Dad loved nature. He saw beauty everywhere and in everything around him. He was famous for his long hikes into the woods to photograph and catalog wildflowers. One spring he dragged all six of my older siblings with him to hike up a long hill to the same spot week after week, just to capture the budding and blooming of a single Lady’s Slipper. Dad saw much of the world that way. He could capture a single fleeting moment in time with his camera lens and he could also do it with his mind. He would remember the tiniest details most people would never have noticed. He taught me to be an observer of life and the world around me. I’ve never forgotten that and I never will.
Maybe due in part to that observer’s perspective, I’ve often felt like an outsider. I’m the youngest of seven children, five girls and two boys, but there’s 10 years between me and the next youngest. I might as well be an only child. I moved twice in grade school from New Jersey to Kansas to Connecticut, each time I had to learn to deal with being “the new kid”. Then I married and had my children at a younger age than many of my friends. As I’ve become more involved in their school and in our parish, I am often the youngest one by at least a decade.
As a writer, I’ve learned to embrace that “outsider” feeling as a designated observer status, a sort of press pass for life. I tend to look at life differently than most people. I notice little but important details that can change my whole perspective. I’ve learned to capture those unique fleeting moments in time with the tip of my pen. God has blessed me by surrounding me with all the world’s tiny details and giving me the eyes to see them and the words to record them for others.
I’ve often written about my struggles with my faith, my shortcomings, and the battle with the gremlin that lives in my head. These last few weeks in March remind me of my Dad and all the wonderful things I learned from him. Losing Dad at such a young age from a terrible and agonizing disease was devastating. Yet I’ve cherished all that he taught me so much more because it’s all I have left of him.
As my children have grown old enough to pay attention, I take the time to point out to them the beauty in the world around them. I show them the flowers, the birds, and the constellations. I teach them all the names of the natural world that Dad taught me. I beat myself up too often for being impatient with them for just acting like typical little boys. As if to remind me to lighten up on myself, six-year-old Eugene looked up at the stars coming home the other night, stopped on the driveway with his head tipped all the way back and picked out Orion in the night sky. “That’s what I’m named after!” he cried out. He’s right. Eugene was Dad’s middle name and Orion is the first constellation that Dad taught me to find. It was one of those precious “good Mommy” moments when I knew for certain that I’d given him something special to cherish.
Deacon Ron’s favorite question for me is always “Where’s God in all this?” Dad gave me the answer when I was still a little girl. He’s everywhere and in everything all around me. This time of year, as the frozen winter fades away and spring’s gentle warmth returns, I see God’s face in every new flower and hear His voice in every bird’s song. I love having designated observer status.