How are you heading into this new year? How does living, in general, feel? David Brooks has deftly and brilliantly covered the question of how one can live an eulogy or a resume. Read it, if you haven’t already. Read it, again, if you already have.
A soul of mighty worth left our Earth, and I started this new year by attending her celebration of life. Norma Jeane Levison lived a bit more than 92 years here, and her “resume” or career would be thin by our current standards. She graduated from high school in 1941, and options few, chose an adventure as a Reservation Attendant for Northwest Airlines. Within a few years, she had left the world of “work” for the world of parenthood, where she flourished deeply into grandparenthood and great-grandparenthood.
Our lives did not connect until she was reaching the age of 86, and I the age of 36. While it took just a moment to see and feel and bask in her joy for living, it took my stubborn mindset years for me to start seeing her wisdom.
Norma loved everyone. Full stop. Everyone.
Norma had hope for everyone. Seriously, everyone.
Norma did not have a resume. She possessed love, friendship, faith – a complete recipe for connection. She wasn’t on LinkedIn. She did not have a certification or a degree or a doctorate. And yet, the lessons apply to us today. Sitting and listening to her children speak today – all highly accomplished individuals – all dialed into our world of work – the words that resounded to me: resilience, hospitality, and joy.
At the age of 85, Norma moved from retirement in Florida to Texas, to be closer to family. It was a huge undertaking, and one she greeted with child-like anticipation and adult-earned wisdom. She had been practicing resilience from a very early age, and continued to model it all the way to her last day here. You just keep going. Get up more times than life levels you. Keep fighting the fight. Keep running the race. Resilience.
Friends – Norma had them everywhere she went. She did not have siblings, so perhaps part of her gift for hospitality stemmed from always wanting to draw people close to her? Norma made and kept friends. My last communication from her – an email just a few days before she passed, telling me that she would not be able to send out her typical Christmas cards because her eyesight had gotten so bad, but that she loved me and wanted to know that she cared. She embraced technology to help stay connected to friends and family.
About a year ago, when health issues required Norma to move to assisted living, she greeted the change with her usual positive attitude yet was met with challenges she did not anticipate. Many of her new neighbors were accustomed to eating at certain tables, and with certain people. Norma’s hospitality light would not be dimmed, and she built connections and friendships in the hallways, and Bingo room, and finally in the dining hall. Always, Norma’s candy dish was stocked full – a wise choice that I must follow! Chocolate goes straight to the heart of hospitality! And 14 months later, today, so many were gathered from decades ago, from years ago, from days ago – to celebrate a person who celebrated and welcomed others – always – to her table. Hospitality.
Joy. Jesus. Others. Yourself. Norma embodied JOY. When I met Norma, I was skittish at best about Jesus. And yet, she loved me. And yet, she had patience for me. And always, she met me where I was – and urged me to step ahead into my unknown. Her joy was a light that is truly eternal – it cannot be extinguished. Norma showed me how to befriend Jesus, and welcome him into my life. No strings. No church. No expectations. Just joy. Just friendship. Just keep talking. Just think about how you can serve others. Just go ahead and serve. Just love. Just love yourself. Just tell me about it all. Just keep the lines open. Joy.
As I continue to step forward into this new year of 2019, I do it without Norma’s calls or emails. And this is hard and sad. Like most of us, I have experienced loss before and know about grief. And whether someone is 92 or 22, it just sucks – the loss.
I’m going to continually try, and hope that you will join me – day by day – moment by moment – to live the lessons of Resilience, Hospitality and Joy that Norma breathed into my life. These lessons will apply to work, to parenting, to friendships, to faith, to daily living. Norma Jeane Levison did not live a resume. She lived well and loved everyone. Until we meet again!