Brevity

It started with a warm loaf of banana bread fresh from the oven.

A sweet “welcome to the neighborhood” treat handed to a young bride by a tall silver haired lady.

Her name was Ann. She was fifty years older than her new neighbor.  I was the newlywed.

We learned that we shared a love of fine china, good books, and dark chocolate.

We were neighbors for two years, and then pen pals who wrote each other once or twice a year. For twenty seven in a row.

She raised two children.  A son, and a daughter.

Her daughter died young, leaving two small sons behind to be raised.

She loved gardening,   planning dinner parties, and beating  the contestants on “Wheel of Fortune” in front of a crackling fire on cold, January evenings.

She traveled extensively, read extensively, loved extensively. She and Life were good friends.  Her humility and grace and cheerful outlook made each day brighter for anyone who crossed her path.

She was a “glass half- full” kind of gal, sewing a silver lining into every dark cloud.

In a world populated with pessimists, she shone brightly.  A smile, a pat on the shoulder, a sweet treat delivered to people she didn’t yet know was her way of making the world less harsh, less cynical, less arrogant.

Each Christmas, for over a quarter of century, I have said a quiet prayer that a card with a carefully penned note would appear in my mailbox.  And it did, without fail.

She became a widow, and moved, and then  she’d write about life in her assisted living facility, and about her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and a great great grandchild.   About how they’d grown, and how proud she was of all of them.  She was especially grateful for the two grandsons she’d helped to raise.

She was grateful for each birthday, and  grateful for every day in between.

I thought about my friend last Saturday.   Her card in December had come with her grandson’s return address on it, rather than her own.  In her letter, she said that she’d been moved to a nursing home and that she needed more “help” from her grandson.

Then, yesterday I sat down to read the Sunday paper.  And I knew that no more letters would come.

My good friend’s life was summarized in a two inch long, two inch wide column of newsprint.  Two inches of small print.

She was 102.

We are living during the Age of Accomplishment.  Each job, degree, award, promotion, and game won by our kids, our spouses, and ourselves is reported to the world.  Every activity is documented digitally. Every pound lost or marathon completed gives us bragging rights.   It’s a measuring stick with no end, but still, we wait for that next trophy or medal or “good job” to come our way, believing, perhaps, that it is those accomplishments that complete us, justify our existence, make us who we are.  Make us matter.

I cut out my friend’s obituary yesterday and placed it in a small stained glass frame.   It sits on the windowsill above my kitchen sink.  When the sun rises in the east, rays of light catch in the colored squares of glass and dance around the kitchen.

It reminds me, every morning, that it is the small things like being kind, and being patient, and being interested, not interesting, that matter most.

And loaves of banana bread to young brides matter, too.

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