Last night I found out someone I went to high school with died of breast cancer.
I wasn’t friends with this person, but I do remember admiring her from afar: beautiful in a classic sort of way, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and porcelain skin. Smart, exceptionally so; perpetually on the honor roll, in the Honor Society, taking all the advanced courses, involved in school activities like the Yearbook. I could have hated her, because she was so damn perfect. But I didn’t hate her. I think this is because she was quiet and kind. She didn’t flaunt her talents. She seemed humble, and willing to use those talents to help others.
That trait followed her into adulthood. She earned advanced degrees in Psychology and dedicated her life to helping the mentally ill. She developed a brilliant, truly meaningful career, married and had two children, adopting one from Haiti.
And now, at 45, she’s gone. She died on Thanksgiving Day, after a three year struggle with cancer. Even though I didn’t know her well, it was still a shock. It seemed unimaginable to me, that this brilliant, giving person was taken away, leaving two children motherless.
I’d like to think that at this point in my life I can be philosophical about such things: yes, life is unfair. It can happen to any one of us. Only the good die young. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical; it helps to block the sheer terror at the idea of leaving my own child motherless someday.
But I don’t want to be cynical, I want to be awake. Death shocks us awake, makes us aware that life is precious, every single minute of it. My old school mate lived the life she wanted to live, and did the things that made her life meaningful. That’s how I want to live.
What gives my life meaning? First and foremost, my family. Being the best mom I can be to my daughter, Lilly. And writing. I don’t have advanced degrees, I don’t have a brilliant career, and sometimes I wonder what possible good can come from my writing. How is it helping the world? What good is it?
The simple answer is: I don’t know. Not in any tangible way. I just know that living the creative life gives my life meaning, and maybe that ripples out into the world in some meaningful way.
Rest in peace, Daniela Zinn.