Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Memories and Blessings

Last night I attended the Celebration of Life for Penny, whose passing I noted in April. And it was a celebration, albeit one with tears. It held both ceremony and a sense of the sacred while also including picnicking and play. We sat under the shade of tall trees, blessed by breezes and birdsong. There was incense, and there were bubbles.

There was an opportunity for anyone present to share a memories and thoughts about Penny. I had carried something in my heart but it just didn’t feel like the right time to share it. So I’ll share it here.

The most time I ever spent with Penny was at one of those Oakland Mills Village swim parties. I mentioned that, as I was getting older, I was losing confidence in walking up to the side of a pool, sitting down, and sliding in to the water. I had begun to have a bit of a fear of falling. 

“Core stability. Balance,” said Penny. She went on. “I have one of those Sonicare tooth brushes, and they tell you to spend 30 seconds a side going over your teeth. Well, I use that time practicing balance. I stand on one leg for 30 seconds, then the other. It really helps.”

Inwardly I winced because I have never, ever been good at standing on one leg. As a child I just about failed learning how to put on underwear due to my poor sense of balance.

But outwardly I took in everything she said in a positive manner and vowed to give it a try. And I did. Many, many times. And I never got any better and I began to wonder if I was simply incapable of brushing my teeth and doing anything else at the same time. 

I realized very recently that this experience did change me, but not in the way I had expected. Every time I brush my teeth I think of Penny. She has become incorporated into that ritual in a way that balance just wasn’t meant to be.

Since April I have treasured this unexpected gift more than ever. As silly as it sounds, toothbrush in mouth, I think of this warm, wise and playful woman and how she connected in such a genuine and magical way with the universe. 

Last night I had an opportunity hear from Penny’s family and friends and coworkers and learn so much more about her that I had not known. Today I am filled with their words and tears and songs and the laughter of their happy memories.

In recent years I have learned the custom in Jewish families to offer condolences by saying, “May their memory be a blessing.” I have thought it a lovely expression. Last night it came to mind in a deeper way as I experienced, palpably, what that blessing is. It is a living thing, not merely a nice thought.

This is not a local blog post in the truest sense, though Penny was for many years a valued part of the Columbia/HoCo community. But I came away from my experiences last night wondering how many people in our community she touched, and who then were able to be a part of their families or workplaces or communities more fully. She had exceptional gifts in this regard.

But what of the rest of us? Will the way we live and our interactions with others create those kinds of ripples that cannot help but make our community a better place? I wonder if we place too much importance on the smartest, the best educated, the ones with the best arguments, the ones who can get elected, the “influencers” and the “thought leaders.”  

Today I’m thinking on the connectors, the listeners, and those whose joy is in the gift of truly knowing people for who they are.

May her memory be a blessing.

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