Saturday, November 19, 2011
When Matt was six, he walked into church with us one Sunday morning, made a direct line for our pastor, opened his coat and produced a lunch bag full of pennies. He stuck it forward, looked at out pastor solemnly and said “For the poor.” There was probably only a few dollars or so in the bag. It was his money and he was going to decide how it was used. He decided, as he put it, to help, “the poor.”
In a nutshell that is child number two, Matthew Thomas. If I sat here and wrote about all the stray people he brought home in the twenty years he lived with us I’d have enough fodder for a million blogs. His heart was always open to helping someone he perceived to be less fortunate than he was. I received a phone call one night a few years back from Matt. He was out taking a walk and met a homeless person by the grocery. The man couldn’t seem to hold a job. If Matt put him on the line, would I mind giving him a few tips and maybe motivate him a bit? That’s Matthew Thomas. Matt started playing football in fifth grade. He played through his sophomore year in high school and never won a game. Yet his coaches always felt if they had three or four more like Matt, they’d never have lost a game.
But Matt, like all the Matt’s I have known in my life, the people who give of themselves instinctively, always seem to be about five inches short of getting all the happiness and success they deserve. Matt was married for five years. His wife decided she missed having fun and divorced him. He took all the bills and arranged to have our granddaughter every weekend. The divorce crushed him, I know, but he rarely let Joan and I know how he felt. If we needed something he was there. His heart is as big as the world. He works a job that allows him off every weekend but forces him to work until midnight five days a week. If he’d wanted to he could have easily worked days. His daughter is a bit more important.
Matt is thirty three and to me he is a great reminder that even though life hits you in the belly really hard on occasion you can still stick to your values and principles. There is nothing really fancy about Matt. You just really know he’s going to be there if and when you need him.
I’ll take that any day of the week.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Our son Paul gets up early every morning and works on math problems for thirty minutes before he goes to work. He says it helps keep his mind sharp. He doesn’t use a calculator, he works them long hand on a legal pad. I always know when I can reach Paul, his life is very precise. His wife Geena is a perfect match for him. There have been times she’s leaned over, touched my arm and said “It’s okay John, some days he’s wound just a little too tight.”
My very first memory of Paul was three hours after he was born. His eyes were wide open and he was following sounds and movement. He will tell that’s because he was highly developed, even at a young age. When Joan was pregnant with Paul she had the very rare opportunity to hear Mother Teresa speak at a local college. Afterwards Mother Teresa spotted her and laid her hands on Joan’s very pregnant belly and smiled at her. Paul, to his credit, has used this as proof that he was recognized in the womb by a saint and that by itself makes him special. When Paul was in kindergarten he told his teacher Joan was an OB-GYN. When he was in second grade he told his teacher he was adopted. There are times he may be wrapped a bit tight but it appears to be pretty well balanced by a unique sense of humor.
Paul is twenty nine. He’s an accountant and he is the glue that holds two older brothers and three younger siblings together. Most conversations of importance with the other kids start something like this, “Dad, I talked to Paul and he said…..” There is indeed a lot of wisdom in those twenty nine years. The other kids always run everything by Paul and I have to say he wears that mantle very well. His advice is logical and spiced with love. He often calls me worried about a brother or a sister for one reason or another. If there is a crisis everyone looks to Paul.
What remains so unique is that Paul is a living testament to being you and not chasing someone else’s dreams. In reading this you may think Paul has accepted a lot of other people’s burdens or problems and it’s not fair to have to shepherd five siblings. He never has minded, enjoys it, relishes it, use whatever euphemism you like. He has wanted to be an accountant as long as I can remember. He and Geena hike a lot, Paul has run a few half marathons and he even has an appreciation for art cultivated by Geena’s sister who studies at The Chicago Institute of Art.
It’s difficult to put Paul into words. You have to meet him, enjoy a cup of hot tea or a glass of scotch with him to get a full picture of who and what he is. To me he is the glue, often over looked, that holds everything together and you never notice it until something falls apart.
At least that’s what Paul says.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Being a middle child is a challenge. You aren’t first, you are not last and some days unless you accomplish something really spectacular you are simply a face in the crowd. Oh, you are loved equally, attention is doled out to you equally, but I can imagine that you often feel your voice is a little softer than lots of other folks. You may have to wave your arms a bit harder or jump up and down to be noticed. Don’t stand still, you’ll get run over, LOL.
Our daughter Maggie is the fourth of six. Not quite the end, certainly not the beginning and well I guess you could say the middle. If you could pick a friend, Maggie would be it. If she tells you it’s going to happen it happens. If she’s going to meet you for lunch at noon she’s always there. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like her, seriously!!!!
Maggie is twenty seven and has an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Development. Maggie was born with a number of learning disabilities. It took her four years to get her associates degree and no one grinned wider than she did when she walked across the stage. Of all my children, Maggie is my greatest source of inspiration. Every time I feel frustrated or want to give up on something I remind myself of how she just hung in there until she got what she was after. People, especially other students, poked fun at her slowness at times and her “not getting it.” Yes, there were days she came home crying, slammed her bedroom door and cried more. Yet, the next day she headed out the door again. In the end she succeeded where many of those who poked fun at her sorta gave up. That is always in the front of my mind. She was handed some pretty good reasons to quit, but she never did.
Maggie works two jobs. She works as a price coordinator at a pet supply store. She is the only original employee left after four years. Three nights a week she works in the child care facility at our local YMCA. Any time Joan and I meet someone new and they know Maggie, their face lights up. I have been in the store with her when little kids will run up to her, hug her and yell, “Miss Maggie!!!” When she takes our dogs for a walk she knows the name of every animal in our neighborhood. There are people she recognizes only because she knows them from their pets.
If I could share one event that sums up who Maggie is, it would be this: One afternoon she was relieving a cashier at the pet store for lunch. A man came in to buy dog food . He was fumbling through his wallet looking for money and Maggie noticed his hands were shaking a bit. She told him to take his time. The man apologized and told her he’d just found out his mother had passed away. He began to cry. Maggie stepped out from behind the register and hugged him, helped him get the correct change and made sure he got to his car ok.
If I live to be one hundred I only hope I can have a half the compassion she does.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I received a text message early this morning from our son Tim. He's on his way home from Chicago and a beer tasting contest the microbrewery he works for competed in. It simply said "We didn't win. (We were robbed!!!) This was the best business trip ever."
I had to chuckle a bit. I don't ever look forward to business trips. The best part is when Joan greets me at the front door when I return home. But then I don't see the whole world lying before me full of new and exciting experiences. There is a lesson for me somewhere in all of this. It makes me smile, a bit wistfully, to know he is in store for a most amazing ride in his life.
In the picture below Tim is on the right in the orange tee shirt.
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