I don’t remember how I met Jeannie, just that I loved her from that first moment. She had the most beautiful accent and was just adorable herself. I knew she and her husband loved to sail, and that she had two children who went to the same school mine did. She was absolutely one of the most pleasant humans I had ever encountered. She had been fighting cancer for years before I knew her, and one of our earliest conversations was around a wig she was wearing while she was undergoing who knows which round of chemo. She asked me how it looked. She looked just like Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease, and I told her just that. She laughed good-naturedly. Looking back, I cannot imagine her doing anything else.
We were not close friends. We did not socialize. We did have a lot of friends in common, and saw each other at various events in town and at school. We always greeted each other with a hug which I guess is pretty freaking good. She once had my daughter use her incredible talent for accents to play a prank on another of her friends by pretending she was British, like she and her friend both were. THAT was an amazing few minutes before we were all laughing too hard to keep up the joke.
When my dearest friend Bessie was diagnosed with breast cancer, we were in complete shock. I had really no experience and had NO idea how I could help her. I did know someone who had had far too much experience, and I introduced Bessie and Jeannie. Was it a coincidence that the school production that year was Grease, and that my friend’s daughter was playing the role of Sandy?
It seemed almost impossible that Jeannie passed away. She had won and won and beaten everything that was thrown at her. At the celebration of her life, her friends and family set up a labyrinth outside, outlined with candles. That walk was a beautiful gift, a moment of contemplation–about mortality, about living, and living well.
Everyone that evening was given a shell from Jeannie’s apparently vast collection gathered from her travels. Mine is a small cowrie shell. I imagine it being from a sailing trip to the BVIs or a visit to Australia. It’s part of my meditation practice now, reminding me of our connections, however random, to each other and to our world.