A few weeks ago we attended the funeral of Jeanne Hollis McDowell, the mother of our friend Steve. We went because although we didn’t know her well, we liked her and Steve and Kathy are our dear friends.
All four people who spoke – Steve, Jeanne’s granddaughters Erin and Sarah, and the minister, Judy, who had known Jeanne since childhood, were eloquent about her life. We knew her as a woman with an inquisitive and optimistic look on her face and a bright interest in the world and its inhabitants. The speakers at the service clarified and expanded upon her character as a kind, compassionate, and open-hearted person.
I had a little epiphany during the funeral. Like many people, sometimes I fall into a pit of despair for no good reason. In those times I tend to think that my life has no value to anyone or anything. I’ve never finished the novels I’ve started, my dissertation was an uninteresting molehill, I’ve never stuck with anything, I have nothing to say, blah blah blah. The epiphany came from the wonderful descriptions of Jeanne’s life. She wasn’t Mother Teresa or president of the United States, didn’t write the Great American novel or run a soup kitchen (that I know of). Yet her way of being in the world was of enormous value to the people who knew her. She was a marvelous mother and grandmother, a woman who cared about people and home and community, and that was enough.
My point here isn’t about who I am, nor about who Jeanne was. It’s that living a compassionate life and being present and open-hearted are all we need to do.