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Remember to breathe

On the morning of the funeral of my children’s father, my former husband, a guitar-playing friend was gifted with a new song to present on this notable occasion. The song was called “Remember to Breathe,” and he repeated that phrase endlessly to my total befuddlement.

I swear it sounded exactly like “remember debris,” and my mind was awhirl with the effort to understand exactly what the blurred phrase meant. I was in my late 80s and a little deaf and a great deal bleary, and I swear that he was mistakenly singing “Remember Debris.” This threw me into a terrible spin as to what in hell he meant by that.

My husband, like all of us, had left debris enough; he had certainly left “footprints on the sands of time,” but also a lot of stuff that his turbulent life had washed up. He was great for starting things with my help at first: four babies, two adopted Korean children, many civic improvements like the Great Book Club, the Linkville Theater, the art association, the Foreign Film Society, and especially the Unitarian Church, which flourished in a beautiful old schoolhouse with a bell tower that had rung out for hundreds of Sundays proclaiming a rational religion to our town and ultimately making him a Unitarian minister to serve for gay marriages and many worthwhile causes.

His second wife still reigned in the fabulous house I had found and simply knocked on the door to inquire about purchasing. There were about seven people living there at the time, not counting my five kids who came from Eugene every summer. Anyway, in the long service, in which the guitar song was endlessly played, I pondered and pondered and strained my ears to find what the song was about. It couldn’t, couldn’t be so irreverent as to tell us all to remember my husband’s debris.

It was quite a while after the service before I collected myself enough to ask someone what could “Remember Debris” really mean, or surely I might be mistaken in what I heard again and again. “Remember Debris,” no matter how painful and ridiculous remains that song could conjure up for me. It was surely true that my husband’s worthy life had been an illustration of “lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime. And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.”

I am conjuring up the flotsam and jetsam on the sands of all of our lives. Think of all that the tide pulls out from when our billionaires die; not only descendants squabbling over the inheritance, but houses, cars, clothes, designed items, art works, sometimes wonderful things like foundations and charities but usually just things, things, things and lifelong injuries to neglected heirs.

This week we are having a rummage sale at my housing facility. We each get to have our own table and keep our own proceeds, for the first time.

I am happy to say that I don’t have one thing I could want to sell or that anyone else would want to buy, for that matter. I hope I will leave only footprints and that the tide will rise immediately to wash those footprints away.

I hope that at my funeral they will be able to hear the guitarist’s words and “Remember to Breathe” gratefully and joyfully. And hopefully with their sight and hearing so intact and intensified that they never, never misunderstand.

Phyl Kerns is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.



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