"You Changed My Life" Part 1

>> Monday, March 3, 2014

So, ironically, I'm spending more time on Facebook (still not a game-player so don't ask me) and I stumbled across something that touched me on several different levels:

For those of you who didn't bother to watch the video (and I don't always myself), Whoopi Goldberg talks about being on Star Trek, that she was thrilled to do so because Star Trek had been the show that finally showed black people in the future. Then she pooh-poohed her own impact on people. Someone in the audience got up and explained that he was autistic but he'd watched Star Trek because she was in it, became a fan, joined a group and managed to socialize himself in ways he wouldn't have otherwise. Those of you who know me can guess some of the reasons why this touched me.

But it also got me to thinking. In November, many people got into the "something to be thankful for every day" thing - I didn't but I could appreciate the healthiness of doing so. This video, however, make me think about how so many people touch our lives in seemingly insignificant ways but that change our outlook, our perspective, even path in life.  These people walk away and go on with their lives without ever really appreciating or even knowing the impact they have in our lives. And they should.

So, that's what I'm going to do. I don't know that it will become a meme - I don't generally inspire that kind of thing in others, but regardless - I want to do it, even though several of the people I'll be thanking are either dead or wouldn't read my stuff to save their lives. That's OK. I'm planning to do one for each day in March, including the two days that have already gone by. I'll do blog posts every few days with a "tribute" as it were to the a different person each day. (Goal is not to double up on anyone). And I'm not intending to talk about people like my Aunt Sue, who has unfailingly been my support, my friend, my surrogate mother, or my charming children (though some event involving them might show up), but rather single acts, discussions, etc that made a profound change in my outlook, my life, my path.

March 1 - My late grandfather, Frank Preston Beck Sr. When I was fairly young (6? 8?), I remember going to visit my grandparents in Maryland. I have no recollection of seeing them before this time though a few years later we came to live with them for three years (though it was actually more complicated than that - I lived with them three years, most of my family there lived two separate years with one year in between where they were across the country). I loved my grandfather dearly until he passed away several years ago (almost to the day), but this isn't about all the time we spent, but just that first night.

I'm a night owl, a complete contrast to early to bed people who raised me and several of my siblings. Insomnia, for children who don't sleep easily, is torture and I was generally on my own and bored to literal tears for hours every night. Alone (another of those recurrent themes). I was and am the oldest of several siblings (three siblings at the time) and felt guilty complaining so I generally just sucked it up, whatever my problems (that eventually changed but I digress).

This evening, we arrived late at night, greeted by the gorgeous blue lights in the front of the house, and everyone in my family, exhausted fell quickly to sleep. But I couldn't. I was excited, overexcited, and just couldn't rest. I don't remember how my grandfather noticed, why he noticed, or why he chose to stay up reading to me. But he did, and that's what I remember, staying up until dawn with someone patiently reading story after story to me and stroking my hair. I felt completely cherished and, I'll be honest, I don't recall every feeling cherished like that before, or, in fact, since. I felt treasured, precious, loved without restrictions, even if I wasn't a good girl and going to bed at a reasonable time.

I have no idea how he recovered the next day. I don't recall how or if I did. But I'll never forget that feeling, the moment, where I felt like I mattered and was loved. Although Grandpa stayed up with me several other nights over the years and continually reminded me he cared about me, that I was special and loved, that night was a turning point for me because, to that point, I wasn't sure I was worth loving or precious. I'd always felt second fiddle to everyone else in the family who had priorities given they were younger or more prone to illness or whatever (Cheryl, I know you thought the story was different but this is how I saw it from my side). I knew my grandfather loved his many many children and his even more numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren, but I never felt slighted or in competition. Because, from that one night, I knew he loved me without restrictions and it was perfectly fine that he did so for many others.

This is what I try to do with my children. Though I often work long hours and at home, I make sure there's always room on my lap and that, if they need the time, I can take it (though sometimes not just at that moment, BUT, if I can take it that moment, I will).

March 2 - My late father Frank Preston Beck Jr. I loved my father and knew he loved me, too. But it wasn't the same kind of acceptance and relationship I had with my grandfather. Not worse, really, just different. What I remember mostly about my earliest relationship with my father was trying to do something, anything, that would make him proud of me, impress him. My father was loving but not big on praise and, overachievers (as I tend to be) have a hard time doing anything that stands out when you're already, um, outstanding in all those objective outside things. My dad didn't care about grades, took taking care of siblings and helping out as given since he did the same (he was the eldest of 12), and took any special things I did to impress him (climbing on to the roof to help when he was roofing at the age of 8, or helping with "son-like" stuff in lifting/fixing, etc) as just another duty to expect from me. 

But I wanted affirmation, something I suppose, that made me feel special, but it wasn't because he wasn't fond of me or didn't talk to me. I probably talked more with my father than any other person during the first eighteen years of my life. He just wasn't that kind of demonstrative.

So, when I was in high school and started writing poetry and stories (yes, my poems were stories), I pretty much I wrote it, read it, and then tossed the poetry without much thought. Until I wrote a particular poem and, for some reason, showed it to my father. Now, my father didn't like fiction (my mother did, though) or, to the best of my knowledge, poetry or really reading for pleasure. For whatever reason, though, my father read the poem quite seriously, exclaimed about its "greatness" (I was thirteen, take it with a grain of salt) and made me promise never to throw away anything I wrote ever again.

To this day, I never have. I love to write and might very well have continued to write indefinitely, but who knows how long it might have been before I'd start to take the writing part of it seriously if he hadn't made me promise that, hadn't made me feel like this poem touched him, although he never cared for anything else I ever wrote (as far as I know). Not sure if he read anything else, to be honest.

My writing wasn't his thing, but he made me feel he was proud of it, something over and above, and undoubtedly influenced my writing and my belief in it, but also how I try to make sure my children feel encouraged in their creative endeavors.

March 3 - Cheryl Barr, my former mother-in-law (though she wasn't at the time). My first marriage was not a happy one, was in fact, quite miserable for a number of reasons I won't go into. But, as is often true in abusive relationships, I felt quite desperately isolated from nearly everyone in that situation and, when I realized I needed to get out, and get out now, I called one of my friends (who had, until then, encouraged me to make the best of my marriage). She, in turn, put me on the phone with Cheryl Barr, a mutual "friend." Now, I put "friend" in quotes not because it wasn't true, but because I didn't really realize it was true at the time, and that says more about my own state of mind than anything else.

I had worked five years earlier with Cheryl's husband and met and liked her on meeting. By a series of coincidences (including the same mutual friend noted earlier), she was present at the birth of my daughter, but she and her family, including my coworker, had moved away several years previously and had just barely moved back. And we hadn't been in much touch since they'd come back, so I was unsure how friendly we were and was uncomfortable asking.

As soon as Cheryl was on the phone, she said, "You don't have to worry about anything. We'll be there in the middle of the night if we need to and I'll make sure we have all the help you need." No questions asked. My daughter and I camped out at their house for more than a week until I could move into an apartment and, over the next three years, Cheryl and her family (including her son who I eventually married and then two years ago divorced - another story for another time) were my support structure. But it started with that phone call.

Why is it important? Something many people don't appreciate from the outside is that people who take care of things, who are outwardly strong and assertive and self-confident and smart, etc. what-have-you, are also frequently lonely. And no one (or at least, I'm not) is strong in every aspect of her life, but it's easy to leave people like me to their own devices, 'cause, hey, they're strong. I felt isolated and helpless and hopeless and it was the hardest thing I'd done, until that point, to ask for help. And, I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting much response.

Cheryl changed all that. Turns out, I needed a lot of help, a lot of support and understanding and strength as I went through arguably the toughest time in my life with what was most important to me (my daughter) threatened and myself in appreciable danger. And quite helpless to correct most of it. A can-do person put into a situation she cannot fix does not fare well and that I managed to come through it as well as I did was largely due to Cheryl and the support of other friends and family who came through when I needed them to. But it wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't have known to ask, if Cheryl hadn't been so forthcoming with help when I needed it so much at that moment.

I've learned to ask for help more and one reason I'm here on a social networking site and wrote blogs and found other people I cherish is because I realized I didn't have to be in a vacuum and could depend in various ways on others, even if I was a strong person. So, Cheryl, who isn't dead by the way and kept me in the divorce, thanks for being there when I needed it and for teaching me I didn't have to do everything alone, even when I thought I did.

More to come, and it's in no particular order, just what hits me when I think on it.


  • Roy

    As I said on Facebook, I'm impressed by this. For me this is an amazing act of courage. The very thought of opening up that much in such a public forum scares the willies out of me. Brava!

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