Who we are is what we mean to others

Charles Cowling

Here are some extracts from a cheering story in the Newburyport News, Massachusetts which has set me thinking about the nature of identity and community.

My father, Arthur Allen, died at the age of 63 on Aug. 2. My dad was the embodiment of compassion, duty, style and bravery. He was the guy fighting for the rights of the victims; he was the man campaigning for a friend; he was a proud member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts; he was a humble member of the Byfield Protection Fire Company No. 1; he was an EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], EMT trainer and swim instructor for underprivileged children; he was a promoter for the annual Firemen’s Ball; he was an organ donor; he was the chairman of the Mass. Aeronautics Commission; he was president of his own business, Security Team; and he was the one who enjoyed doing magic tricks for kids. He was always ready to buy you a meal and even quicker to pick up the tab. He was a true friend to many, my greatest supporter and my mom’s best friend. My dad was a great thinker who spoke provoking truths about our lives, towns, country and times.

He was a collector of people and a fixer of troubles. I think it was his own painful childhood, being orphaned at 12, that made it possible for him to connect with injured people and drove him to find ways to alleviate their pain. He was living proof that a person could rise above their problems and make a positive difference in this world. He wanted to help others find their way to healing, too.

Who could step up and make sense out of this senseless loss. Who would comfort my mother, my sister, his sister, the people? I felt alone, overwhelmed, and in a dark place.

Then a funny thing happened.

Messages started pouring into our home from friends, families, neighbors and acquaintances. Stories of who my father was and how much he meant to so many were shared in person, by phone, by mail, and even through Facebook postings and poems. Food flowed from every nook and cranny. Pictures of holidays, vacations and events were shared. Children were playing in the yard with my father’s dog. Friends and foes united in grief were hugging in the living room. I heard laughter coming from my parents’ kitchen. I heard my mother laugh. Ready or not, the healing had begun. How was this possible?

It was my dad’s extraordinary love of life, the love he shared with others, the love he instilled in me that was coming full circle home. I was not alone; we were not alone. He was right there with us in the words, deeds and memories shared by others. In the end, it was the positive energy my father sent out into the world that led his family through the dark days of his loss. It was his powerful last lesson for us.

Read the entire story here.

One thought on “Who we are is what we mean to others

  1. Charles Cowling
    gloriamundi

    Thanks, Charles, for passing on the powerful idea that the positive energy generated in a life can help carry a family through berteavement.

    If the function of a funeral is to create a transition of significance, from saying goodbye to a body, through to adjusting to life without a physical presence, and making that adjustment by creating new meanings about a life, then this life energy seems to do a large part of the task for us. (sorry that’s so potted, but I expect you know the discussions I’m summarising here)

    And after all, a life is nothing but energy, a wave of it, in an energised body, a wave lasting ?N years and leaving behind a body to take our leave of. We’re left with the energy. Sometimes not much of it, in this case plenty and to spare, to help all those round his coffin. Great guy, inspiring post.

    Where do people find the energy? Poasitively exhausting just to read about it, my dears…didn’t the man ever sleep,or sit and whittle a couple of sticks?


    Charles Cowling

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