Saturday, December 31, 2011


Blowing out birthday candles - December 2011

Some ideas are hard to get used to.

Being back here in the states I see the strong leaps forward that are forshadowing the way that the world will change.  There are no pay phones anywhere - there is no need with cell phones dominating the airwaves.  Supermarket check out lines are self-serve, where we scan the SKU labels ourselves to everything from grapes to chips.  There are fewer and fewer used book stores, or new ones for that matter, the victims of the ever-present Kindle, ipad and smart phones. 

"I will never get used to the idea of reading on a screen," I have lamented for the last two years.  I treasure some things far too much.  Change, regardless of how fast it is marching, is hard to accept. 

Now we enter 2012 - and say goodbye to 2011.

It has been predicted that on December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar will complete its thirteenth cycle. According to the Mayan belief system, the world will end .  The Mayans  conceived the concept of the ZERO (the absence of value), which means they were brilliant, but they also believed that the world was a horizontal plane with four corners.  They were also known for sacrificing the friends and enemies to appease the gods. 

 If you don’t believe the Mayans, there is a long list of prophecies and beliefs (all of which predict planet-wide doom) that either make you scared or fall asleep.  I have lived long enough to know that most predictions are balderdash, even though I have said goodbye to the world I grew up in: an economic superpower that insulated me from any knowledge of a world economy. 

This year the hammer of change has driven home some never-forgettable changes. No matter where we live or how we have grown up, we have seen unusual global changes in 2011.   Some have been awesome and monumental.  Others have been devastating.  Growing up in California, I walked on tetonic plates that shifted often enough for me to know that no ground was solid, and our world was constantly moving. 

Personally, our changes in 2011 have been monumental.  We have said hello to Alannah, our newest granddaughter, and have said goodbye to  Mario's brother, Anthony, all in the matter of four months.  I have seen people come and go that I thought would be friends forever...and in the same place.  I have forgiven and been forgiven more than I care to admit, cried a river of tears and laughed years into my life. 

As I look back at our year, each month, week, day and moment have held oodles of life: and all that comes with it.  Change is hard, change is good.  Life is full of change...and it pulls us downriver with it.  Over the years I have learned to swim, catch my breath and bandage my head wounds.  I have also been surrounded by some awesome friends and family, who have pulled me out of the rapids at times.  Thank God for them.

Speaking of change, our twenty six year old son is hosting us in his house for the next few days.  It is genuinely humbling to stay in the dwelling of your son, be welcomed by him and then be handed a Christmas gift that he didn't make himself - a kindle.

"Don't worry, mom," he said, after reading my flabbergasted expression. "I'ts not the same as reading a book, but you can download any book any time." 

It took the wind out of me.

I love it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Today I woke up to a beautiful, December day typical of California winters. Some see it as dull and overcast: in reality, it's a crisp, dramatic display in contrast. The minute you walk outside it's a wake up call: a slap in the face, going from warm and safe to the wide awake winter calling you up to full alert.

It is my 24th wedding anniversary.

Mario and I were married on a day like this. I remember crossing the parking lot of the small church in Tracy, decked out in a white, flowing gown, followed by my sisters, in their bridesmaids gowns, all of us carrying flowers and freezing. We stopped in the middle of the lot, screamed our heads off, and laughed...and then went into the church, where my kids and my father were waiting in the entryway.

Mario was at the altar, with his SEVEN groomsmen -- and he had the flu.

Our wedding, like our marriage, was not an execution of perfection. It was full of unpredictable things that I could never have foreseen in the planning. Instead of perfect, it was fun. Instead of Bride's magazine it was a collaboration of family to be a labor or love. Our wedding was such a prophetic picture of our marriage that I could have seen the whole thing in full view (at least so far).

I have been married to Mario, the most predictable and steady man I have ever known, and have been given the endless freedom to be Janet:a Mahler symphony, a sizzling sparkler, a Marin Scorsese picture. I have been unpredictable and emotional...and full of gratitude for the man that God gave me. We love each other and frustrate each other and work together and admire each other.

We are a study in the beauty of contrast: a shocking California winter day.

A stunning display of drama and warmth on the inside.

I'm a little biased, but not much.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I couldn't wait to write today, being away from a dependable keyboard and a computer screen for a few days. We're staying in Citrus Heights, with friends, and I woke up, ran downstairs and asked Mario to set up the his ipad.

I used to make fun of ipads, saying they were for the selfish and the spoiled: now I praise God for this one....

And I can't describe how conflicted I am writing this morning.

Today I am 49 - it is my birthday. I love my birthday and love reflecting on all I have seen and learned and lived through in the year. This year I am speechless...kind of.

In our world of tumultuous events, 2011 will be a record year of tumultuousness. When things are so dramatically painful in a year, there is a tendancy to downplay the celebrations. Christmas, anniversary.

I had the best Christmas, and a very hollow feeling as well. I thought of a favorite poem this morning as I woke up: it is called A Confederate Soldier's Prayer. It is anonymous - alleged  to have been found on the person of a fallen confederate soldier at the Devil's Den, Gettysburg.

It was written during a time of great sadness and confusion, most likely written by a battle-weary soldier near the end of the war. It is a graceful, beautiful way of seeing that God gives us what He knows we need, not what we want. Today, I give it to you, all who are reading, as my birthday gift to you. May it be our prayer together today, one of thanksgiving.

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Click here to See "Carol of the Bells" with lyrics

My niece, Selena is my sister Colleen’s second daughter. She almost floats, she is so positive, always looking forward to the next thing…always thinking that anything can be done.

One of the things she thinks can be done this year is that our Ryan Christmas Carol time (done shortly after dinner and right before gift opening) can include “Carol of the Bells”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is piece done by a full symphony with a bell choir and children singing parts, in rounds. It is faithfully performed for her majesty, the Queen of England, and the Danish royal family to begin their Christmas.

I have a guitar I haven’t played since last Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, the Ryan’s are musical, my parents voices have both been singled out by the choir directors they have known, and I am a great amateur player of several instruments. The Carol of the Bells isn’t exactly Silent Night or Hark the Herald Angels sing.

It is Selena who I can’t say no to. Don’t we need the Selena’s in our life?? The ones who believe nothing is impossible?? Someone who gives us something to look forward to in times of awkwardness and tragedy?

In each overstated sound of the bells, I can see snapshots of the past year: Vince, Alicia, David, Joe, Harmony smiling, Alannah’s birth, my daughter’s sadness, my son’s dilemma, my nephew lonely, Shane turning 18, Anthony’s sickness, barefoot children in the township, losing friendships, Mario holding his head in sadness, Mario laughing. Tears, wanderings, theft, attacks, weddings, funerals….bing, bong….merry, merry merry, merry Christmas! Merry, merry, merry. Merry Christmas.

With my brother in law gone, my family disjointed, money problems, physical hardships….there is a joy in me that resembles hope and moving on, all done in the time of family Christmas.

After all, Selena reminds me of myself.

Merry Christmas

I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.
Anne Frank

Monday, December 19, 2011


Me in the Dining Room of my parents' house
This morning I woke up in my parents' house: the house I grew up in.  Being here with my parents has been an awesome, beautiful time, but I am sharply aware of being separated from Mario, who is with his brother, Anthony, in a hospice clinic in Tempe, Arizona.

I'm still feeling the slow jet-lag, occupied with nagging thoughts of Anthony and his pain... and emotionally antipating reuniting with Mario today at the Sacramento Airport. 

So, when I woke, I reached for my Bible, knowing I should.  I instantly corrected myself.  Why should I feel like I have to spend time with God?  In this case I gave myself a break, knowing my attitude may not match perfection in the heart, but God would meet me.  After all, back home Mario (preferring to study on the peaceful back porch) make concious decisions to spend time with me.  His perfunctory gestures are easy for me to accuse or to see through, but in his heartm these gestures are born out of a sincere desire to keep our relationship alive, so I accept them.  It is in times like these, that we often end up sharing our hearts, or laughing, or in other ways -- enjoying each other.  What had begun as duty has ended up in intimacy.  So are my quiet times with God. 

This morning, I read Isaiah 55, the mainstay of God's amazing promises and love to His people.  In it, the comfort of His love washed over me, and I relaxed into the knowledge that God has our whole lives in His plan, His hands.  In the familiar onion skin of my travel Bible's pages, I hear the voice of my Father, encouraging me, assuring me. 

After this, still being too early to stir in my parents' house, I returned to reading a short story I had begun the night before: Goose Pond by Thomas Williams.  It is about a 58 year-old man, Thomas Hurley,  who has just lost his wife to cancer and returns to his childhood home to "wander the woods", and to grieve her death.  In its deep corners, Goose Pond tells of a man's grief process, deep and full of regret, unable to help his dying wife in her pain, unable to stop the terrible destruction of cancer. 

The story gripped me from start to finish.

Because of Mario being back with Anthony, being able to see the destruction of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on his body,  and being virtually unable to do anything, Goose Pond hit a deep part in my heart.  It also gave me empathy for men, their desire to be strong and to fix things, rather than to "be there" or to "share their feelings" or "get real" with the family who is doing the same near-by. 

In our conversations on the phone, Mario is riddled with pains of being unable to stop the destroying effects of mutant cells bent on destruction.  His prayers are fervent, and full of faith, and in the middle of a vigil of watching over his younger brother, who weighs about 110 pounds now.  His face and skin are unrecognizable to Mario, used to seeing his brother a like-image of himself: strong, baby-faced and wryly humorous.

As I listen from the living room where I spent my youth, Mario outlines a detail of horrific change and non-change.  The slow advance of the disease in its final stages have not altered Anthony's awareness of what's going on.  He is still inside Anthony, and recognizes Mario and all others, knows what is happening and sees the outcome of death as a possibility if God doesn't heal him in the final stages.  His time  with Mario has been a blessing of brotherly love that has gone for years unspoken between them. 

Mario says that leaving will be traumatic.  

I finally decided to get up and write all of this down, purging in a way that I know how.  I rose from the hide-a-bed, got on my mother's bath-robe and looked at myself in the mirror.  I smiled at my reflection. 

I actually look like my mom, greeting me as I wake up in the morning. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


Anthony with Renee, June 2011

Sometimes we believe in reasonable predictions, especially the ones that make sense. 

If I hear a weather report (given to me by a licensed meteorologist) that says it will rain tomorrow I will make plans to carry an umbrella. 

The problem with predictions is that they make us listen to the voice of the predictable.  Our lives are filled with the unpredictable, unexpected events that make life feel like a roller coaster. 

One of the most recent of the unexpected events was when Mario’s younger brother, Anthony, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June.  It was in its advanced stages and characterized as “highly aggressive”.  Mario immediately flew out to see him, visiting with him and hanging out, and saying awkward goodbyes, knowing Anthony was not expected to live until Christmas.

How do you say goodbye to a brother who is younger than you?  How do you watch him --from a distance – physically struggle with the beast of lymphoma?  All you can do (from a distance) is pray... and we did. 

The announcement of Renee (Anthony’s only daughter) expecting her first child (Anthony’s first grandchild) was a huge blessing.  In the blessing was a hidden dagger of knowing that Anthony might not survive long enough to see the birth of his first grandson: March.  

Of course we prayed for a miracle, but we also listened to doctor’s predictions.  We grieved, watching the disease progress, lately seeing the once-strong Anthony move into hospice care.   March seemed an eternity away.   

Every morning for the past month we have woken up and checked email to see Anthony was doing...  in truth, to see if he died.

In one email from Shirley (Anthony’s beloved wife) was a picture of Anthony.  The drastic change in his appearance from June to now was astounding, and we grieved for this...together and all alone at the same time.

Last month, I blogged about the grief of the past days with Anthony (click here to see it). It affected Mario and I differently, but together we experienced sleeplessness.  We slept fitfully, only hours at a time.

Saturday morning, Mario came into the room with a printed email.  I expected the worst, but as he kissed me, I could tell Anthony had not passed away. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked, groggy but alarmed at the same time.  “Is it Anthony?”
“No,” Mario said, handing me the email as I sat up.  “Renee had her baby.”
I (in the vernacular) flipped.  “WHAT?? IS SHE OKAY??  IS THE BABY OKAY??... Does Anthony know?”

“Not yet.”  Mario smiled and looked happy, so I calmed down as I reached for my glasses.

In the foggy black and white I read an email from Shirley:

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 12:41 AM   (The times are South African, so subtract 9 hours to figure the USA times – and it will explain why we were sleeping)

Ø  Renee is having a C-section right now to deliver their son. Ultrasounds show both Josiah and Renee are strong, but her cervix opened and the amniotic sac prolapsed and Josiah's umbilical cord is positioned between his head and the cervix. The safest decision for delivering him without causing oxygen loss or anesthesia issues on his underdeveloped lungs was to give a spinal to Renee rather than an emergency c-section under general anesthesia. He is only 27 weeks, 4 days along so he will need incubation, on a ventilator and spend months in the NICU if he lives, Lord willing. I have not seen Anthony today since this started this morning and then she was airlifted to Banner Desert Hospital (1/2 mile from our house)where there is a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  I will tell him when I know the outcome. We are waiting for word. Please pray.

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 1:50 AM:

Ø  Little Josiah was born at 3:03 pm and both he and Renee and Josh are fine.   Josiah went to NICU but doctors were impressed with his vitals. Praise God!
Shirley's picture of Renee and Josiah

With it, Shirley attached a picture of Renee looking at the camera, her hand touching her young son, who slept next to her in a protective crib.
Joshua (Baby Daddy) and Renee look at baby

Ø  Renee, Josh and Baby Josiah are doing well.
Josiah Michael Anthony Ferguson
born 12/9/2011   (December 9, 2011)
2 lb. 7oz. 14 3/4 in long   (1.22 kg’s)

When Mario woke that morning, he was able to see that Renee was okay, the baby looked healthy (although very premature) and he emailed back, in a semi-dumbfounded state:

Ø  Wonderful Shirley... have you been able to tell Anthony yet?


Mario and Janet

Shirley wrote back soon afterward:

Ø  I told Anthony last night and showed him pictures. I am in the process of getting him over there to see him in next 2 days, hopefully tomorrow . It has been cleared with the NICU today but I have to ask the on-call hospice doctor to write the order allowing him to go. Until it is cleared with the doctor, and time frame agreed upon so Renee or Josh can escort us up to NICU, I won't tell Anthony of the opportunity to see his grandson Josiah, until it is 'a go'. Why disappoint him if it isn't approved?  

Anthony really wants to see you Mario so I told him he needed to live long enough, then!! It might be necessary to come early if possible -play it by ear.

Love you both,  Shirley

Here is where I stopped reading.  The first thing I had to do was to get up and see the pictures that were online. 

Mama Renee (already out of bed) adjusts Josiah's mask.

I was amazed.  Amazed and surprised and dumb and joyful.  How amazing... how amazing that I was wrong.  Anthony is alive to see his grandchild.  How amazing that Josiah is breathing.... How amazing. 

I stared at the computer until I finally broke out of my trance and turned around to see Mario.  We hugged and kissed and celebrated.  It was a miracle.

In the next few hours we told anyone that would listen.  The next day at church we shared with anyone who would listen.  Many knew Renee, since she had lived with us four years ago here, for awhile.  Everyone seemed as gob-smacked as we were.  It was the most incredible news...

Until I woke up this morning...

The image of Anthony touching his baby grandson made us both cry, and the caption underneath the picture of him, written by Renee’s sweet husband, Josh, was even better:

Ø  Wow.  Kinda hard to see with the Ultra violet, but this is Renee's father Anthony who was told he may only have a few weeks to live. So despite his best efforts, he still lived to see himself become a grandfather! God is good.

Shirley’s caption (she is out of focus in the background) was :

“Josiah at 45 hours old a brief moment with his mask off while they adjusted it!  Anthony and I were able to touch him in the incubator earlier today!”

Even better...Mario made arrangements to fly to Arizona right after we land on Friday.  He will go without me, but will get to see Anthony, should God keep him until then.  Through the combined frequent flier miles of us and our generous son, David, the flight is “free”.

God is good.

Predictions are not guarantees.  Sometimes they fly in the face of faith.  Thank GOD that He is bigger-- He is faithful when we are faithless. 

Can I hear an AMEN!!!???

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Emma Beare's 501 Must-Read Books 

Last night I forwent my reading to pick up a book that has been on my shelf for awhile.  It is called “501 Must-Read Books”.  A compilation based largely upon opinion and poularity, I enjoy it all the same. 

It is broken up into 8 sections: Children’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs, Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers and Travel.  Before all of my friends who are Fantasy Enthusiasts feel slighted, that genre is grouped into “Modern Fiction”. 

As every reader knows, it all begins with Children’s Fiction.  After picture books, a child who graduates to “chapter books” is, statistically speaking, a reader for life.  Little Women, Peter Pan, the Oz series, etc., are all outlined in the book and given a very opinionated (but amazingly accurate) synopsis.    As I read through the pages of recommended childrens fiction, I am happy to say that I have read most of these as an adult.  I hate being left out of secrets, and great books build communities.  Like families, who enjoy the secrets that all have experienced, the author provides an experience for the readers to share inside of their pages.    Instead of seeing the invitation to really drink in an experience, much of my ADD childhood was spent “pretending” to read these books.  I only later opened their pages and received the miracles of their words.  There are many of the Children’s classics I haven’t read, and I’ll plan on getting to them soon. 

Classic Fiction is where I live.  I can’t begin to tell you how many nights I have sat at the feet of Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen, drinking in their worlds, being the proverbial fly on the wall.  In its recommendations, 501 Must-Read's left out a lot of my favorites, but stuck close to the required reading of most universities.  In its pages, I found a lack of the Southern Hemisphere, which is understandable since most of the Classics are Roman or Greek or English or French.  Still, it is a comprehensive list of sheer beauty, and last night was punctuated by “Ohhhhhh” as I remembered first reading some of the recommended books.  It was my first introduction to greater structure of thought, words that achieved timeless beauty.  Words that I first saw in college, and considered boring,  later became personal.  Once I decided to read "The Classics", the wording became understandable and gorgeous.   I was, frankly, surprised that I could understand them, since I had not been formally schooled in appreciation.   “Classic Literature”, as they call it,  is really the hallways of imagination and beauty that has since given birth to modern literature. 

History (my father’s favorite reading genre) ranged from Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus (an Ancient Rome historian) to Che Guevera’s A Revolutionary Life.   I have Herodotus’ Histories on my bookshelf, but it has never been read, and I grew up knowing that Will and Emily Drant were to be admired...but I can say that History (like Science Fiction) is not a genre of choice. 

Memoirs was a stunning collection of recommended reads that I have only tasted.  It made me thirsty to read more, describing the personal diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who, apparently set the standard for memoirs.  I’ve never read the famed book, composed over nine years of the authors life, but quickly jotted it down on my “need to read” list (ever-growing).  Also highlighted were Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, and Kafka’s Diaries.  Sigh... not enough time to hear all of the stories.  Memoirs have a way of making you feel like the author’s friend. 

Modern Fiction.  I perused through it, seeing many that are now housed in book stores under “Classic Fiction”.  The new classics are gorgeous, and I never thought I’d say so.  Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian writer Chinuna Achebe, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So many new authors that have elevated language and stories to beautiful, eternal blessings that do more than provide entertainment: they become part of us once they are read.  On and on the selections went...until I fell asleep.

I woke up to a familiar sight: my husband tenderly taking away the open book from my chest, removing my glasses and smiling, “You did it again,” unspoken.  

He shut off the light and I drifted off.

Will I ever be one of them? 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011


When you fall in love, and I mean really in love, you want to know everything about the person.  The first thing you want to connect to is their family. 

I met my husband’s family after I heard the stories.  Stephen was born first, with Mario close behind, followed by Anthony.    Their father, Chev, left a year after Anthony was born, more or less, to pursue a career on Broadway.  My ever-capable, ever-strong Cynthia (my mother-in-law) had the task of raising  three boys to herself.  Cynthia became a computer programmer for UC Berkeley (a new concept and a new occupation at the time), and after school, the three boys were left to themselves, getting into childhood mischief, as is to be expected. 

It wasn’t until their step-father came into the picture that all of this changed.   Cynthia decided to marry again, mainly to import a father-figure into the picture.  She chose a strong German man named Al Warias.  His authority and strictness had mixed results:  it caused the eldest (Stephen) to rebel and the younger two (Mario and Anthony) to become pretty disciplined.  Stephen joined Chev in New York City shortly after said rebellion, and was pretty much non-existent in the younger two boys’ lives.

 Al died of cancer in 1970 (when Mario was 16), and Cynthia was left alone again, raising two young men instead of boys.  Mario and Anthony were the quintessential teen brothers:  fighting, playing, sharing Lucky Charms, and competing  for their Mom’s attention.   

The two were the same in many ways yet worlds apart in others.  Mario was tall and thin; Anthony was shorter and muscular.  They both were athletic: Mario a free-style wrestler and Anthony, a running back in football.  They excelled in school, attracted girls and stayed away from the newly-emerging drugs. 

Competitive beyond understanding, they were each other’s benchmarks until Anthony was injured playing football. 

Because of his speed and great strength, Anthony annihilated the enemy on the field.  During his very first game, after wiping out the offensive line of the opposing team,  their less-than-scrupulous coach instructed one of his players to “take out the knees” of the hot-dog running back.  Anthony went from normal to disabled in one play.  He never returned to the field and took six months before he could walk properly – all while he was in high school.  For the rest of his life, Anthony had knee problems. 

As with most things, the subject wasn’t talked about too much between brothers.  Mario moved on to college and became a champion wrestler (which scholar-shipped him through University) and married Cathy, his first wife, an All-American blonde girl next door.  Anthony dated her sister, but eventually met (and married) an athletic fellow-student named Shirley. 

For me, the time of young families being built was reduced to snapshots and I was left to fill in the details:  Anthony and Shirley, Mario and Cathy around a table with Cynthia.   Anthony and Shirley in New York City, smiling with each other.   Anthony and Shirley holding their new son, Evan.  Mario and Cathy holding baby David.  Anthony and Shirley with Renee; Cathy with David and Joe.  Cathy with David.   Mario with his police dog, Dux.    Cathy with David and Joe.  Being the outsider who came later, I knew the stories: Mario, caught up in his career (and other things), left Cathy and the boys.  Anthony and Shirley moved to the border of California, where Anthony became a US Border Patrol Officer.   Mario (also a Peace Officer) patrolled the Central Coast, and then moved to the Northern San Joaquin valley, where we met. 

Here is where we fell in love.  Here is where I met his mother (who loved me), his cousin (like his sister), and even his father (Chev, still a Broadway actor) and his “step-mother” (Alice, a Broadway actor, herself).  I got to know his sons, David and Joe,and fell in love with them as well.  He met Vince, and unconsciously treated him as his own blood, not just mine.  It was much later that I met Anthony... and only then that I felt unstable and insecure.

Evan and Renee, Anthony's kids
with Baskin and Robin, Bassetts
Anthony had stayed married to Shirley, and was raising his kids with her, as well as two Bassett Hounds.  He was the All-American father and husband and seemed a little disappointed with Mario, who had left Cathy and his boys.  Mario, by the time I met Anthony, was sharing custody with his ex-wife, and now dating me: a much younger girl with a child of her own.  

Anthony didn’t bother much to connect with me, probably thinking I was another blip on the girlfriend screen.  The day I met him, I had popped over to Mario’s place with Vince during the early morning hours.  Anthony was scheduled to leave mid-day. 

While Mario made breakfast for all of us, he tried to involve us in mutually inclusive conversation.  Anthony seemed uninterested, and after awhile of talking only with Mario, he went to sit in the living room. 
I wasn’t going to fall for the silent treatment, and decided to follow him.

“I heard you can burp the alphabet,” I said spontaneously, bringing up an old, manly, brotherly subject.    I heard Mario laugh in the kitchen. 

“Yeah?” Anthony answered, nonchalantly.  “That   was a long time ago.”  I couldn’t tell if he was amused. 
“Are you out of practice?” I smiled, not letting it drop. 

“Mario, what have you told this girl about me?” Anthony yelled at his brother in the kitchen. 

“Breakfast!” Mario yelled back. 
At Cynthia's Retirement Party
(about the time I met Anthony)

As I plated some scrambled eggs, I heard Anthony over my shoulder: “A B C D E F G...” all in a low, continuous burp.  I almost wet my pants laughing.  Mario laughed as well, and as I looked up, Anthony watched me with a wry smile and a foreign, questioning look on his face. 

Since then, I have seen that look many, many times.

For some reason, Anthony’s dead-pan comedy was the funniest thing I ever heard.  Combined with that, I am not shy to laugh.  I am kind of known for it.  It comes out in a loud burst and continues with waves of high-and-low pitched guffawing.  Once in a crowded elevator in San Francisco, Anthony remarked on a poster of breakfast that was strategically placed to make someone’s mouth water.  Since we had just eaten a heavy dinner, it looked sickening.    Anthony agreed , “Just what I feel like right about now:  Breakfast!”  It hit me so funny and I started to laugh.  Most people in the elevator were startled.  I could hear Anthony apologizing to all of them as I guffawed my way out at the next floor. 

Anthony, Shirley, Janet and Mario 1999
The last time I saw Anthony’s questioning look was last October, during a visit to Arizona when we stayed with Anthony and Shirley.  I was playing Rock Star with his now fully grown son Evan and was severely bringing his score down, laughing at my own incompetence on the fake guitar.  I looked up to see Anthony watching us from the kitchen, that same questioning look on his face.  He always wondered what I thought was so funny. 

Yesterday, our email contained a different picture of him: frail, jaundiced and thin.  The picture was taken from a hospital bed, dying in a way unthinkable for such a strong man.  Shirley had sent it, from her phone, given to us at Mario’s request.  His desire to see his brother was understandable: it was hard to comprehend such a severe change in such a short amount of time.  

“I have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Anthony had told us in June, over the phone, from the hospital.  I instantly burst into tears.  What else??  What else could happen to Anthony?  It had been a hard, hard year for our family, and a hard few years for Anthony.   We were removed from everything, doing our work here in South Africa. 

Anthony never did well with my tears, but quietly let me get composed.  Mario listened, over my shoulder, in stunned shock. 

“What’s the prognosis? When did you find out?”  I asked. 

Anthony explained.  He had been experiencing strange pain and finally went to the doctor.  The doctor ran some tests, and came up with this: a raging Non-Hodgkin’ its advanced stages.  Very aggressive.  Those words hung, like icicles in the air: very aggressive. 

The doctor asked Anthony why he had waited so long before coming in.

 “He asked me how I could take the pain....” Anthony told us. 

The doctor didn’t know that Anthony knew pain like he knew how to breathe.  His life of pain began with the football injury, and then came the quad accident while working for the Border Patrol.  Then the assorted other injuries.  He was the King of Pain, living with it, like a ghost, ever since I knew him. 

When we hung up the phone, I burst into deeper tears.  Anthony had told us he wouldn’t be “traditionally treating” it.  The cancer was only semi-responsive to traditional cancer treatments and both Mario and Anthony had seen Al, Cynthia and finally Chev die of cancer and its treatments up close.  Because of its aggression, and its dubious results, Anthony’s choice of treatment was more holistic and resigned to the inevitable, which would come sooner, rather than later.

“I have to go out there,” Mario said, after the call. 

I stuttered in my thoughts... We had such a limited budget.  In full-time ministry, there are so many variables.  Our set income is only Mario’s pension, and that is barely enough on most days.  Still, we knew that God would find a way. 

As soon as he found out Mario was coming out, he said a telling thing to Mario: “Let’s have beer and cigars.”

Anthony didn’t smoke or drink.  He and Mario used to do this in their early college days, for a reckless departure from their schedules.  Since those days, both men became solid. They shared a deep faith in God that bound them together.  They lived on opposite ends of the world, but held very similar beliefs.  Asking Mario to a beer and cigar party meant something deeper:  “Let’s have fun, just us, as brothers.”
Anthony, smirking at the camera, with Renee

Mario visited and took a gazillion pictures.  The pictures were the same old Anthony.  Blonde, wry smile, tough-as-nails.  From the visit, one video is very dear to my heart.  It is of the infamous cigar and beer party on Anthony’s back porch.  Anthony and Mario are smoking cigars with Anthony’s new son-in-law, Joshua.  Renee (now 25, and married to him) was filming her father and her uncle trying to teach young Josh (also a non-smoker) how to blow the perfect “O” from a cigar puff. 

In it, the exchange of Anthony being funny and Mario being the big brother are reduced in two minutes: this time involving Josh (who is relatively silent) and Buster, their beloved Boxer.  It is a reduction of who they are, at their most relaxed.

It was taken less than six months ago.  Less than six months before today.  In that short amount of time, the lymphoma has altered my brother-in-law's body with the bleakness that we first heard of it: very aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma taking him out at the knees.  

Now I am typing from my counter in our cottage here in Johannesburg.  I am in my morning bathrobe.  I look up at the clock and see that is 1:30 in the morning in Arizona. 

Now, my beloved sister-in-law waits at his bedside and talks to him, knowing he can hear much better than communicate.  Now, my niece is working, even though she is expecting her first child in March.  Now my nephew might be sleeping... might be with Shirley.  He has the unfortunate assignment of being strong for everyone. 

Now we are here.

So far removed from the world where Anthony is....

To see the youtube of the "Cigar O's" click here

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A group of literate farmers forced out of their country chose the Dutch before the American Dream.  They sailed away in an overpriced charter: a leaky boat laden with curses.   Half of them died their first year and it looked like the rest would suffer the same fate.  It wasn't until two Native American men who had no reason to trust the white man in their own land,  saved their lives.  They celebrated the first successful harvest with wine, eels and stewed plums.  

Thanksgiving is among the MOST misunderstood of the holidays.  In knowing documented truths, we are able to see beauty among the traditions that have grown their own appendages and heads. 

On all accounts, the first Thanksgiving happened in Plymouth Plantation, or near about...a three-day celebration that defies our concept of the history.  Compare what you've learned to the most reliable information I've collected over the years: served up to Elementary kids as a feast of knowledge. 

“Pilgrim” means “seeker of Religious Freedom” and America wasn’t their first choice for Utopia. 

In the winter of 1607 a band of people , literate farmers,  refused to be intimidated  by  the King of England, James I.  Since they knew the Bible, they saw the abusive powers of the church and decided to separate from the Church of England.   

They called themselves Separatists, and faced criminal prosecution if King James, found out.  Since he had forbidden any other churches to form or to worship British soil, these separatists  fled to Holland (Leyden) and set up a colony of just themselves where they could worship God in freedom.  

There were hardships: They were in a sea port city of Leyden had only jobs for the business owners or traders.  They were simple farmers.  Their children – who before were only influenced by the English society, were greatly seduced by the Dutch freedoms and language, and in their parents’ eyes, fell vulnerable to the “things of the world, above the things of heaven”.      

They soon decided to travel to distant America (remember, still a British colony) and farm there, in a secure, safe and utopic society to belong only to them. 

THE MAYFLOWER wasn’t the only ship – but the other one leaked. 

In 1620 the first group of the separatists left Leyden for London to sail off (hopefully) for the New World in America.  They chartered two boats: the grand Speedwell and a smaller Mayflower to hold 120 passengers.  The Speedwell, however was a little to “heavily masted” as early journals say, and it had to be abandoned because it had a leak.  They took the smaller Mayflower, and took 102 passengers, setting sail on September 16, 1620.

Halfway on the journey, The Mayflower herself began to leak, and the leaders made a  decision to sail toward America rather than turn around.   

While on board, the leaders of the Separatists began to draft a constitution of sorts, a one-page document that our founding fathers used as a model for the Constitution.  It was called The Mayflower Compact
After 65 days of sailing, the highlands of Cape Cod were spotted by a crew member, and the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for allowing them to see the New World.   Quite a few of them were sick with scurvy. 

Plymouth Rock isn’t where the Pilgrims landed. 

The famous rock we all were taught the Pilgrims valiantly stepped upon and entered the new world isn’t even mentioned in the early journals of the Pilgrims, in the Mayflower Compact or in the historical “Mourt’s Relation”, the most reliable source of the journey and early years. 

In fact, the Pilgrims first “landed” the ship (set anchor) at modern day Provincetown on November 21, 1620.  When they set anchor, a ceremonial reading of the Mayflower Compact was read and nearly everyone signed it.  Even women.

 Years later (as in 1741) a town records keeper in Plymouth loudly opposed a dock being built on the site near Plymouth plantation (which the Pilgrims eventually sailed into).  He pointed out a block of marble that his father had sworn was the very spot that the Pilgrims landed.  This “Plymouth Rock” was homage as a landmark and a National Park now is there. 
Pretty, but not truth. 

The first home of the Pilgrim was The Mayflower. 
While the men built up the plantation they dreamed about, they had to keep returning to the Mayflower to sleep.  The weather was cold and the work was exhausting.  Every tree that built up the homes has to be chopped down – and a common house to store supplies had to be erected before any private home was finished.   

By mid-January the common-house was completed, and the little village began to take shape. The "Great Sickness" raged through the winter months. Half of the colonists would soon be dead. Even the crew of the Mayflower was not spared. Nearly half of her crew would not survive to make the return trip to England in the spring. 

The only hope was the native people, who had every reason to be suspicious of strangers.  In years previous, they had brought guns, the plague and food only for themselves.  They had also kidnapped some of them and taken them back to England. 

Still, a few who had returned to their people knew how to make “the white words” and offered to see if the new, desparate strangers may need help.  In their journals, the pilgrims all say that they were near death and without hope until a man named Samoset came.

Samoset and Squanto were  keys to the Pilgrims surviving their first winter.

When the Pilgrims met them in 1620, the Wampanoag (“the People” in Algonquin)  were competent farmers, fishers, hunters and gatherers.  Even so, they had no plans of befriending the whites.  Too much of the death that they had recently suffered was at the hands of white men.

A man named Samoset (who was not chief, but rather a returning slave who spoke English) walked boldly into the plantation crying out, "Welcome! Welcome, Englishmen!"

He introduced himself to the shocked Pilgrims in English as Samoset, an Abnaki Indian from Maine, who had been kidnapped by explorers and taken to England, only to be dropped off in Algonquin country two years later.  
 He had been visiting the Wampanoags for the past eight months, but he intended to return to his own people within a short time.

Since he was the first Native with whom the Pilgrims had spoken since they arrived in New England, they questioned him for some time, learning from him that the Patuxets, who formerly owned the land on which they had built their settlement, had all died four years before from the plague.

He told them that the Massasoit (chief), Great Sachem of the Wampanoags, was then staying  nearby and he would be happy to introduce them.  The Pilgrims were leery, but desparate. 

Samoset  returned a few days later, this time accompanied by Squanto who amazed the Pilgrims with his almost flawless command of English. He told them that the Massasoit, intended to come to Plymouth later in the day.   Ashort time later the Great Sachem did appear at the top of a nearby hill, attended by 60 of his men – a gesture that showed he was a higher being.- and that he knew they were there.  The Pilgrims were in lonely country now...and could feel it. 

Squanto, like Samoset, was a rescued slave.  He unpacked his story to the Pilgrims in the same was Samoset did.  He  was a Pawtuxet Indian who was captured in 1614 by English seamen and taken to Spain where he was sold as a slave. From there, he  escaped to England, where he lived for several years and learned to speak English.  Upon returning the year before, Squanto found most of his people of his tribe had died of disease. He joined the Wampanoag who were living near Plymouth.

It was Squanto who would teach the Pilgrims how to find herring  fish, and to use it as a fertilizer when planting corn, pumpkins and beans. This was especially important to the Pilgrims because the seeds they had brought with them from England did not do well in the New England soil. Squanto also showed them how to find clams and eels in the rivers and how to hunt for deer, bears and turkeys. The children also learned where to find nuts and berries of all kinds.  Which ones were poisonous, which ones were okay to eat.

Cod, eel and gambling.  The First Thanksgiving, 1621
The first celebration of life and harvest was in 1621 in November.   William Bradford, the Governor of the Plantation wrote in his “history”:
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwelling against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All summer there was no want. And now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first, but afterward decreased by degrees. And besides water fowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, and now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.--And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their out-goings and in-comings..."

There was no invitation issued.  The feast was a mutual idea of both tribes, at peace with one another.  For three days the Pilgrims and their Indian guests gorged themselves on venison, roast duck, goose and turkey, clams and other shell-fish,  eels, corn bread, leeks and water-cress and other "sallet herbes," (the coarse spelling of the Pilgrim English).  For dessert there were stewed  wild plums and dried berries, all washed down with wine made of the wild grape.

This meant the preparation of unusually large quantities of food, some of it unfamiliar. Only four of their married women had survived, and only five teenage girls, three of those being the sole survivors of their families. I used to complain about the ladies being asked to wash dishes while our men watched football!!   For the women who prepared the feast for a three day event (to say nothing of the clean-up) under brutal conditions, these women set a standard for celebration that Martha Stewart couldn’t touch.

One of the lesser spoken about pieces of the celebration were the contests:  running, jumping,  and wrestling. There were also exchanges of games and a new ball game “kick” was played.  The Wampanoag told elaborate stories,  performed in dance and song.   Miles Standish , not to be outdone, challenged his troops to a military review:  marksmanship, drills, marching.   In the end, there was a small game of muskets vs.  bows and arrows.  In the end, the party was called for snow...and everyone went home. 

Thus they elaborately celebrated the prospect of abundance until their next harvest.

Peace doesn’t last if people forget the price of war. 

The peace that was so desparately needed for the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to work together eventually eroded.  Another plague (the small pox epidemic of 1633-34) swept away thousands of Algonquins and made more land available.

Only between fifteen to eighteen thousand Native People still survived in all of New England. New England was receiving thousands of  new arrivals, eager to start claiming and clearing their own piece of America.  They all had no idea (like the Pilgrims) how important peace between the peoples were. 

 Land transfer was not a simple matter.  Simple Colonial law guarded the rights of the natives, and demanded an amicable transfer.  This made it "hard" for the new settlers, who decided to "bypass" colonial law.  

 In 1675, a full-scale war erupted between the increasing number of colonists and the Indians. Now known as King Phillip's War, after the name of the Massasoit's son, who was then chief, the clash lasted eleven years and caused great destruction on both sides... but that is another story.

Why we should celebrate:

The day is given to us to remember working together, making room in your heart for other beliefs and cultures and to share land – and ultimately THANK God (a belief held by Wampanoag and Pilgrims).   We can grow something, eat what we grow and share...and stop to remember that we should be thankful, even in the midst of death, disease and hard work. 

A day that I remember my whole life as being turkey and stuffing  and spending with family, I value this holiday.  Here,  it is 1000 degrees outside (and I’m exaggerating).  So eat roasted turkey for me...and a slice of pumpkin pie.


Dear Natalie,

I guess I’m in denial that you’re leaving.  You really want to move to Cape Town??

When I left you yesterday I waited in my car, waiting to cry (I didn’t want to start driving and face a downpour...from the inside).  Even though you’re “just” my personal trainer, I wanted to tell you how much you’ve meant to me... and hope you can listen without interrupting. 

When I first saw you at Planet Fitness, I thought “I want that girl to be my trainer!  She looks mean!!”  And fit... there was that.  My  weight was at an all-time high and osteoporosis ran in my family.  I knew I’d have to add weights to my workout.  I knew it. 

So, when you first made an appointment with me I was a little intimidated.  You turned out to be no-nonsense and made me write down everything I ate.  I remember you hated me eating popcorn and’s those “P” foods that get me in trouble!

Little by little I lost weight...and we got to know each other.  You had a soft heart, after all, and I was convinced you’d be ready for the Gospel.  After all, why be physically fit and not Spiritually directed?? May as well be fat...

So, when I shared my story with you and shared how much I lived for and loved God, I expected you to be inspired...or more inspired than you were.  I felt if I only told you the right way to Jesus you would find Him, and let Him into your heart. 

So, between sweating and lifting and fielding cell phone calls, I shared more and more about my God, my reason for living, with you.  I think you finally made the bet with me because you were tired of me hounding you....

Our bet was that I would go on your stringent, awful diet for ten days (no coffee or red wine) and that if I did it without cheating you would come to church.  I was determined to do it!!

I remember losing three kg’s and 9 cm’s on my waist and I was happier that YOU WERE COMING TO CHURCH!!!  You came, and like it.  In my mind, though, I knew you were fulfilling your obligation to me as I was to you...and you were as likely to keep coming as I was to keep eating that way. 

Through the years (it’s been 3 years) we shared our desires for our lives with each other.  You watched my weight go up and down.  I saw you shaking your head at me more than once. 

“Jan, if you only did what I’d tell you to do, you’d be happy!”  Remember how much you said this to me?? I used to answer you: “Duh, Natalie!! If you only did what I told you to do, YOU’D be happy!”  You chased my physical person around, I chased your spiritual one.

We became friends... a most unusual relationship for Personal Trainer and client, especially since I liked calling you my Nazi. 

So, Nats, as I say goodbye to you, I can tell you that I know you will be a successful personal trainer.  You will be a success at anything you challenge yourself to do.  The thing I want to ask of you is that you will give Jesus a real chance at your heart.  He is the one who created you, who loves you deeply and knows you better than anyone ever could. 

After all, I’d like to see you in heaven.  There I’ll have a perfect body.

Kind of like yours!


Monday, November 21, 2011


The night before we got married: December 28, 1987.
I was 25.  

This year, Mario and I will be married for 24 years.  During this year, I will reach the point where I have been married to Mario longer than I have been not married to Mario in my life.  

Sometimes folks ask me how I knew I was in love and what it was that convinced me that Mario was the one I should marry.  The question is usually asked by people who genuinely want to know if there was a time of actual realization when I knew this was “my person”...the person that was “the one”.   After all, with marriage’s success rate (not impressive) in this world, how was I to know if we “would work”?

I know the answers I am supposed to give: “Love is a verb. A commitment.  A decision, based on a real desire to make it work with someone.”   These are answers of highly successful couples.

 After all, a covenant commitment to someone else (the word covenant  comes from an ancient Hebrew word:  bris or brit)  used to involve the shedding of blood to show the most committed devotion.   The central idea behind the word is that God made an agreement with all humans.  He challenged us to do as He did, making certain promises and commitments.  The agreement, like a marriage, is based on a mutual love.

This is the answer I know is right. my heart, I know the moment when I knew that I would marry Mario.  It is the same moment I knew I would surrender to him.  It was a moment that showed me that I would be given supernatural power to love him with everything I had inside of me.  This moment, which took me completely by surprise, was the moment of our first hug. 

When I got to know Mario he was my boss.  I worked for him as a park aid (see how I don’t capitalize my job title?? It was that insignificant) and he was the park’s Supervising Ranger (capitalized).  I was a single mother of a young son, a baby who gave me new purpose and a life worth living.  Even though my life was filled with love, I found myself single and penniless and in need of a job.  Living with my parents, I quickly realized I was cliché, and I knew I’d have to get serious about building a future. 

I took the only job I could find: my old one, working at a nearby State Park.  The new supervising Ranger (Mario) was known for being a cop, rather than a conservationist – Rangers were either one or the other, and I preferred the latter. 

I was amazed at Mario’s ability to manage crucial things: he didn’t care much if people liked him or not.  He was more concerned about following the letter of the law.  In my eyes, Mario was kind of a classic cop type, complete with mirrored sunglasses and big moustache.   

Even so, Mario was a good boss, and appreciated my work ethic, as well as my predicament.  He was also a single father, only two years separated from his ex-wife and two small sons.  

As with most situations, Mario was exposed to my personal life and I was to his.  He seemed to have a great deal of female interests, all well-educated and successful women who would call with titles attached to their names.  They didn’t seem like a gaggle of swooning females, but it was obvious he had interest in them and vice-a-verse. 

Much later, Mario told me that he was under the impression that I had quite a large following myself.  Since I am genuinely friendly (a positive for a park employee)  park visitors (mostly young men about to ride their dirt bikes) would always ask me out.   Mario saw me as young and pretty and flirtatious.  He hadn’t been exposed to many girls who were friendly without a hidden agenda. Being friendly at work was good, but at the end of the day, the only man in my life was my year-old son. 

It was during my first months working for Mario, I had a very strange dream. 

In it, I dreamed I was getting married, and in my beautiful gown, and behind a veil, I walked down the aisle of a church holding my father’s arm.  Behind the veil, I could see my husband waiting for me, and when I got to the front of the church, he lifted it.  There was Mario.  I woke up quickly.  I was a little grossed out: this was my boss!  Also, he was so OLD!!  Both things were insurmountable and I wondered how I could have dreamed such a thing.

At work, I was embarrassed.  I felt like he knew what I had dreamed.  I started to wonder why I would allow my brain to dream this.   Mario moved, normally about the office, while I tried to type and look away.  In a few days I was over the embarrassment of my dream, and went back to functioning as I always did.

On June 12, 1987, my ex-boyfriend (the father of my baby) called me at work.  He sounded gentle and sweet.  He asked to see the baby, tomorrow, even offering to come and pick him up if I couldn’t bring him.  I was angry.  It was so typical of him, asking the day before he wanted something, as if I had no life or plans.  I coldly told him it would be impossible.

“If you want to see the baby,” I said , “why don’t you give me a little more notice?  Maybe a week’s notice so that I can make arrangements.”  I tried to sound collected, but he had a way of rattling me.  Instead of arguing, he said he would give me more notice in the future and then he hang up. 

I immediately felt guilty.  While I had complained that my ex didn’t know how to ask me for visitation (or anything, for that matter), nicely, he had just done so, and received my cold “no” without argument or objection.  In about ten minutes it dawned on me that the next day was his birthday.  THAT’S why he wanted our son to be there.  THAT’s why he only asked the day before...because I didn’t offer.  WHY?  Because I FORGOT!!  Why did I forget??  Because I was a lousy, disorganized, heartless human being. 

I went into Mario’s office to tell him what just happened.  He was gone.  His residence, a few yards away, was lit up with life.  After work, I went over to ask his advice.  These work  conversations were becoming more and more frequent.  He was the single parent I turned to for advice, and I trusted him.  

When he answered the door he looked surprised.  I was surprised also, seeing Mario in civilian clothes (a t-shirt and jeans) and with his dog.  I quickly went into the reason I was there: the phone call, the details... he decided to ask me inside. 

I sat down on his couch and told him the whole story, and he listened intently.  I felt very guilty, not just for forgetting my ex’s birthday, but for leaving him, and with a baby.  I knew it was the right thing to do, but – I asked Mario – what would he do in a situation like this?

Mario looked at me intently. 

“I will ALWAYS remember November 5th,” He said, finally.  “That’s my ex-wife’s birthday.”

“Now I feel worse...”

“No,” he smiled, realizing it had a reverse impact.  “The mother of my children is very important to THEM,” he said.  “You have to mark your calendar and make a habit of reminding your son.  Remind him to call his father, remind him that his father is special because he had him.”

I couldn’t help tearing up.  It was good advice, but I had already blown it.  “Should I let him go see his dad tomorrow?” I asked. 

“I don’t know,” Mario said, finally.  “What is your main objection to letting him go?” 

I started to explain my reasoning, and Mario gave me his perspective.  The conversation  broadened quickly and became something deeper.  We began sharing hopes and dreams for our children and ourselves.   We shared about our pasts our hopes for the future.  I admired a genuineness and solidity in him.  He admired the fire in my heart and how I instinctively loved people. 

It was then he said:  “I know everyone at work can tell how we feel about each other.”



I could see he was still talking...but I couldn’t tell what he was saying.  Did he just say that he knew everyone at work can tell how we feel about each other??  FEEL about EACH OTHER??  Do I have feelings for him?

I respect him.  He’s a great boss.  He’s good looking.  I even married him in my dream.... 

Does he have feelings for me??  What the HELL does this mean??? 

I was perplexed and dumb until I heard a LOUD knock on the door. 

Mario stopped talking and answered it.  It was a park visitor (one who had asked me out before).  He looked at Mario, then at me, then said:

“You better get back down to work!! All hell’s breaking loose!”

Mario switched into the work-mode that was so familiar.  “I’ll get changed.  You wait in the truck and you’ll have to dispatch.”  With that, he flew down the hall and shut his door.  He came out minutes later, looking like a cop again, buckling his gun belt.

We raced into the park, where we saw a scuffle happening between some folks, including one of the rangers.  Mario was already on the radio, and within five minutes, he had arrested someone. I still remember the truck racing, the dust surrounding us and me running into the office to do dispatch.  In a few minutes, everything was calm again. 

While two rangers (Mario and someone else) took the suspect to jail and another ranger shut down the park,  I sat ready to dispatch, should anything be needed or go wrong.  It was quiet....

My head was returning to the conversation between Mario and me.  It probably wouldn’t ever be resolved.

Mario (nine years my senior and my boss) had at least three girlfriends.  I had no desire to be one in four.  Mario may have meant that he admired or respected me.  I didn’t know why I was so hung up on this...

It hit me. 

I was hung up on what Mario said because I knew what I wanted.  I wanted a wonderful, faithful husband: one that I could share my life and heart with, like my dad did with my mom.  I wanted a father for my son who would love him and be there for him.  One who understood the balance of his biological father being in the picture.  I wanted a husband, not a boyfriend.  I wanted a solid, steady, dependable man – not a boy

I wanted someone just like Mario.

I wanted Mario.


Mario had the dispatcher from the jail call the park, telling me that “Your officers have just booked the suspect and are returning home.  The Chief officer has asked if you would stay until they return.” I agreed.

When they came back, there was the obligatory tale of how the suspect was detained, chatted on the way to jail and booked... then we shut the office down.  As the other officer was leaving, Mario asked me quietly if I’d like to finish our discussion. 

I did. 

We went to his place again, where he offered me leftover chicken and rice.  We ate, talked and he shared a bit more of his heart.  I asked what he meant by him “having feelings” for me... and he answered. 

“I like you,” he began.  “I think you’re amazing.  I like how you are with your son and with my kids.  I like the way you work.  I like the way you are with other people....” he went on.  I couldn’t believe how much he was admitting to.  It is so nice to be be seen as someone with loads of potential.

But...I stopped him. 

“Mario,” I said, almost apologetically.  “I think you’re amazing, too.  You’ve probably heard that I am a desperate single mom and I’m just looking for a husband and a father for my son.  Whoever says this is right.  I’m looking for just that, and if that’s not you, then tell me now.  I’d rather you hurt me now than later.”

Mario looked at me carefully and smiled.  “Janet, that’s not me right now.  It may not be me anytime soon.  I’m not ready to make that commitment to anyone right now.  I want to be truthful, and so I have to say... let’s just be friends.”

I smiled back.  Inside I was disappointed.  In my heart, I had hoped for another answer.  Still, because of the openness of my question- the ultimatum, if you will- I was happy for a clear direction.

“I’m glad to be friends with you,” I answered.  “I need your wisdom.” 

Mario stood up and walked me outside to my car.  We chatted about the next day 
when we would see each other and be friends...

“Can I have a hug?” he asked, walking toward me.  “Hugs are cool between friends, right?”

It didn’t sound like a good idea. I felt vulnerable and soft... but he was walking toward me.  I laughed and received him just before getting into my car. 

What happened next was indescribable...but I’ll try.  Mario’s arms went around me and my arms went around him.  As we embraced, I fit perfectly into his chest, and my face cradled into his neck.  He smelled like soap, and I loved him instantly.  It was like heaven opened and angels descended and harp music began to play.  I was home in his arms, and I felt ever fear and grief and happiness he had ever felt.  I felt like a little girl who was rescued from drowning. 

The hug lasted for about five minutes.

When we eventually let go of each other we just looked at each other...and I knew.

“Yeah, hugs are cool.” Mario said, and I thought" "Yeah!! It was good for him, too!!"    

Us Today

So...our covenant has survived the depression, the boredom, the hideous selfishness in both of us.  Death, anguish, addiction,  blended families, poverty, debt, and opposing forces who have tried hard to separate us.
Love is a decision.  It is a verb.  It is a covenant.      

But if it weren’t for that hug, we could have missed how perfect we are for each other.