Two weeks ago today, as I write this, my closest friend left all of us behind, going on to whatever, if anything, is next. She left behind a lot of broken hearts and fond memories. Fortunately, because she was a wonderful writer of poetry and prose, a painter, a musician, and much more, we will have tangible things to hold near to revive those memories.
Cappy left “too soon,” of course. Far earlier than any of us would have wished. Frankly, we would have wished that she would never leave and spare us that pain. Never mind that if we were the ones to leave first, we would be inflicting that pain of leaving on her.
Such is the nature of our feelings about those we hold most dear, even at times when letting go is the kindest thing to do. I do not think that was the case this time, but what do I know?
But of course, we all leave sooner or later. For some, sooner is too soon, for others perhaps, later could not come soon enough. Sometimes, that’s all a matter of perspective and perception, of the details of the relationship, how we interacted with the other. One person’s mortal enemy could be another’s closest friend, with both feelings being true within their context.
I can’t—or won’t—imagine Cappy having enemies, or being one. Her heart was too big, too kind, to full of love freely given, although truth be told, we never know all of a person, no matter how intimate the relationship is. Still, no, I won’t accept those other possibilities.
At times like these it’s natural to reflect on mortality generally and on our own specifically. What have we done? What is still to be done? What’s truly important and what’s not: the products of daily life, or the contributions to the life we wish to be known for? Sometimes, maybe often, it’s impossible to tell which is which.
Our legacy, in the end, is not just made up of a few big things—who decides what’s “big” and what’s not?—but of the myriad small things we do day in and day out. The kindnesses and meannesses, the gifts given and taken, offered and withheld. Each is like a tiny spot of light or dark paint dabbed on a larger canvas. Individually they don’t seem to contribute much, but when we step back, they combine or cancel to contribute to, or even create, the overall tone and color of the work.
Like the painter, we’re too close to our work to truly judge it. Yes, of course, we make our own assessment of it—we’re doing that all the time, whether we know it or not; at times like these we do know—and maybe we decide to make changes. Or decide not to. Or make no decision, which is a decision itself.
No matter what we decide, or don’t decide, those around us will make their judgments about our decisions and what kind of a person we are.
On a wall in my office I have a collection of wry, sometimes snarky “laws” of human behavior. One is called Chisholm’s Law of Human Interaction. It reads, “Purposes, as understood by the purposer, will be judged otherwise by others.” In life, those “others” are everyone around us: friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances, competitors, enemies, even people with whom we’ll only ever have one single, fleeting contact. They’ll all judge, just as we do, Jesus’s reminder, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” notwithstanding.
So when we reach the end of our days, when the string plays out and Atropos wields her dread scissors, how we will be remembered is largely out of our hands. We can only do the best we can, taking lessons from those who leave before us, in the hope that we have done enough that when it’s our turn to leave friends behind, their thoughts of us will be fond, their words about us kind.