Airplanes, bullets and broken promises

I read an article in the Chicago Tribune today about a number of airplane crashes in the Chicago neighborhoods surrounding Midway Airport. Many people have been killed by airplanes literally falling out of the sky. The story went on to tell of tales people shared with newspaper reporters at the time.

They shared stories of deep anguish and heartache searching for loved ones only to find pieces of them and bloodied remains. One story told of how some died from an airplane falling from the sky and crashing through their homes. People died as they lay asleep in their own beds. A young mother was thrown from an airplane and died while her two daughters lived.

On Saturday, I attended a funeral of a 47-year-old mother of two children. Her husband came home from work and found her dying in her chair. At the funeral, five days later, doctors could still not explain why she died. She was fine, her husband said. He spoke to her on the phone just ten minutes before he got home from work and recalled the last thing he said to her was “I love you.”

A friend of this woman’s said she read her Facebook post on Sunday, the day before she died. It read that she was hanging her laundry outside and enjoying the beautiful weather on a lovely December day. She was just living her life, hanging her laundry, enjoying the oddly warm weather.

And, once again the news reported stories tonight covering the countless numbers of shootings in the city. The senseless deaths of many young people who have yet to even know what their future could have been. Many simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Something came to mind today with all these stories bouncing around in front of me.

A couple of years ago this friend of mine named Gina contacted me out of the blue on Facebook. We had not talked for nearly 20 years. At one time we saw each other every day. We had such a great friendship but then life changed and I went one way and she went another. So, when she found me on Facebook I was thrilled. She asked to meet for lunch and we met and had a wonderful conversation about the last 20 years of our lives. We laughed about silly things and talked about old friends and funny moments.

She asked me why we had stopped being friends and asked if she had done something to ruin our friendship. I said of course not. And I recall now having to have to reassure her that she never did anything wrong or hurtful to me.

She also told me that she was dealing with breast cancer, but said that she was at the end of her treatment and was recovering. She really downplayed the whole thing and led me to believe she was on the upswing.

We parted ways that day with a big, warm hug and promised, for sure, we’d see each other again soon.

Well we never did keep that promise.  We never even talked on the phone, not even on Facebook.

About a year later, another friend called me to say Gina had died.

The next time I saw her was at her funeral.

There are so many people I think of often. Friends who I truly love and care about and miss, but don’t see or even talk to as much as I’d like. The reasons are  real and common – they live far away, or have the details of life keeping them running in a thousand different directions each day. And I too have a full schedule of life obligations.

But stories like planes falling from the sky, bullets flying through the air and unforgiving illnesses unexpectedly stopping the beating of a friend’s heart, remind me that I need to do better.

So for all my dear friends who read this, who I have not spoken to lately, please know I love you and I will try and do better. For those of you who do not know me, but have friends you have not seen or spoken to in a while, maybe this story will remind you to do a little better too.

Because when I got that call that Gina died, and realized that we had not kept our promise…..  . It was just too late.

Share, like, comment. See you next week.

Me and the family tree

I love a good, full, strong, colorful tree.

Whether it be a light early summer green, or an August deep forest emerald, a fall-kissed yellow, orange or red.

I love watching the change of each and every tree and its leaves outside my kitchen window, year round.

You know the ones that have an intertwining bunch of branches, or those with the super large trunks you only see out in the forest preserves?  The way they shoot strong, fearlessly into the sky. I love the trees out by my friend’s lake house in Wisconsin. Just watching them on a summertime visit, so deep and green and prominent in the summer sun as they silently dance, glide in the summer breeze…. It brings me peace and serenity like nothing else.

And as the season’s change those leaves morph into a multi-dimensional display of changing colors. I love that each leaf of any and all trees is completely different. And I marvel at how any leaf you focus in on becomes a completely different leaf, depending on what time of year it is.

Like people, there are no cookie-cutter trees, leaves, branches, twigs or trunks. Like people, each product of nature is unique, special and intentional.

And I stand in awe of the older trees, like the Red Woods on the West Coast that I have only seen in pictures. They are gigantic, heavily defined and have twisted bark, their wide trunks, and long, multiple branches are intentional, committed, everlasting. Some families are like those trees.

As seasons change the branches, either turn in new directions seeking the warmth of the fading sun, or those that are not strong, mature or sturdy enough to survive the seasonal elements, simply fall to the ground. They break away from the efforts to survive because it just become too difficult. They seek their own, singular path. They break away from the original, shared path that at one time was committed to. Instead, they do their own thing. They quit.

When my daughters come home from school and ask about our “family tree” because they are doing a school project, I cringe.

After I cringe, and swig a sip of my cocktail, I turn the girls right over to  my husband. He knows his family lineage with such certainty. His family tree has long, strong, sturdy branches, that stay together, and leaves of the same proud, bold colors. I admire his family and their family tree. He knows  exactly who is connected to who and what nationality everyone is. He can tell you what boat his father’s Italian family came over from Italy on. He knows his grandparents’ and his great-grandparents’ names. They stayed together through the whole life cycle, as they promised to God that they would. That then led him to me.  That then gave me my beautiful daughters. That then gave me my life. A new tree to grow.

My family, which I have long referred to as not a family tree, but  broken branches and fallen leaves, presents a cluster of uncertainty, questions that will never be answered, sadness, disappointment, disfunction, shame, guilt and regret. My weak branches are like those that have drifted to the ground on a windy day.

My leaves, however, are bright, multi-colored. They are, at times feared, avoided, yet desired. Some of my family branches are like fragile twigs, too afraid to be who God meant for them to be, while others are strong. But those left this earth far too soon.

For me, I am only trying to grow into a new, strong, proud branch with a multitude of colorful leaves to share with my daughters, who will one day add on to my small tree. Though small, my tree will be complete for them. As I promise to grow from what comes from love, truth, honesty and goodness.

I think that my girls will have an amazing and colorful family tree that will withstand the winds of change, embrace the sun in the summertime, dance with the blowing wind, while embracing each and every unique leaf, and stand strong in the winter months as the ice and snow weigh heavy upon each and every branch.

I have learned in my life that nature is more beautiful the more unique it is, the more different it appears.

So in my life, my tree with its broken branches and fallen leaves, is beautiful, strong, ever changing and everlasting.

I do hope my daughters see the perfect blend of their father and I and our very different families’ trees, strong branches, broken twigs and fallen leaves as gifts – gifts that I believe God intended for them all along.

My tree, their tree, will from today forward grow in strength, honesty, love, and reach for the sun season after season. No longer will my tree’s branches, their tree’s branches, break away and fall to the ground. And their tree will have no sadness or shame only love and promise.


Tell me about your family tree.

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