By Diane Dean-Epps
Some people are connectors, some people are splitters, and some people are adapters. No, this isn’t the beginning of an inappropriately placed holiday ad on LinkedIn, or a creative riff off of, “If you were any type of animal which animal would you be?” prefacing a meet-and-greet.
Rather it’s my reflection upon the roles we play in life and how we impact other’s lives positively: how we light them up, if you will.
She’s a connector.
Over the years I’ve caught glimpses of her on Facebook, megawatt smile beaming out, image after delightful image showcasing a good life. We went to high school together in the Seventies and resided near one another alphabetically during this decade known for its effective, albeit unimaginative, way of seating children. If you sat next to Brian Beaumont in first grade, you were likely to hold that place all the way through your senior year, which is why I have uniquely intimate details about his hair cowlicks, penchant for biting his nails, and any number of peccadilloes better left under the Cone of Silence.
Ashley had none of these characteristics or habits, but she was distinguished by her brilliant, genuine smile. And she was nice. Not just regular nice, but she was uber-nice. To everyone. In fact, she was nice to everyone before it became karmically sound to be nice to everyone. We shared a few words here and there, but we didn’t hang out. She may have been the classic hair-parted-in-the-middle cheerleading stand-out beauty dating the football player we all admired, but even then she was more. It’s her inspirational back story that goes beyond her basic goodness.
I think it was our junior year when Ashley got pregnant. Our country’s morality may have been shifting in a more enlightened direction, but not soon enough to save her from judgment and criticism. At the time our cultural norms were more morality cult, less norm and the colloquial term “getting into trouble” was used to describe her situation. It could not have been easy. We lived in a large town that operated like a small town with plenty of tongues and fingers wagging. Ashley wanted to finish high school with her classmates and walk with the rest of us on graduation day, but I remember there was huge pushback from the administration. Through it all Ashley was brave, loving, and kind.
She attended her senior year at our large, newly integrated school the only teenaged mom on campus, having gone through what must have been both a difficult and beautiful experience, head held high, beautiful smile in place, more mature than many of us would be for at least a decade. On graduation day Ashley did walk with us, holding her rightful place in our alphabetical line-up.
And now she’s in a different kind of trouble. She has entered the final stage of her fight against the cancer that has not taken away that smile, or that ability to connect people, but it has a finite plan for her future. She has two weeks. Two weeks to savor her life, to smile at everyone in her midst, to spend time with everyone she loves. Two weeks is a lifetime for her.
Even now, as I write this piece, the Facebook postings from classmates she hasn’t seen in a triple-decade are amassing; connecting us to one another. As it turns out we were all inspired by Ashley. Which got me thinking. We can also be connectors.
Maybe we should all look at our lives as a series of two-week lifetime intervals that we live savoring our lives, smiling at everyone in our midst, and spending time with everyone we love. It would be just like Ashley to leave that legacy.
(Names were changed to protect privacy.)
Diane Dean-Epps lives and works in Northern California, teaching English to Generation Y-ME?! in real time and writing books in her spare time. Her essays have appeared in MORE magazine, NPR’s This I Believe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Business Journal, and Sacramento magazine. Her blog may be found at: http://www.mswrite-now.blogspot.com/