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The Good Life of Marcia Deihl

Life of ’70s era alum spurs reflection on a generation’s dreams

Years ago, at my first newspaper job, when the notion of our own death was a distant abstraction, my young colleagues and I amused ourselves by composing headlines for our obituaries. All that we imagined our lives would be has now, four decades later, been rewritten by reality and steered by opportunities, obligations, and fate. Those of us who were the product of that postwar tidal wave known as the baby boom entered a world of unprecedented possibility. We thought of ourselves as rebels and nonconformists, as we agitated, reveled, and otherwise communed in lockstep. We harbored grandiose dreams—we would change the world.

Today, BU’s boomer alumni include leaders and luminaries in the humanities, the arts, business, and medicine, and we celebrate them. But as many in my generation approach the end of our working lives, we wonder: what has made our lives meaningful? In a culture that increasingly rewards ambition and feeds on fame for its own sake, what does it mean to live a good life? Is there something we can still learn from those who, defying categorization and trailing no lofty credentials, succeed in a soulful, quirky way in making the world a slightly better place?

Consider Marcia Deihl, a Cambridge singer, writer, and activist, who died one year ago, on March 11, 2015, at the age of 65. On the next page are two photos, bookends of a tumultuous generation: in one, Deihl (DGE’69, CAS’71), circa 1979, in a long skirt, brown hair cascading from a newsboy cap, flashes a Mona Lisa grin as she poses with a battered VW Beetle. It’s a photo that people my age—61—recognize. In the second photo, taken in 2015 in front of a swirly Sol LeWitt canvas at MASS MoCA, the smile is broad, confident, and contagious, the now-silver hair separated girlishly in multiple braids. This is the image that accompanied reports of her death, notices that drew scores of comments from friends and admirers. Her death happened in an instant: riding her bike home from Whole Foods in Cambridgeport at 1:30 in the afternoon, she was struck by a dump truck on Putnam Avenue. The bike, a three-speed she had festooned with streamers and paper flowers, was her SUV—“simple utilitarian vehicle”—which she used to navigate the city she loved and that loved her back.

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