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Sissel

The views expressed by columnists are their own and not the view of The Courier.

A friend of mine passed away last week. She will be missed.

She once gave me what was, perhaps, the kindest compliment of my life. She reminded me of something I needed to hear, but had long forgotten. Her statement was a direct, short sentence with few personal pronouns.

Her passing brought with it a question. When a person lives a good life, what do they leave behind? Most of us think a person must do something important. Something that will make a difference. Something out of the ordinary that people will remember us by.

Some will give their money so their name will be on a building or athletic field. Some want to write a book or compose music. Some desire to be a leader or someone the world judges to be important.

All of this could be worthwhile, but ultimately that is not what people remember.

We remember the time when someone said something kind to us, when they gave us a hand, or maybe something as simple as a sincere smile.

Or a compliment in a short sentence with few personal pronouns.

I have been struggling to find the right word to describe my friend’s personality. It seems to be a common problem for the most interesting people we know. There is a word that keeps coming to mind, but it is not exactly right.

The word is “sardonic,” but moved down the continuum towards the positive side. Julie was skeptically humorous, but with a smile.

She also did something that is the essence of civilization and culture. She left to the world something greater than what was in the world when she came.

It wasn’t easy.

She had six sons. When they were young, her bathroom always smelled a bit like urine. Boys sometimes miss. They didn’t miss much else, and the family drove what some of us called a children assault vehicle, a car or part truck big enough to carry them all. In a family such as this everything is magnified. Nothing is one of each.

Each one of her sons has grown into productive citizens. From a doctor to a policeman, each has added to the life of the community. Each is married and each has beautiful children.

Somehow, all of her many grandchildren remind me of her.

Julie was the essence of what produces a culture. Hers was the labor that ultimately makes things work. It is a labor of minutes and hours and years, of disappointments and self-sacrifice.

Much of the good things in our lives, most of which we take for granted without thought, is the result of the quiet and heroic lives of individuals who produce generations of good people, ironic humor and kind words for a friend.

Many of us have reached the age when the people we have known the longest are no longer with us and we carefully carry them within us, but some, like my friend Julie, have made that so easy.

Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the UNI. of Northern Iowa.

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