Some quiet, unassuming lives have great power and scope, but you only learn this definitively when they are cut short in their prime, one day talking and laughing, the next day in the morgue.
My friend Miriam was such a person. At the age of fifty, she had sent more encouraging notes, cooked more meals for others, taught more children, and blessed more people with her attention, than most of us would do if God were to give us 100 years. Her funeral yesterday, at Woodland Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia, filled up the sanctuary with all kinds of people, her colleagues at her elementary school, her students, her fellow members of her Mennonite church, her neighbors, even people who rode the 6:15 bus with her every morning. She had blessed us all.
During the ceremony I felt the immense power of Miriam's kind and humble spirit. I'm now in one of those rare times in my life in which, instead of being mired in my own plans and dreams and memories, I am attentive to the present and grateful for each conversation with a stranger, moment of sunshine, whiff of coffee, kiss from my husband, and cowlick on my boys' heads.
Marilynne Robinson writes in her latest novel Gilead, in the voice of the dying preacher who narrates the book,
". . . .There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn't. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don't know why I thought of that right now, except perhaps it is because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it."