Sunday, June 06, 2010

In the Shadows of Lives Lived

We only learned after we got back that two special friends had died while we were gone.  Yakov and Lisa (as we knew her) came to Alaska from Moscow in 1994.  Both were doctors there and ended up in Anchorage near Yakov's sister.  They loved Anchorage's wilderness, frequently walking and biking the bike trails.  Although their English was much better than my non-existent Russian, there was much left uncommunicated in words.  Instead they used their eyes and smiles and love of life to make us appreciate how special they were and made us feel.  Yakov invited me several times to come play pool with him at the senior center where he would tell me how good I was playing as he pocketed his balls.  They taught us the joys of king boleta mushrooms - showing us how to choose good ones and various ways to cook them.  And don't forget vodka.  Lisa. Lisa. Lisa.  I felt like I'd known Lisa all my life.  She had such a warm smile and lively eyes.  There was a special connection.  I just felt completely comfortable around her.  We could talk seriously and playfully; there were no facades, just real human to human connection.  Unfortunately we weren't together often enough.   They'd had health problems on and off, but I didn't realize I would never see them again.  They were both 80.

My aunt Bert died last weekend in Los Angeles.  She is someone who has been on the periphery of my life since I was born.  She was my mother's brother's wife.  I did connect meaningfully with my uncle as an adult, but never really had any serious conversations with my aunt, except maybe about her paintings.  They were married for over 60 years.  The pictures I've taken in our last visits were mostly of my uncle who was always the more outgoing of the two.  But here's my aunt (in the turquoise shirt) with my mom and uncle.  She's about 90 in this picture. 

And Johnny Wooden died too.  I started UCLA in 1963.  So I had student season tickets for the 1963-64 basketball games.  I still remember vividly the LA Classic game at the Sports Arena near Exposition Park in December 1963 when UCLA, having won a few games, went up against Michigan, which may have been number 1 at the time.  It was the game sports writers said UCLA would face a real team.  In the first few minutes it was 16-0 UCLA.  That was the first big game of that initial undefeated season.  Each game that year was fantastic since UCLA, up to that point, had been a mediocre team and each win was like a surprise gift.  In later years, while the basketball got better, every game was also the one in which the winning streak might end.  The danger of losing replaced the excitement of winning.  But that first year, despite their winning streak, UCLA was often seen as the underdog just waiting for their luck to run out.

I got to see the team and Coach Wooden close up at many of the games as the dynasty began.  I attended the preseason game when the freshman team - which included Lew Alcindor - defeated the national champion varsity team.  I'm not among those who deify Wooden.  There were things that have been rumored to go on with gifts to players that may have been ok then, but aren't today.  Wealthy patrons of UCLA looking after the team members on the side.  So I suspect things were not all as squeaky clean as they are portrayed.  But it was fantastic basketball and I was at the right place at the right time to experience it.  Wooden was 99 when he died the other day.  He lived a good, fulfilled life.

Mary died last week too.  Mary was our friend Lynn's guide dog.  Cancer.  She was a working dog whose life wasn't carefree and who made Lynn's life much easier.   There's Mary on the floor at work at Cyrano's.

Finally I want to mention "three Afghan civilians" who were mentioned in the news this weekend too.  From what I can tell, they died in separate incidents between January and May.  I didn't know them.  Their names weren't even in the newspaper.  They were just three anonymous people.  All the attention was on an Alaskan, from Wasilla, who has been accused of shooting them. The Alaska link is my excuse for mentioning them here.  People die every day and we can't interrupt our lives for everyone who dies in the world.  We need to keep on with our own lives.  But we should take time to remember the the people (and in this case also a dog) we knew as well as those whose lives we are through strange twists of fate linked to, such as the three Afghan civilians.  I've emailed the reporter and the base public affairs officer Lt. Col. Tamara Parker to see if they know the names of the civilians.  If they respond I'll let you know. 

Meanwhile, spend a moment in the shadows of these lives lived.  Then reflect on what's truly important to you and stop worrying about the unimportant stuff and get out into the sunshine and live your lives boldly and lovingly.  Do things that make the world better.  Make other people's lives happier, not harder.  You don't have much time to waste. 

For those interested, you can double click the images below to enlarge them.

1 comment:

  1. My dad had a working dog named Chewey who loved his job as the ranch dog-- he doed six months after my dad of the same cancer. He really did work, helping with the horses, chasing habaneros, keeping the little dogs out of trouble and keeping ME out of trouble when I decided to investigate a rustling noise near the saddles. (In Sonora-- it was most likely a rattle snake. I was clueless. Chewy knocked me to the ground and growled and slobbered on me.) Chewey went with my dad even to the doctor-- he wasn't trained like Lynn's Mary, but everyone assumed he was my dad's helper and no one questioned his presence. Working dogs like that are special-- I think their owners and their souls connect like happily married people's souls.

    Thank you for introducing us to these people you have talked about. You show us what matters and what people leave behind when they go. Lisa & Yakov were special people for certain-- I cannot picture going from having doctor status in Russia and changing countries later in life and not speaking the language. But the had each other.

    What makes that picture of your aunt Bert with your wife and uncle so perfect? I keep looking at it and the groupings are perfect. Is it "golden" in some way?

    Wooden got an extra squeeze out of living and lived fully for his 99. I read a term this week where a fiction character grouped people into two classes: civilians and not civlians. Civilians were people who didn't engage in the battle of life. Wooden was a 4-star general. You were in the right place at the right time to see him.

    And the three people who were murdered. What can one say? I often wonder about them, their families, the tragedies that they saw. What made them keep going when their lives as we know them were one terrible situation after the other? Do keep us posted and I will say a prayer for them and their families.


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