Her Wonderful Life

Jeanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewal

revolution

We humans like traditions. They tend to be anchors that keep us moored. We often attach our ways of doing things to special dates so that we might have reminders that it is time once again to repeat them. We turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we prepare for a family gathering later in the day. We watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. We hang lights on our houses and set up trees for Christmas. We celebrate birthdays with cakes and candles. Each year we plan for a succession of such events to break the routine of work and daily living, Traditions give us something wonderful to dream about when we are weary of the trials that so often beset us. They are mostly about spending time with people whom we love, forgetting about our challenges until another day.

Sometimes our difficulties are so overwhelming that they intrude upon our traditions. A death or a serious illness may make it impossible to feel the joy that usually comes with such occasions, We feel like outsiders as we see what appears to be the entire world having fun around us. We can’t imagine how they can be so happy when we are so bereft. Our woes are part of the natural cycle of life just as much as our joys but somehow we have a very difficult time accepting them in the midst of general revelry. We can’t imagine how it will ever again be possible to join the fun without heavy hearts.

Life is a repetitive cycle whether or not we humans take note of the changing seasons. It goes on and on and on just as it has done for centuries. We are part of its story and in our tendency to manufacture ways to take control of it, we create those traditions and cling to the constancy of them. They somehow help us to feel better but they can also be vivid reminders of loss. Our emotions are tied up with our traditions and we associate certain people and places with them so much so that they can at times hurt as much as they help.

Today is the first day of a new year and a new decade. In our human need to demonstrate a modicum of mastery over our existence we have created traditions to mark the passage of the earth’s journey around the sun. We eat special foods that we associate with good luck and we make resolutions to improve ourselves in the days ahead. Renewal and redemption is a constant theme in the human experience. We falter and then we forgive ourselves and hope that others will as well. We begin again hoping to be our best. It is perhaps one of our most noble characteristics.

I hear of many worthy resolutions on this day. People vow to take better care of their health or to pursue learning. They set goals of traveling more or spending time doing more purposeful things. The list of possibilities is endless and wonderful. It feels good to have the opportunity to renew ourselves, to jump start the goodness in our lives one more time. It’s also a moment when we might glance around us to find those souls who feel so broken and lost that they are unable to join the rest of us in the feelings of happiness and renewal. Perhaps there is no greater resolution than to show them comfort.

I spend a bit of time on Facebook each day just to get a feel of how my friends and family are doing. I see so much joy on my wall but hidden in the corners are hints that tell me of those who are suffering. I suspect that their sorrow is compounded by the celebratory images that they see. This most wonderful time of year can be quite hard for them, at least for awhile. Healing is a slow process but it need not be endured alone. There is nothing more curative than receiving small gestures of kindness and remembrance from people who care.

A friend posted a wonderful idea just before January 1. She suggested that each of us choose one person for whom we will pray each and every day of this new year. I’d like to add the idea of making time for that person as well. Giving to others is a tonic not only for them also but for us as.

May this new year of 2020 bring you and those you love the contentment and strength that you need to keep moving through another revolution of the sun and an opportunity for renewal.

Let Your Light Shine

stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Was Born At Christmastime

christmas-lights

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so the song goes. Colorful lights add a bit of merriment to the nights, Christmas carols fill the air in cars and homes and stores. Aisles of grocery stores are filled with tasty treats and ingredients for special feasts. We deck the halls of our homes and plan for special parties and lunches with friends. Our Facebook walls and Instagram accounts fill with photos of people having a good time. It feels as though the world is bursting with happiness, so much so that we sometimes forget about those who are suffering from loneliness, painful health problems or profound loss. For some “last Christmas” is not just a George Michael song, but a reality as they face the certainty of death.

It can be incredibly difficult to watch all the frivolities and rejoicing when one’s world feels as though it is careening toward disaster. I know from profound experience how difficult it can be to fake it through the holiday season after the death of a special person. I have spent a Christmas time confined to my home with a serious illness. The season of celebration can emphasize sorrows making them seem doubly hurtful. Sadly there are many among us each Christmas who have difficulty feeling the jocular spirit and in our rush to post our Christmas cards in time and purchase presents for those we love we sometimes forget about them.

It’s not particularly difficult to make a donation on Thankful Tuesday or fill a shoebox with gifts for a child, but taking the time to genuinely remember the people around us who are struggling with sadness is all too often ignored. We sometimes fear talking about unhappy topics or being around someone who is feeling defeated or confused or sad. Instead we seek the comfort of fun people, places, and things. All of which makes life feel a bit more dreary for those whose turn in life is not so jolly at this particular time. It would be nice if we would add to our list of things to buy and do a reminder to set aside some time for anyone who might be having a hard go this December.

I have always had angels in my own life who comforted me when I least expected their notice. I cannot even begin to describe how much their compassion meant to me. When as a child the very thought of Christmas saddened and frightened me because of my father’s death only months before there were lovely friends and family members who came to our home bearing good cheer and sometimes a tin of homemade cookies or just the gift of their time. On the occasion of my Christmas confinement because of a four month long case of hepatitis everyone save for my mother and my husband’s parents avoided our family like the plague. When our dear friends Egon and Marita came to visit it was as though the three kings had arrived to honor us. Another time when my mother-in-law died only weeks before December 25, friends from the school where I worked sent so many greetings and condolences and baskets of flowers and fruits. Just knowing that someone was thinking of me during those sad times brightened my mood and helped me to remember what the holiday is really all about.

Over two thousand years ago a baby who would change the world was born. He grew to preach a gospel of love and compassion. Every aspect of his brief life here on the earth demonstrated what it means to be a human and how we have the ability to elevate the meaning of our lives through faith, hope and charity. He came not as an intolerant judge who lacked an understanding of how it feels to suffer, but instead as a beacon of hope even during the times when our lives feel almost unbearable. He was betrayed by a friend, denied by another, and abandoned by all but one member of the group of apostles that he had formed. He was jeered by a crowd that had only recently cheered him. He died a painful death like a common criminal even though he was an innocent. What he wanted us to know is that even in the midst of injustice, pain, and loss we are never alone. He demonstrated how he expected us to treat everyone. That is the purpose of his birth. He is the reason for the season, and all too often they very idea that we ignore.

I have a cousin who has produced a most loving and remarkable family. In past years he and his wife have been the joy and the life of the Christmas celebration. This year they have endured great health challenges that have made it difficult for them to feel the happiness that they once exuded. On Thanksgiving day every one of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren descended on their home bringing a feast of food and joy. After the dinner the family decorated a Christmas tree, hung lights on the house, set out the stockings and transformed the place into a lovely scene. They laughed, took photos, told stories and hugged each other over and over again. They brought joy to a place that had felt hopelessly bleak. They filled every nook and cranny with their love and no doubt will return again and again during the weeks ahead. They showed us all what Christmas should mean.

Don’t forget the forgotten. That was the message of the founder of the Christmas feast, Jesus Christ. It was a plainly simple idea that we would all do well to follow even if we are not religious. It is a certainty that someone that you know needs your love at this time of year more than ever. Be there for them and give them the gift of your love. 

Taking Some Stress Out of Christmas

dishes

So many people get annoyed with those of us who start shopping and prepping for Christmas when Halloween has barely passed, but I find that if I don’t do a bit here and a bit there for many weeks I get caught at the last minute expending all of my energy in one fell swoop. Instead I learned long ago that if I slowly chip away at all of my Christmas tasks and I will have time to enjoy the season with friends, neighbors and family. It takes a bit of planning but I learned how to do that quite well as an educator when I had to be certain of teaching all of the concepts within a certain timeframe.

One aspect of my holiday traditions is the sit down dinner that I host on Christmas Day. I truly enjoy readying my home for that gala but in the past few years I have found that I spend most of the day getting the food served and then cleaning all of the dishes and pans for hours afterward. I have lovely Christmas place settings that are so festive but they generally have to be washed by hand and doing so takes far more time than it should. I have guests who quite sweetly attempt to help but the problem is that they get to visit with every one even less time that I do when they volunteer, and that isn’t much fun for any of us.

This year I decided to do something about the one Christmas duty that I abhor. I made a visit to the Party City website and ordered plastic plates that appear to be elegant china with matching bowls, dessert plates and even cups. All I need now are a few of those huge Costco garbage bags and the cleanup will be quick and easy. I will spend my time actually enjoying my guests rather than making sure that my kitchen stays orderly enough not to be designated as a toxic waste dump.

I still plan to use my Christmas tablecloths and napkins. They are easy to just toss into the washing machine. I also plan to set out my mother’s silver and the pewter utensils that my dear friend Egon left for me upon his death. I really don’t care to eat with plastic knives and forks and spoons and using the real thing will not create much mess at all. The entire lot will fit nicely into a sink of hot soapy water where it can soak until later. I’m thinking of maybe going with throw away serving bowls as well, but I have a wonderful Christmas platter that I always use for my roast or turkey or ham. It is a tradition that I refuse to surrender. It won’t take much to clean it and put it safely away. 

I feel a bit guilty about possibly damaging the environment with so many disposable items. The modern trend is to recycle everything but I will be seventy one this month and quite frankly I am tired of the annual cleanup. My mother-in-law announced her retirement from hosting the Christmas gala when she was younger than I am. My mother followed suit rather quickly thereafter. I don’t want to give away my day to provide the family with a feast just yet, but I am going on strike over the task of using all of the good china. I don’t think anybody really cares what the plates look like as long as what is on them tastes good. I’ll spend more time perfecting my menu and less washing and drying crystal and china.

Everyone seems to have a great time on Christmas Day. They have lively conversations and play games. I tend to be puttering about for so long that by the time I finally join the group they announce one by one that it is time to go home. I suspect that such has been the lot of women for decades. We eat our food cold and perform the “Martha” role to the point of missing all the fun. This year I am going to remedy that.

I’ve even sent out a family email to determine what everyone actually wants to eat this year. I have set a deadline of November 18, for the input and I will go by majority rule. I think it will be fun for everyone to have some say in what we our feast will be.

Many have suggested that I have a potluck but I don’t mind the cooking at all. It is one task that is fun for me and I prefer knowing ahead of time how to balance the meal. Besides the idea is that the dinner is a gift from me to the family. It is the one time of year when everyone comes and I have the honor of treating them. I get great joy out of the entire event.

I’ve bought a few Christmas gifts already. It’s easy to find great gifts for some people and almost impossible for others. I don’t know how it is for anyone else but the men are the hardest for me. I can only purchase so many ties or shirts or books or whatever. The guys tend to have very specific desires whereas women like just about anything. It will take me many weeks to figure it all out and then I will just have to hope that I have hit the spot.

Christmas is undoubtably my favorite time of the year and I plan to keep streamlining it so that I can get every bit of enjoyment out of the season and keep stress at a bare minimum. I’ll let you know how the plastic place settings work out. I suspect that they will be a hit.