Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Happy Birthday, Anna

You would have been fifty today. We were ten years apart, a decade of differences that we managed to bridge because we both cared about the same things.  I've been remembering how we talked about this magical transformation then, about the party you would have, the places it would be held, the people you would invite. If you were the kind of person who suddenly overnight decided you liked parties. But I think you would have made an exception for your 50th.

It's interesting to me, as a devout Atheist, how strong your presence is in the last few weeks. I will not insult your memory by calling your presence angel or god or any of those imaginary hallucinations you detested and blamed for all the ills of the world. I completely agreed with you then and now, which is why I'm more inclined to believe I reshaped you from your ashes because I needed the purity of who you were to keep me company in what has been a confusing time for me.

Or maybe it's because Lydia's choice was taken away from her, because she wasn't allowed to exit gracefully as she planned. I wanted to fight for her. I wanted to bring up the explicit instructions she left. But in the end, I couldn't do it. I gave in to the grief of others who were with her, who spent their lives loving her. There are moments when I feel as if I betrayed her by not sticking up for her wishes. And there are other times when I think, well, maybe she waited too long on purpose. It could have been her choice at any time. Who am I to say it didn't end exactly as she wanted it to?

Maybe that's why I feel you so strongly. It's not just the whole milestone birthday thing. It's remembering how passionate you were about the right to choose anything and everything. The whole idea of someone making decisions for you was an impossibility you refused to allow into your life. I respected you for that because at the time I was still looking for my strength as a person. I was still letting others define me and my life. It was a confusing time, just like now.

You hated rich people. I always thought that was funny since you came from a very wealthy family. It seemed strange to me that you would feel so strongly about it. I envied you at times, being able to travel, to buy anything you wanted, to be able to help people and not think that feeding the hungry meant you couldn't pay the power bill. Those weren't choices I didn't think you ever had to make.

But I was wrong about you. I didn't know until your brother told me, that you had given away most of your money, that the truth was you had less than I did at the time. I didn't know the grant you said funded your project came from your own pocket, that you spent everything you had to tell the stories of war victims. I didn't know it was your money that bought all the equipment we used, all the clothing we bought for the refugees, all the deposits and rents and food supplies we filled their rented apartments with. I just didn't know.

I do remember you telling me it was a good thing I didn't have extra in my life because I would just give it away to the first person with a sad story. I wondered how you knew me so well. Now I know. You gave all yours away to a whole lot of people with sad stories. You used what you had to help a small piece of the world heal.

Maybe that's why you're so much with me now. I look around at the appalling selfishness of the wealthy, of the whiny little complaints of the privileged little divas too many of my friends raised because they thought if they gave their kids everything they wanted, they wouldn't turn on them as teenagers, that everyone would be pals forever. Now it's my friends who want to turn on their kids and are ashamed of their selfishness, of their shallowness. And all of us look to their children, the grandchildren we would have had if we had children,  instead, the ones who started the Occupy Wall Street movement, the ones who really are unselfish and altruistic and truly care about the planet more than themselves and their own needs.

But it's how we were too. We rebelled against our parents and embraced the wisdom of our grandparents. You told me once that the grandchildren would save the world and I didn't really know what you meant. I do now. Sadly, I do now. But at the same time I have hope. Yes, my dear and closest friends have children they love but don't like. It's the relationship you had with your parents and my parents had with me. It takes skipping a generation to be understood. It makes old people relevant again at a time when we start to feel like useless burdens on society. Maybe that's why my friends appreciate their grandchildren so much. They know in them is the planet's salvation. As we both often said, altruists aren't born; we need something to object to, something so foul it awakens the humanist in us and propels us to act.

I think back on one of the last conversations we had. My father had just died. You knew we weren't close, that I had run as far away from his violence as I could without leaving the country. You knew how his abuse turned me into a fearful creature who was always afraid of upsetting people because my life taught me that upset people inflict pain. We talked a lot about that, about the people I chose to surround myself with, the users, abusers, and as you said, the ones with hearts like parking meters. Those were the ones you told me to look out for because until I learned that I wasn't a bad person who didn't deserve better just because I'd spent a life time getting that message, didn't mean I couldn't one day find my strength and walk upright.

You would enjoy my uprightness these days. I still have my moments. I still don't fully trust people. But I'm working on it. I let more of my friends in than I work at keeping them out. And I've done the necessary pruning you long ago suggested would improve my life considerably. I grew strong just from that one decision.  I thank you for maybe not planting the seed, but at least providing the nourishment that helped it grow.

So happy birthday, dear Anna. I've known some amazing women in my life and you're at the top of the list. And your work lives on. You'd be happy to know that. The people you chose to take it over for you did a fantastic job. Your wish that world peace would grow from the money that came to you from sources you considered too evil to spend on yourself, have been scattered as many small seeds and they've taken root. The world benefitted from your life. That's more than many people can ever say.


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