Recently, a dear friend of ours, Alice, passed away. Though, really, Alice left us seven years ago, after being hit by a truck while riding her bicycle. She slipped into a non-responsive coma, and had been progressing deeper and deeper into vegetation before her body finally gave up and released her spirit on July 28, 2016. Her death (but, more importantly, her life) has been inspirational for me today, as I prepare to attend her final service and say my goodbyes.

Whenever someone young passes (especially someone as remarkable, as talented, as intelligent, as giving as Alice), there is a tendency for many well-intentioned individuals to grieve for the “tragedy” of lost or failed “potential.” To mourn the person who could have been. The life that was never lived. The plans never brought to fruition. Though these sentiments come from genuine places, and are a natural reaction to such a shocking and early loss, they often (unintentionally, I think) draw attention away from all of the wonderful accomplishments the individual did in fact achieve in their lives. All of the things our loved one completed, pursued, attempted, created, and adored in their short lives. All of the passion that drove and guided the person throughout their lives.

Alice’s life was short, but it was not one of failures or tragedies. Hers was a life full of potential, it’s true. And she lived that potential every day. She saw it through.

I know that no one asked me, but I’m going to share with you now what I believe is life’s purpose. What I believe makes life meaningful, and full, and ensures a life well lived. Ensures a life without regrets. And, like most things that I believe are True, it’s very simple.

Leave something behind.

Music. A family. A beautiful garden. Long, rambling journal entries. Well-fed, lazy cats. A business. Meticulous research. Fantastic friendships. A fat bank account. An advanced degree. Any degree. A vintage motorcycle that you rebuilt by hand in your garage. The long, lingering memory of your gentle touch when you volunteered at the nursing home. A library. A W3C approved website. A painting. A dream. Joy.

Something. Anything.

Something that bears the indelible, unerasable, unmistakable imprint of you.

Do you want your life to be worthwhile? Find your something. (That’s the hard part.) Then, work as hard as you can to create your something. (That’s the harder part.) At least try. Finishing isn’t part of the equation. It really isn’t. I think that’s where the confusion sets in. We have a tendency to measure success and accomplishment only in that which has been completed, that which is done. A life becomes more easily quantifiable when looking at projects that are finished and goals that have been achieved. But life is not about check marks tallied in some cosmic To Do list.

It’s about passion.

It’s about love.

In whatever—whatever—form that love takes.

Alice was a brilliant individual. But, beyond that, she was a passionate individual. She was a community organizer, and a supporter of the Arts. Because she wanted to make sure that everyone had a home. A place of belonging. A space where they could feel accepted and appreciated. Virginia Woolf once dreamed of a “Society of Outsiders” where artists, misfits, and outcasts could collect together without judgment, without fear, and without censorship. Alice created that. Alice accomplished that. Not because of her job (which she loved), or because of the festivals she helped organize (which she did), but because of her. Because of her optimism. Because of her glowing acceptance of everyone. Because of her genuine smile and sparkling eyes that searched your face as you spoke, never blinking away, even as you confessed (as you always would. Alice inspired confession in everyone) your most fearful, precious dreams and silly hopes to her. Because of the excitement that rippled through her whole body as she encouraged you to pursue even your craziest, most ill-advised desires and wishes. Alice lived her passion. She lived her potential. She was a home for so many people, and gathered a community around her, joined together by her acceptance. Her delight. Her joy. Hers is not a story of lost opportunities. But fully realized passion. Fully realized personhood. Fully Alice.

I’m anticipating walking into a packed church later today, filled to the brim with family, friends, classmates, well-wishers, hospital staff, artists, professors. I’m anticipating an enormous room full of dozens of different stories. Dozens of passions. Dozens of loves. Dozens of wistful smiles, inspired by the  remembrance their own, unique “Alice” story. Dozens of individuals, brought together because of one small, remarkable woman.

We will be the misfits.

The weirdos.

The outcasts.

The outsiders.

And we will be there together. We will belong. We will mourn. As a community. As a family.

United by what Alice has left behind.

Her joy.

Her passion.

It will be our home today.

Look at all you have done. Look at all you did. Smile that incredible, dimple-filled smile, and know that you lived as we all hope to live. (As I hope to one day live)

You are a loss, but never a failure. Never a tragedy.

Rest easy, dear friend.

Dear, dear Alice.