This has been a week for contemplation. It all started on Sunday, when our priest in his slow, Mississippi drawl started off his sermon with the words: I always did like old Nickodemis. A pharasee who admitted that he didn't understand how this life after death thing worked exactly. Our priest tends to ramble a bit, touching on a few subjects over the course of the sermon, then somehow coming back around and tying it all up into a thoughtful package. On this Sunday, we rambled through the nature of the next life and how when you go through to the otherside, you leave what you were behind you.
It's all faith, of course. No one really knows for sure what happens after you die. Where you go, what you do. What happens next. I'm rather pudgy here... will I be in a similar state when I get my next body? Or will I get one at all? Is there a concept of rich and poor, illness and health? How about a sense of worth? Do you give up all individuality when you cross over to the other side, or do you somehow retain your identity - and what, exactly does that consist of?
All of these questions swirled around in my mind on Sunday afternoon as I went about doing laundry and other mundane but necessary chores.
As I worked, my thinking turned to aftermath - what would I leave behind when I went? How would I be remembered? If it's soon, I'd leave behind a pile of debt, a bewildered boy and sad man. My dogs would wait for me to come home. And my cats would curl up on my bed, inhaling the last of my scent and remembering all the nighttime pets. But eventually, they would all get used to life without me.
The left behind part I'm more concerned with is how I'll be remembered. I hope no one remembers me as a bitch. Perhaps my ex-husband. Preferrably, I'd pass through people's minds as a person who cared for other people. Who was gentle with the elderly, firm with the young, compassionate with those who needed it. I'll never be written up as a major contributor to charities, or mourned as a lost intellect or wit.
Instead, I want my boy to remember hugs. Smiles. Laughter. Interesting discussions and flights of fancy. I want him to remember the values I've tried to instill in him - honesty, integrity, the willingness to do the work to accomplish the things he wants to do - and the fortitude to realize that things don't always work out the way you want them to, and the strength of character to move forward anyway.
My husband would be lost for a while, but I want him to find another love - a real one - and live out his life as happily as he can, being thankful that I was a part of it for a while, rather than cursing my brief presence.
Sunday night, as I put away some laundry and was thinking about going to bed, the phone rang. Rarely is a ringing phone at that time of night a good thing. The number on caller ID was not one I recognized immediately, but it felt familiar enough that I answered. My boss. Calling to inform me that my husband's boss had been killed in an accident that afternoon. We all work together in the same place - I knew the man in passing. His office was right around the corner from mine and I rarely entered or left the building without saying hi or bye. Most of our interactions were in the lunchroom... pondering the treasures in the vending machine or vying to be the next to use the microwave.
I didn't know much about him - whether he had children, though he mentioned his wife a few times while we waited for someone's lunch to ding. I knew he liked golf and cigars as evidenced by the magazines he'd leave for other people to read. And he'd discovered a passion for motorcycles a few years previously, taking great joy in riding whenever he could.
Ultimately, that passion was his undoing. Like everything else he did at work, he followed the rules for riding. He wore a helmet. He wore protective clothing. He was a reasonable rider - not one of those hotshots who zipped up behind you on the road, passed and disappeared into thin air in front of you. But following the rules can't always protect you from fate or someone else's stupidity.
Sunday was beautiful. The dogwoods were finally blooming and the azaleas were coming into their own. And this man rode his beautiful, powerful bike down a winding country road behind a car full of kids. The car pulled over to the side, and as the motorcycle was passing, pulled out in front, making an illegal u-turn. Bike hit driver's side door. I don't know if he even knew what was happening. All I know is this - he was pronounced dead on the scene and the kid driving that car will never be the same. News footage showed a beaucolic green landscape beyond the road. A car sideways across the road, with a motorcycle on its side in front of it. Nothing terribly graphic... until the shot of the trouper picking up a bloodied jacket from the side of the road. It was fast. Brief. If you blinked, you'd miss it. But that shot told me everything.
There is a wife, who but for being out of town would have been on the back of that motorcycle. And two nearly grown sons. And a whole raft of family and friends I never knew existed, because he and I were passing acquaintances. The funeral today was surreal. Work people took up the back half of the chapel and the aforementioned family and friends took up the front.
As I looked around, I was reminded of my thoughts all Sunday afternoon. How would I be remembered? Who would remember me? Would I fill this chapel or would there be a few scattered people in the pews? Would I, in the end, live up to my idea of myself? And would I carry that idea of myself beyond my body and into the next "life?"
You never know other people. I didn't know him. He didn't know me. But seeing the people who will miss him when he's gone reminds me that everyone touches someone else. Even when you feel alone, you are not. Someone cares. Someone loves. Someone will miss you when you're gone.