The world is a funny place. Sometimes, I can’t write for weeks. Other times, unforeseen forces simply plop things into my lap and I can’t do anything but write.
I can’t tell if I am unusually adept at recognizing when, what seem like disparate ideas or experiences, all come together around the same place and time; or if it’s these unforeseen forces kind of tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Here’s an opportunity for you to express yourself.” Either way, I’m extremely grateful when it happens.
It happened this week.
On Monday, I looked at my calendar for the week and noticed that there was a retirement party for a colleague of mine scheduled for Wednesday. It was a party for an administrative assistant who took care of my particular business area for the past 17 years. She didn’t just “work with us,” or “helped us out.” She took care of us.
This lady was special.
She had taken leave earlier in the year because of an illness, and she was so sick, several of us weren’t sure–even the day of the party–whether or not she would be there in person.
Upon entering the conference room for the party, I found myself overcome with emotion. She was making the rounds, hugging and talking with everyone. Her husband was there. Her sisters, daughters, grandkids….they all came in for this.
So I waited my turn and started chatting with one of my colleagues. “That’s got to be her daughter,” I said. “Wow…what a resemblance.” The apple didn’t fall far…
The colleague turned and replied, “Yeah, it’s funny how you can just tell. Do people say that about your girls? That there are traits of yours or Lesley’s that they can pinpoint?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “In fact…Lesley had taken the girls to a creamery the other day to get some ice cream. While they were there, this woman [full disclosure: the woman was a family friend who I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years and who I don’t think had ever met either of my daughters or my wife] walks right up to Les and the girls, looks at my oldest, and says, ‘That’s a Delaney.’ She KNEW that Katie was a Delaney because of the eyes.” Incredible. She was a dear friend of my Dad’s from back in the day.
At one point during the retirement party, several people gave speeches. Each voice cracked and broke; the gathered crowd wiped away tears and dabbed their face with tissues.
This lady who retired…Lynn…had a profound effect on everyone she came in contact with while working at the company. She was a mother, friend, confidant, and from many of the words spoken, a shelter from the storm for a lot of people. She opened peoples eyes to how they saw themselves and treated their families. She made a positive impact on how they raised their kids.
Lynn has battled cancer for as long as I’ve known her. It’s a miracle she is still alive. The one constant in all of the speeches was her unwavering faith. Her unyielding power to believe: believe that she can get better; believe that she can always come back from the next round of treatment; and the true belief that the man upstairs has a plan for her…and she’s ready whenever that plan comes to an earthly end.
Her husband is a pastor at their local church. He stood up and spoke a few words. This man has known her for over 40 years — and he echoed the same sentiments: Lynn is special. She truly believed that everyone had good in them. And she’s right – because she found it in everyone she’s ever been in contact with.
It didn’t need to be said, but at one point another guy standing next to me said it anyway: It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
I tell you that story for two reasons: 1) the power of believing is quite possibly the strongest power anyone could possess in the world. Believe in yourself. Believe you can do it: get a job, get out of rehab, get off the street, get that promotion, lose weight, gain height, play an instrument. Whatever it may be, however big or small an endeavor…it all starts with the power to believe. 2) That short interlude with my colleague about traits – both from a physical and personality perspective – that we all pass along to our children.
My mom came over this morning to take our girls to school. She walked in the kitchen and she handed me an envelope. “I can’t believe I didn’t make a copy of this. I mailed it to my friend shortly after your Dad died because she wanted to have a copy, and I didn’t realize I never made a copy for myself. So she gave it back to me the other day and I want you to have it.”
“What is it?”
“It’s the eulogy I gave at your Dad’s funeral.”
I opened it, read a few sentences, and then put it back in the envelope. “I can’t read this now. Later today,” I said.
I was 10 when my Dad died in March 1988. He was in so much debt when he died that we had to sell almost all of his possessions to recoup whatever money we could. So our family doesn’t have a lot of tangible things to remember him by. Family members tell me all the time that I have his sense of humor and his writing style (which, in one man’s humble opinion, are the two very best traits a person could pass along to their offspring. God knows I didn’t get my hair from him – curse that Lindsay hairline!!!).
But how do I know that I have his sense of humor? Or I write like he did? I have nothing to compare them to. No real videos…no proof.
My Dad was a Baltimore County teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He was so beloved by his students and his faculty that there is a school that still, today, has a closet of his belongings from his office. It sits untouched…and serves as a shrine of sorts. Almost 30 years later.
So this afternoon, I found myself home alone after work. And I opened the envelope.
Part of the eulogy contained a speech that my Dad wrote when he would speak to parents at the beginning of every school year:
“Believing is an incredible experience. It has been the basis for some of the world’s finest movies, plays, musicals, holidays, and experiences. AND it is the basis for the world’s most incredible life force – kids. You know what I love about kids? They believe. They believe in Santa Claus or snow or dead bodies coming back to life. Kids believe. Do you still believe? I hope so. It’s really hard for adults to keep some form of belief alive in the 80’s. But we are still a society of people who need to believe. Between bills, mortgages, interest rates, food prices, and the other hard knocks that we have to deal with, we’ve got to make every attempt to keep believing. I guess religion in one form or another has been good for people because it helps us believe (especially when times are bad).
But the neat thing about kids is that they believe even when times are good. I once told a group of 10th graders that my mother was a cleaning lady for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. They wanted to know how she met my father. I told them that my father worked for the CIA and he met her when on a special assignment in the Netherlands. At first I felt bad lying to the kids but the more I created these illusions the more I realized that people want to believe. It is so important to remember that when you talk to kids. They do BELIEVE YOU!
Sadly enough, they also believe their friends even though their friends do not always tell them what they need to hear. Kids believe that their friends are the most important thing in the world. This usually creeps into their lives around 4th grade (give or take a year). That is the toughest time for parents. I promise you that in many cases they will get normal again and realize that you are okay sometime around 10th or 11th grade. I don’t promise you that it will be easy. Kids tend to believe us when we don’t always want them to believe – like when we threaten them with things we could never carry out even if our lives depended on it. Then there are those nice special times when it would be so nice for them to believe in us and they don’t. But they do believe more than we will ever realize. They believe our stories and our fears and our joys and they believe in us. They BELIEVE in us! That’s a heavy responsibility for anyone to deal with.
Believing is an incredible experience. I remember when I took my son, Patrick, to see E.T. I was an assistant principal then and I think every parent in the world dropped their kids off because they knew an assistant principal was there to watch their kid…
After an interminable wait the movie got started. What a film! It was based on believing. I was so engrossed in the story and the way the film was shot that I didn’t hear Patrick ask me to take him to the bathroom until it was almost too late. We darted out and as we walked I noticed every kid, young and old, was totally into E.T. I wish I could have kept my classes as engrossed in some of my less successful lessons. I will never forget the part where the chrysanthem dies as E.T. dies and then it begins to come back to life. I knew that E.T. was coming back to life. I believed it. I needed it to happen. When they escape and it looks like they are going to be captured then they take off on their bikes and zoom into the air! Patrick told me I was cheering and crying too loud. My contact lenses were rolling down my face. I told Patrick to go into the lobby and have a cigarette. I’d be right out. I forgot he was only six years old and didn’t smoke. At least I hoped he didn’t smoke.
I remember a class once of 6th graders and half of them smoked. Good, God, they were a group. I loved them to death. They were not Rhodes Scholars but God were they down to earth and did they love to laugh!”
I read that speech (especially the part about seeing E.T. and telling me to go smoke in the lobby) and I finally realized…I write like my Dad. I have his sense of humor. I have proof.
Lose yourself every now and then in belief.