What’s It All About?

“So, what’s it all about?” my uncle Fred used to ask me over the sumptuous meals we shared at yearly reunions.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me,” I responded laughing.

Uncle Fred had been a Catholic priest. But, when told by the bishop to abandon his ministry to alcoholics in order to say more masses (He had PhD in psychology.), Uncle Fred gave up the priesthood instead.

Shortly after, he met my beloved Aunt Marge. She’d been a nun as well as a patent-winning PhD chemist; but she, too, gave everything up to become an acclaimed artist. They gave each other nearly a half-century of love and adventure.

Sometimes I joined them at a stop along one of their galavants about the world. We discussed education reform while scaling the massive pyramid at Teotihuacán, outside Mexico City, Uncle Fred sporting his iconic white hat with the left brim buttoned up rakishly. He later wrote a book about the subject. You see, he never stopped wondering, learning, debating, ever striving to figure out what it was all about.

Uncle Fred never doubted Providence, though. He repeatedly cited St. Will (his nickname for William Shakespeare): “There is a divinity that shapes our ends,” he intoned piously, “rough-hue them how we will.”

Uncle Fred’s only fear was dementia. (He joked that he’d get a suicide pill, except that he’d probably forget to take it.) In the end, cancer claimed him — quickly, mercifully. Just before he died, he whispered to my aunt, “Marge, you were my best friend.”

She still talks to him, glancing at his hat dangling from a dining room chair.

So, in the end, my aunt and uncle answered Fred’s enduring question together, with their lives — ones of study, service, courage, travel, laughter, delicious food, engaging conversations, great love, and a dogged quest for an ever-elusive understanding.

That is what life is all about.

David Ellison, author of Santander: Rambling on Borrowed Time, retired after 36 years in education to Ajijic, Mexico.

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