"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
I lost a friend in December to a car versus pedestrian accident. My friend was a force of Nature; an unstoppable and sometimes reckless, pain-in-the-ass, demanding friend. She was in a crosswalk and the driver didn't see her. The woman driver stopped and called emergency services and gave what first aid she could. I feel very sorry for her; a young Mum; kid in the back-seat; sun in her eyes; wrong-time, wrong-place. This will mark her future for a long time to come.
The Jack London quote was chosen by my friend's two grown daughters and is perfect. Phyllis would have turned 67 this year. We held her birthday at my house last summer and ate and drank and toasted and laughed with friends from our doggie excursions (that's how we met), friends from her book club, friends from her Art interests and more.
Phyllis was a National Level Tennis Player, in her youth, and remained competitive and self-motivated in many of the avenues her life took. She was Jewish, but liked a Christmas Tree too. Her white fluffy Samoyed was a canine therapy dog who visited the young people at Juvenile Hall. Phyllis was a docent at the Art and Cultural center and had been a collector and promoter of Art and Artists. She never missed a performance of Theatre Works and she was active until recent years in the Audubon Society and Conservation of the Baylands etc. She could always motivate others and drum up a following to join her working on any given cause. Her grandson, now in college, was part of a sponsored read every year. The amount collected for charity based on the number of sponsors and the number of books read. We all knew when it was time to sign up to sponsor him. Phyllis was always ready to pounce with the paperwork.
There were several hundred people at the Memorial Service and we all enjoyed the personal stories; of Phyllis wanting to get from her Hotel in Paris to the Arc de Triomphe and enlisting the local Gendarmes to halt many lanes of turbulent traffic so that she could cross one of the busiest intersections in Europe; of Phyllis joining her book group for a weekend in Carmel, finding that the front steps of the private home she'd been invited to, were not manageable in her wheel chair, calling the local Firemen (who were always cute when she spoke about them), to lift her in and out of the house a few times.
Travel was a passion for Phyllis and there were photos of her in a hot air balloon over Dijon, on the Great Wall of China and in Peru and Egypt. She made friends wherever she went and nurtured those friendships, as we all should.
Phyllis had Multiple Sclerosis but she lived alone. Her independence was her most precious possession, even if it took her 2 hours to get out of bed and dressed every day. She was usually showered, dressed and presentable, including lipstick by 7am. I know because I was on her Life-Alert call list so if she fell or got her chair stuck under the edge of the dining table my phone would ring and I would zoom to help. She was frustrated by some of the indignities of needing help. No-one wants to have a friend see them stretched out on the bathroom floor with her head beside the toilet and her skirt all every-which-way. We came up with some dark humor in those situations, of which Monty Python would have been proud.
Phyllis did not let her disease define her, although she founded the M.S. Support group in our town a decade and a half ago. She bullied the Medical Center into giving them meeting space and regularly connived to get the best, most renowned speakers to participate. Competitive as always.
In my perspective, Phyllis would have been O.K. with leaving life in a flash. She hated the thought of losing her autonomy as her disease progressed. Her ancient Mom had passed recently and her old dog put to sleep at 14 years old. (She was on the waiting list for a puppy, of course!) Phyllis would have wanted to attend a few more parties, if she had had more time, and seen her grandson graduate and marry one day.
She didn't leave any loose ends and she certainly lived her life to the full. One word comes to mind when I think of my pain-in-the-ass friend - UNDEFEATED! - way to go Phyllis.