My very good friend, Kate McReynolds, died last Friday after a year-long struggle with lung cancer. I became friends with Kate after I interviewed her for The Case Against Homework. During my interview, I was struck by how incredibly articulate she was. In fact, although all of the professionals I interviewed for the book–and there were dozens–were articulate, Kate was in a class by herself. I had never met anyone who talked in perfect paragraphs. But it wasn’t just that that attracted me to her. She was my age, like me had two children, lived in New York, and everything she talked about in the interview was something I had thought about before, but had never quite put together in the same way.
When the book was completed, I called Kate and invited her to lunch. I wasn’t expecting a friendship; she was just someone I knew I wanted to talk to more and someone I thought I might be interested in working with in the future. Over the next year and a half, we met often, talked incessantly, and became friends. And then, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
I spent a lot of wonderful time with Kate this past year, and I’m going to miss her tremendously. I will miss her open-heartedness, infectious laugh, incredible intellect, her insights, and so much more. In a New York Times piece titled Perhaps Death Is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life, a new nurse reflects:
Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well, walk in the rain, feel the sun on your face and laugh loud and often, as much as possible, and especially at yourself. Because the only antidote to death is not poetry, or drama, or miracle drugs, or a roomful of technical expertise and good intentions. The antidote to death is life.
That reflection sums up perfectly what I would say I learned from Kate this past year. And that’s an incredible gift.
In Kate’s last article, “Children’s Happiness,” published in the Spring 2008 issue of Encounter Magazine: Education for Meaning and Social Justice where she was Associate Editor, she wrote:
If we were to look squarely at the ordinary unhappiness of just one child–that is, if we pondered it until we had achieved the deepest understanding of his or her experience–what would happen? I believe that, like my son’s middle school teacher, we might be brought to tears. We might recognize that forces behind our own unhappiness, how we ourselves have suffered from unremitting pressure to make the grade and the subsequent narrowing of all that was meaningful to us. If we then let compassion overtake us, we might do something remarkable. We might, for example, take a leave of absence to give ourselves more time in the present. We might adopt a more modest lifestyle that balances work with devotion to our deepest values. We might, in other words, decide that the happiness children naturally seek is the most important thing in life–for them and for ourselves as well.