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Peace Is Just A Word

19 May

Recently a friend shared with me a difficult time she and her family endured and how they were given the following words of encouragement by a long-time friend of theirs:

Sometimes God calms the storm. Other times, He lets the storm rage and calms the child.

Tonight as I put my sons to bed, after prayers and nighttime songs, we lay there on the bed in silence. The sounds of the gloaming hour serenaded us. The low purr of air-conditioners. Love songs sung by a choir of cicadas. Sweet lullabies sung by jays and cardinals to their young. The moment was so peaceful I could even hear the beautiful rhythm of my son’s breathing as he drifted off to sleep. There was no storm. All was calm. Still.

Half way around the world I imagined what another father and his sons might be hearing during their bedtime ritual. The shriek of air raid sirens. Hurried footsteps of neighbors and friends scrambling to reach the shelter in time. The roar of fighter jets and shrill whistles of missiles. The deafening thunder of impact. The storm raging all around them.

How blessed am I – are we – to live in one of the few places on Earth where we can hear the laughter of children playing in the cul de sac. Crickets calling to each other from across the front lawn. The bliss of the night breeze caressing and cooling all that was baked and blistered in the harsh summer sun. How blessed are we to have been spared the horror of battle. The heartbreak of indiscriminate casualty. Clearly it is not by our own will or might.

For some unknown reason, God calms the storm for us. He grants us peace. For our brothers and sisters a world away He allows the storm to rage. For them there is no peace.

Eurythmics are always represented in my iPod playlist. Lately, though, I have had their song “Peace Is Just A Word” on repeat. The lyrics are the reflection of one who has given up hope for peace on Earth and the surrender that comes from that loss of hope:

Stop the world

Turn out the sun
I’m so tired of it turning round
Stop the world
Call it a day
Leave it all behind
Leave it that way
Peace
Is just a word
Is just a word
Stop the world
Just let it bleed
Well we’ve taken more
Than everything we need
Stop the world
Just shut it down
There’s no point in it
Spinning round
Peace
Is just a word
Is just a word
Stop the world
Take it anywhere
It’s just that
Living here is more
Than I can bear
Stop the world
Just pack it in
Well we’ve reached the point
Where no one ever wins
No one ever wins!
Peace
Is just a word
Is just a word

 
My fear is that peace IS just a word. Of course I hope I’m wrong, and I pray that the storm will be calmed for those caught in its fury. But if God will not calm the storm, I pray that God will calm His children. That He will give them a sense of inner peace and strength that will enable them to carry on in a broken and bleeding world. I pray that they will be able to see God in the ashes and the rubble. That they will still hear His voice calling to them and comforting them in the eye of the storm. And that they will call to Him in reply.

But mostly I just pray for peace.

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Top Ten Tuesday

18 May

Thanks to Amanda and some new friends, I realized I have WAY more than ten things to list about my experiences in the music industry.  So for this week, here’s the next chapter:

Top Ten Times I Asked Myself The Question, “What Am I Doing With My Life?” While Working In Christian Music (Vol. II)

10.  The time I went shopping for food for the bus on a promo tour and one of our VPs gave me his/her “rider” for his/her bus food requirements:  1) Creamy Skippy peanut butter (with his/her own spoon), 2) Bananas without brown spots and 3) Bottled water (Dasani preferred).

 9.  The time I was with a band in Dallas and we got stuck on the wrong side of the Christmas parade in the downtown area.  I could NOT find a way around or through the parade route and the band decided to nickname me Powder.

Powder

 

 8.  The time I showed up to the bus for another promo tour and the bus driver only had one leg.

 7.  The time I hired a road manager for yet another promo tour and he/she disappeared once it was time to load the artist’s gear from the hotel to the bus.  Once my co-worker and I schlepped the artist’s crap to the bus we found the road manager – on the bus – relaxing and having a nice cool beverage while watching a movie.

 6.  The time I lived through this.

 5.  The time I was at my very first sales conference and walked by the soundboard only to kick the power cords out of the wall, causing the video and audio presentations to come to a screeching halt.  100 people in the conference room sitting in silence, wondering what happened, when the sound tech yelled, “Just a moment ladies and gentlemen.  SOMEBODY kicked the power cord out of the wall.”  I was the only one standing up in the entire room, let alone near the soundboard.

 4.  The time I fell down the stairs at my very first Gospel Music Week.  Brick stairs.  And when I say I fell, I mean I fell to my knees at the top of the stairs and proceeded to slide down the brick stairs.  On my shins.  With the artist I was escorting for the day right behind me.  Yes, the skin on my shins has grown back quite nicely.  Thanks for asking.

 3.  The time I searched all over God’s Green Earth (otherwise known as Manhattan’s Midtown) for a McDonalds for an artist’s breakfast because they were on the Atkins Diet and wanted the egg & sausage breakfast.  Once I returned with said fat and lard I was chastised for not having McDonalds remove the biscuits prior to me delivering the meals.

 2.  The time the FBI called my office investigating the moving truck I rented to carry stuff to a trade convention.  It was parked in the lot between my building and the next building over.  The next building over just happened to be a secret FBI office and they were afraid the moving truck may have had explosives in it.  Not Christian music.  Explosives.

 1.  The time I was peed on while working an instore.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Peed.  On.  And not by a child.  It’s a long story.

P.S.  I actually drank blue Gatorade last Saturday at my kids’ ball games.  It tastes like berry-flavored metal.  Ick.

The Little Warrior

16 May

When I think of our younger son Andrew, the first thing that comes to mind is his feisty yet sweet spirit.  He is not one to be led, not easily influenced (even by his parents).  I am pretty sure the phrase “small but mighty” was inspired by him.

Andrew is six years old today.  It’s hard to believe exactly six years ago we were attempting to check into the hospital for our scheduled delivery appointment.  “Y’all aren’t scheduled for today,” the snotty receptionist tried to tell us, as if we were too thick to get the delivery date of our baby right.  Woman READY to deliver + man READY for woman to deliver = I’ll let you guess how that turned out for the receptionist.

Responsibility rang loud and clear once we brought him home from the hospital, for us and for Jacob, who was nearly four at the time and becoming more independent by the day.  We realized we were starting over with diapers, nighttime feedings, spit up, bulky car seats and quadruple the laundry loads.  Jacob actually asked at dinner one night when Andrew would be going back to his real home.

Rebel Yell is the only way to describe Andrew’s hair when he was a baby.  It grew straight up, like a Troll doll.  It was immune to any gravitational force.  Teenaged boys who spent most of their lawn mowing money on hair product to achieve the same result remarked with awe (and a tinge of jealousy), “Cool hair!”  This happened on a near-daily basis.  Andrew stared back at them with a deadpan expression, with his fingers in his mouth.  “Sucks to be you,” he seemed to say.  Imagine my surprise when Andrew started flicking his vertical coiffure with his open palm at us when we scolded him.  It was as if he was giving us the bird in his own little language.  Somehow cute and incredibly naughty at the same time.  It was all we could do not to laugh out loud.

It has been years since he has referred to himself as “Baby NuNu,” his way of asserting himself as the baby of the family, cleverly manipulating all of the adults in his life.  In these moments, his big blue eyes said, “You want me to be the baby in this family?  I’ll take you up on that and then some!”

Over the years, little Andrew has become not-as-little Andrew.  He has his own likes and dislikes, his own friends, his own wants and desires, his own relationship with the Lord.  His world is becoming more and more his own all the time, and just the way he likes it.  He loves soccer, his buddies at school, Legos, puzzles, music, art, the beach, and on and on and on.  He’s assertive, loving, hilarious and deep all at the same time.  He’s fiercely loyal and enormously thoughtful.  He’s an observer, yet has an uncanny ability to insert himself into the center of the action when HE is ready.  On HIS terms.

Russia and Scotland both claim St. Andrew as their patron saint.  If St. Andrew was anything like my Andrew, I’d say they made an excellent choice.

Happy Birthday, Son.  I love you.

The Little Warrior

The Great Language Barrier

13 May

I love Japanese food. I was not, however, an immediate convert. The first time I was exposed to the exotic fare was in a funky little restaurant in Capitola Village that was situated directly under an enormous train trestle that spanned the San Lorenzo River. I was there with my mother, my younger stepbrother and another friend. I asked for pointers from my food senseis, but they assured me that I’d like nearly everything on the menu. Worry free, I perused the menu. After all, it all seemed harmless enough. For example, who doesn’t like teriyaki? It’s sweet. It’s salty. Everything you could ask for in fine cuisine. Even the California Roll was an intriguing combination. Especially because it had avocado in it. I love avocado. Mild, creamy and refreshing, I’ve even been known to make an avocado sandwich with nothing but bread, avocado and a thin layer mayonnaise.

I was eyeing the large hunk of avocado that was nestled aside the little delicate green plastic sheet cut to resemble one-dimensional blades of grass. Thinking the minty-colored morsel had broken free of the tightly rolled coil of seaweed, crab, cucumber and rice, I grinned from one side of my mouth. “I’ve got you now,” I whispered under my breath. Sneaking up from the rear, I awkwardly snatched up the rogue ingredient with my chopsticks and quickly deposited it on my tongue to savor the gentle flavor.

Imagine my surprise when the pretty pastel wad attacked with a ferocity I had never before experienced with any other edible substance. In my inexperience with cookery from the land of the rising sun, I mistook a nearly lethal amount of wasabi for my beloved avocado. Panic set in as the effects of the fiery substance spread from my tongue southward to my throat and northward to my unsuspecting nasal passages and tear ducts. It was as if my head had spontaneously combusted (a phenomenon with which I am a tad obsessed) yet I was still alive to experience every painful horrifying moment. The heat subsided within seconds but the memory is still enough to elicit a sweat moustache. Nobody else at the table had seen what I had done, but all six eyes were staring at me as I composed myself. “What did you do?” “Did you choke on something?” “Why are you so red?” “You’re sweating. Are you okay?”

Once I retraced my ill-fated steps there was a moment of silence, followed by an eruption of laughter that could only have been drowned out by a train crossing the great rusty steel structure overhead. It’s one of those stories still recounted at every family gathering. It’s not the only story about me to be added to the familial arsenal over the years (Heaven forbid we should forget the time when I was a pre-teen and tripped up my grandparents’ stairs holding the Thanksgiving pumpkin pies), but one of their favorites to be sure.

I’ve acquired a taste and a healthy respect for wasabi since that time. My family now eats Japanese food on a regular basis. Just tonight, my mom, whom Jacob and Andrew have lovingly renamed JuJu (her given name is Judi), was visiting from out of town and we took her to one of our favorite sushi spots. Jacob wanted some crayons so he could draw something, most likely a scene taken from his exciting other life in outer space. When the waiter arrived at the table to take our drink order, we all told him what we would like and then my mom asked for some crayons. “We have ah Sprite,” the waiter replied in his best broken English.

“No, I’m sorry. My grandson would like a crayon.”

“We only have ah Sprite,” responded the waiter again with a smile.

“No. A craaaay-onnnnnn,” responded JuJu patiently.

“Ahhhh, no. Only ah Sprite.”

“No, not a drink. A crayon. Something to draawwww with.”

There was no verbal response from our waiter. Only a forced yet pleasant smile and a slight nod. There was an uncomfortable silence, and then he walked away, half grinning and half gritting, showing just a little too much tooth. And JuJu was left at the table, forever crayonless and looking at us in disbelief. We were witness to a complete breakdown in communication. The great language barrier had reared its ugly head, leaving both parties confused, frustrated and unsatisfied.

We all fall victim to a great language barrier. Not like the kind in Babel or at the sushi bar that night, but the everyday kind that makes us feel alone. How many times do we reach out to another person, only to be disappointed? Feeling misheard. Unsatisfied. Yearning for a connection, only to be left with a puzzled look and a view of the back of someone’s shaking head. And how many times are we the one leaving the other person wanting more, not grasping what it was they were asking of us? Or perhaps not really caring. How many missed opportunities for relationship have we stupidly grinned our way through, simply agreeing to give up on each other, never giving or receiving that which is most dear to us. Acknowledgement. Respect. Love.

The next time you need a crayon, an encouraging word, or especially some advice on sushi condiments, just let me know. I’m here for you…

Soul Tattoo

12 May

I recently went through the process of hiring a new World Vision artist rep. All of the applicants were amazing, but @L_Bro was (and IS) the perfect fit.

I ended each interview with, “What is your motto, your mantra?” I wanted to know the adage by which they live their lives. The answers were very telling, very powerful. Some people struggled to answer the question and others gave an immediate response.

Then I asked myself the same question. What is the thing that little voice in my head whispers to me? What kind of internal direction/feedback do I give myself? What would I want tattooed on my body as a constant reminder of how to conduct myself?

I came up with two answers. The first was “Never let them see you sweat.” Not really tattoo worthy, but something that has served me well over the years. You will rarely see me lose my cool or fall apart. I tend to be steady as she goes on the outside, even if I may be FREAKING OUT on the inside.

The second answer was Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” I think this is more of a challenge to myself, something to strive for. To be just, merciful and humble all at the same time is a delicate plate-spinning, flaming torch-throwing balancing act for me. I’m all about justice, but usually at the cost of mercy and humility. I know others who are merciful or humble, but sometimes at the cost of justice. To be all three…well, that is quite a feat for me.

So I’d love to know, what is YOUR mantra, your soul tattoo? (And if you were to ACTUALLY tattoo it on your body, I don’t need to know WHERE…)

Little Paris Jackson Made Me Do It

7 Jul

So Paris Jackson’s eulogy at her father’s memorial today got to me.  I got a little nostalgic and when my friend Laura asked for our top Michael Jackson memories on her blog, I couldn’t resist.  Here goes:

Where to begin?

1. The time in 8th grade my best friend Dan and I saw Michael and his posse at Disneyland. Yup – right there by the Autopia ride.

2. My beloved penny loafers – with white socks of course.

3. Seeing Thriller for the first time at the pizza parlor with my friends.

4. Wanting a yellow cardigan like Michael’s in that one poster from the Thriller era.

5. Wanting a tiger cub.

6. Being in NYC when the Victory Tour was at Madison Square Garden and having to go see Cats instead (that one still stings a little).

7. Trying to learn how to do the moonwalk but just causing a lot of static electricity in my body and shocking myself and my dog.

8. Having our junior high youth pastor play “Human Nature” one Sunday while dissecting the lyrics and telling us how naughty Michael was. I sang along through the whole service, thinking about what a great song it was.

9. Pushing up the sleeves of my polished cotton Members Only jacket (with snaps on the cuffs!) so I’d look like Michael. Totally cut off the circulation in my lower arms but hey, fashion over function, right?

10. Seeing the Bad Tour in Los Angeles with my friends Lisa and Jen. His moves were so smooth I’m pretty sure he never quite touched the ground the entire time. Out of this world.

Good times.  Thanks, Michael.

Everything Nice

22 Jun

Five years ago yesterday I received a call early in the workday from my mother in California. “It’s Maga,” she said. “She’s gone. My mom is gone…” Immediately I clicked into fix it mode. Fix it mode is one of my favorite defense mechanisms. It makes me feel like I’m back in control of something when everything around me is spinning horribly out of kilter. The checklist of crisis management questions rolled off my tongue. “Who is with you? What needs to be done? I’ll be on the first flight I can catch today. I’ll call you as soon as I know when my flight arrives.”I hung up the phone, closed my office door and called my wife to deliver the sad news. “Maga passed away this morning and I have to find a flight to California today.” Only static and pink noise came from the other line. Then, Dana’s soothing voice. “I’m so sorry, honey. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Really. My mom is not in good shape so I need to go help.”

“Okay. I’ll see you soon. I love you.” My wife, Dana, is a woman of few words but always knows what to say and when to say it. I’m convinced it is evidence of her deep inner strength. She would have come with me but our son Andrew had been born just a month earlier. Again I hung up the phone and went online to find the next flight from Nashville to San Jose. Once my flights were secured, I let my boss and team know I was leaving and I’d be back in a week but would have access to email and would be available on my cell phone. Of course I would. I was in control.

The drive to my house was a blur of mental checklists for both my trip and for my job. Packing and leaving for the airport was a frenzy of flying underwear, clean shirts and hurried yet poignant goodbyes. Fix it mode was coming through for me, as usual. It got me through security with flying colors (I always know exactly which shoes to wear in airports and I never get stopped), to the gate in plenty of time to choose the gray vinyl and chrome chair of my choice, and onto the plane near the front of the line to choose the brown vinyl and beige plastic chair of my choice. Carry on luggage in the overhead bin, safety belt secured tightly around my hips and all electronic devices in the off position and stowed for take off, I took a deep breath and adjusted the air control above my seat to the perfect angle and intensity. The plane took off with no delay and we experienced no turbulence. Everything was going according to plan. Everything was under control.

And then it happened. About twenty minutes into the flight, I relaxed just a little too much. I let my defenses down just long enough for emotion to find a chink in my armor. My grandmother was gone. Not sick. Not on vacation. Not two thousand miles away, alive and well. Not able to pick up the telephone when I called. Not able to write or read a letter. Just gone. For the rest of my life. The tears began to well in my eyes, defying gravity, pooling above my lower eyelids. My vision went blurry. The first tear took a giant leap from my left lid, plunging to its inevitable end on the back of my hand with a great splash. Startled, I sat up straight, shifted in my seat and wiped my hand on my jeans. I just need to read something. Let’s see, let’s see. What did I bring to read? I leaned over to pull the brown leather shoulder bag from under the seat in front of me. As the top of my head pressed against the unforgiving seat back tray in front of me, the other tears that had queued up just outside my tear ducts made a mad dash through my eyelashes and down my cheeks. Betrayed by my own traitorous body. Still bent over and submitting to the uncomfortable head butting of the seat back and blinking faster and faster in a vain effort to distribute the subsequent excess fluid evenly across my eyes, I discovered that I had neglected to pack any reading materials. Action item #46 had somehow been overlooked. I needed to read something, ANYTHING, to shore up the reservoir of emotion fighting to break though the weakened dam. The in flight magazine. Yeah, that will work. Or the SkyMall catalog. I’ll see how much those hose-hiding garden gnomes cost. Or roll my eyes at the new line of Successories. But Maga is gone. I already miss her so much…

Defeated, the dam failed and the emotion came roaring down the causeway, obliterating every house, tree and telephone pole in its raging path. I sat back up, tears streaming down my face, nose running, chin quivering, just as the flight attendant arrived at my row to take my drink order. She pouted her lips as if I were a 6 year old whose scoop of ice cream had just rolled off the cone and onto the grimy asphalt. “Can I get you anything?” she asked through her pouty lips. I simply shook my head and smiled, tightened cheeks milking even more tears from my now bloodshot eyes. “Are ya’ sure?” she asked, tilting her head to one side. I nodded my head and mouthed the words, “I’m fine.” She left me to my emotional outpouring and made cutesy faces for the calm passengers more deserving of complementary beverages than I. They smugly sipped their sodas and juices and Bloody Mary mixes while I spent the remaining 3 ½ hours suspended six miles over the country battling waves of raw feeling with swollen eyes and a wet shirt collar.

It was 10:30P by the time I arrived at my mom’s house in California and the swells of deep pained emotion had mellowed to a degree that was somewhat more bearable. It was a bittersweet reunion, comforting to see the faces most familiar to me yet difficult to read the sting in their weary eyes. We all hugged and reassured one another and reminisced for a while. We agreed it would be best to wait until morning to draft our game plan for the week that loomed before us and all went to bed, some sleeping better than others but everyone crying themselves to sleep because it came naturally and, at least for me, it felt better than holding in the grief. I think WASP culture has it all wrong, holding in our feelings until it poisons us, all in the name of dignity. I’ve decided there’s nothing dignified about holding in one’s emotions during a time of loss. Where on earth did that practice come from anyway? If we are happy, we smile and laugh. It’s only natural. So why is it that we feel like we can’t grieve publicly? Openly. LOUDLY if we feel like it. It too is only natural. I’m tired of being afraid of emotions. My new rule of thumb is purge, purge, PURGE.

Over the next 48 hours, the planning and the consoling and dealing with our tender hearts went on as smoothly and as naturally as could be expected. Then we arrived at the memorial chapel with the clothes we picked out for Maga to wear in her final resting place and to fill out some paperwork. The chapel was a small yet modern concrete and glass structure situated at the heart of a pristine cemetery nestled at the foot of the hills just south of Santa Cruz. It was also situated just across the street from the local hospital and the retirement community my grandmother called home for over fifteen years, an ever-present reminder of the inevitable and yet conveniently located should the inevitable present itself to either set of occupants.

Marvin the mortician greeted us in the main lobby decorated with an enormous floor to ceiling fish tank. I know the fish were put there to relax visitors but they only made me uneasy, staring me down with their lidless eyes and blowing bubbles with their full lips and slowly waving their fins, either welcoming me in or shooing me away. Marvin the mortician was a solid man in his early fifties, sporting Dockers, a plaid short sleeved button down shirt and a mere suggestion of a comb-over covering his bare scalp. He immediately struck me as far too cheerful for a mortician, or anyone sharing air or space with corpses for that matter.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he said as he gestured to us a touch too eagerly. “Now you just sit right here and I’ll be back with the paperwork!” He whooshed from the room in a joyous rush. My mom Judi and my birth mom Bonnie, sisters and Maga’s daughters, looked at each other and me in mild disbelief from across the small round table. Just as we began to discuss Marvin’s unusual attributes, he came back into the room with a file.

“Here we are then! Mabel’s death certificate and paperwork!” he announced with glee. The sisters began looking at some of the information at the bottom of the page while I read the top of the document upside down. Veteran? Maga wasn’t a veteran, was she? I thought to myself. Then I looked at the name at the top of the page. Vernon Callaway? What in the world? This isn’t even Maga’s paperwork!

“Excuse me, Marvin. I don’t think this is the right file,” I said with calm.

“Of course it is!” Marvin replied, still grinning from ear to ear.

“Um, no it isn’t. Her name wasn’t Vernon Callaway,” I volleyed, still calm but with a more stern tone.

Marvin stared down at the certificate. “Oh my! So it isn’t! Ah, well, we’ve had little fingers at work here today!” And he leapt from his chair and glided from the room. The three of us were alone again.

“Little fingers? What does THAT mean?” Bonnie asked us. We looked at each other, shrugged in unison and began to laugh. I think there must be a recessive “uncomfortable giggle” gene in my family because we all react the same way to awkward situations. It’s bad enough when we’re not around each other but get two or more of us in a room together and it’s a lethal combination.

“Shhh! Shhh!” I pleaded with them through my own hushed laughter. “He’ll be back in a second!” Sure enough, Marvin returned with the correct paperwork this time and we composed ourselves as best we could, signing documents and discussing preparations for the memorial service.

“How will you do my mom’s hair?” my mother asked Marvin. She was very concerned that Maga looked her best. After all, it’s what she would have wanted.

“Oh, I’ll probably just slick it back,” he replied with great enthusiasm. Slick it back? Maybe he’ll just comb it over, I thought to myself. He clearly has some experience in that department.

My mom didn’t subscribe to Marvin’s hairstyling philosophy. “Really? I was thinking you could wash and blow-dry it. Make it pretty. You know, give it some volume?” she urged with firm politeness.

“I’ll see what I can do. You know it’s just me around here right now. Our hair and makeup girl is home with a new baby. He’s just so cute!” But by the look on his face I could tell Marvin got the message loud and clear. Good thing. My mom has a way of making her point with strength yet with poise. Unless she thinks you aren’t getting her point. Then she makes things quite clear and quite quickly. No beating around the bush with Judi. It’s an admirable quality I wish I possessed more of.

She could tell she had been heard as well. “Thank you, Marvin,” she said kindly. “Now, we can’t seem to find our mother’s watch anywhere. I know she was wearing it in the hospital but we didn’t receive it from them when they gave us the rest of her things. Have you seen it here by any chance?”

“Why, no, but I can tell you this,” Marvin said with pride. “We try to be as thorough as possible, especially with the bodies we prepare for cremation. Sometimes the hospital will put personal effects in the body bag and if we’re not careful everything just goes up in smoke!” he continued, chuckling. Oh great, I thought. More mortician humor. This isn’t really happening, is it?

“I see,” said Judi with a smirk. “I’d appreciate it if you’d just keep an eye out for it.”

“But of course we will!”

Thank you so much,” she replied, smiling and squinting her eyes. She does this when she’s determining how to handle a situation. I’ve seen this look many times. At my elementary school in a parent teacher conference. With a doctor who had a foul bedside manner. The occasional cranky nurse. My first boss. It’s the look that says, “don’t even think of messing with my loved one because if you do I already have a menu of options of how to deal with you and you won’t like a-n-y of them.” It’s a look that makes me feel safe but makes me feel pity for the poor soul on the receiving end. I’m convinced that hell hath no fury like a mother protecting her children. Of course in this case she was protecting her own mother, but the rules of engagement remained the same.

A brief, thick silence filled the room like second hand smoke in a crowded corner bar. Then my mom asked Marvin a seemingly routine question to which the resulting answer will be retold in our family for generations to come. “Marvin, we know our mother wasn’t embalmed but we were thinking of having an open casket service. What do you think about that?”

“Oh, she should be just fine, Judi. I mean, when Mama died, I took her home and she was just fine there for a good week or so.” Marvin said, not skipping a beat.

More unfiltered, nicotine-laced silence. It took an unnatural period of time for the three of us to process what had just been spoken, out loud, within earshot. The words echoed in my head: when-Mama-died, I-took-her-home-and-she-was-just-fine-there-for-a-good-week-or-so…Mama-died…home…just-fine…week-or-so…week-or-so…week-or-so…

I’d be lying if I told you I remember how we got out of there with any grace or dignity. I think Bonnie, the most tactful of our motley crew, must have said something charming to excuse us. I have no recollection. I was too busy holding myself together, biting the inside of my cheeks to shreds in an effort to not roll with laughter around the little room, past the ominous fish tank and into the parking lot. The last thing I remember was Marvin’s license plate frame, mounted to the back of his white Cadillac. It read, “My other car is a hearse…”

The rest of the week was one of a family finding their way together through the void of their matriarch. Long walks on the beach. Stolen moments at Starbucks. Tears. Laughter. Together. And one year later we’re still finding our way. Still feeling the loss of one of the most amazing people we will have ever known. Still crying, but laughing maybe just a little more. Still together.

Maga had a deep treasure trove of sayings she loved. One of them was, “Everything nice!” She used it when she felt things were not quite as they should be. It was her way of smoothing any ruffled feathers. Her way of telling us that at the end of the day, we have everything we could ever need, especially each other. It was a verbal salve and it worked every time, soothing the minor irritations and rashes family members give each other from time to time. Is everything nice these days? For her, absolutely. For us? Not quite, but we’re getting there…