I lost a colleague last week – possibly to COVID-19, although the official results are not back just yet.
And as death rates from this virus continue to rise, I think many of us are being pushed to think about not just death but about life – about what truly matters and what decidedly does not.
Grappling with my friend and doctoral classmate’s death, I found myself reflecting back on his life experiences. And one of the biggest things I wanted to know, ultimately, was: Did he know joy and love – in its many varied forms?
There are so many elements that can make up a joyful life – romantic love, the love of family, friends, and colleagues. There’s also hopefully the joy that comes from fun things like holidays and vacations and adventures like cultural events and visits in nature. But it’s also the joy of simpler things – a freshly cut lawn, a dog’s loyalty, a child’s drawing on the refrigerator, bubbles and balloons and (in moderation) chocolate chip ice cream. It’s about moments spent with friends over good food and better conversation. It’s about having people who look at you and truly see you – as you are, somehow, but also as the very best version of yourself.
My friend had so much joy – joy in the little things and the big things, too. And so even though his life was cut too short for me, I take comfort in knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he knew joy and love. I saw it in his radiating, electric smile the moment I met him. And he continued to tell us he was happy for years after. I want that same joy for everyone I know – even some of the people who intermittently annoy or perplex me.
After I settled into the knowledge that yes, my friend knew joy and love, I shifted to the next question: did he know and was he known by other people – was he connected and an influencer of others? Would these people carry on his memory and the wisdom of his life in his absence?
The answer to this, too, was clear. It will be clear again this Thursday night, when a group of 18 of us get together to remember our classmate, to shed tears over the knowledge that his voice has been silenced on this earth. But his legacy lives on – in each of us, yes. In his wife, and in countless school administrators and teachers and church friends and neighbors, literally the world over. There wil be students who grow into teachers and scientists and lawyers and bankers – but most of all, simply into good, joyful, connected, healthy people themselves. They will recall his lessons and his love, and he will live on through them. His love and his joy will carry on, echoing from one generation to the next.
And so today, in these ridiculously strange and terrifying and bewildering times, I consider my own life, and renew my focus on what’s important: to know joy and to be connected to others in ways that matter. May this be our focus – not just in this time, but always.