Being What We Want Our Children To Be

kids-learn-from-adultsUntil last week I really had no idea who Harvey Weinstein was. I’ve seen and enjoyed a number of movies that his film company produced, but never really paid attention to who was responsible for them. I thought that some movies like Pulp Fiction were the products of unadulterated genius and others not so much. I didn’t realize that it was because of Weinstein’s efforts that Shakespeare In Love won the best picture Oscar when it was up against movie gold like Saving Private Ryan and Elizabeth both of which were far superior to the winner in every imaginable way. I’ve since learned that Weinstein was masterful at garnering votes for movies produced by his studio. With his business acumen he made a name for himself and was quite the powerful man, not just in Hollywood but in political circles as well. In just a little more than a week his reputation and possibly his empire have come tumbling down. It appears that he has been taking advantage of his power by sexually harassing and maybe even attacking  young women who fell victim to his advances out of fear of destroying their careers if they came forward with accusations. The old stories of producers and directors having casting couches abound in the history of movie land and appear to be alive and well to this day.

I can’t say that I am all that surprised. I find the Hollywood scene to be so artificial. Let’s face it. Matt Damon is not really Jason Bourne anymore than any of the actors are the characters that they play. We tend to be star struck and to idolize them to the point of taking them more seriously than we ought. At the end of the day they are as human and imperfect as we are. Take away the lights, makeup, and film editing and they are often rather ordinary. The same goes for their thoughts and beliefs. As my mother always said, they have no more insight into how we should think than anybody else. In fact, it is generally in the most ordinary of circumstances that we find the most remarkable people.

Think about the totality of your life and you will be able to recall a cast of characters whom you have known who will never receive rewards or accolades, but whose ways of living were worthy of the pages of books or even the bright lights of the big screen. I recall teachers, neighbors, relatives whose impact on my development was positive and inspirational. There were so many of them, and they were oh so real. They were truly as courageous, generous and loving as they seemed to be. There was no trickery or illusion. They were the real deal, hard working people who quietly showed me how to become a responsible person in my own right. I watched them with the critical eye of a child and then a teenager and learned from them by example. I’ve never needed the moral dictums of movie stars or directors, because ordinary people have always been around to show me how to behave and treat others.

It is often said that children will do whatever they see the adults around them doing. I feel certain that that is true, because I often find myself emulating the behaviors of people that I admired long ago in my little corner of the world. My mother demonstrated unconditional love and acceptance each and every day of her life. Even when I was grown I often felt humbled by the generosity and selflessness that she demonstrated day after day without any thought of receiving thanks or praise. I had some incredible teachers who with their examples literally taught me how to be a good educator. Not any of the professional development that I have taken has ever been more effective than watching those inspiring mentors who encouraged me to love knowledge. I learned well what works in a classroom and what doesn’t from them. From my childhood neighbors I came to understand that we all live in a village in which we are keepers of one another. It is our duty to protect the people around us as much as we protect our own.

Perhaps more than anything I recall what I learned about being a woman, and those lessons were continually conveyed to me by other women who demonstrated strength and dignity in everything that they did. They showed me how to respect and protect myself. They made me aware of how to keep myself safe, and most importantly how to refuse unwanted sexual advances. I learned how to be aware of my surroundings and when to know that I might be in danger. They repeatedly helped me to understand my own importance in the world and let me know that I need never do anything that makes me uncomfortable. They gave me the tools that I have used to achieve an equal footing with my male counterparts without ever having to surrender my principles.

I feel for women who have been subjected to unwanted sexual harassment. My mother was a particularly beautiful woman and men were quite attracted to her. Sometimes they crossed lines in their behavior toward her, especially after she became a widow. She never allowed herself to be lured by promises or power, not even when she was struggling to keep up with the finances of leading a family alone. Still, she always felt such anger and humiliation whenever men attempted to take advantage of her. They always seemed to insinuate that she had somehow asked for the unwanted actions.

Why anyone would treat another human in such a vile way is beyond my comprehension, and yet we hear of such disturbing behavior again and again. Sadly it is not unique to men. It is sick and disgusting and yet we all too often see it happening and say nothing because we are frightened or simply don’t want to get involved. It’s up to each of us to not only be unafraid to report such things, but we have to get past the idea that certain people bring such incidents on themselves. We have a tendency to blame the victims of sexual violence more than we should. What’s even worse is when we assume that people from certain backgrounds are more likely to be lying whenever they step forward with stories of abuse. We need to listen to anyone with a story of sexual violence and then seek the facts that will ultimately reveal the truth. By the same token we need to be careful not to find someone guilty before we have all of the evidence that we need.

It is always shocking to learn that someone whom we trusted is not the person we thought him/her to be. What is especially sad is when many people know of abuse but look the other way. I tip my hat to anyone who has the courage to speak the truth no matter how powerful the offender may be. As a society we have to insist that nobody be given a pass regardless of who they are. Common decency and fairness requires us to be honest in dealing with abuse because our children are indeed watching. The messages that we send, the hypocrisies that we accept will mold their futures. We need to be certain that what they are seeing and hearing reflects the way we want them to one day be. The only way to curb the kind of behaviors that lead to powerful people believing that they can harm people with impunity is to bring what they have done into the daylight, and demonstrate that we will not tolerate such indecency from anyone. Right now we seem to have a long way to go before we set aside all of our false posturing and stand up for what is just.

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A Wedding, Two Funerals, and A Hurricane

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This summer has left me forever changed in ways more dramatic than I might ever have imagined. It began innocently enough with a visit to New Orleans with grandson Ian. He saw my favorite city with a new set of eyes that were innocent and inquisitive. It was the history of the place that fascinated him more than even the food and entertainment. He was particularly entranced with the World War II Museum which filled him with wonder and so many questions. I suppose that in many ways the day that we spent reliving the drama and importance of that era when was the beginning of a circle of life that left me profoundly different by the end of my journey through the warm lazy days that have heretofore represented fun and frolic to me, but would no longer be so simple to consider.

After our sojourn in New Orleans we travelled to Cancun for the wedding of two of our favorite friends, Tim and Dickie. We learned just how powerful love can be and that how it cannot be narrowly defined. We also went on a journey back in history to study the Mayan people and their glorious civilization that had been quite advanced in its time. It humbled us to learn of the ingenuity of mankind, but also to understand that the upheavals of life and how we humans react to them have the power to take down or raise up even nations.

We had scheduled so many more amazing travels for July and August when our world was shaken to its very foundation. My husband Mike had a stroke on July 3, and it was as though the earth itself had stood still. Nothing really mattered to me other than Mike’s health and I was thankful that he was still alive and that I would have more time to convey my feelings for him. I suppose that from that exact moment forward I quit taking anything for granted. I became more attuned to the colors and sounds and people all around me. I rejoiced each day when both Mike and I arose. I reveled in even the smallest bits of joy that came our way. Somehow I found myself caring little for things and greatly appreciative of relationships and love.

Mike and I shared a viewing of a partial eclipse of the sun rather than than the total one that we had planned to witness. I suppose that I should have been disappointed that we were not able to travel to Wyoming for the event, but having the pleasure of sitting with Mike in a park watching the little piece of wonder that we were given was more than ample for me. I felt that our day together was truly glorious just because we had the gift of being together. Whenever I thought of what might have been, I felt frightened but mostly grateful for my blessings. Each new day was glorious, but I had little idea that an even greater test of my endurance lay ahead.

As the summer drew to a close my two eldest grandsons readied to go off to college. We celebrated at our favorite Cuban restaurant, El Meson, in the Village area of Houston near Rice University and the Medical Center. It was a beautiful night in which we enjoyed knowing what fine young men our Andrew and Jack had become. It was yet another reason to be thankful and our hearts were filled with joy.

Later we had the privilege of having our twin grandsons Ben and Eli at our home while their parents helped their older brother to check into his dorm at Texas A&M. I was charged with helping the two boys to complete a project for their English class and we worked quite hard for an entire Saturday. I woke them up early on Sunday so that we might finish and still have time for some fun before their parents returned. Just as I had hoped we found ourselves with enough free hours that we were able to go bowling at the Main Event. Later that evening we played a rousing game of Scrabble with no holds barred, and Eli literally blew us all away with a remarkable score. We laughed and felt so good that I once again found myself silently saying prayers of thanks for such precious moments.

Then came the threat of hurricane Harvey. It seemed that because the eye of the storm would be so far away we would be in little danger. There were predictions of massive rainfall but somehow that didn’t seem to be much of a problem, and so we decided to stay in our home. On the first day after the hurricane made landfall we spoke of the hysteria of the forecasters because their promises of floods appeared to have been premature. We were much more saddened by images of the devastation in Rockport, Texas, one of our all time favorite camping spots. It was not until the evening that the rains began and kept going and going and going for three solid days leaving forty three inches in our neighborhood alone.

We began to hear dire reports of friends and family members whose homes were taking on water. The television stations showed us live pictures of familiar places that looked like ocean front property. More and more people that we knew were evacuating, sometimes in the middle of the night. Suddenly I became fearful because it was apparent that if my husband had another stroke there would be little that we might do to get the help that he would need. Those three days became a kind of terror for me. I watched the rain and the street in front and the yard in the back, ever vigilant and unable to sleep lest I might need to get Mike to a medical facility. I cared not about any of the things in my home, but only about my husband and his safety. I realized that I was going to do whatever it took to get him through.

When the rain finally stopped and moved away from our city after dumping fifty one inches across a one hundred mile wide area I was emotionally drained and filled with conflicting emotions. I cried for all of the souls whose worlds had been turned upside down. I sobbed for those who had lost their lives and their homes. I felt lucky that Mike had made it through the days and nights in good condition. I laughed that we had stayed home from camping trips and the eclipse lest he be in a situation in which he might not be able to receive immediate medical care, and ironically for three days we had essentially been trapped on a kind of island with so much happening all around us that we were actually quite alone. I had to praise God for caring for us and for giving me the strength and the calm that I had needed to weather the storm.

Last week our city began to attempt a return to normalcy in earnest. Children returned to school. Adults went back to work. There were actually days that felt so much like the glorious beginning of fall that has always made Houston a kind of Chamber of Commerce postcard. Only rides around town reminded us of the horror of what had happened. Still we had to be happy that we were able to meet with great friends for a brunch on Sunday. We were grateful that we got to visit Mike’s father on Monday and see that he was doing well. Then our week was punctuated with the sorrow and celebration of the lives of two incredible women who had died. I think that perhaps more than any other event their funerals impacted me with a realization of what is truly most important as we live out our days.

Both of these beautiful souls had lived through those harrowing events of World War II that we had studied in New Orleans with Ian. One of them had resided in England. She met her soulmate during that conflict, an American GI. The two of them fell in love and he took her back to his home in Texas where they had seven children that they raised in a home filled with love and goodness and faith in God. The other woman had been born in Italy but eventually immigrated to New Orleans where she too met the love of her life. They also wound up in Houston in the same neighborhood where I grew up. They had four children who would become dear friends of mine. Both women were devoted to their families and required very little in the way of possessions or wealth to be happy. They sacrificed for family and felt honored to do so. In the end they were in turn loved and adored by their children and their friends.

When I attended the two funerals I was accompanied by people that I had known since I was quite young. We had each accumulated a lifetime of stories and memories, but somehow we knew that those women had demonstrated to us how to truly get the most out of life. I felt a sense of peace and a feeling of understanding that has all too often eluded me as I have fought to accomplish rather than to relate. I saw that these women had always realized that titles and bank accounts and possessions were not the things that define a life well lived, but rather the moments when we touch hearts. Somehow I understood that in spite of the topsy turvy nature of this summer, it had been magnificent because it had opened my eyes to how I need to embrace each moment that I have. Somehow I am all the better for what I have learned from that wedding, the hurricane and those two funerals.

Two Women of Distinction

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I was a Catholic school girl. I attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary School from the second grade all the way through the eighth. The years when I was there were at the height of the Baby Boom, and so we had multiple classes for each grade and the classrooms were always crowded. I knew everyone’s name, but didn’t always have the opportunity to become close friends with all of the students in my grade. Still, there were certain people who stood out as being quite special even as children. Because I felt gawky and shy I found myself longing to be like some of the kids that I considered to be a cut above the rest of us ordinary souls.

In the eighth grade an annual ceremony honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary took place each May. We had the honor of voting for the one girl that we believed to be worthy of such a high distinction. We were instructed to consider our choices carefully, not basing them on popularity, but rather on evidence of impeccable character. Even though I only knew her from afar at that time, I did not hesitate to vote for Linda Daigle, a friendly and generous young lady who always appeared to be thinking of others more than herself. I saw her as the embodiment of the lessons that we were taught in our daily religion classes.

Eventually Linda and I matriculated to the same high school. I still only observed her from from admiration rather than a close relationship, but she only impressed me more and more over the next four years. Somehow she had a way of making people feel so comfortable and she was humble about her talents and her good nature. I continued to believe that she was someone whose character I wanted to emulate. Imagine my surprise when we ended up becoming fast friends once we had moved on to the same university. Over more the than forty years that we have shared a friendship absolutely nothing has changed my original assessment of Linda as a model of compassion and love.

When Linda and I first began to grow close I finally had the pleasure of meeting her mother, Rose Daigle. In Rose I saw the beauty that was the source of Linda’s attractiveness. I also found the same ever present welcoming nature and spirit of boundless hospitality. I loved visiting that house where we often sat at the kitchen table enjoying one of Mrs. Daigle’s special homemade treats. She spoke with a unique accent that is only found in the speech patterns of people born and raised in New Orleans, and I found it to be delightful. I always felt so special just listening to her.

Rose Daigle had grown up in New Orleans but eventually set up a household in Houston, Texas with her husband Bernard. Together they raised four very bright and well mannered children. Rose made her home quite lovely with her skills at sewing, decorating, gardening and cooking. I liked the atmosphere that pervaded her house and thought her to be as wonderful as her daughter Linda.

I’ve been friends with Linda for decades now. We raised our children together and somehow managed to keep in touch even if we only saw each other once a year. When we talk we are able to converse for hours, mostly because Linda is such a good listener and a truly sensitive and concerned person. I suppose that I have told her as much about myself as anyone knows, because I feel as safe with her as I often did when I visited her mother.

Rose Daigle lived quietly in her home long after her children had all left and many years beyond the time when her husband had died. Her life centered on her children, grandchildren, her church and her home. She loved to putter in her yard and always got a kick out of showing her handiwork to visitors and giving them cuttings of her plants. She began to slow down though as her energy waned and her mind became more and more muddled. Her children finally realized that she had reached the point at which she would no longer be able to stay alone at her house. They tried various solutions and ultimately found a secure place for Rose in an assisted living facility.

True to form Rose’s daughter Linda was completely devoted to her mother’s care. She lovingly visited her mother three times every single day, making certain that all of Rose’s needs were met. Linda did all of her mom’s laundry and created little celebrations not just for her parent, but for all of the workers who watched over Rose. She was steadfast in her resolve to make her mother’s twilight years as lovely as possible and she did a yeoman’s job in that regard. Over time Rose thrived because of Linda’s efforts and seemed to become even more beautiful and ageless than she had ever been. I loved seeing photos of the birthdays, the Mardi Gras celebrations, and the Christmas parties that put huge smiles on Rose’s face. She seemed to revel in the love and attention that she received from Linda as well as the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who religiously visited with her

In the past few months Rose’s health began to fail. She was 98 years old and becoming more and more weak. She had stays at the hospital and even received the last rites at one point, but somehow she rallied time and again. Sadly last week she seemed to have lost the old spark that had so defined her life. Linda continued to stand vigil over her mom while still managing to help Houston flood victims by washing mountains of clothing and linens as well as dishes, antiques and kitchen utensils. I suspect that she was just being wonderful Linda the way that her mother had so often showed her how to be, always giving in every regard.

Rose died this past weekend. She became another precious angel in a heaven that is being crowded with the parents of my generation. I suspect that she is free of pain and glowing radiantly like the vision of loveliness that she always was. She’s no doubt reuniting with friends and relatives and maybe even puttering in a perfect garden or creating a culinary delight. She was indeed a very good woman of distinction of the kind that all of us should strive to be. She loved with all of her heart and now she is receiving her just rewards.

My heart is heavy for Linda and her family. No matter the circumstances it is always difficult to lose a parent, especially one as remarkable as Rose Daigle. I pray that Linda will find peace and comfort in her heart and that she will also get some much needed rest. In my estimation Linda is as close to being a living saint as anyone I have ever known. I suppose that I will continue to be in awe of her forevermore.

The Dragonfly

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I have a friend who lost her baby boy shortly after he was born. It was an incredibly sad and gut wrenching time for her and her family, but she somehow managed to find great courage and a noble spirit from deep inside her soul during the frightening time when her child fought to stay alive. Her acts of love in the little boy’s final moments were touching, inspirational and heart breaking to all of us who know her. In a beautiful act of remembrance this devoted mother has never forgotten her baby boy who would have been six years old had he lived, a child who might have been entering first grade and embarking on educational and athletic adventures. With each passing year the family holds a celebration of his brief life with a visit to his gravesite and a birthday cake marking the passing of time during which they have never forgotten the blessings that he brought them with his very condensed life. This year was no exception, and my darling friend recorded the tradition with photos on Facebook and a lovely story that seemed to make the occasion even more special than ever.

This woman is a school administrator, and this is a very busy time of year for her thus she had waited until the last minute to purchase a little birthday cake to commemorate her angel son. When she went to the bakery at the grocery store that she frequents the cake decorators had all gone home for the day. The only available cakes were generic and she wanted so much to have her little boy’s name written on the confection. When she told her story to the employees they went into action determined to grant her request, even though none of them had ever written with icing before. They scurried around until they had found the frosting and the tools that they needed, and practiced scribing before finally feeling confident enough to place the baby’s name on the cake of remembrance. It was a moment of shared love and respect between strangers who had come to understand one another all because of a little boy whose life, however brief, had somehow transformed his family and friends.

Life can be glorious if we open ourselves to it, and my friend has certainly done that. She understands perhaps a bit better than many of us that we have to embrace and experience every possible second of the beauty of our existence. She has turned her hurt and pain into a model of compassion for everyone that she encounters. Her caring spirit is so apparent that she impacts people wherever she goes. She has learned through tragedy how truly important people and relationships are. She cherishes each precious second of every day, and turns her world into a moveable feast of joy.

We humans sometimes have a tendency to lose faith and bathe ourselves in anger and jealousy. We compare our lot to others and often find ourselves lacking, so we brood over our desire for things that we believe that we too should have. Rather than finding ways to enjoy what is present, we seek more and more. Sometimes that quest actually binds us to a never ending search for satisfaction that makes us anxious and unfulfilled. We somehow never stop long enough to take stock of the most wondrous aspects of our lives, and so we fret and worry and become convinced that we have somehow been battered by unfairness.

Our real riches are always found in those profound moments when we are able to connect in an almost spiritual manner with the people around us. The Sunday afternoon visit of a grandchild delighting us with her uncomplicated curiosity and discovery is worth more than a bag of gold. Hearing her laugh and observing her openness to the world reminds us of how we too should live. We feel the innocence and love that she radiates so unconditionally and we know that there is still great hope for the world, even in the darkest hours.

I suspect that those employees who went out of their way to help a mom who had experienced one of the most difficult losses that anyone must endure left work on that day feeling as though they had been given a special gift. They understood that somehow they had made a difference to my friend and her family, and that kind of feeling is the stuff of which our greatest joys are made. At the end of any day each of us needs to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, so we should always be open to the possibilities that are always there. The way we choose to react from moment to moment provides us with the opportunity to truly embrace life and the people that we encounter. If we smile rather than frown, strive to help rather than hinder, love rather than hate we make the changes that will ultimately bring us the happiness that we seek.

My dear friend has taken great sadness and disappointment and turned it into an act of supreme love. She has shown us all how to value and remember even the briefest moments of joy. She might have been bitter and enraged over the loss of her beautiful child, but she has instead transformed her hurt and pain into a beautiful lesson for all of us. the dragon fly has become her personal symbol of her angel child. Like that graceful and delicate insect, little Jhett was not long for this world, but in his brief time on earth he gave so much joy to those who loved him. Because of the realizations that came to my friend as she held that tiny baby in her arms she has gone beyond the superficialities of life and understands its deeper meanings. With elegance and grace she dazzles all of us with the clarity with which she has learned to view life by living so fully in the moment and appreciating every second of every day. We might all learn from her and begin to treasure what has always been all around us without our ever noticing. 

   

They Dance Alone

IMG_1914-e1373088974248For days now They Dance Alone, a song from Sting, has been playing in my head. It begins with the words, Why are these women dancing on their own? Why is there sadness in their eyes? It refers to those who were widowed by the war of revolution, but it might apply to anyone who has lost a spouse.

I’ve always imagined that I have enough empathy to truly understand what it is like to lose that person who has been one’s best friend, soulmate, lover. I thought I had the concept down pat until my own husband had a stroke. Just seeing him become so vulnerable nearly brought me to my knees, and even though he is still with me I find myself constantly looking for him and listening to him breathe at night. Having him gone forever is unimaginable. I now know that I did not ever truly understand what it has been like for friends and relatives whose spouses or partners are already gone. I now feel the raggedness of the hole that punctures the heart. I think of those who dance alone constantly.

I remember the devastation that my mother endured after my father died. Only now do I think that I am moving closer to understanding the extent of her emotional breakdown. I find myself wondering how she found the strength to pull herself together. I suspect that it was only her love for her children that pushed her to rise up from the despair that she must surely have felt.

Not long ago I attended the funeral of a young man who once lived next door to me. I still think of him as a cute and friendly teenager who was always eager to help. He was far too young to die and his widow was bereft. I have since followed her on Facebook and she struggles every single day to continue without him. Now more than ever I somewhat comprehend what she is experiencing.

And so it goes. There is the young widow whose husband left on a business trip and never returned, the neighbor whose husband was sick for years but somehow overcame each challenge to his health, our dear friend whose wife died of cancer. There is my cousin whose husband passed just before Thanksgiving after years of fighting to survive heart failure, the colleague whose spouse finally fell victim to heart disease. I suddenly have a far deeper kinship with them. I feel the visceral attack that such an incident engenders.

I’ve also been thinking of the people that I know who are caring for spouses who are very very sick. A long time friend literally devotes every hour of every day to her husband who had a major stroke that left him unable to do anything for himself and attacked his brain so violently that he suffers from early onset of dementia. I have been watching the courage and grace of my son-in-law’s mom who has spent months visiting one doctor after another with her husband. Her life has been upended and yet she keeps a smile on her face and demonstrates a level of optimism that inspires everyone. Still another friend has been caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s for many years now. She literally has to plan for someone to be with him each time she leaves home. I also have a cousin who has been watching over her husband who has Parkinson’s disease for longer than I can remember. These women are so remarkable and before now I underestimated the love and devotion that they so generously share with their husbands.  It’s so difficult to think of the fear that they have somehow managed to subdue as they watch their loved ones suffer through their illnesses.

The old saw that we sometimes see our lives flash in front of us is all too real. During the days since my husband’s stroke I have literally thought back on the first time that I met him when he was so handsome and enchanting and I got that tingle of love each time I saw him. I’ve had flashbacks of him holding our girls when they were babies. I’ve remembered the times when he helped me hold it together when my mother was very sick. I’ve relived every single trip that we ever took. It is as though the chronicles of our time together have played in my mind like a biographical movie. In my heart I have laughed and cried and always in the end I worry, which is sadly so much a part of my nature. I once again have been feeling that little tingle of unadulterated love just at the sight of him. I also find myself thinking of all of those people who dance alone.

I just attended a wedding in Cancun where two people began their lives together. They celebrated their love and I thought even then of how happy I was to be there with the love of my life. In just a little over a year we will have been married for fifty years. He has been the most important person in my world for so long now that it feels impossible to ever be without him.

I have great faith that his stroke was only a warning of what might be if we are not more careful. We will change our ways and do everything possible to help him to heal and become stronger. It will be a partnership as we work our way back to a healthy lifestyle. Our friends and family will be with us. Of this I am certain. We are surrounded by prayers and positive thoughts and love. Still I feel guilty that I never fully appreciated the gravity of loss until this moment. I was cavalier in believing that I was somehow so sensitive that I might comprehend what they were feeling. Now I know that I wasn’t even close. I need to send lots of love to the people whose hearts have been rent in two. I have to congratulate them on being so strong, often without the level of compassion that they really needed. Now I know why there has been sadness in their eyes. I feel how awful it must be to dance alone. I promise to remember them.