Last night, after a busy day, I watched Hairspray with my family. Have you seen it? My favorite segment is John Travolta, in drag as hefty mama Edna Turnblad, dancing enthusiastically with Christopher Walken and together belting out the song “You’re Timeless To Me.” Click on the film clip below if you want to see the full routine. Gleefully singing lines like, “You’re fat and old, baby boring you ain’t” and “Pour me a teeny weeny triple, and we can toast to the fact that we ain’t dead yet!,” I admit they remind me a bit of my own family, not in appearance, but in attitude. When my dad turned 80, we threw a birthday party for him, filling a rented hall with friends, neighbors, and grandchildren. I suppose this doesn’t seem particularly unusual, except for the fact that he was living with lung cancer at the time and my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. When I first mentioned the party to my husband, he (perhaps rightfully) had his doubts. “Let me see if I have this straight,” I recall him saying, “you’re going to bring your father, who only has one lung, and your mother, who doesn’t do well with crowds, into a banquet hall filled with people she may not remember, and have a party? In the middle of January in Boston?” Such a killjoy. Of course we held the party and, of course, we had a blast. Attitude is everything.
In October, I’ll be traveling to Princeton, New Jersey for a reunion of sales and marketing managers at one of the pharmaceutical companies. Organized annually for decades, it is the first time that I’ve been invited to join in the fun. The call came from John, a man with whom I worked back when I was a childless 30-something full of ambition and energy. Twenty years my senior, I admired how he would work a full day, and then head home to any number of volunteer projects: he was an elder in his church, a volunteer fireman, the go-to guy in his community for help. He did it all with a vast repertoire of jokes honed over years on the road in sales. Though we now live 400 miles apart, I’ve been hearing from him more frequently this year than in the past, and when he called with this invitation, I cleared my schedule so I could attend the reunion. John lives with Parkinson’s disease–I want to emphasize the word “lives”–and although I can hear the changes in his voice over the telephone, he nonetheless ended our call with a joke and his signature close, “You can borrow that if you like,” knowing that I never tell a good joke well.
Like so many others who live with cancer or diabetes, arthritis or heart disease, John hasn’t lost his sense of humor or his love of life and the joy of being with friends. He is an inspiration to me.
As we head into Labor Day weekend, I hope you’ll find a few minutes to reflect on those who inspire you. Have a great weekend.
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