He told me I was pretty

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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.]

 

And so it begins

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Today is the first official high school football game in which my son will play. He avoided football his first two years of high school, unsure of his abilities and nervous about a new school. But since then, he has taken his physical condition more seriously, started working out, and come under the influence of some HEAVY recruiting by his coaches and fellow players.

That’s all right. A little pressure is sometimes a good thing. He is certainly capable of being a fantastic football player we’ve always said he was built like a Siberian Tiger. Fast on his feet and always looking out for the ball, he could rival Forrest Gregg in his skills (a right tackle that Vince Lombardi once called the finest player he’d ever coached). Ready for a new challenge, he has the drive and determination to try out for his college team – wherever that may be.

But what I admire the most about my son is that he is playing not just for himself, but for his team. He wants to help his team win, and he wants his coaches to be proud. He also wants to fulfill his final wish for his grandfather – my father, who died earlier this year. After dad died, Alexei was saddened by the fact that grampy would never get a chance to see him play. I reminded him that grampy would now have a free ticket to every game, on the front row at the 50 yard line.

So tonight, we will cheer on the LHN Lions and pray for a safe and productive game. And we will win one for Joe Allen Rice, who always said “You could be anything.” Go Alexei!

Been busy (from January 2013)

wallpapers_corcovado-brazil-851x315A new job
A new school (for one child)
A new teenager (my son)
Three new plays
Travel (Brazil, DisneyWorld, Round Top)
Concerts
Holidays
Birthdays
Sunny days
Rainy days
HOT days
Hot flashes

I get tired just thinking about it. Then I remember everything else going on in the world — wars, Presidential elections, major national events, natural disasters…and I realize, God oversees every tiny detail — every second, every speck of minutia — every day.  So my life is not so complicated, or difficult, or chaotic as I would like to think.

And it makes me thankful.  Thankful that I don’t have to worry about the things I worry about.  Because God is in control.  Not me.  Not ever. And I have to remember that as fast as my life is flashing by, it is only a nanosecond in God’s eyes.

I like to think I am in control and that I can shape everything to turn out perfectly and happily.  But I can’t.  However hard I try, I am just a small player in a big world.  But I can make each moment a little better by loving God and loving my neighbor.  And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not so bad.  As President Obama says, “No peacocks, jerks or whiners.”  Be thankful.  Show love.  Every day is a gift.

Describe a Circle (from October 2011)

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Today is Halloween.  My kids are a little too old for trick-or-treat, so we decided to visit a haunted house for our Halloween entertainment instead.  It just so happens my niece is a member of her high school drama team, and her fellow thespians decided to stage a haunted house as a fundraiser for their school.  We thought it would be a great place to take the kids for a fun night out.

However, our plans were thwarted when my OTHER niece, a sassy, don’t-mess-with-me ten-year-old, informed us the spookhouse might be a little TOO scary for our daughter.  She had visited the haunted house the night before, and based on her own experiences, deemed it too scary for Ellyn.

By this time, we had made costumes, reserved our tickets, and generated a LOT of excitement in our household.  It’s hard to come up with something more tempting than the notion of a garbage bag full of candy.  What to do?

My younger niece suggested we go forward with our plans, but build a human wall of protection around our daughter.  With mom on one side, dad on the other, brother & cousin in front and Aunt Allison bringing up the rear, she thought we could protect Ellyn with enough love and encouragement to steer her through the spookhouse with minimal trauma.

It worked; in fact, it worked so well, she wanted to visit the haunted house a second time.  Truth be told, the haunted house wasn’t as scary as we expected.  But the strategy made me realize how perfectly God protects us from evil.

Job 26:10 says,  “By Him, a circle is marked out on the face of the waters, to the limits of the light and the dark.”  In other words, God draws a circle around us, making it very clear that we will remain in the lighted inner circle if we trust in Him, while evil remains outside in the darkness.

I don’t see anything wrong with surrounding each other with a wall of safety and love.  The darkness may spill over from time to time, and our light may be dimmed by the vicissitudes of life.  But if the boundaries are distinct and unmovable, the darkness can never overtake the light.

And if a werewolf happens to jump out from nowhere with a buzz saw in his paws, just draw the circle in tighter and scream a little louder.  And if you pick up a few chocolate bars along the way, chow down while you can.

Summer of 2013 remembrance…

Round Top outside1920The summer of 2013 is almost over. Oh sure, the heat will be with us for weeks to come, but the slower pace of summer vacation is about to screech to a halt.  I’ve been trying to get up earlier each day for the last two weeks, but honestly — if it isn’t mandatory, it’s hard to get anyone in my family motivated.

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in Round Top, several movies, a few plays and a couple of family get together’s.  But most of all, we enjoyed just being us.  A typical family — not perfect, not always pleasant, sometimes (frequently) dysfunctional, but supportive. Caring. Silly. Goofy. Stressed. Tired. And normal.

What IS normal?  I got to know some new people this summer who have problems I can’t pretend to understand: a mom who lost a child two years ago and is still grieving, but trying to carry on normally for the good of her family.  A special ed teacher who can’t stand kids — but acted her socks off in her favorite musical, and dealt with dozens of children with patience and humor along the way.  Young adults who are contemplating a future far more complicated than I could have handled at their age, but looking forward to better days without worry or regret.

Sure, we could have forced our kids to read dozens of books and get on a fitness routine to avoid becoming “soft.”  We probably should have mowed the lawn more often, or cleaned the carpets.  I wish I had emptied a few closets of old clothes and toys that will never be played with again or fetch a single dollar on e-bay.

But we did what we do best.  We start each day with thanks for a new morning and a kiss on the cheek, and we go to bed each night with a full stomach and a grateful heart.

And whether it’s summer or spring or Christmas or Talk Like a Pirate Day, that’s good enough for me.

Now about Talk Like a Pirate Day — is that normal?

Back to the basics

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It’s been nearly three years since my last blog post. Since then my daughter has graduated from high school, my son has taken up high school football, I got my first tattoo (fifty is the new thirty, don’t judge me) and most importantly, we lost my dear father to heart disease. I’ve completed numerous half marathons, participated in my first triathlon, and grown my hair long.

Life changes, every day, even though it seems like it moves at a snail’s pace sometimes. And yet I feel like just yesterday, my kids were little and I couldn’t imagine having an empty nest.

Don’t blink, I tell new parents all the time. It will go by all too fast. Write everything down. Don’t go to bed angry. Draw your loved ones close to you as often as you can.

NISI SERENAS: As the name of my blog says (in Latin), I count only the sunny days.