When I used to get physical newspapers like The Calgary Herald and The National Post in the morning, I used to read the obituaries quite attentively and with interest.
There was something grounding about reading those as a busy student or young professional. It helped me to contemplate what is most essential in life.
Years later, I started to ask myself: If I wrote obituaries of the living, would I be kinder to them?
The other day I heard a story from the life of Helen Keller that I had never heard before.
In it, she recalls asking a friend who had returned from a walk in the woods what this friend had seen. The friend replied, “Nothing in particular.” Helen was dumbfounded and wondered, “How is it possible to walk for an hour and see nothing worthy of note?”
This anecdote whet my appetite and I had to look for these insights of hers in context. To my delight, I found them contained within her extraordinary short essay titled, “Three Days to See.”
Here it is:
This evening I was having a chat with a friend who shared with me about growing up with parents who differ considerably in terms of their outlook on the risks of life.
My friend’s father is the social, energetic, and adventurous type. Whereas her mother has always been more cautious – even to the point of being afraid of flying, anxious in the passenger seat, and worried about safety.
“Maybe it comes from a good place,” my friend reflected, wanting to offer the most charitable interpretation. “Maybe it’s a matter of gratitude – knowing that you have a lot and simply wanting it to stay that way, not wanting to risk damage or disruption to that which you cherish so much.”
My friend told me that her mother’s fear of loss can be crippling but that, as a mother herself, she can also understand it to some extent.