I am always thinking, as I move on in my life, that the people and places who have left their marks on it will stay where they are, right where I left and remember them. But of course they, too, age and change and move on.
This afternoon I went to the memorial service for a long-ago (twenty years) mentor of mine, a generous and loving husband and father, a gifted attorney, and a consummate churchman. It was a humorous, moving, and gracious tribute to a man who had touched hundreds ~ actually thousands ~ of lives in his own 85 years. I hesitated to go, since I had left the firm that bears his name when I was an associate with three children three and under, and over the past decades had gradually lost touch with everyone there. Would I feel like a voyeur? Was it all right to make an appearance in tribute to someone whose family I did not know (his wife died several years ago)?
I was so glad that a friend encouraged me to get over there. As I walked in, I saw a couple of attorneys from past lives who greeted me with warm smiles and handshakes, and when the service ended I found closer friends from the past whose greetings quickly became hugs. And I learned a lot about our recently departed friend and mentor as well.
I already knew how much he adored his wife and how passionate he was about the outdoor world -- fishing and birding in particular. But what a joy to hear about some of his more select moments as parent to his children, mentor to young attorneys, and participant in church polity. I was reminded that he honored and supported women in the law and in the church, and discovered that in his last years he had become a passionate advocate for those whom the church excludes from full participation because of their sexual preferences.
One of the speakers, a significant leader in their church, related in some detail how committed this man had been to its structure and governance, a structure which he fervently believed keeps its people together when they agree and, more importantly, when they do not. His church and my own Presbyterian Church share similar conflicts and turmoil at the moment, so I was especially struck by the wisdom that was being shared in the form of a eulogy.
I have been to several funerals in the past year, and now two of them have been for especially skilled, productive, wise, and generous men, men who were active participants in multiple arenas of life well into their eighties. Some of my best and dearest mentors and supporters right now are men and women in their seventies and eighties. They stand as an impressive reminder to the rest of us to share our own wisdom, should we ever acquire any, and to be generous and loving with our time and energy, even as both start to vanish.