Legacies

I read Into the Wild when it first came out. (I highly recommend the book, by the way. Jon Krakauer is a great storyteller.) Over the past couple of months, the movie version of the riveting, controversial Chris McCandless story has gotten some interesting press, like this article about Sean Penn’s journey to making the film, as well as some strong reviews. Between Greg’s wanderlust and mine, there’s been kind of a build up to our checking out the film ourselves. Friday night, we finally did.

I fought back tears on and off throughout the movie; Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless/Alexander Supertramp is disarming, gorgeous, full of life, full of purpose. He is everyone’s son; he is everyone’s prophet; he promises nothing and gives everything and moves on, from encounter to encounter on his way to his Great Alaska Adventure. Some of the other performances also got to me, especially Catherine Keener’s. Eddie Vedder generally makes me cry, too. While the credits rolled and the theater slowly emptied out, I finally let it out, let myself cry. And cry. And cry.

Eventually we stood up and put on our coats, my neck still wet with tears. Greg went to use the bathroom while I collected myself, overhearing snippets of conversation (“The connections he made with people were so sweet,” said one middle-aged woman) and feeling grateful to have seen the movie with someone who understood – without my trying to explain – why it hit me so hard.

On a different note that I am realizing today is connected, yesterday was the fifth birthday of one of our very favorite small people. Before we headed over to his house for to celebrate with turkey tacos and a basketball cake, I pushed myself out the door into the crisp, gorgeous day for a run. I felt fast and alive, thinking the whole time about the movie, the message, the point of all of this. Sort of apropos of nothing, when I got home, I said to Greg, “If I ever get cancer, I am going to be valiant about it.”

Saying that turned out to be ridiculous and sort of cocky in more ways than one. When we got to our friends’ house, I sat and chatted for a few minutes with the dad, an incredible mensch of a guy. He told me he’d found himself reading my blog a couple of weeks ago. Then he told me that his cousin, Mara, had just died. She was 38. She had breast cancer six years ago, kicked it, and went on with her very full, interesting, alive life. Then the cancer returned, this time in her brain. When she found this out, she began keeping a blog. It quickly became a way for her to connect with friends and family members and people who she loved and who wanted to support her and know what was happening with her treatment.

I asked my friend if he’d send me a link for Mara’s blog. This morning, he did. Here it is. As he mentioned in his email to, you get the best sense of her if you read through the archives from the beginning. He also sent me a link to her obituary from the Washington Post. The first paragraph reads:

Marguerite Rose “Mara” Galaty, 38, an effervescent Agency for International Development officer who worked on development projects around the world, died of metastatic melanoma Nov. 3 at her parents’ home in Washington. She lived in Amman, Jordan.

Effervescent! To be described as effervescent! I think I would have liked her.

Today it turns out I am not feeling (or acting) valiant at all, and I don’t even have cancer. I have a new cold sore and I’m all congested and I just got my period, which has been kicking my ass these past few months. But Mara, reading your blog, even though I only know your cousin, I am humbled and inspired and saddened and emboldened. And Chris McCandless, there are many ways to go into the wild. To go through life. Yours was dramatic, all right.

“You’re wasting the day!” my mother would holler, as she yanked up our shades at 11:30am. Mara Galaty and Chris McCandless did not waste their days. They both remind me. Remind me of what valiant really means, of what a legacy is, a mission, a life fully lived.

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