When In The Course Of Human Events

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July 4th is a national holiday celebrating our country, but mostly recalling the unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America. I believe that it is worth reading and studying the entirety of the actual document conceived and written by our nation’s founders. At least once each year it is incumbent upon us to carefully consider their words to determine whether or not we are living up to their courage and intentions. Take a few minutes to consider the meaning and importance of this document and then decide how to perform your own personal duties as a citizen of these now fifty united States of America. 

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

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Happy Birthday!

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My mother loved birthdays with the enthusiasm of a child. She was the youngest in a family of eight, growing up during the Great Depression. There wasn’t enough extra income for gifts or even special meals or desserts, so she and her siblings always received a nickel from their father on the occasion of becoming one year older. Mama always said that she like to take her new found wealth to a bakery nearby where she was able to purchase a big bag of broken cookie pieces that she swore were just as good as the ones that remained intact. As the years passed by she and her brothers and sisters would faithfully send a birthday card to one another that always contained a nickel taped inside. I sometimes sensed that she enjoyed that tradition even more than the more expensive gifts that she received.

Today would have been Mama’s ninety second birthday. She often bragged that she and Queen Elizabeth were born in the same year, and somehow that fact made her feel a kind of kinship with the monarch of England. She noted that they shared a kind of resemblance as well, along with the fact of having their first born children in the same year as well. My mother always alerted us to the Queen’s birthday as a kind of hint that hers was on the way.

She was a stickler for celebrating her natal day at the time of its actual place on the calendar. She didn’t like the idea of waiting until the weekend, so even if we planned a party for her when everyone would be able to attend, my brothers and I still had to make a big deal on the correct date. I suppose that’s why I still think about her on June 27, even though it has now been seven years since she died. I think it would please her to know that we have not forgotten how special this day always was for her. In fact, we decided after she was gone that we would gather at her favorite restaurant each year to raise a toast in her honor. As it happens the place we chose is the Cracker Barrel in League City where she spent many a happy time enjoying the homey atmosphere and the kind of cooking that she might have prepared herself.

In an effort to look after our mother while she was still alive my brothers and I agreed to visit her at least once a week on different days. She usually wanted to go out to eat when we arrived, and sometimes she was even waiting eagerly on a bench that stood on her front porch whenever we drove up. That’s how excited she was about getting out of the house, but that was not the case on her birthday. On that day she wanted all of us to come to see her at one time so that it was like a party. She put me in charge of providing the cake, ice cream and candles. She preferred German chocolate or devils food cake, but she was always okay with a change of flavor. God forbid, however, that I would forget to bring the ice cream or the candles. Those things had to be done just right.

She was exceptional at providing us with festive birthdays even when her income was sorely stretched. She made a habit of shopping all year long and setting aside things that she had found on sale. Her gifts were always quite practical and long lasting, but most of all thoughtful. She was sure to come knocking at the door bearing all of the trappings of a big to do, even as we grew older. I never knew how she managed to be so generous, but I always understood that for her a birthday was supposed to be special no matter the circumstances.

When Mama turned eighty we decide to give her a surprise party. We had little idea at the time that she would die less than five years later. We only knew that we wanted to make her day bigger and better than ever. We sent out invitations to everyone in her stable of friends and family, and they all came. My home was crowded with people who loved her and were excited by the idea of letting her know how they felt about her. They had written letters to her that we placed in an album. We huddled anxiously as she walked up to the door and shouted with delight upon her entrance. She cried tears of unmitigated joy and bore the expression of a delighted child as she opened each gift and read each card.

We all miss my mom. She was the heart of the family and a continual source of fun and laughter. She suffered more than most with the loss of her husband at the age of thirty. Her loneliness, lack of income, and mental illness pushed hard to defeat her spirit, but she battled long and courageously to avoid defeat. Somehow no matter what else was happening in her life, she always rallied on her birthday. It was as though that occasion gave her new energy, new joy, a new beginning again and again.

We’ll be going to Cracker Barrel tonight. Not everyone comes each year, but I do my best to keep my calendar clear so that I will be able to make it. I know that the eldest of her grandchildren will be there along with some of their own kids. The people at Cracker Barrel seem to get a bit flustered when we arrive with such a large group. They don’t seem to understand the importance of the occasion, but we believe that Mama is smiling down on us from heaven. The party is for her after all and we intend to celebrate just the way she would want us to do.

The Banquet Table of Anthony Bourdain

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(It’s taken me a bit to consider what I wanted to say about Anthony Bourdain. I suppose that is okay, because all too often we mourn the loss of someone and then seem to move on to other things. I think that he is someone worth remembering, and we would do well to model his approaches to learning about and loving people. His suicide will never define the incredible person that he was. Mental illness all too often steals some of the best among us away.)

When I think of good times with family and friends it almost always involves food. My grandmother Little was a country woman through and through whose dishes focused on things like fried chicken, fresh fish that she caught herself, pot roast and oodles of vegetables from her garden. Eating Sunday dinner with her was more than just a consumption of cuisine worthy of the Pioneer Woman. It was a communion of love that was special from the Happy Village dishes on which she served her recipes to the strawberries and cream that she spread on thin slices of cake. We understood that those gatherings were a gift from our grandma that we have never forgotten. Our senses somehow manage to recall the bounty that she spread on her mahogany dining table with clear detail. Even decades later we are able to recover the tastes, aromas, and sights from the memory banks of our brains. They serve as a the trademark of the wonderful moments that we shared with her. Those memories keep her alive in our minds decades after she was gone.

We so often associate food with our relationships. My mouth waters just a bit when I think of Ed’s “fancy” that included oysters Rockefeller, red beans and rice and conversation that I will never forget. I smile at the thought of Linda’s perennially delicious dishes over which we sat for hours raising our families together and building  lifelong relationships. Bieu’s pig roasts and crawfish boils always bring a diverse group of people together even when we sometimes have no idea what everyone is saying. Monica gives us a taste of Europe and a feeling of welcoming warmth. Michael grills his burgers as the children play and we reminisce about times past and celebrate those yet to come. Granny’s tea time was a backdrop for serious discussions. Uncle Paul’s  green eggs and ham were the stuff of our jokes that in truth were somehow strangely delicious. The tangerines and nuts that filled bowls at Christmas time reunions represented the bounty that our crazy immigrant family had achieved. Grandma Ulrich with her weak, milky, sugary cups of coffee taught us how to bring elegance and joy to the most simple fare. Food is most certainly intimately intertwined with family, friends, relationships.

Anthony Bourdain was one of those people who understood the power and symbolism of sharing food. He traveled the world, breaking bread in places where many of us would not dare tread. He introduced us to the loveliness of our humanity and also taught us the importance of being respectful to all cultures. He truly loved people not for how he wanted them to be, but exactly the way they really were. His enthusiasm for the unusual was always apparent in his stories and interviews. He understood that there is not one right or wrong way of doing things or being. He was a beautiful man in that regard. There was a complexity of his intellect and ability to use words, but there was also a simplicity in his delight over very small joys.

We need more people like Anthony Bourdain, a man who appeared to be judgement free. One of my favorite stories of him was about his defense of an older woman who wrote a restaurant review column for a newspaper in North Dakota. She became the butt of snarky commentary and jokes after she published an earnest piece about the opening of an Olive Garden in her town. She was polite and complimentary of everything from the decor to the professionalism of the server. For her efforts she was virally ridiculed. It was Anthony Bourdain who came to her rescue by noting quite gallantly that she was providing us with a portrait of a part of our society that we sometimes don’t see, and doing it very well. He eventually invited her the New York City and encouraged her to publish her best work. He took the time to get to know her better over coffee in a moment that so special for her. Ultimately her book became a hit with his help, but what was most telling about this incident was his compassion and understanding that each of us has something to offer, something new that will enrich lives. This I believe was the key Anthony Bourdain’s success.

The best people, like Anthony Bourdain, not only regale us with good food and exciting stories. They also show us how to treat one another. My grandmothers and my mother both modeled the same kind of behavior for me, demonstrating how to find the beauty in every single person. They encouraged me to open my heart free of preconceived notions. I have been all of the better because of that and I have attempted to pass down that way of embracing the world to my children and grandsons.

I often recall a time when I took my eldest grandson to a small neighborhood grocery store that often attracted an odd assortment of characters. As we pushed our cart through the narrow aisles we heard a gaggle of languages and witnessed some rather odd forms of dress. All the while music sung in a multitude of foreign languages blared over the loud speakers. After we had been there for a few minutes my grandson beamed his most glorious smile at me and exclaimed, “I like dis place. It’s happy!” His comment swelled my heart with pride.

Anthony Bourdain continually challenged us to move out of our comfort zones so that we might find the enriching experiences that truly make life so much more interesting and enjoyable. He showed us that the way to do that is to sit down and enjoy a meal with strangers who in the exchange might even become friends. There’s a whole world of people out there who very likely would love to spend a few hours sharing their stories while supping on the stuff of life. Anthony Bourdain showed us how to do that and how to really live. May he now rest in peace with a special seat at the great heavenly banquet table.

Celebrate Difference

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I remember having a discussion about beauty and what is really is. From century to century, place to place the definition of what is pleasing to the eye often changes, and is indeed in the eye of the beholder. That being said, we are continuously bombarded with images designed to show us what is most attractive and how to achieve such distinction on our own by honing our bodies and purchasing products designed to bring out our best. We are made to feel that there is a particular kind of appearance that is lovely, and if we work hard enough we too might recreate ourselves in such likenesses. Billions of dollars are made by the purveyors of the world of beauty.

I do not wish to demean those who offer us the chance of enhancing our natural state. I partake of cosmetics, lotions, exercise, healthy choices, hair products, vitamins perfumes and all sorts of aids. I enjoy how they make me feel and I am happy that that they are available for they surely add a bit of joy to my life, but I worry sometimes that our emphasis on such things also contributes to making many people feel less than. I’m old enough and have enough confidence to find my own skin to be quite comfortable. I am long past the days of worrying that I do not measure up or impress. I don’t mind being seen without makeup, but I my skin enjoys the lotions that I feed it each day so I indulge in pampering myself. Still I worry that there are people both young and old who somehow have been made to feel not so beautiful by a society obsessed with pulchritude.

I love the movie The Greatest Showman because its theme of the variety of loveliness resonates so beautifully in the songs and the scenes. The circus acts are peopled with unique individuals who are beautiful in their own right simply because they are alive. The anthem This Is Me shouts the gloriousness and importance of every life, something that we don’t impress on our young nearly enough. I suppose that if we were to teach our everyone to see that there is no one way of being or appearing we would all be a bit happier.

So many of our problems occur simply because of appearance. The color of skin, texture of hair, height, weight, composition of features often tell us stories before we even have the opportunity of knowing someone. Even when we don’t mean to be that way our biases sometimes cause us to judge. There are those who laugh and make fun of shoppers at Walmart as though their choice of merchants tells us all we need to know of them. We see someone and begin making all sorts of unconscious assumptions about them often without even realizing we are doing so. Our eyes lead us to draw conclusions when instead we should be reserving our thoughts until we have had time to truly understand the person we are seeing.

I think of times when I was guilty of reacting to appearance and later realizing how incredible the person that I judged actually was. When we truly get to know an individual it is amazing how much more beautiful he/she becomes to us. We cease to focus on flaws and instead notice the kindness, the smile, the determination, things that are far more meaningful than looks.

So how do we better appreciate the uniqueness of each of us? I believe that it begins with easing out of our comfort zones. It’s important that we make efforts to be with people unlike ourselves. We must learn more about those who appear to be strange, for in the process we may learn that they are not so different as we may have thought. We all love our children and want the best for them. Much of what motivates us revolves around providing them with better lives. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves of that simple fact whenever we react negatively to someone based only on looks.

In times of distress when we are all in the same sinking boat we are more likely to set aside our biases and prejudices. With the common cause of survival we are not so concerned with appearance, particularly with the good soul who is saving us. Why should we have to wait for tragedy to set aside superficialities?

One of my all time favorite photographs is a famous image from the dustbowl era. It shows a woman of indeterminate age who is suffering from the poverty inflicted on her by climate and economic depression. She sits with her hand on her face in a gesture of hopelessness. Her eyes are blank with a faraway look perhaps of fear or remembrance of better times. Her hair hangs lifelessly without over her furrowed brow, and yet she is so beautiful to me. No movie star or royal personage might be as lovely. She seems to represent a part of each of us that fights to be heard and seen and survive. I want to reach out to her and take her hand and tell her that I understand. I want her to know that she is pretty and important and that she will see better days.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be celebrated by the people around us. It’s fun to paint our toes, style our hair, brighten our faces. We just need to always be aware that these things do not represent our souls or those of others. Inside each of us are hopes and dreams and needs. The packaging of them should never prevent us from seeing and realizing them. Look beyond the exterior. Celebrate difference.   

Broken Pieces

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Have you ever had one of those horrific dreams in which you forgot something crucial and it affected your entire life? One of my recurring nightmares is that I somehow fail to remember to take a final exam in one of my college courses, thus losing credit for the class. Time passes and life is good until this error is discovered and I end up having my degree rescinded and I lose my job. The emotions that I experience in my sleep are so visceral that I wake up feeling anxious and even a bit stupid as though I really did do something as farfetched as forgetting to take care of a major responsibility.

In the real world of wakefulness I generally take care of business without any close calls. I’ve missed a deadline here and there, but those moments were never fatal nor as costly as my dreaded dream. Most of my big mistakes have taken the form of accidentally breaking something or causing mishap because I have been day dreaming or thinking about some issue.

I once backed out of my garage with the gate on my SUV still in the open position. I was on my way to a funeral and not really feeling like myself when my thoughts were interrupted by a big bang and a neck wrenching jolt. I stopped immediately and as I exited my car to see what had happened I saw one of my neighbors doing his best to stifle his laughter as he considered the ridiculousness of what I had done. I felt so sheepish that I quickly closed the mangled part as best I could and continued on my way. Luckily my husband was infinitely understanding when I later explained to him what had happened. In fact, he suggested that it had no doubt occurred because I was in a delicate state of mind. He’s always known how to make me feel better.

Because my spouse is a very good man I wanted to do something special for him as we near the one year mark of his stroke and the many trials and tribulations that he has experienced in the months since that terrible day. I found a special way to celebrate when I saw that Joe Bonamassa was scheduled to perform at a nearby venue. I excitedly purchased tickets and announced that it was an early Father’s Day present for him.

Joe Bonamassa is a gifted guitarist and my Mike has listened to his music and watched videos of his playing for years. Once when we attended a graduation at Syracuse we saw that Bonamassa was performing in town that weekend, but all of the tickets had already been sold. I knew that Mike would be thrilled to be able to finally see and hear the artist that he so admired, and it was a grand way to put aside the health challenges he had faced.

At the time that I bought the tickets our house was literally turn apart and encased in plastic and grime from the repairs that resulted from a leaking hot water heater.  From start to finish it took around eight weeks to return to normal. During that time I carefully guarded the tickets lest they become lost in the mess that surrounded us. I watched over them as though they were the most valuable item in our home. When all of the dust finally settled and we had returned to a state of normalcy I still knew exactly where the tickets were, and I gleefully imagined how much fun we were going to have as I watched the days move ever closer to the date I had saved on our family calendar.

It seemed fitting that we would be going to do something fun on May 28, Memorial Day, because I have had a difficult time with that holiday ever since my father’s death on that day of remembrance over sixty years ago. I become anxious and admittedly a bit morose year after year. I find myself reliving that moment when I found out that he had died, but this year was going to be different. I was determined to put away my childhood fears and do something fun with the man I love. I anticipated our  glorious evening all day long on May 28, and when the time came I had a lilt in my step as I readied myself for our outing.

In his usual manner Mike decided that we would have dinner near the venue and so he went online to determine how long it would take to drive from the restaurant to the concert. His search lead him to the home page of the arena where he noticed that there was no mention whatsoever of a concert featuring Joe Bonamassa. He rushed from his office to our bedroom where I was relaxing a bit before our departure and asked to see the tickets. When I handed them to him he instantly noticed that they clearly listed the date of the performance as May 21. We had missed it entirely!

I went into a state of shock and disbelief. I could feel a storm of tears gathering in my heart but I showed only a stunned reaction. I kept looking at the tickets as though somehow I might magically change the printed date to the one that I had erroneously recorded on our calendar. The difference between a 1 and an 8 is rather clear, not like a 1 and a 7. I wondered how it was possible that I had been so discombobulated as to make such a mistake. I felt as foolish as I ever have. Not only had I ruined the wonderful evening that I had planned for Mike, but I had also just flushed a great deal of money down the drain.

As usual Mike came to the rescue. He insisted that we still go out to eat and he jokingly played some of Joe Bonamassa’s music as we drove to our destination. After dinner we walked around different shops for a time and then splurged by sharing a piece of cheesecake. He made no mention of his disappointment but instead kept us laughing and having a good time. Eventually we moved our party back home where we sat on our patio under a full moon enjoying glasses of wine and ending our evening with more of Bonamasssa’s music. The best part came when Mike sweetly announced that a good night was just being with me. That comment put everything into perspective and I didn’t feel as foolish anymore.

We’re all human and we do silly things, but when all is said and done they rarely become the nightmares that we so dread. Things break, fall apart, get lost and always they remain just things. People are all that really matter, and so we pick up broken pieces, throw them away, and move on.