Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Remembering Nell

Be forewarned, I am in a bit of existential angst, a sort of divine discontent, so please bear with me, if you can stand it.

Today is the 9th anniversary of the day my grandmother died. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get to her gravesite today, I went yesterday. It is a typical Vancouver gravesite, where more value is given to being kept neat and tidy than to growing plants (unlike is Iceland, where growing plants is what is hard, so the effort is put into nurturing many plants big and small to demonstrate love and respect to the deceased). But even so there are trees and bushes. Each year during this time in the cemetery I notice that there are a great number of cherry trees, and I promise myself I will come back in 3 weeks or so when they are in full bloom. Some years I do, some years I don’t. This day was a wildly and atypically blustery day. Sort of eerie in it’s peculiarity.

Looking at Nell’s gravestone, I couldn’t help but notice that above her name are the names of her family: her sister, her mother and father, and her grandfather. While I love Nell in a deep, tender, spacious way, and feel a profound connection and kinship with her, as I ran my fingers over the indents which is all that is left of our ancestors I notice that I feel nothing for these other people that share her earthly grave forever. Mostly because I know nothing about them. What were there mannerisms? What was their sense of humour like? What was their favourite memory or object? Who did they love and how did they show it? What mattered most to them? Were they happy? Did they do anything significant with their lives? Were they well loved? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t know these people, people that probably meant a lot to a woman that meant a lot to me. So is this what it all comes down to in the end? I mean we all die eventually. My great, great grandfather Francis Bradley, my grandmother, one day, me, and, let’s face it even my children, god willing (that god willing will be for the having them, not for them dying, obviously, although I guess in some of those hard parenting moments even the best of mothers think evil thoughts). There is no stopping it, because if it isn’t from cancer, it is from being run over by a bus. There is nothing we can do to dodge that bullet. (Is there such a thing a quality of death?) So what do we do while we are here to make sure it matters that we were even here at all?

This past weekend, when Reese Witherspoon won the best actress Oscar she spoke of June Carter’s concerned with “just trying to matter”. So how do we do that? How do we matter? Is touching one life deeply more important/useful/effective than touching many in a peripheral or superficial way? And if the impact can ripple out, so each life we touch, might matter and make a difference to the people in their life, does that weigh on the scales too? And what are the things that matter? As Ralph Waldo Emerson (clearly not related to the controversial MP David Emerson) put it: “to leave the world a better place; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.” All of these are important, and beautiful. But is there anyway to quantify mattering? I mean, what has more value? A small kindness: to a loved one or to a stranger? Which makes more of a difference? To bring ease and relief: to a mind or a body? Which is more important? To change the world, or to hold a child’s hand? Or can holding a child’s hand change the world? And are these just meanderings of the mind, intended to distract me from doing something that actually matters?

Further, we don’t know which thing we do will have the effect. Is it the hand we hold in the hospital or the council we keep with a friend considering leaving the father of her children? Which action truly matters, or makes a difference? I always assume it is the grand gesture, the large thing, the significant or important act. But in reality that doesn’t always seem the case. An obvious example is my cat Maggie. She doesn’t even for an instant worry about if she is making a difference, or mattering, but in fact, she makes my life quite a bit better and more pleasant through her company and presence. So trying to do it, being conscious does not necessarily help. In fact, it is usually when I am so busy living life, full and distracted, that I suspect I inadvertently touch lives in good (opps, I accidentally typed “god”) ways. And yet I know that being mindful, and choosing intentionally and with love is am important part of the process too. A bit like “choosing joy” as previously written about. What I am also noticing, right now in fact, is that trying to figure it out isn’t that helpful, so I will leave off and just trust that the universe works in mysterious ways. And I guess I don’t get to know ahead of time how things turn out, or what matters most, but rather I get to just keep doing my best to be my best.

Here are some questions to leave you with (like I haven’t asked enough already?!?)

What is the legacy you want to leave behind?
Who do you choose to be each day?
How have you mattered?

And here is to Nell, as I type this my eyes turn to your picture on my wall, you are still remembered and loved, your legacy runs deep!


At 2:47 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have already touched so many lives - you matter, your life matters and god forbid you get hit by a bus tomorrow, know that you have impacted my life and the lives of so many others (and please don't be stepping in front of buses!)


At 7:33 PM PST, Blogger Signy said...

I recently found out a way I mattered just the other day. My journey, or my attitude, or my fire (see, we just never know what the impactful thing is)empowered someone to stand up and make their needs and wants known to their medical practitioner. You gotta know I like that!!!! YAY.


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