Remember “shaggy dog” stories? Long, deliberately tedious, fancifully embroidered stories that end with an abrupt, unexpected joke? Here’s one:
A young man abandons his home, family, and job to seek truth. He travels for many years and endures terrible hardship (here, the storyteller goes on at length about the journeys and hardships). At last he reaches the cave of the legendary Crystal Guru high in the Himalayas. Famished, sick, and weak he falls to his knees and asks the Guru the question that has obsessed him for so many years:
“O wisest of the wise,” he asked, “what is the meaning of life?”
The Guru, bathed in celestial light, doesn’t hesitate.
“Life is a fountain.”
“What!!??” said the young man. “What kind of ridiculous crap is that? You mean I’ve endured all of this to hear you say this utter nonsense? I’ve thrown away my life, and this is all you can say??!! You better tell me the truth!!!”
“All right,” said the Guru with a shrug. “Life isn’t a fountain.”
Cindy Fowler, who died on Wednesday at 53 after a long struggle with breast cancer, might have laughed at that story — but the young man’s question would never have occurred to her.
She knew the meaning of life. She knew that life could be short, that each day was precious, that time wasted was time lost.
Her achievements were significant, but her character both trumped and made possible those achievements.
She knew what was important — having a good marriage with Chuck, raising Emily, being kind and giving to friends, acquaintances, and strangers, working to enrich her community, learning from mentors, and teaching others to lead. She was tough and strong, but never pointlessly angry, a leader who never bullied or blustered, and a merry companion to her friends during happy hour at her favorite downtown bar.
The opening sentence of Gone with the Wind could have been written about Cindy.
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…”
Like Scarlett, Cindy had abundant good looks and overwhelming presence. Unlike Scarlett, she used her force and presence to enrich the lives of everyone she touched. Her message was simple: Work with me and make our community better.
Diagnosed with a particularly virulent and aggressive form of breast cancer five years ago, Cindy didn’t waste her time in self-pity. She fought the cancer, and went on with her life. Here’s her last message, posted on caringbridge.com:
“There is nothing like a breast cancer diagnosis and a strong dose of chemotherapy to make you feel like your world is spinning out of control. As a Type-A, 'fingers on the pulse of the community' type of gal, I was not ready to give into uncertainty, weakness and life altering change. So, on a spring day in 2008 when I could barely get off the couch and my brain was at about 50% of normal function, ideas flew and the Cowgirls & Cocktails fundraiser was born, with the hope of helping women breast cancer in El Paso County.
Fast forward two short years, we pulled together great volunteers, hundreds of friends, hot bartenders, Jim Beam, Coors, Leaping Horse Vineyards, restaurants, caterers, local vendors and press. The outcome - Cowgirls & Cocktails has raised over $25,000.00. Through different organizations, we have been able to reach women on a grassroots level, assisting with everything from taxi vouchers to providing much needed goody bags filled with products to aid in the surgical healing process, both mentally and physically. We are touching those in need on a very basic level.
Cowgirls and Cocktails speaks to my heart and lives up to our vision. Women joining together to support one another is a powerful statement, especially when they all wear pink, and they all like to have fun! This event makes each of us realize how lucky we are to have each other and is a celebration of life at its best. Please join us on Thursday, June 7th, 2012. We have only just begun to make our mark!”
Cindy, we’ll be there. And Friday night at the Famous we missed you, and Chuck, and Emily. I’m proud to have been one of your legions of friends. There will be tears — but you’ll be remembered with joy. You died too soon. I don’t know what else to say — there’s not much to add after reading a few dozen of the 200-plus deeply felt posts about you on caringbridge.com.
Peter Husak, with whom you worked for 15 years, may have spoken for us all.
“She made me better than I am.”