One hundred years.
An entire century of life—of hopes, and hurts, and joys, and fears, and love—spanning two world wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, 9/11, and the first African American President of the United States.
My coworker’s great aunt is turning one hundred years old this weekend. They are expecting somewhere around three hundred people who will come to celebrate this amazing woman and the amazing life she’s had. There will be smiles and laughter and maybe a few tears (hopefully mostly good tears) and good food and gifts of friendship. It will be the party of a century, quite literally.
But what gift can you give someone who has survived so many fashion trends and changes in media and culture? “Things” probably don’t matter as much to a person who has seen many of her peers pass away, to someone who realizes how fragile and fleeting life is and how short our time here. So what can you give? How do you even begin to honor the events and memories of such a person?
Every year as we approach the Christmas season, my coworker’s Auntie writes a poem which her niece types and prints on festive Christmas paper and Auntie sends it to her friends and family as a seasonal greeting of love. It’s a beautiful tradition—any one of us, I’m sure, would prefer to receive a heartfelt poem written by someone we love than a generic card reading, “Merry Christmas, Love Sarah.”
It reminds me of my own Grandmother, who wrote a poem titled “Do not weep for me.” I heard it for the first time at her funeral. My uncle (who has also passed since then) sent me a copy of the poem, and my sweet grandmother’s words have brought me comfort and courage in the moments when I’ve missed her the most. It helps me to know her on somewhat of an adult level, though I was only a college student when she left us. I cherish her words. I cherish her tone and her steadfast hope of eternity. I cherish her undying love—even so many years after her husband’s death—for the man who had stolen her hidden heart. And that is one poem. Imagine how much my friend’s family learns and gets to know her auntie from these poems she shares with them each Christmas. It is such a personal and beautiful gift of herself.
So when my friend approached me this week with her own poem for her auntie on this momentous occasion of one hundred years of a life well-lived, I confess that I struggled not to cry.
Of course. Of course! What gift can you give to someone who has seen and touched and experienced everything one hundred years can bring? You return what she has given—a personal and beautiful gift of yourself.
I’m always telling people to write things down, to remember moments more than simple facts of their family and their life stories. It seems such a huge and daunting task, recording your story—I know. But it doesn’t have to be glamorous or high-tech or overwhelmed with photos and details. It can be a poem. It can be a letter. It can be a picture you color with your three-year old nephew.
This weekend, help me to honor the life of my friend’s great aunt by writing a poem for someone you love—short, long, rhyming, free verse, whatever you desire. Follow her example and give the gift of yourself. In the end, there is no more valuable gift.