Friday, September 3, 2010

A World Somewhere Out My Doorway

Standing in my bedroom on Wednesday night, having arrived home from Junior's wake, it occurred to me that his death represents more than simply the death of one man (albeit one man who touched positively the lives of countless others). It seems to be representative of the death of an era. Not the death knell in and of itself - do not misunderstand. Rather, it is another brick in the wall - the wall severing irrevocably one way of life from another.

Junior was 78 when he died on Sunday. He would have been 79 in November. I knew not for how long he and Ann had been married until I heard it said aloud at his funeral mass: 57 years. He was all of 21 when he married her. Ann is the first cousin of Margaret's mom Suzy B. and her uncle Mike. While they are blood relatives, their bond has always been much stronger than even that. The old adage speaks of blood being thicker than water. I know not what is stronger than blood but whatever it is, it is the glue that has held together these relationships (and countless other like them) for years.

Mom enjoyed a similar relationship with her brother - my uncle Jim and Jim's wife Dot. In the past several years she has buried both of them. Those losses and their collective effect upon her has been palpable. She buried not only her brother and her sister-in-law. She buried two of the people with whom she was the closest. She buried two of her best friends. Two people who she not only knew but was remained intimately close to the entirety of their lives. Perhaps at first blush that seems like nothing. Allow the thought to resonate for a moment or two however and its enormity becomes apparent.

Mom, Margaret's parents, her Aunt Ann, Junior are all part of an era, a mindset, a way of life if you will that simply does not seem to exist any longer in the hearts and minds of the generation to which I belong and the one that includes my children. A way of life in which close friends and family (often times one and the same) did not need "occasions" or "events" to gather together. They simply did so regularly and without fanfare. It was what they did. They were interwoven into the lives of each other like squares in a quilt.

It is a way of life so far removed from my own that it strikes me as equal parts corny and cool. The notion of not simply knowing someone but being close with him/her for the entire span of one's life seems incredible to me. There are people (other than members of my immediate family) who I have known for an extended period of time but whom I see rarely if ever at all and to whom I speak infrequently. I will see in October at the 25th reunion of my high school class classmates who I have not seen in.....well in the twenty-five years-plus since we graduated together in June 1985 and who - unless at some point before we all trip the mortal coil - we get together to do this again I will probably never see again. It is neither a bad thing nor a good thing. It is simply life as I know it.

At the funeral home there were a couple of collages filled with photographs of Junior and Ann and their life throughout the years, which photos included events such as their son's wedding and other family events. There were also photos interspersed throughout of what appeared to be most ordinary days such as people sitting together at the beach, at a picnic table, on someone's front porch. And if you looked closely enough at the photos you realized that the 20 year-old faces seen in certain of them were the 35 year-old faces seen in others, were the 50 year-old faces seen in others again and were, finally, the 75 year-old faces seen in the most recent pictures. Mere happenstance or coincidence that the same faces showed up in the pictorial history of their life? To steal a line from my old college roommate Schneeds, "Not bloody likely!"

As this particular generation of Americans is falling victim to time's relentless march and more and more of its number are dying, it seems as if they are taking with them to the grave a way of life that will never be seen again. We live now in what we embrace as the "Information Age". But has the fact that more information is readily accessible to us made us better informed? Has it made us smarter? Before you reflexively answer "Yes" to either of those questions, dig out - if you can - a photo album of a not-too-recent vintage and flip through the pages of the old, weathered pictures. Take a look at the faces, keep track of how often you see the same ones pop up in picture after picture and then take note of the almost-universal smiles on the faces.

In a world where seemingly everything is available on demand or in response to a finger's snap, I was reminded these past couple of days that not everything worth having comes in an instant. And among the most important things worth having are those that last a lifetime......or longer.

We were built to last
On until forever
The world is changing fast
But our love was built to last.

Indeed it was.....and indeed it has.


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