Last Sunday, I was humbled to be a part of a memorial service for Anya Silver, a close friend, Mercer colleague, Guggenheim Fellow, fellow Mama and personal heroine. After living with cancer for 15 years, Anya died in early August, leaving a crack in the community (and the universe) where her presence had been.
What became immediately clear, as the news of her death spread, was the depth and breadth of her impact in the world. She still had close friends reaching back to elementary school in Pennsylvania, and had also been important to church friends at St. Francis Episcopal Church, poetry communities (she was the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year for poetry), neighbors, colleagues and students. People who never met her in person were comforted and elevated by her posts on social media — especially women who shared her illness.
While I fully intended to focus this column on profiles of those doing current service and volunteerism, my meditations on Anya’s local influence reminded me of the gifts she gave to Macon while she was here. And reading other community members share how Anya’s voice affected them, I am reminded of how there are many ways to serve, and there are many ways to enrich those around us.
I loved Anya and had known her for close to 20 years, so there is so much I could say and praise about her. Her obituary in The New York Times wonderfully captured her clear and important poetic voice; the piece’s only flaw was that it wasn’t written soon enough for her to read it.
But I want to call specific attention to what Anya gave to Macon — and what we might learn from what she offered us. There’s no formula for becoming an “Anya citizen” — she is without peer, sui generis. It’s worth considering that amidst teaching courses, raising a son and living every day with a deadly diagnosis and the prospect of saying goodbye to those she most loved, Anya was still an engaged member of the Macon community. If anyone ever has been entitled to be self-centered, it was Anya; instead, she worried about others, despised bullies and gave of herself.
After the Charlottesville rallies shouting white supremacist messages, Anya marched through Macon streets carrying messages of love. She helped paint the pavilion in Tattnall Park; she wrote to local and national representatives about issues affecting those overlooked in halls of power. When the Bibb County libraries were in danger of closing, her first instinct was to protest, even in the wilting summer heat. And if Anya found ways to serve others, then not a single one of us has an excuse not to do so.
We profoundly miss our neighbor and patriotically dissenting Maconite, and many of us grieving her still exist in that fluid state between anger, sadness and disbelief. But on that Sunday, artists, musicians, former students, and friends of all classes, races, and religions gathered to honor her. The deeply moving expressions of care and loss took my breath away.
What that tells me is that Macon knows beauty when we see it, and though we are the poorer for losing Anya, we also know she made us better. As she wrote to her son before her death, “There is a spirit of love in the world that will always be with you if you try to find it.” May we keep looking for that spirit of love and be that spirit for others; may we help prove her words true.
Sarah Gerwig is a law professor and word enthusiast raising her two sons in Macon.