Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Recently, I have been musing about the changing nature of the events and celebrations that tend to dominate our personal calendars. I am not talking about the yearly calendar events—the holiday gatherings and traditions, but the special events that mark the transitions in a life. Moreover, I am talking specifically about the events during which we are not the “the star of the show”—the birthday girl or boy, the bride or groom—but the gatherings we attend to honor or celebrate the passages in the lives of others. When we are very young, our social schedule includes mostly birthday celebrations and it’s all about cake, ice cream, and maybe a clown. Then, especially if we live near extended family, we are likely to move on to a series of rather staid graduation ceremonies with all those lofty expectations. And, of course, we all come to the tumultuous, sometimes giddy (and almost always expensive) wedding stage. (I have known a number of young actors here in Los Angeles who can never pay down their credit card, because there is always another wedding “back home”.) Naturally, the wedding phase leads to the baby shower phase for the females and—depending upon the closeness of the friends—christenings, another round of birthday parties, graduations, and weddings.
I will give away my age by revealing that I am in the memorial phase of my life. You know. The phase where we switch from shouting, “hello!” to whispering, “good-bye”. Last night, set me reflecting on the diversity of tone in the far too numerous memorials I have attended in the last few years. Perhaps because I live in a community that is home to a plethora of creative people, most of whom are quite comfortable taking center stage and putting their individual stamp on almost any occasion, no two memorials are the same. Each is intensely personal, reflecting the personality of the deceased as well as those who have crafted the memorial and, to some degree, those in attendance. Each holds a special place in my heart and mind and I am grateful to those who made those events possible.
Last night’s memorial was a fitting testament to a life well-lived. The event honored an accomplished musician. Thus, not surprisingly, the “hall” was filled with musical talent. The talent was generously shared, and through the healing power of music the tears got all jumbled with joy and love. The evening was a perfect final note to what had been a lovely song.
The catharsis of saying goodbye and celebrating someone’s life seems, to me, a crucial stage in what turns out to be a never quite ending grieving process. (I can’t say I buy the theory “that time heals all wounds”. For me, time allows for the formation of calluses and scabs over the bruises and wounds. Nevertheless, it takes only an unexpected reminder of the loss to rip off the callous or scab and all that pain comes flooding back. This may very well be a flaw in my own character rather than a truism. Still, it is my experience.) But, beyond the catharsis, the memorials have been instructive. They remind me that our time here is brief. Then, when we are gone, there will be others left behind, who will remember us—with our without affection. So, perhaps we should occasionally give some thought to how we will be remembered. The stories that I hear consistently shared at these life-celebrations are a sober reminder of what counts. Without fail, the moments most often recalled with affection and gratitude are little moments. Moments of small kindnesses or personal humor in awkward situations. It’s so tempting to spend our time wondering how our contributions to “the world” will be perceived, while those in our immediate lives are starved for those special little moments they will always remember. Is it too gruesome to confess that I have decided to work a bit more on my memorial?