The church filled with the beautiful, yet somber, music and chanting of In Paradisum and the pungency of incense, as the draped casket moved up the aisle from the sanctuary. I was saying good-bye to my friend Kay for the last time and my grief spilled into tears as the truth settled in my heart. She was really gone. In that instant, I didn’t think I could bear it.
But somehow I did, and the questions rose, the same questions that niggle every funeral or memorial service—why didn’t I appreciate this person more while she was alive? Why did I take for granted her wonderful qualities, which are all we can talk about now? Why do I go through so many days not realizing how thrilling it is to be alive and the preciousness of people around me. Every time, I vow I will change. Several weeks, or maybe just days later, I’m still the same person I was before.
Maybe my goal of wholesale change is impractically dramatic. Maybe I imagine a transformation so complete it is fantasy. It’s seems so obvious that significant change is realized in small steps, but we tend to shoot for the stars without building a spaceship.
...but we tend to shoot for the stars without building a spaceship.
I’d known Kay and her husband for more than 15-years. During that time we regularly shared the nitty-gritty of our lives and our travels on the spiritual path. Kay was lively, with a playful, sometimes irreverent sense of humor, and helped me see when I was taking myself too seriously. She was both highly-educated and wise, but paid attention to me as if at any moment I might impart some valuable knowledge.
She was happy for me in my accomplishments large and small, and shared my disappointments and struggles. My failings fell lightly into the well of her compassion, and her capacity for accepting me without judgment set off ripples of healing. In her eyes I saw myself and I was a thing of beauty.
Kay’s ready smiles, hugs and hospitality were a well that never ran dry. I hadn’t known Kay and her husband very long, when I told my husband, “That’s the partnership I want for us when we’re 65.” They spoke to each other in tones resonant with affection, humor and mutual respect. When their eyes met, they sparkled. They shared tender glances, thoughtful conversation, and a unity of purpose. My husband and I agreed, if we didn’t begin to build this relationship now, we would not have it later.
...if we didn’t begin to build this relationship now, we would not have it later.
As the years passed, we realized Kay and her husband were also teaching us how to experience the uncertainties, frailties and losses inherent in aging. They didn’t conceal their vulnerability, made no pretense of winning the fight against sickness, aging and death.
Kay was a model for me in so many ways, a mentor, a friend and an inspiration. And it was clear at her wake and funeral—I did not hold the lone lottery ticket for Kay’s love. She saw a homeless woman at the drop-in center where she volunteered with the same eyes that she saw me.
And Kay was a woman of action. What her eyes saw, she did something about, something practical, something that made tomorrow a little better than today. To understand the force for good Kay wielded in this world, requires mathematics of the heart. Take what Kay gave me, times it by every person she knew and multiply.
The question now: Will Kay’s dying be her final lesson for me? Or can I capture some thread of her life, some texture of the woman she was, and with small, steady stitches, piece it into my daily routine. Can I continue to learn and grow through her example and help make tomorrow’s world a little better than today’s?
Will I have the courage to learn from love? Do you?
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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