Extraordinary people

This bike ride was missing the chatter and laughter and music of other rides. We rode single file, thirty strong, our leader pulling a trailer built by his father and bearing his father’s bicycle and his father’s ashes.

Our friend Gary died last week, and I think he’d approve of the way we marked the occasion.

At the end, there were pints lifted, memories shared, and a table bearing photos, mementos, and things our friend had made with his very capable hands. Solemn and sad, yes, but not at all depressing.

I knew Gary in one very specific realm, as a fellow bike corral volunteer. He was one of those cyclists who could both intimidate and inspire–sixty miles in the saddle was just another casual ride into and around town for him. But he wasn’t arrogant about his skill or defensive about who should and shouldn’t be on a bike. Gary wanted to see everyone ride everywhere–as long as they wore a helmet. He was simultaneously gentle and unyielding, and I wish we’d had one more conversation, one more ride, one more pint before he died.

What I enjoyed most about yesterday’s memorial was seeing the other parts of Gary the person. I’d known only Gary the cyclist and volunteer, but his life was story upon story. His son told me about his art and the piece of land he’d cultivated. Another friend told me about his love of boats and the open ocean, and how he moved away from that–to Iowa–for the woman he loved and the children they would soon have. Another son’s ashes shared the table, a son who died years before I’d ever met Gary.

There’s so much richness in any life–something we seem to forget until that life is over.

There are extraordinary people in the world who are also–rightly–famous. We become entranced by their lives, by their talents and skills and accomplishments. And I think we tend to conflate their extraordinary qualities with their fame, when the two really aren’t the same thing.

There are far more extraordinary people in the world who will never be famous. They will live and die known only to their little circle of friends and family. They will ultimately–five years or five hundred years from now–be forgotten. And that’s okay. The legacy isn’t the point. The point is now, how you spend your time in this existence, how you touch and are touched by others.

Don’t forget your friends, your family while they are still with you. The forgetting is for later; now is for appreciating the extraordinary.

My mother raised three children in a house with no plumbing, feeding us good food grown with her own hands. I have no memory of stress or sadness, a thing many people can’t say about their childhoods. And now she’s at it again, building a new home and plotting a new garden with her own two very capable hands.

My youngest brother has traveled the world in uniform, finally landing in the deserts of the Middle East. He endured trials I still don’t understand, and came back to us in more ways than one. He has a working man’s hands now, and comfortably carries both gun and hammer.

My oldest brother traveled in a different kind of uniform, if t-shirts and sandals can be called that. He’s been down rivers and up mountains and gone wherever the music is. I’m told he has my father’s same charisma, drawing people to him for reasons even they couldn’t describe.

My aunt has been my backup guardian since I was a child, a presence who lived far away but didn’t feel distant. She’s navigated complex waters on her journey, and had to learn things some of us never do: persistence, determination, self-advocacy.

My Man Friend has been on some of the most hilariously tragic road trips ever to be taken, and his stories communicate a rich devotion to friends; a fierce, problem-solving mind; and a wry, intelligent humor. An atheist among evangelicals, a lover of two-wheeled transport on four-wheeled roads, contrary for sport. He argues with relish–not to mention an unmerciful and crystalline-precise logic. Our conversations are extraordinary.

And that’s just in my innermost circle. There are others, legions of them, who have touched my life over all its decades. They’ve all had something extraordinary to teach or share or demonstrate just by being. And what Gary’s memorial reminded me is to remember that now, to see it now. Because there will never be a better time.

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