Always An Angel

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I’ll never forget a magical moment when my Aunt Claudia came to visit our home when I was still a very young child. She arrived in a Studebaker, a rather trendy car for the era. As she stepped from the passenger seat she resembled a movie star in her fitted white dress and high heels that emphasized her natural beauty. Her dazzling smile lit up her finely sculpted face and her eyes twinkled with a kind of delight for life. I was playing with a neighborhood friend at the time and when my buddy expressed her awe of the vision of my aunt I felt a tinge of unmitigated pride. Aunt Claudia was a rare beauty indeed and she had come to spend time with me, at least that’s how she made me feel.

My lovely aunt was a twin who had been named Wilma Elizabeth by her parents. Perhaps she grew weary of having her moniker mispronounced by people who did not realize that the W in the name was pronounced like a V, or maybe she just thought it would be fun to choose a name more befitting of her essence so she became Claudia. The new designation didn’t stick for long because her family gave her the nickname, Speedy, because she was an uncannily quick typist. While everyone else referred to her as Aunt Speedy, I always thought that Claudia was the name that suited her.

I adored everything about my aunt. She was incredibly bright and both able and willing to talk about quite interesting topics. I loved sitting with her because she never treated me like a child and she always made me feel wonderful about myself. Somehow we were always kindred spirits who understood one another in an almost psychic way. She would tell me that I was very much like her and I loved thinking that maybe it was true that I carried a bit of her intellect and personality in my veins.

Aunt Claudia had once been married to my father’s best friend, Bob. They lived in Corpus Christi, Texas in a thoroughly modern mid-century home that was filled with excitingly sleek furniture. One room of the house held a collection of exquisite rocks inside glass cases. I loved nothing better than viewing those samples of the earth’s variety but I was terrified of my aunt’s English bulldog, Thor Darling. Looking back I realize that Thor was just a very affectionate pup but at the time he overwhelmed me with his friendliness.

Aunt Claudia and Uncle Bob came to visit us in Houston quite often. I loved that they stayed at our house just down the hallway from my room, The two of them always took the time to do something fun with just me which always made me feel rather special. Sadly Uncle Bob died from melanoma before he was even thirty. I was in the first grade when it happened and I grieved so for my aunt. Joyfully she had a little daughter named Sandra to care for and she did so quite lovingly and without ever making me feel that I had lost our special relationship.

Eventually Aunt Claudia found love again with one of the nicest men that I have ever known. My new Uncle Bill was perfect for her and for our family. Aunt Claudia bloomed again in the warmth of his love for her and before long she had another child, a sweet baby boy who looked like a clone of his dad.

I didn’t see as much of my aunt after that. We both got busy living life. Nonetheless we always felt a special connection each time we were together. I rarely felt as wonderfully content as when I was with Aunt Claudia. She was my soul sister despite the difference in our ages.

Shortly after my first child was born my Aunt Claudia’s daughter died rather suddenly at the age of only sixteen. I literally felt her pain as I watched her weakly going through the motions of the funeral. I cried for her for so long without stopping that I felt sick but somehow she rallied with her characteristic strength and I was once again in awe of her and wanting to be just like her.

Time passed and tragedy struck again for Aunt Claudia when her beloved husband, Bill, died. Overtime she herself was weakened by osteoporosis, a disease that I would eventually share with her just as we had shared so many things. In spite of her own troubles she faithfully checked on my mother every single day with a phone call and an optimistic and loving patience with my mom’s bouts of mania that sometimes became ugly.

As Aunt Claudia grew old I continued to see her as the beautiful woman that she always was. I cherished every occasion that allowed us to be together and I watched her bravely fight the crippling effects of the disease that left her bound to a wheelchair. Somehow she managed to smile and have fun in spite of her pain. She loved to play cards and dominoes and eventually came to Houston to live with her twin sister.

She was quite frail and approaching the age of ninety five when her sister died a few months ago. We all worried and wondered if she had the wherewithal to keep going. On New Year’ Eve she breathed her last and joined the loved ones who had gone before her. I imagine them welcoming her when she flashed that beautiful smile of hers that was always so mesmerizing.

I have to admit that I am particularly bereft over losing her but somehow I still feel her encouragement surrounding me like armor. If I am truly like her I will bravely carry on just as she always did and I will be happy that she is reunited with so many of her loved ones. I can imagine her delight in seeing her daughter again and I’m certain that her husbands and siblings are overjoyed to be with her as well.

Vilma Elizabeth Claudia Speedy Ulrich Janosky Robinson has always been an angel. Now she will officially get her wings.

   

Her Wonderful Life

Jeanne

I vividly remember when I first met Jeanne. She was the kind of person who left a lasting impression on people and she definitely had that effect on me. I was about six or seven years old when my cousin, Leonard, brought his girl friend, Jeanne, to a family gathering at Clear Lake. She was a stunningly beautiful teenager with a mega watt smile and a confidence that made her an instant hit with my aunts and uncles. It wasn’t too long after that when she and Leonard were married providing me with my first encounter with what I thought of as the holy grail of true love.

Jeanne was undoubtedly one of a kind, a delightful spirit who found and gave joy wherever she went. She had a way of making everyone feel special and loved, and she always took time to let people know how much she cared about them. Even the smallest children knew that her interest in them was genuine. With her seemingly boundless energy she gave her heart and soul to every person who came her way. Her humble way of giving of herself guaranteed that she would become a favorite in our big extended family. It was not long before she was the person we felt most excited to see whenever she arrived at our events.

Jeanne and Leonard started a family of their own that grew and grew and grew filling their home with laughter and unmitigated love. Jeanne was at the center of the antics and delighted in planning raucous gatherings where fun and mischief were the order of the day. She was a premier hostess who literally chose her homes with entertaining in mind and understood the importance of having enough room to hold all of the love that was a constant presence in her life.

Jeanne was the bearer of so many gifts that she in turn generously lavished on her family and friends. She was a teacher, a woman of great faith. She was a light of optimism and a ray of hope. She humbly spread her kindness leaving no one untouched by her generosity. She loved to cook and she made preparing a feast for a crowd look easy to do. She danced her way through life grasping every possible opportunity to enjoy people and places and events. She built traditions that brought those that she loved together, hosting family annual reunions and scheduling week long camping trips at Garner State Park each summer.

Jeanne had a particularly amazing way of making each person that she encountered feel welcomed. Nobody in her presence went unnoticed. She took great pains to make everyone part of the fun that seemed to surround her like a halo. She possessed a charisma that made her unique and exciting but more importantly she maintained a quiet strength that was comforting. I found myself drawn to her just so that I might basque in the sunshine of her warmth.

Jeanne lived as full and meaningful life as anyone might desire. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, friend. She lived a simple life by choice but somehow everything she touched became extraordinary. She earned a college degree after her children were grown, proving to them that learning is a lifelong goal. She found ways to attend athletic events, band concerts, birthday parties, graduations and funerals with a faithfulness and sincerity that told people how important they were to her.

Jeanne had a beautiful heart but she was also an incredibly attractive woman with a flair for the flamboyant.. She loved bright colors that seemed to perfectly match her exciting personality. There were no grays and whites in her home or her way of living. Instead reds and oranges and deep blues shouted out her never ending joy and matched her ever present smile.

Jeanne left this earth last Friday. She had been very ill for some time. In her classic way she willed herself to remember others even as her health failed. She came to my fiftieth anniversary party with her oxygen tank and looking feeble, but still managing to have a glorious time. On Christmas Day she was surrounded by her huge family doing her best to laugh through the pain that had become her unrelenting companion. It was a fitting final act of love that was the definition of who she was.

Jeanne will be sorely missed. A great light in our lives seems to have gone away, but I believe that her impressions are so indelibly imprinted on our souls that we will always see and be guided by her example and her brightness. I agree with Jeanne’s granddaughter Madison who imagines her grandmother laughing and joking with Jesus and dancing with delight in her new heavenly home. She is waiting for us there, preparing a party for the time when we join her. For now we rejoice that her pain is no more and that she has so justly received her reward for living a truly wonderful life.

I saw a magnificent sunset not long after Jeanne died. Somehow I felt that it was a sign from her that we are supposed to continue to celebrate the beauty of life just as she always did. I know she would want us to embrace and comfort one another and find a way to dry our tears and carry on her traditions. She taught us well.

Let Your Light Shine

stars

There was a time when I dreamed of being famous. I imagined someone like Ellen or Oprah discovering my writing and asking me to appear on one of their shows. I thought of how wonderful it might be to have a grand following of readers who waited in anticipation of my next commentary. Once I thought things through I realized that I am a person who enjoys my anonymity. I like being able to blend in with a crowd and remain unseen. It allows me to be free to explore the world without worrying how I will be viewed. I don’t want the pressures of fame in which my every word and action is dissected and sometimes misinterpreted,

It used to bother me that I was somewhat invisible. I’m not the kind of person who catches the eye of the hosts on The Today Show even when I wait in line at six in the morning to get a good view of the show. Nobody throws beads at me in a Mardis Gras parade. I have to pick them up from the ground. I’ve been ignored in stores while waiting for help. I actually believe that I am so quiet and uninteresting looking that I don’t shine forth as someone who is outstanding in any particular way.

I’ve actually had teachers and professors tell me that they had to get to know me to realize that I had something worthwhile to say. One even admitted that his first impression of me was that I was dull. He apologized for getting thing so wrong. My appearance is that of common folk something that I used to hate but now seems like a kind of blessing because I can observe the world without interruption. In that role I get a window into truth. My ordinariness is a wonderful gift.

I don’t generally evoke jealousy. People feel comfortable around me because I don’t appear to be competition for attention or promotions or awards. I earn the kudos that come my way the good old fashioned way, with a great deal of hard work. Somehow I have reached a point of utter contentment in my life the allows me to celebrate who I am. I shine in the uncomplicated essence of my being.

Each person has something wonderful to offer the world, We have our stars who seem to outshine everyone around them, but it is often in the most humble ways that we find people who provide exactly what we need. I think of a lady in Arkansas who entertained me when I visited her with my grandmother. She lived in a tiny home devoid of decoration or modern convenience and yet she made us feel so welcome and so special. She was a great and beautiful person even though her circumstances were difficult beyond anything that I had ever before witnessed.

As humans we spend our lives attempting to find our true purpose in life when sometimes it is in the smallest of things that bring great joy into the world. The nurse who lovingly tucked me in with a warm blanket on the night after my surgery had a smile and an aura of kindness that I shall never forget. The neighbor who rescued frightened children from a terrible tragedy while the rest of us sat back and watched will always be a hero to me. The woman who sang like an angel at my wedding means more to me than a Grammy winning artist. It is indeed true that we each shine at something without even realizing the impact that we have on others.

The truth is that every person is extraordinary and it’s important that we let everyone see the light that illuminates them. Too many live with a feeling of worthlessness, never understanding the beauty that is theirs and theirs alone. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone to see their own greatness, especially when that individual does not realize the wonder that lies within. Many lives have changed for the better simply because someone saw their potential. They no longer had to wonder why they were ever sent to this earth.

I have many talents that I have attempted to cultivate for the betterment of mankind. My impact has been small but as my influence on others is paid forward the rewards become incremental. It is not in fame and fortune that we find our true identity but in the impact that we have on family, friends, acquaintances. We never really know if a smile, a bit of help, or a wise word will help to reshape a life, but we should act as though it will. It’s unwise to dwell on what we don’t have. Instead if everyone understood what was best about them and then shared that talent or trait we would all be the better. Let your light shine. Someone needs exactly what you have to offer.

Merry Christmas

Christmas

It’s Christmas Day! Few people will be reading a blog this morning but nonetheless I will offer my take on this glorious holiday. It is rather incredible that so many are celebrating the birth of a child who came into this world over two thousand years ago. He grew into a remarkable man with a simple but profound message that we should always strive to love one another This was the essence of his teaching, something that we all too often forget as we focus on rules for behavior and judgements of those who don’t comply with our own beliefs.

From the humble beginnings of that baby boy came a ray of hope that has transcended time. Whether or not we accept him as the Son of God there is great power in the example of compassion, sacrifice and forgiveness that he gave us. His words resonate in any time just as they have for thousands of years. Celebrating his birth is fitting, but more important is following his commandment to love.

If there is one gift that we should offer on this day it should be understanding even of those who drive us to the brink with what we view as faulty thinking. None of us have a corner on the love of Jesus of Nazareth. He offers it to all just as he wants us to also do.

So enjoy this day and remember the true founder of the feast even it you think he was little more than a very nice man. We should call this holiday Christmas because it would not be here without him. We have yet to fulfill the crux of his teachings. Perhaps one day we will get beyond the frailties of our humanity and bring the light of his love into the world for all to feel.

Merry Christmas!

Each New Day

new day

I have reveled in my retirement from work, but I still have the urge and the energy to keep myself busy. I try to stay active because I’ve witnessed the times when people that I know became unable to get around like they once did. Admittedly I find it difficult to stay still due to a personality that is always pushing me to continue making a difference in the world. I still operate from a general routine which I swore I would never do once I dropped out of the daily rat race. Some habits are difficult to eliminate.

Nonetheless I enjoy my mornings the most. I used to hate the sound of the alarm clock announcing that I had to get a move on lest I be late for work. Now it is my internal clock and my bladder that push me out of bed in the early morning hours. If I try to catch a few more Zs I end up with a headache and dreams so goofy that they are disturbing, so I just rise and enjoy the quiet when the silence is only broken by the sounds of the birds and people beginning their daily treks. I brew some tea and sit in my front room reading about what happened while I slumbered.

I write five days each week as a kind of meditation. I challenge myself to put the random thoughts that run through my head on paper in a cohesive and meaningful form. It’s an exercise that I so enjoy and one for which I rarely had time in my teaching days. Back then I had to be out of the house by six thirty and then I would spend as much as an hour or more commuting to the campus where I worked. My mind was never ready for such a hurried and raucous start to the day and so I despised every aspect of the early hours. Being forced out of my home without time to sit quietly was horrific. Now I luxuriate in the moments that I have with my thoughts.

I’ve never been able to completely get away from working with young people. I still tutor seven students from nearby and I glory in being able to do so. They delight me with their optimism and honesty. I gain as much from them as they get from me. I find children to be a delightful diversion from the seriousness of the world. They keep me hopeful and challenge my brain to continue working. I look forward to my weekly visits with them and fill in my academic longings with tutoring sessions with my grandchildren.

As I have become older I have found more and more solace in attending church each Sunday. I look forward to my weekly pilgrimage when my heart and soul are filled with a sense of calm simply from being in the house of the Lord along with other people who have become so special to me. I never fail to leave feeling refreshed and somehow a bit more at peace.

I don’t need much to be happy these days. I have begun to take great delight in the most ordinary aspects of life. I now have the time to be more available for the people that I love. I enjoy a wave from a neighbor, a cute photo of someone’s child, a joke that makes me laugh from my belly. I get to read more and watch ridiculous television programs without feeling guilty. I do silly things like dressing up in costume for a party or festival. I don’t want excitement anymore. Serenity is the companion that I cultivate.

I have become more in tune with myself and with the people that I know. I enjoy celebrating their victories, milestones, and happiness. At the same time I don’t shy away from helping them through challenges and losses. I’ve finally learned how to really listen and hear the individuals who mean so much to me. I now have all the time that they may need. It feels wonderful to be able to embrace friendships without the obligations of work pulling me away.

I explore new ideas and challenge myself to remain open minded even when people’s beliefs differ greatly from my own. I have become a defender of the individual right to think about the world from differing points of view. I have lowered my blood pressure considerably by understanding that I don’t need to argue or judge or turn my back on someone just because he/she disagrees with me on matters of politics or religion. To each his own has become the gold standard of my reaction to such things.

My life is quiet, routine, relaxed. I know who I am and I really like myself. I have a group of wonderful friends, a loving spouse and an incredible family. None of us are without our flaws but I love all of us just the same. What more might I want? I go with whatever flux and flow enters my life and find ways to stay content. I look forward to each new day and the possibilities that it brings.