“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” – Mother Teresa
After reading my last post, my daughter said to me, “Maybe your next story shouldn’t be about death.”
She gave me something to think about: Do I write and talk about death too much? One Christmas years ago, as a young adult, I sat at a table with a few “elderly” relatives. Thinking back, they must have been in their early fifties, but at the time, they seemed quite elderly to me. While trying to enjoy my meal, I listened politely as one sentence after another had to do with who had cancer, who was in the hospital, and who had recently died.
“He had just received a ‘clean bill of health.’ You just never know when it’s your time.” my aunt had said referring to the passing of her friend.
“She looked so good,” another aunt said, when recalling how someone looked in the coffin.
“What do you mean?” I was thought to myself, “She was dead!”
I wish I could say the conversation spoiled my appetite, but few things ever do that. However, I was distressed by the topics. After all, I was in my twenties! I had no desire to discuss or to even think about death!
Now here I am in my fifties. I have a big family and a large circle of friends. Having all of these people in my life usually means, at any given moment, I am aware of someone who is suffering in some way. I always seem to know about someone who has cancer, who is in the hospital or who has recently died. I have accepted this as the downside of both growing older and loving so many people.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” As law-biding Americans, paying taxes is upsetting and uncomfortable to discuss, but nonetheless, inescapable. As human beings, death is also upsetting and uncomfortable to talk about, and even more inescapable.
For the most part, I create memorial keepsakes and quilts for the very ill. People who are suffering or know of someone who is suffering seek me out. I have spent countless hours “sitting at the table” listening to sad stories. However, rather than with unenlightened, youthful ears, I now listen with an open and caring heart. I could have chosen to just make quilts for joyful occasions such as for a baby’s arrival or a friend’s birthday. I could have chosen to shy away from other people’s problems, but I would have deprived myself of a great many gifts. Many times I have witnessed the strength of the human spirit, and I have recognized the value of those around me.
I do not want to seem like a downer to my daughter or to anyone else. I hope instead, when writing or speaking about my quilts, I am able to convey the beauty of life. Because death is inevitable, we must take the time to recognize the precious treasures we hold within us. Each person needs to know his or her life holds a unique purpose, and each of us has a responsibility to use our individual gifts to help those around us discover those purposes.
As this is the season of Advent, I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” the other night. I love that movie and I will most likely watch it a few more times before the stroke of midnight announcing the arrival of 2011. In an interview about the movie, the director, Frank Capra, said he wanted to do the movie because it reinforced his belief that each life has a purpose. Isn’t this what I’m always saying?! George Bailey was given the opportunity to view a world without him in it, and through that experience, the problems which had overwhelmed him suddenly became insignificant compared to the possibility of losing his family and friends.
I think this is a worthwhile exercise we should all do. Try to imagine a world without YOU in it. Think of the children who would not have been born, the mother whose arms would have been empty, and the friend who might have succombed to despair for not having the help you had offered. What a desolate Pottersville we would have without you. I know I would miss you!
May you have a joyous and peace-filled, “Bedford Falls” Christmas and a very Happy New Year!