When we first moved into our house Marie was one of the first to greet us. She was a former school teacher and former real estate agent and was already retired by then. She had been living in her little house across the street from us for many, many years and she immediately made us feel incredibly welcome in her neighborhood. Over the years we did a lot of errands for her, although in the last several years the younger couple who moved in next door to her sort of took over that role. She only called us for help on rare occasions when they were not available. As I ponder this now I realize that pretty soon we’re going to be the old folks in the neighborhood. My friends and relatives who are my age or close to it are now the ones battling cancer, surviving heart attacks, and in other ways showing the wear and tear on aging bodies.
You know when someone is as old as Marie that they are not going to last forever, that their time is limited. What most of us don’t realize is that our time is always limited. Not everyone takes advantage of all the minutes and hours they are given because they refuse to acknowledge that inevitability. Marie did. She knew she was getting older and more frail, but she didn’t let that diminish her capacity for life. She was an incredibly active woman, gardening into her early nineties, active in her church, watching out for the neighborhood, keeping socially active. It was only a few years ago that I helped her with her shoveling–meaning I did what I could as fast as I could while she was also shoveling. Until she had her first bad fall just a couple years ago she still drove all over the city to visit friends, do volunteer work, and more. Apparently the day before she passed away she talked to our neighbor about wanting to get her license back again. She lived fully in the present day with an ever-present eye on the future. I didn’t see her look backwards very often. Mostly she talked of things she was doing, not what had already passed.
It’s mind-boggling when I think of all that she lived through at her age. She lived through two world wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, two Iraqi wars, Afghanistan and others. She lived through the Great Depression and the boom years of the mid-twentieth century. When she was a child there were no radios, televisions, or computers. There were no microwave ovens, no video recorders, or Internet. There were scant few cars and airplanes were still new. Rockets and space travel were crazy dreams. Nobody had cell phones; few had telephones at all. When she was born women were not allowed to vote. There was actually no sliced bread to compare subsequent inventions to until she was about ten years old.
What I realize when I think about all these changes (and more) during Marie’s lifetime is that technologically we live in a fast-paced, constantly changing world. In my lifetime I have lived through some incredible discoveries and witnessed many new and exciting inventions and innovations. But there are some things that don’t change, and these are the things that are important. Being kind to one’s neighbors is one of them. Loving one’s family is another. Giving of oneself as part of a community is yet another. These are the things that defined Marie, that made her someone we all cared for and respected. And these are the things that will last. Long after the last skyscraper has crumbled to the earth an act of kindness now could still be reverberating generations hence. For people like Marie there is no mortality. She will live on in the memories of those who knew her and in the ripples of her heart through the body of our earth.