By Matt Gordon
A friend of mine was thinking of a dear departed one the other day. It would have been this loved one’s ninety-seventh birthday were it not for death—that scoundrel. For my friend, there were no hugs or words to express the ways this relative had given him life; there was only the comfort—warm and sweet like taffy—of memories to chew on. In this mental state of remembrance, my friend took pen in hand, and set it dancing upon page, a dance methodical and improvised all at once. He wrote to his living father, a eulogy before it was time to eulogize, a hug through words that could join the merry band of memories at some future time for having been lived out today.
To hear of it filled my heart. For the last month or so I’ve been paying tribute to some of the saintly sages who have occupied my existence and drawn it toward the better. Now is the time to end that series—or it was supposed to be. But I’ve decided that embarking on a mission of encouragement shouldn’t be tied neatly off when convention dictates; perhaps convention is the problem all along? We act how we are expected to “behave” and love within tidy boundaries—not too sappy, not too vulnerably, not too true . . . somehow we are duped into believing formality and etiquette are better gods than the wonderment of grace and kindness and tearful gratitude. No, let convention fade to death and replace it with life and life and life, living now, while there’s still breath. So I’ll write on. Perhaps with less frequency—perhaps with more? I need to tell my mom thanks a million words over. I must share about my friend Candie who just up and took in a child because someone had to. There’s a Leslie and Johanna and Ryan and Josh and even a boy named Goo that is totally separate than the nineties album of the same name. And more and more and more and life and life and life, great givers of it. There are just so many amazing people in my life.
And in yours, too, I would guess. Which brings me to the point of this wayward post. Before proceeding on a quest of gratitude, I wanted to invite you along—for what quest isn’t better for the companionship? Every Quixote begs for a Rocinante. I challenge you to pay tribute to someone, deeply, kindly, without remorse. For some of us, this may be harder than for others, so I decided to detail some suggestions based on my own process should that be a helpful spur in your own endeavors. And truly: endeavor it. It’ll mean the world to someone, and, I’m certain, just as much to you.
Think of your life.
This seems rudimentary to the level of silliness, I know. But so many of us are cowed by the din of chaos all about us, we forget that winsome reading teacher we had in sixth grade. We forget sixth grade. We forget the pricelessness of reading and having been taught it by someone who cares about how we see the world and how the world sees us. And what we are doing when we forget in this manner is canceling the good from the equation of our lives. We have different experiences, of course. There are baked in advantageous and obstacles and disparities in our collection of days. But goodness? Goodness is there, even if just subtly by some tender absence of badness. Sift your life for good, and as the sediment strains away, the gold will glisten before you, bright and beautiful, a tremor to behold.
List some characters.
I wrote names down. What happened was the unexpected “begetting.” Dan Stover, my epic sixth grade teacher, led to Mrs. Maupin to Mr. Hancock to Coach Hecht to Bonnie Knowlan—a teacher brought forth a good gang of instructors; coaches marched forth a pep rally of other coaches; mentors and pastors and friends began to take up residence on a now too-small page.
Pick some. (Or one?)
I almost didn’t attempt to thank some of the people who have colored-in my life lines for the fear of making someone feel left out. So let me clarify the thought that undermined this heinous resistance: For the sake of not doing good to everyone I would not do good to anyone. What!? That is a ludicrous notion. The sole purpose of a life is to unleash good. We could quibble on the why behind that—be it to better the world, to gain friends, to glorify God, to do my part . . . whatever. But to live in such a way—to leave every place your being touches better? I can think of few better ways to go through life. So pick someone. And thank that someone. I like writing because I can swing to introversion and have grown more and more emotional over the years. As my voice catches, my resolve vanishes and I’ll turn back to business or weather or sports. So writing was a safe medium to put my heart out there. At least some of it.
Pick some. (Or one?)
Same point, different topic. It is impossible for me to share everything I think and feel about my wife. To tell my big sister what she means to me and how she inspires me. To repay my friend Erik who hired me or my friend Katie who just repeatedly shows up for me despite all the ways I’m a poor dance partner. Since I want to thank a lot of people, I tend to pick a quality or two that I feel especially epitomizes their impact on my life. So it is a person’s exuberance here, another’s inclusivity there. Just as I can’t capably get to everyone, I am unable to be aware enough or skilled enough to truly do justice for the variety of grace in which my fellow humans have bundled me. And that is okay. A little is more than most people ever get in terms of thanks for their character. We thank people for favors or gifts or transactional things. Here, dear reader, is your chance to thank them for their being.
Post it on the internet, write it in a card, call them on the phone, arrange a meet-up. But do it. The world is a dumpster fire right now. And it seems we all try to put out the flames by dousing it with gasoline. More rhetoric. More division. More accusation. More resentment that takes root and grows splendidly and terribly into hatred. But a life at a time, a kindness at a time, a realization at a time that good is all around and love wins, might be a cooling water of reminder that we, and this world, are so much more. We can, together, call something better into being, even if just for a moment on a Thursday. Those who have shaped us with love and kindness have localized an experiment on this in our lives; their love in some way has called the goodness up to the surface in us. Let us return the merry favor.
Thank you for reading Living Tributes. And thank you for being a living tribute to some fellow human. Kindness seems worth it, if even for a minute. So I’ll hope you’ll carve out some seconds and share some gratitude in these dark times. And who knows? Maybe, through the process, you’ll catch a glimpse of the light? The night is nearly over, and the day is drawing near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. See you by the precious daylight.