Last week I attended a funeral. While I believe memorial services are an important part of the grieving process, I find it a little strange that a person's death is often the only catalyst for his friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family to come together to celebrate his life. In my opinion, that's kind of backwards. It seems one's life should be acknowledged while a person is still alive to enjoy it, learn from it, and be blessed by it. In other words that's what birthdays are for!
Maybe I'm just thinking that way because today is MY birthday! My father, who is going on 92, thinks I'm past the age of having birthdays; or should I say celebrating birthdays the way a 4 year old might. But I have to (respectfully) disagree. In my opinion it's just not possible to be so grown up that one would miss the chance to call attention to their special day. After all, a birthday is not just any day. It's the anniversary of our birth; the day when God kissed us with His holy breath then set us down in the world to live and love.
Oh sure, there are plenty of reasons why a person might not take pleasure in the physical part of having a birthday. I think it was Bette Davis that said, "old age is no place for sissies." Even though my granddaughter might disagree, I'm not yet what someone might consider "old," but I'm getting there. I am old enough to realize that added years take their toll on a person's body. Hairs disappear from where they once grew and spring up in places like one's nose, or ears or chin. Eyes and ears and joints no longer work as well as they once did. Lowering your cholesterol, getting enough fiber and remembering where you put your keys become the rule rather than the exception.
I am also aware that the older we get, the closer we get to dying. And let's face it, there's not much good about dying. Well there is if you are a religious sort, but that's not where I'm going. What I'm trying to say is this. I believe that as long as there is air to breath, each of us should inhale deeply the gifts of love and beauty that life has to offer, then loudly exhale the poop that happens on any given day. It's not easy to do. I know, I've been at the end of the proverbial tunnel with no light at all. Still, when we lie on our death beds and look back over the life we've led, in the end, I think, it's all about gratitude.
That's not an original thought. And I'd be the first to admit, I don't practice gratitude on a daily basis. I've become aware, however, that being thankful is so much nicer than being pissy. And prettier too!
And in my grateful moments, I realize that there are all kinds of people who have crossed my path and made a difference in my life. There are people, known and unknown, who have inspired me to be more than I thought possible. There are people who have cried with me, laughed with me, and held my hand in silence. There are people who have kicked my butt into action I couldn't, or wouldn't, do by myself. There are people who have taught me how to better live my life by sharing their "experience, strength and hope." My prayer this day, as I celebrate another year of living, is that I will be a light to others, and an example. If not how one should live, then certainly how one should NOT live! Take your pick.
In gratitude and love, in no particular order, I share with you some of the people who have motivated me:
1. Zubin, Wendy, Jay and Zori - they showed me how to play the cards you are dealt with dignity, courage and humor
2. Maragret Wynn, Clarence Greff, Lisa Smith, Christine Osterloh, George Joseph, Laura Wareh, Virginia Boney - a long list of angels disguised as therapists who held up a lighted candle in my darkness(s)
3. My sisters - who remind me that we are born into a family for a reason. I'm not always sure what the reason is, but I believe there is one!
4. My mom - who used silence as a weapon, then, when the table was turned, used her inability to speak as a tool of courage and strength
5. My dad - The very essence of the words commitment and curmudgeon. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy. Thankfully, Dad's love for the Smokey mountains was passed down in my DNA.
6. Chuck Chapman - who decided one day to stop being someone he was not. He embraced himself and others from a place of truth. When Chuck makes up his mind he's going to do something, i.e. 150 mile bike ride, participate in a marathon, go on a cruise alone, he throws himself into it heart and soul - no backing down.
7. Johnson - shows me that marching to one's own drummer is not always a bad thing (of course, that's easier to say now that he is grown and I'm no longer responsible for the direction his marching takes!)
8. Jim Ellington - saw something in me, that I could never imagine. His years of running track taught him to pick up the baton and run with it even when he knew he was going to throw up after he crossed the finish line! Jim never let the vomit of life keep him down for long.
9. Reddi Arts - like a spiritual oasis in the middle of a busy world. People like Bruce, Caitlin, Patty, Amy, Jim, Michael, Stephanie and Aaron, to name a few, welcome paying customers and visitors alike into their little sanctuary with a smile. Whenever I feel like I need a stress reliever, I know I can find it at RA, with or without spending a dime.
10. Fr. Ken, Mtr. Davette, Mtr. Bridgers, Heather Johnston, Fr. David, Fr. Georges, Fr. Miguel -men and women of the cloth who share(d) with me their knowledge of the Divine and help(ed) me to seek out my own
11. Cloth World, Joann Fabrics, Material Things, Olde Green Cupboard, J.B. Victoria, Peaceful Journey, Cobalt Moon - other places of refuge where indulging my senses centers me
12. My mailman, Marlon - who delivered over 350 catalogs to our house last fall, and never failed to smile when both of us knew his shoulders would never be the same
13. The women of River City Piecmakers - who share a love of quilting and carry on the tradition of fabric and fellowship
14. My Grandmothers - two women facing life with different styles. I wish I had known them better.
15. Mrs. Carden, Miss Bates, Mrs. Mason, Robert Blade - teachers who's classroom lessons were life lessons
16. Angie - who takes the job of rubbing the kinks out of my shoulders seriously! When all else fails, I can trust Angie to give me a queen's royal treatment. Angie's hands, like those of a 5-star chef, can turn luxurious lotions, good smelling creams, hot steamy towels, aromatic candles and soul soothing music into a veritable potpourri of calming delight
17. Larry& Akiko, MJ&Gary, Kathy Wilson, Paul & Marnie, Jenner, etal, - the personification of friendship
18. John Katz, Carol O'Dell - ordinary people who, in my opinion, wrote extraordinary books. What makes them inspirational is not just their writing, but the fact that they answered my emails as if I might really matter to them.
19.Pam/Betty Stuyvesant - taught me how to work for a living and spoiled me for all time by letting me think that's the way it was in the "real" world!
20. Navy friends, like the Dragers, Clothiers, Roops, Burnes, Bruners, Arends and Porters - who made moving from place to place, long at sea periods, emergency room visits, broken ice makers, having babies, gala dinner parties and Christmas teas look easy.
21 Belchers, Ercolines, Bruces - who trusted me with their most prized possession. I will forever be blessed.
22. People like the Chinese lady at the hospital cafe who taught me how to make jasmine tea, the lady in the Walmart parking lot who waited for me to empty my cart so she could take it back to the front of the store, Bella at Peaceful Journey, and Brenda, at the New Balance shoe store - who took an extra few minutes out of their day to share kindness with a stranger.
23. The people at my church who welcomed me home.
24. Terri St. Cloud - even though we've never formally met, Terri is like a fairy with a magic wand. When she touches you with her love and candor, she makes you feel special.
25. Fred Culvyhouse - who shows me how important it is to remember where you came from, but not let it hold you back!
26. All those people who weren't afraid to go to Denny's in the wee hours of the morning, hang Easter eggs on trees, drop everything for a trip to the bookstore, venture into the Grand Canyon or Anne Frank's house, drive 8 hours to see a hot air balloon race that was cancelled because of wind gusts, and hang upside down in a carnival ride with me. You showed me that failure is being too afraid to try something new. (I don't always put this lesson into practice but am aware of it's truth).
27. Emily - dear, sweet Emily. Like a cool, gentle rain sprinkling life-sustaining nectar to the desert blooms, you appeared in our lives when we needed you most. You did what needed to be done with a cheerful heart and ready smile. Sometimes I wonder if you are a figment of my imagination. I pray for your safety. May God bless you and keep you.
28. Katherine Pierce - who's photography brings to life places I'll never see for myself. And who donates the proceeds to finding a cure for cancer. (http://www.cureusdesigns.com/) Talent and generosity all rolled up in one!
29. Authors in general who have the ability to tell a story, to paint a word picture and have the courage to let others read their work.
30. John Denver - he said it all in a song .... Sunshine on my shouders makes me happy.
31. People who rescue animals, take posting everyday on their blog seriously, people who spend a year studying for the LSAT, people who spend a year studying, people who run marathons even when they are undergoing chemotherapy, people who don't wear a wig when they've lost their hair from chemotherapy, people with sticker collections, people who love pens, people who still write letters, people who whistle, people who pray, people who plant gardens, people who walk dogs, people who knit, etc. etc etc.
32. Last but not least is Jack - my love, my mirror, my knight in shining armor. He continues to show me a new way by ever so gently suggesting that I give up what hasn't worked for me in the past and embrace tomorrow with a happy heart. His willingness to listen to the ramblings of a dreamer, and the songs of my heart - neither of which make much sense or has much of a melody - puts him in the running for a Nobel prize of some sort!
I end this epistle, which has taken way too long to write, with a quote I found that really says it all about birthdays. Plus, even though I've never heard of the person(s) who said it, I think he(she?they?) has a cool name!