The Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I have a friend who lost her baby boy shortly after he was born. It was an incredibly sad and gut wrenching time for her and her family, but she somehow managed to find great courage and a noble spirit from deep inside her soul during the frightening time when her child fought to stay alive. Her acts of love in the little boy’s final moments were touching, inspirational and heart breaking to all of us who know her. In a beautiful act of remembrance this devoted mother has never forgotten her baby boy who would have been six years old had he lived, a child who might have been entering first grade and embarking on educational and athletic adventures. With each passing year the family holds a celebration of his brief life with a visit to his gravesite and a birthday cake marking the passing of time during which they have never forgotten the blessings that he brought them with his very condensed life. This year was no exception, and my darling friend recorded the tradition with photos on Facebook and a lovely story that seemed to make the occasion even more special than ever.

This woman is a school administrator, and this is a very busy time of year for her thus she had waited until the last minute to purchase a little birthday cake to commemorate her angel son. When she went to the bakery at the grocery store that she frequents the cake decorators had all gone home for the day. The only available cakes were generic and she wanted so much to have her little boy’s name written on the confection. When she told her story to the employees they went into action determined to grant her request, even though none of them had ever written with icing before. They scurried around until they had found the frosting and the tools that they needed, and practiced scribing before finally feeling confident enough to place the baby’s name on the cake of remembrance. It was a moment of shared love and respect between strangers who had come to understand one another all because of a little boy whose life, however brief, had somehow transformed his family and friends.

Life can be glorious if we open ourselves to it, and my friend has certainly done that. She understands perhaps a bit better than many of us that we have to embrace and experience every possible second of the beauty of our existence. She has turned her hurt and pain into a model of compassion for everyone that she encounters. Her caring spirit is so apparent that she impacts people wherever she goes. She has learned through tragedy how truly important people and relationships are. She cherishes each precious second of every day, and turns her world into a moveable feast of joy.

We humans sometimes have a tendency to lose faith and bathe ourselves in anger and jealousy. We compare our lot to others and often find ourselves lacking, so we brood over our desire for things that we believe that we too should have. Rather than finding ways to enjoy what is present, we seek more and more. Sometimes that quest actually binds us to a never ending search for satisfaction that makes us anxious and unfulfilled. We somehow never stop long enough to take stock of the most wondrous aspects of our lives, and so we fret and worry and become convinced that we have somehow been battered by unfairness.

Our real riches are always found in those profound moments when we are able to connect in an almost spiritual manner with the people around us. The Sunday afternoon visit of a grandchild delighting us with her uncomplicated curiosity and discovery is worth more than a bag of gold. Hearing her laugh and observing her openness to the world reminds us of how we too should live. We feel the innocence and love that she radiates so unconditionally and we know that there is still great hope for the world, even in the darkest hours.

I suspect that those employees who went out of their way to help a mom who had experienced one of the most difficult losses that anyone must endure left work on that day feeling as though they had been given a special gift. They understood that somehow they had made a difference to my friend and her family, and that kind of feeling is the stuff of which our greatest joys are made. At the end of any day each of us needs to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, so we should always be open to the possibilities that are always there. The way we choose to react from moment to moment provides us with the opportunity to truly embrace life and the people that we encounter. If we smile rather than frown, strive to help rather than hinder, love rather than hate we make the changes that will ultimately bring us the happiness that we seek.

My dear friend has taken great sadness and disappointment and turned it into an act of supreme love. She has shown us all how to value and remember even the briefest moments of joy. She might have been bitter and enraged over the loss of her beautiful child, but she has instead transformed her hurt and pain into a beautiful lesson for all of us. the dragon fly has become her personal symbol of her angel child. Like that graceful and delicate insect, little Jhett was not long for this world, but in his brief time on earth he gave so much joy to those who loved him. Because of the realizations that came to my friend as she held that tiny baby in her arms she has gone beyond the superficialities of life and understands its deeper meanings. With elegance and grace she dazzles all of us with the clarity with which she has learned to view life by living so fully in the moment and appreciating every second of every day. We might all learn from her and begin to treasure what has always been all around us without our ever noticing. 

   

Celebrating a Life

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Many years ago an acquaintance of mine asked me to watch her mother while she ran an errand. I was somewhat surprised by the request because up until that moment I had not realized that my friend was the sole caretaker of an invalid parent. Still I agreed to help her, and so I travelled the few short blocks to her house. There I found a home that had been reconfigured to meet the needs of a wheelchair bound individual. A homemade ramp led to the front door and much of the furniture inside had been moved to the perimeters of the rooms to allow enough space for the chair to move freely. There was a station that contained medical supplies at the ready and a bottle of oxygen stood in the corner of the living area. One of the bedrooms housed a hospital bed and the bathtub had been converted to a walk-in model with handrails and a permanent seat bolted to the floor.

I was stunned to see the extent to which my friend had redone her home to accommodate her mother’s needs. After sitting with ailing mother for a couple of hours I also realized just how much my neighbor’s role as a caretaker dominated her life. I realized that watching an invalid as ill as the old lady was akin to looking after a baby. I had not even a minute to myself, and I was exhausted and more than ready to leave by the time my friend returned.

I developed a new admiration for my friend on that day. She had been responsible for her mother for many years, but up until then I had not understood how isolated her duties had made her, nor how much time and patience she had devoted to her mom. I marveled at how upbeat and positive she was as well. Never once had I heard her complain about her responsibilities. In fact, she always indicated that she viewed her job as a privilege, an opportunity to repay her mother for a lifetime of sacrifices.

My friend’s mother died not long after I my brief time of watching her. It was then that I learned what a vibrant woman the elder woman had been in her prime. I suspected that she had passed down her energy and optimism to her daughter, a bright light in our circle who was known throughout the neighborhood for her generosity. I had to admit that I would not have been as willing to completely reconstruct my life the way that my buddy had done for her parent. I always stood in awe of her but never got around to voicing the deep respect that I had for her. Eventually our lives took us in different directions and I lost track of her, but she has been one of the most inspirational individuals that I have known to this very day.

I often wonder why we humans are so reluctant to voice our compliments for one another. We tend to get so caught up in our daily routines that we never quite get around to saying the things that we are thinking. Time passes. Things happen, and before we know it our opportunities are gone. It makes me wonder how many people never receive the praise that is due them simply because we humans tend not to prioritize expressing our feelings.

I remember once seeing a comedy in which friends of a dying cancer victim staged a surprise party in which they one by one expressed the thoughts that they might otherwise have reserved for comments at her funeral. I felt that it was a grand idea and have wondered why we don’t do such things more often. Perhaps we worry that it will seem macabre or that it will take away the hope of someone who is fighting to stay alive. Perhaps we are just a bit superstitious about doing such things. At any rate  we always seem to wait until the person who should be the object of our appreciation is no longer around.

My brothers and I decided to give our mother a surprise party on her eightieth birthday. One of my daughters had the idea of getting everyone write letters in which they told Mama how they felt about her. It was a glorious celebration and one that I’m so happy that we decided to do. While we had thought that our mom would live well into her nineties, she actually died fours years later. I have often reflected on how sad it would have been if she had never read all the accolades that people sent to her. She kept the letters in a beautiful album and she read them over and over again. It was a fitting tribute for a great woman that might not have occurred had we not been in a party mood and used her birthday as an excuse to celebrate.

We have roasts for celebrities and special events to honor the famous, but we rarely do the same for those unsung heroes who work so hard but rarely receive praise. We should take more time to bring a bit of joy and recognition to special people that we know. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. We might invite a few good friends or family members to a potluck dinner and then surprise the individual whom we are honoring. Think of how wonderful such events might be. I suspect that it would make everyone involved feel good.

One of my cousins recently died. The outpouring of love and respect for him at his funeral was amazing. I’m certain that he saw what was happening from his heavenly perch, but I also think of how much more wonderful it might have been if we had all gathered to tell him goodby and to make those same speeches while he lay dying. He had told us that his time was almost gone. We knew what his fate would be, and yet so many of us held back our stories and the true extent of our love for him until he was gone. While I suppose that our comments at his wake helped his family, I know that he would have enjoyed hearing them for himself. Who wouldn’t want to know how much people care?

We need not limit our praise parties for those who are ill, or dying, or old. We can just agree that someone that is quite special deserves to be an honoree. Our fetes might be large or intimate. It doesn’t matter how spectacular are efforts are as long as we get those feelings out in the open where they belong rather than hidden away in our hearts. So get busy now and begin the process of sharing your admiration and gratitude. Even if it is only a phone call, a note or a card your words of tribute need to be heard. Someone who is special to you is just waiting to learn what you have to say.

A Not So Honorable Guest

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I’ve been quite good about leaving politics out of my blogs of late. After all who really cares what I think about such things? Most people enjoy their freedom to have their voices heard in the ballot box, but not so much in public discourse. Our thoughts about government tend to be a private thing. Just as with religion most of us don’t care to mix our work and play with our deepest political thoughts. I do believe, however, that from time to time we are remiss if we do not speak out when we sense that a wrong has taken place. After all, the silence of otherwise good people allowed the concentration camps to flourish under Adolf Hitler’s rule. Certainly those who knew what was happening feared for their own lives and thus kept quiet, but what if large numbers of people had spoken out en masse? Would the horrific murders have continued? How many individuals working together are needed to stop injustice? Didn’t the civil rights movement of the sixties teach us that there is power in united voices? When does the time come to ignore the consequences and stand up and be counted?

I’ve not been shy about admitting that I am not a fan of President Donald Trump. Nonetheless I have been very respectful of those who earnestly believe that he will bring some good to our country. I have also noted that I generally think that it is best to support our leaders. Thus I have been silent for the most part even as I worried about the state of the union with such an amateurish individual as its chief executive. I mostly ignore the tweets and rants and firings and faux pas from our POTUS, but he recently did something that really bothers me.

It’s no secret that I have dedicated the greater part of my life to working with young people. Our future depends on helping them to develop principled lives. It is our duty as adults to model the traits that will help them to be successful as humans. We must help them to understand the value of honesty, loyalty, hard work, compassion, and such. I have learned that the only way they will listen is by observing our character in action. For that reason I have always counseled other adult leaders to walk the walk of their talk. It is imperative that we demonstrate the values that we want our children to have.

I have four grandsons who have learned some incredible lessons through their participation in the Boy Scouts of America. Two from them earned the rank of Eagle Scout and the other two are in the process of reaching that distinction. They follow the example of their father who is as upstanding as anyone that I have ever known. He has taught his sons to be young men of the highest integrity, mostly because they have seen him in action day after day. Membership in the Boy Scouts has enhanced the foundation upon which their character has been built, and has provided them with opportunities to be leaders. Our family has been very pleased and proud of the wonderful experiences that scouting has given them.

Thus it was with profound displeasure that I learned of President Trump’s speech at the annual Boy Scout Jamboree. It is traditional for the President of the United States to address the gathering or send a representative to do so. It has historically been understood that this speech is supposed to inspire the scouts to become their best selves. It is not meant to be a political opportunity. In the past those who have spoken have understood this quite well and made the occasion an enjoyable one for the young people. Enter Donald Trump who chose to bring his own personal politics and travails front and center. While he eventually settled into a more traditional celebration of the goals of scouting, he found it necessary to make digs about his predecessor, Barack Obama, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the press. To the dismay of many his remarks even encouraged some of the boys to boo and cheer.

His speech should be an embarrassment for both him and the Boy Scouts. His politics besmirched the unity and purpose of the occasion and caused many to question the role of scouting, which is a genuine travesty given that so many who participate hold political views that are diametrically opposed to his. It was a very uncomfortable moment that should never have happened. If the young men learned anything it was that one need not hold fast to time honored principles to get ahead in this world, and that is a tragedy. President’s Trump total disregard for the spirit of the Jamboree is unforgivable.

I’ve held my tongue until it is black and blue from the tooth marks that I have left on it. When will this man begin to show respect for the people of this country and quit worrying so much about himself? His immaturity and petulance is embarrassing and only appears to grow worse each day. If he really desires to make America great again, the first change that he needs to make is within himself. Sadly it’s unlikely that a seventy something year old man is capable of a character makeover. I can’t help but wonder what kind of horrible message he is sending to the young people of our country, and I find myself thinking that if he can’t control himself then perhaps it is up to the rest of the adults in the room to remind the kids that we shouldn’t act the way he does. In imparting that advice I intend to include myself, which is why I feel the necessity of stating loudly and clearly that he was and has been very wrong in his behavior over and over again.

It is one thing to be brave and strong in the face of injustice. We need our fighters for they are the ones who have set us aright throughout history. It is another to just be a loudmouthed and selfish braggart, which is the impression that President Trump is leaving wherever he goes. It is not good for our nation and it is heartbreaking to me that there appears to be little hope that he will rise to the requirements of the job and begin to show a semblance of dignity.

I hope that the Boy Scouts of America will not suffer too much backlash from the fiasco that recently transpired. In spite of fits and starts here and there it is still an amazing organization. It’s too bad that someone who had the power to inspire instead chose to inject so much whining and negativity into what should have been a grand moment. I hope that the leaders and the parents take the time to let the boys who were present know that scouting is not about backbiting, complaining or boasting. There are lessons that might be learned even from such a negative event. If on the other hand nothing is said the lasting impression may result in unintended consequences that will not be good either for the boys or for the organization. I sincerely pray that this is handled properly.

All of us have had childhood experiences with adults who should have been better than they were. We took note of their bad behaviors and in many cases did our best not to repeat them. This is my wish for the scouts. They have just witnessed how a true leader does not act when he/she is an honored guest at a special occasion.

Music of Angels

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I was more than excited about having tickets to see Hans Zimmer in concert. I have enjoyed his soundtracks for years. I purchased the first one after watching the movie Greencard. Since then I’ve added The Last Samurai, Blackhawk Down, Sherlock and so many others to my collection of his works. Each of them is unique and captures the essence of the movie in which it was featured. Since I was going to attend the musical event in the company of my husband, daughter and two grandsons, I was even more excited about the evening, especially since my husband had suffered from a stroke after I had purchased the tickets. I thought it would be a grand way to celebrate life, but I expected to sit in the audience listening politely to some of my favorite music with perhaps a film clip or two to go along with the hits. I had no idea how much more wonderful the experience would actually be.

The concert began with Hans Zimmer entering the stage under a lone spotlight. He sat down at an upright piano and began playing. Slowly other musicians began to join him, adding a bit more interest to the tune. One by one they entered and the depth of the music increased until there was a full orchestra and a choir with the entire stage lit in cadence with the amazing sounds. It was one of the most musically exciting things that I have ever witnessed. It demonstrated the power of a single melody to expand with the help of multiple instruments and intricate arrangements. It was like a lesson in the development of a soundtrack or a symphony. I found myself almost imagining the workings of Mr. Zimmer’s mind as he develops the wondrous music that enhances so many movies. He manipulated our interest and our mood with the help of remarkably talented individuals who have worked joyfully with him for decades.

I was particularly taken by his use of amplified instruments to enhance the normal orchestral implements. There were guitars, violins and cellos all amped up and making the most incredible sounds. To use a terrible pun it was quite electrifying. I was particularly enchanted by an Asian woman playing an electric cello. She was wildly enjoying her work so much so that I was enchanted by her. The audience would learn that she has been playing since the age of three and that she practices for eight hours every day. Such dedication to a craft is almost unimaginable but it has paid off for her.

The concert featured some of Hans Zimmer’s most popular works including music from The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Angels and Demons, Interstellar, Inception, Driving Miss Daisy and many more. With lighting designed to operate in time with the music it was a very interactive evening, and I was thrilled beyond anything that I hoped to see and hear. I swear that I actually felt the music on my skin and I’m certain that my seat was vibrating from the sounds. I know that there were moments when I became so emotionally involved with the music that I felt almost breathless. I even joked that some of the music was of the type that I imagined I might hear as I enter heaven one day. At least I hope that it will be that lovely!

After the concert I read an interview with Hans Zimmer in our local newspaper. He mentioned that he was concerned that so many orchestras worldwide are losing money and audiences. He fears that we may one day see the demise of such local musical troupes because they have failed to capture the interest of younger audiences. They struggle just to keep the older folks in the seats. He suggested that the orchestras employ more fun and innovation in their presentations, and he believes that the people will then come. He noted that the composers of the past were often way ahead of their time. They experimented with music and created new forms. It was the excitement of their compositions that made them famous. Now we seem to simply offer stale copies of their inventiveness. He urged musicians to instead be more daring as he has tried to be.

I completely agree with his analysis because I found his presentation to be so stunningly exciting that I would have stayed for hours more if only his musicians had continued to play. The concert hall was filled with people of every age group and everyone appeared to be enchanted. My grandsons who are college age were as taken by the concert as my husband and I who are in our sixties. The affair spoke to the genius of humans and their ability to create sounds that both please and tell a story. The level of brilliance and musicianship was astounding and mesmerizing.

As people we have incredible creative talents. What we have achieved scientifically and medically is a testament to our intelligence. It is in the arts, however, that we truly demonstrate an aspect of our essence that goes beyond utility. We enjoy art for arts sake, for our pleasure. Our ability to fill our environment with sights and sounds that elevate the human spirit is what truly makes us different from the animals. We take words and string them together in beautiful combinations. We draw lines and curves to create visions from our souls. We use sounds blended together to intensify our stories and our moods. We use our voices and play instruments crafted out of wood and metal and strings. What we have done is so amazing if we really stop to think about it.

I can’t imagine living in a time in which there were few opportunities to hear the best music from the finest composers. Because of our inventiveness anyone has the opportunity to listen to the sounds of angels wherever they may be. It is a gift that I enjoy and cherish every single day. I wonder that we don’t seem to fully appreciate such miracles born of our creativity.

Some seem to believe that we are teetering on a precipice as people. I happen to think that as long as we continue to celebrate and enjoy music and art in its many forms we will maintain our humanity. Music is universal. It brings us together without a need for translation. It speaks to each of us and burrows into our very souls.

As a new school year approaches I find myself thinking of a child will picking up a cello and brimming with excitement upon plunking the strings and creating music for the first time. Perhaps that youngster will one day be entertaining all of us. I can’t wait to hear from him/her. We so badly need such souls in our midst, so I hope we will be careful when making cuts to education. I can’t imagine anything more thoughtless than using arts programs as a way of saving money. We truly need our most creative individuals to keep us centered. It is in our natures to desire enrichment of our imaginations. Bravo to the musicians, singers, dancers, artists, and actors who make our world all the more beautiful with their gifts. Like Hans Zimmer I truly hope that we don’t lose any of them.

Life Is Always Now

240_F_46669875_qRWK0dnz12vE8MCZGcrMX1I1GR6UCF3tI often wonder how people find the links to interesting articles and blogs that pop up on Facebook now and again. If there is something intriguing about the title I am prone to take the bait and actually read some of them. Not long ago one of my cousins who thinks very much like me posted an entry from a woman named Maria Stenvinkel who discussed ten things that she would do differently if she had the opportunity to relive her life. One of her ideas was that “life is always now, not tomorrow or next week.”

That particularly struck me because like most people I often put things off until it is too late. I suppose that it is a bit of a family trait. I had a grandmother who hoarded her Christmas presents. Instead of using the lovely gifts that her children and grandchildren brought her each year she saved them for a rainy day. Sadly upon her death many of them were still in their original packages. No doubt her life of economic want had made her cautious, but it was sad to think that she so often wore raggedy old dresses when beautiful new ones were stored away in her closet.

On our fortieth anniversary my husband Mike bought me a lovely leather jacket with a fox fur collar in Estes Park Colorado. I’ve only worn it a few times thinking that I needed the perfect occasion. I’ve lately thought of a friend who owned a full length fur that she used on every cold day whether she was wearing jeans or a designer dress. She was so relaxed in that beautiful garment that she would throw it across the back of a chair as though it was just made of plain cloth. She used the heck out of it and thus really enjoyed having it. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for me to be less like my grandmother and a bit more like my friend. This winter I plan to wear my coat even on ordinary days.

We purchase china and then store it away in a cabinet for use on special occasions only. Why not take it out in the middle of the week and enjoy it out on the patio? So what if we accidentally break a piece. There’s little point in owning it if we never use it. It will just be something for people to deal with once we’re gone.

The same is true of following those dreams. I’ll never forget an older man that Mike once carpooled with to a downtown bank. Almost every day he told Mike of the places that he would eventually go once he had retired. He hardly ever took a day off and sometimes let some of his vacation time go to waste. He was focused on reaching that glorious day when he would no longer have to go to his job rather than taking advantage of the leisure time that he had. Sadly he died only days after he retired, never to see all of those wonderful places that had so filled his imagination.

Life can be filled with regrets and thoughts of “if only” when we constantly plan for the future rather than doing our best to enjoy today. We simply have no idea what tomorrow will bring, so seizing our todays whenever possible really is the thing to do. If we have thought of telling someone how much we admire them, why do we wait? Why don’t we just pick up the phone right now or at least dash off a quick note or an email? I wonder what compels us to be so conservative in the use of our time. We all know that it is limited. None of us will live for eternity. What are we waiting for?

For years I had spoken of earning an advanced degree but never quite got around to getting started. I was all talk and no action until my brother one day left a university catalog and all of the paperwork for applying in my mailbox. I was too embarrassed not to follow through and before long I had been accepted and was signing up for my first classes. It proved to be an exhilarating adventure that ultimately lead to the degree that I had wanted, not to mention better job opportunities. Without his less than subtle push I doubt that I would have ever done more than just blather on about what I wanted to do.

Sometimes it is fear of the unknown that compels us to procrastinate. We worry too much about what might happen if we try or say something daring. Even when we are less than happy or excited about our current state of affairs we often would rather remain in a state of boredom and unhappiness that take risks. We think that we might fail and so we do nothing.

Every single time that I have taken a leap of faith it has turned out to be magnificent. There was even an occasion when I was asked to teach a class for mathematics educators at Rice University. I was terrified of the very idea but my co-teacher insisted that I would be just fine. At one point I had to admit to her that I was just not up to speed and that I felt lost. Instead of thinking ill of me she patiently tutored me and in the end I felt quite confident and proud that I had actually accomplished something that scared me.

My husband has been told not to sit in a chair all day since having his stroke. We sometimes live our lives as though we don’t have the strength to move when being stationary is actually bad for our health. The only way that we remain vital is by constantly living each day to the fullest and remembering to enjoy whatever we have with gusto.

Like Ms. Stenvinkel I have learned that life should always be now. It is important that we squeeze every moment out of every day. We need to use our nicest things, voice our compliments, do whatever we have always dreamed of doing. Waiting for tomorrow or next week when we have opportunities today will cause us to miss some of the best moments of our lives. So get up and get started right now.