My friend is dying. He has a disease and his body will not sustain itself. No one knows how much longer he will live, first it was months, fortunately it now may be longer, perhaps years.
We worry, but he doesn't. He knew this might arise and for now, he lives each day fully.
He seeks no magical cure. He does not strive to fulfill his last wishes. If there is a bucket list, it's not obvious to outsiders.
Extraordinary acts would be abnormal behavior for him. No skydiving nor trips to Rio. No final dream purchase of a fast sports car. No wish to swim with dolphins.
I believe he simply wants to see family and friends. What matters the most is not wealth nor power, but people.
I want to honor my friend by celebrating his life before he passes away, not with a eulogy or elegant obituary. My tribute is to write about the person he is -- not was.
The details about his life are not as important as his intentions. Process carries more value than product. His heart guides his life, his spirit drives decisions. He cares about others. He is remembered by his temperament and not his temper.
Of course, he had shortcomings. Some of his actions may have rubbed others the wrong way. He may or may not have caused ill will or pain. Some may claim he meant to hurt, although I feel few, if any, suffered at his hands.
Frankly, I'm not interested in the specifics, I do not want to judge him today. It's the whole that matters, and on the whole, he is a good man who lives a good life and tries his best to do good in this world. I'm confident he is not worried about judgment day. What more could any of us ask for?
Some may not want to ponder death near the end of life. It's unavoidable, so why worry? Life is for living, not dying. They then live a carefree life, epitomized by the phrase: "You can't take it with you."
Others seem trapped by death and I don't blame them. It is depressing. It does overwhelm. It is terrifying. But it is enviable.
I sometimes wonder what legacy I'll leave behind. Or should I even be concerned about it? I carry few regrets in life, I have little guilt.
I believe my friend and I share the same outlook on death: All that I am is what I leave behind. And what my friend leaves behind are people.
Over the years, what I value the most are the stories we shared. Sometimes over an adult beverage, other times during a walk or hike, many times just sitting at a table, we told stories of family and community. Topics often included, not in this order: people and their peaches and prose; the dirt of vegetables and politics; literature, poetry and the arts; class, baseball and beer.
We divulged, apprised and expressed. We declared, revealed and disclosed. We proclaimed and confessed.
We talked about our children becoming individuals. Once their teen years arrived, they abruptly grew into different creatures we didn't always understand. But we loved them.
We shared family and extended family stories that occasionally never made sense other than the fact: "It's family." We love them too, mostly.
We frequently engaged in conversations about community and culture. We worried about changes, excited about the evolution of groups and organizations, confused and yet humbled by the actions of others. Reflection, my friend says, is what human ties are all about.
What summarizes my friend's life? A people's history. His life is full of a people's perspective. He tries to see the world through the eyes of common folk. He isn't that interested in the elite with their power and prestige. His life is about the everyday; he is more interested in stories than status.
He cares about others and what they think. He hears their voices. By simply listening, he transforms the ordinary stories into something extraordinary.
That's how I'll remember him the most. He instills in others a quiet revolution, recognizing the power of words and language, both written and spoken.
His life is to be measured by the people he touches. That's what we really leave behind. That's the currency of life: friendships and stories.
My friend inspires me to think about emotions, the lifeblood of stories. It's what matters and what counts in the end. He's not in denial about what's to come. He keeps a simple list of favorite things that matter.
All that he is, is what he leaves behind. And he will leave us with stories. Full. Complete.