Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's Been A Great Day!

“It’s been a great day!” I overheard this sentence last night from a woman who has been sick for years and recently underwent an organ transplant. All has not gone smoothly; she’s had infections, other issues and ambulance trips back to the hospital, but yesterday she was able to be out and about for a few hours and, at the end of that time, she exclaimed, “It’s been a great day!”

As I thought about this statement, I couldn’t help but counter it with other news we’ve recently received: a teenage suicide, a friend of a friend of a friend whose wife collapsed and died just as they were both pulling their lives together and while she was six months pregnant and a friend diagnosed this past week with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Each of these pieces of news left me not only with sadness and grief, but also with a renewed sense of how precious and fragile life is. This type of news reminds me, as I go through my day, that I need to slough off the little irritants, sometimes even the big irritants. I need to wake up in the morning, not whining that I didn’t get enough sleep, but happy to have woken up. I need to end the day thankful for what I have in my life – more importantly, thankful for whom I have in my life.

It’s been a great day – hearing that said by a woman who battles medical issues daily and in the context of the recent slurry of bad news, I realized that we can all learn a lesson about putting our days into perspective. Any day can be a great day!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Costco High

Ah, a trip to Costco – great deals, more things you don’t really need than you could ever imagine, bulk-shopping at its best! But Costco prices and products are not the source of my Costco “high”. I walk away from Costco feeling high because of Teddy. Teddy works the door at Costco – sometimes he’s the greeter; more often he’s the person at the exit who checks my receipt. Whichever door he is at, his presence assures me of a Costco High. Teddy is the epitome of customer service. He has a warm smile that never leaves his face; he says the nicest things, “Bless you,” “Have a wonderful day,” “You look beautiful today,” and everything he says is obviously so genuine, so sincere. One day, as I pushed my cart toward the exit, Teddy looked toward me and exclaimed, “It’s so nice to see your beautiful smile!” Did he not know that I was smiling in anticipation of being greeted by him?

Teddy’s job is not professional or technical, but he performs it with such grace and enthusiasm that he would have to be rated as a highly-skilled employee. Teddy goes through his day at Costco not only doing his job well, but also making a difference in the lives of those of us lucky enough to shop at his store. He could simply take the receipt, scan it and the shopping cart, make his little mark on the receipt, but he does so much more. In just seconds his words and smile light up the day of Costco shoppers. I don’t know Teddy’s last name and yet I find myself smiling in his presence – that makes me realize anew that I should do the same for those friends and family members whose last names I do know. If one stranger can make hundreds of people smile, think what we can all do for those we love and care for who aren’t even strangers to us!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Team Tony

Friday evening I helped at a charity fundraising event for the Arc of Clark County, a non-profit organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities. This fundraiser was organized by neighbors of ours who are involved with the charity because of the services one of their sons receives from the agency. They actually have two sons – twins. One was born fine, but the other has several, some still undiagnosed, problems that have caused him to need multiple surgeries, hospitalizations and tests along with having delayed development and other cognitive issues. Little Tony has become the poster boy for Team Tony, a fundraising effort to help support the Arc of Clark County and one of its programs, Pride for Kids.

As I watched a video about the Arc’s services, I had a warm glow come over me as I saw pictures of families working with and loving their children, even though the efforts involved in raising their children are probably something far different from what they had planned for. This is true, too, for our neighbors. With three little children in the house (the twins have an older sister), they, naturally, have busy lives, but in addition to the normal toddler/pre-school activities, schedules and messes, they also must spend so much additional time taking care of Tony’s medical and developmental concerns. Yet, they also freely give of their time in order to give back; they have found a passion in helping the Arc.

I used to be a trust banker, but now I am a volunteer and, while I enjoyed my career, I can say without a doubt that I find much more satisfaction in the work I do now – even though it doesn’t come with a paycheck. As I watched my neighbors Friday evening, knowing what a crazy, busy life they lead, I was very impressed that they still make the effort to volunteer, still take the time to give back. When they were waiting for the twins’ birth, they did not know that their lives were about to change because of the special needs of one of the boys. They did not know that “busy” would take on a whole new meaning. They did not know that, in adversity they would find a new passion, a new way to bring joy and meaning into their lives. While I’m sure that they went home from the fundraiser with exhausted minds and bodies, I am also sure that they went home with a feeling of joy in their hearts.

I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. --Albert Schweitzer

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Karaoke Queen

I am not a performer. I have neighbors who are professional performers and I’m always in awe at their ability to stand before people and put on a show. I can stand on a stage and talk without qualms, but the idea of being physically or emotionally exuberant in a make-believe manner is beyond my comfort zone. So, when my son said that they wanted to have karaoke at their wedding reception, I sort of cringed. I don’t sing well (I received my singing ability, or lack of it, from my mom – she was asked to just mouth the words when she joined her middle school choir) and the idea of “performing” in front of people left me uneasy. However, once we arrived at the reception, I could see what fun people were having. Two of my middle son’s friends kept encouraging me to pick a song to sing with them. This was one of those times when I really wanted to do something, but I was just so uncomfortable. My courage vacillated back and forth between “No way, no how!” and “Let’s do this!” As the evening wore on I finally succumbed (helped along, no doubt, by a few Black Butte Porters); we chose Dancing Queen as our song. I love this song; I love to dance; I love being the Queen (see Six-Word Memoir and Every Queen Needs Her Crown) – it’s my song. We got up on the stage, joined by a nephew and a few other people as the song went on. We sang, we swayed, we danced, we weren’t good, but we had fun! What exhilaration! What a rush!

No doubt about it – this was outside my comfort zone. While I’m not likely to be the first to jump up and perform at any future parties...

…when I get the chance...
I am the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only fifty-one
Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
I can dance, I can jive, having the time of my life
See this girl, watch this scene, dig in the Dancing Queen!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Passing the Baton

My oldest son has been engaged for almost two years; yesterday he became a husband and I became a mother-in-law. Recently people have been asking me if I’ve been nervous about the wedding – or excited or happy or what. I’ve certainly been happy about the wedding. My son and his fiancĂ©, no wait, my son and his wife are wonderful together; I could not have picked a better life partner for him even if I’d posted a request for resumes and conducted interviews. And I was also excited for the wedding; it’s been in the planning stages for a long time. However, I found that I really wasn’t nervous. I expected to wake up yesterday morning feeling nervous and anxious, but I found that I didn’t really have any intense feelings. I realized that the work was done, the events for which I was responsible for were taken care of and yesterday was truly their day – all I had to do was show up and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did!

The wedding officiant was a dear friend of ours who has known our son since he was born. Just before we all prepared to walk down the aisle, this friend called us into a huddle, much likes sports teams do at the beginning of a game. What an appropriate beginning to a ceremony marking a life commitment. Isn’t that one of the ways we get through life? We gather with our family, our friends, our supporters; we cheer each other on – Rah! Rah! Rah! Let’s do this! As part of the ceremony, our friend gave the bride and groom his personal message about marriage, family, commitment and tradition. It was beautifully said and obviously came from the heart. Since we’ve all been friends for almost thirty years and since my husband and I and this friend and his wife have long term marriages, I guess it should not have been too surprising that much of his message echoed my own thoughts on marriage. One of his points, which I had also expressed to my son and his wife in a letter I wrote them the day after they became engaged, is that they should try everyday to give 100% to the other without asking for anything in return because if each person does this whole heartedly, the level of joy and satisfaction in a marriage can be tremendous.

My son and his wife wrote their own vows and, again, it was heartening to hear them echo words about marriage that my husband and I have lived and words similar to some of what we said during our own vow renewal two years ago. As I listened to the vows they made to each other, as I watched them look at each other with obvious love and adoration (we call that look “goo goo eyes”), I felt a deep satisfaction. We all wish that our children will be happy when they grow up; our son suddenly seemed very grown-up and, in marrying a wonderful woman, he was taking a huge step toward the type of happiness we have always wished for him. For almost twenty-eight years we have guided and encouraged him; we have been a good example of what happiness in marriage can be and we have hoped that he would find similar satisfaction in his own life. Yesterday, it felt like he took the baton from us, took his bride’s hand and, together, they set off on their part of life’s relay. Where their run will take them, we don’t know, but I do feel that we handed the baton off firmly and I think that it fits well in their hands. I can’t wait to watch them run with it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wedding Toasts

My husband and I travelled yesterday to attend my nephew’s wedding. The bride and groom are both 40-ish+, second marriages for both. I hadn’t yet met my nephew’s fiancĂ©, but on the car ride here I found myself thinking about both of them and what their life together would be like. My nephew is dear to me. I was only eight years old when he was born and he lived with us quite a bit of the time when he was growing up so, in many ways, he was more like a little brother to me than a nephew. I so want him to be happy! As we drove, I thought about what I’d say if there was a time allotted for toasts and I came up with two versions of what I’d like to say to them.

First, I thought of my husband and myself (we’ve been married 32 years) and I thought of what roles we play within our marriage that help to keep our relationship strong. My toast: In marriage, may you be each other’s friend, lover, confidant and supporter and may those roles grow and become richer with each passing year.

Then, I again referred to our own marriage, trying to pinpoint a specific action that helps keep us close. My toast (partly a story): On our wedding day, our photos were taken by an old, eccentric photographer. We ended up with beautiful scenic shots that showcase not only us, but also the beautiful day of our wedding on the Washington coast. Our photographer suggested that we have several enlargements made of some of the more scenic photos and that we put them up on our bedroom wall as a reminder of our joy on the day of our wedding. Those photos are still on our bedroom wall and, more than once, I have stomped into our room and slammed the door over one irritation or another only to find myself face-to-face with those photos. “Darn,” I say to myself, “I really want to be mad right now,” but when I see those photos I’m reminded of why I married my husband and whatever the irritation is, it seems to lose its importance. So, my wish for the two of you is that you will always remember the love and happiness you feel today and keep in mind the big picture of what your marriage is and what you want it to be, even as you encounter the irritations and angers that are inevitable when two individuals blend their lives together.

There was only one toast, given by the bride’s father, so I didn’t have to choose which of my toasts to use. Hopefully they read my blog.