the magic of J

Words written for J upon his death, September 2008

The first thing J’s surfing coach ever told him was “learn to love your wipeouts”.  How appropriate!  Because that is the way J always lived his life.  He IS a survivor in the truest of ways.  When we first found out that he had cancer, we all thought – if anyone can beat this, J can.  But J taught us what it really means to be a survivor.  It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  No matter what giant wave threatened to crash over him or the people he loves, J always knew how to stand up, look it in the face, and laugh.  J was never consumed with the final outcome – what was always important was “Did you do your best?  Did you have fun?”  And for J, if he was smiling, he was winning. 

As a big brother, J has been my beacon.  The lighthouse I looked for to find my way home after falling off track.  He has been my friend, my protector,  the source of my courage, the love of my life.  He taught me how to be strong, how to have fun, how to laugh, how to love.  He taught me to see through drama and find humor in the absurd.  He told me once “life is not complicated, people are.”  He taught me that attitude is everything.

For my kids, he has always been the coolest uncle in the world.  He could turn a swimming pool into a roaring ocean and, with a boogie board, teach the kids how to ride 15 foot waves.  He could turn a boring afternoon into a game where the challenge was to find words that rhyme with “tiger”.  Most of the words were made up, but that was always the fun part.  He could invent definitions to made up words that were so convincing, even the grown ups questioned how much we really knew.  He changed the words to songs, invented new names for animals, and he gave everyone nicknames that were far more appealing than our real names. 

For everyone in our family, he is music.  He taught us that each and every one of our lives has a singular, unique soundtrack, and that the coolest part is that you get to pick your own songs.  Music is everywhere, it defines everything.  It pumps, it soothes, it is an expression of how you feel, of who you are and what you want to be.  When you feel lost, all you need to do is stop and listen.  

J is and will always be many things to many people.  He has touched so many lives in so many ways – he like one of the stones he once threw into Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, years and years ago when we were kids.  The one that skipped a couple of times before it plunked into the water, sending ripples across the lake all the way to the other side.  His smile, his laughter, his voice, his wisdom, his words, his music – it all reaches father than any one of us can imagine.

J taught all of us to love life.  Breathe it in, soak it up, sing it, play it, dance to it, ride it, share it.  When we are able to get past the sorrow of his physical absence, I know that we will all come to feel J in everything we do, and he will continue to fill our lives with joy and wisdom and the truest love of life – always.


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Even as a child, I would study the unexpected turns in my life and try to find the lessons in them. I am nothing if not reflective. As an American citizen raised in Sao Paulo, Dallas and Madrid, I am a classic adult TCK*. Perspective is key, and I look at everything through multiple lenses. It used to make my son crazy when as a boy he would press me for a firm stance on something and I would often answer “well, that depends…” I am a thinker and learner, writer and story teller, counselor and coach. After almost of quarter of a century in k12 education, I am now on sabbatical, taking some time to breathe, reflect, dream, explore life’s many gifts, and write. When I was around 8 years old, I starting writing down my dreams and these turned into stories. I have been blogging since 2010, have published several articles about the need for change in how and what young people learn, and I am currently working on a couple of manuscripts. One is a collection of motivational essays for women leaders in international education which I am co-authoring with my friend and colleague, Debbie Lane. The other is more of a memoir, a personal story about love, sacrifice, and hope. Hope and gratitude are common themes in my writing, my work, and in my life in general. Everyone has a story to tell. Thank you for taking some time to explore mine. I hope you’ll come back. *A TCK is a third-culture kid, someone who has spent a significant number of their formative years outside of their passport country. It is an experience that typically has a profound impact on the development of self and identity.

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