Franco, Mom, and Me

When the news came, I was shocked – just as you most likely were. He was a legend in Western Pennsylvania. Still is. His unexpected death has not changed anyone’s opinion of this man’s accomplishments on, and off, fields of play and business. He is Franco … the only black and gold #32 most of us ever knew. The one we will never carve out of our childhood memories, or forget meeting during a chance encounter.

I never met him. Since his passing, though, I have become aware some of my friends met him in the past. Pictures of happy embraces grace my feed. In some instances, proud autographs are displayed. Just through those secondary seconds in time, I can imagine wonderful conversations. He must have been a gentleman.

There may be no other way for me to hug the moment – that is, to eulogize a man I only knew through little pieces of 2-dimensional cardboard – than to say: He must have been a gentle man.

This. From a musician far removed from any gridiron grit … who spent his time watching the sport mainly through colorful picture cards with posing players who never opposed anyone while in their inanimate state. This was my Franco, Terry, Lynn, and Rocky experience. Nolan, Roberto, and Mr. Yount became frequent visitors to my afternoon bungalows as time whisked away in imaginary playfields with my sister … and possibly a few friends who happened to stop by.

The real magic happened if a sickness (especially on a school day) happened to march into my sinus dugout. Up to bat came Mom to pinch hit with fresh wax packs of marvelous cards to open. Yah, know – to assist me in the “healing process” … I’m not sure if this was ever Dr. approved, but Mom always knew how to lift my spirits. Of course she did. Mom’s know. She was a gentle lady.

Yes, she was.

This Christmas will be the 10th without her. This is a hard holiday. Hard – not because she’s not in the kitchen baking cookies, or we’re not playing piano duets. Hard – not because the pinochle deck isn’t spread out all over the table beside a few unfinished puzzles of hers. Hard – not because we can’t talk and be goofy together.

Hard because of that gentleman, Franco Harris. Hard because I can’t ever give Mom anything back in return for what she gave me: love, respect, kindness, compassion, caring, and humor.

You see, the card above is the very last present I opened from Mom. It was randomly inserted in a pack of cards she bought, unopened, from a local hobby shop. She knew I love sports cards. Of course, she knew.

She was so sick. With only a few months to live, this was her gift. This pack – containing no guarantee of anything – was purchased and wrapped. Weeks later, opened by a very grateful son.

Decades earlier, I was sick. Fast forward. There I was feeling equally grateful to receive a pack of cards from my Mom – now, she was sick. Difference being, I would get better in a few days.

She died a few months later.

I’ve looked at this card every Christmas. The weird thing about all this is the serial number:

“It’s a Christmas miracle, Mom”, I whisper to myself every time this card appears before my teared up eyes. #12/25 could not have happened without the love and respect Mom and I had for each other throughout our lives.

Things like that happen because they have to. The piano connection was, almost, too easy. She needed a more clever way to stay in touch with me.

Yesterday was a Franco, Mom, and me day for sure.

Sunday will be a day to remember Mom, again, as her Christmas absence will be felt. That 2011 Certified Fabric of the Game relic card sits in a special place to be pulled out and cherished for a few minutes as usual. This year, I will pause an extra minute or so to honor Franco Harris as well.

He is the man I never met, but feel I’ve known my whole life. Through it all … he’s been with me in 2-dimensional form, however, has made a 3-dimensional difference in my life thanks to Mom.

She is hard to miss now, but was easy to love.

Merry Christmas, once again, Mom. Franco sends his best your way.

Kim’s Path

Photo courtesy of K. Calderwood

Three kids. I know, these three … again. They’re just so easy to write about behind a standard Samsung tap-away screen. My thumbs gladly take time away from their piano playing, hot dawg slinging duties to grace in one word at a time. It’s a joy.

Today, however, isn’t about what’s behind this phone or ahead for those well-loved children on their way to another happy place.

This pleasant October digital morning dedication is for the one who is always behind these pictures … the mom – the “always there” encourager. She deserves recognition, love, and support.

I don’t know why today seems like the day to acknowledge her. It just … does. This isn’t new. I’ve known and admired Kim a long time. From the time she timidly walked around the corner of a dining room to take her first piano lesson until now, there’s been a special bond. Years it has been. Too many, almost, to count.

In many ways, she set the standard for hundreds of students to follow. Yes, there was – and continues to be – an extraordinary pool of genetic music material woven into the fabric of her family. This, alone, is never enough, however. It takes work and dedication to play well. Kim put in her time and effort. Was there struggle? Of course. Did we laugh along the way? Absolutely.

So, we had the past … and have the now in 2022. Both of us are years away from those black and white experiences. Family dynamics have changed. Locations in our lives are significantly different. In a phrase, “life moved on …”.

Even though time ticked forward, memories stayed and social media, thankfully, allowed us to continue forward. Through this medium, I became aware of her magnificent photos. (Of course, it helps her three kiddos are ridiculously photogenic). This, combined with my love of amateur words and phrases, made a perfect pair once again.

Teacher/student. Photographer/writer. Thus…

Her daughter’s physical expression above tells the story for me. She encapsulates Kim’s story. The outstretched arms and hope for the future – while leading the way for her younger siblings – embodies Kim’s essence. She was the leader of her own two younger siblings who, in their own right, are spectacular, successful young adults as well.

Yes, all moms deserve love and support. Of course they do. The mom behind the pictures I love to write about earns my love and support today – not only because of the wonderful lives she’s giving her kiddos along side her husband, but also simply because Kim is … Kim. She is a person who overcomes adversity, faces life head-on, loves every life experience she can find, enjoys her friends, adores music, and dedicates all she has to family.

For me, she is still that little girl who peeked around the corner and whose feet barely touched the floor the first time she sat down on the bench.

What she didn’t realize as time went on and her playing matured, my respect for her barely touched the floor … and hasn’t since.

May her path forward be as joyous as the picture above, and may every image to come inspire words yet to be written.

So far, it’s been my utmost pleasure to walk along the path with her.

Our Infinite Blade of Grass

I find the universe an unending source of fascination. From the kuiper belt inward and outward toward distances unknown with red shifting celestial objects, all of it hugs my never-ending intrigue of infinity. I am not Neil deGrasse Tyson brilliant by any means, nor do I possess the brain-wares close to an Einstein. What is locked into my 3 lb cranial matter, however, is the ability to read fancy terms and come up with some constellation of ideas that never end.

Space never ends, too. As mortals seem to understand the matter, … it goes, and goes, and goes. “What’s after the edge of the known universe?”, my mom always said. Probably more expanse? Additional infinity, possibly. If you consider the size of the know universe as 94 BILLION light years across, this fact is so ridiculously unthinkable that infinity is a concept nearly beyond consideration. Nearly, yes … but reachable for a few minutes of my time this morning. What, really, is 94B light years plus one, anyway?

Infinity is a time abstraction.

I sit here at my desk thinking about time. On StarTalk a few days ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson was considering the age of our local universe since the Big Bang. He analogized the span of time with a football field’s 100-yard distance from one goal line to the other – A gridiron/timeline of the universe, as it were. A 14 billion year measurement funneled down into format most of us can understand with our little 3 lb number crunching, synapse-firing spectacular wiggles of matter.

Cosmic time intervals are so large, we need help pulling them into a scale we can grasp. Fourteen billion … 14,000,000,000 years. Ugh.

His analogy was better than most offensive plays the Steelers tripped over themselves so far this season, I must admit.

Place the events of 14B years on a 100 yard field – where would the events happen? If one considers a southern goal line to be the start of the Big Bang, our solar system does not begin forming until about the thirty yard line on the north side of the field – seventy yards away. Around the four yard line, single cell organisms became multi-cell organisms with legs, eyes, antennae, i.e. sensors for what is happening around their environment. “Cave dwellers appeared at the near side of the thickness of the blade of grass at the zero yard line”, according to Mr. Tyson. (Yes, we are talking about blades of grass here) …

Through the thickness of that blade of grass at the ZERO yard line, … Moses, Jesus, Mohamed, agriculture, …then US. We are hanging on to that last blade – on the far edge with our dangly toes barely able to NOT kick up the fine, white powder beneath our feet … 100 YARDS AWAY !!… 14,000,000,000 years away.

Supporting all this has been the James Webb telescope and the progress of science. Change has been a constant. This is why I am so fascinated by small, upward glances toward space and wide open perspectives into astronomic ideas and access into, almost, the entire universe…

And infinity, of course.

The cosmos does not exist for us. It can’t. Our planet could disappear tomorrow and the gazillions of galaxies and mega-trillions of stars will live on as if the Steelers, Yankees, and Washington, D.C. had no emotional power over us. Stars incubated for nearly 10B years before our local solar system decided to blink awake. Our sun is estimated to live for another 5B years before it morphs into a red giant as it enters into its dying stage of existence.

I don’t find any of this depressing at all. Infinitely captivating, actually. Looking inward at what we do have and can control, I don’t see oceans of emptiness. I see a paradise equal to – if not greater than – what we can ever know about the cosmos.

We exist to be always looking up, ever vigilant of the opportunities in our lives. This is what the universe, ultimately, means to me. It is a copious supply of possibilities every time I read, or observe, anything in its shimmering darkness. No matter what is squirming about in my local universe, I can always find a little star somewhere – a nestled bright spot hidden in a celestial sphere on a friend’s face, in a piece of music I am playing, or simply woven into a kind conversation.

These are endless and plentiful for all of us. In a way, infinite.

I never did answer mom’s query. She asked it more than once. My hope is her soul rests easy among the stars at that very edge of infinity. All of our questions will be answered some day. This is my hope.

As for the present time and place, I will find my refuge in the unanswered and precious 14 billion years presented before all of us. They hold a magnificent portion of infinite wisdom in their age. I am glad they cradle our existence and look forward to an additional 14 billion more.

… However, if actuarial tables hold true, I have only .0000000017857th of that time to learn more. Oh well, when my time ends, I’ll just hang out with mom at the edge of the universe and see what happens. We’ll have an infinity’s worth of time to figure it all out.

Point to the Wonder

Smiles coming to life. On faces of children, on a big yellow balloon, wide open happy expressions appear across a field of green. Pointing to the wonder of it all, one little soul decided it was – truly was – a moment in time to celebrate. “Look! LOOK … share this lucky, merry moment with me, please!”, so gleefully proclaimed.

I dare say this exclamation of joy was returned by not only a large, yellow, inflatable hot-air human carrier in the distance, but also a little lady a few feet behind. Delight all around.

Laughter lifts spirits just as warm air rises. Possibly, into the blue sky went a dozen balloons moments after this picture was taken. Perhaps these inflatable pockets of joy were settling down after lofty rides on pIeasant breezes? In either case, I am sure giddiness followed.

This is what it means to be young. Directing attention to all that is wonderful … not knowing why it is so, just that it is. Astonishing colors, amazing shapes, and fabulous sizings add an imaginary reality to clean, perfect slates of innocence. Three children. United by sensational, youthful direction … led by the outstretched arm of one. Youth captured.

Pointing us to their youth.

… Pointing us to reminders of our youthful exuberance layered between adult experiences – colors, shapes, and sizings we’ve since covered up with grown-up frustrations and responsibilities. Our adult warm air pushes down on our souls. It takes Hurculean effort to catch up, let alone keep up, with the Jones’ across the street. The “mature” balloons we occupy are grounded, but not indefinitely.

We know the culprits: bills, work, relationships, car and house repairs, health issues, etc … all the crop-ups, granted, single-number age breathers don’t need to face.

None of these are excuses to point away from wonder, however.

Let’s constantly look for ways to notice the balloons in our lives. We can expand our joy as wonderful warm air swells into pleasant experiences we witness – giving rise, in return, to our every dayfullness.

This is how life should be.

Smiles coming to life shouldn’t happen only to little ones. We, as adults, need to crack open the hard shells with pointed enthusiasm- just as they do – and remind ourselves life is a one-time-around experience.

Now, go find a field and point to the wonder. Find what your joy looks like and breathe it in. Stand in your field where the vibration – that is your soul – surrounds the you that is you. Listen to music. Look, and absorb, the art of the masters. Read the words inside covers of your favorite author’s books. Walk between trees where the shade lays ahead a calm path. These are youthful, wonderful inhales.

Happy expressions, joyful lessons … simple reminders from one outstretched arm, three children, and one big smiley balloon and friends.

So much wonder.

Reaching at Leaves

While walking past all-so familiar store fronts during an early afternoon fall walk, I was pleasantly struck by a few descending leaves. One landed on my shoulder, two bounced off shuffling shoes on their way to their own off-day destinations. All reminders that fall had arrived.

A late straggler hung in the breeze. I followed it with my right hand – trying to grab it from its own fall goal. No success. It continually teased my grasp from a distance inches away. A thirty second dance pursued – between a leaf and a man – for a distance of three concrete squares on a sidewalk. Allegheny Street, possibly, never knew such awkward grace, or a twisted tapestry of steps. A leaf and a man. A dance.

For the rest of the day, I looked for opportunities to reach for leaves. Falling ones, especially. For there was no success earlier. That single, one leaf passing through my hand left a void. Its brothers and sisters across the town were waiting my passing, for sure.

Now, this wasn’t a primary goal. I had a to-do list that, initially, didn’t involve chasing after leaves. In reality, I would guess none of us get up expecting to be unexpectedly, graciously, grazed by falling leaves … like I did. These kind of wonderful happenings just, … well, … happen.

… and, I am so glad they do.

It had been months since I’ve written words here. When that one leaf fell beyond my reach, I was suddenly reminded how long it’s been – how “out of reach” this space has been – beyond my grasp, … my awareness, my front-of-mind.

We get so distracted. This is the centerpiece of sermons, books, and motivational talks. Stuff occupies our steps and our minds are ever busy with the next thing to do. Ignoring the essences of our lives – words and melodies making up our unique blend of individuality – seems to be the norm. And it shouldn’t be.

We need to constantly pay attention to the now – the magnificence of this moment.

Plan for the future. Hope for good things, of course. Have faith in what you can accomplish. Fold into your gifts.

I needed that particular partner the other day. It fell away not knowing, though.

Sometimes, what is valuable lands in our lives on a breeze and stays for only a brief time. Be that leaf for someone, perhaps, as they walk through life. Let them reach out to you as well. Maybe, just maybe, you will be a little beyond their grasp, but will make enough of an impact in their lives that their words will come alive again.

Say, “Hello” to a stranger. It could be the leaf they need to see fall before their very eyes. A reminder that life, now, is the most remarkable experiences one can have.

A Toddler’s Playground

That distinctive aroma of gravy and turkey spun its way around the corner of our old kitchen into a small dining room. A traditional Thankgiving meal was almost on the way. Mom, of course, would be the last to arrive at a table with an informally placed, odd selection of chairs seating a similarly odd hodgepodge of family members.

A typical family holiday. Mom insisting that everyone be seated before she sat down. Dad fussing over something of which we had no idea. Perhaps a fondue pot in the center of the table surrounded by dark green vegetable trays on top of a brown, yellow, and orange table cloth all set the tone for a 70’s Thanksgiving feast.

This particular year was different, however. Aside from all the normal scuffle-abouts, the children among us – myself included – were pre-instructed to be on our best behavior, if possible. My Uncle John was bringing a special guest home for the holiday .. a friend of his … a gentleman singer/associate he met while both sang as members of the elite US Army Chorus.

I don’t recall the specific year, however, I do remember where I sat and the specific quote. “Keep an eye on him,” Uncle John said, “…he’s going to be a big star some day and go places!”

Clint Holmes went on to be a major headliner in Vegas – and is to this day.

I can’t really wrap my mind around sitting next to him that Thanksgiving day fifty years ago. Only a few feet away sat a young man in a very humble house, in Hollidaysburg. His life unfolded in quite a magnificent way. Uncle John nailed it.

The other day, this picture roused up that memory.

“Playground in my Mind” was released in 1972. The Clint Holmes recording became one of his all-time biggest hits. I listened to the record over, and over, … and … over. “Where the children laugh and the children play / And we sing a song all day” are my favorite lyrics in this wonderful song. Doesn’t this picture speak that magic?

Kiddo magic – running into a playground to laugh, play, imagine, and dream. We forget, as astutely mature ones, what it was like to be inquisitive … to run into mysteriously fun places to touch a universe of unknowns, or examine tiny fascinations.

Look at these two little ones. If they could fly, they would. One foot off the ground and the other toe-tapping a ground barely in existence under their joyous toddler beings. Beyond the covered bridge is a magnificent playground in their mind … just as Clint Holmes loved and sang in his mind a half century ago.

I am so honored to span the generations with music. The power of music holding hands with memories is spectacular. In so many ways, we are connected – variations of words, music, and spirit.

In no small way, two little ones helped me re-live a memory I haven’t experienced in decades. Also, they reminded me to skip a bit easier through the challenging covered bridges in life.

As Clint sang, maybe try, “Living in a world I left behind…” once in a while.

It is a fantastic song. Look it up and dare to pass through the troubles in a moment’s time to experience a happy, giggling, peaceful, generational playground in your mind.

Those two above, and Clint, would have it no other way.

31 Flags

I don’t know most of their stories. Every day, for a few minutes, I stood on warm concrete slabs as individual flags folded into summer breezes. Quiet imaginations filled my head while honoring local heroes. They made an impression on a digital camera phone and a daily memory for me.

Their names etched in black on a pole placard… and each individual story supported by a family member who reached out to the Rotary Club.

For one of the thirty-one days, each hero earned a place of recognition on my Facebook page. It was, truly, my honor to do so.

As a tribute to those who served and are currently active, here are the thirty-one who gave me pause:

Alex H. Drummond – Air Force, John Paul Dibert – US Army, Robert S. Cramer – Sergeant First Class US Army Reserve 1957-1995 , Richard Gildea US Navy Radarman 2/C WW2, Adolph Goldstein – US Army WW2, Samuel Calvin McLanahan – US Navy 1863-1869, Robert D. Williams – Trooper PA State Police, Andrew C. Williams RN, BSN Clinical Supervisor Cardiology Services, Valentine Ranck – Lancaster Militia Revolutionary War, Colonel Terry Wagner – US Army, Gerald Grubb US Army Air Corp KIA 3/30/43, Cloyd P. Grubb US Army Infantry Purple Heart Recipient, Dennis E. McCready – US Army Korea, JW Straesser – US Army Air Corp WW2.

Colonel Paul Roscher – Decorated Pilot POW WW2, Louis J. Lusk USAF “Halo” Senior Master Sergeant Special Warfare, Thomas Tidd – US Navy WW2 Pacific Theatre, Colonel Craig L. Carlson – US Army, Dr. Bridget O. Corey – Blair Foot & Ankle podiatric medicine, Mike J. Corey US Army , Elle W. McConnell – Nurse Practitioner Blair Foot & Ankle, Carl C. Werner – Staff Sergeant E-6, Allegheny Lutheran Social Services Healthcare, Residents of the Lutheran Home of Hollidaysburg who served our Nation, William R. Collins Jr. – US Army, Gary A. Davis – US Marine Corps, Richard Burnett – US Army, John S. Sigrist – US Army Reserve, Tony Drummond – US Army Healthcare worker, Desmond T. Lutz – Air Force Staff Sergeant, and Edward Kopanski – Vietnam veteran.

Quite the list. Revolutionary War through present day. I knew Colonel Wagner and am personally familiar with a few others; however, I am still fascinated by the stories those flags told.

They are no longer there.

Gone are the early morning stops for me. I miss the moments. So much so that a late night pull over this evening – after a tiring food truck event – was necessary. I needed time. Time to pull life over from its busy lane just enough to remember other folks who do much more – give so much more – to allow all of us a life of work and leisure.

At the very end of an invisible 31st flag, the permanent digital display gave me this:

Another flag. Yes, it is always in the rotation between, now, 80+ degree temperature readings and the time. This was no miracle sent from the heavens. For me, simply a final image to capture, to bookend if you will, a marvelous experience.

My story is simple. Five minutes every morning, I was fortunate enough to stand in front of an American flag while honoring an individual who deserved my time.

On July 13th, thirty-one invisible flags – for thirty-one seconds during a quiet, dark evening – were settled into their repose until next year. I stood there, peacefully.

I figure a second for each one of their stories is worth a lifetime for us.

Wilson, the Furry Volleyball

Gotta ask. When you saw that title, did the movie, “Cast Away”, come to mind? If I’m the only one who – after being introduced to this little fluff ball – immediately thought of the red-handed, partially deflated volleyball, then I will humanely bask gladly, alone, on a solitary island … as long as she is by my side, of course.

I don’t believe the owner will allow it, however. As he shouldn’t. As an aside here, I can’t see myself surviving on a deserted island more than a few hours because pianist skills don’t translate well when building shelters and hunting for food.

Wilson pranced and danced proudly inside the store where we met … so much so that requests for a picture, from a 50-ish guy on his knees, went unrecognized for a good half-hour. She twisted away minutes over minutes. Her limberish self was almost too much for me, but I endured. For the sake of all puppy picture prosperities, I endured.

Boy, do puppies lift one’s spirits? Yep. She is a feisty little thing who joyfully came inside nestled in the arms of her owner. My good friend, who runs the little hobby shop, was happy to see Wilson … and she was just as delighted to allow him to stroke her soft, golden fur coat a few times. All of us in the store left out a sigh of cuteness. Everyone’s day, … all of our problems to that moment … appeared to disappear into a few pounds of fur running tirelessly around in circles.

I did manage to sneak in a few hugs, however. She was, err, somewhat reluctant because I scooped her up mid-35th lap around the small hobby store arena. If you look in really close, our smiles match … but you need to focus!😊

Nobody expected to meet Wilson during a routine visit with a friend. I didn’t. Driving a few miles east to see what’s new and happening in the life of someone I haven’t seen for a few weeks was to be catch-up conversation at best. We talk over “the hobby”, life, and general common interest things. Between us, the bridge between two “how have you been” lives is short and takes all of about 5 minutes to cross. So, when Wilson entered after a couple customers already came in after me, …

… We were done with the average lives of two dudes discussing shop and so elated to pet, hug, and dote over a velvety, licky, fun-size little furry volleyball.

Ah, Wilson. The enjoyable puppy who handed a couple dudes and customers a few moments of joy.

Sometimes feeling stranded in a world surrounded by thousands of people, we are. Maybe we allow ourselves to step aside from what has to be done to avoid making tough decisions? Avoidance behavior, – i.e. wanting to be alone on an island – can be rehab … but it has to be a healthy escape.

Guilty as charged here. This hobby shop is my escape. I love going there. It is, in a sense, my island. The other? A piano. The former … sometimes healthy. The latter, always healthy.

To scoop up Wilson on that day, I realized it was a momentary solace just at Wilson, the volleyball, was for Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”. And, just as in the movie, I had to say good-bye. However, ours wasn’t a sad float-away with tears. It was a kiss on my cheek – with a little, assuring yip from a tiny puppy – giving me glorious hope we will meet again.

They say, “No man is an island”. I agree. As long as a squishy, soft volleyball with four legs is served up in my life.

Likable Loneliness

Saturday’s message from the pulpit – this 2nd weekend of the Easter season – focused on loneliness. Thomas, specifically. Yes, the odd-disciple-out from the upper room story. That guy.

At no point in the gospel story, as our Pastor was gracious to note, was loneliness scribed into accepted biblical words. Three days after the death of Jesus, where was Thomas? Were the other disciples missing Jesus? All of a sudden, the eleven were alone … grieving. Possibly, Thomas was sad, too. Alone.

Have we been alone as well these past two years as well?

Loneliness creates chemical changes in our bodies. I wasn’t aware loneliness has the ability to slam a wrecking ball into our bodies. It is like hunger, according to some studies. Those same studies suggest we are experiencing an epedemic of loneliness in America. Geesh.

As I walked along our local street last evening, this image caught my attention:

It is what I’ve named a likable loneliness. These shadowy arms embraced my every, single step. It was as if a solitary, bare tree recognized my moments of reflection inside this early-Easter seasoned brain.

Thomas was there.

Through Pastor Dave’s words, I heard Thomas’ possible loneliness. My silently barked friend held arms around me for a few moments as I headed back to sit casually behind an organ. In the shadow of loss, a pandemic, medical challenges, mental stress, business worries, and familial pulls, … I felt a calm – a friend. A likable loneliness.

During the third service – while listening to the sermon again – I reasoned we may have two probable, colorful spaces … with many shades in between, of course.

First, we should take a deep breath, look inward, and find something unique to like about ourselves when alone. Second, when in a crowd and feeling alone, remembering we still are that unique and special individual we saw when alone could help de-stress the feeling of loneliness.

Too many folks are way more qualified than I. A licensed talk-to I am not. I do, however, talk to my piano. It takes on human therapist qualities and I would swear to anyone those keys speak back to me. I am never alone when gracing the black-and-white sweet tenders.

Answers to loneliness aren’t easy. The Pastor’s messages aren’t intended to set answers in concrete. By my estimation, they never are. This is what good sermons are supposed to do: challenge the listener to dig deeper … dive into a pool of information and thought. In other words, don’t just take his, or her, word for it.

I bring a different perspective to the table. A bit of a sceptic, I am. “Where was Thomas?”: those now familiar words as Pastor Dave began the sermon that first Saturday evening. My ears perked up. A perfect beginning for my cynical cerebelum. From all three listenings, I gained additional pleasure.

Maybe not as much as being hugged by the shadows of a lonely tree, but enough to help me understand being alone – sometimes – is a magical place to be.

A Vase and a Friend

The only words I could find? “She was blessed to have you”. The news came as a shock, but wasn’t unexpected because I knew the person who sent the text kept me, somewhat, in the loop over the last few months.

Loss is hard. When a wonderful friend dies, our many great memories don’t soften the blow. That sudden void is huge. Their calming words and silent assurances will not longer be here for us. We can no longer cook for them, hug them during a thunderstorm, or laugh together at a silly joke. They are not here anymore.

She is not here anymore.

This particular lady was special. I didn’t know her nearly as well as her dear friend. They were, however, two flowers in the same vase when I saw them. Inseparable, one would say. Years apart in age, but so close in personality, outlook, and smiley humor. They laughed inseparably and shared a common, liturgical seat most Saturdays.

These past few years saw loss in all our lives. We laughed with so many who are not with us anymore. We shared a last hug … and then they were whisked away to mysterious spaces beyond our understanding.

I don’t have any pure, perfect answer to that place past the here and now. What I do have is my reply back to my friend who is experiencing the grief: “I don’t know what else there is … except to accept what is. Loss is sad.
I am thankful every day – this is what gets me past (the recent events in my life).
We can be so grateful for best friends (and loved ones) who walked with us …
…and will continue to inspire our grasp of this world and the hopes we have of what is to come”.

She was kind to point out two words – Thankful and Grateful – with the added phrase, “two wonderful takes in life”.

She is right to pull those two from my reply. If we can, simply, be thankful and grateful for who we are and what we have THROUGH knowing the life of the friend who died, …

… this is gain, not loss.

It was joy to know her. She was special. I can imagine how wonderful and magical it must have been to be her best friend. To, now, experience the loss is certainly heartbreaking. It should be. To care deeply means to grieve profoundly as well.

I closed my phone thinking about that text. It urged me forward toward this entry. After a chicken/bacon/ranch salad at Eat N’Park an hour after the news, tossed words formed into some clarity. I think, anyway.

Over the past six months, loss has been winning over gain here; however, I’ve never given up on being grateful or thankful.

No matter the circumstance, we can find a reason to be both.

Today, the loss weighs heavy and a bare, solitary stem rests in the vase. I am sure my friend will water each memory as the hours and days pass. In time, however, the seeds of reflection will sprout and a now empty vase will once again be filled with flowers, … surrounding her with forever scents of her best friend.

There will be no more loss and, at that time, both will be blessed to have each other. Again.