This column was in the back of my mind as I sat through the funeral for the mother of one of my dearest friends. I had been trying to think about love – the theme of this month’s Buzz. And while a funeral is the last place I expected to find inspiration for a light story on Valentine love, as I listened to all the wonderful things being said about this woman, Amy Koppel, I thought there could be no more fitting illustration of the qualities of love.
Amy was a character – one-of-a-kind and feisty. Put simply, she was herself. In his eulogy, my friend’s older brother shared what everyone loved so much about his mother.
She was passionate about music. She went to James Taylor, Carly Simon and Doobie Brothers concerts, not long ago dragged a friend to see Garth Brooks in the rain, and somehow finagled last-minute (meaning that day) Grammy Award tickets for herself and her then-6-year-old son when they just happened to be in New York at the right time.
She made the mundane task of driving carpool an adventure. Picture a well-dressed blond with a high, raspy voice pretending to be Mario Andretti – sound effects included – not caring that the elementary school safety guards were yelling and shaking their batons at her to, “Slow down!” Remember, this was 35 years ago.
She drew people in and connected, collecting friends wherever she went, speaking the truth, never sugar-coating. At lunch this past spring, she gave us all (old college friends of her daughter who had turned 40) marriage advice: “Wake up every morning and make the decision not to get divorced today.” (This comes from a woman married happily for 50 years to her polar opposite.)
The stories go on and on. But as I sat listening and crying and laughing at my friend’s family stories, I also started wondering about the everyday traits that make those dear to us so endearing.
So I asked friends what they most love about those they love. The funny thing was that the ones who had an answer right away, who could pinpoint in a second what draws them in and keeps them, all basically said the same thing: it’s about being real.
The best way to connect, they agreed, is to share the “realness” of life. Not to gloss and profess that everything’s perpetually fantastic and life’s always beautiful. But to expose the heartfelt, the evidence that we all are human and imperfect, living imperfect lives, doing our best to make something about every day a happy adventure, and succeeding some of the time.
Apparently, feeling love for others and recognizing their flaws, and knowing that they see the limitations in ourselves, endears us to one another. Bonds us. Creates common ground where we can celebrate life’s learning curve together.
And experiencing and navigating life together is a breeding ground for affection. Think about a friendship that grew from, say, having children in the same preschool class, or getting assigned to a project at work together, or sitting side by side on an airplane. Two people tentatively meet, they share an experience, they bond through the ups and downs, and a friendship ensues.
Sometimes the bond culminates in romantic love, but more often it’s something more akin to friendship. Either way, we find something – maybe many things – lovable about another person. It might be the way a person can converse about any subject. Maybe it’s something quirky, like a friend’s propensity to laugh at inopportune times. Or maybe it’s just someone’s open vulnerability that speaks to us and draws us in. Whatever these lovable traits, the bond we forge is inevitably stronger and more meaningful when its core is genuine.
Life is messy. Sharing that – and hopefully making the very best of it – with one another keeps us human. At best, it keeps us playing on an emotionally level field. Which, come to find out, makes us love each other just a little bit more. The way that everyone loved Amy. Because she was herself, an open book just waiting for another reader to draw in with her stories.
It seems counterintuitive, finding inspiration about being loving and lighthearted at a funeral. But maybe that’s just it – we find love and openness and authenticity in unexpected places. We just have to look for it.