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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Awake with Connie Willis and Amaryllis

Like flowers, memories periodically awaken.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.  Partly this is due to the TV show “Awake,” in which Detective Michael Britten simultaneously inhabits two realities: one in which his wife died in a car crash, and another in which his son survived, but his wife died.  But partly this is also due to a family member who recently passed away.  From an outsider’s perspective, it might be judged that she made little impact upon our lives.  But we know differently.

From virtually the moment she entered our lives, she endeared herself with her quiet, peaceful spirit.  While a woman of few words, those she spoke were always kind.  She cared about her family, loved her husband, and played graceful host to us numerous times.  She was utterly without pretention, the kind of person who always puts you at ease.  

I wish we’d lived closer to her, and known her better.

In a way, the most important thing she ever did was give us flowers.  In particular, Amaryllis.  Every Christmas, we could count on receiving Amaryllis bulbs in a pot with which we could decorate our home.  After awhile, I got tired of receiving the same gift.  Yet now I’m wishing she gave us even more.  For my wife has planted all those bulbs in our yard, and every year those plants reawaken, thrust their heads above the ground, and shine their beauty upon us.  

Whether they're summoned or arise unbidden...

In “Awake,” the police department forces Michael Britten to see a counselor.  So, regardless of which reality he currently inhabits, he faces a psychiatrist’s scrutiny.  In both realities, their advice is the same: he must come to grips with the fact that his loved one is gone.  He must release someone who once meant everything to him: he must “get on” with his life.  I remember once, back when I was in college, putting the same argument to my grandmother after the death of her husband of over fifty years.  And her response to me was the same as Michael Britten’s to his counselors: No.  I won’t let him (or her) go.

Connie Willis is adamant in her belief that we never really get over the death of a loved one. She even wrote a story about what death is (or might be), a science fiction novel called Passage, which made a lasting impact upon me.  While the intensity of our grief gradually fades with time, those we love never really leave us.  Instead, we carry their spirits with us throughout the rest of our lives.  We mark and honor their birthdays.  To the memories they left us with, we create new ones.  During the difficult times, we imagine them with us, and wonder what counsel they might offer.  In some faith traditions, people even pray to them, believing that, as they have transcended the physical realm, they can speed our requests on to the Divine.

I hope this poor memorial to a fallen loved one will cause you to reflect upon those who, while they might have departed this reality, still inhabit your lives.  Perhaps, amid your busy schedule, you might even give some thought to what you will leave behind.  For our lives don’t end when we die.  At least, not for those who loved us.

They remind us of those we loved,
and the kind of person we long to become.

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