julie's sweet words this morning reminded me of the impact her mom had on my life.
twenty(ish) years ago, i was an english teacher at a high school in chagrin falls, ohio. i was also in my twenties, a few years into marriage and, eventually, in the very first months of motherhood.
as the english teacher, i was given the opportunity to "run the theater department." for many years, in addition to teaching english, i taught all the theater classes and directed a fall play and a spring musical. (i was also the varsity volleyball coach--good-golly, i was busy)! i loved being a teacher and a director (and a coach), but the truth is, i really didn't know what i was doing all that much. as a young 20-something-year-old teaching 17 and 18 year olds, it was a little touch-and-go at times. to say the least. i was barely older than them, and, i probably looked even younger than some of them. i did my best, but, i'm sure i had to make a few things up, fake it just a bit, and pray an awful lot. (if you've ever taught high schoolers you know just what i mean). i remember days where i doubted my ability. heck, days where i felt a little bit like an actress myself.
one of my favorite stories from these early years of teaching is the time i got stopped in the hall by an older teacher and he asked me where my hall pass was. yep, that happened.
but, even in my lack of confidence, it was a life-changing season for me. the experience grew me up and stretched me in tremendous ways. i worked with some pretty awesome kids in the classroom and on the stage. many of which i am still in touch with today---thanks to facebook!
running from one responsibility to another---from the classroom to the volleyball court to the stage to my home life---those years were an absolute blur. i had to learn quickly how to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time---i also learned how to drop a few as gracefully as possible! two decades later, i can still close my eyes and easily recall the feel of that old auditorium---the sounds and smells and small (and some grand) moments. i remember rehearsing lines and painting sets and fretting over the--almost always--unpredictable sound and lighting system. i definitely remember the kids. i loved working with them, but some days i didn't know which way to turn first: there was always so much to do, so much to be done. i felt like i had so much to prove.
there were a few "stage moms" who impacted me deeply during this time. pixie ferlito was one of them. her two children, julie and greg, were students in my english class and also cast members in several of the shows. their mom, pixie, was exceptional. she was a ball of energy--an incredible "get-things-done" kind of lady, yes! -- but always in the most gentle and sweet way. she had a sparkle about her and a beautiful smile on her face. always.
as a young teacher-director-coach-mother-wife ... i was so often overwhelmed in my various roles. and i think pixie knew that. so many times she had just the right words for me. she would swing by the stage or stop in my classroom and, though our conversations were brief, i always left her feeling so encouraged and capable. she had this special kind of peace about her.
|the albums pixie made me|
in december of 1994, i directed thorton wilder's play, our town. pixie's daughter, julie, was a townsperson in that show and pixie was instrumental, helping me in a multitude of ways. as is sometimes natural with a small cast, the kids and parents who came together were all super close during this time. pixie created another beautiful album for me for this show. the cast filled it with photos and keepsakes and gifted it to me on the final night of their performance. her handiwork in these homemade albums she designed was incredible. i cannot imagine the amount of time it took. but it is such a reflection of the woman she was---sacrificial with her time, beautiful in her work and loving through her spirit.
the play, our town, isn't always a crowd pleaser. it's heavy stuff. when i selected it, i remember one of my administrators questioning me on my choice. "gosh, jody," he said, "this isn't exactly a feel-good, upbeat kind of show, is it? well, he was right about that. it surely isn't. but it's a wonderful and true depiction of real life ... and death. and it has a powerful message---one, in which we all probably need a reminder.
the third act of the play opens with the funeral of emily gibbs. she is a young woman who is granted the chance to go back and relive one day in her life. she chooses her 12th birthday, and from that experience emily delivers this final, heart-wrenching, monologue:
"Let's really look at one another! It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed...Wait! One more look. Good-bye. Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners ... mama and papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking...and mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."
three years --almost to the very day--after that december performance of our town, pixie ferlito lost her battle with cancer and went to be with Jesus -- 20 years ago today. i was home on maternity leave with our second born when i heard news of her passing. i remember weeping and weeping over the ferlito family's loss of their mother and wife. there i was a new mama, and i couldn't help but think of the words from thorton wilder's play which impacted all of us so deeply three years earlier. that december, i watched a family experience this kind of pain, not on stage, but in real life.
at the end of emily's monologue in our town, she asks the stage manager, "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ... every, every minute?" and the stage manager replies, "no. saints and poets maybe ... they do some."
all i can say is that pixie ferlito must have had a lot of saint and poet in her! people just don't walk around with that kind of joy in their heart and that kind of smile on their face unless they do "realize life while they live it."
julie's post, reminded me that pixie died at age 49, 10 days before her 50th birthday. and maybe, that's a part of it for me today. but, early this morning, as i read julie's words, i wept again for all of it: for this precious family and for their loss. for the fact that this girl who said good-bye to her mom at 19 is now, herself, a young mom. i wept for the beauty of a life like pixie's and for the beauty of her daughter's tribute this morning.
and i wept for this life ... that we are all given, but don't always appreciate.
this year i am also a 49 year old mother. and, if i'm being honest, i don't feel like i always do a bang up job "realizing life while i live it." when i went through my own bout with cancer, years ago, i thought of pixie often during that time. when i worried that the cancer could actually be something which might take my life and take away my chance to mother my children, i had many moments where i became completely undone by that fear. i begged God. i even made promises. i was sure that if given the chance to make it through cancer, i'd do a much better job living every moment fully --- taking time to realize and appreciate every little thing life gave me. but 7 years later, even though cancer left me changed, i can't tell you that i do that really well. like our town's emily, i, too want to ask: "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ...every, every minute?"
it's hard to do. i know. but from my perspective, it sure seemed like i knew a lady 20 years ago who came pretty darn close.
|our town cast 1994|
20 some years ago when i was teaching and directing these kids, i didn't know a lot of things. but i knew even then -- practically a kid myself--we were all in need of that message, that wish, that prayer.
and, we still are.
"teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
~ psalm 90:12
~ psalm 90:12