I've Lived In Chico, CA 9 Years Now. Incredible.
How Not to Leave this Life
I was in Indianapolis over this past weekend, having traveled all day Friday to get there. My route was Chico → San Francisco--> Washington DC → Indianapolis. It seems the farther east you want to go, the more complicated the travel gets. The occasion was my third child Kalen’s graduation from De Pauw University, so the intense travel day was worth it; one more son to go in the next two weeks and I am a mom to adults as ready as they could ever be to slide down the life chute.
Since I had so much time lolling at the airports Friday, I checked in on a few friends, including one in Indy. Bob is a good friend of many years. He knew my other friend here, my best buddy Mark, who I can't talk to anymore because he died in December 2010. Well, in a manner of speaking, I did get hold of him, but I am getting ahead of the story.
Bob asked me if I wanted to see Mark's grave during my few spare hours on Saturday, mentioning that he had not yet seen it himself. Bob was online as we were talking, trying to narrow down the grave’s location in one of several Jewish cemeteries that are interconnected. We reminisced about Mark and our times with him as well as the complexity of the friendship we'd shared. We three were of a strange sort: Mark and Bob were doctors, both introspective research guys of vast talent in several unrelated areas. I was a good connector of people and ideas, much more outgoing than either of them. We’d sort of been thrown together through happenstance, and once we'd met, we couldn't let go. It had been Bob who’d called me impossibly early the day after Mark was killed, before news of his death had been officially released anywhere.
Bob eventually figured out where Mark was buried, and we agreed to touch base the next morning. Before we hung up, I told him that, by the way, May 19 – the next day—was Mark's birthday.
I overslept Saturday having gotten in so late, and missed Bob's early morning text offering to drive me from where I was staying to visit Mark’s grave. I texted back to thank him profusely and told him that there was no need to do a two-hour round trip on such short notice this visit, but that I appreciated the time we’d spent reminiscing. Someday I’ll be back, I texted. I also didn't want to complicate my son's special graduation weekend with this level of solemnity.
What I didn't share with Bob was what happened during the cab ride from the airport to my hotel when I finally made it in. The conversation I had with the driver started mundanely enough when I’d asked him where he was from. Eldorat, Kenya, was the reply – the very place Mark had done volunteer surgery in partnership with doctors from the hospital there. Once I mentioned that tiny connection I had with my driver’s hometown, he and I spent the whole 20 minute ride to the hotel talking about Mark and his good works.
I also didn't tell Bob that in yet another way I got to “see” Mark after all. I have only dreamed about Mark once or twice since he died, and Friday night not surprisingly I did so again. Sometime in those hours, in a place neither here nor there, he listened, smiling and silent as I gave him a bunch of instructions about How Not to Die. “You have a choice now,” I said to dream Mark, “because I can tell you what is going to happen if you don’t listen.” I continued:
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Don't go driving long distances in snowy, cold, windy, icy weather. "Stay where you are," I advised.
- I forgot the rest, but I know I had other ideas because the dream seemed to go on forever.
When I awoke, I struggled to remember the rest of my diatribe. Whatever I had said might come in handy for myself, my husband, others I loved. But as quickly as the dream had dissolved in the light of morning, so did the details.
About an hour later I phoned my husband Marc, who hadn’t been able to accompany me on this trip. We spoke about some good things happening in our lives. I mentioned that we needed to be careful to make decisions that really made us happy. They couldn't be based on money or what we thought others needed to have; whatever lay ahead, whenever we could choose, we needed to do so carefully so that we could make the most of the time in life we had to be with one another. “I want this sense of hope and 'looking forward' to always be part of us,” I said. “I don’t want it to end.” Life itself was energy, and I was feeling it strongly.
If, in that dream, I’d been telling my friend Mark how not to die with a set of instructions - the only remembered ones clearly based on actual events - he was at the same time reminding me how to live.
“Set me as a seal upon thy heart,” as the Song of Solomon verse reminds us, “for love is stronger than death.”
With a few hours before an event with my son’s fraternity house set to begin, I walked to a nearby Walmart to get treats for my kids and grandkids who would be part of next day’s graduation event. I stopped by the Subway on my way out to grab a sandwich and while eating, a simple scene played out in front of me that gave me goose bumps considering the events of the past 24 hours.
A young teenager accompanied by her mom slowly, deliberately laid a penny on the floor by the drink machine in front of the table where I was sitting. Her mother asked what she was doing. She replied that rather than keep her penny’s change, she was leaving it for some kid to find. “They get all excited, you know,” she told her mom. I watched her turn it over so it was heads up. She positioned it on a white, not black, tile so it would be most noticeable. Once seated, she surveyed the room and waited.
Within maybe five minutes a boy about four years old ran over to the penny, squealing with delight before running back to his own mother to show her his find. From their vantage point, the penny leaver and her mom smiled at each other.
I smiled too as I remembered an old tale my grandmother told me after I walked past a penny on the ground explaining that “It’s not worth anything” when she asked if I’d seen it. “Honey, it’s for you,” she insisted, and told me why.
Maybe you've heard the old tale too: Those randomly found pennies are more than they seem. They’re really symbols that heaven sends, and as such, we are to take them seriously. Placed on the ground within our sight in random places, it's a sign that someone who has died sees us, and wants us to know that we are, at that very moment, remembered.
Here’s a beautiful rendition of the Song of Solomon verse I mentioned in its entirety; lovely to listen to as you remember a beloved spouse, friend, or relative: