We run with so much vigor when we’re young, so eager to get to the next milestone. My grandmother used to remind me “Don’t wish your life away, honey. . .” but I would laugh at the impossibility of that and ignore the deeper meaning.
In college I was so caught up in figuring out who I was, and who I would be, and who I would be with, that I often didn’t appreciate the present. I would complain about an assignment that would place me in a comfortable spot doing nothing but reading a pleasant book, and now I wish I had that kind of time, so I still wish away my life looking forward to retirement, when I can do what I thought was torture back in college.
Except once in a while, I’m reminded to enjoy the present. Friday was one of those times. A dear friend recently lost her husband of many years, just as she was retiring. They had many plans and dreams for retirement, but those plans faded quickly and disappeared. Friday I was privileged to be with her as we sprinkled his ashes at the finish line. In a sense, this is the same finish line we are all rushing towards every day, even though our rushing rarely speeds anything up, and even though that finish line is not what’s on our minds as we rush through the parts of the track before it.
I confess that when she poured out the ashes, I thought how sad it was that this was all there was. A whole life, in ashes to be mixed with dust under the hooves of racing horses. Her emotion was palpable when she first stepped onto the dust of the track. They had been here so many times, laughing, shouting, enjoying friends. And it was all coming down to this. Her eyes welled up as we prayed and thanked God for the time and the memories, and she wept as we poured him out into the dust. Even though I had just said the prayer, it wasn’t until the urn was opened and I was thinking how sad it was, that God reminded me that this was not at all the sum of this man or their marriage.
Because humans are more intangible than tangible.
We are not summed up by the ashes of our bones, but the memories of others.
We are in the things we’ve built and the ideas and thoughts we’ve documented.
We exist in the people we’ve loved and inspired, and sadly even in those we’ve hated.
That’s why people can still relate to Walt Whitman or Edgar Allen Poe, when they read, or can still enjoy Christopher Wren (maybe unknowingly) when they visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.
On a smaller scale, that’s why a widow can still smile when she remembers her husband, and how he induced that very smile. It’s amazing that he can still do it, though not here.
So the ashes are not the man. The smile is. The ashes are just the refuse of the person – not the sum of them.
It’s as though Larry was running the race, and at some point was so hindered by a body that he left it at what we who are still grounded call a finish line, and he zoomed ahead, now uninhibited by the extra weight.
It’s so hard, sometimes, to keep running that race inhibited by a body when your partner has left you in the dust of the track. You feel heavier, as you suddenly feel weighted down by the bones that the partner managed to shed. “Why must I stay? Why can’t I fly with him?”
Good question. I tell myself that the answer is in the question, “Why did he stay as long as he did?”
“To help me run the race.”
So now the question is, who is the survivor training?
For whom am I setting a pace?
Just as your husband ran with you,
You still have a place.
So keep running;
Don’t overdo the haste,
and soon enough, you’ll join him
Face to Face.
In honor of Sue and Larry