Saturday, March 30, 2013
Someday I will tell you the story of how I learned, at a young age, one of the most important lessons of my life: always tell those you love how you feel about them and what they mean to you. Since learning that lesson, I have found a variety of ways to tell people what they mean to me. It's sometimes easier for me to write down what I feel than to say it aloud. I've been known to write notes or letters and, sometimes, I write a poem or a short story for someone I love. Once, I wrote a short essay, and I'd like to share it with you.
In 2005, I was finishing my second year of community college and was applying to a university for an academic scholarship. My application had to include an essay about someone who had an influence in my life. When the university representative called me to say I had been awarded the scholarship, she told me how much the committee loved my essay. I thought to myself that it wasn't the essay they loved, it was her - the person I wrote about. After all, to know her is to love her...
Labels, and Boxes, and Stats...Oh My!
The labels don't fit: soccer mom, non-traditional student, middle-aged woman. These boxes, these categories, these statistics that society tries to put me in, just don't fit. They may describe me, but they do not define who I am. As a child, I learned that I needed to define my world, not let my world define me. I was taught this important life lesson by an instructor who used unconditional love and acceptance as her guide. That instructor was my neighbor, Bobbie Cox.
I always knew that Bobbie wasn't like other adults. In a child's world, most adults are viewed as people who take life seriously, stress responsibility, and make you obey the rules. Bobbie's definition of adulthood included these things, but in a different way. She was a happily married woman with one child, who was ten years older than me. Bobbie did all the "normal" things adults do, such as working and taking care of a home, but it did not define who she was.
When Bobbie was not doing what was expected of her, she was quite busy doing the unexpected. Her greatest joy was volunteering her time to make others laugh. She entertained the young, the elderly, the handicapped, and the sick. She was a storyteller, clown, political satirist, singer, songwriter, poet, and artist. She had an endless supply of outrageous and witty costumes she kept in a trunk at her house. It was in that trunk, and at her home, that I could runaway and find myself.
Growing up at my house wasn't easy, but my escape to another world was simply a matter of crossing the street. In Bobbie's "magic trunk" I could be whoever I wanted to be and, in her eyes, I was always one thing: beautiful. Through weight problems, bad hair cuts, glasses, and puberty, Bobbie told me I was beautiful. There was no criticism at her house, no blame, and no hurt. There was only acceptance and understanding. No matter what stage of life I was in, Bobbie was always there to tell me she was proud of me.
My mentor continues to refuse to let the world define her. At more than eighty years of age, she still entertains in her spare time. Bobbie was widowed some years ago and, though she struggled with loneliness, she filled her time with more service to others. At present, she is a loving caregiver for her only child who is in a serious battle with cancer. No matter what life brings her, Bobbie's smile has never dimmed. Her unstoppable spirit amazes me.
Distance has not diminished our relationship or her influence. Bobbie sends me letters to encourage me in my life's journey. She never fails to tell me how proud she is of me and my family. Although she is not one who likes to get compliments, there is one kind she receives with a knowing grin. I honor her wonderful influence in my life when I say, "The labels don't fit."
Bobbie passed away last week at the age of ninety. Kay, the daughter she was caring for when I originally wrote the essay, ended up losing her long battle with cancer a few years ago. I am glad that while they were on this earth, I told them what they meant to me. I told them both about the essay after I found out I was awarded the scholarship. I thanked them both for allowing me to be a part of their family and for always loving me.
I do not mean for this post to be sad, Bobbie would never hear of it! She filled the world with laughter every chance she got, and it is the only way I think of her. In fact, I can't think of her without a smile playing across my face. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind!
I do hope, though, that it gives you pause. I hope it makes you think of someone you love and makes you want to call them or write them and tell them what they mean to you. I also hope it makes you stop and ask yourself what kind of influence you are on the children around you. One adult can make such a difference in the life of a child. Bobbie's influence in my life is proof of that.
Farewell, Bobbie, and thank you again for leaving us all with a joke, a song, a smile, and a jig...