Monday, January 4, 2010

New Years: A Day of Personal Recognition & Appreciation

The New Year holiday has never meant much to me. I don't think I've been invited to a cocktail party in thirty years. I don't make resolutions. I do like to watch an exciting, close football game but if the score isn't close I regret wasting my time. I have no favorites except Yale.

This year is different. My bizarre brain, which generally does whatever it wants to do, is obsessing on redefining the holiday to be something important. The highest part of my mind, a kind of self-observing consciousness created during sixteen years of psychoanalysis, warns me of possible neurotic reactions or generally crazy thoughts. It got my attention. We had a long discussion about whether not this redefinition is bizarre in general, a one-time good thing that is more properly categorized as working down my bucket list, or a permanent redefinition of the holiday. The resolution: I'll know which it is next year, if I make it that long. And since when has bizarre been a problem for me?

It is not unlikely that I could die soon, although I'm doing my level best to postpone it. As for now, what better time than the present could there possibly be to acknowledge the gratitude, a completely inadequate word, I feel for those people in my life who volunteered for their own reasons and with no expectation of return to make my life easier or better when I desperately needed my life to be easier or better?

So I made a list and contacted them. The list include Charlotte, my high-school civics teacher (who was never actually my assigned teacher!), who for whatever reason decided to make high-school much easier for me to survive (I never should have been in public schools). She gave be a "job" that got me out of dreaded lunchroom so that with my unlimited hall pass (another story, another gift) and my exemption from PE (another story) I could spend my free time in the safety of the small History/Civics teachers' office. She successfully fought for my inclusion in the National Honor Society despite the furious opposition of my Spanish teacher and others. She did many other things for me, some of which I'm sure I'm still unaware, for no comprehensible reason other than she wanted to. She claimed no credit, took no bows, asked me for nothing. I loved her. Still do.

In fact, nothing she did she was obliged to do, nothing she did for me can be characterized as something I deserved or earned. It was a pure gift from a great person who sized me up in a suprisingly short time and made a personal commitment to help. These are the kind of persons on my New Years list. They are still alive. Some are still with me and still giving.

They are my rescuers.

So I called her up. She's old as dirt today but still smart as a tack. I prepared with much deep thinking before I was satisfied that what I wanted to say was as clear, correct, and forceful as I could possibly make it. Dedicated fans of this blog know just how effective I try to be. The message got through. She was happy. So was I. Sincerity and clarity isn't repayment in the slightest. Delivering my message may actually diminish the purity of the gift for a few of these truly anonymous givers who already know their gifts were not wasted. I apologize to them. I have to try.

It's not a long list, these special volunteers who came from nowhere to decide to make my life better, easier, or safer, but the ones on that list have been in fact, the purest, greatest gifts of my life. Because I am not always good at thanking people, and reveled in these gifts as if I deserved them, I have the obligation to make it clear that I am not an insensitive, unaware beneficiary. Now, while I still can, I need to tell each one of these amazing people how vitally important to my life they have been. Each call or meeting takes my best effort. Every one gave me something different, no gifts were the same, because what they gave was a part of themselves. I spent hours of practice before each contact, clarifying in my mind what the most effective way to ensure they receive the full extent of my appreciation and meaning. It has been a long, complicated holiday leaving me emotionally spent. There are still two of the most important people to go. Paradoxically, I am now emotionally stronger than ever and more at peace.

[A curious aside. In most or all cases, these volunteers, angels if you believe in angels,  sized me up in a very short time, many within minutes. Their private decision to treat me differently was made, unbeknownst to me, and without any overt indication. If I earned such great gifts in any sense of the term, and that's questionable, all I did was present myself. Each saw and understood what I was, that I needed something they could give, and on the spot they decided to give it to me. Some of these extraordinary gifts have continued for life. The only way I have really had to thank them, until I redefined New Years, was to make the most it. That just isn't enough for me now, not nearly.]

I cannot describe the vast peace of mind that that doing this has has given me in return because each story is unique and I would have to tell them all to you in specific the way I told each of them. I wish I could, but to me, sharing the specifics would be inappropriate. I can only hope that my clarity, sincerity, and, in a couple of cases, tears, in some sense has made them feel that I know they have done good and wonderful things and that I refuse to die before offering my vast, stunned, appreciation.

Maybe everyone has some like this in their lives. Not a friend, exactly, they are on a different list. If you are fortunate to have had such people in your life, such angels, you might want to think about reimagining New Years too. Or better yet, thank them now, while you still can.


  1. Very touching post Lon; but shouldn't there be a part 2 to this post(that being the way you have learned to pay it forward). Certainly after you complete your mission to reach out and thank those someone's you can describe how you too also became an an "angel" in your own way.

  2. It would be difficult for me to give each of my rescuers proper if inadequate recognition yet at the same time claim any such virtue for myself. I cannot be thankful for the selflessness of the gifts I've been given while selfishly claiming any such virtue for myself.

    Frankly, I've never entertained the thought you've just given me. Not everyone can be the kind of angel who has so richly gifted me. I think it requires more than I have, although I have tried. I'm more on the moral side. If I see something that my gut tells me is wrong, I try to fix it, even if it has nothing to do with me. This often ends in disaster, but sometimes I've succeeded.

    I will to this day do the best I can to help anyone struggling with MM, sometimes to their dismay, because understanding is difficult and time is short.

    I simply don't feel I belong on my own list. Which makes me even more appreciative of the gifts I've been given.

  3. Ah, the wonderful thing about 'gifts,' Lonnie, is that the giver and receiver both play a part... we are all 'one' in the greater sense of being and if I shake your hand, your cells rub off on me and vice versa... we are all touched in one way or another by 'the other,' whether we will it or not. And the one certainty about living is there is going to be an exit - perhaps the length of time from entrance on to the stage until the curtain falls is longer for some - but we all must take our bow.

    The blessing for me is that through a relative's MM, I found your blog and gained more knowledge of what this disease is about. In return I hope I have brought some positive energy to you. You may not see yourself as an angel, but perhaps angels, like ghosts, have a tough time seeing their reflection in the mirror, I guess.


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