|Ansel, about 14|
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.” --Anais Nin
This week marked the sixth year since Ansel Reed (poet, reader, social rights activist, hiker) left his too short life on this planet. He'd only gotten 20 years in. Born with a rare immune deficiency, he'd had more medical interventions than most octogenarians see in a lifetime. He packed a lot of adventure into his days. Sadly, there were many he just didn't have time to get to before his liver failed while he waited for a donor.
I think of Ansel at least once or twice a week. When I hear poetry recited, I remember the time, not long before he left us, that I visited him in New York as he waited for that liver we all promised was coming. He'd be feeling cold, or poorly, and would ask me to rub his back. While I did he would sing to me-- hymns, usually; or recite wonderful odes--Keats, Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Shakespeare. He had an amazing memory. He knew his time was short and By God He Was Going To Pay Good Attention. His eye for detail was astounding, and he had stories to tell.
When I told him I was coming for a visit and asked what he needed, he said : "Kelp. Seaweed. I want to bathe in it and pretend I am in the ocean." Thanks to a very kind co-op worker I was out the door and on that plane smelling just a bit fishy. He also requested and received Japanese rice crackers, and he wanted baking soda, coffee filters and a blender, for various Grande Schemes he was craftsying up. He spent a hundred days at a NY apartment, fighting off bugs when there were livers ready, and trying to be hopeful when he was healthy but there were no livers to be found. Sadly those two worlds would not collide, and after a time, he called it a day. He seemed much more at peace with it than we were.
I still vacillate between my own peace in knowing he found his, and fury he isn't here to keep stirring up the creativity pot. What can be done? We have to accept that he's really gone from this physical life on this place. We don't have to like it. But that don't change the facts, Ma'am.
So what to do? I look for him in others, sometimes-- if I see a particularly high spirited sweet joke-cracking 6 year old, or hear of someone undertaking a physical challenge when they already have one (mountain climbing blind, skiing with Parkinson's, that sort of thing). Ansel never seemed to let his health stop him, whether he was running a marathon or fighting for social justice. When I see that spirit in others, his own spirit is very present to me.
And I use his eyes to view the world. I see something beautiful and think, "Ansel would have liked that." Knowing him changed me some, and changed what I see in the world. He gave me a bit of his vision.
That's one way others live in us. They give us new eyes and perspectives. And we honor their short visits when we notice what they might have noticed. It's not enough, but it's a lot.