This past week, my wife’s uncle Ross passed away after battling lung cancer, at the age of 59. In the quiet time afterwards spent contemplating Ross’ life and being with family to share stories and fond memories, we’ve come unbearably close to facing our own mortality. Though it is very cliche, in saying our sad goodbye to Ross, just how fragile we really are is painfully evident. But it is also an opportunity to take stock of ourselves, who we are, who we want to be and if we’re getting there.
We always wish we had more time, and I do sincerely wish I could have known Ross longer. I met and began to get to know him as I started to date Sarah, about 5 years ago. Ross was a devoted husband, father, family member and friend, and a true lover of music, good food, books, philosophy, ethic and justice, local history and more. But there was so much more to him than that, and as I write I realize just how difficult it is to truly encapsulate who we are – not just what we enjoy but what motivates us, what strengthens us, what we believe. We are all so much more than the sum of our parts, and may always be a mystery even to ourselves.
I also wish I had spent more time with Ross while he was with us. As death reminds us how fragile and short all our lives are, I hope we can make a commitment to ourselves and others to make the most of the time we have and to make sure we have time to be with those that we care for.
In the quiet contemplation I’ve spent since thinking about Ross as well as life, I’ve felt that there was a great deal of truth in the silence if only I could manage to capture it. I’ll try my best to do so here, though I fear much if not all will evade me. This is something we all must grapple with, and something we can spend most or all of our lives avoiding.
I’m reminded of my wife Sarah’s words at Ross’ memorial service:
Memorial services that commemorate and celebrate someone’s life often bring to mind the big questions that we hesitate to think about until our mortality is right before us.
Because we were born, someday we too will die, and in recognizing the unknown but finite number of our days, our hours and minutes take on a deeper value.
On one visit to the hospital to see Ross, my Dad, Ross’ brother, had the opportunity to discuss with Ross Bishop Robert Morneau’s four great questions of life:
1. Who am I?
2. Where am I going?
3. How will I get there?
4. Where are the cookies?
These are questions make us think about our identity, our destiny, our ethics, and the little things that make life sweet.
Ross’ childhood friend Garwood spoke about Ross’ life, and I was very interested in how he introduced it. Garwood began by describing the familiar analogy of the blind men inspecting an elephant and describing and analyzing it only by the part they could feel. He reminded us that he knew Ross for many years, but still has a very incomplete picture of who Ross was. He also reminded us that we are all more than a sum of our parts, and yet he would work to describe the man he knew as best as he can.
Garwood spoke of a life that had and lived big ideas, but also enjoyed the sweet things in life. Garwood reflected on Ross’ love (bordering on devotion) to music and the never-ending search for truly good music and the sharing of ideas about music, and how they spent many nights swapping LPs they had discovered at the local record shops of old classics as well as interesting new music. Friends and family will always have wonderful memories of Ross and his family generously hosting many events at their house, of Ross barbequing in the backyard, often with a glass of wine in his hand as he flipped burgers and seeming so happy doing it. Ross was a man that knew how to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
He also had strong values and ethics, and lived them out. He and his family have done amazing social work all across South America, and made many friends through their journeys and dedicated work.
So as I think again of Ross and his life, I hope I can one day truly be the kind of man he was. As I write and think, I hope we can all kind time for the things that truly matter to us, and yet still be able to take time to enjoy the small pleasures life offers. I hope in the days and weeks ahead to ask and keep asking myself those four questions, and measure how far I’ve come, and how far ahead yet I have to go. I hope this may stretch into every aspect of my life, no matter how difficult that may be.
*I’ll continue these thoughts in my next post, “Life, death & politics”.