When I turned 50 — a long time ago — I started thinking about how to make the most of my remaining years. The best I could do, I decided back then, was be a mensch. I haven’t always been kind. I’ve been sarcastic and probably even mean at times.
You never know how much time you have left on this gorgeous planet. And at 50, all bets are off. You re-evaluate, or at least I did.
Looking back, I told myself, “I did good.” I’ve been the best mother I could be. I encouraged reading in many families on Mt. Desert Island. I’m a loyal friend. I have students who remember me.
And I have students I will never forget. On my mind this weekend are two of those students, both around age 30. One spunky, bright, beautiful young woman fell from a building in Brooklyn a few days ago. She died, leaving her mother, father, sister, and family of friends to grieve.
Another dear student wonders how to give the greatest meaning to her life. I told her I’m sure her life has meaning. Why? She’s one of the kindest people I know, and she wants to do good. She has a strong sense of social justice.
I also heard from my college boyfriend this weekend — for the first time in more than 40 years. He emailed about an old friend who was dying. Not any old friend, but someone who had fallen into a serious depression later in life, who had gone through lots of electro-shock therapy and taken lots of medications. The old boyfriend had remained friends with this man through all of his trauma. That’s kindness.
As Kurt Vonnegut said, “There’s only one rule I know of babies. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” There’s a poster of Vonnegut saying these words that hangs in our bedroom. I think more and more about his rule as I grow older.
I like the Jewish view of the afterlife, which I learned on the top of Masada when I was almost 50. “The afterlife is being remembered in your community, in the hearts and minds of the people who knew you,” our guide Chayim told us.
The young woman from Southwest Harbor who died in Brooklyn has so many loving friends. They will never forget her.