Living’s heavy work. (Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1975.)
I learned yesterday of Author Natalie Babbitt’s death. Babbitt was 84. While she had written several books, Babbitt was most revered for her seminal work,Tuck Everlasting, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Tuck Everlasting, though marketed to young readers, dealt with the subject of mortality, a topic many think it is best to reserve for mature audiences.
Gloria Naylor is yet another writer who made an indelible impression in literature. At sixty-six, Naylor was nearly 20 years younger than Babbitt when she died this past September. Her death came as a surprise to readers, friends, and colleagues who loved her, and was a sober reminder that the only predictable matter about Life is death itself. Esteemed for The Women of Brewster Place, which was brought to the screen in a TV miniseries produced by Oprah Winfrey over twenty-five years ago, Naylor was also the author of Mama Day, Bailey’s Cafe, my personal favorite Linden Hills, and the lesser known, but more controversial 1996.
They all trying to say something with music that you can’t say with plain talk. There ain’t really no words for love or pain…. So the smart people make music and you can kinda hear about it without them saying anything. (Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. New York: Penguin Group, 1985.)
Babbitt and Naylor are women who readers will remember for their exemplary accomplishments in literature. It is no doubt that their work provides enduring examples of their gifts, sensibilities, and personal responses to their own life challenges. I am most certain however, that those who were closest to Babbitt and Naylor, will remember them not for their literary prowess, but for how they lived their lives off the page. The kind of friend, sister, wife, neighbor, mother, mentor, lover, auntie, Mema, or person they were is ultimately what matters most to those who loved and knew them. To both readers and loved ones, these writers will live forever.
Everyday people also have this same ability. While some of us may never pen a book, we can do more than simply pass the time or watch the metaphoric “wheel” turn. Like Tuck, we’ve lived long enough to know that life has its way of pushing itself along, independent of us. Though we sometimes resist life’s peculiar rhythm, and would sometimes prefer not to deal with all that it throws our way, we know all too well that it is probably best to be alive through it than to wait too expectedly on the alternative.
I don’t know about you, but if Life’s door should close on me tomorrow, I want to know that I did enough to be remembered by, and that I did my best to make a difference somehow. I would hope that when my physical body has left this place, the talk would be more about how I lived than about the misfortune of my dying. Death is certain, and life is anything but infinite, so it’s best that we live intentionally between its bookends.
Make meaning of the moments. In even the smallest of our encounters, we have the ability to lift someone else’s spirit at just the right moment. It does wonders for the soul when we feel like someone else sees us, though they may not know exactly what we’re dealing with just then. Everyone wants to be seen, understood, heard, acknowledged somehow, though they might maintain otherwise.
#GloriaNaylor you will be missed. What we cannot preserve in life, you’ve preserved in words.
— Avril Somerville (@SomerEmpress) October 3, 2016
As Naylor’s Roberta warned, we might not always be able to put into words our own mental anguish, our own physical pain, or our own grief, and we may not care to, quite frankly, especially when our agony is still so raw and overwhelming. Still, we must allow life to resonate in us so we can make it through, and in turn, help someone else make it through. By showing up in our feelings and vulnerability, we allow transformation to take place in us. Only then, can we sustain life beyond ourselves.
So, somewhere within your contemplation on the question of “How Free Exactly Do You Want to Be“, remind yourself to feel what you feel and embrace life by choosing to live. Free yourself from the preoccupation of the what-ifs and the inevitable, and free yourself to live fully in the moment. You never know; you just might be the lifeblood for someone else when you choose to live…. for real.
How might you live forever?
Avril Somerville is the author of A Journey Of Life On Purpose, available here. She is in the stages of bringing her debut novel, How Dare You Say Goodbye? to light. To request Avril as a speaker at your next event, please go here.