On the Uniqueness of Life

Writing my friend’s Sunset Speech, a reflection on her life and favorite things, meant preparing her – in a way – for the end of her life.

A lot of the speech came together on a flight to Palm Springs, California. I put the recording of the interview on in my headphones and let it play as I did a download of the main imprints left on my heart and mind from the time together at her breakfast table.

The recording came in handy to fill in dates and catch distinct names of destinations and timelines. Parts of the recording would catch my attention and something would float up – a meaningful piece that, with a thoughtful tie to one of her important notes, would really be a gift for her. As I wrote on the plane, I would feel the rise of potency and know I was on track. Things that felt loose or cheesy, I let be. Good ideas that felt amateur or juvenile, I knew just needed to bake a little bit longer. I have gotten to know my creative process so well at this point in my life. It’s such a blessing to know these types of things.

The next day, I soaked in the hot tub in the morning California sun, before all the sun bathers woke up to grab their chaises. Drinking coffee and reading over my notes, thinking a little and then staring at a palm tree – it felt so good to be somewhere different.

So good to be somewhere different.

Travel helps me write. I have always believed that in terms of self development, travel lets you see yourself against a different back drop. Parts of yourself that are in auto pilot or cycling, are more obvious when you are somewhere different. You can tweak them and change them with new experiences – food and culture, shopping and sitting.

Nancy’s first draft of the speech came together that morning and I called her to read the portion I felt was solid. “Oh, Erin!” I can hear how she speaks, “It’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.”

Later on that day, I would meet a vacation friend: an actual factual little old lady from Pasadena, who was traveling with her daughter. Her daughter would work until noon, then come down with a bloody mary for her mom and they would relax in the sun until dinner; each night with reservations to a thoughtfully picked restaurant. We spent time together in the mornings, sharing on work and life and books. She was so colorful and so charismatic. People would do anything for her. It was fascinating to watch.

One morning, as we soaked in the hot tub, I shared with her why I thought the speech was so wonderful to Nancy – or at least something that I thought went into it: I write with my words, using her words, in her manner of speech. As I wrote her Sunset Speech, an end of life reflection – I would hear her voice. I timed the whole thing using her cadence in my mind.

My vacation friend shared with me how this is actually a skill and a marking of high creativity: to be able to hear in the mind in a different voice. This feels empowering and like a bit of a ninja move. One of my projects on deck is a really sentimentally awesome Christmas book. When I write the manuscript, I hear the story told in my mother’s reading voice. Isn’t that something? Not mine. But my mother’s.

Yesterday, I took the dogs for a nice long walk after writing here on Frozen Spaghetti. The sky had bright sunny clouds with gray clouds interspersed. For the first time in a long time, I put on a podcast episode while I walked as I was curious to hear Liz Gilbert’s guest spot on We Can Do Hard Things.

Totally enjoying her absolute gift of gab, I decided to take a turn and loop through the park despite the early drops of what seemed to be a light rain.

Within 10 minutes, the clouds broke open and I was absolutely caught in a downpour. I was far enough from home that there was no point in running to the house. This was going to be a socks and shoes squelch squirch situation when you are soaked to the bones.

It made me smile. How absolutely hosed I was in this rain.

I have not had this happen since a spring trip to Chicago years and years ago when my daughters and I got absolutely caught in the rain. We didn’t try to escape it and – instead – played at Millennium Park in the puddles, in the never ending rain – because it was fine. It was living.

That day in Palm Springs, when I finished the first draft of Nancy’s speech – I was completely humbled by the uniqueness of her life. Of all her days, a few were so prominent, she remembered them – their quality – their deeper meaning. Nancy is not famous (though incredibly well loved and social social social) but she made her mark. I felt so touched by this gift to me in providing that gift of writing to her. The gift to me?

To know each day I live, getting caught in the rain – making friends while traveling, is my story unfolding. And there is nothing that truly makes one human’s story better than another. Their mark may be different, their audience may vary – who they are in the public may be concentrated or broad – but in allowing this wholeness of each person, without comparison, you get to be fascinated by the unique ways our commonalities play out.

Getting caught in the rain, listening to Liz Gilbert reflect on her partner’s final days brought on this awareness: Liz is so big in the world yet she had such small mornings, cleaning up throw up – she had hard nights, with an addicted partner. See what I mean?

No matter how big the grand scheme is, each day we get is so quite frankly ours. And it’s perfect. In its sun or in its rain.

In this? There is a lot of power.

And in that power? Is peace.