On Friday my road bike made the commute home from work for the first time this year. I felt strong until I hit the hills in the last few miles. As I often do on those long hills, I remembered a co-worker of mine from Colorado. I sat next to him at my first job out of college. He was about 8 years older than me, good-looking (though married), and very nice and supportive. At our desks he introduced me to jazz through a public radio station in Denver. He was a road biker and once gave me some tips when we rode together on Bike to Work Day.
Eight years later when Paul and I returned from our first sojourn in Alaska, I worked for Chris at a small satellite office the firm had opened. I was depressed about leaving Alaska, and Paul and I were living separately during the week because our house was still rented and we had jobs 80 miles apart. Along with my family, Chris was a rock in those first months, someone to remind me that I'd had a life there that I had enjoyed even though so much of it felt foreign at the time.
Two years later we moved back to Alaska. I thought about Chris a little over the next five years, but mostly when I received newsletters from my old company or when Bob the president of the firm visited Alaska. I was shocked when Bob called me late one December and said that Chris had died of a massive heart attack right at Christmas. Ever since, I've thought of him and his family often, wondering how someone can be here one day, happy and healthy, and gone the next.
As I pedaled up Abbott Road on Friday, I remembered Chris' hill-climbing advice: "10 revolutions pushing the pedals down, 10 revolutions pulling up, and 10 standing up ... then do it again until you reach the top of the hill."
As I followed Chris' advice up the last hill to home, I wondered if he's somewhere looking down on me, seeing me take his advice. Does he exist somewhere, knowing that the advice he gave me almost 20 years ago still guides me when I hit a long hill on my bike? I wasn't really contemplating the after life as much as I was thinking about the small legacies that we can each leave in this life. Almost any encounter with another person is an opportunity to do or say something that could help them in life, whether it's getting up a literal or figurative hill.
Recently I was talking with a friend who is undergoing an incredibly difficult time. One of the hardships of her life is a family who doesn't sympathize with her very real health issues, and consequently, they add to her stress. The medical community hasn't always been compassionate either and don't get me started on her health and disability insurance providers. So in this conversation when she expressed more despair than she's ever confided before, she surprised me by saying how this experience has made her want to be more compassionate to others in need. Bitterness would be the more likely sentiment from many of us, but she was excusing her siblings and seeking how she could treat others as she wanted to be treated. I was chastened for my inability to forgive others for small slights and wondered if I could be so graceful and generous if I were in a similar situation.
These are just two examples of the many words and deeds that have hopefully helped me to be a better person every day. I'll be looking and listening for more and hoping that I'm passing along some of this wisdom.
* The photo is of my friend Rose on an afternoon ski in the mountains a couple of weeks ago. Our two hour skied turned into four because the day and conditions were too perfect to go back down to the parking lot.