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Monday, November 15, 2010

Circle of Life

So i spent the bulk of Sunday in the car, 11 hours driving to the DC suburbs and back to spend a few last minutes with a dying friend.

Pancreatic cancer is pretty merciless. Three weeks ago Esther finally got to visit Asheville for the first time, weakened but still able to appreciate the sights and sounds. Yesterday she was simply heavily sedated, never quite rising to consciousness.

Riley, her partner for the past 35 or so years, and husband for the past 5, told me that 10 of her 11 grandchildren had been able to visit in the past two weeks to say their goodbyes, and she'd been able to spend time with each of them. Seventy five years is, by most reckonings, a good run. she packed quite a bit into those years, and i remain inspired by her life.

I had my first long conversation with Riley in a decade or more. I got to share photos from my daughter's recent wedding (they met briefly just before she went to Central America for a Peace Corps assignment). And as always, i learned something new about the two of them.

A friend recently posted a picture of her dad in the service on Facebook for Veterans' Day, commenting that he was a lifelong peace activist. I noted that many such people came by their views the hard way, as a result of first hand experience with the military. I knew about Riley's military service, but hadn't realized that Esther also served for two years back in the 50s. So add another data point to that observation.

Riley also took a bit of time to reminisce about a visit back to his home town of Jamestown, in western New York. In the end, as he thought about it, it really hadn't changed quite as much since his childhood in the 1920s as you would expect. The fields and woods near his house that he played in have been developed, for the most part, but the population is really the same as it was 70 years ago. He recalled, as a five year old, the dirt road he lived on being paved for the first time.

And i thought about the 5 year olds in my neighborhood who, 80 years from now, will be able to tell the same story about their Durham streets being paved for the first time in 2011.


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