this hard way! Go easy on yourself while you go through this grief; losing a friend is really hard.

Leave a Comment