Monday, June 13, 2011


Dear Daughter,

Sometimes I'm struck with a heavy sense of your innocence while watching you play.  You have nothing to worry about. Sure, you act like you have a lot to worry about when you don't want your diaper changed, or your tired, or mommy takes away the knife you pulled out of the dishwasher when she wasn't looking.  But really, your only job right now is to explore, play, exist, and someday, sleep in your own bed. Climate change doesn't weigh on your mind.  You don't care about the current budget crisis. You aren't disturbed by the cancellation of TV shows done wrong by their networks.

You don't know that every living thing dies.  Including you. Including mommy and daddy.  And the cats. And that snail in the garden.

I suppose if I could wish for anything beyond your continued good health, I'd wish that no one and nothing you love would ever die.  But no one can grant me that wish.

This weekend I attended a memorial service for one of my clients. He was a good man. A young man (only 52). A family man. And a fire fighter.  It won't be too long until you know what a fire fighter is - they drive big shiny trucks and are very cool.  They are brave.  They are exposed not just to the danger of flames and the uncertainty of emergency situations - but to all the invisible dangers of poisonous gases and air.  This particular fire fighter died of cancer most likely caused from years of exposure to these dangerous elements.  He fought hard to beat the cancer, but he couldn't.  He left behind a lovely family and a profound sense of loss within several communities.

But this isn't a post about sad things. It's a post about ceremony.  Ceremonies are the collective, formal activities we undertake to mark occasions in our culture.  They can be big or small, public or private.  They can be jovial or solemn.  A memorial service is a ceremony marking the end of someone's life.  It's a time to remember the person and his accomplishments. It's a time for the family and loved ones to share treasured memories - those keep the person a live a bit longer, because as long as someone is sung, he remains.

I didn't know this fire fighter extraordinarily well, though attending his memorial confirmed to me that I knew the true him because he was described similarly by everyone who knew him.  He was kind and big-hearted. Fun-loving. A deeply spiritual man. And he loved his family most of all.

In one of my last email exchanges with him, he shared a photo of his newly born grand-daughter.  The email prior to that I had shared with him a photo of you.  Enjoy it, he said. It goes so fast.  And for him, it did. Much, much too quickly.

Fire fighters are laid to rest with a deeply moving ceremony in which bells toll, alarms ring, bag-pipes commemorate, drums beat, and hands raise in salute.  Your mommy was already sad because she was going to miss this fire fighter, but once those bag-pipes started, there was no halting her tears.  Mommy wants bag-pipes at her funeral someday, too.

From that ceremony, I went to another, and you and daddy came along. We went to your friend Lola' first birthday party.  Birthday parties are ceremonies, too.  Fancy dresses, cakes, candles, hats, balloons, and singing mark those ceremonies.  So do lots of pictures, hugs, and kisses.  And after the party we went to a concert in the park.  In itself, it was a bit of a ceremony - celebrating summer and long evenings. We shared the lawn with friends who will be married in a week - beginning a long series of ceremonial aspects for that phase of life, too. If we could've worked a birth into the day, we really would've hit the span of human experience.

I was very mindful of the fire fighter all day.  I thought that he would like a family attending a park concert and he would love a child's birthday party. I thought that I should mark these things with more ceremony and importance on a regular basis.  I thought about what we should all be remembered for at our final ceremonies.  I thought about how, while watching the video about the fire fighter's life that started with photos of him as a baby, I was struck with a different kind of sadness now that I have you - small one.  Initially I thought of the fire fighter as someone's dad and grandfather.  But then I thought of him as his mother's son.  Some day you might understand how much differently that last bit is than the bit before, in the range of emotions.

Everything I did this weekend was with the fire fighter in mind.  His example.  His words. His ceremony.

Make sure you embrace ceremonies - big and small, dear daughter.  They are what we most remember and they can help us figure out what's important.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely letter. You should definitely give it to your daughter some day.