A Flash of Unforeseen Remembrance

flash of unforeseen remembrance

Life lessons appear around us each day if we can just remember to be attentive. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find one at a celebration of life ceremony for the son of a friend. I guess because it was unexpected that I felt (and still feel) a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude.

At just 31 years old, unable to recover from a devastating two-year battle with a brain infection, Catzby Pitzvada died on December 17. I had never met Catzby; it was only through the stories of his mom Denise that I knew of him.

The ceremony was TRULY a celebration of life because Catzby lived a full life…full of adventure, travel, learning, music, friendships, laughter, and love.

Although the eulogies and tributes were each uniquely personal, one clear message shone through them all:

  • Catzby cared deeply about people.

  • Catzby understood that relationships need to be nourished.

  • Catzby encouraged those in his orbit to also care deeply about people and nourish their relationships.

A high school friend of his was brave enough to admit that she’s always been kind of a loner. She said she had let many friends drift away, but that Catzby always kept in touch over the years and nudged her to do the same, to keep reaching out, to maintain bonds.

That was the lesson that hit home for me. Because it’s easy to get lazy about relationships.

Right now (without having to think twice about it), I can name four people I’ve been talking about visiting for over a year. Each lives within an hour’s drive from me so why do I only talk about it? Do those people feel loved by my inaction? No. Likely they feel forgotten.

A line of poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes like this:

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

Catzby, thank you for being such an inspiration, for choosing a full and joyful life, for having smile lines around your eyes before you hit 30. And especially thank you for the flash of unforeseen remembrance that we need to hold onto our relationships, to value them and care for them like the precious gifts they are.

~~~~~~

Catzby’s obituary

 

Just Like Cupcake

Today’s post is based on my 2005 Christmas letter.

In November 2004 we made the difficult decision to put down our beloved family dog of thirteen years. Like most old dogs, Cupcake had developed many physical problems. She endured twice daily insulin shots for diabetes. Minimal pain medication for her aching joints had to be carefully monitored as it could have further damaged her ailing liver. Cupcake’s clouded over eyes severely limited her vision. She was nearly deaf as well, and she often became confused, appearing to not know where she was.

We no longer put her on a leash for walks since there wasn’t a risk of her running off. She loved to be outside; rooting around near the trees and bushes smelling for squirrels and other dogs. I usually lingered slightly behind her, letting her enjoy herself. At some point, she would look up and her body would stiffen. I knew she was afraid that she was lost and alone outside. She would stand frozen until I came up to her, touching her gently, saying her name and telling her I was there watching over her. I swear I could see the relief that flooded over her old body. Soon, and with a little spring in her step, she would continue on her way.

It dawned on me that most of humanity ends up like Cupcake. Our eyes become so filled with visions of “things” we want that we lose sight of what God wants for us. Our ears turn deaf to His voice when we are too caught up listening to the busyness and needs of our daily lives. We stumble along and are suddenly frozen with fear that we’re lost and alone. Then God touches us gently, speaking our name, and gives us loving reassurance that He is there beside us, watching over us, loving us more than we can possibly know.

With Open Arms

with open arms

The iconic Cristo Blanco, a 26-foot white statue of Jesus Christ, towers over the city of Cusco, Peru, on Pukamoqo Hill. Legend has it that Pukamoqo Hill holds soil from the four quarters of the Inca Empire, so this was a spiritual place for the Incas. Cusco has been described as the gateway to the more famous Machu Picchu.

But an even large statue of Jesus Christ is in Rio de Janeiro. At 98 feet (not including the base), Cristo Redentor, (Christ the Redeemer) stands tall on the summit of Mount Corcovado. It’s said that the statue is the most recognizable landmark of Rio.

What the statues have in common, of course, is the outstretched arms.

Arms open wide can have various meanings. When the arms belong to my friend Judy it means get over here so I can hug you. They can signify this is the real me; I’ve got nothing to hide. Or I come in peace. And as Episcopal priest Rt. Rev. Michael Curry was quoted as saying, “Our belief (is) that the outstretched arms of Jesus…are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

Consider my favorite parable, the prodigal son. When the father in the story sees a far-off figure trudging along the road, he knows without knowing that it’s his son. You remember…the young guy who scandalously asked for his portion of the inheritance before his father died, then left home to squander it away on a wild life. When the money ran out and he was reduced to daydreaming about eating the pigs’ food, he decided to return home and ask for a job working for dad.

This father, who likely had been shamed by that son and who had also probably spent many sleepless nights worrying about his younger progeny in that faraway country, might have been justified in a little passive-aggressive behavior when the boy showed up. Dad could have stood with his arms crossed, tapping his foot on the ground as the boy approached.

But no, we’re told that the father ran to the son with open arms, hugged and kissed him, and then arranged a huge celebration to welcome him home.

Those open arms meant I love you. I forgive you. There is nothing between us that can’t be overcome.

We’re now in the second week of Advent. My wish is that you embrace the beauty and peace of the season of waiting with open arms.

~~~~

Interesting painting and discussion of Jesus’ open arms

The Color of Christmas

a blue Christmas

This entire day I have been thinking about people I personally know who are suffering in some way. My heart is full of loving compassion for them. If you are one of those people, you will know that this is written for you tonight.

Thanksgiving was not happy for these friends nor will Christmas be merry.

Some of the tragic circumstances involve recent deaths—a loving mom not yet 50, a grandson from a brain tumor. The year of “firsts” is upon those families; the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without that special person; birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays will follow.

One friend has a grievously ill adult child who has spent the past several months in the hospital; this mom already lost her other son a few years ago. I pray for them and have asked many to pray for Denise and Catzby, and yet I feel as though words are not enough. No matter how much I wish I could, I cannot fix this for them and I feel useless.

Some of my friends have a chronic illness and live everyday with pain. Cancer and other life-threatening conditions have entered some of your lives. Getting ready for the holidays may not even be something you’re considering.

Others have lost a special someone…a mom, a dad, a grandmother, a grandfather, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend. Regardless of how much time has passed since that person’s death, we all miss them terribly. If Christmas was especially important to our loved one, this time of year is even more difficult for us.

And it’s made all the more trying by the “noise” about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Doorbuster deals and how much everyone will be stressing because there are only 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the usual 35. None of that matters to people who struggle to get out of bed each day because they are desperately sad.

Some churches offer what’s referred to as a blue Christmas service. My church, St. James’ in Warrenton, VA, is one of them. To quote from the church’s website: A “blue Christmas” service acknowledges that Christmas is not always met with joy and celebration. Sometimes it can be difficult to participate in the glad carols and merriment of our Christmas services. This service provides an opportunity to light candles acknowledging the people we miss, the pain or emptiness we may feel.

If Christmas is a difficult time for you, this type of service may offer you some hope, and I encourage you to find a church near you that provides a blue Christmas service.

For the rest of us who are doing okay, let’s remember to live the words of Henri Amiel from 1868:

“Life is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be quick to love; make haste to be kind.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Piano Guys and Craig Aven “The Sweetest Gift”

One man’s take on the “year of firsts”

Invitation to St. James’ Warrenton blue Christmas service on December 18

 

Billy Joel Nailed It

Billy Joel Nailed It

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I want you to label your friends. No, not in a bad way. Take some time and think deeply about your core group of friends and pose this test to yourself: Identify the aspects that each good friend possesses that prompts you to hold them close to your heart.

Ponder this for a while. Don’t let yourself settle for a quick non-specific response such as, “He’s just so nice,” or “She’s a great person.”

And then tell each friend why you’re so happy they are a part of your life.

Yes, even if you’re NOT a mushy-gooey person who enjoys sharing deep feelings, you need to do this. And here’s why.

Linda, a very close friend of 50+ years, is in the midst of an extremely serious health crisis: ovarian cancer. Besides having a dedicated husband and loving family, she is blessed with a wide circle of friends from her librarian/teaching days, neighbors from both their Florida and Pennsylvania homes, people who know or work with their grown children, and many other outlets including a group of high school friends of which I’m a part.

Linda recently shared that the one bright spot in this scary situation is that so many people in the circle of her life have reached out to her with cards, calls, texts, emails, and visits. She said she was completely unaware of how much she means to all of these people, and how wonderful it is to actually know it NOW.

Another friend made the same type of comment after a healing service for her was held at church. How amazing it is to be told what you mean to many “someones”! One person commented that too often we wait for someone to die and then we tell those appreciative words to their surviving family. Yes, at a loved one’s funeral it’s comforting to hear, “Your mother stepped in to help me when I really needed it.” Or “Your father once gave me advice that changed my life.”

But it’s sad when the words have gone unspoken to the persons themselves.

Linda is one of my most faithful blog fans. So publically, here’s what I’m telling Linda:

Linda, no one has ever made me laugh like you do. You make every story funnier. Even though it takes a long time for you to finish telling a story (because we’re both laughing so hard), you are my favorite storyteller ever.

You remember what’s important to other people. Even now, at a time when it’s not easy for you to even take a breath, you remember how much my dog Riley meant to me and you ask how I am doing without him. 

You are a source of encouragement and inspiration. The night before you left for college and I was staying behind, you convinced me that I could learn to cook by walking me verbally step-by-step in the dark how to make mashed potatoes. You are a big part of why I blog. On a Christmas card some years ago, you encouraged me to write a book. I didn’t get that far, but from reader comments, my writing means something to others. If it weren’t for you, this blog wouldn’t exist. 

I love you the same as I have loved you all these years, and I pray that the cancer is on its way into remission even as I type these words. 

Yes, Billy Joel nailed it; you have a way about you. And everywhere you go, a million dreams of love surround you…everywhere.

  ~~~~~~~

Billy Joel singing live “She’s Got A Way About Her” 

Pick A Card But Not Just Any Card

postcard

Image by Pezibear on Pixabay.com

When my children were young, my sister Beverly traveled extensively with her husband as he performed custom brick-laying across the country. She usually mailed my kids postcards from each new town.

And before cell phones changed everyday life, when we vacationed at the beach we’d troop to the closest store to buy postcards to mail to family and friends.

When’s the last time you bought a postcard? And did you actually mail it to someone or did you purchase it as a souvenir?

Why would I need to send postcards of the amazing place I’m visiting via the US Postal Service when I can post 37 photos on Facebook or Instagram and/or email and text the photos directly to the recipients within seconds of the shots being taken? And all for free.

There is no need, of course. But a recent story in the June Real Simple magazine caused me to rethink postcards.

The precursor of postcards occurred between 1848 and 1870 when envelopes with pictures on them were popular. Then in 1873 the federal government produced postal cards without envelopes that could be mailed for one cent of postage. Private producers of similar cards could not use that designation, and the postage for non-government cards was two cents.

In 1901 the two-word term post card was allowed, with an image on one side and room for the address on the other. Personal message writing was not permitted. Then in 1907 the divided back came into existence so that a person could write a short note on half the back with room for the name and address on the other half.

Postcards currently cost 35 cents in postage and to be officially considered a postcard, the size must range from 3 ½ x 5 up to 4 ¼ x 6 inches. They have to be .007” thick which is about the thickness of an index card.

Many businesses that still do direct mail advertising use postcards. And custom printed postcards have come into vogue for use as invitations and announcements.

But Jeff Gordinier, author of the noted magazine article titled Postcards: A Love Story, was talking about actual, honest-to-goodness postcards. He had used postcards earlier in his life as a way of keeping in touch with friends after college.

So years later when he realized he’d fallen in love with Lauren just as she was moving across the country, he worried about the problems inherent in a long-distance relationship. His job was keeping him in New York. Yes, of course, they could be in constant contact via calls, texts, emails, and FaceTime, but where is that romance in that?

So he fell back on the practice of sending postcards. Lots of them. And every single one was different. Lauren received at least one postcard a day. Jeff traveled all over the world as a food writer and he said he hoarded local souvenir cards by the dozen.

He chose randomness as his personal messages as well; he wanted to “keep the element of surprise alive.” So sometimes he’d write an observation of something he’d seen, a few lines of remembered poetry, memories from childhood, a favorite short recipe, a quote, something he’d overheard, a sampling of song lyrics, and so on.

To quote from the article, “The point wasn’t to say anything profound. The point was to express, in a form so compressed that it flirted with haiku, the very core of connectivity.”

Isn’t that deeply romantic? Forget the flowers. Give me a man who speaks to my soul.

So did the postcards keep their long-distance relationship alive?

I’ve included a link to the online article. You can read it for yourself to find out!

~~~~~

Here’s the Real Simple article in full

 

Beautiful Sounds Are In The Ears of the Hearer

Ears

Image by Skeeze on Pixabay.com

To paraphrase a favorite line of poetry, “Even after all this time, I can still hear the sounds of him not being here.”

When a family member, a favorite someone, or even a beloved pet dies we remember him or her in countless ways.

Many people believe that sight is the strongest sense. And considering the studies of learning styles that indicate over half of us are visual learners (65%), I lean toward believing that sight does indeed play a huge role in how we remember people, events, places, and things.

We look at photographs or view videos of the people we miss. We continue to scan their Facebook page or other social media accounts, recalling what it was they posted while alive. We stare at the “things” they left behind, wanting to remember always the significance of each object.

Yes, the sense of sight plays a huge role in our remembering someone who has passed from this earth.

And even though I am part of that 65% group who leans heavily on vision skills for learning and remembering, sound is also pivotal to my recalling the essence of the person.

My son Tim’s joyous laughter and the way he would draw out the greeting, “Hello, Mama!” as he bounced through the door…

The harmony of noise my mom Bertie made as she worked in the kitchen whipping up simple but delicious meals and baked goods…

Beautifully sincere conversations my aged mother-in-law Rosalie had with God as she lay in our guest room bed…

The sound of a spoon hitting an empty peanut butter jar as my brother Bud finished that last tasty bite of his favorite treat…

My elderly Aunt Gerri opening her door and announcing to my sister and me, “I don’t know why you girls keep wanting to visit an old lady, but I’m so glad you do!”…

And yes, even the sound of Riley’s tags as they jangled together when he trotted along and the snuffling sounds he made as he scavenged the ground for early morning smells…

All these might seem like ordinary sounds but to me, they tie together precious memories.

And then I started wondering what sounds people will remember about me after I’m gone. That’s probably a good exercise for everyone to consider. Because I sure as heck don’t want anyone to recall me as constantly complaining or as someone who spewed negative words about others.

I’m pretty sure that keeping this idea about the sounds I’ll leave behind will help me be a better human being.

How does that sound to you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Inc.com article on learning styles

An interesting concept that Researchers found out that different music frequencies stimulate the human brain and the outcomes are incredible. In this video, the frequency of 48 Hz might stimulate far memories and also crying.”

NOTE: I had a better experience just listening to it rather than watching the letters float by on the screen since typos got in the way of my just releasing myself to it. Yes, I am that person.

The Best Wedding Present Ever

wedding present love

Photo by Pixabay.com

What wedding gift did you last purchase? According to TheKnot.com, here are a few of the gifts most wanted by newlyweds today. (Personal aside: I’m thinking the brides had at least a 95% say in the gift choices.)

Williams-Sonoma Glass Bowl Set, Calphalon Classic Cooling Rack, Pyrex Easy Grab Bake ‘N Store, The Cellar Selene Cake Dome, Martha Stewart Cupcake Carrier, CorningWare French White Bakeware 

Registries make it easy for those of us needing to choose a present. And of course, the talented folks on Etsy can craft practically any personalized gift for the happy couple. Cash and gift cards are always appreciated as well.

But what if you could give a gift that no one had ever given before AND that blessed not only the intended newlyweds, but continues over fifty years to bless countless other people taking their marriage vows AND has generated over two million dollars in donations to charitable organizations?

Noel Stookey did just that in 1969.

I know most of you are asking an important question. Who the heck is Noel Stookey? His full name is Noel Paul Stookey, and during the time that the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary were together, he went by his middle name of Paul. Because Peter, Noel, and Mary just didn’t have the right ring to it.

When his fellow singer Peter Yarrow wed Marybeth McCarthy in October 1969, the best man Stookey sang a song he had written for them. While Stookey is a Christian and intended the song to convey his beliefs, he wanted to honor his friend’s Jewish faith as well.

Stookey has been quoted as saying, “The melody and the words arrived simultaneously and in response to a direct prayer asking God how the divine could be present at Peter’s wedding.”

And that is how The Wedding Song (There is Love) came into existence. (You can listen to two versions in the links below.)

His 1993 Guidepost article tells how Noel’s wife Betty helped him change the pronoun wording just an hour before the wedding. At the ceremony, after the song was over, Noel figured one and done. No one else will ever hear it.

But then a few weeks later at one of their concerts, Peter Yarrow asked Stookey to sing the song as a solo. He was taken aback, feeling he couldn’t share something that belonged to the couple. But Yarrow insisted, saying that his wife was in the audience and please, wouldn’t Stookey sing it for her.

So he did and the audience loved it so much that he continued singing it at their concerts for the remaining time the group stayed together.  Soon after the trio took a long leave from performing concerts, Stookey recorded a solo album and included The Wedding Song.

But since he felt the song was God’s creation and not his, he didn’t want to assume the rights to it. According to the Guidepost article, “In the end I set up a foundation to oversee the publishing rights and to receive all my income as composer. Any money the song earned could then be distributed to worthy causes. To my amazement, shortly after the album’s debut, “Wedding Song” was released as a single and almost immediately went into the Top 30.”

This song has been played at weddings all around the world and continues today to be counted as a time-honored love song. ThoughtCo.com lists it as one of the top ten classic songs to sing at weddings.

Various artists have recorded their own versions of the song, but to me, there is nothing like the original. A sweet simple song accompanied by chords from an acoustic guitar is sometimes all you need to feel the love.

~~~~~~~~~~~

A remastered copy of the original version of the Wedding Song (There is Love)

And years later at the 25th anniversary concert in 1986, Paul (Noel) Stookey is again singing the Wedding Song (There is Love). OK, he can’t hold the notes quite as long, but I mean, watch the man’s face. Really…there IS love!

Noel Paul Stookey’s article in Guideposts from June 1, 1993

The song even has its own Wikipedia page!

The Last Bench in the Sun

The Last Bench in the Sun

Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

I wrote a lot of poetry when I was (much) younger. The sadder I felt, the better my poetry was. So you might say that happiness eroded my ability to rhyme.

The most recent poem I wrote was nearly three years ago to honor my grand-dog Scooter who had just died, but that was written for and shared with a private audience of two.

Prior to that, I penned my last poem nearly 40 years ago about something that happened the afternoon of Saturday, February 23, 1980.

Holy iambic pentameter, Batman! What happened to etch that date so firmly in this brain?!

In 1980 the man I was falling in love with had invited me to historic Williamsburg, Virginia for a weekend trip. We arrived on Friday, February 22, around 5 pm. We checked in just in time to watch a hockey game on television. Talk about romantic! Not.

But it was patriotic.

That winter Olympic semi-final hockey game pitted a very young (average age of 22) group of American college hockey players against the Soviet team which was comprised of professional hockey players. And oh, by the way, the Soviets were the four-time defending gold-medal-winning hockey team.

The American team was the underdog with a capital U.

As the Americans defeated the Soviets by a score of 4-3 (a link to the final minute of the game is included below), announcer Al Michaels screamed out, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!”

And so the story of this game came to be called The Miracle on Ice. That victory took the Americans to the final where they defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

Well, who doesn’t enjoy an underdog’s improbable victory?

And who could resist using that game as a permanent mental marker of a date she didn’t want to forget?

The next afternoon, the man-who-would-be-husband and I strolled through a chilly park looking for a bench in the sun to sit for a while and talk about our possible future together. But the park benches were all shrouded in shade or already taken. About to give up, we rounded a corner, and there it was—the last bench in the sun.

Finding that bench was a symbol to me that it was all going to work out. So my days of writing sad poetry ended with this poem of hopeful expectations.

The Last Bench in the Sun

by Norma Thatcher

I was floundering when you came along.

I was hurt and shaken and not at all sure who I was or

what it was that I wanted.

And with a quiet warmth you took me in and helped

me realize that I was still who I had always been inside,

and that growth and change wouldn’t alter that.

And you loved me without qualification—

You accepted me as I am.

I’m not sure when it was that I realized I loved you.

I think it was as we walked that chilly day in Williamsburg,

warmed by our feelings and the intermittent sunshine.

And of all the benches left in the park,

They were all in the shade except one.

The last bench in the sun—looking for all the world

like it had been reserved just for us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Final minute of the Miracle on Ice Olympic game 1980

 

This Must Be The Silver Lining People Talk About

Silver Lining

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

We Americans surely love our animals. Many American households include at least one pet. There is disagreement regarding the actual numbers, but here are the statistics for pet ownership in US households from four sources:

US Census 49%

Simmons National Consumer Study 53%

American Veterinary Medical Association 57%

American Pet Products Association 68%

Using the lowest percentage would mean about half of American household own pets. Per Statistica.com, there were about 128 million US households in 2018, so that’s 64 million owners of at least one pet.

We’re talking approximately 77 million dogs and 58 million cats. The rest of the pets in the surveys were fish, birds, small animals, reptiles, and horses.

With these high numbers, surely thousands of our creatures die every single day. So the death of a family pet has to be one of the most common life events we face. Certainly, on my pet therapy rounds at the hospital, patients often share stories about pets they’ve loved who have died.

But guess what? The acceptance of the knowledge that our pets will very likely die before us doesn’t make a difference when the pet actually dies. We feel devastated. We need hope. We need a silver lining.

My silver lining in the dark cloud of recently losing my dog Riley came in the form of the outpouring of kind responses to the sad news. Here’s how people reached out to me:

2 Remembrance gifts

2 E-cards

3 Visits

5 texts

6 phone calls

7 hugs

8 comments on my blog post Requiem for a Dog

12 sympathy cards

16 emails

34 responses and 46 comments on my Facebook post about Riley dying and then 24 responses to my Thank You note to the Facebook commenters and responders

I can’t begin to express how much all of that means to me. People are so genuinely kind.

Here is a sampling of the sentiments people offered:

Through your posts and photos, Riley became a part of our lives as well. I looked forward to the posts about Riley because they brightened up my day and had a positive meaning. Thank you for sharing him.

I like to think that God offers exceptional blessings throughout a person’s life, and I believe that having an extraordinary pet is one of those divine blessings. Riley was one of those blessings. Riley loved you…It was evident each time I visited you both and in every photo you ever posted.

Any time I saw you with Riley, your love for him was so apparent. I know if love could have cured him, he’d have lived forever. 

Riley reached into a lot of peoples’ hearts and pulled out a lot of love. He just had that effect.

One of the “sending forth” blessings at my church includes, “Be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”

Be the silver lining of kindness in someone’s life tomorrow.