The Cardinal Sign

The Cardinal Sign

Today I feel wistful. And thankful.

Thankful for what I took to be a ‘sort’ of sign.

Now please understand – I’m not a person who looks for signs.

I lean on the One who tells me to trust in Him, not in the ways of this earth. And so I’m not searching around for material things, wondering if they hold some cosmic meaning for me.

But every once in awhile, life seems to line up in way that speaks to me of comfort and peace beyond my understanding, and the only correct response can be, “Thank you. Thank you for this moment of grace.”

Today would have been my paternal grandparents’ 76th wedding anniversary.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you’ll remember that my family celebrated their 75th anniversary with them last year (in 2017). My grandparents were in good health and in great, great spirits. However, they both passed into eternal life within weeks of the magnificent event, and the rest of us are left to contemplate how blessed we were to have this amazing couple with us for as long as we did.

All grieving families go through a mourning process that includes shock and sadness. It’s been an up and down year for each of us, but overall, it has brought us closer together. And joy has been a part of these long months, too, as we welcomed our family’s newest member – my sister’s first child, my beautiful nephew.

My heart held fast to these memories as I clasped Grandma’s gold cross around my neck for the first time this morning. My aunt just gave it to me on Saturday during our first visit together since some sad days last February.

As I held onto the necklace I was thinking about God’s words, “And behold, I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20).

I stepped over to the mirror to take a look and just then a cardinal appeared to my right in the bush outside my window.

The brightest, fattest, reddest, cardinal.

It has been said these birds are the spirit sign of a loved one you’ve lost.

And so I wondered…

I was transfixed, rooted to the spot, as it sat there swaying on the branch, its wings, head, and breast glinting in the sunlight.

It stayed long enough for me to hear my mind compete: “I will not move until it does.”

And then…finally…it cocked its head and took flight.

I firmly believe there is an unseen reality and One God who is with us always.

He lives to show us He loves us. He lives to show us His love.

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!
Photo by Kristopher Roller, StockSnap.io

As I understand it, my great-grandparents’ marriage started off with sparks. Of the good sort.

Just 17 years old, Bessie Lowe was bound and determined to marry James Smith – the young man of her dreams. It’s not clear whether Bessie’s groom-to-be was afraid to approach Bessie’s father about the marriage, but in any case, Bessie was the one who told her dad about the engagement. According to a quote in an old family photo album, Bessie’s dad told her he and her mother had seen the folly of marrying too young. She came back at him. “Well,” she said, “We would like to see the folly of it too.”

Bessie and Jimmie were married on the 4th of July, 1916, in Grants Pass, Oregon. After the ceremony they held a family picnic where everyone – and I mean everyone – played baseball. Firecracker that she was, my great-grandmother ran the bases in her wedding dress.

Times were simple and lean and about to get leaner. In 1932, Jimmie lost his job as a truck driver for a lumberyard, so he took my grandpa (and later, grandpa’s sister) to live on the family’s farm while Bessie worked as a washerwoman in a Seattle laundry. The family was separated for two years, seeing one another only on holidays. Decades later, my grandpa choked up every time he spoke of this, remembering it as a great injustice that his beloved mother should ever have had to work that hard under such awful conditions. And yet Bessie did – for the love of her family and to help provide for them. Further, she kept her chin up, never losing the laughing spirit that sparked that running of the bases on her wedding day.

I knew Bessie only when I was a young child, and what I recall best are her eyes. People tell me she had one brown and one blue, but in my mind I see the way those eyes crinkle at me in delight. She sits on a piano bench in her living room, studying me with her whole face, body, heart, and spirit. She radiates joy. She throws her head back and laughs, letting ripples of happiness shake her whole frame.

The lesson in all of this is that the same woman who told her dad of her plans to marry the man she loved, played America’s game right after saying her vows, and toiled at an awful job to care for a family she adored who – to the very last among us – remembers her as laughing, made one critical choice above all others: she consistently chose joy.

Do you choose joy every day? Do you have the kind of faith that trusts that Life is Good, and you – even you – are cared for regardless of your current situation?

I believe that my great-grandmother must have. She trusted in the Presence that pushed up the flowers in her yard year after year, and brought her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren back to her when she’d gone full seasons without seeing them.

Right to the end, hers was an all-embracing, loving, grateful smile that no one could dismiss.

My great-grandmother Bessie Smith, always smiling.

On this holiday of family picnics and fireworks, may we press fully into that kind of joy.

 

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”
My children with their great-grandparents at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, January 2017.

I always knew there was a range of emotions to encounter in grief, but I didn’t count on humor being one of them.

We were sitting down to dinner on the day my grandfather died. On my own, I had already told the children the news one-by-one, something that needed to be done because my husband was in another state at a colleague’s mother’s funeral and our kids’ age spread meant they wouldn’t be able to process the info in the same way. We had all been together in Seattle just a week before to celebrate my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Telling the kids that their 94-year old great-grandfather – who had seemed the picture of health – had suddenly entered heaven came as a shock to them, to say the least. Kids are never prepared. But then again, are any of us?

Everyone was happy that it was ‘breakfast for dinner’ – pancakes, eggs, fruit and OJ, but about 5 minutes into the meal my 7-year old son asked, “Where’s the pork roll?” – a Philadelphia favorite and weekend staple in our house.

I let out a frustrated sigh that I wasn’t aware I’d been holding in.

“I forgot it, alright? Bestefar died today and I forgot the pork roll. We’ll be fine without it.”

Then I promptly burst into tears.

My 11-year old daughter dropped her fork and in a shaky voice said, “Oh, Mom! Are you ok?”

Banging his fist on the table – young man of the house – my teenage son declared, “Clearly, she is NOT ok!!”

Turning to me, he said – a little too loudly, “MOM! If you need to go lie down, or…or…or take a break…or something…you just do that, OK?”

Then, to my left, a sweet little 7-year old’s voice said, “Mom?”

In a state of disbelief, I turned to my youngest son.

“Yes?” I said.

“Are you thinking dark thoughts?”

It was all I could do not to burst into fits of laughter.

Maturity in three stages spread out before me. The 7-year old had forgotten the day’s events. The 11-year old could only feel empathy. And the 14-year old was desperately trying to control the situation.

It was a foreshadowing of my own grieving process – the one I would go through in the weeks ahead.

Grandpa passed in January and Grandma passed in March, and every day I’m in one of these three stages: denial, empathy and sadness, or trying to regain a footing. My grandparents meant more to me than most people may realize. Despite the geographical distance between us, they were a firm foundation in my life; I counted on them for stability and strength in ways that only now are becoming apparent to me.

And I’ve been rather silent on this blog as I try to process that realization, focusing instead on just getting through the days. But this morning I realized yet again that what they were to me is what I have been called to be to others. The mantle is passed in this way from generation to generation. And if I spend my life trying to emulate theirs, I will have succeeded in giving my children the precious gifts my grandparents gave to me. These three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Post Script: Some Words on Creating Art After Loss

Post Script: Some Words on Creating Art After Loss

It was the boxes that set me off. Four arrived from Washington state, lovingly packed by my dad and my aunt and filled to the brim with treasured items from my grandparents’ apartment. Both of them passed recently after 75 years of marriage – Grandpa on January 28, and Grandma on March 2. The boxes’ arrival conveyed a finality that words never could.

It had been a tough day already. I’d had to delete the reminder that kept popping up on my phone.

Call Grandma and Grandpa” hurt me every time I saw it.

That task was a perpetual one. Call every week or two, just to check in. Make a little statement of love to span the distance between my hometown of Annapolis, and theirs – Seattle.

Life around here is probably like yours. Activities to get to, people to care for. My kids were the reason for that reminder. Time spent on homework, sports, music lessons, meals, and sweatpants and socks gone M.I.A. gets frittered away so easily, and my mind unravels bit by bit. I need a ‘ping’ now and then to keep me on track – to help me stay the course for ‘to-dos’ of eternal value.

And besides, I looked forward to our conversations, especially the ones between just Grandma and me.

“Tell me about the children,” Grandma always began, and I’d fill her in on the latest. I know she asked because she wanted to hear, but I also know that she asked because she knew that my kids hold my heart, and talking about them brings me joy. Grandma was savvy; she could see what was important and what wasn’t.

But yesterday, there was no need for the phone reminder anymore. The void in my heart caused by their absence is reminder enough.

How can a void be filled?

You can try to stuff it with meaningless stuff, but that’s not what we learn in Scripture.

“In the beginning…the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss…Then God said, ‘Let there be light,'” (Genesis 1:1-2).

You know the rest of the story.

Voids can only be filled by one thing: the power of the Creator doing what He does best – create.

My faith has been carrying me steadily, but riding the emotions is an important part of grief.

I’m thinking about this when my husband comes home from work to find me crying.

Fear has gripped me. What if something happens to the few recordings I have of their voices? What if I can’t tell their story? The bigger fear is this: What if I forget….the way they spoke to me, the feel of their hugs, the sound of their laughter….And oh my gosh, we laughed so much because they embraced life fully and radiated happiness.

It’s what they wished for me – for all of us – even as Grandma whispered in each of my children’s ears the very last time she hugged them. “Have a happy life,”she said to them, one by one.

How can I create anything of meaning and joy when fear and sadness press in?

Look again at the picture in this post. See my daughter playing piano in the background? She’s using her God-given gifts to compose a piece that tumbles like thunder and shakes the floors of our home. She presses into it, telling me that it’s helping her prepare to play a similar song called “Seascape,” that conjures up waves rolling on a sandy shore.

There’s a lesson in this moment.

To cover an abyss we must plod through darkness, leaning into the Source of all power to do the art of creating life in the now. We trust in faith that we will be given what we need, and that promised joy will indeed come. 

So play the song, write the book, take the trip, make the call, and see and speak and push through the pain to make something new out of a formless phase.

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?
My grandparents, Allen and Hazel, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary January 18, 2017. He passed into eternity on January 28, and she followed on March 2.

It seemed like a dream as I pressed the receiver to my ear and heard my dad’s voice.

“Grandma is no longer with us. She’s with Grandpa now.”

She passed late Thursday night. Her decline had been swift. Just 11 days earlier I was in Seattle for my grandfather’s memorial service and she had seemed frail but steady.

But when you lost your spouse of 75 years just weeks ago, and you’ve held out for one final trip down memory lane in the company of family and friends, perhaps you just decide once and for all that enough is enough.

At a certain point, the body won’t hold a soul that wants to go where a body simply can’t.

She was one half of the most beautiful couple I have ever known.

I said on their 70th wedding anniversary that it was my right to put them on a pedestal, and I still believe that it is. Their relationship exuded a quality I seldom see – a quality they would never have thought described them, but then, most people who have this deny it out of sheer humility.

That quality is holiness.

Too often, holiness is associated with religiosity, and this, my grandparents were emphatically, not.

Holiness is something so much more sublime. Divine. An intention of the heart.

As I wrote on their 75th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated together in January:

It has been said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but instead, to make us HOLY.

I’ve been considering this statement for the last several years. And even if a person does not submit to the idea that our universe – and all that lies within it – is here for a divine purpose, namely, so that we can learn how to live like the Creator – a force of Love with a capital “L” that gives so freely He even wants to live through each one of us….Yes, even if someone does not agree with this heartfelt belief of mine, there is value in considering holiness as a purpose for marriage. And here’s why.

The process of becoming holy is the refinement of a person. It is a gradual sloughing off of all that is flawed in order to move toward perfection in goodness and righteousness – like placing rocks in a crucible and burning away impurities to reveal hidden gold or silver.

When I think about the ideal marriage, this is exactly what happens for the 2 individuals involved.

When it works well, marriage does several things to us and for us. It brings us joy. It brings us love. It brings us companionship for life’s adventures.

Most importantly though, it helps us to understand the long-term benefits of practicing a myriad of virtues such as acceptance, compassion, consideration, flexibility, generosity, humility, kindness, and forgiveness….

A good spouse encourages us, and calls us back toward the best version of ourselves. Over the long haul, there is benefit to both people in choosing:

patience over edginess,

service over self-centeredness,

understanding over egoism,

honesty over deceit,

and unity over division.

Was the path my grandparents took an easy one? Almost certainly not. I’m sure they faced tests and struggles that the rest of our family never knew about. But they passed through those fires and came out stronger and purer because of them.

My grandparents taught me by example what the path of holiness looks like. In their quiet way, they kept faith in God and lived as servants to one another. This, more than any other, is their enduring legacy to me.

Yes, they have left me beautiful memories, family I love deeply, and a few precious mementos, but it’s the love and honor they gave each other that I value the most.

Perhaps that’s why I can’t think of one without the other, and why Grandma couldn’t stay with us any longer than she did.

“Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.”
John Donne

 

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

I lost my grandpa this week. The pain is new and deep, and I know that I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Memories comfort me, yes, but so does something else. The knowledge that I told him on so many, many occasions that I loved him. I did not let key opportunities slip by.

Just a week before my grandpa passed, my family and I had gathered in his retirement home in Seattle, WA, to celebrate his and my grandma’s 75th wedding anniversary. They were married in January 1942, just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Grandpa realized he’d be entering the Army Air Corps and knew he couldn’t go without his love. Allen and Hazel were high school sweethearts who truly grew up into adulthood together. As Grandpa said just a few days ago, “We met in May 1939, and I knew she was the one for me.”

Over the years, our family gathered from across the U.S. to celebrate 4 of their major milestone anniversaries: 60, 65, 70, and 75. At the 60th, I hardly said a word about the love and pride I was feeling. But something changed by the 65th, and today I suddenly realized why.

It was January 2007. I was midway through the 8-month process of learning and discernment that is required of people who wish to enter the Catholic Church – smack dab in the middle of the longest stretch of time I had ever spent considering God’s Word and thinking about His role in my life. And since we often can see with clarity in hindsight those things which seem muddled in the moment, now I know that God was working in my heart and gently coaxing me on to joy in the pursuit of His purposes.

Not everyone is comfortable expressing love in words, and the truth is, it wasn’t always that way for me. On the flight out to the West Coast in 2007, I wrote a letter to my grandparents that I planned to read at the anniversary dinner. I was full of adrenaline as my pen shot across the pages, charged with emotion as I lay down memory after memory, puffed with happiness at the thought that I would be able to share them with Grandma and Grandpa. And when the time came to read, I was shaking all over. It wasn’t seamless, but I got through it, word by word, my voice faltering and cracking.

My family praised me, but what meant the most was the knowledge that my words were a gift my grandparents truly treasured. Grandma called me over with a gentle wave, held my hands in both of hers and said, “Gretchen, dear, have you ever thought about being a writer?” She knew I wrote nonfiction educational materials, but she was talking about something more. She was urging me forward. “Yes, Grandma. It’s actually what I think I want to do.” “You should do it.” She nodded slightly to indicate her seriousness and squeezed my hands. “You should do it.”

Me reading to Grandma and Grandpa at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, nearly two weeks ago.

I had reservations and told her so – that I didn’t think I had any worthy material, had no idea what to write about. She listened lovingly and nodded understandingly, but my grandma encourages regardless of fear. She is a quiet repose of strength and confidence.

I would go on to write another letter for their 70th, and deliver it with less anxiety than I had on the 65th. And when last weekend came, I was filled with calm and a deep conviction that I was doing the right thing, regardless of whether the thoughts I expressed were the same thoughts as those of others in the room. It turns out I was right – Grandpa was just a couple days from meeting his Creator, and this was my last chance to pour out my heart to him.

How can we know when we’re on the right path? How we can know we are saying or doing what we should? For me, there are a few indicators:

1) I ask who I’m serving. Who am I doing this for? If my actions are born of love, a desire to be in community and relationship with others, and above all, if I’m aiming to please God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength, I’m probably headed in the right direction.

2) I consider the voices I’m hearing. Encouragement and gentleness come from Love (with a capital “L”). He does not chastise or tell me I’m an unworthy, useless, untalented wanna-be. If negative voices are dominating my thoughts, I must call them out to fight with the blinding light of Truth. God is Love. He is Light. There is no hate and no darkness in Him. And He alone can give me the strength and confidence I need to move forward, if I surrender to His good will and love for me.

3) I remember in faith that I am not an accident. The desires of my heart to do good work in my life were planted there by the One who loves me more than I can comprehend, and wants me to enjoy life to the fullest. My desires are part His divine plan.

In His Word, God tells us how to live joyfully, and He promises us that we are all given gifts. Don’t we believe that He’ll help us to use those gifts? Don’t we know without having seen that Love is real, and therefore we can step out with our talents, trusting in that Love to see us through? We move in faith, believing that He has blessings in store for us if we work with Him, if we don’t give in to the lies that plague us.

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” – Hebrews 3:15

Flying Over Rapid City

The pilot just announced that we’re at 39,000 feet and flying over Rapid City, South Dakota. The man to my right across the aisle is playing an online crossword puzzle. These might be irrelevant details to some. But to me and my aching heart, they are clues that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

During this flight home to the East Coast, no other cities have been mentioned to us passengers. Just this one. And Rapid City just so happens to be one of the few places my grandparents lived in their 74-year marriage. Yes – the same couple I left a few hours ago in Seattle, WA, where the three of us celebrated Grandpa’s 94th birthday yesterday. And where Grandma has taken a liking to online crosswords as a replacement for the paper ones she’s done for decades.

Rapid City, South Dakota.

In the 1950s, my grandfather was a service and marketing engineer with Boeing – the mammoth aviation company. His piloting experience during WWII paired well with his University of Washington degree, and one of his long-term assignments was Rapid City. There, my grandmother was also busy – raising young children, my dad and my aunt.

In Seattle, they had left their brand new home to renters. “And while we were away,” Grandma tells me, “our church tore down its original building and put a new one up in the same place.”

This spring, that ‘new’ church building will be demolished as the congregation christens yet another one on Easter. My grandparents’ ‘new’ home, now 63 years old, has also been sold, and will disappear into the earth as a developer moves in to make use of the prime real estate.

Time marches on. Decisions are made. We collect the mementos we want to save and move forward. But the process rips at our hearts.

Do you ever wonder what might have been – had you made a different choice? 

Wondered about the ways that life moves – with or without you? 

And how His hand is at work in it all? 

Sitting in my dorm room at Dickinson College senior year, in the spring of 1994, I was contemplating life after graduation when I had a thought. A thought I have never forgotten in the 22 years since.

‘What if I moved to Seattle?’ 

I pictured myself trying to fit in to that city – a place where I had never lived, only visited – since my dad became a military officer and we were assigned elsewhere.

‘I could apply for graduate school at the University of Washington. I could get a Master’s in English. Or go to law school. Or maybe get a job. I could see more of Grandma and Grandpa.’ 

But I was fearful, and lacked the resolve to throw caution to the wind and move where I had no solid prospects. Or friends. Instead, I accepted a job as a legal assistant in New York City, and headed off on another adventure that ultimately took me to Washington, D.C. and into the arms of my future husband – a wonderful man with whom I’ve forged a life I desperately, desperately love.

But what if? 

Sitting with my grandparents this weekend, during yet another visit that is too short and too infrequent, I listen with my whole being. It is beautiful, sacred, joyful time. I want to recapture years. I want to fill in gaps.

I study the details of their faces, try to imprint their voices on my mind, and take copious notes on these people I love beyond words. I try to nail down the essentials and some of the family flavor, but I know the essence of it all is slipping by.

Ultimately, everything I feel comes down to an ache of gratitude and a longing for more. I want to say, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’ every single second, and ‘Please, don’t let it end.’

I hold up fairly well, keeping relatively dry eyes until I’m alone at the airport and suddenly everything spills over like waterworks. The missing them. The missing my husband and kids. The knawing knowlege that you can’t savor any morsel of this world’s goodness forever, eats away at my insides.

What would God say to me now?

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

-Isaiah 51:11

The promise of life without heartache is a balm to my spirit. If only I could grasp that perfect state here, for longer than a few precious moments at a time.

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73 Valentine’s Days

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They were married by the local pastor on January 18, 1942 in the living room of her parents’ home. It was a simple ceremony with immediate family in attendance.  She wore a navy blue dress and an orchid corsage, and afterwards they had a celebratory lunch. For their 60th wedding anniversary, I asked her sisters what kind of cake they’d had so that I could replicate it. Neither one could remember. I had wanted the cake to be a surprise, but I finally broke down and asked the bride – my grandmother – and even she couldn’t remember.  Such details weren’t important, apparently.  What was important was that they’d made a lifelong commitment that day, at the young age, both of them, of just 19.

As of today, they have celebrated 73 years of marriage, and 73 Valentine’s Days as husband and wife.  If that isn’t “a love that lasts,” I’m not sure what is.

In 2012, my family gathered to celebrate my grandparents’ 70th anniversary, and I was one of several people who gave toasts at dinner. I read a longer version of the letter below in a trembling voice. A few months later, my grandmother wanted to publish my letter in their church’s quarterly newsletter, and so my thoughts were shared with a broader audience. I was flattered, but also a bit nervous, since I guess you could say this was my public writing debut – at least for the kind of writing I care most about – matters of faith and the heart.

On Tuesday this week, as Grandma told me she and Grandpa would attend a Sweethearts Luncheon for Valentine’s Day, I asked for her thoughts on publishing a short form of the letter here. She consented and said it was a good idea. She has always encouraged me. And so, in celebration of this day of love, I venture into heart-filled terrain once again.

A tribute to my grandparents:

January 2012

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Five years ago we gathered together to celebrate your 65th wedding anniversary, an extraordinary event. Yet here we are, blessed again, with another 5 years of a remarkable marriage….  

Your marriage didn’t simply last, it flourished. How did that happen? I explored the idea with the goal of more deeply appreciating your marriage, and strengthening my own. And here’s my theory.

For the last seven decades, consciously or not, you have each cultivated a servant’s heart. You have awoken each morning and asked your soul, “How can I promote the well-being and happiness of this person I love – today?” And then you got up and did what was needed. It was through billions of kind words, billions of small acts of love, and billions of tiny moments. In short, whether you always did it intentionally or not, you made the love you share a higher calling.

Even today when I sit and observe you, I see the ripple effect of a small, seemingly insignificant choice – the way you say one another’s names. Hazel. Allen. You say each other’s names lovingly, softly, in a voice that asks, “Are you here for me, my love?” And the response, however it comes, is always, “Yes. I am here for you. I am fully present to you. You can be confident in me. I am devoted to you.”

In all my life, as I have listened to your exchanges, I have never heard resentment or bitterness creep into your voices when you speak to one another. If you have been angry, you have discussed the issue, reached a decision together, and let it go. To my knowledge, and from what I have witnessed, you have never carried grudges against one another. You have never ledgered wrongs. You forgive.   …

Now I look forward and ask, “What can we as a family do to continue your accomplishment? What lessons do we carry forward?”

We can move forward as you have, with servants’ hearts. Love is only advanced in the world when people choose to serve others. To do that, we must set ourselves aside and focus on one another. I look to you both as role models in how to do this, and in how to live a full life, rich in all the ways I want mine to be.   …

Cathedral builders worked entire lifetimes without ever seeing the results of their work fully incorporated into the finished structure. Every individual life is like this. We don’t always know the full impact of the countless small decisions we make every day. But we move forward in faith, and in your lives, the results have been beautiful.

Our family gathered here is your cathedral. Your marriage was the cornerstone, and we are building upward. The values, skills, and morals you have passed on to us are the buttresses and beams. The memories and stories are the artwork and stained glass windows. And an occasion as special as this one is like a visit to the cathedral – a chance to celebrate what has been accomplished.

I love you more than I can ever express here. I am honored to be your granddaughter. And I will take what I have learned from you and pass it on. I will do my very best to make your story my own. 

With love and more love,

Gretchen

 

Day 19 – Turn-down Service

Last night I was talking with my grandparents (now both 92) about a trip we all took together 30 years ago, when I was 11 and my sister was 8. We stayed in a hotel where I experienced for the very first time a little luxury I haven’t seen recently – turn-down service. Here’s how I remember it:

It was late in the evening and my eyes were heavy. My grandparents, my sister and I were all dressed up, having just attended a banquet dinner – the final event of a boating race weekend that my grandfather had been participating in. We had gotten ready in the room before dinner and left in a hurry. (Now that I have children, I know how the adults present must have felt at the time.  Trying to rush along two young girls who are busy styling their hair and admiring themselves in the mirror is no small feat….but I digress.). The dinner had been lovely – multiple courses, an ice sculpture of a prop in the middle of the ballroom, dancing afterwards. My sister and I felt like celebrities as the only kids there, and though we all had a great time, we were ready to get back and into bed.

To my young eyes, the room was like a dream. Lights dimmed just so. Toiletries neatly organized by the sink. Clothes hung or laid carefully across the suitcases. Bedspreads folded and set aside. Blankets tucked in perfectly at the ends of the beds. Crisp white sheets folded down from the center of each bed into neat triangles. And perched atop each perfectly fluffed and sleep-ready pillow was a foil-wrapped chocolate mint. Trying not to muss anything, I sat on the edge of the bed and let that decadent little piece of chocolate melt on my tongue. It was glorious!

The best part of the ‘turn-down’ experience for me was the chocolate mint. I recognized in that one little thing, a singular moment of unexpected joy.  For someone else, the experience might have been different, or lacked sparkle altogether. But for me, it was a gift – a sweet lightness.

Is it possible, as an adult, to find the same kind of joy?  I think so, but I also think it requires a kind of practice….Practice at keeping my clouded eyes open to see where the gifts are, so I can recognize them as such and then savor them like I savored that mint.

Sunlight was streaming into our room today as my alarm went off.  For weeks it’s been dark, but with daylight savings time, morning feels like morning again. I hit the snooze and lay silently studying the yellow rays peeking around the sides of the curtains, wanting to burst into our room. In the quiet, I could savor the miracle of that sweet light and feel joy rising again, as I gave thanks for the gift that it is.