A Weekend in New York

My family celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday this past weekend in New York City and I’m currently almost caught up on the show This is Us. I cannot say if those two things are related but it’s said that writing is therapeutic so I decided to write about this weekend.

Over thirty family and friends were invited to come together for dinner to quasi-surprise a woman who has gone by many different names in her life. My sisters, cousins, and I have always called her Nanny. She lives in Florida year-round now and regrettably I have not been able to see her as often as I would like in recent years. But 10 seconds with her this weekend and she was the Nanny I have always loved and had fun with. Her laugh, her quips, her personality. One needs not be old to have waves of nostalgia wash over them on occasion.

She technically is my step grandmother but I only mention that to recognize how nonsenical and unnecessary that extra word is to me. She has always been the one who bought giant packs of kids mini-cereal boxes she would never touch because she knew her grandkids would like them. She taught us how to eat a whole lobster properly in Maine. She took us to the beach and flea markets in Florida. She would always be kind and nice, hilarious and generous. She has always been Nanny.

Family is such a complex multilayered thing. It is so vital for folks and also so easy to screw up. Every family, even ones who are not particularly close, have the memories and shared experiences that come from the times when they had to be close because that’s what families do. You grow up together. You learn together. You share meals.

This weekend we shared an amazing meal in a stunning restaurant in a world class city. But as great as it was the setting was truly secondary to being able to spend time with family and Nanny. At a smaller gathering the night before the main meal, she noted herself that an occasion like this was “very special.” Simple words but, in an awareness I rarely show toward others, I could sense the affection she spoke them with.

It has never been easy or natural for me to really show my feelings or emotions outwardly. Safer to keep things hidden inside right? But this weekend I felt a great freedom to hug and talk with my grandmother openly. And it was great. Family can be messy and uncomfortable sometimes. But it also runs deep. This past weekend we celebrated my Nanny’s birthday. I cannot wait to do it again.

 

 

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What a difference a year makes…

A year ago on my birthday I spent most of the day en route and then in a foreign hospital. I found myself in a room with 4 other men ranging in age from their mid-20s to their 70s. I got demolished in chess by one them. We could speak about 10 words to each other as I didn’t speak Czech and he didn’t speak English. The following morning I was operated on in a foreign country.

This year my birthday was rather different. A lot happened yesterday, but the following anecdote will suffice to describe it. At the end of August I started coaching a high school cross country team. 16 boys, 5 girls. It is my first time as a head coach. We had a race on Wednesday and if we had won I had planned to tell them thanks for the birthday gift: my first win as a head coach. We lost so I decided to simply play it cool. My two assistants wished me happy birthday at the start of practice, how they knew I wasn’t aware. I then ran the practice as normal: warm-up, run, core exercises, stretching, thoughts about the race the day before. Then per usual we came together for the end of practice prayer and cheer. Except instead of saying LCA (the school’s name) they broke into “Happy Birthday.” And then as we broke apart as a group one of the guys breaks out a full-size birthday cake.

This was no ordinary cake. It didn’t merely say “Happy Birthday” or have candles in it. It was picture of me transposed onto the frosting. Completely edible and delicious. One of my runners had gone onto Facebook and found a photo of me (we aren’t friends…I need to update my privacy settings…), printed it out and took it to the cake store. My assistant coaches gave me a nice card with a Dunkin gift card attached. The team had all signed a paper wishing me a happy birthday.

I’ve known these people less than a month. I apparently mentioned that my birthday was in 9 days in passing 9 days ago. I cannot express how utterly surprising all this was to me.

It’s easy for me to see the negatives in the world, to be cynical, to moan about all that is wrong. But people, as capable of they are of evil, also have a wondrous ability to do good. I saw that yesterday in my team and it was simply fantastic.