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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One of My Favorite Christmas Eves

I have been blessed with many happy Christmas Eves over the years, most of which  transpired in my hometown of Rochester, New York, while I was growing up, either on Erie Street or in Greenleaf Meadows.

But one recent Christmas Eve, at least of the last decade, occurred in 2005.

In the late spring of 2005, I had moved back to Rochester after helping to produce Bravo's hit five-part series, The 100 Greatest TV Characters, and after consulting a little bit with Nora Ephron on her Bewitched feature film, among other freelance and contracted assignments.

It was a solid few years in L.A. but, as it had before (and sometimes still does), Rochester was calling me home, mostly, of course, to care for my Mom.  Even though my sister lived close by, and there were many good friends who were keeping a close-watch on Mom, I still felt the pull to return.  I knew that she did not have that many more years left (she died in 2008); and it was the experience of those like Christmas Eve of 2005 that confirmed that I done the right thing by succumbing to those tugs of my heart.

Then, like today, I had found myself in a new home at Christmas-time.  While I've only been in my beautiful new apartment here in Burbank for a mere month or so, by Christmas 2005, I had been living in my new apartment in Rochester (specifically, Irondequoit, a suburb) since that prior January.

So, I wanted to do something special that Christmas.  Usually, my Mom (and Dad, when he was alive) would go to my sister's for Christmas Eve.  But I wanted to make my own Christmas dinner in 2005 where I lived.  It was a beautiful apartment complex in Irondequoit.  The area was winding down, and had certainly seen better days...but again...I felt a "calling."

There seemed to be an awful lot of lonely people that I knew that year, and I thought, "I should invite them all over for Christmas Eve dinner."

So, I did.

There was the fiftysomething woman in a wheelchair who lived up the hall from me.  She had married a multi-millionaire, who divorced her.  She ended up with approximately $750,000 as a settlement which, compared to what her husband was worth, was really not a large sum of money.  But then again, it wasn't anything to sneeze at.  Sad thing is, by the time this woman had moved up the hall from me, she had pilfered away that 750 grand on some poorly-made choices.  Around the same time, she slipped on the ice in the front of her former home, and ultimately was left incapacitated in several physical, emotional, psychological and financial ways.

There was the sixtysomething woman who lived two buildings down;  she had just lost her grown daughter to cancer in June of that year, and it would have been the first Christmas without her precious child.

There was the eigthysomething man friend of my Mom; his brother-in-law had raked him for every penny he had; and he was now living in a senior facility up the block.

There was the elderly-couple that lived across the hall from me; he had the early on-set of Alzheimer's and she was too frail to drive across town to spend Christmas Eve with their daughter and her family.

There was the twentysomething former acting student of mine and his mother.  His father and her husband had verbally, physically and financially abused them both in recent years; and they usually just spent Christmas Eve alone.

There was a dear friend of mine who had moved to the area from Manhattan.  She had just started working at Kodak, and had not yet acclimated herself to Rochester, and had no plans for Christmas Eve.

Too many sad stories that needed, if not a happy ending, at least maybe just one happy night, with the potential for a new beginning.

So, I invited each of them over for Christmas Eve to join me and my Mom, after I called my sister and told her my plan.

I didn't make any super kind of special Christmas dinner.  I bought some frozen raviolis at Wegman's Supermarket (the Rochester-turned-national franchise for which Alex Baldwin briefly served).  As a sauce, I chose the Prego brand, and mixed some of my own secret ingredients into that.  I bought some green peas, some French bread; added some garlic and butter to the bread; tossed a salad; and got some wine, soda and water.  For desert, a few of Wegman's awesome cakes:  Lemon, Chocolate, Apple Cinnamon

Again, nothing elaborate, but in the end, very satisfying.

Everyone loved it.

But more than the meal they loved just the company.

It was a Christmas-card-picture-perfect vision of soft-fallen snow on the outside.

We sang Christmas carols on the inside, and I passed out some gifts.

But there were no diamond watches, no cashmere sweaters, no cards with cash.

That afternoon I had gone to the Dollar Store and bought everyone one elegant Christmas ornament; and when I handed them out, you would have thought each of them received a divorce settlement for $750 grand.

Their hearts warmed, as all of our eyes lit-up and teared.

Christmas Eve had meant something again...to each of us.

The sadness had melted away and was replaced with a few moments of joy that lingered onto Christmas Day and longer.

For a few of them, the woman in the wheelchair, the woman who lost her daughter, and the elderly man friend of my Mom's...it was their last Christmas.

But hopefully...it was also one of their best and favorite.

I know it was one of mine.





Friday, December 6, 2013

You, Us..."Hey!" - BONDS!

There are the James Bonds....the fictional super-spy that all of us at some point fantasize about being.

There are the bonds that dentists place on our teeth.

There are the blue-collar bonds that various trades utilize with regard to plumbers, construction workers, etc.

There are the U.S. Savings Bonds with which we were all raised.

Then there are the bonds between a different kind of "us," as in you, me, and we - the people...of the United States...the world...the universe..

The bonds between countries...nations....states...providences...cities and...towns...communities...cultures...employers...employees
friends...families...mothers...fathers...sisters...brothers...husbands...wives...
children...cousins...in-laws and more.

In recent years, I've been hosting reunions for my friends and colleagues from NBC, harkening back to our special days as NBC Pages.

Paging was a bonding experience if there ever was one.  We were young...just out of college...each of us trying to find our way...and we ended up finding each other.

Those days are gone...and we all know it...but we gather together again...every once and a while...in friendship and nostalgia...to honor our original bonds...if maybe making new ones along the way.

We hold on to the past, and yet at the same time, let it go...and create new memories in the present, ever looking toward the future.

When I was caring for my Mom and Dad in their elder years, we shared a new bonding beyond the parent-child ties.  As their primary caregiver, they became my closest friends...if not best friends...and in many ways my adopted children.

Either way, those bonds will always remain unbroken.

And like all noble bonds...they will remain unbroken...forever.

Because they are unbreakable.

Not even by someone like James Bond.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Rainbow Woman

I traveled from Burbank to San Diego for Thanksgiving this year to spend time with family members, some of whom I haven't seen in over two decades.  And it was a lovely time.  I'm very blessed with a multitude of family members spread across the country.

But I didn't want to drive, so I took the train...Amtrak...which I've never done before.

I've taken the local Metro line in and around Los Angeles, but I never journeyed a lengthy distance on a train.

And I always wanted to - so I did and, of course, the trip proved enlightening.

In more ways than one.

The trip up on Wednesday was nice.  I sat with a family of three.  A mother and father and their young soccer-loving daughter who, in a recent game, had injured her left thumb, which needed stitches.  So she was wearing a cast.  We all talked about a lot of topics, and the four-hour time frame passed quickly.

But it was on the Friday trip back to Burbank that entranced me.

It was raining that day, and I wasn't too crazy about that.  I didn't want the water to dampen the joyful spirit that increased during my family visit.  So, I prayed for a nice ride home.

I had contacted a friend earlier in the week to see if she could pick me up at the train station in Burbank and she agreed.  But I soon realized on the train ride home that I wouldn't need to trouble her.

My train from San Diego to Burbank was set to leave at Noon, but I arrived early at the station, around 11:00 AM.

That was okay.  I connected with a nice woman in line and she clued me in on train departures, and a little history of the area in the process.

Noon arrived, and we boarded the train.  The woman, an older sort, invited me to join her on the first level of the train, marked for seniors and the disabled.  "You could pass," she said.  "You have gray hair."

I laughed a little at that...very little...but told her I felt uncomfortable with sitting in an area which was meant for the disabled.  So, I trekked up to the train's second level.  "You should sit on the left side," the older woman told me.  "That way, you can see the ocean on the way back to Burbank."

I nodded, but when I arrived on the second level, I opted instead for the right side of the train.  I know what the ocean looks like, and I wanted to see the more interesting options on the right side, mostly the different stations along the way....Santa Ana...Anaheim....Fullerton, etc.  They all reminded me of Mayberry from "The Andy Griffith Show," so that all suit me just fine.

I had also prayed that Heaven would seat me next to someone that would make the time pass, like it had on the trip up to San Diego.

Ultimately, the train on both levels was not as full as had it had been the Wednesday before.  That was okay, I figured.  "I'll just sleep all the way."

Never happened.

Within a half-hour, I had found a new friend.  The rain had stopped, and a rainbow had appeared...where else...but to the left of the train.

A woman, who appeared to be from India, was seated in front of me.  No one was beside me.  She turned to me and commented about the rainbow.  "Beautiful, isn't it?" she said.

I nodded a little and thought to myself, "But - really - where do rainbows come from?  I mean...REALLY come from?"

As if the woman heard my silent thoughts she turned once more to me and said, "Do you know where rainbows come from?"

Shocked at her seemingly reading my mind, I said a simple "No."

She then said something about Noah's Ark from the Bible and I just smiled.

A few minutes later, she showed me a book about a little boy who saw rainbows in Heaven.

I couldn't believe it.

A few minutes later she asked me if I wanted anything from the train's cafĂ©.  I told her, "No, thank you."  But she insisted that she bring me something.  "My treat!" she said. 

"Ok," I replied.  "I'll just take a bottled water."

She returned with my water and a sandwich for herself.  No one was seated next to her, and since she was so kind and generous, I did not want her to eat her sandwich alone, so I invited her to sit next to me to better enjoy her meal.

As we talked, she shared with me many charming stories of her life in India.  One story, about a rainy day from her childhood, stood-out.

She was walking home from school, carrying many books.  She loved to read and she loved books very much.  And it started to rain very hard.  So, she prayed, "Dear Lord - please keep my books dry.  Please don't rain on my books."

And as she walked, she said, her path was free from rain.  It rained around her, behind her, in front of her and to the sides.  But it did not rain on her.  When she arrived home, her mother was prepared with blanket to dry her off.  But there was no need.  "My Lord kept me dry," she said.

Charmed, we continued to talk, and within the next hour or so, she learned that I was a writer.  She also decided to pray over my right arm, as I pulled a muscle a few weeks back during the move to my new apartment.

By the time we arrived in Burbank, she had convinced me not to call my friend for a ride home.  "MY friend will take you home," she said.

And her friend did so.  Her friend also happened to be a dentist - and I am looking for a new dentist in the area, as my previous dentist has his office in my former residence of Cerritos.

So, my new friend, and her friend the Burbank dentist, dropped me right to my door.  I was quite grateful for all their kindness, and promised them each a copy of my new book.

The next day, I took a walk to the local pharmacy to get some aspirin for my shoulder, which by then, had been feeling better.  But I still felt an occasional, if slight, pain.

As I walked from my apartment door to the CVS, I stopped a few times...as I usually do during any walk...to notice this or that.  And by the time I arrived at the pharmacy...a white car drove right in front me.

I wondered, "Could it be?"

It was the same white car belonging to the Burbank dentist, and in a second, my friend, the India woman, who I affectionately now refer to as "The Rainbow Woman," stepped from the vehicle and into the pharmacy.

"Hey!" I smiled to them both.  "But do you believe this?"

We all smiled, and chatted a little bit.  I left telling my potential new dentist that I will see her soon.

My Rainbow Woman said she would call me.

How could it be, indeed, that I would see these two wonderful new friends at the pharmacy I walked into only the day after they dropped me off train station?

What timing brought us together - and why?

For the learning of where rainbows come from?  For the healing of my arm?  For the companionship home on the train?  For me to have found a much-needed new dentist?  For the reminder that Heaven always rides and walks with us wherever we go?

Most likely, all of the "Above."

For it was then I remembered another story The Rainbow Woman had told me while we were still on the train from San Diego.  But it wasn't a story from when she was just a child.  It was her recounting of a conversation she had with Heaven before she boarded the train.

"Lord," she said she had prayed, "please seat me next do someone I could bear witness to."

I then shared with her that I had prayed the same prayer.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"I'm from Paris"

"I'm from Paris."

That's what I tell people, now...because it sounds cool, but mostly because it's pretty funny.

Bottom line:

Take your work seriously.

Take your life seriously.

But never take yourself seriously.