I always believed that people come into your life for one of two reasons; They are there to either teach you something or they are there for you to teach them. The age and experience makes no difference and often the lessons are not blatantly obvious. The lessons may come from the spoken word. It may come in the experience of actions. It may only be a feeling. But if you step out of yourself and focus on what is offered around you, you might be blessed with a life shifting lesson that this person came personally to you to deliver. Their gift to you or they are patiently awaiting the gift you are intended to give them.
And after the lessons are learned and the teaching is done, the two people may drift away. Is this what happened to us? Were all of our lessons learned? Was there nothing else to teach? Is this why you had to go? I was not ready, but no one asked me.
So, I reflect on our 35 years and savor and honor the lessons you taught me. I think I also had lessons to teach you. I pray that I was as effective a teacher for you as you were for me.
I think I taught you how to be vulnerable. I made it safe for you to show your soul and not sacrifice your dignity.
I think I softened your edges. Your military bearing had hard and fast boundaries. It took a few years, but it made you more approachable so that other people were not fearful to come to you. When they came to you, you became their teacher. Many young people spoke at your funeral about how you changed their lives.
I think I taught you how to be less shy. I know that will come as a shock to those who knew you best, but you were very socially shy. In the beginning, you sat back and allowed me to take the lead in social situations. You learned so well that as years went by, I think we changed places.
I think I taught you how to be lighthearted. We danced, we played, we acted silly and it did not injure our public image. I remember one night when we sat on the curb downtown and played a game we invented: Let’s judge people. We would wait and watch and finally pick out one person. Then we made up their story and told each other the story of that person’s life. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was tragic. We predicted their future than picked another person.
I think I taught you that I would go to any extent to keep you alive. I tried, my love and you knew, I believe. I fought as hard as I possibly could with all of the odds against us. But from the bottom of my soul, I did all that I knew to do, and, in the end, I failed you. But you knew that I would never give up as long as there was a drop of hope. I didn’t and I know that you knew my commitment to you.
You, my love, were my teacher too. I was not always an easy recipient. Stubbornness and self-protection are hard shields to burrow through, but you loved me and would not quit on me in spite of my defiance. Your lessons to me changed the very core of who I used to be and who I became because of you. I think I disappointed you a thousand times. I think that I avoided your lessons because some would require repentance and humility on my part. You never judged and you never quit. You taught and you waited patiently for me to learn.
You taught me what it is to truly live in integrity. Doing the right thing when no one is watching is a view into a person’s soul. It is the signature of who you are and what makes you a person of quality. Sacrifice your integrity and you surrender yourself. You taught me that this is an easy choice.
You taught me to honor being an American. You taught me about history and military commitment and the significance of respecting those who made the choice to sacrifice their lives to ensure that we could live ours in peace. You shared your intimate military experiences and on your death bed, asked God to forgive you if, during the war, you were responsible for the death of another person. This was your final struggle in your faith and you told me one morning that you were “square with God”. You must have found spiritual peace during that night because I saw God’s glow on your face.
You taught me the difference between an acquaintance and a friend. You were an incredibly committed friend. Your friendships went on for decades and once someone was your friend, it was a life commitment. There was no request that was too difficult for you if asked by a friend. You were by their side when they needed you and they did the same for you. You set the standard.
The hardest lesson you taught me, my love, was how to be the recipient of unconditional love. Emotionally naked, you called it. You offered it to me and chiseled through my protective exterior to touch my soul. Once you got there, you never let go. You filled me for 35 years with a safe and fulfilling love that made me feel valuable and cherished. I had to be something rare and priceless because you picked me.
Now that the teaching is done and the learning is complete, you have gone away the hole is huge. Selfishly, most of all, I miss feeling cherished. I miss waking up next to you, looking at you and knowing that on this earth, I was the most special to you.
Thank you for picking me and being both my teacher and my student. Your lessons changed me forever. I miss you more than any words can describe.