How You Live a Life

At the table across from me, the women had flowers in their hair.

The men wore bright shirts. And everyone was loud, exuberant.

It was a birthday party, I learned. A local jazz singer turning 32. A jazz singer who could break your heart the way she sang “Smile.” Who liked saddle shoes and the Coney Island Mermaid Parade and the way the morning light landed on her wood floors and that Robert Bresson line, “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” And flowers in her hair, of course.

The women and the men kept on arriving and toasting the jazz singer, arriving and toasting until they outgrew their table and spilled over into benches, alcoves, enclaves, any stoop or floorboard they could find.

But the jazz singer wouldn’t be coming to the party, I learned. And she wouldn’t be turning 32. She died nine months ago when a northbound car smashed into her southbound Toyota.

There was no big obituary for her. No flags at half-mast or political tributes. But there was this. A loud, exuberant, standing-room-only celebration for how she had lived those 31 years.

And she had lived them in an all-out, head-first, damn the torpedoes and do it with a flower in your hair way, I learned. No one told me. They didn’t have to.

You could see it in the loud, exuberant mass who raised their glasses up and up to her. Who told strangers at tables across from them all about her. Who looked boundless and awake and alive when they spoke of her.

In 31 too-short years, the jazz singer had made visible what, without her, might never have been seen.

And this is how you live a life, I learned.

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