Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fletcher And Me

With the stress of life, mixed with the sorrow of lost friends, the demand of daily routine and the worries about the future all weighing on my mind recently, it can be hard to think positive and focus on the good in my life sometimes. But I do know of one sure way to put a smile on my face and forget all my troubles: I spend time with Fletcher.

Fletcher is our third grandson, our son's only son. I am lucky that his parents live only minutes away from us, and that their daily schedules frequently require my skills as babysitter. That term is a misnomer, though, because Fletcher is far and away past the term "baby". His physical age is two years, 2 months and, though his vocabulary is still minimal, his constant curiositiy about the world and the knowledge he's already absorbed about it make him seem much older.

He never fails to greet me with a big grin that instantly makes me forget whatever problems I was dealing with prior to his arrival. Our hours together fly by. We explore books; I read, he turns the pages and pauses occasionally to point at something he wants me to identify or that he himself knows the word for. We invent ways to play with his myriad of cars, trains, puzzles, coloring books, and stuffed animals. We take walks to the playground where I follow him as he races from one area to another and back again, crawling through tunnels, climbing stairs. braving slides and requesting that I push him one more time on the swing. We go shopping together, and he delights in helping me at the grocery store by putting things into the basket with my help. We watch animated movies together, sitting side by side on the couch, I watching his expressions of discovery and delight as he watches the screen. In truth, I spend just as much time observing him as I do playing with him.

Fletch gives me an unprotected view of his world and, in doing so, reminds me why all the struggle and strife in my world are worth enduring. The wonder in his eyes, the constant joy he discerns in exploration, the smiles, the giggles, the shrieks of delight, and, most of all, his detailed perception as he learns something new about his world; all of these give glad meaning to my day.

I am repeatedly thankful that my son and daughter-in-law entrust his care to me. Yes, it means I have to set aside my work, or the housecleaning waits yet another day, or the phone calls I planned to make or the bills I need to pay get done some other time. But, when we're together, that tiny bundle of energy in sneakers and I, he transports me to an innocent place. I am absorbed in his agenda where the priorities are discovery and learning, resulting in unbounded hope and heavenly ignorance. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"David, I Hardly Knew Ye"

My blog of December 3, 2008, shared with my readers the loss of a longtime friend. My blog today shares with you my loss of a new friend.

I knew David Lawrence less than a year. He was a member of my writing group. I feel I am a better person for knowing him. All of these facts state truth but do not explain what a unique, talented, loving and loved man he was.

David lived less than 65 years on this earth. He should have lived 100 plus because he had so much to give to others. His musical talents, as director, composer and singer gave countless hours of pleasure to music lovers throughout Chicagoland. And he loved experiencing music as much as he loved making it.

He also loved to write. He completed several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and his niche was mystery stories. He was sharing his most recent effort with our writing group and we are saddened that we'll never hear the end of that work. His passion for writing made him a valued member of our group; his personality and joy of life made him a valued person to call 'friend'.

His devotion to his wife, children and grandchildren was unbounding. All his conversations seemed to include some mention or brag of a family anecdote.

I felt an instant kinship when I met David; everyone felt that way. He was so interested in my writing, my interests, my family, etc., that it was difficult to learn about him at first. He wasn't shy, however, about sharing his opinions. I learned from him, we had give-and-take discussions, and I told other friends about this special human being I was getting to know. I feel robbed now that I won't have the privilege of calling him "an old and dear friend".

They say a man is measured by his family and friends. On Saturday, at David's funeral, the mourners formed a never-ending line to pay their respects to the family, then filled every pew in the large church where David had been the choir director for many years. Over and over, the comments and eulogies talked about his giving spirit, his love of family, his commitment to friends. Tears were shed by everyone from tough grown men to small children. The measure of this man's value to those who shared his life was truly prodigious.

I shall never approach the celebration of St. Patrick's Day again without thinking that it was on that day the light of friendship and love was dimmed a bit in the world as David left us to sing with the angels. Our writing group toasted him with a glass of Irish ale this week. I'll do that on each St. Patty's Day from now on and say, "David, I hardly knew ye; rest in peace, my friend."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chicago Charisma

For those unfortunate souls who are not Chicagoans, and who have never had the opportunity to visit this unique city, I'd like to use my wordsmithing talents to help you appreciate why I have a love affair with Chicago.

On St. Patrick's Day, my husband and I attended a cocktail reception for the new Athletic Director of his university, hosted by the alumni club. It was held at Sears Tower, a landmark building known to many around the world. It was to be our first visit inside that towering structure, and we looked forward to it and to visiting with old friends from the school that we'd been unable to see for quite some time.

We rode the double decker commuter train from our home in the West suburbs to Union Station. This is always a treat for us because to walk through the sliding glass panels that separate the train platforms from the historic and majestic Station lobby is to experience a step back in time. The immense size of the main building is overwhelming, and the architecture breathtaking. The ceiling, soaring over a hundred feet above me, the huge stone columns that surround the space, even the restaurant and alcoves that are tucked beneath the grandiose staircases, all serve to dwarf me and remind me of the history that has taken place here. Names of the famous who have traversed these polished floors, the movies that have been filmed here, and the millions who have trod the worn steps as they held onto the brass railings that curve down to the floor are all thoughts that never cease to occupy me as we make our way to the busy avenue above the terminal. I cannot imagine how one could just make his or her way from one point to another without being moved by it all.

Stepping through the heavy glass and wood doors out onto Canal Street introduces another love; the impact of the city greets me. Its skyscrapers (which were invented here, by the way, not in New York City), the traffic dominated by impatient cabbies, the sidewalks filled with pedestrians in all manner of dress from professional chic to tourist ugly, and the breeze from nearby Lake Michigan are all signature signs that I am now part of a special atmosphere. It never fails to put a smile on my face and make my heart beat a bit faster.

The walk to Sears Tower on Wacker Drive is only a block, crossing one of the many bridges over the Chicago River, its water bright green for the St. Patrick's Day celebration. Looking up at the black spire of the tallest building in the United States, with its two white needlelike antenna piercing the early evening sky, we wondered aloud about what we would encounter in her interior. Since the reception was being held on the 66th floor, we already knew we would be treated to breathtaking views of the city below. Entering the lofty lobby, I was impressed with its glass, marble and silver decor. The ear-popping elevator ride to the Metropolitan Club added to the dramatic effect the building had on me. We certainly weren't disappointed with the panorama from the windows as the lights of the city took over, either.

With the reception behind us, we joined friends at a nearby pub to partake of a celebratory Guinness before boarding our train for the return to suburbia. It was nearly midnight as we made our way to the train, and I paused on the sidewalk outside, now eerily silent, to gaze at the lights of the Union Station sign far above us, the magnificence of the columns spaced evenly around its exterior for the entire block it occupies, and was once again momentarily transported to that simpler yet grand time in Chicago history when this structure signified so much to so many. Now it is surrounded on all sides with the reality of the present, but it is no less diminished in my eyes. It is a distinctive part of this distinctive City that is like no other to me. And I cherish every moment I spend there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our Molly

As you know if you've read my weblog for any length of time, I am a dog lover. Always have been. I cannot imagine waking up in the morning without a dog licking my face or pushing its head under my hand for attention, then running to the door for the first outing of the day.

The current resident who performs those duties is Molly Brown. She is a beagle-sized hound of indeterminate lineage - we adopted her from a shelter - brown and mostly white who spends her days sleeping in her favorite chair or on our bed. She waits each morning, with impatience, for her food to be poured in her bowl, and, if it gets past her dinnertime in the late afternoon, she follows whoever is at home until her needs are satisfied. Her only other unarguable demands surface when she has to go out, which always seems to occur when I'm most busy, or absorbed in a favorite TV show or movie.

Molly just celebrated her tenth birthday; a milestone I find hard to believe. But then, I'm always in awe of just how fast the years fly by. Anyway, on her special day last weekend, I found myself remembering when she became a member of the family. Our beloved Rascal - still the smartest and most precious dog we ever loved - had been morose over the loss of our goofy Sprocket, the bearded collie who had provided the entertainment portions of our days. Rascal had no one to play with, run around the yard with, or lay beside while sleeping. He really appeared depressed, becoming quite lethargic and acting much older than his years. So, we went in search of a new mate for him, and found this hound puppy, along with several of her siblings. We were assured that she would grow to about the same size as Rascal. We signed the necessary papers, had her checked out by the vet, and brought her home. We named her Molly Brown, a favorite historical character but chosen not because of that reference but because our new puppy had a lot of brown markings on her fur.

Rascal's attitude changed immediately. It was obvious he considered Molly his charge and took his responsibility quite seriously. We believe he was instrumental in seeing that she learned quickly what going outside was intended to accomplish, for which we were grateful, and the two were inseparable from the first day. Although her full growth was only about half that of his, she was the adoring hero worshipper to the wise sage, literally looking up to him.

Because they were so close, we worried when we knew that Rascal's days were coming to an end a couple of years ago. She had never known a day without him by her side, and she still looked to him for leadership. How would she survive when he wasn't here any longer? She did have a couple of anxious weeks after his passing. She looked for him in his favorite sleeping spots, and wandered the rooms of the house as if she hoped to find him in one of them. She would sniff at where his bowl used to be. She refused to sleep on our bed at night, though it had always been her favorite snuggling place. That practice had been given up when Rascal could no longer jump up on the bed; she would lay beside him on the floor. Without him, she seemed to see no reason to resume old habits. She would come and sit in front of me or my husband and her soulful brown eyes would search ours as if asking where he was.

But, as time passed, she seemed to take on the role of principal dog, assuming many of the caring and mature attitudes that Rascal possessed. She felt it her role to become the main guard dog, as well as the sympathetic friend when one was needed. In a two-dog household, she had acquiesced to Rascal's lead; now it was her turn to take what she had learned from him and be our primary protector and comforter. We were relieved and a little surprised at the change. She still has her goofy habits that surface now and then, but she definitely has grown up at this latter stage of her life.

Her ten year milestone made me a little sad. The vet says she is still healthy and she certainly shows no aging signs, other than a few gray hairs, but I know she is nearing the end of her pedicated life span, and I don't look forward to that day that inevitably comes. We have talked about getting her a companion dog for her last years with us. I think another, younger dog is more for our benefit really, to ease the loneliness when Molly leaves us. But I think she'll enjoy having a buddy again. And maybe she can be the wise sage to that furry life as it learns the ways of our household. I hope so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Writer's Inspiration

Writing is a lonely business. First of all, unless you're John Grisham or Nora Roberts, no one is really too impressed when you say you're a writer. Or you get the question: "Would I know anything you've written?"

I've been a published writer for over thirty years. I've had bylines (for those who don't know, a byline is having your name under the title of an article in print). You may have read something I wrote and not know it. I'm not famous, I'm certainly not rich, and I don't see myself enjoying either of those life experiences in the future. So, many ask; why do I do it? And how do I keep finding inspiration to motivate me to continue?

The answer to the first question is easy - if you are a writer, you know this one already - writers just have to write. I tell young people interested in my profession: if you always have something in your head that just has to be put on paper, then you're a writer. I have so many of those ideas in my head. I'm sure I won't live long enough to create all that I want to write. It's just part of you.

The answer to the second question is more complex. Subjects are plentiful, certainly, and by reading and observing, I fill notebooks and folders with ideas scribbled on legal pads, articles clipped from magazines and newspapers that spark ideas, and notations of research locations or travel possibilities provide lots of possible topics.

But, being a writer means there's no one to prod you to get on with it, or give you that first line that gets the work flowing. There are lots of motivation avenues to traverse, and each writer has his own pulse point. Mine has been jump-started of late by my writing group. Not only do I get some great constructive criticism about works in progress from the members, but sharing each of our own individual journeys to publication is a perfect path to new inspiration. One person is learning from a writing course, another is querying agents, and a third is working on turning a short story into a novel. It might mean I turn to the internet to research one of their inspirational journeys and that leads to a journey of my own. Or just listening to what is getting them excited gives me new impetus to keep going on a project I've previously set aside.

It's easy to get off the track, especially when writing isn't the main way you find financial security. So many daily obstacles can obscure your road to completion. But, if you're a real writer, you make the time - mine is usually early in the morning or late at night when I'm not interrupted by the routines of the day - and you keep plugging. Because you know you have something to say that someone else will want to read. And you have others, like my writing group members, who motivate and make me believe that what I'm writing is good enough to be read by others. And that idea in my head just has to go through my fingers on the keyboard to the printed page; I have to see it. The bigget motivation is seeing my words on the page, and knowing I have many more to create.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Changing Life Moment

"I think you need to call 911."

Those words, said to me by the most important person in my life, caused my heart to skip a beat. It set off a series of events that left me thankful for all the good people in the world, relieved that our family had been spared a tragedy, and reflective about how our daily routines can be jolted, resulting in emotional rebalancing.

Emergency personnel were at our door within 2 minutes, our son pulled into the driveway soon after to transport my husband to the VA hospital (a really good one here in Chicago that he, rightfully, has faith in), and the next several hours passed unbearably slow as I waited for hourly phone updates about his condition while I cared for our 2-year old grandson, nursed my own virus symptoms that had lingered for several weeks, and tried not to dwell on the worst case scenario.

I went to bed that night - two weeks ago now - with my beloved resting comfortably beside me. His emergency had been dealt with, we were cautiously optimistic, and I was grateful that he hadn't had to be admitted. I watched his measured breathing and said a prayer asking that I be allowed to do the same for several decades to come.

It wasn't until two days later that my emotions were laid bare. I was driving on a routine errand and my thoughts turned to the drama of the last 48 hours. I was forced to pull off the road. My eyes filled with tears. I had just re-lived, for the hundredth time perhaps, what had transpired. But not until that moment had I allowed myself to face the reality that, if we hadn't been spared, I would now be faced with life alone. Without the man who has been with me since the age of 14, who has loved me, cared for me, fathered our children, been a man to admire and cherish because he chose me to spend his life with. Not a perfect man, understand, but my best friend, husband, lover and the only person I can imagine always wanting in my life. There is no scenario I can invent in my head that would be better without him. He is my life support. I sat there and sobbed for the loss I was spared.

When you reach this stage of your life, although you still think young, act young, and try to go through life with an unending outlook, you still have moments when you contemplate the end of your life. It's an ugly fact. Dustin Hoffman said it best in an interview some years ago when he said, "When you reach this time of life, you can see the end. When you're younger, you never do." I'm sure I don't have that quote exactly right, but I have the meaning, anyway. You do see the end. And it's scary, people - and I hate it. I'm not nearly ready to think about my life being over.

I know that this event has changed me. I've been much more aware of my partner these last two weeks. I covet every moment. I say a lot of thankful prayers. And I remember my mother's words from her hospital bed, when she had just delivered to me her diagnosis of cancer, "Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. I still have too much to do." She lived a year after she said that to me. You just can't predict what lays ahead now. I get it. And I plan to seriously live each moment to the fullest. I have more reason that ever to follow that resolve.