I love to fly into Los Angeles at night. As my plane approaches, the gorgeous grid of lights and colors, it feels as if I’m coming into something so vast and so magical that I become larger and more enchanted just by arriving. The beauty of this vision from the windows rarely carries me through the terminal, the baggage claim or the cab-stand, but it’s a moment I love.
The post-vacation shift that we all have to pass through (after that first delicious night in one’s own bed) can be a bit dramatic. Back to the phone calls and the meetings and the emails, back to daily life. One of those emails in my inbox was an invitation to a memorial service.
Julie was heroic, in so many ways. A teacher at Will Rogers Elementary School in Santa Monica, she taught thousands of children to read over the course of her career. A fearless volunteer at the Unitarian church, she took on tasks that others walked away from, myself included. Almost a decade fighting with cancer, she was filled with determination and hope even at the darkest moments. As I sat in the pew listening to friends, co-workers and family members share their memories, my mind kept on circling back to the tropical beaches and the blue water. Whatever existence is, before we are born and after we die, it occurred to me that this is our brief stint in paradise. Being alive might be the great vacation from non-life, form out of the void.
If you saw the Actors’ Gang production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” a few years ago, you might have felt the same way. The reminder of how brief and delicious life is tends to light the fires of enthusiasm, but it does not last. We need to be brought to this realization as often as possible. Sometimes it’s a long flight back from a lovely island. Sometimes it’s giving the survivors an embrace.
As the wheels touched the runway, I thought about what it was I needed to do next, my mind turning over with stats and invoices and meetings. As I sat with the offering of memories and flowers, I thought about all the memorials I have attended in that church, and the many more that I know will be coming before it’s my turn.
Between the sugar white beach and the dark blue sea, there is a fine damp crust where the tide comes in. That’s the place to stand and savor. Time and tide wait for no one.