I had a few requests to post a eulogy that I gave in Kansas City last Saturday. The meadow picture below was projected on a screen as I gave a short talk in honour of my childhood friend, Jenny Smith Carr. I found the Swiss meadow image in the Picture Collection of the Toronto Public Library, but there wasn’t any reference to the photographer who took this calendar photograph. The text of the eulogy follows the picture.
Jenny’s Purple Meadow
A few months ago Jenny asked me if the news of her cancer diagnosis had made me think about my own mortality. I said, “Sure it does. You’re a part of me.” She’ll always be a part of me, a precious patch of Jenny-ness that inspires and sustains me.
When I visualize the color and texture of this Jenny-patch in my soul, I see a set of translucent paddles in primary colors. Jenny is the red paddle. I’m the blue paddle. And the purple place where we overlap is the part of Jenny I get to keep, a purple meadow of shared memories, experiences, values, and giggles. Jenny’s meadow is a clearing in my mind, a sunny expanse of wildflowers surrounded by an ancient forest.
My hope for all of us who were blessed to love our Jenny is to frequently visit our clearings, for they are sacred sites of Jenny-ness that death cannot destroy. This afternoon, I’m taking you with me to Jenny’s purple meadow, where stories flower beside a purple stream, among clumps of irises and daisies, and in the hollows of warm stones.
Take this wildflower over here. It’s a story set in the late nineteen seventies. Jenny and I are trick-or-treating along Mill Street in Liberty. As radical young questioners of gender roles, we have disguised ourselves as housewives. We have put pink curlers in our hair and wrapped ourselves in padded polyester bathrobes. Fuzzy slippers pull the satirical outfit together. At one fateful house on Mill Street, the woman who answers our knock is dressed exactly like us, down to the last curler. She gives us a few pieces of candy but no compliments on our cute costumes.
Many of my Jenny memories come from Camp Oakledge in Warsaw, Missouri. I was very lucky to spend two summers sharing a canvas tent on a wooden platform with Jenny and other fellow Girl Scouts. One afternoon, Jenny and I canoed about three miles across the Lake of the Ozarks to a hamburger shack perched on a dock. I still remember how good that burger tasted because we had powered ourselves across the waters, earning our lunch with our oars.
In February of 1982, Jenny and I went on a winter campout in Dearborn, Missouri. We shivered together in a tent that we had placed on the slope of a hill. When the leaders of the campout organized a midnight hike, Jenny opted to stay in the tent, but I went out. We walked to the edge of a clearing in the woods and drank in a breathtaking bowl-shaped meadow all blanketed with deep snow. The dark ring of trees circling all that open space was a visual prayer. When I think of Jenny, I remember this winter meadow. Like her, it is spiritually refreshing and elegant.
The intense starry sky of the night hike also reminds me of a more recent night. A couple of Thursdays ago, a group of Jenny’s close friends made a plan to look at the sky together at 10 pm (eastern time) and send out beams of love to our dying friend. Wind chimes, lightning, singing locusts, clear skies and cloudy ones greeted us from Arizona, Missouri, Ohio, Connecticut, and Ontario. I thought of how much I love Jenny and cried when I remembered her blog entry about the pain of the biopsy needles.
She’s beyond the needles now, beyond pain, beyond fear. She’s a gorgeous bird of paradise. She’s the drops of rain that bless us. And she’s in every compassionate thing we do. Her purple meadow is alive with sensitivity, laughter, and thousands of kind words. We protect it when we share stories of our beautiful Jenny.