My birthday will never be the same again. From now on I will see my cousin Lance, his hand trembling ever so slightly, saluting the casket of his grandfather.
Lance is a hero of the Iraq War. He grew up, home schooled, on a farm in rural Texas, and joined the Marine Corps. He returned a man, and a survivor, someone who needed to create a new life for himself. I can't imagine his experience. I admire his transcendence.
His grandfather, also a hero, wounded in the Korean War, could tell a similar story. Part of my life for as long as I can remember, he was mischievous, funny, successful and savvy, flawed, complex, tender and wise. They say that, when he asked my grandmother to sign for him to go into the army, she said, "Give me that paper! I'll sign, and then I'll know where you are."
He gave me a lot. He gave me love and encouragement, wise advice and a lot of really good laughs. He showed me much about how a good man should live. I will miss him. I will always be thankful to have known and loved him.
My birthday's getting crowded now. I always shared it with my late brother, Bob. Later came my nephew's life partner, Tom. Beginning this year, I will share it with Lance and my Uncle Ray. In addition, this year on my birthday, life support was discontinued for the father of my children, who died in the wee hours of the following morning. The day I once shared with a vibrant, crew-cut little boy, and then endured alone, is now a kaleidoscope of images and memories.
It's an honor to share this day with Ray. I can't think of a better way to spend my birthday than memorializing him, if he has to be gone.
Everything has changed now. My cousins, the children I helped to baby sit, are over 50, and grandparents. I still call them the kids, but, around their kids, I call them the old kids.
Many people I knew in Texas are gone. My amazing grandparents, now my mother's brother and sister-in-law, my own brother, the many friends we visited every summer...all gone, along with so many others and so much else.
The lessons they taught remain, and this is what's important: Each life is temporary. It is the plan for each of us to have a turn at living, and then be gone. We might make a memorable contribution. We might help to shape the future. The bottom line, though, is that we are gone before we know it. It is quick! We come into the world, wet our diapers, get married, watch some television, eat supper, and then we are gone.
The important part of every day you have is the warm hug from someone you love, the feel of your baby's skin, or your achievement during those short hours. It's the glow of the sun coming over the horizon and promising you one more day.
All the lying politicians and murderers in the world count for nothing compared to reading a story with your child or rubbing your new puppy's belly.
It's your life passing by. Don't miss a moment.