A Circle of Friendship

Susan's party

We sat around the table talking about our high school days, wondering how it is even possible that by the end of this year all of us will have entered our seventies. We recalled the times when we first met and wondered how some of our absent friends were doing. Somehow we each felt exactly the same as we had when we were teenage girls even though the calendar belied our somewhat vivid imaginations. We were celebrating Susan’s birthday and and anticipating Linda’s. Charles had enjoyed his on Sunday. Each person who was present is quite special to me in one way or another.

I had met Susan, the woman of the hour, when I was only six years old. We were both in second grade and had the same teacher. She lived within walking distance of my home and we often rode our bicycles around the neighborhood laughing and singing. Her voice would ultimately become the music of an angel, but back then we were just two little girls having fun.

We went all the way through high school together, and Susan’s father often drove us to football games on Friday nights. When we were in college we both worked for Holiday Inn one summer making reservations and a pretty good sum of money. Susan was one of my bridesmaids when I married almost fifty years ago, and we both had daughters named Catherine but with different spellings, if I remember right. For a time we played bridge every Friday night and shared cheesecake and lemonade and lots of laughs. We lost touch for a time but managed to eventually find our way back to each other. We marveled at how easily we got right back into comfortable conversations as though we had seen each other only the day before. Now Susan is seventy, but somehow looks exactly as she did when I first met her, and is definitely as sweet.

I’ve known Monica as long as I have Susan. In fact the three of us had the same teacher in the second grade. Monica and I have always somehow managed to keep the fires of our friendship alive. In many ways she is much like the sister that I never had. Her husband and mine get along famously and we have taken camping trips and vacations together that are among the best memories of my life. Monica is thoughtful and creative and a genius when it comes to common sense. She’s someone who knows how to keep my flighty tendencies grounded. Our children grew up together and still get along famously. I can’t imagine what my life might have been like living without Monica by my side.

Linda is the person I always wanted to be. She is beautiful and kind and good at everything that she tries. When we were in school together I thought that she was the most perfect person ever, and the truth is that I was not being hyperbolic. We really became close while we were in college and our bond has only grown stronger over time. When her boys and my girls were growing up we spent hours together in the summers going crabbing and eating snow cones on hot days. Our children learned how to swim from the same teacher, and we often cheered for our Houston Cougars at parties that featured Linda’s culinary genius. I learned how to cook and decorate and even how to be a more caring person from Linda.

Carol is the glue for our Class of 66. She is the historian and secretary all rolled up into one. She keeps is apprised of birthdays, illnesses, parties, and even deaths. She is like a walking encyclopedia when it comes to knowing the whereabouts of everyone of our former classmates. Her heart is big and warm and she makes each of us feel loved and important. Without her we’d probably all drift apart, but she keeps the fires of our friendships burning brightly. I have grown so very close to her. She has been the happiest surprise of the past few years. I never intend to let her go again.

Shirley has the power of serenity. Somehow her sincerity and brilliant smile have always calmed me. Just sitting next to her brings serenity to my heart. Most people are only remotely interested in the things that others say, but Shirley gives off a vibe that indicates that she takes everything that quite seriously. She remembers conversations and asks how people are doing long after they have spoken of troubles. Even when her own life is in an upheaval she thinks of everyone else first. She has a very special talent of expressing profound compassion without even having to say anything. Her eyes are like windows to her beautiful soul. I have to admit that I always leave her feeling renewed.

I only recently realized that Jeanette and I were in the same class together in the first grade, so I suppose that I have known her the longest. She was a cheerleader when we were in high school. She always seemed to be smiling and having a great time. It’s uplifting to be around her. She has a cheerful aspect that brightens our reunions. I didn’t know her well until recently and I find myself regretting that we did not become close earlier because I like everything about her. She is down to earth and loyal and incredibly thoughtful in a very quiet way. She does wonderful things for others without fanfare, asking nothing in return for her generosity. I’m hoping that we manage to stay in touch now that we have found each other because she is one hundred percent the kind of person that I adore.

Janis is an icon. In many ways she was the consummate leader of our class. She wears a necklace that says Go Go which says it all about her. She is a ball of energy who gets things done no matter what is needed. She is a highly successful business woman which doesn’t surprise me at all. She uses her influence to lead charitable causes and help her city to become a better place. She is everywhere doing her magic and just being around her is inspiring, She motivates me to be better than I am, to do more. When it comes to women leading us to the future, Janis is at the front of the pack.

When we were still in high school Janis had a car and I didn’t even have a driver’s license. When we had to go places she always made sure that I had a way to get there. When we were seniors I was the May Queen and as usual my hair was a mess. I have never figured out how to deal with it. Janis very sweetly styled my locks and redid my makeup so that I looked truly regal. I walked out feeling so pretty and confident because she had taken the time to help me. I’ve always remembered that kindness.

Charles was the only male in our group. He and I both went to the same church for many years after we had graduated from high school and college and created families. I always enjoyed seeing him, but I eventually moved and thought that we would never meet again. It was a great surprise when he showed up for Susan’s party. He is so down to earth and sweet.

It’s rather remarkable how wonderful my school mates have become. There was something magical about our youth and our upbringing. We have all worked hard and loved mightily. We have terrific children and adorable grandchildren. We simply enjoy being with one another with no pressure or expectations. Our circle of friendship has grown ever stronger and made all of us just a bit better because of it.

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Lion Kings

the-lion-king-disney-rebootThis year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Broadway musical The Lion King. On any given day the shows for each performance are sold out, and there is no indication that interest in the story has waned since it rocked the entertainment industry two decades ago. Aside from the stunning costumes and the enchanting music, its story of loss and love resonates with virtually everyone. We are all Simba, and have felt both the sting of death and the exhilaration of love and friendship as surely as he did.

As I think back on this past year I recall moments of great pain and sorrow that have been balanced by lovely times shared with family and friends. My journey through the past twelve months has been marked by more than enough dark days, but somehow those times were always followed by sunshine and loveliness so exceptional that they seemed to blot out the sorrow that I was experiencing. In the course of a full revolution of the earth around the sun I felt the circle of life with all of its ups and downs and like Simba I survived to stand at the mountain top and rejoice.

I’ve attended far too many funerals this year. I suppose that it is inevitable that such occasions have become more and more frequent given my age. Many of my elders who were blessed with long lives and were nearing the century mark succumbed to the inevitability of our existence. We all know that there is no infinity for any of us, but we push the envelope of our lives as far as we are able. Sometimes when someone lives a very long time we lose sight of the reality that we may not have them forever, so when they leave us we are almost as surprised as when a young person dies. It is always difficult to let go no matter how old someone may be.

I have also lost peers this year, people who have walked along beside me from the days when we were young and so full of dreams. My book of memories is overflowing with images of the fun and laughter that we shared. We grew up together and then we began to grow old together as well. Somehow our human tendency is to ignore the years and the images of ourselves that we see in the mirror. Instead we think that we are as young and spry as we were when we were in our twenties. It is shocking to us when someone from our own generation dies. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. It causes us to falter just a bit. It reminds us that our time here has an expiration date and we secretly wonder what our own will be.

In that moment when my husband lay helplessly on the floor of a bathroom after having a stroke I was filled with terror. While I understand that neither of us will live to any guaranteed age, I had not even considered the possibility that death might come so soon. Both my brain and my heart were jolted into reality in that split second and it was a painful and devastating experience. I still have flashbacks that remind me to cherish every single moment that I have with the man who has filled my days with so much happiness.

My life has changed during this year. I don’t take much for granted anymore. I somehow appreciate the breathtaking beauty of life far more than ever before. I love with a more open heart and I find particular joy in being with young people who still possess such a zest for living. I have been to weddings and graduations and birthday parties that have brought me incredible joy. Seeing love unfold before my eyes is like experiencing the most enchanting miracles that we ever enjoy. It reminds me that there is a season for everything and that I am a part of the glorious unfolding of the cycles that have repeated across the centuries.

I went to a wedding in Cancun in the summer with a group of very special friends. Two of the sweetest men that I have ever known pledged their unending love to each other. It was a beautiful ceremony wrought with so much emotion that we all cried tears of joy. I never imagined that I would be blessed to be part of something so wonderful, but there I was, and I felt so much renewed faith in mankind. I was surrounded by such an abundance of love and good feelings that it carried me through the tough times that I did not yet know lay ahead.

There have been other occasions that have kept my optimism flowing. Two of my former students were married this year and I rejoiced at the ceremonies that they invited me to share with them. I saw the expressions of devotion on their faces and thought of all the wonderful times that they would experience together just as my husband and I have. I sensed that their love is so pure and strong that they will even be able to endure tragedies and everyday problems. I felt so much happiness for them and wondered if they realized how much hope they gave me as well. Weddings allow us to come together in celebration of the most wonderful traditions of unity and commitment to one another, the joining of lives that has transcended history.

Recently my husband and I traveled out of town to a magical party at my niece and nephew’s home in Dallas. They feted us with good food, incredible generosity, and so much fun. I doubt that they realized that it was the first time that we had dared to venture so far away since the incident of the stroke. That trip meant so much to us and our family’s outpouring of love only made it all the better. It reminded us that we have never been alone and that we will be fine no matter what the future brings.

Simba the lion cub thought that all was lost when his father died. He saw his world coming to an end. He ran away from the reality of his situation and experienced the deep hopelessness that sometimes creeps into our lives. His world fell apart and he felt as though there would never again be a way of controlling it. He found small comfort in the generosity of strangers who ultimately became his friends and taught him lessons in taking what the world offers one day at a time. In the process of providing for one another the unlikely friends all changed for the better, so much so that Simba began to realize that his situation had not been as dire as he had imagined. He embraced love and his own destiny, and then found his way back home. In the end he understood that he was never truly alone in his battles and never would be. He also realized that as we travel in the circle of life we have to learn how to deal with both the good and the bad.

While 2017 might be viewed as a terrible year in so many ways, it has also been a year of discovery. Somehow when life appears to be at its worst, that is the very moment when we have the opportunity to see the best of our blessings. This year has taught me to love more deeply and to set my worries aside as much as possible. The future will unfold with or without us, and it will up to each of us to decide how we will accept its challenges and its blessings. If we open our eyes and our hearts we will surely know that the spirit of all of the people who have loved us lives forever inside our souls. We will be lions. We will be kings.    

A Celebration of Life

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I felt a bit emotional on my birthday this year. Perhaps it was because it came at the end of a week which began with a gathering of dear ones who were all saying goodbye to our very good friend, Bill. I found myself savoring each moment of my special day with a great deal more intensity than usual. I genuinely appreciated the Facebook greetings and the visits from loved ones. The thoughtfulness that abounded was moving, but mostly it was a sign to me of how genuinely wonderful people are. I was reminded by the events of the week that when all is said and done it is in the memories that we share with all of the folks that we encounter along the way that our greatest joys unfold.

My departed friend Bill had done well in this world. He used the gifts of his intellect to build a life of purpose that provided him and his family with comfort, but mostly it was his love and generosity of spirit that marked him as a great man. The stories about him that abounded all told of an adventurous soul who never forgot to be thoughtful and kind. He was a man of almost unflinching routine who nonetheless set aside time in every single day to keep his friendships alive, many of which extended all the way back into his boyhood. He took nothing with him at the end, but the riches of honor, respect and genuine love that were poured out in the stories people told of him were greater than all of the gold and jewels stowed away with King Tut. I suppose that as I listened to the recounting of his impact I sensed that we each have reasons for existing that may seem small and insignificant until the moment when we put the sum total of our efforts together. In the case of Bill, the final tally was as remarkable as anyone might ever hope to accomplish.

I pondered such ideas all last week and my thoughts culminated on Saturday, the beginning of my sixty ninth year. It was a gloriously beautiful day albeit a bit warmer than the one on which I was born. My mother always spoke of how bitterly cold it had been as she gathered pecans in the yard in front of the garage apartment that she and my father were renting in the Heights neighborhood of Houston on November 18, 1948. The war had ended and the world was in a state of rebuilding. Mama and Daddy were like millions of young folk who were starting families and hoping that they we would never again witness the violence that had brought so much pain. Mama wore my father’s wool army coat because she had grown so great with child that her own would no longer button. She had at first thought that the backache that she was feeling was the result of all of the bending that she had been doing as she filled a paper grocery bag with nuts that she intended to use to bake goodies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When her water broke she knew that my arrival was imminent.

I thought of my mother and my father a great deal this past weekend. They would have been quite proud of the beautiful brood that resulted from their love. Almost all of their offspring gathered during the day and the evening to wish me well.

The celebrating began with lunch with my father-in-law and his beautiful second wife. He is our patriarch and his delightful sense of humor never fails to fill our home with laughter. I wanted to tarry at the table with him so that I might freeze the special time we were having into the memory bank of my mind. It was great fun as we listened to stories of the army cook who created meals for his regiment during the Korean War. Papa hid the pain of war in the humorous tales of the guys who fought with him. We felt so joyful and fortunate to still have him with us.

Later in the day my brothers and their children and grandchildren also came to wish me well. I shared the birthday celebration with my little niece Lorelai who is a bright and sweet as an angel. I delighted at the innocence of her beautiful face lit up as much by her goodness as by the lights of the candles that we blew out together. She is ten and filled with expectation and curiosity. The world lies ahead of her and will no doubt embrace her because she is such a special child. I found myself thinking of my own childhood and how fun it had been.

I tried to take in the wonder of my family that has become ever more lovely with each new person who enters our fold. We are boisterous and filled with genuine feelings for one another. We don’t always get to see each other as much as we would like, but when we do get together an explosion of unadulterated joy erupts. My sisters-in-law are the sisters that I always dreamed of having. My sons-in-law are the young men who provide my daughters and me with rock solid love. My grandchildren and nieces and nephews marvel in one another’s company and I find myself just watching them as they play together. In fact, I felt a bit like an observant fly on the wall all day long as I realized my many blessings that all come packaged in the most wonderful people who are part of my life.

The birthday posts on my Facebook wall poured in all weekend. They came from some whom I had known my entire life, some from my school days, some from coworkers, others from students, still others from neighbors. I had to admit my good fortune as I thought of each of them and I prayed that they all know how much they have meant to me.

I particularly enjoyed a group of photos from a dear teacher friend who has become like family. We had shared a beautiful wedding trip to Cancun back in June with our mutual friends Tim and Dickie. Somehow her camera had captured the exhileration that we were all experiencing on that day and it was quite beautiful. Our unfiltered emotions filled the panorama with the bliss that we were all feeling, and in viewing the images I experienced our pleasure once again.

Another teacher friend posted a greeting that I’m going to use as my mantra during the coming year.

Oops, although this a belated prayer, my prayer remains the same.

 1 Good Health for you and family

2 Financial Blessings

3 Continued Travel Blessings 

4 The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding

I think that I will have an extraordinary time indeed if I were to enjoy the fruition of all of the good wishes that were made for me. I would only add that I hope to have the pleasure of being with my friends and family as often as possible, because they are always the source of my greatest happiness. I simply have no way of being able to thank them for all that they have given me. I only hope that they truly realize how important they are to me.

The Road Ahead

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Tomorrow is my birthday and I will be sixty nine years old. That number sounds ancient to me. It is a place in time that I have never really imagined being. Time is relative when it comes to me because I still feel as though I am little more than middle aged. Surely I will be thirty nine tomorrow, going on forty next year. Where did I lose the thirty years that I don’t remember passing by so quickly? One day I was still young and the next I became a member of AARP and qualified for Medicare. It’s enough to boggle the mind.

I’m still able to perform complex mathematics problems and show youngsters how to do them as well. I write almost everyday and read constantly, but not without glasses. My vision went south some time back along with my ability to recall small things like where I have left one of the dozens of pairs of glasses that I keep on hand. I tried wearing one of those chains around my neck that keep glasses handy but they just didn’t work for me. They got in the way mostly of my vanity.

I can’t run well anymore. My knees yell at me if I even try. I’ve shrunk about three inches because I have developed osteoporosis like my grandmother and several of my aunts. Heredity can be a real bitch sometimes. I used to be a tall girl, but now I am rather short. It makes me wonder if my grandma was always a small person or if her own troubles with brittle bones made her much tinier than she once was.

Mostly I’m rather healthy. People predict that barring some unforeseen accident or a disease that sneaks up on me I will live long like my grandfather who made it to one hundred eight. If that’s the case I have almost forty more years to go. I’ll need to figure out what to do with all of that time. I hope I am able to use it as well as Grandpa did. He was an avid reader who devoured books like chocolate bonbons, and then proceeded to discuss every detail in them when someone came to visit. His mind was as clear as a sparkling lake up until the very last weeks of his life, but he had grown weary by then. He often spoke of being ready to end his marathon time here on earth and start a new run in heaven. He had lost all of his friends and most of his relatives including all three of his children. Somehow he managed to stay optimistic in spite of the fact that he had spent all of money and lived from one Social Security check to the next. He had planned well for retirement, but nobody expects for a life to last as long as his did,

There is still so much of the world that I hope to experience. I love the idea of continuously learning and traveling. It is a habit that I have followed and it provides me with great pleasure. I like to stay abreast of changes and I truly hope that I never become a dotty old fuddy-duddy, a dotard if you will. One reason that I enjoy working with children is that they keep me young. I get a kick out their antics and I find that on the whole they are quite polite and wonderful. The idea that today’s kids are spoiled and badly behaved is a myth perpetuated by grouchy individuals who abhor change. The truth is that our future is in good hands from what I have seen. The world will surely keep on moving along and things will get better regardless of who is living at the White House.

Somehow getting older makes me far happier and more content than I have ever been. I view life with a great deal more appreciation. All of my competitive inclinations have fallen by the wayside. I realize how very lucky I have been from the cold November day when I was born to the present. I may not have accumulated much wealth, but I can say without reservation that I have always been loved. There is absolutely nothing better than that, and I now realize that more so than ever before.

I still harbor hopes and dreams, but now they are more for my grandchildren than myself. I want to watch them finding ways to use their talents and build their own lives. If they are half as fortunate as I have been then the world will be very good to them. I pray that their inevitable trials will be few and that they will possess all of the skills needed to deal with them. I myself had so much support any time that I was struggling. There always seemed to be a relative, neighbor, teacher, coworker or friend to help me overcome even the most horrific situations. I treasure all of the people who have encouraged me, some of whom never knew how much they actually meant to me.

I think back to my many birthdays. My mom always worked hard to make my day as special as possible, and did so until the very day that she died. Her family had been so poor that their only gift each year had been a single nickel. She and her siblings continued the tradition of sending each other nickels, and I thought it a beautiful gesture of love. My mom never missed brining me a cake and a very carefully chosen gift which always reminded me of how important I was to her. I find myself missing her bit more each year. She was with me from the very beginning, forging that special bond that only a mother is capable of doing.

Much of my family is coming to my house to help me celebrate my birthday tomorrow. Family has been the best gift that I have ever enjoyed. I honestly don’t know what I would do without all of them. We are a loud and crazy bunch that sometimes confounds and annoys other people. I don’t think those who shy away from us can tell if we are yelling at each other or just being a bit too overjoyed to be together. I know that some folks can’t handle our antics, but I can’t imagine being any other way than we just naturally are. Our exuberance is simply the outward manifestation of our unending love.

So this old woman plans to savor every minute that I have. At this point there is no telling whether my days are numbered or I have a long way to go. I’ve learned to take one day at a time and to roll with whatever happens. I may not hear as well as I once did but I am a survivor and I am far tougher than I appear to be. It’s been a great ride thus far. It’s going to be fun to see where the rest of my life takes me. I’m more than ready for the adventures that lie along the road ahead.

A Birthday Gift To Us All

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I have to pinch myself when I look at my husband, Mike. I still can’t believe how lucky I have been to have him as my husband. I tend not to notice that he is no longer the young lion that I met so long ago nor that his hair has grown white and thinner than it once was. I marvel that he is still with me after so many years, as loving and faithful as ever. I rejoice that we will celebrate another of his birthday’s together today, and I can’t quite believe that this will be his seventieth. As I look back over time I have so many wonderful memories of our life together, but mostly I marvel at the person that he has always been.

I have learned that he is the amalgam of lessons learned from his grandmother, his mother, his father and his education at St. Thomas High School. He was taught through example how to be a truly great man. His mother was a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time with her independent spirit. If she had run for President of the United States I feel certain that she would have won. She always insisted that Mike treat women with great respect and who better to learn from than his father who has always been the consummate gentleman? In high school Mike was shown the importance of faith, loyalty and good character. He learned his lessons well but in many ways it was his grandmother who showed him the value of unconditional love. All of these factors produced a man who has always been kind and generous and guileless, but never naive. He is a strong protector but also an equal and supportive partner.

Mike has a brilliant mind that allows him to digest and synthesize information readily. Conversations with him are beyond interesting because he draws his comments from a library of information that he has somehow managed to catalog in his brain and pull up at a moment’s notice. He is one of those lifelong learners who reads and watches continuously. He has made our life together so much more exciting because of his encyclopedic knowledge on so many topics. In many ways he is a true renaissance man with his abilities to do and discuss almost anything. He is as good at wiring a house as discussing history or business. He is a truly delightful person to be with and I have had the honor of walking at his side for almost fifty years, never once growing bored with our companionship.

Mike often tells people that he was thunderstruck when he met me, but I don’t mention enough that the feeling was quite mutual. I remember telling my friends at the time that I thought I had just met the man with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. I had no idea then just how exciting our journey together would be. When people see me today they are encountering a woman who was much different when I first met Mike. He has been my mentor, my muse, and the one person who encouraged me to take risks to become who I am today. No matter what I have wanted to accomplish, he has been my cheerleader, telling me that I have the power to accomplish anything. I suspect that I would not have been nearly as happy or successful in life had it not been for our chance meeting so long ago. I thank God for him every single day.

This particular birthday for Mike is of especial importance to me because of my understanding that I might very well have lost him this summer when he had a stroke. In true Mike fashion he has been the rock who has helped me to deal with our new reality. He has prepared me for any eventuality and insisted that I will do well with whatever situation arises. That is the kind of person that he is, always thinking of me and our family. He loves with a passion that is immeasurable and he has always been willing to sacrifice for the well being of me and our girls.

Mike is a humble man except for when it comes to our children and grandchildren. Then he puffs out his chest and fairly glows with pride. He has quietly watched them grow in wisdom and age and grace and it brings him great contentment to see how well they continue to do. His love for them and for all of the members of our extended family is boundless. He is always at the ready to open his home and his heart to any one them who may be in need.,

Perhaps my greatest admiration for Mike is related to the way that he treated my mother. Her bipolar disorder often created very unlikeable symptoms. When she was in the throes of a manic episode she sometimes said horrific things to him. Somehow he always remained steadfast in understanding that it was her disease speaking and not her true heart. He continued to show her kindness even as she insulted him in every possible way. When she came to stay at our home at the end of her life he was welcoming and enjoyed being able to provide her with a touch of security as she slowly became more and more ill. At the very end he sat holding her hand and promising to take care of me and my brothers with all of the powers within him. He and my mom shared a bond of mutual understanding on the day that she died. They expressed their love for one another and it made my mother comfortable to know that he would indeed watch over her family in her absence. Like me, she had witnessed his steadfast strength and love.

I can only hope and pray that there will be many more birthdays with Mike, but I have most recently learned just to appreciate the moments that we have without overthinking and worrying too much about the distant future. He is a most extraordinary man and I celebrate that our world has been lucky enough to have someone of his caliber working day after day to make our little corner of it a better place. It’s funny how on his birthday I am reminded that he has been a gift to all of us who know him. It is so typical of him to be the giver just by his existence even on his birthday.