Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day nine hundred and sixty five ... Not average by any means

Averages are misleading.

My aunt, Lynda Jean Johnson, would agree with me on this. She passed away two years ago today at the age of sixty.

It seems young, doesn't it?

Well, of course it seems young if you consider that the average lifespan of a human is around 78 years. This is eighteen years longer than my aunt got. But take into consideration that saying that is average means that half of the people in the world live longer than that, and the rest don't even come close.

So saying that she was young is only really relevant if you put her up against the percentage of people who live to be 100.

And then there are all the people who never even come close to how old she got.

It's really misleading, these averages.

But my aunt had come to the realization that she had beaten the averages because she had put so much in over those sixty years that she might as well have really been 100. She was wealthy in experience and wisdom and had lived her life to the fullest. It was too soon to go, of course, because she really felt like she would have at least gotten to be as old as her sister--my mother--who was six years her senior. This, naturally, was just an assumption, and a vague one at that. She had just kind of hoped.

The youngest of three, and the youngest to go. That one always baffled her. Because she knew she was dying she had a few months to ponder the irony of it all. Man oh man did that fact burn her. She had always maintained a healthy lifestyle. She was more or less a vegetarian, only sacrificing her vegetable vows for the occasional all-beef hot dog that she claimed she only ate when she felt like she needed a boost of iron. She rarely turned a door knob with her bare hands. She never drank. Never smoked. And from what I can tell she led about as healthy an existence as one could hope for in the modern world.

And the averages still burned her.

She had always been a pessimistic person, my aunt. Besides her immediate family and close friends she would much rather have just had her cats and the animals in the yard--the deer, raccoons, rabbits, moles, muskrats, skunks, and woodchucks--to co-exist with. Most people, in her experience, were greedy, selfish, duplicitous, and self-absorbed, and they could get along just fine without her, thank you very much.

But this was a more or less skewed assessment of the world. Because the more she lived and the more she tried to play along the more it seemed that things were against her. And when this happens enough times in a row it tends to overshadow the good in the average person.

But the average person doesn't really exist. The average person is a statistical apparition formed from the addition and division of the greatest people and the most evil people and everyone in between.

The average person is a whole lot of kinds of people.

And that's what I try to remind myself of constantly.

Right up to the very last minute that I got to spend with her my aunt told me she wasn't worried. All she cared about was finding homes for all her cats and the rest would take care of itself. Me she wasn't worried about. I was on my way to becoming a productive, sober, and independent man, perhaps with a girl in my future--not to rush things, you know ... just sayin'.

I'm sure that losing my mother--and her best friend--was something that hastened her end. I have heard about it happening with married couples where one goes and the other isn't far behind. Well, as much as my aunt tried to deal with my mother's absence it must have been so heartbreaking that she was unable to exist anymore. I'm almost sure of it.

I have learned to deal with her absence differently than I learned to deal with my mother's. Though one came on the heels of the other I did have my sobriety to keep me in check for my aunt's death. On top of that I now have thousands of pictures, letters, films, and tape recordings of all phases and facets of my family in my sole possession. I have a house full of mementos. And I have my memories, some of which have surprised me recently by resurfacing after decades. I could practically recreate the last three generations of The Johnson's in a multi-media exhibit. Though unless I gain a bit more notoriety I fear the funding might encounter some roadblocks.

Loss, to me, is a part of life. But we can only lose something if we develop the capacity to attach meaning to it. We can only attach meaning to it if we learn, through the minutes, hours, days and years that make up our lives, what we need to keep and what can be released. If we stop making attachments then all we will be left with are the memories of things that we don't have anymore.

I realized recently that I can't keep myself from embracing something or someone simply because someday it will cease to either be mine or simply cease to be. This existence is too precious and our attention spans are too short to simply ignore or refuse to engage.

My aunt fought the toughest fight in her life during the spring and summer of 2008. On this day two years ago she was released from all the attachments she had made. She left me and she left her cats. She left her friends and she left her foes. She did so much in her time that she told me she felt as if she had lived a hundred lives and claimed she had no regrets. She maintained, however, that her greatest accomplishment had been caring selflessly for her one true friend, and the person she loved the most--her sister--until the very end. And then it had finally come time to let time do what it does to us all ... to take us away.

In her own way she beat the averages. And, though we often do, it would seem that nobody could ask for much more than that.

I will continue this life for you, Aunt Lynda, the only way I can, now and forever--clean, sober, with a full and open heart, fearless by default, until there is no more that I can do.

I love you. I miss you. I will see you again someday.


Lynda Jean Johnson 12/15/47-09/07/08

PS: I donated today (as I do every year on this day) to my aunt's favorite charity, http://habitatforcats.org/. They do fantastic work for the Southcoast area. I felt it was worth mentioning. Thanks.