The truth in the saying on the old English church’s clock struck me in our last summer’s trip. I took a picture and saved it with my blog possibilities, thinking I needed to respond to it at some point. “Life’s but a walking shadow.” Something about it being incomplete nagged me into waiting for the rest of the idea. It came this week.
Both literally and figuratively a shadow has many meanings. First glance at this one indicates the brevity of any one life and its insignificance in the scope of all of history. That is certainly one truth. Even if one reaches the remarkable age of 100, it is but a moment in the expanse of time.
But shadow has a couple of other meanings that have come up with the death of my good friend Darleen Dale. Her life of almost 79 years exceeds the “threescore years and ten” by almost a decade – still brief in the expanse of time. Yet, in her stories, other meanings of shadow have emerged. A shadow is sometimes a shelter from danger or ravages of a desert sun; sometimes an inseparable companion; sometimes a persuasive dominant influence; and sometimes a follower with plans to intervene for protection if needed.
Darleen was sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to a large tribe. She taught children with learning difficulties. She was absolutely sure, long before they were, that they could learn to read. She was a principal who called each child in her school by name, both while they were in her school and for years afterwards when she ran into them. [I lie not. Many of them testified to it.] She encouraged – no, wrong word – she goaded young teachers in her school and others she knew to head back to the university to reach for a higher degree, to take risks that would make their lives or the lives of others better.
After a full life as an educator, she became a real estate agent, carrying those same qualities with her. The sale of a house began rather than ended her relationship with a client. She checked to see if she could help find a church, a dentist, or a grocery store. She might say, “Why don’t you come to dinner on Friday night, and I’ll invite some people who knew your parents?”
Darleen’s shadow was brief in the expanse of time, but her shadow touched multitudes of others whose shadows now reach in front of them. One of those who spoke at her funeral said she often asked Darleen how she could ever repay her and always received the same reply, “Pass it on.” I would not venture to guess how far her walking shadow may go, nor if it will ever end.
I think the completion of the saying on the clock might be, “Life’s but a walking shadow, yet it has the potential to stretch into other shadows that reach far beyond anything you could dream.”