This is fully alive: the New York Times project called “The Lives They Loved,” a collection of photographs of people who had died in 2011. Readers submitted a photo of the person and a few lines about who they were. Here are the sorts of things that they wrote:
“He left a legacy larger than life itself, and in myriad small ways: his delicious recipes from owning a deli on Columbus Circle, his Hebrew calligraphy and artwork, his love for details and doing things just right. He had great passion for his community, whether in leading services at synagogue or in raising funds for ambulances to give to Israel.”
“ My Dad holding his 1st great-grandson 2 days before he died. It was the one time they met.”
“My mom died earlier this year after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Both little girls are so innocent. If they only knew what life held ahead for them.”
“A flashing, broken smile from our crazy, brilliant Friend of Tennessee atop of her favorite place on earth, Gregory Bald in the Smoky Mountains–quoting Shelley and Beowulf, no doubt, the entire time–where her spirit now infinitely soars and laughs.”
Person after person. Loved. Cherished. Fallible and human–and loved and cherished, anyway. People who wrote books, learned languages, traveled the world, raised children, perfected family recipes, had a unique laugh, a toothy grin, drank too much, gave back to their communities, immigrated to new countries, spent most of their short lives in hospitals, danced.
What ends it all? Random acts of violence. Breast cancer. Rare cancers. Car accidents. Suicide. Overdose. The simplicity of going to sleep and not waking up.
I read about it and I think: “Life can turn on a fucking dime. There is no certainty. This is one big human race, and we’re all just so beautifully awkward and fumbling. What in the world are any of us afraid of? Why aren’t we all grabbing our lives by the fistful? What the hell are we all waiting for?”
It makes me weep.
I weep with gratitude for my living, breathing life. For the air in my lungs. For all of the pictures that have been taken of me in which I smiled into a camera, not knowing what would be ahead. Not worrying about it. Not anticipating the pain of life. Weeping for all of my second chances, and third chances, and tenth chances.
Weeping for waking up to the truth–that this is all finite.
It makes me weep in sorrow for too many days spent in front of a computer screen, eating soup from a can in fewer than ten minutes, snapping at the people I love, thinking anything is less important than…
sunsets, speaking Italian, beautiful food, making every day a celebration, the smell of the air as the seasons change, helping someone without expectations, dropping more dollars in the donation baskets, and having sacred orgasms.
When I die, my hope is not that people will say that I curated this website; that I was a prolific writer; that I made X amount of money per year or that I was successful at my business.
My only hope is that you all will say that I savored my life, that I relished in details, that my mind was active and curious, that I loved ferociously, that I was committed to the evolution of my soul. Most importantly, that everyone around me would know that I wanted all of this not just for myself, but for all of you.
Take time to really go through all of these photos. None of it hit me until the 20th or 30th one. All these people. All these lives.
Any one of them could be you, or me.