We take for granted so many things in our lives, and it starts early. As children we take our parents for granted, the food we eat, the beds we sleep in, our siblings – we take all of these things for granted. We also take for granted, or maybe I should say, we forget to take into account, the impact we have on people, and the impact they have on us (okay, this may sound a little “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”-ish, but it’s true!). This was brought home to me just yesterday in two unrelated ways.
First we learned that Chuck’s Aunt Elsie, the 100-year-old we went to visit in August had died. She went quickly and that was great. She was such a pistol, I’d hate to think of her lingering in a hospital bed stuck between life and death hooked up to machines. She dodged all that by falling at home then dying just hours later. Chuck lived with Elsie when he was very young and his mother was in a sanatorium being treated for tuberculosis so for all of his life Elsie thought of Chuck as if he were her own little boy. We should all be as cool as Elsie: she was a huge sports fan and received a bunch of neat swag from the Phillies for her hundredth birthday. She voted in every election and was a staunch Republican (we had a lively conversation with her in August about Obama). She used a walked but treated it more like a race car, trucking around her house at what seemed like dangerously high speeds dodging dogs, dog toys and other assorted odds and ends. She only had one son, who died when he as in his late thirties. So she and her husband raised their grandkids and when they grew up they gave them land and they all lived within walking distance of each other. In her later years, her grandson and his family lived with her. She wasn’t famous, and she lived an unassuming life but she helped and influenced a lot of people over her long life and at a very important time in Chuck’s life was there for him, and he never forgot her. I expect there are a very large number of people right now who are, like us, mourning the loss of a truly fine person, but also remembering and celebrating a life well-lived.
Later yesterday afternoon we noticed that a package had been delivered outside our door. It was from my niece. She’s a very artistic teacher who has fallen in love with photography and she sent us a lovely framed and enlarged photo of Venice, CA. She comes out with her two kids (my great-niece and great-nephew) Cora and Thor almost every summer. They are two of the best kids ever: unfailingly polite, neat and funny – the kind of kids you really like having around. Anyway, the photo was a thank you for our hospitality. But what really got us was the note she included. In it, she said that Cora had written a paper for school recently about three people she admires and why. She wrote, “I admire my Uncle Chuck because he is strong, a good listener, and fought cancer and won.” Of course, we both teared up on reading this. But in a larger way I was once again reminded of the impact we make on people, often without intending to. Chuck didn’t intend to impress Cora, he was just himself around her. Cora was just smart and sensitive enough to recognize and appreciate that that in itself was what made him special. He touched her life and made an impact. And years from now, maybe Cora will encounter a young kid and remember Chuck’s kindness and generosity to her and be kind and generous to that kid, paying forward his gift to her.
A butterfly flaps its wings, a stone drops in a pond and the ripple extends out and there are all sorts of unintended outcomes.