Lessons Over Time – Emotional Pro

April 10th, 2006

Yesterday I attended the 50th birthday party of a long-time friend, a woman who now is known as “Futon Mary.” I first knew her over 25 years ago, when she was out of a job, not happy with her life choices and without direction. What a joy it was to see her yesterday, among many friends who “roasted” her very lovingly. She threw the party with her partner, whom she describes as “The Love of My Life.” And when Mary told me that, she added “You never heard me say that before, did you?” She was right. The party was full of former partners, representative of her lifelong search to find “the right one.” Much to her credit, the “ex’s” have remained friends.
I told three stories at the party, each to illustrate a characteristic I think is outstanding in my friend, Mary, owner of “Mary’s Futons,” a successful shop selling futons and household furniture in Marin County, California, where she grew up. The characteristics are Courage, Generosity and Wisdom.
People at the party talked about going skiing with Mary, singing with her in the Mayflower Chorus, where she sang tenor, her love of children and machinery–boats, cars, vans, and her love of animals. Her Pomeranians, and the sons and daughters of her Pomeranians, were parading through the party as pleasantly as the people. Mary has done much in her 50 years, including becoming a successful businesswoman, becoming a pillar of her community, becoming famous (for standing atop her building in her television ads, touting the virtues of her futons), a horticulturist (she has some of Raymond Burr’s orchid plants that she got at an estate sale after his death), and a builder. She even installed her own swimming pool! We laughed together, too, about her love of motorcycles, and the fact that in her thirties, she started learning to play the violin and got pretty good at it, too!
Courage. So many people love to ski with Mary, now. I took her on her first-ever ski trip and taught her the rudiments of skiing. The oldest of 6 kids, Mary had always stayed close to home (even now, she lives just a few blocks from the house in which she grew up). This left her fearful about a lot of things, because she never tried much that wasn’t familiar. I thought Mary was going to help me entertain and look after my son, who was 4. Instead, she decided it was time for her to take on skiing. In Lake Tahoe, she was so frightened to ride the lift that she asked me to sit next to her and put my arm around her to reassure her. She would not look right nor left. But she did it. She found out she loves skiing, and has adopted it to such a degree that most of the people at the party confessed they cannot keep up with her! Thanks to my daughter, 7 years older than her brother, for taking care of him that day nearly 25 years ago.
Generosity. When I grew up, my parents took the family, every year at Easter, to Easter Sunrise services at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia. I wanted my children to have that experience. Twenty-one years ago, I had the opportunity to take them. We all froze and they didn’t like it nearly as much as I wanted them to. I had asked Mary if she would pick up our little family at the Oakland airport when we returned. She readily agreed. When the time came, however, she drove up in a stretch limousine, sporting a woman driver and a bottle of champagne! She was wearing a tuxedo. Turned out she had attended her High School Reunion the previous night, and had decided to keep the limo over in order to bring us home in style! When I exclaimed over her gesture, she tucked me into the limousine and said to me: “I just want you to have the experience of the kind of life you deserve!” Mine was not the only story of Mary’s extreme and thoughtful generosity.
Wisdom. My second husband, it turned out, was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. He is the father of my (our) son. Unable to be the wage earner and the total support of “everyone,” I had asked him to leave the family when our son was 2 1/2 years old. By the time our son was 12, he had decided he would no longer make arrangements for visitation (he refused to set up a regular schedule, had been forbidden to call my via telephone, and thus had to arrange his time with our son via the mails, a slow process, and I am sure a frustrating one). When he made the announcement to our son that from now on he would need to make contact to arrange time with his Dad, the boy declared: “That’s not my job! I’m the kid!” And he steadfastly refused to call, even with my urging. Of course, he was very conflicted. After about 6 months he came to me one day and said, “Have you noticed how much better my life has been going since I haven’t been seeing my Dad?” I had, sadly. I didn’t want to give him advice on this, because I wasn’t sure I could be objective. So, he decided he would consult our friend, Futon Mary. He respected her practical approach to life, and her wisdom. He was 13 then. We met Mary for dinner in San Rafael. He laid out his concerns and issues regarding his Dad. Then Mary gave her response. “To me, a Dad is the person who is there for you when YOU need him to be, not someone who comes to be with you whenever his schedule permits,” she began. “I’ve known you for many years, now. I’d say this man is your Father, but not your Dad. If your life is going better for you, and you don’t want to take on the job of arranging to get together, then this is what I would do: I’d say ‘Thanks for the sperm; thanks for making me tall; I’ll call you for the wedding!'” This statement relieved the confusion of an earnest young man, who did try to reach out to his father as he got older, only to be rebuffed.
So what’s to be learned from all of this? 1) You never know who someone will turn out to be when you help them when they are young….so help! 2) Dedicated effort and learning to follow one’s heart, along with vision and hard work, can take you wherever you want to go. 3) Friendship really counts. 4) Facing something new with courage can open up whole new worlds for us. 5) Going out of your way to treat someone special really counts–the memory of it can last a lifetime. 6) You can love someone very much and still not be able to live with them or even get along with them, in which case it’s a good idea to cut your losses. 7) Keep looking for what you want in life; you’re likely to finally find it! 8) Be nice to your ex’s; you may need a bunch of people to come to a great party and it’ll be nice to have them come over!

One Response to “Lessons Over Time – Emotional Pro”

  1. Ilene,
    This is good . . .

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