The Word by Sheila

Call this one a Life Lesson.

Every once in a while, in the midst of our daily routines and our complaints about life’s minor aggravations, an unexpected loss shocks us into realizing just how very fragile — and very precious — life is.

My friend Paul Chase died last month in a senseless automobile accident. He was only 58. I attended his memorial, along with a huge crowd of mourners. Paul wasn’t famous, wasn’t a celebrity and he wasn’t rich. He wasn’t the sort of person whose memorial attracts wanna-be hangers-on or people who are there to be seen. The people who attended were there because they were grieving the loss of a genuinely good person.

What can I say about Paul? How do I describe his impact for people who didn’t know him? Even for someone who writes all the time, it’s hard to find the words.

Paul was a handsome, brilliant lawyer who chose to work for social justice and sound public health policies rather than joining a silk-stocking law firm and making a lot of money. But he was never strident, never holier-than-thou, never anything but incredibly funny and thoughtful and kind. A look around the crowd confirmed the breadth of his impact — legislators from both parties, statehouse lobbyists, representatives of non-profit organizations, and lots and lots of friends — white, black, gay, straight, young and old.

As coworkers, friends and relatives shared their memories, I couldn’t help thinking that Paul Chase should have been a poster child for the “family values” that intolerant folks insist they are “protecting” by discriminating against lesbian, gay, bi & trans people. He’d met his partner Terry when they were 18-year-old college students and they’d been a devoted and loving couple for 40 years. They were close to their respective families, and those families — even four decades ago — supported and embraced them both. At the memorial, Terry’s sister reminisced that her mother had adored Paul so much that she made every dessert he liked when they came to visit and served them all at the same meal!

The day of his death, the Federal Court struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage and Paul was thrilled that he and Terry could finally get married. It wasn’t to be. I don’t know whether to be happy he knew about the ruling or incredibly sad that he died without taking advantage of it, or both.

There was no hate in Paul, no evident resentment of the people who would deny him a place at the civic table, no vitriol for the vitriolic — just an abundant kindness, an inner serenity and a killer sense of humor.

The memorial program carried a favorite quote from the Dalai Lama: “To be kind, honest and have positive thoughts; to forgive those who harm us and treat everyone as a friend; to help those who are suffering and never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else; even if this advice seems rather simplistic, make the effort of seeing whether by following it you can find greater happiness.”

Paul lived by that creed. He left us much, much too soon, but very few people — even those who have lived much longer — have left as enduring a legacy in the hearts and minds of those left behind.

His (all-too-short) life is a reminder to all of us that we should try to live so that others will be inspired by our example. He will be terribly missed.

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