Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lisa Telford: A Eulogy

Lisa Telford, 1973-2010

Some lives are supposed to last forever. Lisa Telford's is one of those.

I actually don't have many memories of Lisa Telford. We went to high school together. She graduated two years behind me. She was on the drill team. I was in the marching band. If either of us had been asked to describe the other, I suspect we would have both given a fairly nondescript response, "He/she's...nice."

So I've known Lisa Telford for 22 years. But for 19 of those years, we had no contact whatsoever. The loss is entirely mine.

Lisa and I reconnected just a few weeks over a year ago. It wouldnt have happened without the modern development of social media tools. I was using Facebook to organize a reunion barbecue that only a handful of folks ultimately showed up for. Lisa was one of them. She heard about the shindig from a friend of a friend, and I was more than pleased that she wanted to be there.

She's a touchy-feely person, working on her second master's degree, in psychology. In her presence, you could get the impression that she was reading your soul, but there was no discomfort of invasion or threat that she was stealing private secrets. She's one of those people who rests her hand on your arm while you're talking to her, violating expectations of personal space and making you slightly uncomfortable for just a second. Until you look away from her hand and into her eyes. What I saw there is love. Not the kind of love that would threaten my spouse, but a pure, platonic love and a sincere interest in any old lame, mundane thing that I might have bothered to say. The unexpected hand on the arm instantly lost its awkwardness. And there was a transparency there: she might be reading the dark secrets of your soul, but not without allowing herself to be equally vulnerable, in the name of fairness.

I only chatted with Lisa one more time in the past year, again thanks to the connections that Facebook facilitates. It was a brief chat a few months ago while she was stuck at home, so sick she said she couldn't even crawl out the door to go to the supermarket for saltines she wouldn't have been able to keep down anyway. Still, she had an optimism and a humor that had us squeezing hours worth of laughter into minutes worth of chat. She's like that.

I really have no idea what Lisa's views on religion were. We never reached the point where it was time to discuss them. Religion is such a personal and deeply entrenched subject, too often saved for a later time when feelings won't be wounded by disagreement. I imagine that I would have found with Lisa the same thing I've found with everyone else I've ever met. We would have some ideas in common, and some ideas in disconnect.

But even if I can't tell you about Lisa's religion, I'm pretty sure I can say that I saw her spirit. And that doesn't happen very often. She's special. She achieved that universal and too-often unreached goal to which even those with little or no religious sentiment aspire to attain: Lisa Telford was a good person, one of the few.

In general, a eulogy isn't the right place to promote one's particular religious views. I'm not going to violate that. It would be wrong to co-opt my friend's death as an opportunity to promote the particular terminology I use to describe things beyond our comprehension. I just want to explain how constructs from my own faith tradition are helping me cope with Lisa's untimely departure.

In my group, the unique phrase we use plentifully in memorial services is "memory eternal." It's a reference to the plea of one of the criminals executed next to Jesus, who asks Jesus to "remember me when you come into your kingdom." To be a thought in the mind of the God who creates out of nothing is to at least have an inkling of a chance at something everlasting. If the standing-room-only crowd at Lisa's memorial service Saturday is any indication, Lisa's eternity is already being demonstrated by a legacy of lives that she's touched. Apparently, my arm wasn't the only one. We remember Lisa. How could we forget?

Lisa Telford would have been 37 yesterday. Unfortunately, she never got the chance. Lisa will remain 36 for eternity. As usual, Lisa has the last laugh. Or infectious giggle, in her case.

But that's okay. She deserves it. Memory eternal, sweet Lisa. Godspeed to your spirit.