Saturday, November 28, 2009

My 35 Year Old Son

My son, Andrew, turns 35 tomorrow. Don't know how he got that old; I surely haven't changed much! Then, again, Andrew has been through so much in his 35 years, particularly in hospitals, that it's a wonder he doesn't look as old as me!

My son, my friend, is an unusual young man, if I dare say so myself. I mostly base that, actually, on what others have said and told me about him through the years. He's been blessed to have had a career as a ballet dancer for over 20 years, studying with great men and women of the dance: Natalia Makarova, Paul Sutherland, Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, Winthrop Corey, Ben Stevenson, Alonzo King, Ivan Nagy, etc. He performed as a member of some of the best companies in the world: the Joffrey (both apprentice and regular company), Richard Alston Dance Company, Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet de Santiago, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, and Ballet Florida, to name a few. He toured one summer with Phyllis Diller and Georgia Engle in Cinderella. He was an original cast member of the Broadway production Movin' Out by Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel. In 2000 he was Honorary City Councilman for the City of Memphis, TN. He has been an American delegate for Council of International Dance (CID-UNESCO). He's also completed all but the last few requirements for certification as a chaplain in Clinical Pastoral Education. And, up until his most recent illness, Andrew has been a successful producer, helping to raise $800,000 for Ballet Florida last year alone. Andrew has had more experiences and done more in his 35 years than I will ever do in a lifetime. And in all this he has remained one of the most gentle, gracious, sensitive, and giving human beings I've ever known.

All that being said, Andrew has also seen the downside of life, and in a big way! He's been stricken twice with autoimmune brainstem encephalitis, most recently in December of 2008. He has spent literally months in hospitals both in 1999-2000 and this year. Still recovering, sometimes in a wheel chair, sometimes able to get around on his own, he was declared officially disabled in July. He has seen and experienced first-hand the brokenness and horrors of what we call a health care system in the U.S. The reality is such that I can barely speak about it anymore without becoming completely enraged! What many of the politicians and their cohorts, on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and Congress, are saying and doing (or NOT, as the case may be!) is not only an outrage but, IMHO, truly sinful. Again, Andrew's grace and wisdom astound me when he frequently and simply reminds me that "God is driving the bus!"

I got to thinking this evening about where I was and what I was doing when I was 35. Through habit, I'm one of those who hangs on to a lot of "documents" from the past for posterity's sake (whose I don't know!). Originally, it wasn't much of an intentional exercise, but in later years it's become one of my de rigeur practices. I keep a folder handy into which I chuck the latest copy of a relevant "document" as it emerges from the printer. Andrew, for some years now, has called the folder(s) my "Holy Grail file".

Anyway, my "Holy Grail file" tells me that in 1972, at age 35, I was married and had a two-year-old daughter (now 39), and was living in Kenner, LA, just outside of Metairie, and outside of New Orleans (and I DID learn how to pronounce that properly while there - NOT "New Orrléens", but "Newh Óh-le-ahns"). Sure glad I'm not living there now! We lived right on the edge of a swamp in a new apartment development. The price was right and the apartment was adequate, but the bugs were BIG and plentiful, the humidity constant, and the water...well, my daughter was often sick for unknown reasons!

I was working at that time for Silver Burdett Company, a newly formed division of General Learning Corporation, owned by Time Incorporated and General Electric. As a subsidiary of GLC, Silver Burdett published educational materials of all sorts and in all subject areas, including Catholic religious education. My niche was as sales representative in the Educational/Religious Division for the Southeast, servicing all the Catholic religious education offices and the schools/parishes of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

1972, when I was 35, turned out to be a tremendous banner sales year for Silver Burdett, both in the religious and non-religious school divisions: so much so, that the GLC mucky-mucks flew some 200 of us reps down to Nassau, in the Bahamas, at the end of the year for a 5-day sales conference -- all expenses paid! For a little ole Catholic boy from Ohio, and an ex-priest at that, my eyes were bulging and my mind boggled by the extravagance of life in (at least the corporate) Bahamas! I retain several wonderful memories, however: 1) the exquisite aqua waters and the sand beaches; 2) the lush blossoms and fragrant smell of flowers; 3) and my first and only adventure of deep-sea fishing, with a salty Scottish skipper, who took us out and explained the technique. I must have listened well because, with his assistance, I landed a 15 lb. wahoo. I also remember one day meandering around an outdoor market where I listened in on big, dark black mères with their babies, sitting with their crones, weaving baskets and making, partly in English, partly in patois, sometimes with amazingly unambiguous innuendo, subtly suggestive comments. It was delightful.

Well, I sold books and then became a priest again and then retired! That process took another 35 years! Andrew danced and was stricken with a devastating illness, then recovered, and now has been stricken again! And he's only 35! Who can predict what the next 35 years will bring him? I certainly can't. Realistically, he'll have to manage most of that time without me; at almost 73 now, I simply won't be around.

Whatever is ahead, Andrew, you've taught me that, indeed, "God is driving the bus!"
Happy birthday, son, and many, many more!

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