by Jane Curtis, TX
I was reading the paper this morning about a guy I knew when he was eight years old. He was Brenda Somebody’s boyfriend and I thought I could not live without him. He was adorable. Brenda and I had been good friends until then. Looking at the picture of this short, fat, bald man did not remind me of the boy who could twirl a basketball on his finger. I remember running into him a few years ago when he was working on divorce number 4. He said I had a sweet wiggle in my walk. I knew then he had problems with his eyes. If he does not know when someone’s hip implant is popping in and out he is in trouble. I wonder how many other things I can think of… that I have learned to live without? Turns out there are quite a few.
I learned to live without a mink coat, that blue dress hanging in Neiman’s window. I learned to live without a diamond too big to wear on a ring. I learned to live without coming in first at anything. I learned to live without giving up when things got tough. I learned to live without being unkind just because I could. I learned to live without everyone agreeing with me. For a period of time, I learned to live without my eyesight and got it back. Ooh, what a wonderful lesson that blessing was. I lost my hearing for a while and a similar blessing. I learned to live without another person in the house.
If I have learned to live without so many things, what do I treasure most? Love. Love for my fellow man, animals (great and small), sunrises and sunsets, the smell of honeysuckle, roses, and lavender. I treasure the sweet taste of honey and homemade bread. I learned to love maple syrup because it comes naturally and does not need “the human touch” to be good. I treasure how all that has touched my heart.
I used to raise butterflies. I was always in wonder at how they started out as eggs. They hatch and the larva starts eating whatever plant their mom has provided for them. They grow into a caterpillar. Their only reason for doing anything is to reach a point where they can be independent and on their own. Finally, they reach the point where they build their own home, they move into it. They spend time fixing it up and making everything just right. The minute it is ready, they open it and fly away to find a mate, deposit eggs, and die. A butterflies’ life is short and yet we always enjoy seeing them. They spread beauty, promise, and hope where ever they go.
We, humans, spend our entire lifetimes getting ready to be on our own, in our own homes, etc. We go to school to get the education to build a career that will build our homes. When we get it all just right. When it is full of all the things we cannot live without… we leave it. When something happens to confine us to that environment we built for ourselves we sit and think about all the things outside that home… we cannot live without.
I once knew a man named Vance, who had been born with club-feet. He had gone through several surgeries to correct the problem. He started having operations I believe he said around the age of twelve. Before that time he was made fun of because of the way he walked. He was different from the other kids. For two years he was home tutored while he was preparing for surgery or recovering from one. During those years of tutoring and being home, he taught himself how to play the organ. His mother had brought one home from an auction. It was a pretty piece of furniture to her, but it became an escape for him. He would listen on the radio and go to the organ and pick out the notes until he could play the tune. He never learned how to read music but he played the organ beautifully. By the time he was eight years old, he played several times for a local restaurant’s dinner hour. It was a fun thing for him. He loved learning. He once told me he was the happiest when he could get lost in the music.
At the age of fourteen, he was cleared to go to public school. He would still have to walk with a cane for about three months to gain good arch support for his feet. He had yearned for many years to be able to go to school like a normal boy. The other kids made fun of him walking with a cane. That was okay. He learned to laugh at himself and even called himself ‘old man and ‘grandpa’ as the other kids did. He had been in school for about a month. He was out in the schoolyard watching the kids play baseball. He enjoyed watching the game. One of the boys did not like the idea that he always got to leave class early and to be seated first with assemblies. There did not seem to be anything wrong with him. The bully decided that Vance, was faking and the cane was just so he would have an excuse. He grabbed the cane. Vance fell. The bully jumped on Vance’s feet and crushed his arches.
Once again confined to bed. He had learned to lift himself in and out of his bed with the use of a trapeze-type bar that hung over his bed. He would lift himself from the bed to a wheelchair to go to the bathroom, take a bath, and then back again. He had learned some independence. He had started taking algebra and found he enjoyed math. He became infatuated with numbers. He started creating wonderful puzzles with numbers. He sold some to the local newspapers to publish in the Sunday paper beside the crossword puzzles. He continued with his musical studies as well. He made it through the equivalent of high school and eventually took the required college classes to get his master’s in mathematics. He became a CPA and worked for one of the largest oil companies in the world. He had also taught himself to walk, run, and how to do hand-to-hand combat. In fact, he taught special classes for a local military base. He was very accomplished.
I met Vance when he was doing an audit of one of the gas stations for the company. I was a customer. We started chatting. Long story short… I married him. We had been married for about three years when we found out he had leukemia. It did not slow him down at all. There were no cures for bone cancer back in those days. Vance’s big thing was to learn something new each day and write it down. He had many tablets listing his new discoveries.
The cancer was winning the fight. I had asked him once if he was angry with the bully that had put him back in bed. He said at first he was disappointed. He said hate and revenge only rob the one dwelling on them. He said the key is to not get even with the ones who hurt you but try to get even with the ones who have helped you. Then, he said, he realized that without it he would not have had the strength to learn the hand-to-hand combat or teach it to others. He said without those experiences he would not have slowed down enough to learn and enjoy music or share it with others. He paged through his notebooks. “Look, Jane, at all the new things I have experienced so far. I feel somewhat like Daniel in the lion’s den. God gave me what I needed to lift myself out. I also feel like the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace. There is not even the smell of smoke on me. All the love in my heart for you and my family is all I need to take with me. He was gone by the next morning.
I learned to live without Vance’s presence but the treasures he gave me will last forever. Treasures of the heart cannot be lost or stolen. Those are the things one cannot live without.