Every Sunday morning, for as long as I can remember, my father told me I was pretty. It was usually right before we walked out the door to go to church. He took a moment to look at me and smile, and told me exactly what I needed to hear. It didn’t matter if I had frizzy hair, or a bad complexion, or poorly applied makeup. He thought I was beautiful, and to him, I was.
He built up my confidence when I needed support. He drove me to flute lessons when I wanted to become a musician. He introduced me to important people when I needed a job. In short, he did everything he could to make sure I knew I was loved, I was valued, and I was special.
He did these things not out of duty, but because he wanted to. He didn’t have anyone to do that for him; his father died when he was ten, and his mother died when he was 19 after a lengthy illness. They didn’t get a chance to do for him what he did for us. In fact, it was one of his teachers who gave him the boost he needed to steer his life. She once told him he could be anything.
So what did he become? He became a writer, a teacher, a journalist, a playwright, a professor, an essayist, a columnist, a speaker. But more importantly, he became a husband and father and grandfather. He created the life for us that he never got to have.
Why? Because we are everything. That was the title of his last book. In it, he tells the stories of his life, introducing us to the people and experiences that made him who he was. It’s a tribute to everyone who touched his life. He says: “My life is lively because of who you are.” And he quoted Elie Wiesel, who once wrote: “For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”
To dad, we were everything. But he had a way of connecting with everyone he came in contact with – whether it was Becky, his favorite grocery store clerk, or Dr. Boka, the pulmonologist who saved his life numerous times during his final battle with heart disease. My father had a way of spinning a fiber that connected him to that person, if only for a few seconds. Many of those threads lasted for the rest of his life, especially during the last seven weeks.
As dad was writing his book, he asked me to contribute a brief chapter. I decided to write about a those fibers; actually, a Melville quote that was used in a play I was in at the time. It reads: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
What are those fibers? Connections, feelings, moments. Millions of moments. Because without meaningful connection, every moment and every person is expendable. And life is too short to live that way. We cannot live only for ourselves, because everyone in our life IS everything.
Never forget to tell your loved ones that they are pretty, or special, or valued. Never be afraid to tell them that you love them. Because they are everything.
[P.S. After I wrote this heartfelt message, my sister Allison commented: “Hmmm, all I remember dad telling me when I left the house was ‘Don’t put beans in your nose.’” She thought about it some more and realized that dad was telling us exactly what we needed to hear; I had problems with self-confidence, and Allison took herself too seriously. Once again, he was thinking of us first. Because we were everything to him.]