Alice Herz Sommer-The Lady in Number Six

“I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t really matter because I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
~Alice Herz Sommer

Today ash crosses adorn foreheads. They serve as a reminder that Easter is coming. Lent literally means “spring”, a season of preparation. The reflective 40 days ahead offer a prime opportunity for growth.

As we enter this growing season, Alice Herz Sommer’s preparation and waiting is over. She’s reached her “harvest” day. The 110-year-old pianist will go down in history as the last living Nazi Holocaust survivor. Yet, she was one of the world’s most joyful, hopeful, and “Lenten” souls.

Alice Herz Sommer says that music saved her life. Maybe her saving grace wasn’t the music, but her capacity to hear it.

THELADYINNUMBERSIXThis Lenten season, my preparation will be less about what I give up and more about who I want to become. In Alice Herz Sommer I’ve found a modern-day mentor.

Read more about The Lady in Number Six here.

Joyous in the Land of the Groanups

My Christmas present to you:

Joyous in the Land of the Groanups
by Ken Bradshaw

Joyous NativityOnce upon a time there was a land whose inhabitants were called Groanups.  They were called Groanups, because all they did was groan and grumble all day long.

And no wonder, because this was the time of the Groanin’ Empire.  The Groanups were ruled by King Hatred.  He hated everybody.

Living in that land was a lady named Merry.  She was one of the few people there who was happy.  When she learned that she was to be the mother of God’s Son, Merry and her husband, Jovial, were full of joy.  When the baby was born, he was such a cheerful baby they decided to call him “Joyous,” at the suggestion of a Messenger of Good News.

Three wise guys came to see the child, and gave him gold, nonsense, and mirth.  But when King Hatred learned about the child, he was angry.  He did not want anyone spreading joy and hope among the Groanups, so he sent some soldiers to find and kill Joyous.  But Jovial took Merry and Joyous away before the soldiers could find them.

When Joyous was a young man, he went all over the kingdom telling the Groanups to turn from their ways to be born again, and to become like little children.  Then they would have sunshine and health in this life and the next.  When he saw Groanups with especially heavy hearts, he would touch them and say, “Lighten up,” and they would be healed.  That’s why he was called “the Light of the World.”  God smiled on His Son and was pleased with him.

But most of the Groanups were not pleased.  They were too set in their ways and did not want to become young and healthy and joyful again.  King Hatred especially did not want anyone to be happy.

So the king and his Groanups seized Joyous and had him whipped.  They put thorns on his head and called him the clown of thorns.  Then to show the world how cross he was at anyone who would dare to spread joy in his kingdom, King Hatred had Joyous nailed to a cross to die.

But Joyous had the last laugh, for after he died and was buried, he came alive again.  Many Groanups heard this wonderful news and finally believed that Joyous was really the son of God.  They stopped groaning and became as children again.  Then they went and spread the good news that whoever accepted the Spirit of Joyous would have life and laughter everlasting.

100 is the New 30

100 is the new 30 in Heaven.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

MyDadMy DadHappy birthday to my father, Elmer, who turns 100 today, July 3, 2013.

I hope you’re keeping up with those 5,784 year olds, Dad. Tell those firefighters, we appreciate their sacrificial service. And, give my love to Mom and Barbara and everyone else.

Thanks, Dad, for your abundant humor and your abundant love.  I miss you and I love you–to infinity and beyond!

I See Dead People

The last two weeks might have made a good movie. I celebrated two graduations, a wedding, a funeral, a birthday party, and Memorial Day. You’d think a title like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL would have come to mind, but instead, I found myself stuck in THE SIXTH SENSE movie, brooding, “I see dead people.”

What gives?

I See Dead People - THE SIXTH SENSE

I guess I need to cut myself some slack.  I’d hit a physical brick wall, driving 2,670 miles in ten days through Minnesota rain, South Dakota hail, Wyoming wind, and Montana snow — then back again. That coupled with the emotional fatigue of saying “good-bye” (for now) to my sister made me see the world temporarily shadowed by the dark cloud of negativity inside me.  I was hypersensitive to:

  • flat-emotioned parents watching their kids at the motel swimming pool,
  • zombie-looking youth shuffling down the sidewalk,
  • cranky waitresses watching the clock.

I wanted to shake these dead people to say, “Wake up!”, but I didn’t have the strength.

Behind this urge, I really wanted to shake my sister.  I wanted her to wake up.

As I analyze this cloud, I can shoo it away and recognize the dead person in the mirror — nose out of joint from that brick wall — too fatigued to interact — too jet lagged or self-absorbed to really “be there”.  Without the despair and self-pity of my dark cloud, I have the wherewithal to look outside of myself.  When I move my gaze from self to others, I see how positive conversation, a smile, or a big tip can bring the dead to life – in the giver and the receiver.

I can also reflect upon and appreciate the hospitality, love, and humor of my family and others.  There were so many shining examples of life lived well during this adventure:

  • My niece, “the cheerleader”, shared grief, love,and loss with me and her siblings over the telephone. Then she urged us to move forward and celebrate each other. Ta-Wanda!
  • A graduate’s father’s blue eyes twinkled in response to a compliment. “Clean livin’ — that’s why I look so good. Clean livin’.” Liars can be so charming.
  • A mourning Coast Guard master chief stepped out of his comfort zone to memorialize his mother/my deceased sister with the bronze star of motherhood. Aww. How she must cherish the honor.

In the sunshine of hope, I can hold to the promise of life after death.  My sister doesn’t need to be shook out of that urn full of dust.  She’s awake and more alive and beautiful than ever.

FishingWhen I lower memory’s gaze I see life lived extravagantly — in the joy, abandon, love, curiosity, and hope of children.  They’ve mastered the present — in freely given smiles, all-out tackling welcomes, birthday candles, garden tractor rides, messy bowls of salsa, and red fishing poles.

WaterslideIn the shiny, tan walls of a fiberglass water slide my own life-filled reflection pleasantly startled me — urged up winding stairs by the exuberant, shorter reflection of my grandson.  He showed me I could love better with green chlorine hair. The pleasure of holding him  close through the twists and turns of each exhilarating  plunge far overshadowed my anxiety over racoon/mascara eyes.

This is why I find so much satisfaction in writing and reading children’s books. The characters teach us how to look outside of ourselves and live.

If you see dead people today; give them your smile, an all-out tackling welcome, or a big tip. If those methods don’t bring life to them and you — I know of an invigorating water slide…

To Barbara, With Love

Barbara

Click either photo for Barbara’s tribute video.  (Change the tab from 720p to 360p for easier download.) Her family chose “Jackson” as her opening song because of her passionate love affair with her husband, Warren.  They did get married in a fever.  As you can see, Barbara was/is the beautiful sister. All four of us girls worked in the same restaurant, but not at the same time. Even though I waitressed almost 20 years after Barbara, people would always say, “Is Barbara your sister? She’s SO beautiful.”

I’m typing this from a motel room in Spearfish, SD, en route to the funeral of my sister, Barbara, in Missoula, MT.  She passed away on Thursday, May 16, 10 p.m.  My husband and I were packing the car for a trip to Spearfish for a family graduation and the wedding of a friend, when we received the news that she would not likely survive the week.  Over the years, her health had deteriorated to the point where we knew it would be only a matter of time.  The news allowed me to pack a few more clothes and today I’m ten hours closer to a new 20 hour destination. As usual, God’s timing was perfect.

As the youngest child of nine (eleven, if you count my siblings lost to miscarriage), I selfishly felt that I was given less than favorable odds of not having to watch my siblings leave earth — one-at-a-time. I’ve thought how much it will stink to be the last one standing — to struggle through life alone. Barbara is already the fourth (or sixth) to go.  I feel happy for Barbara and strangely peaceful.  After all, there are 101 Reasons to Celebrate.  This world isn’t the last stop of the journey.  It’s merely a training ground for the next adventure.

Lucky for the world, Barbara’s greatest accomplishments were the Barbarachildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she left behind.  They are a living testament to her compassion, humor,  idiosyncrasies, curiosity, generosity, faith, hope, and love.  In light of that, I realize she hasn’t really left any of us alone.  The best of her remains — and will to the end of time.  We just need to appreciate what/who we have.

I’d better expand that Reasons to Celebrate list.

Thanks, Sis!  I love you!  See you tomorrow, in the faces of your progeny.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Happy birthday, Mom! Mildred Lucille passed from this life into the next almost seven years ago.   We miss her, but know she’s very much alive, loving us in ways we can’t yet appreciate.
Recently my husband and I attended a Rediscover: faith talk where the speaker challenged us to join him in considering our purpose in this world.  Then he got our attention. “Every action reveals our answer. Every action is an investment we can never get back bringing us closer to or further from who we want to become… Will we leave an inheritance that will last?  Are we building lasting value?”

Mom lived a modest life. Based upon the world’s standards she’d be considered an utter failure.  She didn’t obtain a college degree.  She died with no sizeable estate.  She never had a powerful job.

But, by otherworldly standards, she was our family’s most productive stock broker.  She left an inheritance that will last. She invested in faith, hope, and love — and then gave it all away.

From all of us: Thanks, Mom! We LOVE YOU!

Twenty-eight souls

Hurricane Sandy Tribute

This October we mourned the plight of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Sandra Humphrey. Click above for the news story. Then click on her name in the blog text for Brian and Sandy’s tribute from their family and Sandy’s web site, where you can learn more about this beloved and inspiring author.

This Thanksgiving our MN SCBWI members mourned the death of children’s book author, Sandy Humphrey, in a house fire.  And now, another “Sandy” draws us to our knees — the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Our sympathy, love, and prayers reach out to offer consolation to those affected by all three tragedies.

All three events have impacted us — yet, this most recent tragedy cuts us deepest.  When a human hurts another human it hurts everyone.  When a human kills defenseless children, it steals life, peace, and joy from all humanity.

After Hurricane Sandy, we could offer tangible help with rebuilding.  When Sandy Humphrey and her husband, Brian, died, we could find comfort that no malice was inflicted upon them.  But, there’s an innocence lost in Connecticut that can’t be recovered.  In light of such unfathomable violence, what can we do?

Monsignor Stuart Swetland advises, “Hatred is an absence of love.  To overcome hatred, replace it with love.”

This might have worked in a feel-good movie with the Staypuff Marshmallow Man leading the way, but how can we do this in real life?

CNN interview of Robbie Parker

Many of us saw an example of extraordinary love in a television news interview Robbie Parker, the young father of Emilie, one of the six-year-old shooting victims.  He immediately looked past his own pain and offered his deepest condolences to all families directly affected, including the family of the perpetrator.  He selflessly noted that he couldn’t imagine what they must be going through.  Then he noted that Emilie would have been one of the first to stand before them and offer comfort.  She was that kind of compassionate person, “not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done…but because those were the gifts given to her by her Heavenly Father…The world is a better place because she has been in it…I’m so blessed to be her dad.”Such mercy and humility…It takes your breath away.

Those who believe in the power of prayer for the deceased will pray for the 27 victims.  But, this father’s empathy challenges us to reach even deeper.  We can and should pray for the soul of the perpetrator as well. Who knows the state of his heart? Only an irreparably wounded, emotionally bankrupt soul could do such a horrific act.

Yes, let’s hug the children and teachers in our lives, but let’s not stop there.  Let’s shake the hand of a stranger and offer an ear to the lonely.  Who knows what troubled soul may need to be filled with love today.

The Voice  Sandy Hook Tribute

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Life-changing Words

Words.  They come in and out of us from every direction.  Today our minds are saturated with them.

Remember the ones that changed your life? Usually they come like brain-or-heart-embedding arrows.

As a young adult, I complained to my mom about the ineffectiveness of a leader in our small community.  She said, “What are YOU doing to make (the situation) better?”

In one verbal punch, Mom knocked me on my keester to teach humility and walk-a-mile-in-another’s-shoes-empathy.

Recently I asked a young Canadian, Jacinta, “What’s your goal in life?”

She startled me in the profound simplicity of her answer: “To love better.”

In three words Jacinta lifted my vision above the clutter and taught me priority.

Words. Use them well.