Just be yourself – Let your light shine. Isn’t that every mother’s best advice? However, being different – creative with a sense of humor – sometimes got me into trouble.
In junior high, I had an unusual fashion sense. Sometimes I’d wear all white to school, which caused the tough girls to taunt me. I had this fabulous leather tooled purse from Mexico that my grandmother gave me. Those chicks considered it weird.
One day, I was walking down the hallway with an armload of books. A violent push from behind sent me falling. The books flew across the floor. I stood up and turned around to see who attacked me. A tough girl delivered a swift kick to my groin. Now, women don’t have those sensitive parts like guys do, but it still hurt, big time.
A school counselor thought a group discussion would help dissipate the tension. She asked the tough girls to find common ground with me by having us each name our favorite ice cream flavor. “Chocolate.” “Chocolate.” “Fudge Swirl.” “Chocolate.” “Chocolate Chip.” “Chocolate.” Me – “Daiquiri Ice.”
The exercise didn’t help. Moving to another school district did.
In college, I joined the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia. It was the University of Maryland’s own version of the Society for Creative Anachronisms. We’d get dressed up in medieval outfits, have battles and feasts, march in parades and provide color at the local Renaissance festival.
I was Jastar, the Lady of the Light. I wore a Robin Hood outfit, with green tunic and tights, brown moccasin boots and a jaunty hat. My weapon was a staff, and I was pretty good at fighting with it.
My personal symbol was, and still is, a flaming tree. It hearkens back to the Exodus story of God speaking to Moses through a burning bush. I love the idea of divine illumination delivered by a fiery shrub.
I stitched this symbol on my backpack while working at the university copy center, waiting for jobs to finish running. Later on, I switched costumes and became Jastar the Jester.
And now, I am the Doyenne of Death – check out the pearls! A doyenne is a woman considered senior in a group who knows a lot about a particular subject. And that would be me, helping shed light on the party no one wants to plan – a funeral.
The Doyenne of Death is not something I planned on becoming. Yet this arc of my career was hinted at back at the University of Maryland where I majored in communications and film.
One of our film production class assignments was to create a project titled The Bubblegum Film. Everyone had to make a three-minute, black-and-white movie that had something to do with bubble gum.
Most of my classmates produced films that incorporated car chases. I did a satire of The Seventh Seal.
This classic film by Ingmar Bergman opens on a beach at dawn. A medieval knight and his trusty servant awake and prepare for the day. Then Death appears, the Grim Reaper has come for the knight. The knight challenges Death to a game of chess. As long as the knight continues to win, he gets to live.
In The Bubblegum Film, Death was Bob, my boyfriend and future ex-husband. The knight was Eric, the best man at our wedding. Our costumes from the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia came in handy.
When the knight asks Death if he plays chess, Death says he never learned. Thinking quickly, the knight asks if Death likes bubblegum, as he holds up a piece of Bazooka. Remember when gum had fortunes inside the wrapper?
Yes, Death loves bubblegum! They agree to abide by the fortunes in the wrappers. The knight’s fortune: “You will go on a long journey soon.” Death’s fortune: “You will soon obtain what you seek.”
The knight and Death stroll down the beach together, and Death starts skipping. And yes, you can see The Bubblegum Film on YouTube.
My motto is: talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead. I’m living proof of that.
Bringing light to the dark subject of death and helping start much-needed conversations – this is my life’s purpose. Sure, it’s a different way to make a living, but it’s my destiny. I was making light of death decades ago.
Death is a destination we’re all heading toward. Let’s laugh while we yet live.
So how about you? What’s your life purpose? What burning bush illuminates your mission? What’s your unique passion and calling? Find it, and let your light shine.
Gail Rubin is author of The Family Plot Blog and A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.
They don’t call, they don’t write. They’re our deceased family and friends whose contact information lives on in our address books. Why do we keep them there?
There’s a great essay, “Why I keep the Dearly Departed in My Address Book,” by Edward Zuckerman in a recent New York Times Magazine on the topic. Read it and enjoy.
Some thoughts to ponder:
Your own email and online accounts – What happens to them when you die?
Do we remember earlier versions of ourselves when we the people who we knew earlier in our lives?
What can we do to better remember our dearly departed? After all, we just finished singing Aulde Lange Syne last night.
Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Of course not.
While you’re over at the New York Times Magazine section, peruse The Lives They Lived issue commemorating those who died in 2012. We all make a difference, sometimes without our knowing.
Happy New Year!
Erica Brown, a scholar in residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times. Titled “Death: A Nice Opportunity for Regret,” it ponders the combination of regret, repentance and the consideration of our own mortality.
She wrote, “We rarely connect regret to death, but then we rarely connect death to anything because we’d rather talk about grocery shopping, gardening and taxes.” She observed those who regret nothing may think by having no remorse they are not going to die.
Ms. Brown has a forthcoming book, Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death. As part of her research into the topic of regrets, she asked her students to list a small regret and a large regret. Here’s a random sampling from her story:
In the small-regret category:
I didn’t participate more in school.
I am sorry I didn’t take more vacations.
I was nasty to people.
I regret not trying harder in college.
I should have paused to notice a stranger and to express kindness to them.
I was callous in breaking up with a girlfriend.
I haven’t lost weight.
I did not purchase an exercise bike when it was on a great sale.[I did not make this up.]
In the large-regret category:
I wish I had spent more time with my mother the year she died.
I did not tell a friend why I ended our friendship.
I regret my failure to love my ex-wife in the manner she needed.
I never said thank you to my father.
I could have done more to help my brother when he was despairing and depressed.
I haven’t been more welcoming to my sister-in-law.
I retired too early.
I should have retired a long time ago.
I gave up on too many dreams.
What regrets might you be living with? More importantly, what can you do to improve your life now? Ms. Brown wrote, “You can’t eliminate a regret, but you can transform one…. I regret to inform you that you, too, are going to die. If you take heart, heed Arthur Miller’s sage advice and die with the right regrets.”
Filed under: Live For Today
At today’s Doorways of Santa Fe meeting, a gentleman who goes by the name Mudman shared this poem. It’s a reminder that living and dying are all part of the same process.
Notice – by Steve Kowit
This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.
Filed under: Death Cartoons, Live For Today | Tags: Death Cartoons, Pearly Gates, St. Peter
If you knew you had six days on earth left to live, how would you spend those days? That’s a question that comes to mind with today’s Close to Home cartoon.
A guy is standing at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter is checking the computer lists. He says, “Good news, Mr. Fillbert. There’s been a computer error. You’re six days early, so we’re sending you back down.”
Seems like that would be a license to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Why not do those things now?
While attending services for the Jewish high holiday Yom Kippur, my husband jotted down this meditation out of the prayer book. It’s worth pondering any day of the year.
“When we are dead, and people weep for us and grieve, let it be because we touched their lives with beauty and simplicity. Let it not be said that life was good to us, but rather, that we were good to life.” — Jacob P. Rudin
When in the midst of grieving, consider these words of wisdom from Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American poet, writer, and artist, and author of The Prophet:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often time filled with your tears…
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only
that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Truly, joy and sorrow are bound together, like the opposite sides of a coin.