When it comes to this collection of experiences that we call life, nothing quite packs the punch of the firsts. The first step, the first word, the first date, the first kiss--these are the things that people remember long after the event itself; that moment where our context irreversibly shifted, where the new experience brought us across the invisible boundary between who we once were and who we now are, changing us forever.
But just as there are two sides to every coin, there is the last. Like the firsts, they also pack a punch, but they tend to be a bit more on the poignant side; the hits land in places that can't be named but only felt, and while the bruises may fade over time, we remain indelibly marked by those last words, that last hug, that last time.
I've already written about the first time I met Leah in the about page on this blog. Today, I'd like to talk about the last.
The last time I saw Leah was mid-July 2009. She had come down from Toronto to visit for the weekend. As visits with Leah went, it was surprisingly uneventful, which if you knew her you know is saying something. But even so, one thing stands out about that weekend, and that would be the leisurely drive we took in her convertible Fiat around Presque Isle State Park.
We hadn't planned on going to the park; originally, we were just making a run to Advance Auto to look for some parts to fix her car, but I had mentioned that this was the first trip I had ever made in a convertible. And when it came to Leah, if it was your first experience with something, she wanted to make it memorable; hence, our trip around the peninsula.
We coasted around the park, the sun shining down on us through the lush canopy of the trees, dappling us with light. The air was thick with the scent of honeysuckle, wafting around us as the wind tousled our hair. It was a Saturday, so the park was thronged with people who took note of this classic car cruising down the road; shouting, waving, honking their horns and giving us the thumbs-up as we rolled past.
It was hard to talk over the rush of wind and the engine, so we could only speak when we had slowed to a stop. Much of what was said has been forgotten, but the one thing I can recall clearly was when we first entered the park, and I looked up at the branches of the trees arching above us, creating a chunky cutwork pattern of green and brown against the blue sky.
As a lifelong agoraphobic, normally this would have made me feel dangerously exposed, but this one time I felt safe and secure, drunk on the beauty of it. Lost for words, all I could say was, "This is amazing."
"I know," Leah said with a smile. "I love it. This is why I love convertibles--once you experience the road like this, you never want to drive any other way."
A month after Leah died, once all the emotions calmed down, this conversation came back to me, and it struck me that in this new context--this world without Leah in it--that she had managed to sum herself up perfectly in that one sentence without even knowing it. She was about experiencing life; enjoying it, savoring it, never taking it for granted. Even if it meant putting herself out there, making herself vulnerable to the world, she would do it because once you've tasted the freedom that comes from being open to all that life has to offer, you never want to it any other way.
Today marks the first anniversary of her passing. I originally planned on posting some viking hats in her memory, but if there's one thing Leah taught me, it's that plans can change. So this is all I have:
This is a picture of Leah and me, dancing in a pub in Toronto as we waited for our food to arrive. Because dancing is always better than just sitting.
Regular posting will resume on Monday, but for today, I just wanted to take the time reflect back on the daughter, sister and friend that was lost a year ago today.
Oh, and one more thing: I love you, Leah-Leah. And I always will.