Saturday, September 15th began like any other day. With a full cup of coffee, I settled in to read my emails and the morning headline news. But within moments, my heart was on alert. I saw the name of a dear friend in the subject line of another friend’s email.
As my breathing got deeper and faster, I opened the email.
My eyes could hardly take in what they were seeing.
Over and over again, I read the email telling me that one of my dearest friends in France had died suddenly from injuries sustained from an accident. She had been mowed down by a reckless, intoxicated young man on a motor scooter while crossing the street in a crosswalk.
Those of you who live in France and Monaco know exactly what hazards these guys can be.
Even now as I type, so many days later, I can hardly believe that this femme extraordinaire is gone. I’m sure I went into shock.
Later that day though, a very strange phenomenon began to occur. Instead of tears of grief or sorrow, as I recalled random moments we had shared, my spirit soared with joy.
I’m not talking about being happy. I’m talking about unequivocal, absolute, unrestrained JOY!
This was not what I would have expected.
When I dug deeper, I came to understand many things. I wrote the following letter to be read at a gathering in Vence in her honor. Hopefully, it will shed some light on my bizarre reaction and also serve as inspiration to live life as if every moment counts. Because it does.
No doubt, she too began her day like any other day. I imagine some of the things she may have done before approaching that crosswalk. Things she did on a regular basis. No matter what they were, I can pretty much guarantee she was engaged in maximum enjoyment, walking along with a smile on her face and that familiar skip in her step.
Like many of your friends in Vence, I met you at a French Conversation class. You were standing in front of me and turned to comment on something that was being said. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful you looked. You always looked so beautiful. More than anyone I know, you had a gift for creating beauty: in what you wore, in where you lived and most certainly in how you lived.
The many hours we spent talking, laughing and even crying on your terrace, in the cafés and during our travels showed me a wise woman who had taken life on as an adventure, with the full intention of pushing her level of enjoyment to the max.
I will never forget the day you talked me into parasailing. We were walking along the Promenade in Nice and stopped to watch the boat pull yet another two people up into the air and out over the sea.
You suddenly turned to me and said, Let’s do that! I thought you were joking. But I quickly realized you were not. I came up with a litany of excuses about why this was not such a good idea. But in the end, your sense of fun and desire for new experiences prevailed.
The very next day we were back on the Promenade in our bathing suits. My heart was beating a mile a minute. You just had a big smile.
As the boat pulled away from the beach, we took our running steps and then up, up and away we went. You kept pointing in different directions, saying, Look at this…Oh look at that, with absolute delight. I couldn’t see a thing as I was not allowed to wear my glasses.
But just hearing the joy in your voice was enough. It was pretty spectacular up there.
Then when we landed, in true Karen-fashion, you had yet another brilliant idea: champagne and baked Alaska on the terrace of the Negresco. Hotel. To celebrate, of course, a toast to the momentous occasion.
This is the legacy you leave etched in my heart: life can be a delight if only you decide to make it so.
I will miss you dear friend. But I know you are already creating even more beauty wherever you are now.
I raise a glass to you, cherie. Tu vis toujours dans mon coeur, (You live always in my heart.)
~ ~ ~ ~
Now I’m not suggesting Karen lived a life without pain. She had her share of heartache and sorrow.
But what I experienced with her time and time again was that when I allowed myself to cast off my (sometimes unconscious) restrictions on pleasure and say YES to the moment, I would often feel the rush of unrestricted joy throughout my body.
This was her gift and she modeled it beautifully: encouraging us always to take delight in every moment.
I shall always remember her as a frequent creator of joy-filled experiences. And hope that I can carry on as she would insist and always supported, as one who is open to what life offers and who creates what it doesn’t.