Thursday, January 5, 2012

Life's Curiosities

 One of life’s greatest curiosities is death. Some are sure of what they will find on the other side of the veil that separates life from death, but I’m not one of them. Others have had “near death” experiences and believe they’ve had glimpses of the “other side.” I’m not one of those either.   And sometimes I’m curious, but not when I am confronted with the death of a friend or loved one. My experience tells me that this person is now distant from me in a way different from miles.

The death of my old friend Jon Walters was the reality I confronted at the moment I started to work on the January 1 issue of Village Life. This is the monthly newsletter I edit for High Desert Village, a non-profit group started by a group of friends three years ago to help seniors stay in their own homes safely. I was considering the content and layout when an email popped up in my box informing me of the death of Jon’s death.

Jon and I had been friends since the 1970s. After spending much of his career working on behalf of disenfranchised people in Indiana, I persuaded him to go to Alaska where he worked for eight years. He was working among the Choctaw people in Mississippi when he died suddenly the day after Christmas.

When I read the message, I was not curious about the mystery of life and death. All I felt was personal loss and the loss his family and friends were experiencing. After not being able to reach his immediate family, I talked long with one of Jon’s best and oldest friends.

I realized (again!) that life goes on, even without Jon and while the rest of us grieve. The newsletter was waiting.

“This is the New Year issue,” I said to myself. “I’ll put some wise words about the changing of the calendar.” The only problem was that I wasn’t feeling at all wise and didn’t have any ready words of wisdom.

I went on a Google search for wise words for the changing of the year. And I found a lot of them; some of them, I confess, didn’t sound very wise to me; but then my eyes fell on this poem:
Another fresh new year is here . . .Another year to live!To banish worry, doubt, and fear,To love and laugh and give!
This bright new year is given meTo live each day with zest . . .To daily grow and try to beMy highest and my best!
I have the opportunityOnce more to right some wrongs,To pray for peace, to plant a tree,And sing more joyful songs! 
William Arthur Ward (1921-1994)
 I read the twelve lines several times and then began to think they were written for me: “Another fresh new year is here...Another year to live!” It’s not another year to live for Jon, and who knows when any of us might cross that line, but for whatever days we have they are days to live! And, they are days of opportunity. What more important agenda for the year could I ask?

I knew these were the words for the cover. But who is the author, William Arthur Ward? I didn’t think I had ever heard of him, so I did another search, this one to find out who he was.

Can you imagine my shock when I found out that, in addition to learning that he was one of America’s most quoted writers of life maxims, this was the man who helped me get through college? I knew him simply as “Bill Ward.” He came to Texas Wesleyan in 1955, the year I did; but I came as a freshman and he came as Assistant to the President. He helped me find enough scholarship money and jobs to get through my first and second years.

On a day I lost a friend I found comfort from one I had forgotten. Life really is full of curiosities, isn’t it?

None of us knows the number of our days. My hope for all of us is that we seize each one “to right some wrongs, to pray for peace, to plant a tree, and sing more joyful songs!”

Happy New Year!

- Milo

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