What’s Left Behind When All Is Said and Done

Suffering from writer’s block, I spend countless hours looking up dead relatives on the internet. Birthdates, full names, cemeteries, census data. It sounds grim, perhaps. When I find a missing initial, I happily fill it in on this family tree that goes up, not down in its growth.

It isn’t lost on me that it’s a very one-dimensional, lifeless task filling in blanks like this. Yet, it’s deeply satisfying in a way to add another small detail into the overall story. Like snapping in a piece of a jigsaw puzzle so that the clouds begin to take shape.

What’s missing is the important stuff that shaped their lives: who they loved, who loved them, what made them laugh, or angry, or cry. As I add another piece (the name of the ship they sailed on to America, a draft card, an alternative spelling of their name), I move on to the next search with a little voice prodding me along, asking, What makes up a life?

I have never been arrested. Never spent a night in jail. Don’t have a clue what a bondsman does. Getting arrested is just one of the many recommended things to do while you can in this little book called 101 Things To Do Before You Die by Richard Horne.

Inside is a whole host of things I’ve never done and never will. Each one categorized, each one with a place to put a star once it’s complete. There are even stickers in the back. There’s room to circle, to check boxes, to explain the caper, the adventure, the feat. It’s all so pristine and beautiful that I don’t want to smudge it or ruin it by filling it in.

Imagine finding just one of these books in the trunk of one of your long lost, forgotten relatives. All the blanks filled in. Turning that person from black and white to Technicolor, just like in The Wizard of Oz. Vibrant, alive, and glowing with vim.

I pulled that book out the other day and thought about putting it in my will. Bent, battered, ripped, and stained.

“Here, my beloved niece. Flip through it and know I never got arrested; I never got revenge but fantasized plenty of times about sending boxes of glitter to a few choice people; not once did I think bungee jumping sounded like a good idea; I didn’t visit every country but I did go to Italy plenty; I never left my mark in graffiti and I didn’t light a fire without a match; but I loved deeply and with abandon and it was worth it.”

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