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Heart Matters: "Goodbye Lessons"

I shivered and wrapped my arms tightly around myself as Marcia pulled her van away from the curb, the stacks of Christmas costumes piled high in the back.

"I'll bring them back soon," she hollered out the window.

"Don't worry about it," I shot back. "Lots of time!"

She gave me a quick wave as I hurried out of the cold.

Borrowing had become commonplace in our relationship. We were mentor and mentee, paired in a new ministry program the previous fall. With 13 years of ministry experience, I was deemed the mentor; however, the line separating our roles blurred from the beginning. Almost immediately, we became like children eagerly trading marbles on a hot summer day. My bag was heavier since I'd been playing longer, but she had some beauties in her collection I was thrilled to find. So we borrowed and traded -- not just materials, but thoughts and ideas as well. And in the process, we became good friends.

After Christmas we tried to get together, but our schedules didn't jell. It was March before I heard from her again.

"How about April? I'll bring back the costumes, I promise!"

But Marcia never got to fulfill her promise. Two days before our scheduled meeting, her van was hit head-on; two weeks later she died.

It seemed so senseless. I tried to turn my mind to work, but I couldn't seem to move on. I often caught myself thumbing through old calendars looking for days with Marcia's name scribbled across the top, trying to recapture the memories of our meetings.

The day of her funeral, I stood in the back along with many others Marcia had touched. Her brother spoke near the end of the service, and he talked of unfairness and tragedy, of how much he'd miss his sister, and what she meant to him. Then he pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. He said he'd found it taped above Marcia's desk. He started reading, and by the second line, I began to cry. I knew the words well. I'd given the paper to Marcia during one of our meetings.

"Life is an opportunity; benefit from it.

Life is beauty; admire it.

Life is bliss; taste it.

Life is a dream; realize it.

Life is a challenge; meet it.

Life is costly; care for it.

Life is wealth; keep it.

Life is love; enjoy it.

Life is a promise; fulfill it.

Life is sorrow; feel it.

Life is a song; sing it.

Life is a struggle; accept it.

Life is an adventure; dare it.

Life is luck; make it.

Life is too precious; do not destroy it.

Life is life; fight for it."

As I drove back to my office, I thought of the words from Mother Teresa's philosophy of life and how much they exemplified the Marcia I knew -- strong, compassionate, full of life. I recalled our times together -- times we abandoned writing lessons for long walks, when our conversations turned into counseling sessions, ending in hugs. I remembered the times we clicked and when we shared our differences. And I began to feel Marcia's life speaking to me, in death taking on the role of mentor. I listened...and was reminded that although life seems fleeting, we don't live in a void. We touch thousands along the journey, and we live on as they touch others.

First John 2:17 says, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." And peace came over me. Marcia's life was indeed a gift from God, and the lives she touched are forever blessed.

This week the Christmas costumes finally came home. On top was a wise man's red robe, folded carefully by my dear friend. Now, as I touch the soft fabric, it's suddenly December again. I'm standing on the curb once more in the frigid cold. But this time as Marcia waves, I'm waving back. Goodbye Marcia, and thank you. cm

Molly Wright is a director of religious education in Columbia, Missouri.

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