If I had to condense all of life into one activity, it would be this: embracing the present moment, and responding to it with all the beauty we can muster.
By beauty I mean that which draws us in the direction of oneness, unity, kinship. The opposite of judgment.
To pull this off, of course, requires us to open one of life’s most precious gifts, the gift of choice. We must define for ourselves what, in fact, is going on. Then, we must determine what it means for us to respond in beauty.
These choices can be especially poignant when what we’ve determined is at hand is our death.
So it has been for Nancy Cathcart. And the beauty with which she has responded, if my experience is any measure, is enriching the lives of that big tent full of fortunate souls she considers her tribe.
While Nancy and I have known of each other’s existence for at least a decade, we’ve never met in person, never had a phone conversation, never corresponded by email or snail mail. Years ago, she subscribed to receive the essays I occasionally write. She’d sometimes comment on and share them with friends, which I found illuminating and gratifying. On one occasion a few months back via Facebook she requested any insight I might offer regarding something she was attempting to address. That’s about it.
I mention this because I cannot speak for her. But what I can do is share the gratefulness I feel for how she has orchestrated her farewell.
Her reaching out to me with a kind word has led to the unexpected pleasure of returning her gaze. Death has blessed us both with the opportunity to reflect on who we are and what has contributed to our self-understanding.
Who could ask for more?
Here’s the heart of our interchange, via Facebook Message:
Nancy, Wednesday night:
I am departing this place and time. Ovarian cancer revisited and had stacked my bowels. Given just enough time to be with loved ones and write to friends. I hope my sons discover your writings because as their adult hearts burst open, I want them to discover grace, as you have so often, thank you. It has been a privilege to learn from you. Peace. Nancy Cathcart.
Steve, Thursday morning:
A talisman I will carry with me for the rest of my life is the delightful anticipation that our paths would cross serendipitously some day, we would look at each other, laugh big, and hug. What a blessing that one can have a good friend and never meet in person. I hold you and your boys in my heart. In gratitude, Steve.
What a rare commemoration Nancy has set in motion. To so briefly and mutually “take stock” of a relationship as death approaches, and do so in a manner rooted solely in good will. Recognizing the impulse to “wish things were different,” but not being distracted by it. Honoring what is, joining with it, and celebrating the enormous opportunity to be present in the sacredness of existence.
Creating beauty, in other words.