Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can I get an "AMEN"?!?

And the crowd goes WILD!

Justin receiving his "Most Outstanding Wrestler Award" at the Voorhees/North Hunterdon Match

Justin as he ravages his opponant at the Voorhees/North Hunterdon Match

The belle of the ball!

Justin and katie on Prom Night May 19, 2006

Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Walk

Even though it had only been a mile or so into the walk-a-thon, I was utterly and completely exhausted from walking, from the asthma that ripped and tore at my lungs for so many years, from my battle for breath that came with any kind of exertion at all. A nice cold glass of iced tea would have been perfect right then… something… anything… my mouth was so dry, but more so I was just so Goddamn worn-out… I just couldn’t fight anymore. I wanted to finish that walk with all I that was inside me. For God’s sake I organized it! What I really wanted was to make a real difference in my community… although some might say I already had, I wanted to really make a positive impact, to leave a legacy, but what I needed right then was to rest… Peachy could finish the walk for me. We had agreed to split it anyway… Just then I decided to just take the sweep car home, and let Peachy finish while I rested. At that point, all I really wanted was to just close my eyes… just for a moment; like the child who tries so hard to ring in the New Year for the very first time… I thought if only I could shut my eyes, just for a minute…. then I would be ok. My breath was shallow and raspy, but maybe with just a little bit of rest, then maybe I could still finish the walk. Invariably though, that child who closes his eyes, loses his battle with fatigue and falls asleep for the remainder of the night, only to awaken the next morning in his bed, tucked in, snug and warm, with the weight of the covers and the knowledge that he is surrounded with his parents’ love. For me it was not just the night though, for me, the game was over; I lost my battle with exhaustion, my encounter with asthma, my fight with high blood pressure. This deal was forever. My only consolation was that both of my parents were, in fact, waiting for me the very next the morning.

I watched as Ray, my good friend, my pastor, my colleague, my confidant; as he leveled the gas pedal to the floor, driving his car as fast as it would sputter across those Pennsylvania back roads through the Pocono Hills, to reach Peachy, to reach a hospital, to get help…somebody… anybody… he was so incredibly frantic. I tried so hard to tell him to slow down, to tell him not to worry, to tell him it was no longer necessary; the race against time had ended, the judges declared ‘time’ as the winner, as they inescapably always do, but Ray couldn’t hear me. He was deaf with desperation and distraction.

Although I had lost my battle with time, all I could think of was ‘Who was going to tell Peachy, and how would she handle the news; the news that our retirement, that we had been planning for so many years, and only barely had begun, was being thwarted’? How would she tell the kids? It was at this point I suddenly realized that somehow I had actually been the lucky one. Although I had lost my life-long fight with asthma and that very same asthma had stolen from me my final breath, I would not have to continue living without my partner, my friend, my love, my spouse, I would not have to climb into the empty bed that Peachy and I had shared for so many years, knowing that half of it would be cold and vacant. I would not have to tell my children that one of their parents were gone. Something inside me knew that I would never have been able to handle that task had it been presented to me.

My soul and thoughts drifted between Peachy and the kids. I wanted so badly to provide for them, as I had done for so long while I was alive… I liked the role of husband, father, provider. I had done it for so many years, and I liked to think I was good at it. I wanted to erase, or at least ease their pain, making them understand that although I was gone… I would never really be gone. When someone loves another as much as I loved my family, there could never really be an absolute severance… not even in death… yet here we were, …and there certainly seemed to be. I could communicate with them but they could only hear me when they were completely receptive. I could sigh, I could speak, or I could scream… yet if they felt anything at all, it was only a slight chill, a shiver, a quiver, or an occasional whisper of warmth on their flesh, but they never seemed completely sure that it was I. Their grief and perception of loss clouded their sight, their hearing and their sense of feeling.

Peachy made all of the obligatory calls; starting with Tommy and Carmen and ending with Ella and Bob. The empty hole, where I’m sure my heart used to live, ached; as I watched Bob explain to Ella that I was gone… really gone. I watched as my little girl crumbled in disbelief. She wanted her daddy and I wanted so badly to fold her tight into my arms and tell her that everything would be okay… to make her laugh again and tell her it was all a horrible misunderstanding, to see her smile and hear that contagious giggle of hers all over again.

As time slowly passed, I watched with immeasurable pride, as my family grew even tighter. Ella and Bob looked for the opportunity to move back to New Jersey and be closer to the rest. David and Kathy expanded their family as Kathy gave birth to my first grandchild whom I would never have the opportunity to jostle and tousle around, who would never feel my tickling fingers. Tommy and Carmen continued to raise their children with patience, tolerance and love, and John worked tirelessly at his tremendous talent and technique within the theatre. As proud as my family had made me on so many occasions in the past, I still continue to fill with surprise and delight as I watch them grow…. yet there seems to be no concrete way of letting them know. It seemed that all I could do was hope that what Peachy and I had instilled in them would be enough.

Somehow, it seemed that I was able to, ever so slowly, get through to Ella. Maybe that ‘Daddy’s little girl’ concept actually holds some truth? Maybe it was Ella’s maturing and realizing all decisions, although do come with consequences, aren’t always final? Maybe it was simply happenstance, circumstance, coincidence, a twist of fate, fortune, kismet, karma… the intervention of the universe…but I watched, as if transfixed on a motion picture, as Ella made the decision to return to college. This was not for her mother and I; this was not for Bob or her kids. This was for her. I knew she regretted her decision of dropping out of college so many years ago, but I also knew how hard it would be for her to make things right. I couldn’t pull myself away from watching as she entered her first class at the local community college. It was so silly, but she was as nervous as a little schoolgirl on her first day of class. ‘Would she fit in? Would she make friends? Would the course work be too hard for her? How would it affect her family?’ All of those thoughts were dancing through her head as she tentatively began and then continued, class after class, mastering each course. Had she been able to hear me, she would have heard my words telling her that she had nothing to fear. I was so confidant that she would excel at whatever she decided attempted to do.

The evening that Ella was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa my brother Bobby had driven down from Connecticut and joined Peachy, in my place, to support Ella, to show her how proud we all were...and are. Bobby, who is a President Emeritus of two community colleges, knew full well the impact and importance of involvement within an organization like Phi Theta Kappa. David and Kathy and Davey, Bob and Justin and Katie, Peachy and Bobby all sat in the audience as Ella was inducted into the largest Honor Society in the world. I found a corner, in the back of the room, and sat and watched, beaming and bursting with pride, as Ella’s college president greeted her. I often wonder when my family can feel my presence. I don’t think Ella heard my hooting and hollering, my childish ranting and raving, my silly adolescent cheering, or at least she didn’t let on that she did. I was even doing that silly dance Ella does with her friends…. arms waving in front of her “Go Ellabee, Go Ellabee…”. That night, I hope Ella knew how proud I was of her. It was a very good night. I’ve been so proud of her so many times, but never as proud as I was witnessing her being inducted into Phi Theta Kappa.

I watched, smiling, laughing even, as Bobby presided over the situation. Shyness has never been a Rue characteristic. First he interrupted the Induction Ceremony, stopping the festivities, simply because he missed a photo opportunity… asking the college president to briefly pose with Ella again. The president, laughing, happily obliged, knowing these moments come so rarely in life. Afterwards, Bobby took Ella by the hand, brought her directly to meet the college president. Bobby wanted to let him know exactly who she was; not another face in a sea of honor students, who he may or may not ever see or speak to again, but instead a woman who was filled with drive, purpose and ambition, intent on making a difference in the world and leaving a legacy, both within the college as well as within her community. I laughed out loud, that big fat loud Rue belly laugh I was known for in life, as I heard Bobby tell Ella that ‘now her college president would recognize her in the hallways… and that would be good for her in the long run.’ (As if there were any doubt he would know her without an introduction…) But Bobby has always looked out for Ella, he’s always played the doting uncle role for her, this was simply another time he wanted to do what he could to help her. He was truly in his element… and clearly so was she.

I was immediately impressed with this college president*. Something about him seemed to instantly connect with each and every one of those students and he made it evident that he genuinely wanted to be there on this day to honor them for their accomplishments. This was not a time to tout his accomplishments, or that of the college’s… this was a day to pay tribute to the commitment to academic excellence that had brought these students to join this respected honor society. There was something truly touching about this towering man of authority*. In spite of his position, or maybe because of his position, he made it completely clear that he would be accessible and available; he would be there to advise, encourage and guide these students if and when they needed him.

I knew then that this organization could take Ella to far away places; intellectually, geographically, metaphorically, and figuratively. It would offer opportunities that she would not be able to obtain elsewhere and I was certain she would bring an added dimension to this group of scholars and leaders that they too would benefit from.

* Dr. Cary A. Israel, President, Raritan Valley Community College, 1998