Win Win

920x920Houston has been looking like a winner of late, which is quite grand given what happened a little more than three months ago. We’re still celebrating our World Series championship and to top everything off we got a lovely dusting of white flakes last week that literally made everyone smile. The landscape that had been covered in a different kind of precipitation back in August look like a picture postcard with every rooftop and tree glistening with just enough snow to create a winter wonderland.

We’ve really needed those little bits of joy because there is till so much recovery work needed. It breaks our hearts to know that there are still people not yet back in their houses. For some the journey home has been long and hard. Many were turned down for relief funds and others are being told that they will have to raise their foundations before getting permits for repairs. Families have wiped out their savings and in some cases spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for which they have had to get loans. While the rest of us have been getting ready for the holiday season, they’ve been consumed with worry. Still, we are all Houston Strong and the viral photo of a Houstonian cheering on a plastic lawn chair during the final game of the World Series inside his stripped down home seems to represent who we are.

You can imagine how wonderful we felt when we learned that not one, but two of our hometown heroes had won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award. Both J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve are beloved figures here in H Town and their twin win was glorious, because there are times when we wonder if anyone even knows where Houston is or that it is the fourth largest city in the nation. It sometimes seems that Cleveland is more identifiable to the world than Houston, but much of what is best about our city has put us on the map this year. Watt and Altuve are among our finest treasures and we are swelled with pride in knowing that they have been duly honored.

J.J. Watt is the kind of man that everyone mom wants her son to become. Aside from his tremendous talent on the gridiron he is a truly fine and generous human being. We’ve all come to realize that he is a gift to our city both on and off of the field. He’s perhaps our most reliable player when he’s not injured and so he is undoubtedly the fan favorite. When he immediately stepped up to help raise funds for those affected by the floods we were not surprised, but we were definitely grateful and humbled by his efforts which paid off beyond all of our wildest expectations. This was one of J.J’s most public moments of largesse, but those of us who live here know that he has been constantly and often very quietly doing wonderful things for the people of Houston.

J.J. Watt has been known to show up at hospitals and nursing homes. He even takes the time to attend high school sporting events to encourage local athletes. He is a superstar who has somehow managed to maintain his sense of humility. We are in awe of his towering presence, but we also view him as the guy next door because that is the way he wants to be. He’s our neighbor, one of us. His pain is ours, and so when his leg was shattered fairly early in the season we were heartbroken for him. It was as though one of our own sons had been sidelined. Now that he is enjoying the honor that is so well deserved we find ourselves celebrating with him as well.

Jose Altuve has played his heart out all season long on the Houston Astros. When our city was so devastated he became a man with a mission. He was determined to work harder and better to bring a win to our town. He made it known that he and the team were unwilling to let us down. In perhaps the darkest hour that Houston has ever experienced he was a beacon of hope, a bookend for J.J. Watt.

Altuve too is a young man who works hard to be his very best both on and off of the baseball diamond. He is a team player who understands what he must do each time he walks up to the plate. Somehow he appears to be less concerned with personal acclaim and more focused on sharing his athletic brilliance with his fellow players and his fans. He understood all too well how much we needed the championship that had eluded us for decades, and on an evening when many were watching in rooms with concrete floors and only studs for walls he and his teammates took us to the Promised Land. We were as united as we had been back in August when we were working to help those affected by the storms, only this time we were deliriously happy. He gave us an unexpected gift and demonstrated that his heart was bigger than his entire body. In stature he is the exact twin of J.J. Watt.

Sometimes the universe appears to align in such a manner that the most deserving receive the awards. In a year punctuated by a great deal of suffering and ugliness it is refreshing to be reminded that there are still exceptionally talented and noble individuals in our midst. J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve are the role models that we need for our young. They are the heroes who rank with the legends. All of us in Houston are proud to embrace them as our own.

The Christmas lights in H Town are burning a bit brighter and with a bit more hopefulness. The world has been set aright for once. In their great wisdom the editors of Sports Illustrated have chosen two individuals who represent the very best of the human spirit. Our congratulations will never be enough to thank J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve for all that they have given us. They are heroes whose stories will be enshrined in the crazy history of this incredible town. The mere mention of their names will bring smiles to our faces as we will always remember how much they meant to us when things seemed so bleak. All of Houston will be forever grateful and strong.

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Focus On the Good

gallery-1447109043-thanksgiving-movies-indexThere are people who seem to be intent on making virtually every tradition that we enjoy political, including the Thanksgiving holiday. Some even refer to it as a day of mourning rather than a way of showing gratitude, because to them it represents a time when land was taken from the indigenous people who originally roamed freely across North America. I suppose that they have a point, but I believe that this day should be honored as a way of focusing on bringing family and friends together in a spirit of gratitude for the blessings that we have enjoyed instead of decrying the injuries and insults inflicted on us and on previous generations. The truth is that if we keep going back far enough in history we find violence, subjugation, theft of property and egregious acts in virtually every society. A quick review of today’s world events reveals evidence that as people we humans still have work to do. While there is nothing wrong with admitting that we have erred in the past, there is something a bit sick about continually beating ourselves up over things that we did not do and cannot change. Our only recourse is to learn from the mistakes of history and move forward with a more inclusive determination to live in a world as just as possible. To turn our backs on the very healthy idea of being grateful for any and all good that we have experienced is to lose the spirit of a celebration whose intent was to inspire the very hope that we most need.

We humans used to wander from one place to another searching for food and warmth. We had little need for ownership of land. It was a free range world for the most part because there weren’t that many of us. From time to time our ancestors clashed and we have the evidence of skulls cracked by manmade implements to prove that even then we didn’t always get along so well. Once we quit following herds and found a way to settle down and grow crops the idea of the survival of the fittest really kicked into place. We had not yet thought of the concept of contracts and deeds to prove ownership, but that would eventually come and as populations grew there were those who rose to power and took advantage of their positions to accumulate wealth. The social strata has almost always included haves and have nots. Even the most communal groups appear to have individuals running things and possessing just a bit more than everyone else. Over time there were land grabs taking place all over planet earth, with fighting and enslavement sometimes occurring even among and between indigenous tribes.

When the New World was discovered it appeared for all intents and purposes to be a land of opportunity and resources. Princes and potentates all over Europe made claims and sent adventurous citizens to help stake out ownership. More often than not the people who agreed to relocate to uncharted territory were those who had little reason to hope for good lives in the places where they were born. They tended to be poor and were often persecuted for their religious beliefs. The truth was that they were often considered to be the “riff raff” and encouraging them to colonize the newly claimed land was a convenient way to be rid of them while increasing the power of the monarchies and governments in Europe. We often forget this inconvenient truth whenever we consider the history that ultimately lead to the making of the United States of America. We rarely hold Spain or Portugal responsible for the scourge of slavery in the New World and yet it was their big idea and they imported it to most of South America in an even bigger way than its reach in the north.

The original pilgrims who came to Plymouth were a hated and motley crew back in Europe. Their religion was despised and even illegal, so they had moved from place to place back home hoping to find a sense of peace that had long evaded them. The idea of coming to the New World was one of desperation that wasn’t as well thought out as needed. They were unable to scrounge up a full complement of like minded souls willing to leave all that they had known behind, so they enlisted a few families who were running from the law. As they crossed the Atlantic the leader of their group realized that they had to create a compact that would bring a bit of order to the excursion. Sadly the entire plan appeared to be doomed by brutal weather and disease. By the time that the survivors of the trip had begun the task of settling on the land more than half of their fellow travelers had died. It seemed as though they had fled from one inhospitable place to another that was even more frightening. In desperation they formed an alliance with a group of native people who were warring with other tribes intent on taking their land. For all intents and purposes it must have appeared to be a free for all to the Europeans, but at least for the time being they were able to practice their religion and escape punishments.

We all know the rest of the story and realize that the imperfections of those who came to this land were as varied and profuse as they are today. Mankind has yet to figure out how best to live in harmony, and so there are tensions between people all over the world. We Americans have made many efforts to be a more democratic society, and for the most part immigrants still arrive at our shores hoping to build better lives. My maternal grandparents came only a little over a hundred years ago in search of opportunities that never would have been afforded them in the place in which they were born. They and their children were frequently treated badly and they struggled to make it, but they indeed found the comfort that they sought. Many generations later their descendants are success stories in the country that made it possible. Our family has much for which to be unendingly grateful. To focus instead on the injustices that befell our grandparents and parents would be to miss the very point of why we are here today. Our grandfather understood that if he had stayed in the town of his birth we would have been dominated by governments intent on assigning him to a life of poverty in which his freedoms would have been seriously curtailed. He was willing to endure the difficulties and imperfections of the United States because he realized that here there was hope for our futures. He loved this country with all of his being and taught his children to have the same devotion. He had seen firsthand what it was like to be in a less inclusive place. In spite of the flaws, he believed that America was still a great place to be.

So on this day I am thankful to be here. I feel gratitude for the education that I was given. I appreciate the freedoms that I have. I am blessed in knowing that I may work to create changes that will make our land an even better place. I appreciate the tremendous diversity that brings together people from all over the world. Like any person or family our country is imperfect, but we continue to strive toward a more perfect union of souls. Today I am looking not at the bad, but considering the good. In that regard my world is bountiful. I know that evil doers still exist, but they are far outnumbered by decent and kind individuals. I have faith that our nation will continue to evolve and become a kinder gentler place. We have work to do, but what we have accomplished so far is a testament to the ascent of mankind. Today I praise God for the mere fact that I am still here with the opportunity to be even better tomorrow than I was yesterday.   

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.

And Yet I Smile

fa63118bf63a334a496e6b0794b8de96--smile-qoutes-smiley-faces(With acknowledgment to the writers of The Walking Dead)

It has been a very difficult year from start to finish, and yet I smile. Many of my friends and relatives have endured illnesses and even deaths, and yet I smile. I witnessed my husband lying on the floor of a bathroom, slurring his words, unable to lift himself, and yet I smile. I watched in horror as my city filled with flood waters while fifty one inches of rain fell relentlessly, and yet I smile. Dear friends have suddenly died leaving me with a longing for the fun times that we shared, and yet I smile. My mother-in-law fell and broke her arm while my father-in-law fell and bruised his body, and yet I smile. There has been a fire in my kitchen, damage to my once lovely patio, and yet I smile. In so many countless ways the last eleven months have brought an unfair share of misery all around me, and yet I smile. Why is this so? It is because I am still here, still standing, still fighting the good fight, and through all of the travails I have learned again and again how wonderful people are, and so I smile.

I cannot control what happens to me, but I am always able to determine how I will react. I change and become a slightly newer person with every event, good or bad, that overtakes me. I may choose to collapse in a state of sadness which I honestly often do, but I may also look for the tiniest drop of positivity in even the darkest moments. When I find that grain of hope, I smile. Sometimes there is little more that I might do than to turn the corners of my mouth upward and view my situation with a bit of humor. Laughter almost always makes me feel as good as a big ugly cry does. A release of my emotions provides me with the will and the power to tackle whatever job lies ahead, and when I can choose I prefer finding something, anything about which to smile.

I haven’t always been this way. For much of my life I bemoaned my fate. I was a sad sack filled with self pity. I felt beset upon because my father died. I pouted because I counted how much I lacked rather than glorying in what I had. I was dissatisfied with my appearance, my personality, all sorts of things. I was jealous of people who appeared to enjoy life in ways that seemed unavailable to me. In other words I found only the bad and almost never the good that was always present but I hidden from my view. Then one day I smiled. It felt empowering to concentrate on my good fortune rather than my bad luck. I learned to approach each day much as people do in November by counting my blessings, and so now I frequently smile.

The reality of my husband’s health problems is a bitter pill, and yet I smile because he is still here with me. I know the importance of enjoying each and every minute that I have with him. I savor our conversations, the things that we share. I need little more than his companionship to make me smile.

I marveled at the outpouring of kindness that has flowed over my city during and in the aftermath of the floods. I have cried when viewing the damaged homes, and yet I smile, because there is a can do spirit every place that I go. I now understand that I will never be all alone. There are enough compassionate people that surely someone will always step forward to help me in an hour of need just as they have assisted so many. I smile because ours is not an ugly world, but a beautiful one in which people sometimes falter. I now believe that love will always find a way to conquer even the most terrible tragedies.

I miss the friends and relations who have died, and yet I smile, because when all is said and done I have laughed and played and enjoyed my time with them. I have known their love and it is a treasure that will always be alive in my heart. Even knowing how I may hurt when they are gone, I would go gladly go back in time to repeat the moments that we shared. I would not want to change a thing about those amazing times.

I suppose that it is when things are the most difficult that we realize the significance of how wondrous our lives have actually been. I recall not so much the things that I have accumulated but instances when I watched my children running and playing so carefree and happy. I can almost hear the laughter of Christmases with my big crazy family, even though I don’t really recall the gifts that I received. I think of the people who demonstrated their love by attending my mother’s funeral. They may not think that I noticed that they were there to support me and my brothers, but I did, and so I smile. I see the mountains, rainbows, glistening lakes, towering forests, and falling snow in places that I have visited. Those images that live inside my mind make me smile. I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I think of the faces of my students lighting up with understanding. It feels so good to know that I did something so important.

Yes, not just this year but much of my life has had its share of disappointments, failures, tragedies, losses, and yet I smile. I have calculated the positive aspects of my existence and they far exceed those that made me sad. I’m still watching the sun rise and set. I keep moving forward toward who knows what. I will no doubt be challenged in ways that I have not yet imagined. I will have to endure tough times, and I yet I smile. I am certain that I will always somehow find the strength and support that I need. People that I know or have not yet met will walk with me on my journey, especially if I find the wherewithal to smile and the courage and gratitude that will allow them to help me. I have found the secret to happiness, and so I smile.

Twilight Dreams

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You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.—C.S. Lewis

I’ll be celebrating my sixty-ninth birthday this week and I still often behave as though I’m eighteen and just embarking on adult life. Sure I’m not as energetic as I once was nor as quick-witted, but as long as I am still able to care for myself I plan to keep dreaming.

There are certain things that were once on my bucket list that don’t matter much to me anymore. For a very long time I wanted to live in West University Place, an upscale neighborhood near Rice University. I love the big trees and old style architecture there along with the perk of being close to so much of the action in Houston. For most of my working years I held firm to the belief that I would one day get there, but the prices of the homes kept increasing, and my salary as an educator didn’t keep pace so it never happened. Once I realized that I may as well scratch that idea from my book of dreams I was briefly sad, but eventually it didn’t really matter anymore. I love my present home and my neighbors and have little desire to move. After the floods of hurricane Harvey I was was incredibly grateful that I survived without any damage and I didn’t once think of how it would have been if I had indeed found my way into West U. Sometimes such goals actually become irrelevant.

As I’ve aged my tastes and desires have changed. I’m much more mellow than I once was. I learned the importance of appreciating the many blessings that I have rather than constantly wanting more and more. Contentment has become my most worthy goal, and I am doing quite well in living the dream. I’ve become amazingly good at thoroughly enjoying myself just watching the birds and sipping on a class of wine in my backyard. I like long conversations with my husband, and the honor of helping my grandchildren with homework. I no longer have to be reminded to be thankful because I find myself thinking of my good fortune multiple times each day. I truly enjoy life whether I am doing something exciting or simply basking in the wonder of the people that I know.

When I was younger my dreams centered on finding success, accumulating things, becoming wealthy. I eventually realized that my desires were not making me happy because they were focused on the wrong things. Once I acknowledged the greater importance of being a good person and appreciating and cultivating relationships I began to have a sense of lightness even when I was merely performing routine tasks on very quiet days. It’s quite true that nobody takes any possessions with them when they die. They may be dressed in fine clothes, wearing golden rings and such, but few are ever remembered for what they owned. What truly remains are the legacies that they have created over time. For that reason my goals as I begin to approach my seventieth decade all center on people. I truly hope that I will leave love and memories of a purpose-filled life behind.

My dream is to stay healthy enough of mind and body that I will be able to continue to help and sometimes even inspire the people that I encounter. I don’t need much for myself anymore, but I would so like to be able to comfort and enrich other lives. I have begun to understand that it doesn’t always take a great deal of money or effort to do that. Just letting people know that they matter is a great gift. So many are struggling and the world can sometimes feel quite hateful. I want to be that person who smiles and improves a day that might otherwise have been bad.

It never takes great effort to bring joy into other people’s worlds, a kind word, an affirmation, just being there. When I received a “thinking of you” card from high school friends after my husband’s stroke it felt as though I had won the lottery. That little note of reassurance and thoughtfulness made what had been a very bad day seem bearable. My goal is to pay that sort of kindness forward a hundredfold. I suppose that everyone appreciates an unexpected pat on the back as much as I do.

I so admire Jimmy Carter for continuing to spend his time and talents in his twilight years helping the less fortunate. He might have traveled, played golf, spoiled himself, but instead he has dedicated his post White House years to being a shining beacon of hope for so many who might have suffered but for his largesse. I can’t think of more noble goals than the ones that he set for himself. I wonder if I would have been as forgiving as he was when the voters rejected him for a second term as president. As lesser man might have stewed in indignation. President Carter instead found a way to remain optimistic and loving. There aren’t many bonafide saints who were as magnanimous as he has been.

I have no idea when the clock will stop ticking for me. I’ve certainly witnessed friends and family members in my age group climbing the stairway to heaven. Their deaths remind me that none of us have a certain future. Nonetheless I plan to keep planning until I can no more. I think that just about anything is possible for me to accomplish as long as I don’t surrender to the passage of time. I’m just not yet ready to sit permanently in a rocking chair just watching the world go by. I suspect that there are still many miles to traverse and I want to walk them with a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve actually considered attempting to earn a doctorate, and the only thing that holds me back is that I would rather spend time with people than with books and my thoughts. I want laughter and love and life to be part of my days. I desire to have friendships and fun. I’d like to think that I have many more smiles to flash and hugs to give away. I want a twinkle in my eyes and a happy story on my lips. I believe that I have actually found the most worthy promises of my life, and I thank the good Lord that I have everything that I need to make all of them come true.