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I wrote before about losing my friend Andrew to a tragic accident on September 1.  Today was the day of his memorial service here in Boulder.  I had definitely shed a few tears, but as is often the case with me, I had delayed my reaction to his death for several weeks.  I was tearful through most of the service, but once I hugged our friend C.J., the emotional dam cracked.  I started to weep.  After composing myself slightly, I sat and watched the slide show that Drew’s nephew had put together; then I lost it.  Just lost it.  The dam broke.  His dear friend Tom came and sat with me, clearly beaten down by his own grief, and let me cry.  He gave me one of Drew’s many (many) bandanas to cry in, to dry my tears, to remember him by.  Then I got better.

It is so hard to know that he is gone, that I won’t see him again. SO hard.

This celebration of Andrew was exactly what he would have wanted.  It was exactly what he DID want.  All his friends together, from all over the country, telling stories, laughing, crying.  So many of us walked away today with the same resolution – to be like Andrew and keep connected with our friends.   If there was one thing that stands out for me about him, it was his remarkable gift for staying in touch, for caring across the miles, for making sure you KNEW that he cared.  The best way that any of his friends could possibly honor him is to live our lives in that same spirit – the spirit of letting our friends know that they are not forgotten, not alone.  That is the simple, priceless legacy of this oh-so-human man.

One of the nicest things about today, aside from seeing some old friends, was making a new one.  What a wonderful surprise, what a wonderful gift, that I sat next to a woman I had met before, and we discovered we hit it off like we’d known each other for years.

I had been talking with a friend about this last night, about how bad I am at staying in touch with people who I love.  After today, I am more resolved than ever to change that facet of myself, to shed my own perception of myself as someone others don’t care about staying in touch with.  That perception is built solely by me and my own actions.  If I don’t like it, I can do something about it.  And that something will allow my life to be fuller and richer, just as Andrew’s was.  He never did anything halfway, and no one who knew him could say that his life was half-lived.  There were bad times and wonderful times, and he lived them all to the fullest extent possible.  The pictures of him on the slide show, on the cubes on the tables, all showed his joy.  I now wish I had been able to share in that joy even more than I did.

Of course, Andrew was there.  Towards the end of the afternoon, I experienced that odd shamanic phenomenon of seeing his face in others, just a glance, a glimpse, and it was gone.  On top of my visit with him a few days after his passing, it made sense – he did love to play and no one loved a good party better than Drew.  And he wanted so much to be sure that everyone was okay – especially Sarah.  He is playing now, playing with his new abilities to stay in touch with the people he loved.  He is smiling, as always.

His sister and his friends did a wonderful job arranging everything, expressing their feelings, and helping all of us remember the joy that was Andrew.  I thank them.  And I thank members of his railroad family for coming.

But most of all, I thank Andrew for having been a part of my life.  I miss him.

As we know, according to my Mother, I was born asking where the next bus was.  I’ve never been content in this incarnation, this body, much less in being settled in one place.  In my head, I’ve been planning my journey around the world for years.  I’ve been longing for a life on a tropical island since I was eight years old.

My Mother’s mother went from home to home in the South and Midwest with my grandfather, who would buy land, build a house, live in it, teach school, farm, then sell the place, buy land somewhere, build a house, live in it…you get the picture.  I suppose my grandmother was content with this lifestyle – I never thought to ask.   But I know that at some point, late in her life, she had some kind of epiphany, which resulted in my Mother receiving a letter that started with, “By the time you read this, I will be in Yugoslavia.”  I think she had the wanderlust in her as well.  I have two mental images of my grandmother – one is of her sitting in a chair in The Barn, the last house my grandfather remodeled.  She’s wearing a plaid shirt, her glasses, looking away, looking peaceful.  The other is of her in a trenchcoat, her head covered by a white scarf, walking on a hill at the Acropolis.  Such a contrast, both so lovely.  Both so her.

My Mother was very like my grandmother – practical, peaceful.  On one of our last days together, we talked about the wanderlust thread that runs through the women in our family.  She had it too, always happy moving from house to house, always wanting to go to Europe, to see the Grand Canyon.  Her burning desire for most of her life was to go to India.  She never told me about that until that conversation.  My father was never happier than when at home, and so her dreams of journeying were thwarted.  She never resented it.  But after he died – in fact, while we were still in the room following his memorial service, she turned to her friend Jane and started discussing going on a Caribbean cruise.  (She felt a little bad about that, but she had no reason to.)

She did go on her Caribbean cruise that Fall, and I met her in Tortola and took her and her best friend around the island.  It was wonderful for all of us.  But she never got to see the Grand Canyon.  I suppose now she’s able to see it all, and that’s a nice thought.

Then there’s me.  Always planning, sometimes going.  I am learning that having the right place to call home is a good complement to traveling.  It changes the wandering from an escape, a search for something, to pure adventure and peaceful exploration.

Kelsea daily says to me, “You know what I want?  I want to go to Ireland.”  She fell in love with Ireland, even moreso than she loves Wales, when she went to Europe last summer.  I told her that I never even got on a plane until I was 14, and here she’s been to Europe twice.  She can now say, in an annoyingly blase manner, “I didn’t care for Paris.  I much preferred London.”  To which I snarl, “I’ve never SEEN Paris.” 

She says this is all my fault.  I’m the one who put travel posters (one, ironically, of the Eiffel Tower) on the walls of her nursery.  I’m the one who showed her pictures of exotic places around the world from the time she could sit in my lap.  I’m the one who sent her to Europe to experience other cultures.  And all of that is true.  But it’s not my fault.

It’s something in our bloodline, something that runs through the women just like the shine does, a spark that makes us want to see the world, while having a true home to which to return.  A longing  for a life that is a perpetual Grand Tour.  A desire to meditate with Buddhist monks in Tibet, to beachcomb on deserted islands off the coast of Brazil, to watch breaching whales in Alaska’s waters, and swim with seals in the Galapagos.  To see lava creep down a Caribbean volcano in Montserrat, the moonlight on the Taj Mahal, and the sun shine through the ceiling of the Pantheon.  To climb the hills of Bray, and count each sheep in Wales.

Homer said, “There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.”  I heartily disagree.  My thinking is more in line with Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”  (Stevenson died and is buried on an island in the South Pacific.)

In my eyes, our women’s wanderlust is a true blessing.  My mother and my grandmother are smiling.

I want to leave something behind when I go that will make the world a better place. 

Perhaps not ALL of my actions on this planet have been honorable – OK, I know they haven’t, but there are some realms of dishonor into which I could never venture.  There are some dark places that I know of in the souls of others that simply do not exist in my own, some stretches of spiritual coastline on which the waves of my soul are incapable of breaking.  There is nothing I have done that I could not tell my daughter about, although I’d like to explain some of my actions.  I don’t believe her father can say the same.  That’s too bad.  But then, he’s always been very good at justifying his actions and rationalizing how others are responsible for his behaviors.

A few days ago, I posted the (alleged) lines from Emerson on the definition of success.  As I think in terms what my legacy will be, those lines breathe in my mind.  I know that through our travels together, and our current closeness, Kelsea will have a lot of good memories of beautiful places and magical times.  I am hoping – although no parent can ever be sure – that she will be, as I have told her since before she could speak, a wonderful little person.  That in itself is legacy enough – bringing a life into this world that brings light to the lives of others.

But what about me?  I would suspect, knowing my Mother, that she had similar thoughts of her children.  I’m not sure I’ve created anything lasting.  I’ve given some folks some happiness.  I’ve changed the course of at least one life.  I’ve created a beautiful garden – but let it die.  I’ve written some good words, but have no sense that they will outlive me in any fashion.  I’ve taken some wonderful pictures, but none save my closer confidantes have seen them – they are currently lost in the online image gallery crowd.  If I died tomorrow, they would be lost as almost all photos are after the shutter-snapper’s passing.  I have not created anything with permanence, with substance. 

Is that an essential element of a legacy?  Or are the memories that another has of you enough?  And why is it important?

I think that to me, it’s important because I want to leave the world more beautiful than it was when I came into it.    96 people die every minute of every day.  How many of those people leave something tangible behind?  How many of those people leave something behind that enhances the beauty of the planet?  Is it only artists?  Collectors?  Writers? Scientists?  Builders?  If it’s practical, but not beautiful, is that a worthwhile legacy?  If you’ve saved a life but left nothing tangible, is that a worthwhile legacy?

I’m just thinking on keyboard now.  I believe I need to dedicate more thought to this question.  It feels important for me to understand my own position.

 

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