Just Like That

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Colorado, at least in the mountainous areas, is like a picture postcard. On its best days It is a slice of what heaven must surely resemble, but much like life it can also be treacherous and filled with untold problems. Thus it was on my most recent visit to that gloriously beautiful part of the world, a kind of bittersweet journey that challenged me with a cornucopia of emotions.

Day one was perfection, a picture postcard of memories beginning with an easy stress free flight from Houston to Denver on the day after Thanksgiving. My brother, Pat, and my sister-in-law, Allison picked us up from the airport and we chattered all the way to Estes Park where we enjoy a delicious lunch. There we learned that there would be a parade later that afternoon, and so we decided to stroll through the shops to take advantage of seeing the special event.

It was so cold that not even our layers of undershirts, sweaters, coats, mufflers, hats and gloves were sufficient to keep us warm. We purchased woolen blankets and found places offering coffee and hot chocolate to ease the chill that seemed to go down to the marrow of our bones. In spite of the frigid conditions we talked and laughed and had a glorious time. We were happy to be spending time together and spoke of our plans for the coming days.

The parade was a local affair with floats and decorated cars that spoke of homespun efforts and lots of heart. The high school band played Christmas carols and the Knights of Columbus strutted in full gear. There was a twinkling light bedecked bus that carried waving seniors from the nursing home, and many a float that appeared to have been crafted inside someone’s garage. It was precious and genuine in a way that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will never quite understand. It reminded us of the parade in the movie A Christmas Story, a kind of throw back to a simple era when folks just had a good time and didn’t worry too much about perfection. It was a most wonderful way to launch the Christmas season.

We stayed in Pat and Allison’s cabin on Storm Mountain, a home built of logs and lots of love. We munched on popcorn and spoke of all the things that we were going to do together during our visit, but since Mike and I had awakened that morning at four to get to the airport on time we were exhausted fairly early and had to give in to the signals from our bodies that we were done for the day. We knew that the morrow would be the reason for our journey, the wedding of a cousin in a lovely setting in Lyons.

When I awoke the early I found Allison sitting at the dining table looking grim and tired. She had been awake for hours after receiving the kind of phone call that dashes dreams and joy. Her daughter-in-law’s father had suddenly died. He was by all accounts a very good man, beloved by everyone who knew him. He was also quite young, only fifty four, and seemingly in the peak of health. His last day on this earth had been spent with friends and he had prepared for bed no doubt thinking of how wonderful his life was. Nobody would have thought that he would collapse and die so instantly. The shock of what had happened ricocheted through the roster of friends and family members who so loved him.

His daughter had to learn of this tragedy from a celebratory vacation in Thailand. Her world went from joy to grief in a matter of seconds. Allison had spent hours rerouting and rescheduling the journey home for her sweet daughter-in-law and her son. What had been the trip of a lifetime had spun into a nightmare. Pat and Allison would have to leave Colorado immediately and return home to Houston. Mike and I would attend the wedding and finish our trip alone. Just like that everything had changed.

A winter storm was brewing that day. There was promise of snow and ice in the mountains. We rented a car and soon enough learned that it handled the roads well until we tested its mettle on treacherous trails filled with ice and snow. It could even not make it up the driveway at the cabin and the worst weather was yet to come. Thus we settled for a hotel room in Loveland and said our goodbyes to Pat and Allison with heavy hearts. They would battle the elements on their long journey home, an added reminder of how quickly things can change.

We made it to the wedding feeling a bit other worldly. Our minds were on the people who were dealing with the end of a beautiful life while we were focusing on the new beginning of two people very much in love. It was a vivid reminder of the cycle of our lives and the need to always be mindful of our blessings. Being at the wedding was the perfect panacea for the dreariness that had invaded what we had intended to be a great celebration. It was impossible not to smile when witnessing the unadulterated joy of the bride and groom. Our disappointment and concerns melted away even as the wind outside whipped at the windows and reminded us that another young couple was far away making the arduous trip home to bury a father.

By the following day the storm had passed. The sun came out and shone gloriously as if to encourage us to maintain our optimism even in the face of tragedy. We attended church surrounded by strangers who nonetheless embraced us. A friend suggested on Facebook that we thank God all day long rather than petitioning for favors. As I noted the wonders of our day I realized that my world was indeed crowded with beauty and kindness and ways of feeling happy in spite of the trials that come our way.

The remainder of our trip was quiet and comforting. We seemed to have acquired the Midas touch because each day was somehow golden. We thought of Allison and her daughter-in-law’s family often and hoped that they somehow felt the vibrations of our love and concern for them. We relished our own moments perhaps a bit more acutely as we had been reminded how fragile and precious life actually is. Just like that the sweet may turn bitter and the bitter may become sweet. It is the way of the world. It is the circle of life even for the very good.

My heart is still heavy for the family of that good man. I understand all too well that shockingly terrible feeling that comes from losing a loved one without warning. Nothing can adequately describe the sense of unfairness and loss. I can only assure all who loved him that this wonderful man will be remembered for the joy that he so generously showered on family and friends. In time the overwhelming sadness will be replaced with beautiful memories and his spirit will enable all of them to go on to embrace both the bitter and sweet of life. Just like that winter will pass and spring will come again.

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A Brilliant Choice

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On this day in 1968, my husband Mike and I pledged to love, honor and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. For fifty years we have steadfastly done our best to live by the standards of our pledge, but in truth being married for five decades has required far more than adherence to a promise. The two of us are best friends in every sense of what that concept may mean. We enjoy being together and sharing our lives both as individuals and as a couple. We have certainly grown during our five decades together, and become even better as a team than we might have been alone.

I was nineteen years old when I walked down the aisle. My mother had to sign a document giving permission for me to marry. I was as naive as anyone might be when entering such a serious contract with another person, but I was dead certain that Mike and I had a very special relationship that was centered on love. I have often been reluctant to take a firm position of belief during my lifetime, but on the Friday evening when I walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church I had no doubt that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. Somehow it seemed as though the heavens themselves had aligned to bring me and Mike together, and I was unafraid to take the grand leap of faith that binds two people together for eternity.

We were joined by friends and family for our celebration. The church was gloriously bathed in light as Mike stood at the front of the church. The organ began to boom accompanied by the crystal clear sounds of a trumpet and my bridesmaids, Susan, Nancy and Ingrid made their way slowly toward the altar along with the groomsmen, James, Jack and Alan. When it was my turn I held on tightly to my brother Michael’s arm thinking of how proud I was that he was doing such a grand job of standing in for what might have been my father’s duty. I was lightheaded, giddy and nervous but mostly ecstatically happy. Admittedly once I reached the front of the church and stood next to Mike much of the rest of the ceremony became a blur. I recall the homily with clarity and I can still hear Mrs. McKenna’s beautiful soprano voice as she sang Ave Maria, but mostly I remember how secure I felt just being with Mike.

Our reception was a simple affair as most of them tended to be back then. We gathered in the Parish Hall and feasted on cake, punch and finger sandwiches. Mike and I greeted our guests and did all of the traditional tasks of cutting the cake, throwing out the garter and bouquet, and running under a hail of rice as we rushed to our car which was decorated with shaving cream and streamers of tin cans. Then we were off to our honeymoon in New Orleans and a life filled with challenges and good times.

We certainly did our best to be loving and honest and supportive of one another over the years. Our intentions were put to the test less than a year after we had married when my mother had the first of her mental breakdowns. It was such a strain that it might have broken our bonds, but Mike would prove to be my rock, my foundation, my support. It was a role that he would so lovingly assume over and over again whether during the times when I was caring for my mom or when I got ideas about degrees that I wanted to attain or work that I wanted to do. Mostly he was always and forever my sounding board. A voice of wisdom and concern on whom I knew that I might depend.

Our joy with one another only grew over the years as we were blessed with two daughters. We had a happy little family that was made better and stronger by the friends and family members who shared our child rearing years. I doubt that we would have been nearly as successful in our efforts had it not been for them. We had fun and exchanged concerns and sometimes even shed a tear or two together. Our circle became bound to an ever growing number of incredible people who were critical to our own matrimonial success.

Before we were even able to catch our breaths our daughters were leaving to begin families of their own. Our nest was empty and we began to enjoy the quiet contentment of just doing simple things with each other like sharing a passage from a book or laughing over a funny movie. We worked hard and together found solutions to the inevitable problems that enter every life. We centered our focus on God, family and friends. We lost loved ones and met new and wonderful individuals. The sun rose and it set through one day, one year, one decade after another.

We have weathered many a storm and celebrated even more joys. Our love has been the constant in our lives along with the people who shared our journey. We have seven grandchildren who are our pride and joy. Our daughters are as good as we had hoped we might teach them to be and they are married to very fine men. We are quite content with the story that we have created together. We know that not everyday will be sunny, but we have somehow always managed to weather the storms.

Joining our lives together fifty years ago was the very best thing that either of us have ever done. Together we are stronger than we might ever have been alone. We know that our family and our friends have also been part the success that we have enjoyed. I thank God every single day that we made that brilliant choice on October 4, 1968.

She Still Takes My Breath Away

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Growing up as a child I was lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where families came to stay. It was a rarity to see someone move. For that reason I went to school with many of the same kids from the second grade all the way until I graduated from high school. Among those who grew up with me were a set of twins, Terry and Tommy King.

At the time I thought that they were unique. I had never before seen two people who looked so much alike. It didn’t occur to me that I would one day have two sets of twin grandchildren of my own. Back then Terry and Tommy were like royalty in my mind. They were both handsome, athletic, highly intelligent, and best of all very kind. I suppose that I was not the the only girl in my class who had a crush on one or the other of the duo. By high school, however, it became quite apparent that Terry was already head over heals for a beautiful girl named Dixie.

I didn’t know Dixie very well but whenever she accompanied Terry somewhere she seemed to be a very sweet and gentle person much as he was. I liked her very much and thought that Terry had found a wonderful girlfriend. It was obvious that he was quite taken by her and I wished him well in my heart because he had always been so considerate and gentlemanly to virtually everyone. I was not surprised at all that he was the Vice President of our student body, or that he co-captained the football team. He was not just good at everything, but he was also humble about the many positive attributes that he possessed. It seemed very right that he had found a gorgeous girl like Dixie and that the two of them appeared to be so perfect together. 

We graduated from high school in 1966, and went our separate ways. I went to a couple of early reunions but thenI would not see Terry again until we were planning our fiftieth high school reunion. I had learned that he had married Dixie and that they lived not far from where it did, but somehow our paths didn’t cross. All the while he was living out his life with Dixie and I was living mine.

Terry’s wedding to Dixie was fifty years ago this month. Over the years the two of them created a family and even built a thriving business that took advantage of Dixie’s talents. Mostly their love grew ever stronger, and whenever Terry spoke of Dixie his eyes would light up with affection and pride. Whether having fun or facing disappointments and tragedies they were a team.

Spending a lifetime with another person can indeed be challenging, but somehow Terry and Dixie made it seem easy. Nonetheless, as their daughter describes their journey it took love, commitment, hard work and a never ending sense of family to keep moving forward together. Just as when he was young, Terry along with Dixie was a rousing success at being married. My guess is that he and Dixie knew when it how to balance the serious aspects of a relationship with those that are just plain fun. They have enjoyed decades of friendship with each other and with other couples with whom they laugh and share all of the ups and downs of living. Their mutual reverence for one another, family and friends is truly an inspiration.

I was quite touched when Terry and Dixie’s daughter posted a beautiful tribute to her parents on Facebook complete with a number of photographs of the couple on their wedding day and at various functions over the years. In each and every image the couple fairly glowed with the love that they felt for one another. They were as beautiful as celebrities. Even more wonderful was a comment that Terry left under one particular picture, “She still takes my breath away.”

Sometimes it seems as though the idea of loyalty to a single person for a lifetime has become almost old fashioned. Affairs and divorces are commonplace. It is a truly inspiring thing to see two people so in love after five decades. Our world would do well have have more people like Terry and Dixie to show us the wonder of an unwavering relationship. Through their union the world has been just a bit better than it might have been. Their children and grandchildren will certainly attest to that, but so do those of us lucky enough to know them as friends.

Terry has always been a fine person. He found a woman who matched his attributes and together they have been even more remarkable. All of us who know them send our congratulations on fifty years of growing together in age and in grace. May they enjoy many more.

A New Family

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My father died in the nineteen fifties, a time when it seemed as though everyone had both a mother and a father. My mother assumed the role of both parents and did a rather remarkable job, but back then she was somewhat of an anomaly. Families were fairly clearly defined by tradition and ours was strange in some people’s minds. Nonetheless my brothers and I turned out quite well in spite of the naysayers who worried that our upbringing just wasn’t natural.

I would be an adult before I learned that my grandfather’s childhood was even more exotic than mine. His mom died from childbirth complications and his father felt unprepared to care for a baby, so Grandpa was taken to his grandmother’s home where he would spend his boyhood years being cared for by a single woman in her eighties. When he was thirteen his grandma died and an uncle became his guardian. In spite of what appeared to be a rather chaotic childhood with unconventional parenting, Grandpa grew to be a fine man with exemplary character traits that he learned from the two people who loved and cared for him. He would always remember them with both a sense of gratitude and a feeling that he would have done no better had he enjoyed a more typical upbringing. The fact is that good families are created from love, not some predesigned template, and there is no one right way to form a strong unit.

I sometimes worry a bit about the growing trend among young adults to shy away from commitment to another person, even when a child is part of the picture. All too often there is a reluctance to make lifelong promises of loyalty to another. That is why I find it refreshing that members of the gay and lesbian community are so eager to legalize their relationships with marriage and pledges of love. Sadly their efforts have often been thwarted and even condemned by the very people who are proponents of more stable partnerships between men and women. Somehow many in our society have failed to see gay marriage in the light of genuine love between caring people that is truly present when two souls take the step of solidifying their bond. It is in reality an example of trust and loyalty that is all too often lacking in today’s way of doing things.

I learned that my nephew Daniel was gay many years ago. I was initially sad for him, not because I thought his feelings were wrong, but because I understood the world of hurt and humiliation that he might have to endure. For a time he was quite circumspect in admitting who he really was, sometimes out of respect for people with different opinions about such things, and other times because he knew that he might be shunned for his way of life. It worried me particularly because he is quite possibly the sweetest individual that I have ever known, a sincerely generous and giving person. He has always been a bright light of kindness in our family and most likely to be voted everyone’s favorite person. Because I knew how cruel some people can be I often thought of all of the beautiful aspects of life that Daniel might never be able to experience in the light of day. I wanted as much happiness for him as all of the straight people in our family had, but wondered if the time for such possibilities would ever come.

Attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women have slowly improved from what they once were, but are hardly perfect. Still my nephew was more and more able to be completely honest with everyone as time passed. He was open about his life and enjoyed a modicum of joy that had once been denied, but he really wanted to be able to marry the person that he loved just as his sister and cousins had done. He envisioned a life with his partner Nathan that was duly sanctioned and that would be indicative of how much he cared. Thanks to the sacrifices of legions of gay and lesbian individuals the day finally came when marriage became a reality and he and Nathan began to speak of joining together for all time.

As a family we were overjoyed for both Daniel and Nathan. They seemed perfect for each other and for our crazy quilt of a family. We hoped and prayed that there would one day be an announcement of an impending union and this month we rejoiced when invitations to their special day arrived in the mail. We were giddy with excitement.

Last weekend Daniel and Nathan were married in one of the most beautiful and touching ceremonies that I have ever witnessed. Many of us who love my nephew and his new husband gathered together in his parents backyard under a beautiful blue Texas sky on a picture perfect spring day. Lovely baskets of flowers hung from the branches of a big tree that shaded the deck on which the two stood with smiles that showed their joy as they joined hands and spoke their vows. They were so handsome and so obviously relieved that this wonderful day had finally come. Tears formed in their eyes as they listened to the minister while everyone present choked up with emotion when we saw the depth of their love and felt its power. It seemed so very right for these two men to promise to honor and cherish one another for the rest of their lives. Seeing so much sincerity up close moved our hearts,

A new family was created on Saturday. It is a good and wholesome one where love reigns supreme. It is a union that all of us should celebrate because it is filled with the selflessness that is so important in making such things work. I know that years from now it will be even stronger because it is based on the best of reasons, and I am filled with happiness in knowing that maybe one day it won’t be thought to be unusual by anyone.

I now have a new nephew to love as much as I do the one whom I held in my arms long ago when he was a baby. Both Daniel and Nathan are truly wonderful people and knowing that they have an opportunity to enjoy the gift of true love just as they have always hoped is an exciting notion. I wish them all the best and pray that they will experience a lifetime of adventure and quiet comfort. I thank them for demonstrating so much courage and honor. I look forward to spending many more happy occasions with them. 

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.