Friday, June 13, 2014

Stranger Searching

I did something Thursday that I have never done before.  I clipped an obituary from the newspaper and hung it on my refrigerator.  I also think I fell slightly in love with a total stranger who died peacefully in her sleep on June 7, 2014.  I don't think I'm alone in my mildly obsessive habit of scanning the obituaries for the ages of the deceased, hoping they're all older than my grandparents, way older than my parents, and way, way older than me.  If I happen upon a young person's obituary, I then (obviously) try my hardest to investigate the cause of death to ensure that either they died of unnatural, rare causes, or that they were probably unhappy anyway.  You know, if they don't leave behind any children or a grieving spouse and they're picture is from their high school yearbook but they graduated in the '70's, I feel better somehow.  Helen's obituary didn't list her age in bold, so I had to pause to look for her date of birth, and I'm so glad I did.

"Wife, mother, church lady, gramma-- GRAMMARIAN?  That's it!  That's how I want to be remembered!"  I was going to stretch the truth a bit and say that my first impulse was to chuckle, or even guffaw at the idea of having "grammarian" listed in my obituary, but, yeah.  That was my first thought.  As I read on, I had to deal with the nagging memories of all my grammar errors.  It was kinda like a quick Christmas Carol-esque sequence, where I was quickly, silently haunted by comma splices and quotation marks placed before periods, all "Whooooooooo"ing and "BOO"ing in my brain.

I did actually chuckle aloud when I read this part:
Is there any more important war to fight?  I wish I could have been one of Helen's soldiers.  Suddenly, I realized that I wasn't being an annoying nerd when I correct people's use of apostrophes or gently tell them to lose, not loose, an 'o' when they have lost something.  I've been fighting!  I've been fighting with strength and honor for what I know is right.

Helen and I didn't have much else in common.  She grew up in Ohio, I've always lived in Florida.  She was a devoted Episcopalian, I'm a not-every-Sunday-goer Baptist church member.  She majored in English Literature, I in Psychology.  She traveled extensively and was a member of a knitting guild, I don't have a passport and couldn't knit a hat for a newborn if the newborn's life depended on it.  (I would wad up the yarn and place it gently on the newborn's head, of course, to keep it warm enough.)

Hers was an obituary that made me happy to read, especially when I got to the end.
"Isn't that just so Helen," I thought immediately. Keep in mind, I never met this woman or her family, but simply by reading about her long life (they didn't put in her date of birth, but she was married for 63 years, so I know she had to be old enough) I felt sure that she would have loved for random acts of kindness to be done in her memory.

So, here I am, trying to figure out which stranger and how to act kindly to them.  I wish I could give someone a lot of money, but we didn't budget for Helen's life-changing obituary when we were planning where our funds would go this month.  I thought about complimenting a girl at the gym today.  She ran on a noticeable incline at 7 mph on the treadmill, and then got on the elliptical for a while, and I was really impressed by her double cardio.  But I didn't know if telling her, "Wow!  I noticed you did cardio twice!" would come out as a compliment.  I thought about baking cookies for my favorite supermarket employees, but they're not really strangers; I see most of them 3 or 4 times a week.  I also thought about letting some other drivers have my right of way, but I really hate it when other people do that.  (It isn't a favor for you to wave me and 3 other drivers ahead at a 4-way stop sign.  Just put your hand back on the steering wheel and take your turn.)  I'll come up with something, though, rest assured.  Or, I should say, rest in peace.

Goodbye, Helen.  Your soldiers will keep up the good fight.


  1. While I appreciate your excitement over "finding" Helen, your obit (and life) will undoubtedly touch and change many. And not just in a "dang, that girl was a Grammar Rockstar!" sort of way. (like how I made that all grammatically incorrect?"
    Also, I laughed aloud at your plan to save a newborn.
    Maybe that could be your random act?
    I'll get you some soft yarn, just in case.

  2. I think this post is a random act of kindness. I also think that might not be a proper sentence. Or that one.

    Definitely not that one.

    This might be getting away from me.