Who would you be in a plane crash? I’m serious. If you were to find yourself on a plane that is experiencing catastrophic failure, how do you imagine you’d react? Would you be the panicky person who screams at the top of your lungs, or would you be the person who guides those people to safety? I ask this because we often think of these moments as terrifying, unexpected circumstances that thrust us into the abyss. It is a situation ripe with uncertainty. We are eminently unprepared for this inevitable reality. Still, we find ourselves paralysed by the tragedy of fact. Today, we mourn someone who has touched us all in heart, mind, and soul. Today, we embrace the inevitable, with strength and grace.
I’d like to talk about grace for a moment. Picture in your mind the idea of grace and elegance. Some of you are thinking of olympic athletes, captured in high speed photography, smoothly and expertly navigating the field of their sport. Some of you are thinking of animals, perhaps gazelles strutting about the Serengeti. Most of you are thinking of Gran, how she filled the room with her subtle and permeating presence. She had this magical ability to be known to all without advertising. It was immediately obvious to all who knew her that she was someone you wanted to know. She always had her finger on the pulse of the moment. Sometimes, that manifested as her often-short temper, with a biting comment about the community’s collective sanity and our individual contribution to our mutual perpetual peaceful coexistence. It was never a threat, but… almost. She had a way of keeping us all in line.
And what a monumental task that was. Five kids when they were still kids themselves, and five grandkids to boot, starting at 36. We were looking at photos last week. Gran was barely a woman when my mom was born, a regular Juliet to Grandpa’s Romeo. Fast-forward a few decades, and by the age of 60, she had a bustling family of primadonas, divas, and know-it-alls the world has never seen. We brought the pain, raised the roof, and reminded the world who we were, and *daily* at that. But she weathered the storm. Songs should be sung of the level of grace this woman demonstrated on a daily basis. It’s enough to be considered for the Nobel. And the drama didn’t stop there.
Through violence, death, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Gran took everything in stride. When there was heartache, she was there to lend a tissue and a hug. When there was loss, she was there with positivity and a healthy dose of reality and perspective. She would never let you hear the end of it when she was right and you didn’t listen, but she never once complained about the Herculean task we asked of her. She never showed weakness or doubt. She had the loudest heart in the room, and she taught us all to radiate that strength of self. She would shout it from the rooftops if it would make a difference. Still, she was quiet most of the time because she knew it wouldn’t matter either way. We are all like her, this Long family. We all have our own brilliance, and she had no interest in competing. Hers was a kind and gentle magic, the kind we barely ever have the good fortune to encounter. All of us here today share in that magic, and we hear its echoes. We bask in Gran’s memory, and we would be fools to ignore her strength. She was our lighthouse in troubled times. She guided us as we grew and never pushed too hard.
Sometimes, when things get bad, the one who you end up being on the plane is the martyr, the one who ushers the rest to safety at the expense of self. Gran was that savior for us all. We can never replace her, and we all suffer incredibly today in honoring her memory. Hers is a great loss to our world. Those who knew her recognized her glory, her strength, her compassion. Those who didn’t know her have the misfortune of not knowing such an incredible soul. So, I leave you with this last memory of Gran. I think it represents her spirit in a way I can’t explain otherwise. She used to tell me, “at least I woke up on the right side of the dirt today.” She’s right, and I cherish every day I have on this rock. But, today, I’m jealous of the dirt.