A TALE OF TWO ELLENS
The first Ellen was a junior high school classmate. Ellen B was closer to our mutual friend Monica than to me, but we were an affable group of 14 year olds who swore we had dozens of friends and fantastically cosmopolitan futures ahead of us. The second Ellen was a professor at the undergraduate business school that I attended. Ellen W was an Associate Dean by the time I reconnected with her in 2004. And though I had never had her as professor, she was happy to meet me for lunch, where we hunched over an index card as she helped me construct a metric to evaluate graduate programs. These two women were almost 20 years apart in age, and their successive deaths in 2005 still manage to astonish me.
Initially I thought that the two Ellens were pretty different from one another, one was black, the other white, one was younger and lived on the west coast, the other more mature (in years) and a long time east coaster. But after some scrutiny, I realized their similarities were remarkable. They were both single, neither had children and both had a deep, almost tangible faith in God. They were both kind, generous and carried themselves with a humility and openness that is hard to articulate, but easy to recognize. They both had what I call a â€œwarm spiritâ€. They were the kind of people that even if you donâ€™t believe in God, it would comfort you to know that you were in their prayers. Though I failed to find much dissimilarity in their lives, their deaths couldnâ€™t have been more incongruous.
Ellen B died slowly, over the course of two years, battling daily to gain the upper hand over an aggressive disease. The last time I spoke to her, she sounded like she was winning. Ellen W died suddenly, over two days, succumbing to a merciless virus without warning, healthy on Friday, gone on Monday.
I was heartsick over Ellen Bâ€™s passing in that human way we all react when someone our own age dies. I wondered if she ever got the chance to fall in love? Did she travel to foreign lands and eat foods she couldnâ€™t recognize? Did she dream about marriage or children? I wondered if she had ever been so happy, that time slowed down and she could feel the earthâ€™s movement moment by moment for a split second, with a grin on her face and people she loved around her? I did not know these things because we fell out of touch after high school, I kept up with her through mutual friends, but our personal spheres never crossed until I called her when I learned that she was ill.
I was heartsick over Ellen Wâ€™s passing in that human way we all react when someone we have recently spent time with or laid eyes on dies. And I wondered about her life and loves too. I hope that both Ellens had the joy and heartbreak of a full life. That they were not strangers to love (people, places and things), and its inevitable companion: heartbreak.
I do admit to hoping that both found work that they were passionate about and utilized their gifts and talents. I hope that they both had many moments of heart-bursting joy, to temper the inevitable pain of a human existence. But mostly I hope, for my own selfish reasons, that neither died alone. That each was comforted by both earthly and heavenly creatures. That on one side of the divide of time, there were warm hands pressed into theirs, soft skin stroking foreheads and whispers of psalms and peace. And I hope that on the other, there were unmistakable celebrations of divine welcome and promises of harmony and rest.
I of course recognize that I wish these things not only for them, but also for myself and for all of us who have yet to make the final journey home. And it gives me a comfort that I cannot name, to think that when my time on this earth has come to an end, that I will be greeted by two warm spirits that seem at once familiar and breathtaking, but happy to see me. I wish this for all of us. And so I go, because time truly waits for no (wo)man.
Let’s get this party started.