“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”
Every now and then I’ll read a phrase that punches me in the gut.
The Book Thief is waiting for me. Thus, while I don’t have the context around the sentence, I am struck by how true–how full—this statement is. I’m old enough now to have known several people who have died–my grandparents, my bonus parents, my friends. It’s never easy, is it?
I don’t think this quote is so much on how people die though, as how we choose to live.
Take for example, my friend Nora. She’s had a few challenges thrown her way–big ones. One of the things that happened was her legs quit working. I don’t understand all of the reasons why, and they don’t matter as much as the fact that her legs continued to lose strength until she was reliant on a wheelchair. Yet that hasn’t slowed her down– from my observations when I saw her last month, it’s only spurred her to accomplish even more with her life. Aside from the fact she can take anyone (and I do mean anyone) in arm-wrestling, she’s also extremely smart, very generous, and oh-so witty. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly two decades, and though we only had a few hours to share, we managed to catch up on all the important things. Way up on that list is our mutual respect and love, and how we value our friendship. Nora fills her days with life.
Contrast that to another friend of mine. This person seems to have filled her days with resentment and grudges even though to an observer like me, there didn’t appear to be much cause for it. Perhaps–probably–there are sadnesses I never knew, but she had kids who loved her, a husband who treasured her, a nice home, and plenty of time on her hands. Perhaps it was too much time, though, because she spent most of it alone, retreating behind her doors even when company came. She was lonely, and while very loving, she had rules about who she would share that love with. That circle became smaller and smaller until in the end, no one knocked on her door.
My cousin, one of two children, made the decision to stay forever in her (very) small-town after her brother died in a car accident when they were teens. Yet, she didn’t set those boundaries to live a small and sheltered life. She decided on what was important to her, chose to support her parents, and then made a very big life around that. She laughs, so much. She too, fills her days with life.
None of us has a simple path. There are losses and sadnesses and deep wounds for everyone. These are the things that make us appreciate what we have, the bitter to balance the sweet, the ability to have tea even when the tea set is sculpted to the table.
Zukas had another great line in the same book:
I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means you need life in your life.
I’m about to go get me some. Join me?