A Life Well Lived

i282600889620841921._szw1280h1280_When my brother, Michael, was only a small boy he often carried a book by Werner von Braun under his arm. He would flip through the pages and gaze at the illustrations long before he was able to read. It was a volume from my father’s library and it envisioned what space travel might be like if man were ever to venture to the moon. It was only natural that after Michael graduated from Rice University he would be drawn to NASA and the work that was taking place there. He turned down other opportunities that might have ultimately been as exciting in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of working with the men and women who wanted to conquer the frontiers far beyond our planet. He accepted a job as a NASA contractor and has never looked back.

His work put him in contact with people from a variety of companies and backgrounds. Along the way he noticed an attractive Asian girl and took the initiative to find out her name. He thought about her often and in a somewhat uncharacteristic fashion decided to attempt to contact her so that they might become better acquainted. Her name was Becky Liu.  

In those days the phone book was still the only way to get personal information. He looked up her name in the White Pages only to discover that there were a number of persons named Liu living in the Houston area, none of whom were listed under the name Becky. Undaunted he began calling each number asking for her, mentioning that he was looking for the woman who worked for a NASA contractor. His crusade became quite frustrating as he was told again and again that he had called the wrong number. He was nonetheless determined and in spite of his own reservations he continued his quest. Finally he spoke with someone who told him that Becky Liu was indeed at his home. Ironically it was not where she lived but the residence of a friend that she only happened to be visiting on that day. 

The two of them immediately began a friendship. Becky was intrigued by the fact that this man had gone to so much trouble to find her. They found that they had a great deal in common in spite of the fact that Becky had grown up in Taiwan and had only come to the United States to study at Lamar University on a whim. When she got a job with the space program she rented an apartment in the museum district with a number of other ladies and spent most of her time working and enjoying events sponsored by the burgeoning Asian community in Houston. It had never occurred to her that she would one day meet an American who would court her until she realized that she too was in love.

Becky Liu became Becky Little in a beautiful wedding ceremony. She and Michael both had brilliant minds and their lives centered around the important work that they did. It was only fitting that they would move into the Clear Lake area and make that part of Houston their forever home where they would eventually raise three children who would have made any parents proud. 

Both Becky and Michael loved to travel and they took advantage of every possible opportunity to see the United States and the world. In Becky’s culture the elders are held in the highest esteem. It is the duty of they young folk to care for their parents and to revere them. Since my mother was a widow Becky believed even more strongly that she must provide her with profound respect and concern. Becky invited my mother to tag along on every vacation trip and she often took Mama to dinners and special events. She literally treated my mom like a queen and patiently put up with the baggage that came from time to time with my mother’s mental illness. One of the clues that Mama was slipping was that she would begin to attack Becky and imagine that Becky’s kindnesses were somehow nefarious. Becky endured the insults with a loving heart, often sitting silently while she became the target of invective that was the cruel product of Mama’s bipolar disorder. It always amazed me that Becky was so willing to remain understanding and to forgive the slights and ugly commentary. 

Becky continued to work in the NASA community. She became well known and highly respected for her work. Ultimately she was one of the managers of the astronaut training program, sometimes traveling as far away as Russia to keep the projects running smoothly. She inspired all of us who watched her quietly and humbly do her work year after year without expecting fanfare. It was who she was and what she did. Somehow she also managed to raise her three children into wonderful adults while also caring for her own parents who lived with her and Michael for several years after her father contracted Parkinson’s disease. She saw little reason that anyone should glorify her for her efforts. In her mind she was only doing what a good child is supposed to do. It was never an inconvenience to her. 

Eventually my mother became the recipient of Becky’s extreme generosity. When doctors indicated that Mama should no longer live alone Becky immediately prepared a room for her. My mother lived with Michael and Becky for a year, enjoying outings on weekends and great conversations in the evenings. Mama became quite healthy and happy from such outstanding care and I had to admit that Becky was made of incredibly compassionate stuff. After a time even Mama understood that Becky needed a break and some alone time with Michael. I took over on my mother’s care here at my house but Becky and Michael faithfully came by at least once a week to take her out on the town. 

Becky is a few months younger than I am. As the years rolled by she began to look forward to retirement. She and Michael and my brother Pat and his wife built a spectacular home in Colorado near Estes Park where she hoped she might one day spend weeks or even months. She and Michael also bought land in the national forest near the Woodlands. One day they plan to build a home there where Becky might garden and simply enjoy the beauty of nature. They have spent virtually every weekend for the past year clearing the land and reveling in the solitude there. 

Finally the time has come for Becky to retire. She has tied up all of the loose ends at work and in April she will officially become a lady of leisure. She and her sister will celebrate with a trip to Italy. In the meantime the rest of our extended family met this past weekend to celebrate her achievements and her work. Her sons flew in from Chicago and Dallas and even her nephew whom she had once cared for in her home came from out of town to honor her. Her sisters were there along with her in-laws, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. We all knew that Becky had worked very hard over the years, earning a living so that she might unselfishly care for so many and make such a difference in their lives. 

Becky will soon enter the next phase of her life. She deserves the rest and the fun. She has been a good and faithful servant for so many years. Now it is time for her to reap the rewards of a life well lived. 

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