Friday, December 21, 2007

Losing the Fight

I remember when Sammy Davis Jr. died - it was one of my first poems not about me. Up until that time, I had written mainly about things I could relate to. Something happened when we lost this entertainer and pioneer - it just may have unearthed the reality that we were losing jewels in our culture, in our society - and I wondered if we really understood what this meant. In many ways I think it was largely about a reality check that the people who were dying were people who had some impact on my life, great or small. No longer, when I read or heard about someone dying, was I able to just shake it off. Fast forward to today, and I realize - the losses are getting greater and deeper in my life.

On the television Julia Carson is being laid to rest. Her political career had not interested me the way life long followers showed their dedication, because in many ways our politics are different. I am a late to Indy political junkie, and in recent months I started following her career most closely. I mourn today for a different reason - for what her life meant - to those born to out of wedlock mommys. Her mother gave birth at 16, after dropping out of school in 2nd grade. Julia being a representative of Congress, is representative of so much more than that. She was a fighter and a bit of a pistol, and she cared by every account for other people.

Her political stands are not mine, but if when I go people are clear about what I stood for - that's a crown jewel if ever I saw one. Julia Carson garners my respect for not being afraid to stand tall. When she was really sick during the last political cycle I remember hearing a reporter challenge her - she quickly took him to school about the number of elected officials who served with health challenges, and for that I took a lesson. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. She already knew the questions that would come at her - and she was incredibly prepared to respond - with a bit of finger snapping in her voice. Dear Julia - proof that a woman can rise to any occasion - rest in peace.

Then there's Ray Charles, and his legacy. The man owned his masters at a time when people didn't do much beyond give thanks for a contract. You saw the movie Ray, no need to go into details about his life - his family stuff is a bit hard to swallow. But check this out - he clearly outlined his intentions in his will - providing for ALL of his children equally, and leaving no questions about how he wanted his stuff handled. I respect that. Those of us in blended families know well that taking a stand would be a blessing.

This year has also been a time of family loss. My dear great aunt passed and she was one of the most thoughtful people - I still have memories of the care packages she sent to me at Purdue, or the way she remembered each of my children in some way. She will forever be missed. She opened her home to any and everyone, and she guaranteed you a meal whenever you crossed her doorstep. She had a heart wide open - and she didn't let "what I have, don't have, aspire to have" or anything else matter. She created feast after feast, from the abundance of her heart. I'm still trying to have a house warming, 16 months later.

Then my uncle passed this fall, a man of great character and family values. I traveled to visit his family in California shortly after I graduated from Purdue, and our relationships changed drastically. I gathered a greater understanding of him, based on spending time with him. He loved to cook, he wrote often and tremendously beautiful letters, he sent me ritzy magazines I could never splurge on, and he loved me. He was proud of me, and he told me so - often.

This past weekend, we learned of another loss. My dear Mr. Henry, a neighborhood father to the entire community, died on Saturday, December 15th. His wife, a community activist that hired my husband at the height of his decision to pursue development, wa s nice enough to call us and share Mr. Henry's thoughts. I tended to send letters, cards, and hand written notes - but her call will forever linger in my mind. She said, in the midst of her own loss, "Henry wanted you to know that he loved you. He was proud of both of you. He thanked you for allowing him to be a part of your life."

So - it is the holiday season. We will be gathering with family, socializing, doing our thing - but will we remember the many lives that were lost this year? My heart breaks for the homes that will be missing such an integral part of their lives. More importantly though - I have been prompted to think about those near and dear to me. Does everyone know what I think about them? Do my friends, family, neighbors have some understanding of what I value about them? Is love an action verb in my life?

Our lives are short. One day, each of us will lose the fight of hanging on to this life, to enter into the next. What will you be remembered for? What plans have you made for eternity? And...what will prompt others to write an entry into their hearts about the legacy you leave? In my last round, I'd be happy to have the character shown from these loved ones, live on.

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