late August, a dear friend of mine passed away.
and her husband, Richard, have been incredibly important and amazing
people for both Terry and I. She has been Terry’s best friend
for almost four decades. As individuals and as a couple, Ellen
and Richard have been nothing short of spectacular, generous,
reliable, and brilliant as friends, travel partners, and… quite
sincerely… as family.
memorial service was held for Ellen, and I was quite honored to
be given a chance to speak on that occasion. The words shared
by so many offered a remembrance of a greatly loved, much admired,
and truly cherished person.
I replayed words and stories and thoughts over literally thousands
of miles of driving, I thought it might be nice to revisit them
in a more developed essay. By no means do I view this as a completed,
well-edited offering. Nor is it on its own fitting as a tribute
to Ellen. I’ll always wish it was better… always think of more
to say. But I do find comfort in the thoughts, as Ellen continues
to be a part of our lives moving forward.
~ ~ ~
the past few days, we’ve been gathering as friends and family
and exchanging stories about Ellen. Should be no surprise in that.
We all cared tremendously for her. We all shared moments with
her. Whether they bring smiles and laughs, or crying and tears,
it is how strong our experiences have been, and how we feel about
Ellen, that creates such wonderful memories. It helps to remember.
been telling many stories about Ellen. Terry and I have recalled
them over hundreds and hundreds of miles of driving. We’ve shared
them with Richard, and family, and friends. We’ve shared them
in the car, as general exchanges during the afternoon, and over
dinner. There’s one story I haven’t told though. And I’d like
to tell it now…
all of us can picture a delightful, amazing, and bordering upon
sinfully good indulgence. Perhaps it’s warm chocolate chip cookies
or a beyond description sundae. Something that just tempts you
as the most incredible and often unsatisfied craving.
two decades, I have been fortunate to share many moments with
Ellen. Terry and I have been on several adventures with her and
Richard. And when it comes to indulgences for her, I can tell
you Ellen loved good wine and enjoyed good food. She was passionate
about travel, and thrilled by the opportunities to host friends
at her home. But there is one thing that, just by seeing it on
a menu, could cause her to enter a state of dazed bliss, with
her eyes glazed over and as a visible state of euphoria overtook
know. Terry and I never understood the appeal of tomato juice
either. But we witnessed it appeal to Ellen on multiple occasions.
think part of the beauty of tomato juice for Ellen was that when
found it was almost always an unexpected and unpredicted treat.
We’d wander into a restaurant for breakfast, normally with plans
for a long and wondrous day ahead. She’d pick up a menu, and,
if you were watching her, you’d pretty much be able to pinpoint
the very moment she spotted it… there would be a light pause in
her speech if she was speaking, or she’d suddenly wiggle in her
seat. Subtle for certain, but noticeable if you were watching.
sit down in a restaurant and a server takes your beverage order.
How long does it take to complete the delivery of drinks to a
table? One minute? Four? Whatever. Generally it’s not too long.
But for Ellen, the time from speaking “tomato juice” to having
it placed in front of her appeared to be a torturous pleasure
that lasted an eternity. To say she’d fidget and squirm, unable
to sit still would be a significant understatement. But even more
than that body language of exquisite anticipation, the expression
on her face was priceless. It would best be described as a combination
of her personal conviction that the greatest treat in the world
was on its way, united with a glowing satisfaction of having made
a tremendous selection that was going to work out wonderfully,
topped off with a “ha, ha, I have tomato juice and you don’t”
whipped cream and cherry on top smugness.
few years ago I heard someone discussing the concept of personal
losses and death. And they conveyed an observation that I have
carried with me ever since. I just like it. I find a sense of
comfort within it.
idea was founded on the expression passed on, and what might be
understood as an almost literal reading of the phrase. The people
that we meet leave an impression upon us. It’s the experiences
we share and the memories we create together… it’s their approach
to anything and everything, and the lessons we learn by the way
they act and carry themselves. And, in death, they don’t truly
leave us… instead… they have been passed on to us.
those amazing vacations, and the smiles we have recalling them.
It’s the recipes we’ve tried, and will try again and again. It’s
the values and traditions and tiny little things that filled parts
of ourselves, and make us the individuals we are today and will
an amazing person has departed. Their legacy though… the care
of that legacy has been passed on to us.
and every day from now on, I will miss Ellen. But there is something
I hope she has passed on to me… something I hope to pass on to
worry… this isn’t a literal wish… you won’t need to break out
some pepper, a stalk of celery, or even hope there’s some vodka
my wish is that at least once every day, you have a tomato juice
moment of your own. A moment so special that you find yourself
wiggling in your seat, eyes in an unfocused haze of bliss, wrapped
in a blanket of anticipation and satisfaction… a moment of pure
joy and tranquility.
is nothing in life that is guaranteed to any of us. And while
we all need to be mindful of our actions and prepare for the future,
I’d say it’s equally important to take some time every day and
indulge in the present.