April showers are supposed to bring May flowers. But this past May brought three funerals, a break-up, and three weddings. I know, it sounds like the sequel to an ‘90s British comedy starring Hugh Grant. Most of the bad news, however, arrived in rapid succession, literally in less time than it would have taken to get through the trailer.
But weddings are happy, right? Yes, they are. As they should be. It’s just that I had to perform the first of those three weddings. And it’s difficult to stand up in front of a church full of people and convince them about love and celebrating common connections with someone special and bringing two hearts together when yours is hanging in tatters inside your suit coat.
The other two weddings? Well, I would be seated next to an empty plate.
I was honored to have been asked to conduct the wedding of my cousin and his fiancée though. While planning the ceremony I learned they’d met one day while walking around a lake in Austin, Texas. A totally random and unexpected encounter. Which is really how any relationship starts. Even if friends hook you up, there have been infinite choices, decisions, and moments in multiple people’s histories far back to the cave people that effected you being there at that moment. So it’s all by chance.
The question is what you do with it. Because everything, every moment, is a life-changing moment, bringing us a little bit closer to something, a little bit further away from something else.
But even weddings contain the word ‘death’. “‘til death do us part.”. “All my life.” Stuff like that. It doesn’t always work out that way we know. But looking at my cousin and his soon-to-be-as-soon-as-I-say-so-bride…they believe that’s how it shall be. It’s not a promise that it will happen, it’s a statement of how they want it to be and how they’ll try as hard as they can to make it happen. That’s a strong emotion. A scary, powerful, exhilarating, dizzy, giddy, laughing, terrifying, wonderful thing.
And sometimes, wouldn’t you know, it actually fucking works out.
Which, oddly enough, leads me to the first funeral.
It was for my brother-in-law’s mom. My sister married a good man, so we usually just do away with the ‘in-law’ part. His mom was 110% Irish. She was older and you could say she had a full life, but I’m sure she wanted to fill it up even more. At least until the ravaging cancer probably convinced her otherwise. I was asked to speak at the funeral because her husband and sons said they wouldn’t be able to get through it without crying. I wasn’t sure I could either.
At the cemetery, her husband of 53 years knelt down and laid a final kiss on the urn that contained her ashes. Somehow joy and sorrow stood with arms around each other, just as close as we did, at that moment. They’d created a lot of love in those 53 years. A love that would continue to grow in our sharing of memories and the DNA of my little nephews.
Thing is, even if you do everything right like they did, even if you make the right choices, every relationship, every life, every thing will end at some point. That’s just part of the deal we agreed to when we wailed out our first breath in the delivery room. If the thought of something ending scares you from undertaking it, you’d just sit on your couch. But even that would end.
The second funeral was someone my age. Hit by a truck on his bike a few blocks from his house. Duane and I grew up next to each other. In fact, he still lived with his parents. Probably because, in high school, while he was out getting stoned, I was doing research for the debate team. Who knows? A few years ago, I was hit by a bus. All my studying and good choices didn’t help me then. But I lived. There but for the grace of whatever, right?
The third death was someone only 26. Ashley was full of life. A blossoming writer. Not someone meant to be background filler. She had a future. You couldn’t look at it directly because it seemed so bright. Beautiful and witty and charming, she absorbed all life had to offer and radiated it back. Car accident one night. Done. Gone.
I started seeing notices on Facebook and checked her page to read the sad news from her sister. Just below that were posts of her out the night before running down a Boston street with a bundle of balloons. She had no idea what was coming.
Do you think her recent boyfriend or friends are thinking “What a waste of time it was getting to know Ashley. We knew she was going to die sometime.”? Quite the opposite. Because her time was so limited, it’s now even more precious. And we’re even more glad to have had it.
After a friend heard I would be going to yet another funeral this month, she said “Well, all you need now is to deliver a baby at it.” At this point, I would not be surprised.
So what does all this mean? I don’t know.
I do know all of us will die. We’re only momentarily immortal. Relationships. Jobs. Pets. Your favorite shoes. All things go away at some point. All things have their last day. Whether by choice or fate or time.
But it’s just not possible to live every day as if it were our last. We’ll only be right once. And all those other days we need to mow the lawn, chop vegetables, clip our toenails, walk back from the laundry and spend time earning money so we can maybe do stuff like skydive or go on safari in Africa. No, life can’t be one continuous bucket list.
Actually, life is nothing but a bucket list. Why can’t it include more mundane things? That’s life isn’t it? The fact you’re sitting there now reading this on a computer in the middle of this galaxy is the result of so many rare and random chances is something pretty amazing in and of itself. Sure, they’re small moments, but they do add up. It’s not like you have to break down weeping and compose a sonnet about the glory of the universe whenever you see a plastic bag floating in the wind, but, yes, there is grace and beauty in what we call the every day. There are little unsuspecting seconds that gather compound interest in our souls, building a wealth of happiness over a lifetime.
Yet so many people seem afraid of happiness and success. They don’t think the time is right or they’re perfect enough. You and the time will never be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. The imperfect thoughts I’m trying to express in this imperfect story aren’t perfect. It’s amazing how we’ll steel ourselves to accept and deal with the horrible shitstorms life hands all of us at one time or other, yet, when life throws us a serendipitous joy or opportunity we weren’t expecting, we’re all too eager to run from it or find a reason to kill it.
I’ve found that if you ignore bad things they seldom go away, the opposite is true with good things.
Our guts and hearts and minds are often in conflict, but they seem to unify in their difficulty in telling fear and excitement apart. Those emotions both drink deep and drunkenly of adrenaline, increasing our breathing, pounding our chests so hard it reverberates in quivering throughout our bodies. Perhaps we’re often afraid of succeeding, of happiness, because it feels like an end. We won. We did it. Now what? We’d rather pine away at invisible ghosts of possibility than embrace the solid and warm happiness right now and holding and growing that happiness until it’s no longer happiness or you die. Why are so many better at accepting defeat than success?
You don’t always get to choose when bad stuff happens to you. Same goes for the great things. You do get to choose whether you accept them. Both bad and good can be crushed or cultivated by our actions.
My friend Heather McElhatton wrote a book called Pretty Little Mistakes. It’s kind of a choose-your-own adventure game for adults. And the brilliance of it all is that even if you make what seem like the obvious right choices, you can still kiss your new billionaire French boyfriend good-bye and be hit by a falling brick a second later and die right there on the Paris sidewalk. If good things happen, hold on to them because they could disappear any time. If something bad happens, hold on because it could change just as fast.
If you go before your time (which oddly enough is your time) you won’t have regrets, because, well, you’re dead. Regret is for the living. So if you live long enough you’ll find the setting sun casts shadows that point at all those ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves’. And we will all have them, regardless of how happy and successful we are. We will always wonder. All the more reason to be less afraid of what you know is making you happy. Whatever that is. A sport. A friend. A job. A new skill. Maybe it won’t work out tomorrow. Or in a year. Or in decades. Maybe it’ll last until the world ends. Which could be tomorrow. Or in a year. Or in decades. If you don’t throw it away while it’s good you’ll at least know. And then, if you’re able to look back at a very long shadow years from now, your smile will stretch all the way to the horizon too.
So fuck you May of this year. Don’t let the door of history hit you in your 31st on the way out. I hope I’m around to see you redeem yourself in 2013.
I’m not really sure how to end this. Which seems fitting, since none of us know how anything will end. (Except some of the later episodes of Law & Order. Those got pretty predictable. And maybe the Mayans. But we’ll know that soon enough.) So I’ll leave a few blank lines and an ellipsis to give you a running start and let you do with it as you want. Write your own ending. Take it, hold it close, charge onto its field and Braveheart every last bit of joy out of its marrow and give it a happy now, so that if does end today, it’s also a happy ending.
But I hope it goes on for awhile yet. Because I’ve got lots of shit I still want to do. That’s all I do know.
Ready or not, here we go…