I wanted to post about all the great things that happened yesterday and the three generations of women we met and had dinner with afterward, but today I got some bad news that plunged me right back into the funk, and now I'm thinking about the difference in how people play the hand life deals them, and how much we are all in control of the quality of our lives, even if we have no control over some of their circumstances.
This is Leon Brown. Someone should write a book about him.
I met him at the rally yesterday and spent a few hours standing next to him exchanging pleasantries and listening to his stories. He's one of sixteen children born and raised in Mississippi in the 1930's. He's spent his life working in various service industries ... hotels, airports, driving limosines, etc. He says he doesn't really know why people seem to be drawn to him, but he's had his picture taken with a veritable Who's Who of famous people, from MLK and Medgar Evers to Bob Hope and Stan "The Man" Musial (who gave him an autographed baseball) and he keeps them all in a scrapbook (except the ball, of course).
I can tell him why. In fact, I did. It's his attitude juxtaposed with the harsh reality of the times in which he's lived and the history he's seen. He's friendly, he's happy, he's upbeat and outgoing and he looks for the positive in things. Standing for five hours was hard on a lot of people, but he said, "I'm 71 years old, and I could have gotten a chair over there in the senior citizen area, but I'm in good shape. I can stand and wait to see Mr. Obama."
Leon Brown was in Memphis when MLK was shot, but he doesn't dwell on that. He talks about the thrill of meeting him and being in his hotel room. He doesn't talk about the tragedy of Medger Evers' assassination; he talks about having his picture taken with him. He never mentioned the hardships of living in the south under Jim Crow; he talked about how good he looked in those fancy hotel uniforms and how much he loved giving the ladies a snappy British salute. I asked him if he ever thought that he'd be standing with 100,000 people of all races at a rally for the first black president and he smiled and said, "Well, I wasn't sure, but I always hoped it would happen."
Before we left the rally, he wrote down his address and phone number and asked me if I'd please send him a copy of his picture at the rally so he could put it in his scrapbook. Then he gave me a big hug and a whiskery kiss on the cheek, thus cementing my crush on Mr. Leon Brown of St. Louis, MO.
Today, fresh from the exhiliration of being surrounded by hopeful people of all ages, races and socio-economic strata, I got the phone call I've been dreading from my son.
He had called me a week ago to tell me that his dad -- my ex-husband -- was in ICU at a neurologic hospital. A wasted life of alcoholism and drug addiction had finally culminated in a cerebral hemorrhage and a cascade of strokes over the weekend, and because he has a long history of passing out in drunken stupors, no one thought to check on him for a couple of days. By the time they did, he'd been in a coma for a day and a half. He underwent surgery on Tuesday morning to stop the bleeding and he's been on life support since then. The call today was to tell me that the doctors say there's too much brain damage for him to have any quality of life even if he wakes up, which he won't. Now they just have to wait for his sister to get there before they remove life support.
I'm left wondering how it is that some people can throw their perfectly good lives away and never find joy or peace or anything in life worth living for, and others can find the silver lining in a life of hardship that could easily have made them bitter and discouraged.
Mr. Brown told me yesterday that the secret to his long life, his health and his happiness is that he loves life and he loves people. He hugs strangers and smiles at everyone and always tells the people he loves that he loves them. He never takes a day for granted.
I wish my son could have had a dad like Leon Brown.