I received two emails the other day that took me in two different directions. The first email was a forward from my father. It was from an old family friend that I had lost touch with, but who was able to locate my father on Facebook (yes, my dad is on Facebook and you thought it was just for youngsters like me).
The forward from my father came from the daughter of an old family friend who we affectionately called, “Aunt Rosie”. The email informed us that Aunt Rosie had passed away in mid-September. Additionally, it informed us that Aunt Rosie’s son, Rick (who was my age), passed away in January 2008. I was very sad to learn of both Aunt Rosie’s and Rick’s passing. In particular, I wish I could have attended Aunt Rosie’s service as that was the least of what I owed her. Her daughter, Natalie, informed us that Aunt Rosie had been living out in Arizona since Rick’s death in 2008 (she used to live in Southern California). That explained why the Christmas card I sent her last year was returned. I remember thinking that was odd and making a mental note to check on why it came back, but I got busy doing something else and I never did. I regret now that I allowed that reminder to check-in on her to slip through the cracks.
Aunt Rosie was a major influence in my life. She was a strong (and sometimes bull-headed) woman who took no crap from anyone. Her husband had an affair and divorced her to marry his mistress leaving her with four children to raise and never quite enough income. Life was never a bowl of cherries for her or her children. She worked a draining job as a social worker for decades before she could finally retire.
I met Aunt Rosie’s family through the girls’ softball league. In the time that it took my father to realize that true softball star quality was never going to develop in me (which sadly took a few torturous years in right field), I made friends with Aunt Rosie’s daughters and came to spend a tremendous amount of time with her family. I was treated like a member of the family and that is how the Aunt prefix came to be…she became part of my family as I became part of hers (indeed, my entire family came to call her Aunt Rosie).
Aunt Rosie was a good woman, who often led a really hard life, but she kept going despite the many setbacks she faced and I am saddened to know that I will not have another chance to see her in this lifetime, but gratified that I had the time with her that I did. I will forever recall her sarcasm and bravado that masked the depth of the pain and anguish she often experienced in her life…which brings me to email number two.
On day fifty-one of the new forty (August 25, 2009), I wrote about my student Chuck who was heading off to basic training in a blog titled “Shut the Chuck up!” In the blog I talked about Chuck’s cool, glib and cavalier exterior and the fact that it covered a soft, mushy and sentimental interior. Chuck’s mom, Debra, sent me an email about that blog. Chuck is close to the end of basic training and his family is excitedly preparing to go to his graduation. I have never met Debra, but she wanted to let me know that she appreciated that I saw Chuck for who he is and that she was happy he found a place where he fit so well (the Emergency Management Program at NDSU). I was touched that she took the time to email me and to share her thoughts and feelings. It was a timely reminder that all the interactions with others matter – be they large or small. Debra’s email mattered to me and it reminded me that as individuals we owe all those who have given to and invested in us the obligation to pay it forward. Aunt Rosie invested in me and so too must I invest in others.
Two emails – one quite sad and another quite uplifting. Two emails that reminded me that interactions with others leave imprints that matter. I am nothing more and nothing less than the sum of my interactions and experiences – there is a whole cast of characters through the years that have formed me. So, as Debra thanked me, I thanked Aunt Rosie.
I will miss Aunt Rosie, but I will always retain the memory of her and an immense gratitude for the things she taught me about strength, courage and endurance…about now Aunt Rosie would say, “Gimme’ a break!”, but in her soft heart underneath that bravado she would know that what she put into me mattered.
Day one hundred and twenty-six of the new forty – obla di obla da