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Every day we engage others in a chance to inform and influence the viewpoints of those around us, and in turn those around us impact our own viewpoints, or at least that is supposed to be how it works, when we keep both minds and hearts open to what is new and sometimes beyond our comfort zone. Occasionally that rare person comes along who not only changes our viewpoints, they change our character. We say that we are better people for having known them, and sadly we often say it at their funerals after we have lost the opportunity to say it to them face to face.
This week I lost such a character-defining person to cancer. My heart is broken in so many pieces I am not sure how it will ever be whole again. Out of respect for her family, who has not yet made a public announcement of her passing, we will leave her name off the internet for now. But I want to discuss, as our Weekend Open Thread, those qualities that make some rare people so special that we cannot imagine who we would be without their presence in our lives. Perhaps a teacher, a neighbor, a relative or religious leader took the time to see something in you that others had missed, and in doing so they opened a whole other world for you. I want to talk about, and celebrate, those people who hold up a mirror and demand we LOOK and see the smart, unique, one-of-a-kind person created in the image of God peering back at us, and for some it means a smile returning from that mirror’s image for the first time in a lifetime.
E. was not present at my Christening, but she was for all purposes my God-mother. No matter what I was facing she pointed me to God, as the first, last, and final answer to everything. Her counsel was never about the warm-fuzzy of “trusting” God in an abstract concept, but the verb version of stepping out in faith and LIVING fully and completely in trust.
The scene when Indiana Jones steps off the ledge onto the rock bridge hidden by an optical illusion often comes to mind; except E. would not have thrown the sand out over the edge to define the boundaries of the bridge. Oh, and she would have been wise-cracking all the way across, too. In fact, humor was her way of connecting with the world. What good was being alive if you couldn’t laugh at how utterly ridiculous it all was? She admitted to being kicked out of Hebrew School shortly before taking her Bat Mitzvah for cutting up in class. But returning at the age of 27 as a B’nai Mitzvah it had more meaning for her as an adult wholly committed to her faith than the opportunity for gifts as a teen expected to follow through with this ritual service.
E: “So have you told God you are mad at him?”
“No, of course not. “
E: Leaning forward conspiratorially and whispering, “What do you think He’s gonna do when he finds out?”
When other wives would have joined the “bitch-fest” complaining of their own husbands as I griped of my less-than-perfect early marriage years, E—pointed me to a mirror, encouraging me to get my eyes off my man and his unwillingness to meet my needs/whining immature demands and instead work on being the wife he needed and deserved. In the process, as I looked for ways to recognize and thank even the smallest of gestures from him, I woke up one morning to find my man had become the guy I had wanted in the early years. It’s funny how things work that way, much like our parents get so much smarter between the time we leave home and have our own kids.
E. was my Yoda and my Obi-Wan.
“Bubbie, what’s happenin’? Talk to me…”
Having been through the nightmare of watching her own husband spiral into the abyss of pugilist’s dementia shortly after their marriage, E. found her mate possessing the mental capacity of a 6-year-old and the body strength, muscle memory, and training of a fully formed adult male who could completely kick your ass, thanks to decades of work as a pro fighter. Somehow she cared for him, alone, while completing yet more degrees. When his body finally gave up she spent her widowhood helping others deal with caregiver burnout and educating people on the daily struggles of dementia, among other topics.
As a professor at Biola, a Rabbi/Synagogue President for a Messianic Congregation, a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, and a frequent speaker at retreats for faith-based groups, E—‘s time was much in demand and her wisdom was shared far and wide. That means an entire generation of OC and LA residents walk around today with a Jewish Jiminy Cricket on our shoulders, asking, “You know that’s fakakta, right?”
For better or worse, the world is changing. Plenty of naysayers are convinced we are headed to Hell in a handbasket (a charge I dismiss, because I have seen my backside and it is NOT fitting into a hand basket. Try Again.) In addition to the obstacles of wicker-based transportation to the underworld, I believe the world is being changed by those, like my friend, who possess the ability to score invitations into our lives and our hearts and minds and implement the transformative power of changing our character. And the beauty of people like E—is that they are incapable of keeping that transformative power to themselves. They MUST share it, they can’t NOT share it, the ability to “stifle” is not written in their DNA. And as the new year of 2017 begins, it is up to those of us who have had our lives and our character altered by these game-changers to thank and encourage them, and then repeat their lessons until they are multiplied. We must clone these people and their ability to wisely and profoundly point us to the Higher Power of our own cultural leanings, as diverse as that gets here in OC. We must celebrate them for the change they are leading in this world.
I am fortunate to have had some warning that cancer was becoming the one and only fight my beautiful friend ever lost in her lifetime. And I had the privilege of sharing with her what she had meant to me, and in turn how her friendship had altered my own family. I got to tell her that had she not taken the time to give a damn and adopt me into her family, I would not be;
C) Happy about being married, or any combo of the above.
Literally, everything I love best about being me has its roots in something E. did or said or poked, prodded or just plain nagged me into.
Without her unconditional “mother-love” as a solid foundation to stand on, I would never have had the courage to stretch for things just out of reach, and with her encouragement and help in drafting a game plan I even grew wings a time or two. It’s an ongoing process, the wings keep folding back into themselves when they don’t get used for fear of heights. It was E. who talked me out of law school, knowing it would crush my soul to be surrounded by a profession rooted not in what was right and just but in what one can get away with. It was E. who talked me into something so crazy I still cannot believe I am going through with it. But I am, and it may lead to leaving OC to do it, but I am committed. It was E. who prompted me to carefully consider my next steps in a career change, because I would be trading the remainder of my days on this earth for it. So at least part of the new endeavor will wear her name, and absolutely ALL of it will wear the mantle of her presence. To new beginnings.
To those of us walking around with E. in our heads, no explanation is needed. For those who missed the honor of sharing her years on this earth, no explanation is adequate. But I also know that as unique as she was, there are a lot of others out there serving the same capacity for our readers. And I want to make today’s “Weekend Open Thread” all about them.
Share a story of how someone changed your life. Someone saw a talent or skill in you that even you didn’t know you had. Someone believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself. Someone loaned you their last $1,000 so you could start a business, or convinced you to take the job overseas that led to meeting your spouse and turning your world upside down.
Today is about starting 2017 on a positive note, recognizing those people who make this life worth living, and perhaps paying it back or paying it forward by using that connection in our own way to change the world and make it worthy of their presence. Tell us about that person. Then sit down and write THEM a letter telling them how you appreciate what they did, and describing how your life is better for their part in it. If you have lost touch we now have this amazing thing called the internet that makes it easy to find them, you can likely access it on your phone (that device is good for more than kitten videos and picking fights with strangers) and if, like my friend, they are no longer here to prod you into being the better person only they (and our dogs) seem to see us to be, identify something you know they would love to see you doing, and DO IT. Feed the poor, go back to school, start that non-profit, become a foster parent, go sky-diving or skinny dipping, set aside whatever obstacles are in your way and go after whatever they saw in you that you have let sit in a drawer while being an adult took over your Inbox.
This is your weekend open thread. And as the fine purveyors of information running this blog like to say, discuss this, or any other topic you choose, within the bounds of decorum.