Beginnings and Ends
Katherine is always a ray of sunshine. She shines brighter than me. From her stories about traveling throughout Europe, to her descriptions of her children and grandchildren, her age and experience always shine through her conversations. Every time I talk to her, she never fails to remind me to enjoy life. Her words are a highlight to my day, especially as I return to campus, to the papers and reports and problem sets that await me. As a student who has always put school first, I admire her day-to-day approach to life. And seeing her joy reminds me to be more like her.
One conversation sticks with me. Katherine was talking about all the cities she had visited in Europe. I asked her, out of all the places she had been, which one was her favorite. She replied, “Oh, Italy, definitely Italy. The people are so nice there. It’s wonderful, not at all like France — in France they were less courteous. Yes, I would love to go to Italy again if I could.” She smiled and looked off to the side in that way of hers, reminiscing. I remember being particularly struck by the reason she gave for loving Italy. I would usually expect to remember a place for its landmarks, perhaps for some particularly picturesque views. But not Katherine. Katherine loved Italy for its people. Looking at her then, I could see that she had so much joy and love to share. She thrived on the kindness of others, and gave her fair share in return.
I used to view life as a constant journey of growth — always learning, always experiencing new things. Every day we would grow older, wiser, kinder. Other times, I would think of life more as an arc. It would be like a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Perhaps there would be some defining period of my life that, when I grow older, I would look back upon with nostalgia.
After volunteering with Ascend Hospice and interacting with patients in hospice care, I have come to realize that life is none of these, and simultaneously all of these. It can’t be defined, because it is so different for every individual. For some patients I talked to, it was the end of their stories. They had reached the conclusion, and were readying themselves to close the book and move on. For Katherine, life was a journey. No parts were better or worse than the others; each was unique and worthy of being remembered. She faced each new day with a ready smile, always willing to be adventurous. At this point in my life, I am still trying to figure out what I want my life to be, how I want it to unfold, where I want it to take me. To be able to step away from my life, away from the constant academic growth of university, and to learn about the perspectives of those at the other ends of their lives, is a wonderful opportunity that I am honored to be a part of.