By now, most of the world has heard of Susan Boyle.  She is the forty-seven year old singer from the UK who leapt from obscurity to global notoriety singing “I Dreamed a Dream” From “Les Miserables.”   Her clear golden tones bring shivers to the spine and tears to the eyes.  But most of the world’s obsession with Susan Boyle is her quirky behavior and frumpy appearance.  We have such a difficult time believing that something so beautiful can emerge from someone so ordinary. 


This reminds me of my nephew Noah.  Noah entered our lives as a toddler.  He was small and thin, with an elfin face and braces on both legs.  The day I met Noah, I wrapped my arms around his little body and drew him onto my lap.   He snuggled close and promptly bit me on the shoulder.  I jumped. He cried.  It was love at the first sight.


Noah bears the scars of fetal alcohol syndrome.   He doesn’t talk, except for a few poorly pronounced one-syllable words.  At twenty-seven, he is the size of a skinny eleven year old.  He is unable to read, or write.  He is unsteady on his feet, and falls easily.  His muscles are hard and tight, like bands that contort his arms and legs into stiff sticks. 


Here’s the funny part, though.  Noah knows things.  He knows that his cousins are younger than he.  Although they are grown, capable and educated, he refuses to allow them to usurp his family position and balks if they give him orders.  He knows if his younger siblings are doing something they should not.  He knows if he is being left out because of his disabilities.


Noah has he heart of a servant.  He motions for me to sit in a chair.  He brings me food, or drink that he has painstakingly prepared.  He has a quick grin that lights the room.  He snickers and giggles at conversations shared only between himself and his favorite stuffed animal, but erupts with huge belly laughs when someone in the room cracks a joke or exhibits some form of slapstick.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  When he is happy, or excited, he screams with joy.  When he gets angry, his face darkens like an August thunderstorm and he becomes immovable and tearful.  


Noah can’t sing like Susan Boyle, but like her, he has taught us many things.  He has taught us patience.  He has taught us kindness and sensitivity to those who may not look or act the way we are used to seeing people.  He has taught us to recognize people for the things they can do rather than the things they can’t.  He has taught us to love people for who they are, and not for what they can give us.


Susan Boyle’s fame will fade in time.  But hopefully, she and Noah have reminded us to take a moment and look deep inside someone’s eyes, rather than rolling ours.  Thank you, Susan.  And thank you, Noah.


Just One Thing

One of my children’s favorite books was “Miss Rumphius,” by Barbara Cooney. For those who may not know the book, it is the charming tale about a little girl who tells her grandfather that she will grow up to travel the world and then live in a house by the sea.  Her grandfather agrees with her aspirations, but charges her to leave the world more beautiful than the way she found it.  The story documents her adventures and how she fulfills her grandfather’s edict.


I love the underlying themes to this story:  Live life to its fullest.  Seek adventure.  Grab hold of your vision and make it happen.  Make the world a better place.  Dreams are to be large and full, and in brilliant color- not to be inhibited by fear or self-doubt. 


My friend, Mary, is a Miss Rumphius.  She charges through the world, unafraid, full of expectation.  She samples food. She bathes in hot springs.  She visits worlds I know only by pictures.  With her quick grin and dancing Irish eyes, she always, always, always leaves the world a better place. 


My children are like Miss Rumphius.  They travel.  They have adventures in exotic, far away places.  And because while other children grew up listening to Madonna sing “Material Girl” my kids listened to Peter, Paul and Mary sing “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” they will leave the world a better place.


I, too, wanted to travel the world.  I wanted to live in a house by the sea.  Mostly, I wanted to change the world.  But sometimes life changes our plans, if not our priorities. More a George Bailey than a Miss Rumphius, I travel from my office to my apartment, and occasionally down the aisles of the grocery store.  I visit the sea on warm summer days, but leave when the sun sinks below the horizon.  My life is not adventurous, or exciting, or extraordinary.


Don’t get me wrong- I freely made the choices that have defined my life.  I do not regret trading travel tickets for diapers, music lessons and basketball games.  The world I have carved satisfied my heart’s true passions.  And truth be told, I no longer hunger for travel.  At the end of a long day, I crave the familiarity of my creaky recliner and the scent of my own pillow.  I have seen the rewards of investing time and energy into raising my children.  As I watch them evolve, I realize it truly is a wonderful life.


However, least I become too settled, I need to remind myself that regardless of our lot in life, we all share the responsibility to leave the world more beautiful.  This is not a responsibility relegated only to the young.  Miss Rumphius didn’t start scattering lupine seeds until she was old and gray.  It is up to all of us- no matter what age, what station of life we inhabit. We need not all sow lupine seeds, like Miss Rumphius.  We might sow seeds of hope, like George Bailey. 


As my sister Martha-Jean recently reminded me, the trick is to find out what one thing we can do.  A smile to a stranger, a cup of coffee for a coworker, feeding the hungry, saving the lost. It all starts out with one thing.  And the world becomes more beautiful.

The Beach

I love winter.  I love the starkness of barren trees against alabaster fields.  I love the way snow sparkles like diamonds when it blows against the street lights.  I love the way ice crystals trace fairy paths across my car’s windshield.  Frigid temperatures, moaning winds and climbing piles of snow thrill me.  Every snowfall of the season delights me. 


But this year was different.  Winter was hard.  Coworkers were strained and impatient.  Family members became ill.  I was called to serve on a jury for a murder trial.  The never ending snow, usually a white comforter to soften the world, became an ashen reminder of how cold and harsh life can be.


This morning as we drove to work, my son remarked, “I can’t wait for the beach!” 

Ah… the beach.  Just the sound of it warms my bones and relaxes my shoulders.  As much as I love winter, I love summer even more, because of the beach. 


For me, the beach is a mile-long expanse of grey sand on the rocky coast of New Hampshire.  It is totally unadulterated.  No boardwalk.  No ice cream stands.  No souvenir shops or Tiki huts. Just sand and water.


The beach has always been a gathering place for my family.  When I was a kid, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and all flocked to the beach when the summer sun was high.  The “old people” (parents and grandparents) sat in the fine, cool sand closest to the water, umbrellas raised and small children nearby.  Teenagers opted for the hot, coarse sand closest to the rocks.  We slathered ourselves with baby oil, turned up the transistor radio and played endless games of poker.  


It was at the beach that I rode waves with my father the day after a hurricane.  Giant swells tossed me upside down, skinning my face and knees on the sand.  Foolishly determined to keep up with him, I swam beside him, diving when he did, swimming when he did.  It was exhilarating and terrifying.  I was, quite literally, in over my head.  I thought I might die.  I loved it.


It was at the beach that I fell in love for the first time.  Like summer, the romance faded much too quickly.  Like summer, it carved a spot in my heart that even still remains warm and golden.


It was at the beach that my siblings and I gathered days after my father died.  Memories of him riding the surf were soothing balm to our broken hearts.


When I had children, I took them to the beach when their first summer arrived.  They too grew up in the cool sand by the water, and graduated to their own spots in the hot sand by the rocks.  They learned to ride the waves like my father, although he was not there to teach them.  They came to know their cousins, aunts and uncles at the beach.


At the beach, all barriers are down, and everyone is seventeen again.  Walls between youth and adult are razed by the waves.  We become the same, forged by the excitement of riding the surf until the bubbles carry us to where our tummies graze the sand.  We think more clearly. We talk more openly.  We listen with open ears and open hearts.  The rolling repetition of the surf calms our souls.


So, now that the last of the snow has melted, and the warm breezes and afternoon sun promises that summer is nearby, it is time for the beach once again.  It is time for my mind to calm, my heart to heal, and to play in the sun and the surf again.  All are welcome to join me.  I’ll be in the blue beach chair in the cool sand.

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