Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Life lessons

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Life lessons

Friday, July 9, 2010

I’ve lost people lately--family members, friends, people I had known for years, and those I’ve known only recently. In each case I attended a funeral or a memorial service in which tributes were offered that spoke to various aspects of who these people were and what their importance was in the lives of others.

Yesterday I heard a nephew’s deeply loving--and beautifully written--tribute to a grandfather who, he said, had "only one laugh”--never a sarcastic or condescending or polite laugh, but only a genuine expression of humor to be relished and shared. A few weeks ago heard a woman talk of a poet friend’s passion for reading not only poetry but about the lives of the poets and what may have led them to write the particular words they wrote. I heard about a new friend--a man I met only after he had become quite ill--whose unremitting appetite for life lasted through physical trials that might have discouraged someone else.

And from hearing about each of these lives, I learned a little more about what I want in my own.

I’ve found that kind of lesson, too, in obituaries I’ve read. I know people don’t like to admit they read obituaries. It seems like the occupation only of the old. But I’ve been fascinated by them for years, these mini-biographies of people who have left some mark on my own times. They may have been well-known, maybe people I admired. Or maybe they were people I had never heard of. But their stories told me something about how lives are lived.

There is a line by Willa Cather which sounds very true to me and which I have quoted in my own writing: “There are only two or three human stories and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” Those stories have been lived before. Other people have discovered ways to live them and their examples offer lessons that can inform, even enrich, our own lives.

And so, to those writers of memorial service tributes and to the writers of obituaries as well as to the writers of biographies, my gratitude for teaching me more about what is important, what is enduring, what make a life of meaning in the world.

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