Friday, April 01, 2011
The Ultimate Control
Take the weather, for instance. Today we are expecting a spring snowstorm with wind gusts to 50 mph to dump 6-12 inches of snow on us. Can I control that? Nope. I just think it's lucky we haven't put away the shovels yet. The reason I was successful in calming my fear of flying a few years ago is that I was able to realize and accept the fact that when I am up there in that plane, I am totally out of control, and whatever happens happens, and I can do nothing to change it. I'm always trying to identify and tame my desire to control. (Hmm...trying to control the desire to control...is there something weird about that?)
My blog readers are also probably aware that I am mildly obsessed with death and greatly obsessed with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Add those things to the word control and that's a powerful combination, as I discovered this week.
An acquaintance of ours died a few days ago. We did not know this woman well, but I was aware she had passed away and I made sure to read her obituary. To give you some background, this woman had spent her whole career as a high school and university English teacher. She also taught poetry and writing and had contributed to literary journals. Her obituary was long (as most are up here in Maine) and detailed. Here is the sentence that took my breath away: "She was baptized in 1941 in the United Methodist Church and maintained the church's values and principals her whole life."
Major ouch! To have this distinguished English teacher stuck with "principals" instead of "principles" in her obituary for the ages? How I feel for her!
You see, what happens to you after you die is the ultimate out-of-control situation. You may record what you want on your tombstone, you may write your own obituary, you may hope that your life will be perceived as worthwhile and your journey on Earth a generous one, but in the end, all that is out of your reach. Presidents, for example, are always wondering what their "legacies" will be. You can't even control what people think of you while you're alive, much less dead. You can make plans, but it is at the discretion of the survivors whether or not to carry them out. Even Elizabeth Taylor, bless her soul, made arrangements to arrive fashionably later at her own funeral as one final act of control. The family fulfilled her request. Your funeral service (for those who choose to have one; many in Maine don't) is an area where you can make plans for favorite hymns and that sort of thing, but there is something unique about the importance of the obituary as the final written testament to one's life. Now I'm paranoid about having a typo or similar error in my obituary.
I wrote my own obituary before my first plane ride a few years ago (I said I'm more relaxed, not unprepared!), but I am wise enough to know that what is done with that, added or subtracted, revised, or otherwise changed is out of my control once I'm gone. And I'm OK with that. All I ask is PLEASE, have someone proof the thing before it's printed in the newspaper. There are several astute people up to the task - my friend Sally in California, or Audrey in Memphis, or Dr. Annie, my friend in Michigan, or Joy, my amazing sister - better yet, have the teachers in the family look it over too - the more the better. That's what e-mail is for, folks - for fast communication. It can be done.
Today is April Fool's Day and we are getting a snowstorm joke played on us by Mother Nature herself. She will have the last laugh while we patiently (or not so patiently) await the arrival of the Spring that the calendars assure us is here already. My husband, with his wacky sense of humor, may think a spelling error in my obituary would be a funny joke, too. Don't let it happen! My self-written obituary as of this date has been scoured for possible errors, and I find none. Please keep it that way. Thank you.