Thursday, May 24, 2012

Timeline


Sometime on May 3rd, while I was in a very long rehearsal for GODSPELL, the show I just closed, singing about blessin' the Lord, my soul, my cousin, Elizabeth, was getting diagnosed with a brain aneurism. According to what I learned later, all didn't seem initially lost -- Elizabeth was a very strong, healthy woman in every other way.  They sent her into surgery with assurances to her family that she stood every chance of the best possible outcome.  A few hours after she came out of surgery, though, her brain began to swell, and she was declared dead late on Monday, May 7.

Catherine and Elizabeth
Mother of the bride
2011
I knew nothing of this, of course, because I was out of pocket, in Godspelland.  It wasn't until my sister texted me Tuesday afternoon that I realized I needed to log on to Facebook.  I felt gutted, though it's hard to say exactly why.  She was my cousin, of course. We'd spent time together during summer trips to Texas when we were kids.  But I hadn't seen Elizabeth since I was fourteen and she was nine.  Our only contact was checking in occasionally on Facebook and "liking" each others photos and statuses.  Our lives were distant - hers in Texarkana, Texas, mine in L.A.  Our jobs and aspirations and families had evolved so differently. She was married to her husband, Mike, for something like 25 years.  My husband and I divorced after four, and I remain single.  She was a dedicated teacher. I am a writer and performer, who still has a "day job". 

In some ways our lives were similar. We both gave birth to daughters in 1988, both of whom are blonde and gorgeous and a singular source of joy in our lives.  And she named her daughter Catherine -- a choice to which we here at the Chron cannot possibly object. And, in the end, neither of us ventured too far past our hometowns.  Mine is bigger and weirder than hers, but it doesn't matter much. When it's where you're born and you grow up, where your family and the people that you love remain, there's little difference between Los Angeles and Texarkana.

Mike with Elizabeth
at their daughter's wedding
2011
I wish I knew Elizabeth better as an adult. I wish I knew her husband and her daughter.  I'm sorry we never had any more meaningful interaction in the past several decades, outside of making each other laugh on Facebook from time to time.  It makes me mad at... who?  Myself? The universe? God?  Oh, hell... anger now is a pointless waste of time.  Not that it's not a natural reaction, mind you.  Her sister, Julia, thought seriously about entitling her eulogy, "This F**king Sucks!", a sentiment I soundly supported.  (Note: The final draft of said eulogy is much warmer and more church-appropriate.)
Sara and Elizabeth:
Mother and daughter

And time is really the issue here. That someone so vital and alive and healthy could be here one minute, and then gone the next is a crack over the head with one's own mortality.  When I think of how much time I have wasted thinking ill of myself, talking mean about myself, all the time I spent cursing my thighs and refusing to attend swim parties and beach bbq's because I was worried about what people would think of me, it makes me want to slap my own self on the hand with ruler.  What a waste! What a sheer luxury! What an audacious, spendthrift squandering of daylight! I don't know how much longer I'm going to get to go to swim parties and beaches. I don't know if I'll have the chance to learn to ski this next winter.  If I'm upright, and there's snow on the ground at Snow Summit come December, I promise you, I will ski at least once in 2012.  I may not like it, but I'm trying it.

The Patterson sisters:
Rachel, Elizabeth, Julia
@ The Kennedy Center, NYC, 2011

It's tempting to think that Elizabeth's death is "unfair" or that she was "cheated".  The sickening part of being a mortal human being is that, eventually you're going to die, and inevitably something interesting and "must-see" will happen shortly thereafter. Maybe Elizabeth got cheated out of the end of her life, and maybe not.  I'm not smart enough to know how these things are determined in the vast workings of the heavens and the universe. Elizabeth had a little over 49 years, which isn't long in the grand scheme of things, but she managed to get a lot accomplished, it seems.Wall posts on her Facebook page are still popping up from former students she taught years ago, that have moved on and graduated, who leave messages of love and appreciation.

She touched many, many people.  She has left holes in the hearts of many.  But maybe her life was exactly as long as it was supposed to be.  It seems she filled the brief time she had here admirably -- touching other people, making them laugh, teaching them, inspiring them, amusing them. She used her time well. She didn't waste it not going to swimming because she didn't like the way she looked in a bathing suit. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, it should be duly noted that, much to the annoyance of the generally wide-hipped, round-fannied women, like me, in our family,  Elizabeth looked pretty damn good in a bathing suit, the saucy vixen.)

I'm going to fill my time better. I'm going to be less critical of myself and others. I'm going to love more and judge less.  And I'm going to the beach this summer, and I don't care who is looking.  In fact, I've been invited to a swim/jacuzzi/bbq party this Saturday. I'm going. And I'm getting in the jacuzzi.  And this winter, I'm learning to ski.  I'm not wasting a single precious moment of whatever I have left of this life in anything that isn't rooted in love and/or good feelings.  Because life is too short. Often even shorter than we think is.  And any opportunity squandered on thinking about yourself (particularly the thigh part of yourself) rather than others is a pitiful usage of a precious commodity.

Elizabeth taught me that.


Elizabeth Patterson Ingram
March 24, 1963 - May 7, 2012



4 comments:

  1. Awesome, thanks for sharing and do...do go to that party!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was truly beautiful.
    Your cousin sounds wonderful--I am so sorry and so sorry that you didn't get to know each better--but those facebook "likes" they count!
    Go to the parties--and don't beat yourself up when you don't

    Pia
    http://psychologytoday.com/oddgirlin

    I can never figure out to how to sign into to one of my 25 other google accounts here and life's too short....

    ReplyDelete
  3. Which is exactly the point I was making... VoNLD works fine... Thanks, Pia.

    ReplyDelete

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