Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

Life, Well Played

I doubt if Miss Jeanette and Shag ever met, but I think they would have liked each other.

Shag worked at our local Costco. While he might have had a variety of duties I always saw him at the exit, checking receipts as customers left the building with multi-packs of toilet tissue, cases of beer, 10-pound packages of ground beef, reams of copy paper and 60-inch televisions.  On Sundays during the NFL season he'd wear a Miami Dolphins jersey, a devoted fan in spite of the team's fall from its undefeated glory days.

Shag and I never exchanged more than a dozen words: Just the simple courtesies about the weather and wishes for a good day. It's his smile that I remember. It was real, not something pasted on in accordance with a corporate directive. I'd leave that massive warehouse with the same feeling I imagine folks would have after shopping at the stores in Andy Taylor's Mayberry; I believe Shag actually cared whether I had a good day.
A memorial banner for Shag at Costco is filled with remembrances.

I noticed I wasn't singled out by Shag for special treatment, an observation confirmed by local reaction when he died in a traffic accident June 29. The next day The Northern Virginia Daily ran the headline "Community Mourns Death of Costco Worker" and a follow-up article in The Winchester Star on July 2 described calls for changes at the intersection where the accident happened, saying Shag's death "sent shockwaves of grief throughout the Winchester and Front Royal communities." A Facebook page, #belikeShag, was created to encourage "random acts of kindness" in his memory and a campaign to help support his family on exceeded its $10,000 goal.

Shag was 66 when he died suddenly. Miss Jeanette---I almost always added the "Miss" to her name; it only seemed proper---slipped away last weekend at age 91. When Mr. Pettit and I joined our church she and her husband had already been members for over 40 years. But they didn't put us through a probationary period, forcing us to prove we were worthy of belonging. Instead they gave us a gracious welcome.

After her husband of 63 years passed away Miss Jeanette could have withdrawn from our fellowship and focused on her loss and the ailments of age. She did not. Every time we saw each other at a church dinner or during the worship service this tiny woman would grab my hand with a surprising strength and offer an enthusiastic greeting, as if years had passed since our last meeting.

Miss Jeanette was a woman of many titles: High school valedictorian, wife, mother, choir member, Sunday School teacher, and on and on. But it was her gift of encouragement that touched me most deeply. Four years ago The Winchester Star published an essay I had written about Vacation Bible School. Miss Jeanette, a veteran of many VBS sessions herself, sent me a note saying how much she enjoyed my column. I still have that card, and as I reread it tonight her closing glazed my eyes with tears: "I'm so proud of you and thank you for being my friend." Her kind words reveal more about her nature than mine.

In his poem "The Voiceless," Oliver Wendell Holmes gives a chilling picture of regret:
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Miss Jeanette and Shag did not leave this world still filled with their music; they shared it every day in a church and a store and countless other places. They did not hold high public office or sit in the boardrooms of Wall Street, but they made their moments count.

In Walden Henry David Thoreau wrote a gloomy description of men leading 'lives of quiet desperation." Miss Jeanette and Shag lived as examples of quiet inspiration.

When I grow up I want to be just like them.

On the Witness Stand

Birthday Reflections