IMO: Life’s Eventful Extremes

What a difference a day can make.

My mother visited for a week and escaped the 15 below zero temps in Illinois. Jim and I hosted her before my children and grandchildren arrived later in the week to see her. On the first night of her visit, with supper finished and the evening open for entertainment, my mother chose the movie, Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse (1971). On the second night, I picked Battle of the Sexes. On January second, it was Jim’s turn to pick a movie.

What a surprise that he picked Moonstruck. The consummate chick-flick? Maybe he was inspired by our own Bella Luna, the Super Moon going on outside? January has two full moons this year and it has started several conversations about the differences between a Wolf, a Blue and a Super Moon. He loves the silly Dean Martin song, “That’s Amore”. I suspected he was trying to be a good sport and pick a film that would make my Mom happy. I hadn’t seen Moonstruck in decades. Sure, why not? So the music played, and I swooned with the luscious music of La bohème. Nicholas Cage was young and a sexy scene-chewer. Cher was gorgeous and almost convincing while Olympia Dukakis deserved her Best Supporting Oscar win. When the credits rolled, we all stood up and smiled. The ending was touching with the punctuation mark celebrating the family and validating the vows of love.

Jim left the room and returned. With the music still in the background, he got down on one knee and opened up a box with a silver wedding band. “I bought this for myself, but it won’t mean anything if you don’t accept the other ring I bought.” He opened up another box and in it was an engagement ring. “Cindy, will you marry me?”

That he asked me in front of my mother meant the world. That he did it in front of this romantic movie was a masterstroke. I remember when we were in Santorini, I wondered why hadn’t he asked me to marry him in arguably the prettiest place in the world? Instead, he asked me in our living room with my mother in attendance. We were all moonstruck.

I have been divorced for 26 years. What a strange, lovely state-of-being to be now engaged.

12 hours later, at noon, I felt a twitch under my upper rib cage. The twitch turned into a poke which turned into a gasping stab that became a constant companion. By three in the afternoon, I was in the emergency room. Jim was by my side, my children arrived that morning and were entertaining my mother. To breathe jiggled the knife in my chest as we waited for doctors and blood tests and sonograms and EKG results to whittle down the possibilities.  They found a baseball cyst connected to my liver, and the cyst was bleeding. Until the blood was absorbed, I would be in pain. Two doses of Dilaudid (stronger than Morphine) laterthey sent me home. I did my best to be calm and quiet, but by 3 a.m., the pain was still strong as ever and poor Jim had to take me back to the ER.

A few days have passed, my Mom has returned to the tundra. The house is quiet. I am feeling better. I looked at Jim and realized I was still engaged, and he was my fiancé, and I hadn’t thought about his question to marry him for days. He just walked by my desk just now.
“Why the living room instead of on top of a Grecian Island?”

He replied, “Home is where the heart is.” Good answer.

I asked him, “We don’t believe in bad omens, right?”

“Of course not.”

“Okay, good. It must have been the Belle Luna.

The ironies of life fascinate me. How about you? How extreme has a day been for you? 

IMO: The Guitar

Dear Son,

I saw the movie Coco the other day, and a major theme of the movie was remembering your dead loved-ones so they wouldn’t be forgotten. While driving home alone, it was dark and the vivid stars flickered. I imagined the people I had loved and lost throughout my life were the brightest ones saying hello. I began with the first person I had lost, my best friend way back when I was seventeen, and I remembered the special days and the unremarkable ones. I recalled his goofiness, his serious expressions as his fingers tapped on the piano keys, and I thanked his star for introducing me to classical music. Then I recalled the next deceased person in my history and the next. I recalled their faces and told their stars what I had loved best about them until your Dad was next. Do I remember the bad or the good?

For years in my mind, it was too easy to recall the ugly times and feel righteous for my decision to divorce him. I see now, decades later, that it was an attempt to ease my guilt for the breakup of the family. In the beginning, when we loved each other, during our happiest times, it was so because of music. After a shift of work, we’d sit at the table playing a board game that simulated a baseball season while we listened to new artists.  He’d sing the lyrics he memorized with a clear pitch. We’d listen with speakers loud, and I remember dancing around the room to Genesis’s “Turn it on Again.” I always think of your Dad when that song comes on. We were stationed in Scotland at the time and visited the record store frequently. Every paycheck he’d pick out a new album to buy. We studied the groups he was obsessed with like The Beatles, Yes, and The Who. We both discovered new groups together and bought their albums as soon as they were released. Groups like: Tears for Fears, U2, the Police, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, and a hundred others. His tastes were all over the place. I thought that was one of his best traits. That he shared his passion for music with me was the best gift of our marriage.

When you were a teenager and back from the military school, Lincoln’s Challenge, you sat up in your bedroom with your GED waiting for your friends to graduate high school. I’m so glad cell phones weren’t omnipresent then or the stimulation of social media that steals our time today. In the quiet, up in your room, you taught yourself how to play the guitar.  If there was a silver lining during the dark days of your teenage years, I’d say that was it. In college, you played your guitar and sang the songs you wrote and your album for your senior project reflected your ingenuity. How proud I was to listen to your songs. I still pull out the CD and listen to it from time to time. When you performed during your twenties and your guitar chords were precise and your voice conveyed feeling, and the audience clapped for you—did you feel that was the apex of your musical relationship with the guitar?

You are thirty-something now with responsibilities and different passions. A life to share with Laura. A new degree almost completed. Hopes and dreams for a better job. Children soon. I couldn’t be happier for you! I know making ends meet is difficult and the many moves and transitions precipitated your decision to part with your acoustic guitar a few years ago. This year, you did not want me to get you a birthday present because you have everything you need. However, I hope you will accept the guitar I sent you, even though I know it was a selfish move on my part. You see, when I think about your Dad’s love for music, I think of you, because you inherited that passion. As mother and son, we talk about music and share new groups and songs. I still have the many CDs you burned for me, and I listen to the bands you recommended. When you played the guitar at Thanksgiving because I insisted, it made me happier than I anticipated.

I am not suggesting you perform or record or do anything purposeful with the gift that is yours other than to play the guitar as a part of your life. It makes people happy. It is that unique, interesting side of your personality. Play to your family and friends and spread the love of music to the next generation, on behalf of your Dad, and on behalf of me, please, play. Happy Birthday.

IMO: Platitudes for Happiness

 Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.  W. Clement Stone.

As a high school teacher, what’s typical of most schools are the inspirational posters hanging on every wall, every door. Something for students to think about as they walk from A to B.  Advice from a sage like Dedication and dreams are powerful combinations. Character is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Don’t give up until you are proud. Prove them wrong. Don’t call it a dream; call it a goal. Do something today that your future self with thank you for….

Wait a minute. I thought happiness was found during the process. It’s the journey, not the destination. After much blood, sweat, and tears for decades, I’m at my destination and still not happy. Life is a struggle at every stage; ultimately, it is a life in motion, shedding one’s skin, in a transition from one stage to another complete with its own set of challenges.  Are you searching for happiness? All those platitudes and lofty goals won’t secure it. Maybe I should aim to be content? Friends say it’s better to be content than happy, but it feels to me to be a disguise for complacency. I’m neither content or happy. That makes me feel like an ingrate. I take my life too seriously. I have issues.

I never wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a college teacher. I’m tired that I have to work in the trenches, dealing with obnoxious teenagers, to be politically correct, inspirational, and compassionate to all students every day no matter what inappropriate thing they say or do. I am that sergeant in war movies who answers to officers, some idiotic, some great, always a revolving door, the principals, and superintendents who come and go and meanwhile, my responsibilities compound, the acronyms multiply like rabbits. I can’t believe after 18 years, I have to do this for eight more years before I retire. What’s worse, the classes I created, devoted my heart and soul to were taken away and given to younger teachers. I’m supposed to be a good sport, but I am resentful. I already paid my dues. I feel unappreciated. I am steaming, and the bitterness takes root. Why didn’t my dream come true? My trajectory was the moon.
What strange star is this? The dark irony in it all? I’m really good at what I do.

When I reach this irrational, dark, ugly state of being, there are tricks I employ to pull me out of the situational depression. I walk through the hallways and see the sweeties, the great kids who listen, cooperate, want to learn and I focus on their faces and say to myself, “You are the reason I love being a teacher.” They are the talented ones. They are the introverted ones. They are the funny ones who are mischevious with big personalities, and they make me laugh. They are the ones who have giving hearts and optimistic dreams. They are the A+ students who are pegged for greatness, and I can’t wait to hear how all of them turn out. They are the next generation and I have front row seats.

The other night, I was up at 2AM and in a dark mood. Stiff and sore, I couldn’t sleep and I wished I was someone else, somewhere else, and generally feeling sorry for myself. I wished I could feel happiness or contentedness at this stage of my life. That very same morning, one of my stellar students who has a first-rate intellect and wants to become a scientist and solve the riddle of cancer gave me a card.

Ms. Bruchman, I wanted to start off by thanking you for taking the time to write me a teacher recommendation letter. Your support throughout my 4 years of high school has meant a lot to me! If it wasn’t for your belief in me both academically and personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You are one of the very special people who has impacted me as a person, and I won’t forget it. Under your influence, I learned and grew so much, especially when it comes to being a leader and speaking front of people! I hope I have made you proud, and I will continue to work hard wherever my future will lead me. Once again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU so much for everything. Love, Mary.

My Mr. Holland’s Opus moment. An impasse. I am not starting out anymore. I am almost 55, and it’s okay that I’m not in my ambition-driven-make-your-dreams-come-true stage. I feel it finally. I wasn’t “great” in the pursuit of it, I was great because, at my destination, I cared and supported someone else who will surpass my lofty goals by a long shot.That doesn’t mean I’m going to be complacent. I’ve asked the powers that be to let me teach a new class next year which would require a lot of effort and learning and fun on my part. If they let me, I will be energized. If they take it away, I won’t be mad. I will ask for something else.

To be happy, make other people happy.  W. Clement Stone

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