A few weeks ago, work took me to the Windy City for a conference. The opening keynote speaker was a young woman whom I had heard speak a few years back and while amazing, the part of me drawn to novel experiences, admittedly was somewhat less than enthusiastic about a repeat performance.
I was wrong. So wrong.
In the years since hearing her speak last, it became apparent to me within moments, that she had grown and more importantly, that I have grown. Her message was poignant, insightful and addressed the human condition in ways that only someone who has lived deeply can do. This keynote speaker is Liz Murray, author of the New York Times Bestseller Breaking Night “and a believer of Possibilities, Creativity, Audacity, Passion, Fun, and a Global Community.” Her story is that of Homeless to Harvard – the story of but one young girl raised by drug addicted parents who both died so early in life, leaving her and her sister homeless as teenagers.
Her ability to convey her story with humor, with transparency and yet with a level of insight far beyond her 33 years, on par with that of thought leaders we have all read or heard about was simply and purely stunning. Her candidness captivated me and I could have listened to her speak all all night. She wove her story with her observations, lessons learned and universal truths. She shared one of the most honest – and helpful – examples of forgiveness that paralleled, to me, that of the story of Louie Zamperini in the book Unbroken. Tears gently rolled down my face in one second and in the next, I was laughing out loud. A master story teller, without a doubt and truly, a master human being.
At one point, while she was speaking of her mother and while unable to parent in the ways we consider conventional, Liz spoke of her mother’s fierce love and affection for her children. Then she shared that when her mother became ill and that the end was imminent, that she wished she had taken more time to be with her. She shared that afterwards, after the moment to say goodbye had come and gone, that she realized that even at such a young age, that she had developed a theme in her life.
She always thought there would a later.
I will see her later. I will visit her later. I will spend time with her later.
Later came. Later went.
Her mother was gone. Buried in a pine box.
Later came. Later went.
The kiddo and I are spending a few days with my father, who in the recent weeks met up with the milestone called 94. On the day of his birthday, my brother shared that upon birthday greetings and the acknowledgemet of his 94 years, that his response was, “Let’s see if we can make it to 95”.
His spirit is in tact. His body is mostly in tact. His mind, however, is in nearly a million mixed up little pieces.
While sitting together in the living room, or at the dining table, our conversations are both humorous and heartbreaking.
He asks when he is going home. We are home. The home where he has lived since 1968.
He asks if he ever came to visit me when I lived in San Francisco. I have never lived in San Francisco.
He asked me if my brother has arranged transportation back to the other house. I tell him we are where we need to be.
He asks me if Bill lived with me in Fresno, or somewhere? He thinks I am his cousin. I just shake my head no.
He asks me if I would like to stay the night. I say yes, of course, thank you. He does not realize that I am his daughter.
He says he needs to find a ten dollar bill he dropped out in the yard, and when I tell him he didn’t he says he will look for it anyway. When I find a ten in his wallet, he hands it to me and thanks me for my help. I just take the ten. And put it back in his wallet when he’s not looking.
We take a drive around the town where he’s lived and worked since the sixties and he remarks that he thinks he’s been before. That’s true, he has.
As I get him to bed, he asks me where his wife is. I say she is not here right now and he nods. He says she must be with her mother, and I nod. He says she old enough to manage on her own. His wife died 16 years ago. I kiss him good night.
I began asking him questions a few years ago. Questions about his life, his loves, his dreams, his travels, his regrets. I got only the tip of the ice berg.
I realize now, I always thought there was a later.
He is still here, but his mind is not.
Later has come. Later has gone.
There is still so much I want to know.