This weekend I attended my second funeral in about six months. The first was my oldest brother’s The second was for the mother of a college friend. Neither death was caused by the pandemic but took place during it.
As I departed to Georgia from Louisiana, as the plane cut a path through the clouds and came to a cruise above them, it occurred to me that I was now fully entrenched in the second phase of adulthood.
It is that time of life when children begin to graduate from high school or college and leave home. My own children have now all graduated from college, although the oldest is now in medical school. They are grown-up now, apart from me, making their own lives and their own decisions, and I now have to forge a different relationship with them, an adult one.
This idea of developing a friendship with your children is foreign, exhilarating and absolutely necessary. It is a form of releasing them to keep them, of elevating them and respecting them.
It is that time of life when some people’s first marriages die or new marriages are born. I officiated the second marriage of one of my best friends last year. It symbolized to me that rebirth is possible, that starting over is feasible, that not giving up on love is essential.
But this time of life is also the time when parents — yours and those of your friends and relatives — grow older and slower, get sicker and begin to pass away. At the funeral of my friend’s mother this weekend, he told me that the mother of another of our college friends died a few days ago.
One of my oldest friends is dealing with a father on the decline, in a nursing home, and suffering through escalating phases of dementia. Last year one of my best friends lost his mother.
This seemingly sudden intrusion of death into your life changes you. At least it is changing me. It reminds me that life is terribly fragile and short, that we are all just passing through this plane, ever so briefly. And that has impressed upon me how important it is to live boldly, bravely and openly, to embrace every part of me and celebrate it, to say and write the important things: the truth and my truth.
I realize that, according to the odds, my life is nearly two-thirds over, that I have more summers behind me than in front of me. This doesn’t mean that I’ve grown fatalistic or even that I feel particularly old. It is just a realization that the math says what the math says. And as such, I have begun to make certain adjustments, to change my perspective on my life.
I have started to manage my regrets and to reduce them, to forgive myself for foolish mistakes and reckless choices, to remember that we are all just human beings stumbling through this life, trying to figure it out, falling down and getting back up along the way. I have learned to cut myself some slack and get on with being a better person.
I must say that the pandemic may also be contributing to all this. I have fundamentally changed during it, been changed by it, like many others I suppose. After I got over the initial shock of it feeling like the world as I knew it was coming to an end, I became incredibly introspective, and I didn’t like some of what I saw. So, I changed it.
I decided to be healthier, physically, mentally and spiritually, and I decided that I needed to make my mark on the world, the biggest, boldest mark I was destined to make, while I still had time and energy, but also to be thankful for the road my life had already taken.
I always remember that I’m a poor kid from a tiny town in the American South. I remember the summer when I didn’t wear shoes, the Saturday afternoon trips to the junkyard to scavenge for toys other children had thrown away, the house with the leaky windows through which you could hear the wind howl.
As the performer Dorian Corey expounded in the documentary “Paris Is Burning”:
“I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you’ve made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you’ve left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it.”
I also decided to just enjoy it. I have decided to be more intentional about managing and maintaining personal relationships, to watering those flowers.
When I am gone, and people remember my name, I want some of them to smile.