A Friend, A Teacher, An Angel

NinaIt’s always shocking to lose a friend, a peer who shared school days and fun times on weekends when we were young and beautiful and so full of promise. It’s even more terrible when one is unaware that such a person is forever gone. There is not just sadness in such situations, but a certain amount of regret and maybe even guilt. The feelings of loss bear down just a bit more when considering the “might have beens” that never quite took place.

I wrote about one of my classmates last week who had died. My friends and I were surprised to learn that he had been living nearby for quite some time, and we had no idea that he was so close to us. We were unable to locate him for our class reunion and we admittedly missed him. It would have been nice to see him one more time. Instead we were left with only memories of a long ago time, and questions about what we might have done to keep our friendship with him vibrant during the years when we only heard rumors about where he was and how he was doing. While talking about the days when we were all students and the different directions we took as adults one of my old school chums mentioned that another classmate of mine who had been a good friend had died. I was stunned because I had been communicating with her not that long ago and had been wondering why she had seemingly gone silent.

Nina Story Donigan was always a beautiful soul in every possible way. She and I went to grade school together and then enrolled in the same high school where we spent many a weekend with a group of like minded friends searching for a good time as teenagers do. Eventually Nina and I even went to the same university and took many of the same classes. I always enjoyed sitting next to her during lectures and hearing about her romances while I talked about mine. It always felt so comfortable and uncomplicated with her, but we were both quite busy most of the time. As our adult lives unfolded there would often be many years between our reunions, but somehow we always found our way back to each other if only by way of long and excited telephone conversations. It was as always though we had spoken only minutes before even when it had been a very long time. We were spiritually connected souls in so many ways and we were always making promises that when our lives calmed down just a bit we would get together in person, have some lunch or just sit and talk at a kitchen table.

Nina was a striking woman with long blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes that seemed to twinkle with a bit of impishness. She rarely spent much time primping and grooming herself because she didn’t need to do so. She was a natural beauty. I always thought that she had an angelic glow about her that enhanced her loveliness. It came from the generosity and compassion that she bore in her soul. It was that characteristic that made her a great friend, a loving mom, and a masterful teacher.

Like me, Nina spent most of her life working with young people. She was one of those teachers who put not just her head, but her heart and soul into her work. She had caught the teaching bug just as I had and whenever we talked she was hardly able to contain the excitement that she felt from being in a classroom. I could hear her commitment in her voice and I often imagined the look of determination in her azure eyes and the upward curve of her satisfied smile.

Last year Nina appeared to be looking forward to our Class of 1966 fifty year reunion just as I was. During the planning stages she advocated going all out with a dinner and a dance in a nice place. It seemed quite clear to me that she would be there with bells on, and I really looked forward to giving her a big hug and exchanging more promises to renew our long standing friendship in earnest. I was rather surprised when she was a no show, and sadly it never occurred to me that something might be wrong. I simply accepted that she had perhaps changed her mind about attending the celebration, but I truly missed her and felt more than a tinge of disappointment.

Life took me by the hand and whisked me away in a buzz of activity after that. When I no longer saw posts from Nina on Facebook I didn’t think that anything was wrong. Many of my friends had grown weary of commenting and simply dropped out of the conversations. Besides the constantly changing algorithms that make Facebook a bit different every other week seemed to eliminate huge swaths of many of my former friends. I felt sure that we would find a way to talk again just as we had over the long course of our casual and easy going friendship.

I was unaware that Nina was quite ill. She did not share this information in posts or any other ways. I chastise myself even now for not checking on her and for assuming that her absence only meant that she was busy with something else. I knew that she always seemed to lead a very active life. She was one of those people who grabbed opportunities and took risks, making her days quite fun and adventurous. She was also someone who became so involved in helping others that it often took more than a lion’s share of her time. Still, it would not have taken a great deal of effort for me to give her a call and tell her how I had missed her at our grand event. I would have enjoyed having one of those long conversations that always felt so easy with her. I would have known that she was in trouble and needed help. I have no valid excuse for why I never took the time to reach out to her.

Now I know that she died early this year, and my heart feels as though it has sustained a heavy blow. I grieve for the lost moments that we might have shared had I taken only a few minutes to reach out to her. I grieve for not being able to tell her while she was still alive how much joy she had so often brought to me. I grieve for not sharing my admiration for her. I grieve as I recall those crazy times when we went to Friday night football games, dances, and just rode around in someone’s parents’ car talking about how we were going to change the world. I grieve that I don’t think that I ever actually told her that I loved her, so I truly hope that she knew. She was quite perceptive so maybe it was clear to her that she was indeed a very important part of who I am.

Nina Story Donigan is gone and it’s difficult to imagine the world without her. She spread her joy wherever she went and remained a loving and thoughtful human throughout all of her short time with us. She lived with a kind of gusto that makes me wonder if she somehow knew that she had to grab every inch of living while she could. She was an angel while she lived on earth so its not a stretch of my imagination to envision that she is now an official angel in heaven. I will miss wondering when our next phone call will come, but I feel so blessed to have known her and talked with her when I did. She taught me much about meeting challenges and grabbing hold of experiences and never taking anything or anyone for granted. It is so like her to continue teaching even after she is gone. Somehow Nina has reminded me that I must never again be so cavalier about a special friendship. I have learned in a horrible way that we need to declare our love for one another in the moment when are feeling it, and never wait for the day that might never come.

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Sticks and Stones

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The English language has the power of being beautifully expressive, poetic. At the same time it can be curt, crass, hurtful. Changing the order of words or punctuation sometimes drastically alters the meaning of a sentence. When phrases are uttered nuances in intonation transform them into vocal images. Throughout history there have been individuals with astonishing capabilities for using words to clarify, inspire, affect. These have been the authors, poets, teachers, speakers who have used their facility with language as art, education, and political persuasion. The best among them leave legacies that are studied and revered from age to age. The variety and elegance of language makes it an instrument of profound possibilities. Unfortunately when words are in the hands of someone who does not know how to use them as they were intended they become vehicles of confusion and even hurt.

I have a major in English, but became a mathematics teacher. I believe that my adequate abilities in connection with my native language helped me to explain and demystify concepts using words that my students were able to understand. I consider my facility with expression to be well suited for most of the tasks in which we must convey our thoughts. Nonetheless there have been multiple occasions in which what I was attempting to communicate was totally misunderstood. This generally happened when I was addressing a large group or in those moments when I chose to write down my ideas. Without body language, facial expressions, and opportunities for clarification it is more likely than not that confusion will occur. Because I realize that such possibilities exist I try to carefully analyze and measure my words before making them public so that I will not damage feelings or foment anger. In spite of my efforts I am almost certain that the sentences that I craft may not always be taken in the ways that I intended, and so I do not ever feel personally attacked if a reader or listener finds fault.

A source of great pride for my mother was that she was masterful with the English language. I suppose that it stemmed from the fact that her parents were immigrants whose facility with English was either lacking or nonexistent. Her father demanded that she and her siblings speak in the national tongue and develop comfort with it. By the time she was in high school she was lauded by her teachers for having an imposing command of vocabulary, grammar, usage and punctuation. She had the eye of an editor and the ear of a college professor when it came to finding mistakes in sentence construction, spelling and pronunciation. I suppose that she passed this affinity for language down to me and my brothers because I never found it difficult to write and speak properly. I’d already had one of the best instructors at home.

We are accustomed to witnessing a certain level of refinement in both the orations and essays of our presidents. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is remarkable in its brilliance and the brevity with which it illuminates the rights of mankind. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is both moving and inspiring. We still quote John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan’s speech to the nation after the Challenger explosion was exactly the message that we needed to hear.  So it is with a certain level of consternation that we realize that President Donald Trump struggles with expressing himself in a coherent and intelligent manner. As long as he is reading a prepared document he is fine, but as soon as he is speaking off the cuff his deficiencies become all to apparent.

If I were attempting to help President Trump to improve his writing and speaking abilities I would first address his lack of an extensive vocabulary. We all overuse certain words and phrases but his limited stable of words is dramatic. He struggles to move beyond descriptors such as “big, biggly, huge, fantastic, really good, the best” and so on. His statements lose impact because he is so often at a loss for more edifying vocabulary.

The other problem that is perhaps the president’s major flaw is that he does not elaborate enough to clarify his remarks. He leaves so many ideas to be inferred that the imagination goes to notions that he probably never intended. Because of my background as a teacher I often find myself filling in the blanks of his utterances. I translate what he has actually said into what I believe that he has said. I suspect that I’m rather good at doing that because even when he is misunderstood and has to back track to explain himself I have usually been correct in my original assessment. The trouble is that not everyone takes the time to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt by attempting to discern what he may have meant, and so he finds himself causing a stir again and again. Usually he becomes so frustrated that he eventually hurls insults at those who have questioned him and his good intentions blow up in his face.

Another terrible habit that the president has is exaggeration. It goes to those favorite words of his and speaks loudly of his personality. He has to win, be the best, come out on top. Every oration becomes a power play reminding me of the child in the classroom who needs constant attention and adulation. Because President Trump demands to be the center of the universe he will even resort to lies at times just to appear to be more grandiose. I don’t understand how he thinks that we won’t recall what he has said in the heat of the moment. Like a child boasting on the playground he will resort to insult  if necessary just to be in control of the discussion. He uses words like weapons rather than healing agents. His art of the deal always seems to come down to an insistence on a “my way or the highway” kind of negotiation.

While some may find his ways of expressing himself refreshingly honest I see his mauling of language as an embarrassment. He is in such a powerful position that every word matters, and as of now he appears to be making far more enemies than friends. It may take years for the nation to recover from the trauma that he dispenses on a daily basis. Most of the damage he is inflicting need not happen if only he were to develop a more diplomatic tone, especially when attempting to comfort a Gold Star widow or when dealing with an allied nation.  He really does need to forget the chip on his shoulder and remember that none of what he does is about him. It should instead be about addressing all of us in a more honorable and selfless tone.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know when someone is pressuring me to accept his/her point of view. Sadly each time President Trump speaks I feel as though I am in the presence of someone who is desperately attempting to sell me a bill of goods. My brain almost instantly turns off when he becomes abusive or combative. What he says does not touch either my heart or my head and yet I have suspected for some time that somewhere inside the mangled thoughts that he professes there is actually a very good heart. I have seen flashes of his compassion and desire to please us, but until he sets aside his own needs for those of the country he will continue to stir controversy over utterances and tweets rather than actually getting things done. He somehow doesn’t realize or just doesn’t care that some of us want him to be successful, but simply can’t abide by the vindictive sound of his interactions with those with whom he does not agree.

I know that my advice to our president will fall on deaf ears. He is who he is, but I think he might be better. Other men and women have risen to the challenges of their moments in history and guided people with eloquence. Winston Churchill comes to mind when I think of someone who changed himself and saved a nation. His words became a buttress against tyrants. He momentarily set aside his own needs to become the voice of freedom and steadiness in a world gone mad. How I wish that President Trump would take a page from Churchill’s life and use his words to inspire rather than hurt. I don’t suppose that I will ever see that, but I can wish.

Imperfectly Perfect

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My husband had a saying that he often used whenever one of our children was struggling in some capacity, particularly at times when they had really made some major mistakes that appeared to be threatening their futures. He would invariably tell them, “You can’t be a failure at age (insert some number here)…” His wisdom became a kind of family mantra because no matter how old our girls became he would dust them off after they had mucked up plans and remind them that they were far too young to believe that they were irretrievably doomed because of questionable choices. As the digits marking their ages changed and grew into ever larger indicators of life on this earth he reminded them again and again that they still had opportunities to recover from decisions and actions that had not worked out so well. When one of them finally asked him to define the age at which it really was possible to be deemed a failure he winked and said that would probably be the day after never. In other words there is always a new moment for finding success, a time when the sun rises and we have the possibility of setting our courses aright once again.

We all have dreams. Sometimes through little fault of our own those visions change or even become impossible. Beating ourselves up because we finally realize that something in our lives that once seemed to be a holy grail is in reality a source of grave unhappiness is a form of personal self abuse. We should never feel trapped in a situation that quite simply isn’t working out as we had once expected. We’ve all been to beautiful weddings that were dripping with love and good intentions only to hear a few years later that the couple is getting a divorce. We have witnessed young students choosing college majors at the age of eighteen that seemed so right at the time, but developed into living nightmares along the way. We know of individuals who became so stressed by what they saw as their floundering lives that they turned to alcohol or drugs to mask their pain. Many of the social crises that we see in today’s world stem from honest mistakes that have grown so big in an individual’s mind that there appears to be no way out without shame and sorrow. In our embarrassment we withdraw deeper and deeper into ourselves and shun truths that are staring us in our faces.

I’ll admit that we are often a harsh and judgmental society that likes winners and tosses those we deem to be losers aside, but we still love a good story of salvaging a life gone astray. We admire the people able to stand up and redirect their futures. The phoenix is still a potent symbol for the act of rising from the ashes. We love Robert Downey Jr. because he managed to overcome life threatening addictions and reemerge as a popular and compassionate cultural icon. We adore President Jimmy Carter for openly admitting to his personal flaws and forgiving those who have trespassed against him. Each of us knows countless individuals who stumbled and fell only to eventually succeed beyond their wildest imaginations. Most of the time all we need do is gaze in the mirror to see such a person.

It is in our natures as humans to make mistakes, and so more often than not life becomes a serpentine journey filled with pitfalls, potholes and poor choices. It is actually quite rare to find someone whose entire existence has been fault free. Few roads are straight and narrow. Even St. Mother Teresa had moments of darkness in which she questioned her very faith in God and humanity. The key to her sanctity was not in living a trouble free existence but in being able to forgive both herself and the rest of mankind for being imperfect.

I am a great fan of the television program This Is Us. The writers have tapped into the realization that each of us is imperfectly perfect. We spend most of our lifetimes chasing after ideals rather than happiness. It often takes us a long long time to understand that all we need to feel really good is to accept ourselves with our warts and all, to realize that every person is wonderful and beautiful. Once we are able to be the individual that we believe we were meant to be the good feelings that we have inside spill over into everyone that we meet. Our confidence and abilities grow and grow and we become ever stronger and better versions of ourselves. Doing this takes forgiveness and a willingness to avoid the tendency of thinking that our inevitable mistakes have made us failures.

Of course we have to live amongst other people, many of whom have been so abused either by others or by themselves that they project their own feelings of inadequacy on us. We sometimes fall into the trap of believing them when they tell us that we are at fault or that we are somehow unworthy. They want us to be as miserable as they are, but we never have to loathe ourselves or stay in their orbits. It is not just okay but actually necessary that we leave such situations behind no matter how painful the extrication may be. Mostly we must remember that other people’s transgressions are not our own no matter how many times they attempt to blame us for their misery. One of the most difficult situations that we will ever encounter is the realization that we cannot save everyone that we meet, and that evil exists. The key is to leave behind relationships that hurt and demoralize without feeling that we have somehow failed.

As we journey through our lives we will falter again and again. Bad days will turn in excruciating weeks. Instead of beating ourselves up we only need to step back just long enough to chart a new course. We must learn how to ally ourselves with people who support us when we make hard but wise choices and don’t abandon us when we manage to muck things up.

We have a dearth of role models these days. We have a president who is prone to blaming everyone but himself for his troubles. We have watched a candidate for that same presidency fumble to find the answers as to why she failed to land the prize. Both of them are loathe to look inside their souls where the truth most certainly lies. They are unwilling to admit that they perhaps don’t possess all of the answers. They are as flawed as any of us, imperfectly perfect. Both are searching for confirmation of their worth in all the wrong places when what they need is the simple admission that they have sometimes been wrong. Those who learn to admit their flaws and love themselves nonetheless literally glow from the experience. It is a truly freeing experience.

The moral of the story is that we can’t be failures at any age as long as we keep trying. The reality is that there will be thousands upon thousands of “tries” in each life. We all must learn how to get back up again after our falls. It is one of the most important lessons that ever need to know. Once we grasp it everything changes. We know that we will encounter countless challenges along the road and we won’t always deal with them in the best possible ways. We will make messes. It is what we do. The key to the happiness we seek is to just keep moving no matter how many times we find ourselves climbing out of a pit once again. Soon enough each of us will a way to be imperfectly perfect.

The Horrors of War

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I’m a believer in the idea that learning should never end. I try to keep an open mind and gain new knowledge on a continuous basis. One of my favorite pastimes is attending continuing education courses at Rice University. This semester I allowed my husband Mike to choose the class that we would attend since he recently had a stroke and our social life has been somewhat restricted for the past three months. We haven’t been able to go on camping trips, and we had to forego our plans to travel to Colorado and Wyoming to view the total eclipse. I’ve tried to fill our time with local attractions and the Rice classes seemed to be just the ticket for us. Imagine my surprise when Mike decided that we needed to enroll in an offering that would address the war in the Pacific with Japan.

I have to admit that I was quietly disappointed that we would spend eight weeks gaining information on battles that had never been of much interest to me. Much like most people I had focused on the European theater of World War II rather than those fought on faraway islands and continents of which I knew very little. Since my main purpose was to keep Mike active, I nonetheless quietly agreed to sign on. I’ve been surprised at how interesting this course has turned out to be.

War is hell in any situation, but the one fought in the Pacific was particularly so. After the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States was in a tizzy. The nation had initially ignored the conflict raging in Europe and on the mainland of China and in the Pacific regions. Citizens tended to believe that that our best choice would be to remain neutral and isolated. The Japanese forced the issue with their attack and our situation was further exacerbated when Germany declared war on the United States. Whether we wanted involvement or not we were suddenly up to our necks in a need to react, and we were hardly ready for what lay ahead, especially in our early encounters with Japan.

We had a military primarily composed of officers who had fought in World War I. Our troops had to be hastily trained for an environment which most had never encountered. We were initially outmanned and outmaneuvered. The places where battles were fought were often tropical hell holes where disease created more casualties than warfare. Our soldiers battled malaria and dinghy fever in addition to Japanese soldiers willing to fight to the death for their emperor and their country. Our first forays were most often unsuccessful and peppered with defeat. It must have been truly horrifying to families far away in little towns in the center of the United Sates to try to understand what their sons and husbands and brothers were doing in those places that were so unknown to them.

Viewing a map of the Pacific during that time has helped me to understand what Japan was attempting to accomplish as well as illuminating the fear that must have been quite intense in places like the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, Alaska and the westernmost coastal states. I had often wondered why one of my uncles had been stationed in Alaska and now I know. I had heard of some of the terrible battles in the Pacific and had not understood their purpose, but now I do. Mostly I have a visceral sense of what had no doubt been the fears of people around the world during that era.

My mom often spoke of a man with whom she had been engaged before she met my father. She had loved him very much and she recalled her fears when he was sent to fight in the Pacific. He was killed in a battle on Saipan. It was apparent from the faraway look that she would get in her eyes that she never quite got over losing him. She often told me that nobody who was not alive at the time would ever be able to imagine the emotions that they had. It seemed as though everyone knew somebody who had died and virtually all of the young men had enlisted and were gone. It was a time of great struggle and sacrifice and uncertainty. It didn’t help when news arrived of the death of a loved one.

The Japanese were particularly fierce fighters in the tradition of the Samurai soldiers. They had already been battle tested before the United States entered the fray. They had planned to overtake a ring of fortifications in the Pacific to insure their dominance of the region. Their planes and their naval fleet were far better suited for the forays than ours initially were. But for a few tactical errors in the beginnings of the war they might of ended the conflict quickly. Luckily we had enough time to adapt to the conditions and ultimately learn how to fight in such foreign environments. We developed medications for our troops and improved the logistics for delivering supplies and reinforcements. Nonetheless the young men who were sent over there had to exist in the most horrific of situations. It is a wonder that they survived and eventually became victorious.

The lecturer delivering this series is a military man who was living with his parents in the Philippines when that country was invaded by the Japanese. As a child he was a prisoner of war. He eventually became a military historian and teacher at West Point. He saw much of what was happening in the Pacific up close and early on learned the importance of the Pacific and the intricacies of its many islands and territories. I suspect that the tensions of that time have only slightly eased as the modern day countries vie to protect their borders. A look at a map of the area vividly demonstrates the potential for dominance by a tyrant nation. It is in the interest of the entire world to keep the peace, because without it many would most certainly be in danger.

I knew men who fought in World War II and I mostly took their heroism and sacrifice for granted. It never really registered to me how horrible it must have been for my mother’s fiancee when he battled with a the Japanese in Saipan. In hearing the descriptions of such melees I have come to realize just how terrible they were. My interest in knowing more is now heightened. I don’t suppose that I will watch movies like Unbroken or Hacksaw Ridge with quite the same detachment again.

I don’t think that any of us take enough time to really learn about the intricacies of the battlefield. We tend to see such incidents as having little to do with our own existences. Perhaps if we were willing to face the horrors of the details we might be more inclined to find ways of bridging our differences rather than resorting to the violence of war. Through this class I have come to realize what it may have meant to be fighting for months just to hold onto a significant patch of ground that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. I have learned of the continual bombardments and the illnesses that fettered the attempts to protect places that may not have seemed particularly important, but were in fact key to turning back the aggressions of the enemy. I have to applaud the American people who stayed the course even when it appeared to be futile and gave of the treasure of their young men’s lives in a cause that did not always make sense.

I hate war in all of its forms but this class has shown me that sometimes we have no other course of action than to defend ourselves and our allies. For whatever reasons tyrants and those intent on evil seem to rise up again and again. Luckily we have heroes who push them back. It’s important that we learn as much about what they have done so that we might always honor them for their service.

#earnhistory

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My mom was from the generation that grew up listening to the radio. Back in the day people tuned in to hear programs filled with illusions built from sounds and words. The listening experience was glorious with pictures painted in the mind’s eye by announcers and actors with versatile and mellow voices. Since news stories did not include photos or films the reporters had to describe the scene and the best of them created gloriously graphic images that allowed listeners to feel as though they were on the scene. The best sportscasters managed to outlined each play in a game in such vivid detail that those who followed the broadcast might just as well have been sitting on the fifty yard line or behind home plate. It was a glorious era when ordinary folk got up close and personal with the happenings in the world from the comfort of their living rooms.

Mama especially loved Sundays because those were the days when her family honored the sabbath with visits to church, a special family meal and time to listen to favorite programs on the radio. They would gather around and be swept away into worlds of adventure, information and sports. Afterwards her father would hold family meetings in which he iterated character lessons for his brood of eight children. He insisted on honesty, hard work, frugality, ethical behavior and love of country and family. My mother would always refer to the beliefs that he had instilled in her and to those glorious Sundays when they paused from the labors of the work week to indulge in entertainment and sporting fantasies.

In my earliest years as a child the radio was still the center of information and enjoyment in our home. I recall listening to The Lone Ranger and Texas A&M football games with my parents. Eventually my father brought home a television in a lovely mahogany cabinet that replaced the radio as the center of our entertainment needs, but somehow my mom never quite lost her love for the radio. Thus it was that she developed a lifelong taste for certain programming that she followed inside her car or her bedroom. Chief among her regular habits was listening to the Houston Astros baseball games, which she rarely missed season after season. She knew the stats of all of the players and served as an armchair coach offering advice to the air as though the team might actually hear her suggestions. She cheered and rejoiced in their victories, keeping the faith that they were the best team in the country. Even in the lean times she was never willing to give up on her boys of summer and she loved them as though they were members of her own family. She rarely had the money to purchase a ticket to see a game in person, but she had her radio and it was religiously tuned to the games.

You would have thought that Mama was a personal friend of Milo Hamilton, the voice of the Astros for decades. She thought that he was a gifted announcer and she sometimes quoted his pronouncements. She especially enjoyed discussing the games with her grandsons, Shawn and Ryan, and seemed particularly proud that Ryan was named for pitcher Nolan Ryan who thrilled her during his tenure as an Astros pitcher. She knew so many details about each competition that one might have thought that she had actually been present rather than merely a listener. She was entranced by the Astros. They were her team, the one group that she followed with the fanaticism of a true believer.

When she came to live with me in the last year of her life she insisted on having a radio in her bedroom, which my brother Pat provided for her. It was tuned the the Astros station and she knew their schedule by heart. Day or night she dropped whatever she had been doing to lie on the bed upstairs and listen to the games. Sometimes we would hear her cheers or her groans and always she would follow up with a blow by blow commentary peppered with optimism and sound advice for the players. She treasured no gift more than a ticket to one of the games, but by her final year on this earth it had become increasingly more difficult for her to navigate in the vastness of Minute Maid Park. She would grow tired quickly and so her radio allowed her to fully enjoy her most treasured pleasure without requiring her to expend her limited energy.

On the last day of her life my mother remembered that the Astros were playing. When my nephew Ryan came to the hospital to say his goodbyes she insisted that we turn on the television in the ICU. Of course she was unable to speak because there was a ventilating tube in her mouth. She simply motioned toward Ryan as though she was pitching a ball and we all understood what she wanted. It was a touching and very appropriate moment and watching her eyes light up with delight as she shared a final game with Ryan made her final hours as perfect as such a time might ever be.

I’ve thought of my mom all season long as the Houston Astros have proven to be a dominant force in the game of baseball. She would have been oh so proud of them. I can’t even imagine how frenetic her cheering would have been as they brought home the pennant with so much class and style. I’d like to think that she has a home plate seat in heaven and that she and Milo Hamilton have been celebrating the Astros’ victories together. If heaven is indeed  a place where everything is perfect then there has to be Astros baseball there for my mom. I suspect that she has told my dad all about the team that had not even existed when he died and converted him into a fan as avid as she always was. Mostly though I am quite happy that the Astros are truly the team that she always believed they would be.

We’ve had some very hard times here in Houston this year. Many of our friends and neighbors and relatives are still picking up the pieces of their broken lives after hurricane Harvey. Our city has been wounded, but we proved ourselves to be strong. We’ve had a quiet nervous breakdown together and our emotions are still very close to the surface. We cry easily as we think of all that we have endured. Somehow our Astros have been part of the community glue that has kept us focused on rebuilding an even better future. We became the bullpen for our glorious athletes who have brought us so much joy. Somehow it is fitting that the Astros would emerge as the symbol of who we Houstonians are. We celebrate their victories as our own. There is a new determination in Houston as we wish our Astros well as they meet the Los Angeles Dodgers. We are fighters and so are they. We are not willing to give up on our town or its teams. Now the world understands who we are.