January 1991. Taken from the Statue of Liberty crown observatory.
This coming Saturday the life of John Stevenson, Coach Stevenson, will be remembered and celebrated.
I grew up in a sleepy little town in Southern California. A town called El Segundo. A town sort of lost in time, a regular Mayberry. The main street through town is called Main Street. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west, LAX on the north, aerospace industry on the east, and a Chevron refinery on the south, El Segundo is an enclave of relative safety just miles from Los Angeles. When I lived there the population was somewhere around 12,000. There is still only one high school and when I attended El Segundo High School it had less than a thousand students. Not the kind of town that you’d expect would routinely turn out brilliant baseball players and winning baseball teams. But that’s exactly what has happened there…and it happened for decades. And that was because of the leadership of one man who loved the game…Coach John Stevenson.
Coach Stevenson dedicated his life to the youth of El Segundo for 50 years. He was never my coach, but he was my teacher. I took freshman social studies/history from him. However, the biggest lesson I learned from him wasn’t learned in the classroom. Have you ever heard of Scott McGregor? George Brett? They are just two of the Gundo boys who went on to play professional baseball. There have been six of Coach’s players who have gone on to play in the major leagues. Many more played in the minors. The lesson I learned because of these players was that if I worked hard, and played well, I could be as successful as anyone else…that being from a small town and not being particularly privileged was not something that should hold me back. This lesson was one of two great gifts he gave to me.
I’m not gonna lie…Coach kinda scared me. He was intense out on the field and he wanted his players to play good baseball. I don’t know if it’s true to say this or not, but it seemed to me that he’d rather his players play good baseball and lose than to play lousy baseball and win. The game mattered to him. Sometimes I would cringe when he would yell at the players that made mistakes. Everyone in the stands knew when Coach wasn’t happy. But if he felt that his players were on the receiving end of bad baseball, like a bad call from an umpire, he was out there in the face of the offender to make sure that the same standards applied to everyone on the field, not just to his players. Coach is California’s winningest baseball coach of all time. A record that is likely to stand for a long time.
The other great gift that Coach gave to me was the gift of baseball itself. My favorite high school memories revolve around baseball. I loved going to those Friday night games at rec park. I still love a really good game of baseball. I don’t even care who is playing. To me, the sound of a wooden bat squarely contacting a baseball is one of the most thrilling sounds in sportsdom. I was privileged to have two brothers play Eagle baseball for Coach. To this day I am proud of the kind of ball they both played.
Thank you Coach, for investing your life into the lives of other people’s children and for helping them, helping me, learn that in life, as in baseball, you get out of it what you put into it.
El Segundo, and baseball, will miss you…
There’s something about having been to a place, of having your own pictures of a place, that makes someone else’s tragedy very much your own. My first overseas experience was the summer I spent in Haiti on a mission trip back in 1981. The mission where we were working was not too far outside of Port-au-Prince. While most of my pictures reflect the poverty, the dirt, and grim living that personifies Haiti, I have one picture, a picture of the presidential palace, that does just the opposite. It has been difficult for me to look at the images that are coming out of Haiti. To read of the expected death toll and to be a distant witness to the horror is heartbreaking and frustrating.
I remember Franc, who was a delightful and gregarious 12 year old back then. Look at that face. Doesn’t it make you smile???
Franc would be in his 40’s now and with a family of his own most likely. What is his fate? And there was Marquise.
She was a sad and distant 16 year old when i met her. What of her? Life in Haiti for most, at its best, is about survival. What now? I find myself searching the pictures for faces I recognize. But of course, after all these years I wouldn’t know the faces of the people I knew back then now if I saw them. But buildings don’t change much. And we know from our own American experiences that buildings have “faces” and evoke emotions when we see images of them being obliterated.
Most of the buildings I saw when I was there were simple, one or two stories, nondescript and not memorable. Only one building was one that I would even remember if I saw again. This was the presidential palace. Even it did not survive.
The presidential palace of Haiti as I saw it in 1981, above.
The presidential palace of Haiti as it is today, below.
Pray for Haiti as the situation evolves. Pray for Haiti as the days turn in to weeks. Pray that those who have managed to survive the earthquake will not starve waiting for help…will not die from the diseases that inevitably gain a foothold after these sorts of natural disasters…will not lose whatever hope they might have left. Pray that somehow, some way, Haiti will rise from the rubble a better place for those who call her home. Pray that there will be peace in the midst of this chaos.
And, as you hear the stories coming out of Haiti, and learn of the needs that need filling, if it’s within your power, be a part of assisting the Haitian people as they begin the long struggle of recovery from this horrific tragedy. While Haiti is a world away when you consider how life is lived there, Haiti is only 750 miles from Florida. Haiti is a closer neighbor to many of us in America than we are to ourselves. Consider helping this neighbor, like you would your own.
Eighteen years ago today I was at work. I called to check on my best friend/sister-in-law who was ready to give birth to her first child any day. She was doing great but was experiencing an uncontrollable urge to, well, to put it as delicately as possible, have a bowel movement. “DON’T PUSH, and get to the hospital!!” I told her. Not long after that Richard arrived. WHAT a cutie. He was named in honor of his two grandfathers, Richard and Daniel. A first grandchild and grandson for the both of them. I was a very excited and proud first-time auntie.
Four years ago today I was working my last, and for the most part, rather uneventful shift in the ER. I had turned in my resignation and was planning my move from Los Angeles to Colorado which was to take place in just a month. I was excited about the new life which awaited me and all the adventures I was to have. And I was thinking of my oldest nephew, Richard, who was on vacation with friends but was turning 14.
Just a couple of hours before my last shift was to end I got the phone call that didn’t change any of that, but changed absolutely everything.
Instead of long and tearful good-byes with my co-workers, I started the longest and most tearful good-bye of my life. One that, as of today, has lasted four years.
I no longer count the time Connie has been gone in minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks, or even in months, but in years. It’s still surreal to me. I miss her every minute.
Congratulations on your 18th birthday Dicky Dan. Your mother would have loved to see you and the man you have become.
I love you both, to the ends of the earth and to the highest heaven.
No pictures to share. But I used to live in the cutest little yellow and white cottage with a picket fence. The house was built in 1917 and I was only the third owner. There were dozens of types of flowers and an equal number of types of bushes and shrubs in the large garden situated in and surrounded by a very lush and long and soft green lawn. The steps and paths and front porch were slate. The undulating fence was capped off with copper finials which mellowed with a verdigris patina. My house was, for sure, THE cutest house on the block. I had a gardener who came regularly and always had the place looking bright and cheery and kept. The sprinkler system insured that all stayed green and in bloom. In the back yard was a peach tree, a plum tree, a loquat tree, some other trees I can’t remember the names of, and a fenced off garden filled with with blackberry bushes. The front yard sported a profusely flowering Jacaranda tree and another tree with flashy peachy-orangey-red blossoms. In the spring the whole 7,000 square feet of my garden and yard was a riot of colors. Even in the winter it was a beautiful collection of evergreens and grasses and winter blooms.
It is spring now. My brother’s yard is exploding with roses and hibiscus and, well, you’d have to ask him the names of all his plants and flowers!
I sold the house and moved to Colorado going on three years ago.
I am visiting my family this week back in Southern California. My brother lives but five blocks or so from my old house. I drove by it yesterday. I wondered what beautiful things were happening in MY old gardens!
The man who bought my house is a well known local real estate developer. There is a for sale sign in the front yard with his name on it. I guess his plans for the property didn’t pan out.
The lawn is dead.
The plants are dead.
The flower beds are dead or dying and overgrown with weeds.
The roses bushes are shriveled and brown.
Even the trees are brown, and drooping.
The property looks pitiful.
It doesn’t look or feel at all like I ever lived there.
It doesn’t appear that anyone at all is living there.
Why would someone let a place go like that?
I’m having a sad night. In the mail today I received some newslettery sort of things from Teen Missions. One of them had a small mention of a memorial gift made in the name of someone I knew a long time ago. Curtis was on my team to Papua New Guinea back in 1986. I think he was 15 or 16 at the time. I Googled his name to see if I could find out anything about what happened to him. I found a wonderful website that was set up by his wife, Shane. I have just spent the last hour or so reading, looking at pictures, and listening to the music on the site. I’m SO sad. He died nearly two years ago on February 28th. He was only 35.
In my mind, since that was how I saw him last, he was still a little fresh faced high school kiddo who always had me laughing. In actuality, he was a big grown man with a wife and children and a job and all those things that go along with being a grown-up. He looked like grew up to be the guy who still always had people laughing, though. It looks like he turned into a really nice and really good man of God.
So, I’m thinking of his wife, and kids, spending their second Christmas without him. And remembering what it was like to think you weren’t going to make it through the day, the week, the month, or the year, and then, all of the sudden, it’s been two years, and you can’t believe it.
I’m sure that Curt and Connie have met up in heaven. Two former TMI team members yukkin’ it up…
Today is also a sad memory day for me. Three years ago, I had to have my beloved cat, Fritz, put to sleep.
I can’t explain to you in words how much I loved Fritz. He was my steadfast friend and companion for my entire adult life…for 18 years. He was completely devoted to me and didn’t much care for any one else. In fact, he wouldn’t even let other people get near him or touch him. He was so mean to other people (hissing and lashing out with his fierce claws if they walked too close to him) that I don’t think anyone believed that he was the sweetest thing to me. But he was.
Fritz had not been his usual self for a couple of days. He’d even stopped showing any interest in going outside. I was totally stressing out, because I was pretty sure he was dying. Some years earlier he’d started to have kidney problems and one of his kidneys had pretty much shriveled up. I changed his diet to lower protein to save his kidneys from having to work so hard, and he rebounded well from his early failure. But I’d seen enough very sick old people to know that now Fritz’ body was faily rapidly. I was stressing because I didn’t want him to suffer, but I couldn’t let him go. He was never one that much liked being held, but he didn’t protest when I’d hold him, so I took the opportunity to hold him often and smell him. He smelled so good. His fur always smelled fresh and sweet, especially the long white fur on his tummy. He was the most fastidiously clean cat I’d ever known.
I was working two jobs at the time, and hated leaving him in those last days. I was so afraid that I’d come home and find that he’d died alone (Mew Ling spent her days outside). But I also didn’t know that I’d be able to make the decision to let him go either. How do you know when it’s time to end the suffering? Three years ago I rushed home from work to see him since I had Avie’s birthday party to go to. He didn’t look good. His kidneys were putting out a huge amount of urine, so I knew he didn’t have long. I held him and cried and begged him to somehow let me know what he wanted me to do. A short time later, he slowly walked to his litter box to go pee. I had set up a bed right next to the cat box so that he wouldn’t have to walk far to use it. But he didn’t even have the energy to get back out of the box, and he laid down in the cat litter. A fighting to live Fritz would never have done that. He was just too clean. I knew it was time. So I called the vet and made arrangements to take him in. I’ve never done anything quite that hard. Fritz let me put him in his carrier and didn’t put up a fight. Fritz would always fight to not go in his carrier. And at nearly 20 pounds in his prime and with claws up to 3/4″ long, he was a formidable creature. I’d have to sneak up behind him and slide a pillowcase around him, and then pick him up in the case and lower him in the case into the carrier. And he’d yowl these horrible gutteral yowls the whole time he was in it. Not this time. He just let me lay him in onto a soft blanket. He looked at me with his big green eyes the whole time we were in the car.
The vet agreed that without extraordinary measures, Fritz wouldn’t survive much longer, but he didn’t know how long. They were so kind there. I asked if I could have some time alone with Fritz before we put him to sleep. I sat just holding him and crying for the longest time. I held him the only way he really liked to be held, cradled in my arms on his back, tummy up, just like you’d hold a baby. He simply kept looking up at me, and then he reached up with both of his paws and put one on each side of my face. I lost it. He used to do that with just one paw, but never two. I swear it was like he was telling me it was okay and that he was ready to go. When he dropped his paws, I let the vet know we were ready. They let me hold him while they gave him the medicine that would make it all better for good. He took a couple of deep sighing breaths and it was over.
I don’t know why, but I had him cremated. it was an impulse decision. I knew I was planning on moving, and at the time, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him behind buried in my backyard. I had to have my mom pick up his ashes from the vet for me. I couldn’t do it. She kept them for me for well over a year until she moved and I HAD to face taking possession of them. I guess I’ll probably just take those ashes with me wherever I go, for the rest of my life. I keep them out sight though, and I avoid going into the drawer where they are. Maybe I’ll have him buried with me.
I still miss you, Pig.
John. That’s the name of the ‘boy’. The boy of whom I am reminded, “because of the color of the wheatfields“.
I met John when I was a little girl, and he was almost a man. Our families attended the same church. I have distinct memories of love for him, as much as a 10 year old can love a 14 year old anyway…
He was a tall, blonde, lanky thing, and I watched him from afar, trying to steal glimpses of him when I didn’t think anyone would notice. I was not yet in junior high school when his family moved hundreds of miles away to Northern California. I remember being very sad about that. And the years passed.
Occasionally over those years his family’s name, his name, would come up in various discussions at my family’s dinner table. Mostly in the vein of us wondering how “they” were, John in particular. I never heard anything about him, until about five years ago. While at work in the emergency department in the LA area, the paramedics brought in a woman whose name was a familiar one. It was John’s sister’s married name. An unusual name. I wondered if the woman was a relative of Joanne’s husband. She was. It turned out this patient of mine was John’s sister’s mother-in-law. Though I was busy, I tried to get caught up on what was going on with the family. My “secret” agenda was to find out what was happening with John. I found he was still single, but that’s about all I got out of Joanne. I figured there must be a good reason she didn’t divulge any further information. I gave his sister my phone number, hoping that she and I could possibly get together in the future. And hoping that she might pass it along to John and that he might be just curious enough, about the ER nurse in Los Angeles that was asking after him, to investigate who I was.
Joanne (his sister) never called, and neither did John. And the incident left my consciousness. Until June 9 of last year.
My father forwarded an e-mail to me that he had received from John. The e-mail was sent to his parents’ e-mail address list, which my father just happened to be on. He was asking for help in wishing his mother a happy birthday. My father forwarded it on to all of us kids. I sent his mom an e-mail wishing her a happy birthday. And I thought about e-mailing John. It took me a week of actively resisting the finger of God tapping me on the shoulder and whispering for me to “do it, do it”. Eventually I relented, said “why not” and sent him a short, generic note of greeting…
“You probably don’t remember me, but…” That’s how it started. I heard back from him, and it sounded like he wanted to hear back from me! When I got his second e-mail, I knew that something wonderful was in store for me. I go back and read that e-mail now, and it seems somewhat innocuous and without an agenda, but I saw what I saw in it then! And I acted on it. We e-mailed back and forth for a number of weeks. His father had been ill for some time, and it seemed that his struggle would be over soon. I didn’t hear from John in that last week. When I heard that his father had passed away (on June 27th), I lamely extended my condolences, and my ear, to him. And after a few days, he took me up on the offer. A couple of weeks later, our communication again stopped. Then the most unthinkable thing happened. Just a month and two days after his father died, my sister-in-law and best friend, my healthy as a horse sister-in-law, took a nap from which she never awoke. In my stricken state, I felt a drive to connect again with John. And from there, our friendship blossomed into the greatest romance either of us had ever experienced. Until the bomb went off. What happened needn’t be laid out here. It’s mine and John’s to handle. But the shrapnel blew deep into our hearts. We not only couldn’t get the shrapnel back out of each other’s hearts, we couldn’t even tell each other where it was or how to find it. We struggled for months, trying to find our way back to some semblance of the beauty we had shared, and the beauty that neither of us wanted to admit had become something very different. Finally, in March, it ended. I limped along, missing him horribly, but knowing that things needed changing in us so that we could love each other better than we had been. And knowing that only God could address these things and bring about the change that was needed. So the silence remained between us. Two weeks ago, God took our very broken roads which had briefly crossed and then diverged, and impossibly, unbelievably, had them cross again.
Which brings us to today. God in his graciousness and in what can only be his amazing love for us, seems to have granted us access to each other’s hearts once again. And at a time when John had effectively put me out of his mind, and I had begun to think that maybe my hope for a future for us was misguided, and naive. Though our problems are not resolved, we have decided that we love each other enough to work this thing out. For now, we are letting things just breathe and giving ourselves some slack. The only decision we have made about our future is to acknowledge that we probably have one. We are basking in the refreshing loveliness of, and are delighting in, each other’s company. The rest; the answers, the solutions, the bridges, the plans, will come. In time they will come.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Thanks for being my friend and for loving me. I am so glad I am on this journey with you, John.
5/1/2007 – – – Sadly, our paths parted again some months ago. Only God knows if they will ever cross again. Only God knows if my heart will ever heal. I wanted to delete this post altogether because it’s actually quite painful to go back and read. And embarassing, too, to tell the truth. But it’s part of my history. It’s part of my collective life experiences and sharing my experience is what my blog is about. Nobody ever goes back this far into a blog to read, do they? It used to be posted under the categories of “John” and “Love”. It is now to be posted under “Sad Day”.