In church last Sunday, I was so moved by one of the hymns that I started to cry and then found it difficult to stop, and I realized that I felt weighed-down by sorrow over all that we'd lost, here in Commerce, in a single week.
The passing of longtime city councilman Riley Harris was a blow. A dignified and disciplined man with a military career under his belt, Riley always demanded more of himself than he did of others. For everyone else he had compassion, humor, and a surpassing gentleness; for himself he set high standards and strove always to meet them.
One of his daughters, Shirley, volunteers at the library; a son, Riley Jr., has been an outspoken library supporter for years, offering inspiration and assistance with fund-raising and programming. Both had a father who believed that civic duty is like breathing: it's just something you do.
Aaron Chaney, son of another great community-minded Commerce family, died the same day Riley did, making many of us doubly sad. Aaron's smile was like the sun coming up, and I've crossed the street more than once just to say hello and catch a glimpse of that smile. One of his brothers, Sam, is a member of the Library Board; another, Archie, served with distinction on our city council for many years. His parents, Thelma and Archie Sr., were extraordinary people, and he looked after them in their later years with great care and kindness.
While I was still absorbing the news of Aaron's death, word came that Laura Chandler had also left us. Known for her expertise during her days as a realtor here, Laura went on to develop a reputation as a tour guide beyond compare, while still finding time for crafts and maintaining close relationships with her large extended family and her many friends. I might not have known all of that, except that her daughter Mary Ann worked at the library for over five years.
Fortunately for me, last week was also the occasion of my mother's birthday. I was grateful to go and celebrate; it was impossible to remain weighted with grief while watching Mother tuck into a rack of ribs at Longhorn's, and I recalled some sage advice I was given here in Commerce: Enjoy every sandwich. Or to expand that a little, enjoy every minute we have with each other on this earth.
It was Auntie Mame who said, "Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Singer Joni Collins, in her haunting song, "Both Sides Now," said something more nuanced and troubling: "Something's lost and something's gained / in living every day./ I've looked at life from both sides now / from win and lose, / and still somehow / It's life's illusions I recall; / I really don't know life at all."
In one sense, we're all in that same (life)boat. In another sense, it's all right in front of us. "The kingdom of God is spread upon the earth, and men see it not," says the Gospel of Thomas. Be one who sees - one on whom, in the words of Henry James, "nothing is wasted."
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.