Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Tombers’

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, October 4, 2011

October 4, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

Outside it is pouring rain and I’m curled on a couch in the cottage, ruminating on the last two weeks, wondering about what I want to write. As I have been thinking about this missive, I have been thinking of people.

Just hours ago, I heard my cousin Marion, whom I always thought of as an Aunt, given the disparity in our ages, had passed away, luckily surrounded by family, including her wonderful sister Virginia, who is so long suffering, gentle, sweet and forgiving that she deserves the sobriquet: saint. She is one of the most loving humans I have ever encountered or probably will ever encounter. She suffered my mother, in all her moods and wonders, lovingly and with persistent kindness, always a wonder to me, a gift we all appreciated. Marion was tougher and more pragmatic albeit loving and between the two of them they allowed our mother to live at home longer than she would have been able to if they had not been present. I’ll lift a glass to the two of them this evening.

I also thought this week of a livery driver who picked me up this week, a man from Ecuador, who loved this country because of the opportunities it would give his children. He worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, in order that his daughters could go to good secondary schools and then get into good colleges. Both were doing well and the oldest had just been accepted into the John Jay College of Justice in Manhattan. He was bursting with pride and I marveled at him; I work hard but driving fourteen hours a day in New York? He represented to me the immigrant experience which is America and which has driven us along through history and made me wince when I think of some of the anti-immigration legislation being made in states like Alabama. I don’t know all the rights and wrongs; I do wonder about it all. We are, all of us, after all, children of immigrants and we should remember that heritage.

And mostly, I relished remembering the marriage this past weekend of my friends, Gary and Angel, two men whom I helped meet and who, in their marriage, helped me understand the institution of marriage in a way I had never before comprehended, viscerally. Marriage, to me as a baby boomer, has seemed somewhat redundant, a non-necessity, something, perhaps, a bit archaic and even anachronistic.

But then I attended their wedding and saw the importance and the joy of declaring love to a community and committing oneself to the other in the presence of that community.

Gary and Angel met each other two years ago. From the first date they have constantly discovered new layers within the other that have deepened their respect and admiration of the other and in that deepening have grown to a place where their love is incandescent – a rare thing to be treasured in the human experience and something that is a treasure to all who know them.

Because they are two men they would have not been able to declare their love in this way until recently and now they can and in helping witness their marriage I understood why two people of any combination would want to publicly declare their love and to incorporate their union through the laws of the land, to make it public, legal, not inescapable but more complex to part. They have a love so profound as to dazzle the people around them, including me. And I now understand why people want to be married, to publically and legally declare their love for one another. I was privileged to have been with them as they declared their commitment and were united in marriage.

So, as I finish this week’s letter, I lift my hat to all of us, living our lives, passing through on the great journey called life, to the celebrations at joyful moments and the acknowledgement of the hard ones – the marriages and the deaths, the hard long hours most of us put in to make our lives the dream we dream.