August 19th, 2007


A Life

Yesterday, I went to a memorial service for a man I'd never met. No, I haven't suddenly become one of those people who likes going to funerals; this was in my vaguely "official" capacity as still being Acting Chair of the English Dept, for the man who was to have been Chair of the Biology Dept at my college. He was two weeks into his appointment when he was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life only a few months later.

I didn't want to go, but thought to myself that two hours or so out of my Saturday afternoon wouldn't hurt me. As it happened, I probably wouldn't have been missed, but ultimately I was glad I went, because, in the way of such things, going brought me several gifts.

One gift was being witness to the celebration of a life embraced and lived as fully as seems possible. This was a man of depth and accomplishments - he travelled widely, built his own trimaran and sailed it, developed close relationships, was survived by several children. He competed in martial arts and worked to build an association of his discipline in Canada. He was a mountaineer (which made me think of countrygardener - Marty, did you know someone called Ted Davis? It wouldn't surprise me if you did). His life had been so full and rich that even though he died too soon at sixty I couldn't help but feel that he had lived a complete life that one could truly celebrate with a sense of loss of a friend and father and lover and coworker but no regret for things undone. And, of course, this made me think of my own life, and wonder what people might say at my memorial service, and whether I could share that sense of fulfillment, and to think about what I should do that I have left so far undone.

Another gift was meeting there someone from UVic, a colleague from a part of my life that I've almost forgotten: the years I spent teaching there for their community education program. She folded me into a close and warm hug, not one of those "air hugs" but a true embrace, one that both asked for and gave comfort.

The third and perhaps greatest gift was talking to my friend dr afterwards. She has recently been through a death in her own family and is having a hard time with it. She asked me about my memorial service for my mother, which brought back warm memories for me but talking about it brought us both to tears. This was a good thing, though, because although we've been friends for a long time (almost as long as I've been at the college), things have been a bit shaky between us lately and I've felt a serious risk of losing our friendship. However, our brief talk was intense and emotional but full of promise to work hard for our friendship because it was important to both of us, and I left her feeling more confident that would happen than I have for perhaps years.

I wrote that this re-connection with dr was "perhaps" the greatest gift. That is not to qualify the gift, because it was hugely important, but I think that it in fact was not the greatest. The greatest gift was being reminded that today, this moment, is all we have. That it is so desperately important and essential to appreciate what we have, and make every moment, every hour, every chance for connection and engagement with people and life as full and warm and rich as possible.