Thursday, May 2, 2013

What Will Your Tombstone Say?

A few weekends back I twice attended StageCenter's production of Lisa Kron's "Well".  I was privileged to have been asked to preview and gently critique the dress rehearsal, and then two nights later, Tom, our friend Aaron (who happens to be married to the star of StageCenter's show), and I enjoyed "Well" as paying customers.

One particular line in the play struck me the moment I heard it and then stuck with me long after the final curtain call.  The main character's mother delivers the line during a monologue in which she speculates about the mark she will leave on the world; worried that her years spent caring for and supporting her husband, raising her children, and advocating for community desegregation have made little impact, she considers the possibility that her tombstone will simply read, "She Kept a Clean House".  And then, after further assessment of the room in which she stands, she considers an even less desirable finale, one in which her tombstone reads, "She Kept a Dirty House".

This simple but powerful line stopped me in my tracks during the dress rehearsal, and brought tears to my eyes when I heard it a second time.  In considering why this line left me so emotional, I realized that, at least on the surface, it's because I keep a clean house.

I like my house to be clean.  I like my house to be picked up.  Do I prioritize keeping a clean and tidy house above caring for and supporting my husband? Raising my children? Loving my friends? Growing my career? It's possible that, on occasion, I'm guilty of vacuuming the living room rug or wiping down the kitchen counters before or even instead of tackling the frustrating and seemingly endless stream of sibling fights (they'll eventually solve their problems with one another on their own, right?).  But that's a topic for another post...

But on a deeper, more soulful level, this line affected me because I've reached an age at which life on earth has started to look shorter rather than longer.  To my children, life stretches out in front of them, far beyond what they can see and their concept of time. To hear Hallie tell it, she'll live here in College Station with me for a thousand years, at which point she and her brother will die - by getting hit by a car (?!) - and then head off to heaven in some kind of horse-drawn chariot where they'll meet up with Grandma Hallie and Duke the Cat.  But to me, life is painfully short.  Sometimes I feel about life the way I feel when I'm watching the second hand on my beside clock tick closer and closer to the time at which my alarm will go off.

Clearly I'm a worrier.  I worry about leaving my kids behind before they're physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to be out in this world without me.  About not seeing them grow up.  About what I'll leave behind when my life on earth is over.  Will my husband know how much I appreciate him?  Will my children know how proud they make me?  Will the people I love know that I love them?  Will anything I've done - professionally, for the American Red Cross or as a writer - have made an impact on this world?  (I'm not looking for reassurance here - just thinking with my fingers.)

I worry about what my tombstone will say.

I don't know exactly what my family and friends will say about me after I'm gone, nor do I know what my tombstone will say.  (It had better be grammatically correct though - otherwise I'm coming back to do some serious haunting.)  But I hope it looks a little something like this:

Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Friend.

She loved her husband with her whole heart, not because he's smart, handsome, or funny (even though he's all of these things), but because he balanced her, believed in her, humored her, and loved her back.

She loved her children - her greatest accomplishment and contribution to the future - something fierce, so much so that she often wished they would stay little and hold hands with her always, but she understood that sometimes loving them meant teaching them how to survive and thrive without her.

She loved her family and friends deeply, worked hard, and tried very hard to be kind.

And if there's room:

She kept a clean house.

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