When a person dies, those who are mourning begin to talk about and characterize the life that has passed. When Brian's grandmother died (almost two years ago now), everyone who spoke of her mentioned how quick she was to laugh, how loving she was. When my grandmother died (eight years ago), I heard story after story of how nurturing she was, how carefully she tended to every living thing (plants, squirrels, chihuahuas, neighbors, congregants - every living thing, including me) in her path. Describing their lives so succinctly is a way of remembering the best and enduring parts of who they were. In death, I suppose, nuance loses some value.
My great-aunt died last Saturday. She was a passive woman, gentle in her demeanor. When my dad was orphaned at 15, her husband agreed to take in his sister's children, and my aunt - who had not wanted children - became a mother of four. She was neither especially cruel nor especially kind. Her house was always clean, and she was perfectly content in her sister's shadow (who is a giant among men and a local legend, known for her kindness and her ability to get things done). She was neither mysterious nor aloof, just never very interested. We buried her yesterday.
And I can't quite figure out what word would characterize her life. My impression is only that, because I - like so many - knew her from a distance, but my impression is that her life is characterized by order and by a quiet (those four kids must have shaken up the quiet for a few years) that is not derived from peace but from .... something else. I don't know what. To my knowledge she was not a believer, but as Brian said, everybody gets a Christian burial in the South. And though I hate to admit it, at her funeral I wasn't especially sad. I wasn't glad either. I was ... passive, as she had been. It was odd.
I guess the larger point here, more than telling you about my aunt, is that I've been thinking lately about what traits characterize our lives. It is ridiculous to think of living for a funeral, or even for a reputation, but it is interesting to consider what qualities encompass everything I do, over time. How my life will be described when someone condense it into a paragraph to be read to - Lord willing - my grandchildren's friends.
That's what's on my mind today. Happy Friday all.