"people used to ask June how she was doing, and she used to say - 'I'm just trying to matter'. And I know what she means. You know, I'm just trying to matter…"
As much as this struck me as a universal truth, the idea that we want our lives to matter, it also made me a little bit sad. Because there was the slight insinuation that now that she has an Oscar, her life may matter a little bit more because her name will be in the record books and she will be remembered.
Recently I put together a video montage of old photographs for our Gran-Gran's 100 year old birthday. I used the music of her youth and separated photos into segments of her life. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of it, but I in no way expected her response.
Sure, she thanked me and told me she loved it. But in the next breath, through tears, she shared a memory about cleaning out her mother's home. "There was a trunk at the end of her bed," she said, "it was filled with old photographs. But we didn't know who anybody was. We asked around but nobody knew and we ended up just throwing them away. Someone cared to take these pictures, and we just threw them away, like their lives didn't matter at all."
How long had she carried around the guilt of throwing photos away? How long had she feared that the same fate awaited the photos of her mother holding her as a baby, of her now deceased brother smiling next to her on the porch, of her now grown babies playing on a beach? How long had she equated these photos being lost to no longer mattering?
Somehow the simple act of switching these photos to a modern medium, of celebrating them together, relieved some of her fears.
That was not the response I was expecting, but it has stayed with me. Here is a woman who has lead an extraordinary life. She has raised a healthy and successful tight knit family that loves her and surrounds her constantly. She still, at 100, has a social life, a strong faith life, and her wits about her. I kind of figured that if you reach that point, you metaphorically raise your arms like you won the Boston Marathon and declare victory in life.
But her fear is no different than any of ours. Do I matter? Will my life, and everything that was important to me be remembered?
Everyone deserves to know just how much their life means to others.
Everyone deserves to know just how much their life matters.
Because it does. Our lives matter. The choices we make, the joy or anger we choose to spread, the roads we take. We are created. We are loved. We matter.
Sometimes it is harder to see. Sometimes we can feel ok about ourselves but see the loneliness all around us and determine that maybe there is nothing and no one looking out for us after all. We can get lost in Eleanor Rigby melancholy. All the lonely people… where do they all belong?
But it is in those moments that it is imperative we look out for one another. If you see someone that looks lonely, that is your prompting to let them know you see them. A wave, a smile, walking the newspaper to your elderly neighbor's door and handing it to them. We can not cure someone else's loneliness, but we can let them know that they are not alone.
In Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon's character sums up marriage by saying it's most important function is to bear witness to someone else's life. "You're saying, 'your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness."
In college, I went through a heavy depression. It was my roommate, (with whom I didn't really get along at the time) who helped pull me out with, maybe, an unconventional way.
"Seriously, Mandy, I'm sick of seeing you laying in bed. Get the hell up. I'm serious. I'm sick of it." And she wouldn't leave until I obeyed. That was the beginning of my healing.
We may not have been friends at the time but she saw me. She was giving witness to my life and it mattered to her. It pissed her off. …maybe not the mattering we are all looking for… but I realized my life was affecting hers. And by simply letting me know, she may have saved my life.
Countless times a day, we have the opportunity to affect other people's lives… to matter to them whether or not they realize it. But our opportunities to let people know how much they matter to us, feel few and far between.
Whether it's awkward or feels too sentimental, it is rare that we tell people that what they have done, that their friendship, that their life has forever become a part of you. How often we only think to tell them when it is too late. How often we must comfort friends with that very fear by saying, "I'm sure they knew how much you loved them. I'm sure they knew how much they mattered to you."
But that wondering is agony.
So I issue a challenge and a promise today.
I challenge you to tell people how much they mean to you. I challenge you to reach out to that friend you've lost touch with on Facebook and just send them a quick message letting them know that memories with them are still some of your favorites or that their friendship in a time when you maybe weren't at your best means the world to you.
And I promise that if ever for a moment you feel like your life doesn't matter, I will show you it does. I promise that if there is something you want to say to someone but aren't sure how, I can help you find the words. If you are going through a depression I will tell you that it pisses me off and you need to realize you matter, you are loved, and you can get through it.
I promise that if you think that no one else is, I will be a witness to your life and it will matter to me.
And if I am witness to your life, then my life matters too.