From early on in my life I have had people come into my life. Some came in, stay for a while and then disappear. Some others come and pitch camp here. Some of those people had a heavy impact on my life intentionally or not. Sometimes they were the people you would least expect who impacted you the most.
When I started PS20 in Flushing in 1952 I loved school. I soon became the teacher‘s pet until the last week of school. Anyone who knows me has probably heard this story! As we all remember, at the end of the day you put your chair up on the desk before leaving. I don’t remember if I put the seat on the desk upside down or simply stood the chair on the desk top but whichever way I did it was the wrong way! Mrs. McNulty, maybe had a fight with her husband that day, but she was not happy with how I did it. As she was reading me the riot act she probably accidentally hit the chair and it fell back and hit me. I ran home the 8 blocks devastated. I refused to go back to school for the rest of that last week and my parents didn’t push it cause it was the last week of school. Fast forward to the Fall and second grade. Nope, not going! We had a round dining room table and I remember my mom chasing me around it trying to get me dressed. I was determined not to go! Poor mom, she would get home from the hospital from the midnight to 8 am Shift and had to deal with me. Dad had already gone to work. This went on for weeks. Finally the school stepped in and said I had to be home taught and assigned Mrs. Duncan To me. Mrs. Duncan was a large robust lady with a big flowery hat, very little patience, and a stern demeanor! Everyday though she would bring a dozen Dunkin Doughnuts with her. She made my dad put up an American flag in our dining room and everyday I had to say the pledge to myself and sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee…..by myself! I went through most of the year that way- hating every day of it but too afraid to go back to school!
They didn’t have psychologists in the schools then but there was a thing called Child Guidance and the school insisted I go. So every Thursday my mom and I took the Q 65 bus to Jamaica to Dr. Arciary at Child Guidance. The funny thing is the person who affected my life was not Mrs. Duncan. I liked Dr. Arciary (it wasn’t him either) cause we played games together and I could talk to him about anything. At one visit he asked me if I would mind another one of his clients joining our session. I did but he had been so nice to me I agreed.
The following week Edward L. joined us. Just so happened Ed was a kid who had been in my first grade class. He was pretty severely disabled and developmentally behind. He was a nice kid but the kids at school always made fun of him. I don’t remember how the session went but it had a profound effect on me. When we got home that night at dinner I asked my parents if they and the school thought I was like Edward. My mom asked me what I thought. I said I didn’t think I was like that but why were Edward and I going to the same place for help? I went to school the next day. Already mid June. My parents had to fight with the principal to make sure I was promoted to third grade instead of repeating 2nd. To this day I attribute my success in school and my emotional well being to Edward L. I never got to thank him! But he turned my life around and I am forever grateful!
I Need Thee Every Hour
I loved Hen’s organizing principle of people entering your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. George met Edward L. for a reason, resulting in a life altering decision. Hen made a friend for a season in Bob – and experienced the vagaries of childhood loyalty. So, I will write about a person who entered my existence for a lifetime.
Of course, this will be about my partner, lover, and friend of fifty-one years. In fact, I’m writing this on our anniversary … all the more meaningful to us, because Linda almost didn’t make it. Three weeks ago, the emergency room doctor told me that they could not treat her and she needed to be rushed to a more specialized hospital. He said that in the ambulance, Linda’s heart stopped for 45 seconds – her condition was serious, he said. I needed to confront the possibility that our limitless horizons were in fact approaching rapidly. (Spoiler alert: Linda is making a fantastic recovery).
I first saw Linda on the main quad at college – -she was racing some other girls across the green. They looked happy and laughing. A couple of years later she was assigned to help costume me for a contest the college was running. We married at twenty-one and had absolutely no idea what we were doing. We simply had a resolve to co-author a life together. I guess there’s a learning lesson in that act: if you make that vow central to your being and subordinate other impulses, well, you become part of a new creation. Together we make a statement. Our shared history defines us. Sure there is plenty of yin and yang in the installation art that is our life – and times when it unravels a bit. However, our temperaments meld well on all the important aspects of our lifework. Linda is spunky, buoyant and wise, when I am dogged, dour and doubtful. I keep us grounded, she lifts us up.
Whether the time that is left to us is measured in decades, years, months, weeks or days, my sweet wife, — as the old hymn proclaims — “I need thee every hour’.
People Who Leave People
George’s title immediately reminded me of Barbra Streisand. And yes, I need her. Unfortunately, she’s married, but this post is about people who need people, not about availability… but I digress.
It is said that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you know which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
I have often confused reason and season with the idea that each positive encounter must undoubtedly be for a lifetime. I now know better. Not in a bad way as if, now I know not to trust that someone will always be there for me and I must always be guarded. But in a peaceful acceptance way of understanding that life (and relationships) is fragile and there is no way of knowing in advance, how long we have to enjoy what’s before us.
When I was a young boy, I had a neighborhood best friend, Bob. Neither of us fit into the athletic, “with it” social groups. Both of us listened more to our parents and followed the rules than the other kids. We rode bikes together, played in the woods, and confided in each other about the things that were on our minds. I trusted him.
There was another group of kids in the neighborhood who were way cooler and, because we weren’t, had nothing to do with us. One summer they built an underground fort in Pete’s backyard but still within eyeshot of the road. One day, walking along the road with my dog Mickie, I saw Bob go into the fort with a group of them. The feeling of betrayal swept through me. Had he been hiding his friendship with them, had he told them my secrets? Later, when I asked him about it, he lied and told me it must have been someone else. Now, I not only felt betrayed but began to question my sanity. I know I saw him, yet how could my best friend lie to me? Shortly afterwards, he confessed and explained that they enlisted him in a plot against me and threatened to beat him up if he didn’t cooperate. While I understood his dilemma, I knew I could no longer trust him. That was my first but not the last example of how people come and go into our lives.
What’s interesting for me is that each time someone has changed the rules and left or caused me to leave, despite vowing never to be like the others before them, I expect it to be different. I guess being labeled a rampant optimist holds some truth. Regardless, I try to use each of the experiences with the people in my life, past and present as a way of reminding myself to appreciate their impact on me. Each left or continues to leave a gift. How I choose to view those gifts is up to me.
For me it’s letting go of the notion that “for a lifetime” is the goal and accepting that each connection, no matter how brief, adds value to my life. Perhaps that’s what it is about after all.