Get your fire back. It’s not over until God says it’s over. Start believing again. Start dreaming again. Start pursuing what God put in your heart. ~ Joel Osteen
I’ll admit I have fallen into a bit of a slump lately… the cold weather – and earlier the ceaseless flow of ailments – paralyzing my meager running efforts, a general malaise that affects my mood like rain on a wedding – where I “feel” somewhat happy, but not fully content, and a certain degree of anxiety that leaves me feeling at once exhausted and jittery. Perhaps it is too much coffee. Perhaps it is something more.
I’ve been feeling agitated by the constant flow of speeding vehicles past our house, whizzing by at 50 or more mph in a 40, that less than a tenth of mile becomes a 25. I’ve been feeling uneasy by yet another legal issue that is, in essence, just business, but still requires my attorney. Again. I’ve been feeling pissed off by the interminable blizzard of “treats” at school, which not only present a health issue for my daughter, but places me in the unwanted and difficult position of either allowing her to “be like everyone else” and eat that crap that will keep her blood sugars well above 200 for hours, or saying “no” and making her hate her diabetes even more because she’s not like everyone else. And a little perturbed that it’s going to be ME, the one who hates conflict and stirring the pot, that is going to have to throw the cauldron into the fire.
I’ve been feeling discouraged by the length of time it has taken me to get this far in my online coursework, and how hard it is to stay on target. (Word to the wise: never take an online course unless you have the discipline of dog with a bone.) I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all the things I want to accomplish, and by the way time vanishes like water down a drain. I’ve been feeling the heartache of missing someone who should be able to come home every night, and knowing that sometimes the drive is just too much. I’ve been feeling frustrated over the obstacles that make change seem so very far off. And more than a little melancholy every time I remember how old I am.
Last weekend I went to Baltimore, where the other half of my family lives. It was not a pre-planned trip. I had already been there mid-week, because I really love visiting with the in-laws (under the cover of alleviating Todd’s strain of driving home two more days in a row). I made an executive decision to drag my brother-in-law and his better half out to a local favorite pub so we four could spend some time together. It was a nice evening. Had some illicit foods and drank a couple of IPAs. Life is going swimmingly for them, and it was a joy to see that. I do so love happy endings.
Anyway, later that evening I learned that Todd and I would be returning to Baltimore on Saturday for a funeral. It seemed that one of his former, and valued, colleagues had finally lost his wife to cancer. I had met Jim months earlier in, of all places, the liquor store we like to go to for “restocking.” We were perusing the expensive liquors (translation: the ones locked behind glass doors) when we bumped into Jim, who hugged me like an old friend as we were introduced. Todd asked how things were going, and to my shock I learned that his wife was in the hospital, fighting her way through round 4 of cancer. He said he felt so guilty for being there, as she lay in the hospital, as he hasn’t left her side for weeks. She wasn’t going to beat it this time. He hadn’t known it then, the impact he’d left on me. I walked dazed and glassy-eyed through the rest of the store, no longer interested in the craft beer I’d wanted to pick out. What I felt was something stronger than words could describe, and I fought back the tears until we finally left the store.
So we drove down to Baltimore to the most beautiful church, and we turned onto a side street in a beautiful historical neighborhood just around the corner. I heard the sound of bagpipes playing outside and momentarily regretted my decision to drop Zoloft 3 months ago. And, damn it all – I’d forgotten to grab a handful of tissues to stuff in my purse. I’m such a ridiculously emotional person. I dug my fingernails into Todd’s arm as we passed the man in the kilt, silently chastising myself for feeling the wave rising within my eyes. Don’t you DARE cry, you blubbering idiot, the damn service hasn’t even started yet. The church was filled. Standing. Room. Only. We were directed to the balcony, where we were fortunate to get the last two seats – in the last row. We couldn’t see a thing, which was a blessing to my overly, embarrassingly tearful self – I fixated on the back of this woman’s head and focused on being reverently detached.
The bagpiper reprised Amazing Grace as he entered the santuary . Then the reverend began to speak…and his mouthpiece wasn’t working, so all we heard up in the balcony was: “We… to… -ship… and… cel-… life… Jul-” and the little old lady running the audio board just a few feet from us began frantically adjusting knobs and buttons. I wondered how long it would take the minister to realize what was going on. This was one of those moments when I also have to focus on something other than the humor of such a scenario, lest I break into some silent, and highly inappropriate, laughter.
The two reverends delivered a wonderfully poignant service, and through them I learned that they had not only married Jim and Julie in this very church, but had baptized their two children, and watched the family grow. It was all going very well, that is, until Julie’s son stood up to speak. I braced myself for the emotions. It wasn’t too bad. He described their last Christmas and how he wheeled his mother around as he helped her decorate the house. Something about the tears rolling down her cheeks…. I don’t remember much more, since I was trying to swallow the lump in my throat, and began to really wonder why no one had thought to tell this woman in front of me, with 3 inches of white hair tipped in that weird unnatural shade of brown, that she was badly in need of haircolor.
Julie’s daughter spoke next. Going well, I thought. Both children are grown now, and their eulogies were very touching. I admired another woman's hair and briefly wondered how my own hair looked. Julie’s daughter’s words reached me still, blind in that balcony, even as I started thinking about my grandmother’s hair – still “brown” at 87 – and wondered how and when I would one day stop coloring my hair so that I actually looked like a real 80-year-old woman.
A daughter’s worship of a beloved mother, who gave her strength and wisdom and so much love, and how she couldn’t wait to one day be the mother that her mother was. I guess this is when I thought of Ava, and how attached she is to me, and wondered how terrible it would be for both of my children, if I died so young. And then I noticed the other women in the balcony, blotting at their eyes with tissues…. And then I had no other choice but to frantically start digging like a groundhog for a tissue in my purse, before the overflow hit my cheeks and the snot just inside the tip of my nose performed a slimy cliffhanger. I pulled it together just long enough for Jim to take the podium.
I knew that what Jim had to say would send me into the kind of body-quaking tears that are caused by the attempt to “hold back” the hysteria. Jim is apparently a gifted speaker, and I could see where the children drew their ability not only for Herculean strength but also for eloquent monologue. He acknowledged each and every one of the people inside that church – as they sat here today because Julie had touched their lives in some way. He recalled a conversation he’d had with her months ago, as she laid in that slow wasting of cancer’s clutch, where she asked him – “how can you kiss me?” And his response – “how can I not?” I felt every muscle in my body tense against the wave of grief I felt for him, and for her, and Todd glanced at me and squeezed my sweaty hand.
He told us of his nickname for her, Do, “just d-o,” because Julie does what Julie wants to do. In essence, she lived her life solidly and fully. She was active in life, family, and community. There was nothing she couldn’t do, if she wanted to do it. I won’t ruin such a beautiful, and heartfelt eulogy with my lame attempt to further paraphrase it. Jim loved this woman, whom I never had the fortune to meet, so fully and completely with his whole being… that it would take a lifetime for him to forget, if he ever could. They were true soul mates. They lived an American-dream kind of life… introduced by mutual friends, falling in love, getting married, having children, leading fulfilling lives, surrounded by friends and family, for 20 some years… and unfortunately plagued by 17 years of intermittent skirmishes with cancer. Not any more an unusual life or better than anyone else’s. Just an enviable life.
Todd said he always admired Jim’s ability to express himself clearly. And that day, he said he finally “understands.” Jim always speaks directly from his heart. And then he said, “the way Jim loves Julie, is the way I love you.” He could not have understood that until we found each other again… that that kind of love is once in a lifetime, irreplaceable, and… ultimately, aches in the deepest reaches of one’s heart. And suddenly, I understood it, too. There is no one else. No one.
And so, in reflection, I realized the gift that Julie left behind in all of us who attended her funeral that day… was the gift of knowing what true love is made of, but more than that… the motivation to live better, more completely, and never forget to acknowledge our many blessings on earth. It’s kind of cliché, like all those Facebook posts such as “you don’t always get what you want, but you always get what you need.” Knowing that no one person’s life is perfect, that we all have challenges to face and internal struggles, no one has “everything,” and that life is way too short. Our choices lie in how we use the time we have, and how we accept what is, and how we aspire for more.
Julie was 50 years old. How will you use your time here?
“We all have choices, …. And it starts when you decide.” ~ Remi, Ratatouille