How Do You Say Goodbye Forever?

It’s hard to lose a friend. But it happens all the time. Sometimes they move away. Sometimes friends lose interest in each other - a common link like a job or a hobby or a neighborhood goes away. Communication gets less and less until it’s reduced to nothing more than the exchange of an annual Christmas card. And then there are the friends who betray us. They leave quickly and we're usually well rid of them.

But sometimes friends leave when they don’t want go ... and we can’t bear to lose them.

How do you say goodbye to that kind of friend?

I met Vickie Swink ten years ago when we both attended an Economic Development class. She was working for the City of Cumberland and I was working for the State of Maryland. We lived three hundred miles apart - she in the mountains of western Maryland and me in flat marshes of the southern Chesapeake Bay. I will never forget that magnetic, toothy smile and her animated spirit. Vickie was a magnet.... always smiling.

Our first conversation was all about me, as were most of our subsequent conversations. And while this is partly due to my being a self-focused attention hog, it was also due to Vickie being genuinely interested in me.... as she was with so many other people. She was never one to grab attention, and she naturally pulled out the best in people.

A year or so after our first meeting, Vickie and I became work colleagues both doing rural economic development. We practiced at opposite ends of the state, and while distance sometimes hampers the development of strong friendships, Vickie and I became soul sisters. We talked every week about work, husbands, kids, the rural landscape (snow and hills versus ocean and mosquitoes) and about people who made us crazy.

She was funny. She was optimistic. She was supportive. She was always taking care of someone and doing it quietly … humbly. Vickie was like water you pour over pebbles. She wasn’t the shiny thing that stood out. She was the support that flowed all around everything. She filled in the painful cracks and smoothed over rough edges. She made all the burdens seem lighter. She was everywhere yet not easily seen. When you needed Vickie, she was quietly there with all of her focus on you.

Vickie Lyn Swink was born in Bedford PA but lived most of her life in Allegany County, Maryland. She attended Mt. Savage High School where she played basketball and volleyball in three state championships. She later graduated from Frostburg State University with a degree in Economics. She was married to Stu Swink and they have two young sons - William and Andrew - who were the absolute focus of her life and purpose. Yesterday - at age 47, she finally succumbed to cancer.

I remember being at the PACE Conference in Annapolis a few years back. I was sharing a room with Vickie and she told me that she had cancer. She said, “I’m going to beat this thing. I have to. I have two little boys who can’t grow up without me.”  She stayed positive all the way to the end. And her mother told us that even at the end … she wouldn’t let go. She fought for every moment of life.

When life and death make no sense, and the pain of loss seems unbearable, the only thing we have left to sustain us is memories. I spent last night remembering Vickie and pulling pictures together that showed her spirit.

Here’s to you, Vickie. Here’s to a good friend, a good wife, a good daughter, a devoted mother, a soul sister and a person who spent most of her time taking care of other people.

Here's to you until we meet again.

An Education Fund has been set up for Vickie and Stu's sons, William and Andrew. You can learn more and donate by visiting their GoFundMe campaign. 

Good Friday - Jesus Walked in Two Worlds

It’s Good Friday. A day that we remember death, betrayal, abandonment and everything dark in this life.

On Good Friday I always think about Jesus and his mother, Mary. Let’s face it. Plenty of people have gone through what they went through - a public execution in order to silence an voice that opposes a controlling authority. Mary isn't the only mother who has had to watch helplessly as her child was humiliated and slowly tortured to death, when the only comfort she could offer was eye contact. Many families and friends have watched their loved ones be executed by people who merely want to make a statement, to keep control, to send a message. Life is cheap to them.

We’re seeing that today in the Middle East - and that’s only because people there have smart phones. Undoubtedly this type of persecution and execution is going on somewhere every day.

So the Good Friday scene isn't so rare. Good Friday is more about the story than the actual event. Actually, it is the beginning of a story. Easter is the happy ending.

It's Everyone's Story

The Good Friday story happens to us all the time, though death is rarely the price we pay. Jesus was killed not for his beliefs or teachings, but because his teachings threatened somebody else’s power. It’s that simple. People who didn’t want to lose something extinguished the threat, and did so in a way that both justified their actions and terrified the community they controlled. They hung the crucifixion on the “religion” peg, calling Jesus a heretic, and then humiliated him and tortured him to death to send the message to the community that “this could happen to you too, if you support this guy.”

It’s the oldest story in the world. The same scenario plays out plays out today in churches, in the workplace, in neighborhoods and in families. The authorities threw Jesus under the bus so they could either gain power or keep power. Sometimes power is money, sometimes it’s knowledge or prestige, a better job, more influential friends, a position of authority, a public recognition. Sometimes it’s all of these things.

But Jesus took it on along with the consequences. And how he played it out and what happened later is why we keep telling the story. He didn’t fight, he didn’t pick up a flag and weapons and organize and army to say “Let’s kill these dirty bastards and stand up for the meek and lowly.” He didn’t demonize his attackers. He forgave them. He knew that his action of accepting their humiliation and death would be the final affirmation of all that he stood for - of his entire ministry. He knew it would demonstrate that he meant what he preached, and his message would live longer than he would. Not everyone has to do this, but had Jesus run, or fought back or incited violence, he would have diminished the importance of his message, possibly made a mockery of all that he stood for. So he played it out, paying the ultimate price. And the man in him became smaller than the ideal that he preached and lived.

There will always be people with power who destroy others in order to keep what they have or gain more. We will never be rid of them. But we can control one thing.

We can decide not to be one of them. That is the message of Good Friday.

The Sermon on the Mount

To me, the Sermon on the Mount is the ultimate teaching. Blessed are the poor and the sad and the depressed. Blessed are the grieving and the ones who have no power, and the ones who want to put things right and stand up for those who have no voice. Blessed are the ones who show mercy rather than judgment, who make peace rather than take a side in a fiery conflict. And blessed are those who pay the ultimate price in order NOT to become one of the power hungry bastards who make this world such an ugly place. Those people - the hungry, poor, suffering, noble peacemakers are the ones who are really walking with God. They will be rewarded. They will find what everyone is ultimately looking for.

The finally to the Sermon on the Mount is the real kicker.

You are the salt of the earth. YOU have the gift to bring light into the world. Don’t be misguided into believing that “bringing light into the world” is the same as judging others and standing on a soap box in order to feel the intoxicating power of being an iconic preacher of truth. Just live it and that will be statement enough.

Love one another. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek - don’t get caught up the debate and the conflict in order to prove a point. Don’t hoard stuff for yourself shutting resources off to those in need. Don’t covet the power. Share with others and pray … pray to God. And if you can’t understand the vastness and the glory of such a supreme being, envision your God as a loving father, and talk to him as a child would talk to a parent. And don't don't don't diminish or control how others see God.

The message in the Sermon on the Mount is why I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. But I am no longer bound by fear or worry that I’m damned if I don’t follow every little teaching of the Church, and I respect all of the other paths to God that are loving and peaceful. I don’t really think I chose to follow Jesus. I think I was destined to follow. I was born into a family that followed that path and surrounded by people who supported it. We all have our own paths to walk, and we can learn from each other.

Jesus Walked in Two Worlds

Jesus was the ultimate example of a man who walked in two worlds - this world and the eternal world. And it was from that perspective that he taught us.

So today I remember Jesus and his suffering, and though I haven’t been publicly humiliated and executed, I have been betrayed, thrown under the bus, abandoned and looked into days so dark that I thought I’d never ascend from the darkness into the light. And I’m no different than anyone else. We’ve all seen suffering. And most of us at one time or another - myself included - have been the inflicters of suffering, the power hungry, the crucifers.

In the end those who victimize the weak in order to gain power end up missing the real gift, which is love … connection … belonging. Money, fame, power - they're all misguided shortcuts that we think will lead us to that true gift of love. The violent power mongers always end up the same way - not able to trust anyone and eventually done in by themselves or the next power hungry monger who is a little bit stronger. They destroy each other in the end. And no remnant of that power goes into the coffin when they are lowered into the grave.

But love lives. I know that when my body dies I will still love my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends. Death doesn’t destroy that. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can’t deny that love lives. The love I give to my grandchildren will still be with them when I’m gone. They’ll be able to recall it and feel it, to love me back and want to impart that same gift of love to their children and grandchildren. Therefore it lives.

Hate lives too. And it can destroy love And that is why the message of Good Friday is so important. We must be able to identify paths of hate from paths of love.

The only thing of value, the only thing that goes beyond the grave, the only thing that lives in this world and in the next is love. It’s worth embracing and walking a path that nurtures its growth.

Photos:  Stations of the cross at Holy Cross Abbey - Thurles, Ireland

Don't Be Cheap. Give Her a Dozen Roses this Valentine's

Give her roses this Valentine’s Day

There is nothing that says “I love you” like one dozen, long-stemmed roses (except maybe two dozen).  Don’t fall for that hype that expressed in poetry … “a single rose of love – a single love never to be broken”.  Single roses are for cheap givers.  Give her at least one dozen on Valentine’s Day – the feast that celebrates love.

Every year, my husband gives me a dozen (or two dozen) roses. He spent fifteen years in the floral industry as a grower, a designer and a shop owner.  He told me that they'd always laugh at the few dumb schlubs (<---- he did not say schulbs) that would buy "one single rose" for his dearest love.

"You could see the love in their eyes - the ones who bought a dozen roses - or two dozen" he said. "But the guy who bought one rose, always had a big story about how one rose was more meaningful."

Get a grip, guys. Think of your true love. Does she want one single rose when she could have a dozen?  That's like asking if she's rather have one beautiful wrapped piece of chocolate instead of a box. Seriously... we want the box.

Though Roses have been in existence for over 35 million years, garden cultivation of roses began 5000 years ago.  It is only in the last several hundred years that they have been widely cultivated and become part of the human experience equated with “love.”

In the late eighteenth century, roses from China were cultivated and introduced into Europe.  Today the rose has over 30,000 varieties to its flower species, and the flower that only bloomed once a year in soft shades of pink and white – now has produced “repeat bloomers” and hardy varieties in shades including lavender, yellow, blue, multi-toned and a thousand shades of pink and red.

Rose myths and history

How the Flower got its Name: "Eros" to Rose

One theory stems from a story in Roman mythology when Flora, the goddess of flowers, who, while walking through the woods, came upon the dead body of a young woman.  Deeply moved by the death of one so young and lovely, she transformed the body into the most beautiful flower ever created – the white rose.  Flora named the flower for Eros, the god of love.

Another myth states that Venus created the rose from her tears.  A different story claims that when Venus rose from the froth of the sea, the gods celebrated by creating the rose in her honor.

How the Rose Got its Color

Then there is the love story between Aphrodite (Venus) and Adonis.  Their love gave the red rose its crimson color.  Aphrodite, rushing towards her slain lover, catches herself on the prickly thorns of a rosebush, and her blood gives the flower its deep red color.

A Christian myth has Eve kissing a white rose and the flower then blushed with color – giving it a pinky hue.  According to Bishop Basil, writing in the 4th century, the rose only carried thorns after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.  Ironically, as the rose became one of the flowers of the Virgin Mary, it became associated with Christian charity.

The color of the Rose you give means …..

For those of you who have heard that the color of the rose is tied to a certain “sentiment”, here’s a helpful reference:

Red – romantic love; they’re the “Valentine roses” par excellence.

Yellow – joy and friendship, affection – good for someone you love, but not romantically

Deep Pink – gratitude and appreciation – ideal for mom or grandmother

Light Pink -   admiration - perfect for a daughter or sister

White – purity, reverence, humility – perfect for – well maybe a nun or saint

Valentines Day History

How Did Valentine’s Day Get Started?

Around 498 AD., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th, Saint Valentine’s Day, in honor of the Roman priest martyred under Emperor Claudius II in 279 AD.  No one is certain how the feast of Saint Valentine became associated with lovers, but two legends give us a hint.

One legend is that Pope Gelasius was attempting to “Christianize” the pagan Roman Festival “Lupercalia” which paired lovers (sometimes against their will) with life-mates by way of a lottery. A second legend tells of Saint Valentine resisting an edict of the Emperor forbidding the marriage of young men bound for military service, for which offence he was put to death.  Thus Saint Valentine and the day marked in his honor are equated with lovers.

There are varying ideas about what actually became of Valentine.  While some say he was beheaded, others contend that he became sick in prison and died.  In 1835, the remains – or what are believed to be the remains – of Saint Valentine were given to an Irish Carmelite priest named Father John Spratt, by Pope Gregory VI, after Spratt impressed the Pope with his passionate preaching during a visit to Rome.  The gift, in a black and gold casket, can still be viewed every Valentine’s Day at the Carmelite Monastery next to the Whitefriar Street church in Dublin Ireland.

The evolvement of today’s printed Valentines

History tells us the first modern valentines date from the early years of the fifteenth century.  The Young French Duc d’Orleans was captured at the battle of Agincourt and kept a prisoner in the Tower of London for a number of years.  The duke wrote a series of poems to his wife from captivity.  About sixty of them remain.  They can be seen among the royal paers in the British Museum.
Flowers as valentines appear nearly two hundred years later.  A daughter of Henry IV of France gave a party in honor of Saint Valentine.  Each lady received a bouquet of flowers from the man chosen as her valentine.

But commercial, mass print valentines have their origin in Massachusetts when in 1847 Esther Howland, pioneer of the American Valentine Industry, received a decorated card from England.  She began making her own lacy cards to sell in her father’s shop.  It was an idea so successful that she earned almost $100,000 per year in the greeting card business.

Happy Valentines Day everyone. Celebrate with Roses.