bequest n. a legacy bequeathed to someone.
she bequeathed me a legacy so profound it leaves me breathless, makes my heart pound, and my knees go weak. i’ve yet to cradle it, and carry it home, but yesterday, in a hot apartment that was only sparsely appointed with the artifacts and books she’d spent a lifetime gathering, rooms that stand witness to the dismantling of a life cut short, too short, i sat down with her brother and began to discover a wisp of what awaits my careful curation, my distilling of her wisdom, what will be — i hope and pray — her triumphant valedictory in the form of the book she’d always hoped to write.
she left me, according to the language in her will, her “creative work,” and with it, the sobering responsibility, the hope, to “do her proud,” as my own mama would put it, as my mama did put it, the day my own father was buried and my mother whispered her instruction to their five children huddled at the door, about to step outside and into the long black limousine the funeral home had sent. “do him proud” were the instructions then, to the five children left fatherless and far too young to make much sense of the enormity of the loss. they’re words that have long instructed me, and they instruct me once again: “do her proud.”
we began, my friend’s brother and i, by clicking to her photo album, and there we found the very last photo she had taken, just before she surrendered to the hospital, and, after that, the few short days when she absorbed the unthinkable, that she was dying and would die within the week.
the very last picture, the last time she clicked her camera, was to take a picture of the words you see above, words that read:
“i’m beginning to realise that real happiness isn’t something large and looming on the horizon ahead but something small, numerous and already here. the smile of someone you love. a decent breakfast. the warm sunset. your little everyday joys all lined up in a row.” — beau taplin
i simply stared at first, the intimacy of the moment washing over me.
here i was peeking in on the solitude of her final hours at home, when she was pulled up to her desk, or propped against the pillows on her couch, poring over the internet for words that captured what she knew, what she’d learned and what she’d come to deeply believe. and here, on this one brick wall of wisdom, she’d stopped, pulled out her camera, and clicked. i can’t imagine she imagined it would be only months later when her final frame would be stumbled upon, its every word, one by one, discovered and absorbed. i can’t imagine she imagined that we’d inhale its every breath, its every syllable, as if words — instruction — from beyond.
but that’s what we did.
i read it once, then twice, then i quietly asked her brother if i could take a picture of my friend’s last picture. “of course,” he said.
it will be like this, for weeks and months. maybe even years. i will soon have banker’s boxes filled with her journals, her notes and scribblings. i will have every essay she ever typed and saved. i will retrace the topography of her mind, and travel deeply into her soul. or at least i will find some refracted angle of that soul.
i will extract that which matters most. i will be informed all along the way by an uncanny, unspoken instruction. i will follow as closely as imaginable what i discern is the course she’s laid out for me, for all of us. i know that in her final years she was hellbent on discovering and dispensing the purest path to love, to joy. “a diviner of joy,” were the words that tumbled from my fingers to the screen — my description of her and her life’s work — in the obituary i wrote, at her request, just after she had died.
it would be weeks later till i found out that, in her last will and testament, she’d bequeathed to me that very task: to be the diviner of what she’d found to be the path to joy. to inherit her life’s written work, to pore through it, to extract the shimmering shards of truth and beauty, the ones that will not die. the ones that must be given sunlight and breeze, and lined up, page upon page, for all of us who wonder where to go to find the joy, the peace, the love that we — all of us — so deeply seek.
this morning, once again, the world is weeping. and my task with my dear friend’s truth is more urgent than ever. there is work to do. so much work. and, soon, mine will begin in the stacks and files and boxes and computer that must hold the truth buried deep inside.
bless you, mary ellen, for this gift. i promise here to do you proud, to unearth all that you so carefully laid out for us to find. bless your soul. and thank you.
what’s your path to joy?
Oh you are my joy right now as I sit on my front porch in breezy greens, and a sky of grey pierced by bits of blue. I am noticing this moment with all my senses because you led me to that as I read your words today. ME’s wisdom to place her legacy of words and wisdom in your care speaks to the twin beauty of both your souls ~ one surrounding us and one with us. I smile whenever I picture her eyrie an the riches that filled it. I am so, so pleased that some of those riches will abide with you. I thank you for the path that led me to her and the joy I found there amidst the sorrow.
what a gift to ME that you are inhaling the whole of it. me, too. hummingbird moments, they are. when we hover in the thick of our wherever to drink in the sights, the sounds, the scent, the rush against our skin…..
her bequest is at once daunting, and filled with so much hope…..
Oh my… this post breaks my heart, yet somehow pieces it back together again. There is work to be done, yes. I know you’ll do her proud, my dear, dear friend… xxxooo
my heart breaks too, and word by word it will be stitched together, stronger, i’ll hope, than before……
On a somber day to see this love of a friendship, is most heart lifting!! You will do her proud!! I anxiously await to hear MaryEllen’s beautiful insight through your words!! I also have the picture of your mom talking to you 5, precious children giving you instruction! Love your mom!!! xo As always your posts are a time to pause and feel , and think and reflect!! Xoxo
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bless you, my dear dear mary, big sister of my heart…..protector of my spirit…..xoxox
Oh…oh, oh, oh… Oh my. Want to talk with you about this. Am traveling. Will be in touch. Love you. Wow. What a gift. And yet… It must feel overwhelming, too, added on to the grief.
i nearly fell over when i was pulled aside and told of the inheritance. i was uncharacteristically speechless for the longest time. it is such a profound gift, such a limitless treasure, i will only begin to grasp the whole of it, word by word, across the long arc of time. every time i think about it, i nearly quake at the beauty of it. her words were such a part of her……such a treasure….
Yes, the best of treasures, given with love and trust.
Quite an honor and quite an assignment. If today’s essay is an indicator, you wil do her proud. Lovely!
thank you, liz…..
[…] she died, i found out she’d written me into her will, appointed me the keeper of her “creative work.” it’s a mantle i accept with heavy heart. a week ago, on a hot august afternoon, i met […]