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My mother, Virginia Anderson, who many of you will remember as the original creator of this column, passed away last Saturday in upstate New York. My brothers and I, along with my sisters-in-law, were all able to be with her at the end and say goodbye, for which I am very grateful.
The irony of death is that it inevitably leads to an examination of life, not only the life of the person we have lost, but of our own lives as well. My mother's life was a vivid and passionate business, always lived in top gear, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes, which is exactly as she chose to live it. No one who met her did not walk away with a powerful impression and once met, she was impossible to forget, albeit good or bad, but never indifferent. My mother was a force of nature and could bask people in blinding illumination or knock them over with gale force winds. She was, above all things, alive – completely, utterly, and without reservation, which is why her passing has left so many of us almost stunned, even those of us who knew how seriously her physical condition had deteriorated in recent years. She loved life and loved being alive. No matter how difficult or painful or uncomfortable it could be, she reveled in every moment of her life and it was hard to imagine her ever not existing exactly as she always has. Although we all know that no one lives forever, there are some people who make us think, somewhere in the back of our minds, that they just might. She was one of those people.
My mother often spoke of the past but lived fully in the moment, looking back with neither wistful nostalgia nor sad regret, and while she might occasionally decry the things in the present she did not particularly like, she never indulged in the common practice of speaking of the past as if it represented a way of life that was more perfect or more to be desired. The past, in my mother's mind, was gone, the present was happening right now, and the future held infinite possibilities. It was those possibilities, and the opportunity to see them unfold that gave her her lust for life and strength to continue on through terrible pain and the diminishing functions of her physical condition with unfathomable courage and against all odds. She never wimped out, never whined, never gave in, and never stopped fighting.
I could talk about the things she did in her life and the things she loved but anyone who read her column came to be well aware of her crazy, colorful, history and passionate feelings about almost everything and anything. She had an opinion about everything to the point of supreme stubbornness and could argue her position like a Philadelphia lawyer when compelled to do so, whether you wanted a debate or not. She could be opinionated, immovable, unreasonable, and even irrational at times, but never neutral, never uncaring, never indifferent, and never unsure. She was absolutely certain of the rightness of what she believed and what she believed in was compassion, empathy, generosity, the sanctity of human rights, the special place of children and animals in the world, and the importance of standing up for the things she held true in her heart.
My mother opened windows for us to many beautiful and amazing things in this world; art, music, history, and the power of the written word. She read us the classics aloud, everything from Shakespeare and Dickens to Twain and Tolkien, and introduced us to ballet, opera, and theater. She enriched our lives and those of our friends and children. Her impact on those she touched lasted all their lives.
I like to think of my mother young and free of pain, dancing ballet, her great love, again as she once did, performing Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet with the great Nijinsky with all her best loved heroes in the audience and my handsome, elegant father, who she loved beyond life, watching from the wings.
And afterwards she will attend a grand reception in her honor where Lincoln, Grant, Wellington, Gandhi, Robert Frost, Eleanor Roosevelt, and all the others will talk with her and admire the beauty of her performance. Maybe even her girlhood crush, Errol Flynn will be there, and he will give her that rakish smile that made her teenage heart flutter and tell her she danced like an angel.
If the ultimate goal of life is to live it as if you only have one, then my mother's time in this world was wildly successful. And if our most fervent desire is not to be forgotten, than she is with my father in the next world knowing with absolute certainty that she got what she wanted. She'd liked that.
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