“Nathan Bickham lived by the ubiquitous quote: between the choice of being right or being kind, be kind. And Nathan Bickham was the most intelligent man I have ever known so, while he was most often right, he always chose to be kind,” Reverend Keeler said from the pulpit.
There are people you think will live forever because they carry with them a vitality, kindness, and sense of purpose that distinguishes them so completely from the rest of the population. Lena had always placed her grandfather in that extreme minority. She wanted to emulate him, but always felt she failed because her temper came from her grandmother’s side and frequently she felt kindness eluded her, harmony a futile quest.
The cancer riddling his body had not been kind. In true Nathan Bickham fashion though he had fought and continued to live the life he wanted. At ninety he had still been a force to be reckoned with.
“You don’t need a bucket list, Lena,” he told her. “Bucket lists devalue living in the moment.”
With those words she’d put away the paper and pen and stopped constructing lists to compete with the lists of her peers. He taught her to see the natural world, to be open to the experience of watching the woods and observing all of the creatures observing her.
He taught her that relationships were built on openness and trust; that not being forthright for fear of being hurt would hurt in the long-term but the hurt from being forthright would always diminish with time, and the truth gained would supersede pain. He taught her generosity and patience and kindness, but kindness was still an attribute she worked hard to attain.
The one thing he never taught her, although he tried during his last days, was how she could navigate life without his presence.
“I have taught you everything I know,” he said.
Tears pricked her eyes. “But I’m not like you,” she told him.
“You’re more like me than you know, but you are the best you. I’m proud of you. You approach life with grace,” he said.
Yet, that didn’t feel enough.
Later after the mourners left her grandparents’ house, Lena stood at the pond, listened to the throaty bullfrog chorus, watched the water snake’s red bands undulate through the murky water, and relinquished the ache in her chest. She could feel the essence of his words around her, the philosophy with which he lived his life, a shawl of protection and of comfort. Sorrow rose up and away from her, towards the mantle of clouds billowing toward the sea. She understood that while she lost him, his life continued through everyone who knew him, all of those with whom he had selflessly shared himself, and, perhaps the quintessence of Nathan Bickham would always exist in lives well lived with thoughtfulness and kindness. This knowledge that he would never truly be gone consoled.