Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bright Star

“Bright Star”
“Bright Star, would that I were steadfast as thou art--”
Since I was small I’ve been in the habit of looking up the moment I go outside at night. I believe there inspiration waits for me to read it in the twinkle and pattern of far off light. Looking for insight day or night, spring of fall, remains one of my daily disciplines and I find it in all sorts of places. Recently I received a note in the mail from my Andrea’s grandmother, Libby. I had, just days before, had the pleasure of being seated beside her at my grandson Joey’s birthday party and during the festivities she corralled the crowd to take pictures. Several of these fell out of her cheerful note which apologized for their imperfection and urged me to share the copies.
I met Libby Anderson and her husband Maurice years ago at one of Andrea’s birthday parties when she and Joe were in college. They had driven quite a distance to the house Andrea rented with friends.. I remember how loving and friendly she was to Andrea’s mother, Barb, her ex daughter-in-law. I’m awfully good at sensing tension and try as I might I couldn’t read any between them. When one of Andrea’s sisters confided in Libby that she was unhappy with her grade on a recent exam, confessing also that she hadn’t studied enough, Libby took both her hands and said, “Now you know what to do next time. Next time you’ll study enough..” I was struck by her acceptance of the girl – faults and all— by her kind encouragement and by the fact that this granddaughter felt she could confide her frustration and failure in her grandmother.
Some years later, when Andrea included Maurice, nicknamed “Andy” and Libby as guests at their wedding rehearsal dinner we were hosting at our home, I was surprised. Because neither my mother nor my mother-in-law seemed enthusiastic about family gatherings, I had not even thought to invite them. Quickly I was able to cover part of my neglect and invite my mother-in-law, and I saw what an honor it was to include the older generation at this important event. It was there that I learned about Maurice and Libby’s wealth of practical wisdom.
They praised my garden, which was really nothing much at the time – just beginning to be cultivated. I asked them how to attract hummingbirds and the next time I saw them – at a graduation party a few weeks later-- Maurice had brought me a bee balm plant and Libby promised that the hummingbirds would flock to it. At this same party, we walked together as Andrea’s mom gave us a tour of her vegetable garden. I followed a few steps behind, noting the way that they noticed her innovations, the way their questions reflected genuine interest. Maurice said she thought the potato plants (big mounds of earth with the green plant burgeoning above, were the most beautiful she’d ever seen. Libby said she was sure they would yield an amazing crop. Because they were veteran gardeners, their genuine praise was both touching and valuable.
Standing beside those gorgeous potato plants I found some inspiration. Libby made it her business to help, love and encourage. She was always there at family gatherings, always cheerful, always finding some useful and positive way to give to her ex daughter-in-law, her grandchildren and the increasing circle of people who belonged to them. As I got to know Andrea better, I learned that her parents’ divorce had been hard on Libby and she had confided to Andrea that it was “the worst thing she had ever had to go through.” Yet, she built healthy, strong relationships and managed to keep loving and giving despite this struggle.
Libby maintained her bright outlook when Maurice became ill in a series of physical problems that would claim his life. When I saw her at wedding showers, weddings, baby showers, she spoke factually about her husband’s struggles, but she also smiled when she described Maurice’s continual stream of visitors – they had visitors every day during his two year illness -- and she laughed about gaining weight from the food friends brought. When Andrea’s sister married last March, Libby and Maurice attended, though he had to rely on the help of a wheelchair. I remember talking to them at the wedding. They did not wish to dwell on their difficulties; instead they expressed their enjoyment of the wedding, congratulating their granddaughter, her new husband and Barb on creating such a wonderful party. They had questions about my garden, the renovations we were doing at my house, about the book they heard I was writing. I don’t remember what I said because I found myself dazzled by what I saw -- a bright star – a woman who could, while pushing her husband in a wheelchair, think of loving things to say to each person she met.
Maurice Anderson lived to see all of his granddaughter’s progress through school and through college, all of them married, five great-grandchildren born and he died last Spring full of years, with the devotion of his children, his granddaughters, and the affection of his friends. I was concerned about how Libby would cope.
When I saw her this winter at Joey’s party, she was her same self, looking a bit more rested and still laughing about gaining weight from the food still left daily on her doorstep by her crowd of devoted friends. I asked her how she was doing, and after saying she was keeping busy, she turned the conversation to how proud she was of my son Joe for being such a great husband and father. Her compliment surprised me. But why should it? Had I really expected this grandmother-in-law to fall into the destructive and foolish pattern of criticism and manipulation so familiar, so commonly practiced in our culture? Oddly then, I remembered the potato plants and let Libby’s praise of Joe bless me as it was meant to. After all, here was someone who knew, from a long, happy marriage what a good husband was, someone who knew how to cultivate relationships with plenty of love and bright hope. That night, I did not have to look to the night sky, my inspiration sparkled right beside me at the dinner table.

2 comments:

  1. Loris, this is just inspiring. Your writing is stunning, real, and insightful. What an honor to read and a tribute for Mrs. Anderson. I hope you realize that you are a 'bright star' to so many as well.

    Elizabeth

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  2. Thanks Elizabeth for your note. Though I have always had high ideals and goals, I really have always felt as if I were groping in the dark to make them happen and therefore looking for examples to guide and inspire me.

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