I ran into a lot of friends I’ve not seen in years last week. The occasion was my mom’s wake at a funeral home in Glen Cove. Friends came out of the woodwork, from all the social circles I’ve ever moved through. There were old family friends, former students, business acquaintances…
The best thing about a good funeral are the people that show up. Coincidentally, that’s also the best thing about life.
One particular friend stopped by, a close close friend from young times. I hadn't seen this person in… 30 years? We’ve been in touch on social media, but still, that distinctive face and frame, so different yet so the same, striding across the room to me, knocked me back decades, knocked tears out of my eyes. And we were two kids for a moment, an embrace, feeling these larger, alien bodies under layers of formal clothing.
In many ways, this person is the closest friend I’ve ever had. Jeez. That friendship can be a joy — I learned that those years ago.
But, I also learned that people change, that they go in different directions. That events happen and shift our courses. That in two years you can move from seeing someone everyday to glimpsing them as if through missing slats in a fence. And then the fence becomes a wall. Or maybe the fence vanishes and there we are on opposite sides of a field.
There is no separator quite like nothing in particular, blamelessly guilt-laden.
My life has turned out ok. I’ve accomplished some things. I’ve gotten my hands on some dreams. I’ve a family. I’m proud of my wife and children.
My old friend expressed something akin to jealousy. There is an expression, a euphemism to describe a life: failure to launch. My friend has ruefully used that expression on a number of occasions.
Earlier in the day, a former student called me, called me from a car, driving home from work. The call was sweet and uncharacteristically sentimental, about the impact I had on this student’s life, and included remembered moments when I did a specific thing, or said a critical sentence, things that guided a life on a course.
Another good thing about death is that it forces us into an appraisal, a contemplation of what things might be like under different circumstances. We all have It’s a Wonderful Life moments.
The former student tagged me as a person of impact, widespread, positive impact on many lives. It’s a good thing to hear when one is a teacher — it is the point of teaching, after all.
Impact impact impact… that word stayed in my head the rest of the day, at the wake, at the funeral, the rest of the week. It is in my head now.
My mother was a woman of impact. My brother and sister are also impactful. We are people that change others’ lives, generally for the positive. The minister had a pithy phrase regarding my mother: “She left a Marilyn shaped hole in the world.” Impact. An impact crater. An absence noticed and felt.
I’m thinking now of failure to launch. If the rocket of a life doesn’t pull past the gantry, can it strike a target? If it doesn’t loft and then return to earth, does it fail to make an impact?
My old, dear friend… don’t underestimate your impact. I make facial expressions that I first found on your face when I was thirteen. I copied aspects of you. I incorporated you into me. Your gestures. Little things about the way you speak. I see things sometimes through your particular eyes. I bring parts of you with me wherever I go. I’ve been channeling you for years, teasing laughs out of my son with bits of you. Walking around in some invisible clothes I’ve borrowed from you. Your voice in my head. Your sense of humor my sense of humor. I wanted to be you.
Old friend, don’t you get it? You launched me! There is nothing I can do to repay you, other than be your friend no matter where life takes you, and admire you and love you through whatever fence is between us.
And we are here, now. Together we are one hundred and twelve.
I know some things: There is always time to launch. There is always time to make an impact. There’s never a day without a sun coming up somewhere.