Archive for April, 2012

Letter From New York 4/16/12

April 16, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…

A little over a week ago, my beloved cousin Virginia passed away, rather suddenly, and much too quickly for all of us. She wasn’t eating much, which concerned all of us and caused us to think the end might be near but not so near. One moment she was with us; the next she was not.

Virginia was ninety when she passed away. Older than I by much, old enough to have been my parent and so it was always hard to think of her as cousin – I thought of her more as an aunt due to the age difference. Regardless of the relational nuances, Virginia was always present in my life and was a glue that held a family together. We gathered around her, to both honor her and enjoy her company.

I was asked to eulogize her; I did. I think it went well.

Last week’s Time Magazine’s lead article was about “Rethinking Heaven.” It posits that heaven is not just the celestial plane but also those things we do for each other, the kindnesses, the generosities, the graciousness and love we exhibit to one another, the concern we have for one another. Virginia manifested all of that; she was a bit of heaven on earth and she is now in heaven, surrounded by all those she loved and who loved her.

The ancient Egyptians had a phrase: To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

Virginia will continue to live in all of us who knew her, in our memories and we will speak of her but I exhorted my cousins, family and friends to let her also live through us, through following her example of kindness, graciousness, love and good works – to let her continue to live through us, to let us help heaven be on earth in her good name.

Hers was a life well lived.

I went from her funeral to Philadelphia, where I attended the Religious Communicators Conference. Odyssey was up for and won a number of awards at the ceremonies for both the DeRose Hinkhouse and Wilbur Awards. But I knew I was tired and had trouble getting through them. Virginia’s passing took a toll on me, physically and emotionally and it was only today that I have felt near my old energy level back, after a good night’s sleep in the little apartment in New York.

She was the last of her generation in our family and her passing brought to a close one more chapter in the book of Tombers. Now it is my generation that is at the forefront, we are next in line, in the natural way of things, to pass and our passing will close yet another chapter in the book.

Like all families we have been wrapped in our family stories and our family myths, all twined together to make a history. But that story now runs thin and I doubt the stories bind to my cousins as they did to the generation before us or to us. I doubt the story of my immigrant great-grandfather and his stern wife is much retold these days.

All the folks today are a long way from the stories that once bound us and that, too, is the way of families. With Virginia gone there is no one left who can identify the strangers in the photo albums or retell the stories of the interesting relatives who inhabit those albums.

It is the way of time. It’s the way it is. But it has filled me with a bit of sadness which is, mostly, the sense of loss of an extraordinary ordinary woman who lived an ordinary, extraordinary life, who lived long and well, who prospered and shared, who was generous with her gift of love, who had a shy warm smile and who everyday did a good deed, a natural act that came from an uncommon generosity of spirit.

Rest well, Virginia. May you inspire the rest of us.

Letter From New York

April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…


It is the Sunday evening of a dreary, chill weekend, when all the world seemed cold and darkened, a world in grief.  The wild portents of spring of a week or so ago have retreated; lost to the Queen of Winter who wants one more mad moment of sway over the world before she hibernates for another year.

Perhaps it is just the earth mourning for some reason.  It seems to be a time of mourning. A week ago my lunch was punctured with the news my friend Jim Marrinan had died.  That news was followed Tuesday by news that a neighbor of mine was in very bad shape and not expected to recover, followed by the news that another friend, a sweet, gentle man named Tim Smyth, was in intensive care at Bellevue Hospital in New York with no one sure what had happened to him nor whether he would “make it.”

He’d been found, alone, lying on a street in the West Village in New York.  It does not quite fit the mold for anything and so the NYPD has assigned a detective to the case; enough doesn’t add up that they think Tim may have been the victim of a mugging or, perhaps, a gay bashing. 

And so, I sit here on a Sunday evening attempting to pull together the mysteries of a week in which it seemed bad news cascaded.  I spoke to Tim’s sister who said, “You never know when the last normal day is going to be.”  And that has resonated so much with me this weekend as I have ruminated on life:  you do not ever know when the last normal day is going to be.

And yet we go on, living our lives while other lives end and are celebrated.  Jim has been put to rest with all the celebration he would have wanted, in a way consistent with his proud Irish heritage.  Tim lies in a hospital while surrounded by family and friends, waiting to see if he will be roused from the coma in which he rests.  Outside the hustle and bustle of the city goes on.  In another hospital my neighbor Rosemary lies, also hovering between here and the hereafter.

It is a reminder to me that I must live in the now and treasure my now because now cannot be taken for granted.  And as I grow older, and I do even while feeling as if inside I haven’t changed in twenty years and think I am still younger than I am because I do not, inside, feel old, I am growing older and my friends, my contemporaries, are dying of “natural causes.”  And while I still live with the illusion of immortality, I cannot any longer so exquisitely embrace that illusion and must make sure my affairs are in order and tidied up for those who will come after, so they are not burdened more than necessary in the stream of events.

It is all sobering and yet somehow comforting, this understanding that all is not infinite – finite is the normal.  Thousands of millions have come and gone and will come and go and life will go on while we are remembered after our passing by those who loved us.  The Egyptians had a phrase:  to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.  No wonder the Pharaohs worked so hard to be remembered.  Few of us will have that resonance but all of us will be remembered and our names will be spoken by those who loved us.  And the love we give will shape those around us so that goodness and kindness will whisper down the generational trails even after names are forgotten.

God said:  go forth and multiply.  I think He meant not just in numbers but also in deeds and so may all of us go forth and multiply our good deeds so that the memories of us are carried by the winds even to those who do not know our names.