6.6.20 Hero & Legend

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“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Babe Ruth

I know this photograph is candid and imperfect. If I’d been focused, I might have asked my husband to put down his coffee cup and mail. I would have suggested him and my father-in-law to move two feet aside so that there wouldn’t be an obscure basketball hoop and half a truck in the shot. There are a lot of things that I could have done to make this picture, esthetically “more pleasing,” and yet … it is one of my favorites … because of the two men in it … and because of the radiant, pride-filled smiles on both of their faces.

When Matthew and I started dating – in the fresh moments of getting to know all there is to know about one another, one of the first things I noted was the way he spoke of his father. He talked about him almost reverently, and I can honestly say, that I do not ever, remember him saying anything negative about him in the past nineteen years we’ve been together. Every quirk was marked as endearing. Every obstacle or setback was spoken of with starry-eyed reflection, furthering Matthew’s adoration of a man who knew how to make the best out of a situation, or rise stronger after a fall.

My father-in-law wasn’t my husband’s dad – he was his hero, and this week he was taken from the world and finally given his proper placement in heaven … where all heroes should be. But you know what? It still leaves us shattered. Even expecting it … even knowing it was coming doesn’t soften the blow.

My father-in-law suffered from Ataxia and Multiple Systems Atrophy. He was diagnosed over ten years ago, and while he wasn’t in pain, this lethal combination of diseases slowly took away his ability to walk, to speak, and eventually, to swallow and breathe. As he slowly began to fade, a stranger might have seen a man reduced to humility and weakness … but my Matthew championed his father to the end as a glorified conqueror. He only saw the courage – the faith – the bravery. And I looked on with constant awe, at the impermeable strength of a father’s influence over his son, and a son’s desire to become just like his dad.

My father-in-law spoke in actions more than in words … in laughter, in service, and devotion. His last words were, “I love you … I love you … I love you.” And dad … we loved you too, and nothing about the distance between heaven and earth can change it. Legends are eternal that way.

10.5.19 More of Her

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“Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” Calla Quinn

No one is perfect. There’s no denying that … and yet it seems some are a bit closer to it than the rest of us. Missing someone seems to wear the edges off all of their imperfections too. So at this point – both my memory and my heart have nearby made her perfect.

I know I’ve spoken of my grandmother before, but sometimes I feel I need to talk about her just to bring her closer to me – to the forefront of my mind as if she is present company and not past.

My gram loved the beach. She loved it, I imagine, for the same reason I do … because looking at it makes the world seem big, and our problems seem small. I think the water-washed shore and scrubbed sand gave her peace in a way that ordinary days could not. She loved seashells and the color peach. Hawaii was her dream-come-true. She loved too-loud music and bending the rules without breaking them … well … maybe just a few.

She lived ninety-six years and I don’t think it was nearly long enough, because the world needed more of her. More giggles. More late-night movies. More wonder. More awe. More long hugs. More confetti kisses. More lullaby songs. More kitchen waltzes. More being her granddaughter.

I feel an immense responsibility to live with intentional joy because of her. I know my mother feels it too … and what a grand commission she inspired. I hope someday I’m half the fun she always was. Equal measures of sugar and spice – today I just want more.

12.3.16 Such as Him

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It’s amazing how disconnected this life is from loss.  Whenever someone important to me dies, it’s like I expect the ground to shake, the sky to darken, or strangers to mourn with me.  I anticipate some kind of drastic reaction to the void now imprinted on the earth, and I am always a little stunned when nothing happens outside to match what is going on within.

He was ninety-two years old … this man – his heart and his mind were sharp as the day of this photograph in his twenties, but complications in the body at ninety-two don’t care about the rest of you.  In his life he was a soldier, a surviving child of the Great Depression, a WWII veteran, a brother, a husband, a friend.  He was one of the last of the Greatest Generation, and knowing him for even a day would tell you why.  He matched wit with humor, war stories with a pocket full of jokes, and never let two weeks pass without a forty-minute drive to visit his ninety-four-year-old sister.  I just don’t think men are made like that anymore.

What hurts is that most will never know, and soon time will wear out even the nearest memories to him.  The closest thing he got to welcome in this life was a worn out, tattered version of hospitality.  And yet – his life mattered.  He was the closest thing my mother had to a father … and his stories became her tales to tell.  Two years ago, she took him on the Honor Flight to Washington, where for just one day, he was treated like the hero he’d always been to her.  From that day on, there wasn’t a moment he could be seen without his Honor Flight hat sitting proudly atop his head.  Besides his ready smile, it was truly his only adorning accessory.

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I wish the world had made a little more room for this man … and for all the men and women like him.  For the forgotten ones who lived lives of the truest forms of sacrifice, and the purest forms of humility.  But it doesn’t.  Without the digital proof of a life that social media trails throughout society, many “lives” are lost to the world far before they are truly gone, and that may be the saddest reality of all.

I’m thankful for those of us who did know this man … I’m grateful for how much he gave, regardless of how very little he had.  I appreciate the love he lavished on my mother, my grandmother, my children … and how whenever we’d send him a card, he’d call with thanks as if I’d given him the moon and the stars.

J.K. Rowling said, “To have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.”  But I think those of us left in this world need to take a real look at this man, and anyone like him we have the honor to know.  If we don’t hear their stories, and carry them on, if we don’t try to understand the lives they lived, and the mentalities that made them so strong … we will become the lost ones.  Because there is a far greater loss to us who are living if we don’t embrace the lessons from individuals such as him.

Love you always Uncle Sylvester,

Elle

 

5.31.16 For Everyone Who Ever Loved Henry

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When I was a little girl,  my aunt had this beautiful picture in her house.  I remember telling her how much I loved it each and every time we came over.  Fast forward twenty-years, and I’m at my baby shower.  Imagine my shocked surprise when I opened the picture. “When I found out you were having a son,” she said, “I just knew I had to give it to you.” All these eight years, we’ve kept the picture … and I’ve admired it for the memory … for the nostalgia … and for the likeness of my own baby boy who is already quite grown.

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

I believe in this formidable love, because I’ve felt it.  Every time my son or daughter make me laugh, every time they make me cry, every time I am blessed by their presence alone – I feel it like a tangible string tugging between my heart and theirs.  Sometimes, as they grow, that line seems to stretch incredibly taught as I feel them stretching into their own sense of self and purpose in this world, and instinct draws me to follow them, but life gently reminds me they need to find their own way. The love I feel as a mother makes me believe more than I ever was able before, that love never fails … and a friend of mine recently reminded me, it also never ends.

The first day I met my friend Spring, I was delighted by her gentle spirit and pure heart. She giggled openly, she didn’t shelter or hold back genuine interest in our conversation, and she shared her life stories without the careful filter most people apply.  She was real … and it was refreshing.  Having only known her for a couple of months, I almost forgot – almost but not quite, just what she would be dealing with very soon.  Sure enough, it happened last week.  Spring sent out a prayer request for strength because it was going to be a tough day.  I instantly flashed back to that first day, and that first conversation. Because like any unassuming stranger, I’d made small talk, and asked what people our age asked, “Do you have any kids?”  She remarked that they had one boy, and his name was Henry – was.

One year ago, Spring uncovered her own definition of mother’s love.  And I imagine it was something like Uma Thurman’s description that said, “Before I had my child, I thought I knew all the boundaries of myself, that I understood the limits of my heart. It’s extraordinary to have all those limits thrown out, to realize your love is inexhaustible.” But where Spring is concerned, her love also needed to become ethereal, and the string that tethers her heart to her son’s needs to stretch from heaven to earth. Henry was born with a defect in his diaphragm which caused internal complications too large for his tiny, perfect heart to handle.

And my own heart, at this story, was anguished.  As I witnessed happy birthday wishes to their little prince, I struggled to even know what to say.  Even as a writer, what words can you offer that bring any semblance of peace? I found none. But suddenly … I remembered that picture, from all those years ago.  I wondered if it might be time to pass it on, if it could offer any comfort at all.  So I did.  And I hope that in the frozen embrace she can: feel the tiny hand that held hers ever-so-briefly, imagine the way his perfect head rested on her shoulder, picture the divine moment when she gets to hold him once again.  Sometimes, the love of God is fierce, so much so that it overpowers even a mother’s love.  And in that unquenchable moment of love, God chooses to not let go, because that child is just too special, too gentle, and too endeared to be gone from heaven so long.

I know this, and yet my mother’s heart breaks for her, and for everyone who ever loved Henry.

Please pray with me today,

Elle