by Carol Glassman

A few days ago a woman I knew, in her 90s, passed away. I hadn’t thought about her for some time, as she had moved out of the area following the death of her husband. I’ll call her Jane.

I first met Jane and Jack when we moved to the same community where they lived. They already had a reputation for going against the grain of most residents, by not voting for improvements or spending funds to maintain the daily upkeep of the property. They were famous for taking advantage of every free event and although they lived well, rarely put their hands in their pockets to contribute to anything.

My late husband played bridge with Jane and Jack, and when I became interested in tennis, I began a 15-year association with Jane.  I’ll call it an association because it never was a friendship. There wasn’t much about Jane that I admired.

She was a scrawny little woman of about 100 pounds, who had an odd, affected gait: she walked pigeon-toed on her tiptoes. A person’s physical attributes never influence how I feel about them, but their actions always do. Jane did her best to prevent my playing on the tennis team she attempted to rule. Until I caught up by taking a lot of lessons and practicing hard, she was a much better player. However, that didn’t last. As I became more adept, I found I could easily return her frequent lobs, and 90% of her “out” calls were untrue. In other words, Jane was a cheat.

On the rare occasions when I played bridge against her and her long-time partner, I saw them constantly signaling each other — she also cheated at bridge.

At golf, needless to say, Jane’s golf balls that landed in the rough miraculously turned up on the green after falling out of her pocket, without adding a penalty.

I had no problem standing up to her on the tennis court and in fact, eventually formed my own team, making it clear that although everyone was free to join us, as long as league levels and standards were met, we would not allow any cheating or negative behavior.  Poor Jane – half of her team deserted to join us, leaving her with those of like habits.

Jane and her friends practiced another little game that I disliked immensely: they were racists.  I overheard them planning a bridge tournament. As they made up tables of 4 players, they planned to “put  all the Indians together” at two tables. Indians? I questioned what that meant and was told, “You know, people with the surnames of Cohen, Schwartz, Goldberg…”, and they all laughed. As I stood up to leave they protested that I had not finished my lunch, but I replied that I had to go home and clean my tepee. I guess minus horns, a hooked nose and other stereotypical traits I had somehow flown under their nasty radar.

Jane’s husband Jack was not so blatantly rude, but considering their relationship I could only assume he was of the same opinions and biases. After he passed away, she moved to an assisted living facility in another city. I haven’t thought about her often, until I got her obituary notice.

Since I try to consider each person on her own merit, how a person acts to me is how I judge them, trying to ignore gossip and what others may say. I had enough confrontations with Jane to know that I could be civil to her face but would not put her on my ‘guest list’. Why would I want to associate with a cheating, lying, racist?

According to Jane’s obituary, she was a loving mother, wife, aunt, sister, daughter, grandmother, friend.  Those are usual comments from a grieving family. Over 40 years ago, diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy and was said to have devoted the rest of her life to helping others cope with that disease. I admit I did not know any of that.  If I had, perhaps I might have looked at Jane’s behavior from a different perspective, but would I have accepted or forgiven it? I know a lot of survivors these days, thanks to advanced medical treatments, and most of them have a joie de vivre, not using their medical history to advance themselves in any way.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I had been very familiar with the local chapter of the American Cancer Society at one time and do not ever recall her either being there or participating in any of their events. However, possibly all her good works were done anonymously and in another location.

Now that Jane has passed away, reading about her and her achievements almost made me smile.  Perhaps it is superstition that prevents us from speaking ill of the dead, even when it’s true.  I am sure there are enough of her friends, who live and act as she did, to maintain the facade of her as a good woman who lived well.  I am just as sure that there are enough hypocrites who walked alongside Jane while she lived, and quietly tolerated her behavior. Then there are the rest of us, who observed how she acted and chose not to associate with her.

The bottom line is, death is a leveler. Your beliefs about an afterlife do not matter at all here on earth, because you will be remembered as you lived. Those who survive you will recall the kind of person you were, and that will be your legacy.

In many religions you can regularly ask  for forgiveness and do penance for the hurtful things you have done and said, and some even give you a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card to leave all your sins and crimes behind you and consider tomorrow the first day of the rest of your life. Fortunately, most of us are not major criminals and the wrongs we have committed, mostly against others, are of a petty nature. I wonder if there were some kind of public final reconciliation, we would love our lives differently? What would it take for us to simply, on a daily basis, make a concerted effort to treat others as we would like to be treated, and fulfill the saintly vision with which others see us, after we are gone?

They say an artist’s work is never really appreciated until he is no longer with us — why wait until then, to show your best side and get the best out of life. Give the term ‘a living legacy’ a new meaning!