Monday, December 14, 2009

Hard Candy Christmas

I was recently asked what was my all time favorite Christmas song. Didn't have to think long and hard, but I couldn't choose a favorite since two hold dear to my heart. "Hard Candy Christmas" by Dolly Parton ( belongs to the soundtrack of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"..and I am from LG no doubt!!), and also the beautiful ballad "Mary Did You Know?" tie for first place. What surprises me no less is the fact that both are quite somber, serious and depressing in nature. Isn't Christmas supposed to be "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" as the advertisers, songsters and kiddos would have us believe? Don't get me wrong, I do love Christmas.. probably just as much as the next person. I do own 2 Christmas trees and delight in shopping for presents way before the season even begins. To me, it's the giving of my presents that mean the most just after the birth of Jesus. Every gift I give has some very special meaning behind it. And I can't wait for the gift to be unwrapped. Christmas has not been about ME in a long long time.

I am the eternal optimist... my cup almost always is half full but at the same time running over. It's been my mission and even downfall to find the good in every person I encounter. So what gives? Why are my song selections and heavy heartedness steeped in deep internal and inner thought? Maybe it's the realization that so many people have so far less, have such heavier burdens and even greater struggles than me or my family face? Maybe it is some significant and lasting event that seems to fall just before the holidays, a death, divorce, illness..whatever it may be that leaves a lasting mark long after the tree gets taken down and the poinsettia wilts and turns into a dismal stick of a plant. Actually, I think it is all of that, and also the fact that I have read this book before. .. The celebration of the birth of Jesus.. the most holy of all gifts from our eternal father. And it's the gut wrenching acknowledgment of the story later in the book. It's hard to not think about his birth and not linger on the meaning of his death that has significance in my life.

And so, another tragic event has ocurred once again. A very special and incredibly unique lady died of lung cancer this past week. I was so blessed to have had my path cross hers. Once in awhile, you meet such a person that touches your heart in such a way, that you know you will never forget them. Phyllis was just that person. We were attending the same church. However, this church has 3 Sun. morning services so it's hard sometimes to get a face to a person's name. But the name was said quite often, I knew I wanted to meet her. And I had such a chance a few months after she was diagnosed with cancer. Phyllis was a force to be reconned with as we say in the south. She was vibrant, funny and seriously serious without coming across as serious. Our views on education did not exactly match, but she too enlightened me to rethink the issues I held dear and firm upon. She believed very strongly in her goals and life's work, and was able to turn the tables so to say, in a way that you could have a conversation that was meaningful and diverse while being very respectable. The best way to describe her would be she was an oxymoron in life's journeys. How many people can put a person in their place without offending them? She was outspoken yet soft. She was hysterically funny but calm. She was wise but yet young. She was a die hard Aggie working happily at UT. And the list can go on and on.....

She was only 52 yrs. old. The mom of two sons and it was apparent the love of her husband's life. The memorial service was packed to standing room only. She touched the lives of kids she had taught, neighbors she had lived beside, family and co workers. In my opinion, you would have to be pretty much tuned out of life, not to be affected by her. So I suppose that is why her death is so incredibly painful. It was mentioned by more than one preacher who knew her so well.. She taught us how to live. Her faith was so intact and strong throughout her battle with this horrific disease. The ultimate irony and biggest question that leads to no answer is "How does a person who did not smoke end up in such a horrific struggle for life"? And the fact she taught and loved science.. a place where everything has order, and effect follows cause is not lost on the big irony of this situation. Nothing in this situation makes any sense.

I suppose one of the tradeoffs of the peril she faced was the ability to plan her own memorial service. And she did it( like I would have done) and did it like everything else in her life.. with grace, humor and dignity. If asked, I'm certain she would have traded all of that for the ability to see her sons graduate, be there for the birth of grandchildren and so many of the other important milestones in one's life. However, since she wasn't given that route, she instead did what she did best. She taught us how to say goodbye, how to grieve and how to long for lasting and meaningful works in life with people and endeavors. Up to and leading into the memorial service the question in my mind was "Why Phyllis?" . She had so much more to give and teach. I didn't think she was near finished with her life's commitments. And she had accomplished much thus far.

This morning I awoke with the answer "Why NOT Phyllis?" on my heart. Why not the most faithful and strongest of Christians? Why not the funniest and wry of humor? Why not the person who wasn't afraid to speak her mind or say she was mad at this horrific disease? And why not the epitomy of every imaginable oxymoron I can think of? She lived her life this way..
for words are hard to describe such a vibrant, loving and faithful person. The meaning of her life is not lost on the fact that she was a very gifted educator; for she is still teaching in her death.

When I found out her illness had turned for the worse, I offered to bring her meals or take her to her appts. (we lived close by).. She replied that what she really needed were prayers.. prayers for her family. What a simple request for such a vivacious woman. What a beautiful person she was and I am so thankful our paths crossed. And what an even livelier place heaven is now that she is among the faithful. And now I'm off to reread "The Shack"..the book that offers hope and courage and lessons on what I believe Phyliss came to understand so easily. May we all live by her beauty, strength and grace...and what a better world this place could become.