Life Lesson No. 1: People Are Important

My former editor Dixie taught me a ton of things, but one of them was this: Life is short. Spend it on the people you love.

I was reminded of the lesson the other day when I read this post by Ruth Pennebaker at The Fabulous Geezersisters’ Weblog: The Trip I Almost Didn’t Take. I read Ruth’s tale and nodded my head through the whole thing. She’s so right. And it’s a lesson I, too, seem to need to learn over and over again.

But Dixie did a lot to get it into my head.

Dixie was one of those really great bosses who truly “got” life. She’s a cancer survivor, and was always eager to help other people understand what she now understood: Life is short. People are important. She always encouraged us to spend time with our kids, go to their school plays, stop working on the weekend so we could be with them. She knew that those things would make a difference in the long run — not silly details like whether or not we added that second “m” to “accommodate.”

While I was on her staff, my husband’s grandfather passed away in Texas, and he and I bit our lips about attending the funeral. We had two small children at the time (5 and 2); we really couldn’t afford to fly all four of us there from California; we could drive, maybe, but gosh, the 2-year-old gets car sick; blah, blah, blah. Excuseville. I’m sure you know the drill.

When I mentioned to Dixie the next morning that we weren’t going to the funeral, she looked at me aghast. “You have to go,” she said.

I just shook my head. “It’s too far. Rene gets car sick. We’ll never survive with two little kids. It’s probably 105 degrees in Texas right now – I’m sure I’d have to jump out my window at about 300 miles. …” I probably then threw in some blabber about work and deadlines, too.

Dixie, however, would have none of it. She just shook her head. “Find a way. People are important.” I don’t think she even looked up from her desk after that to let me argue any further.

So I sulked away from her office and called my husband: “Hon, I guess we’re going to Texas. Dixie says it’s important. …”

We filled the gas tank, threw a bunch of clothes in a suitcase, tossed the suitcase and the two small kids in the car, and took off for the 1,400-mile drive across the desert. We were already running late. We drove all night.

And do you know what? The trip was magical.

For one thing, Rene never got car sick. We stopped wherever we could to let the kids get out of the car, which led to some pretty strange but quaint roadside park-play. We tossed pebbles. We played in McDonald’s play-places. We strolled desert land of cacti and pretended we were looking for a kitten named “Kiki.” We drank chocolate milk and ate powdered donuts in the car at midnight. Chris and I listened to books on tape (whenever I think of “The Firm” I hear that reader’s voice), and we asked each other questions to stay awake while we drove all night. The stars come out in the desert sky. We listened to music. We held hands across the center console.

We made it to the little church in San Antonio seconds before the wake ended. We reconnected with a zillion cousins, who welcomed us into their homes overnight. The younger cousins played with my kids – the girls braided my daughter’s hair with butterfly clips – and we all sat outside under the big oak tree on folding chairs and talked. We chatted late into the night at the dining table with my husband’s grandmother and all his aunts and uncles. We shared Mexican pastries for breakfast – someone brought them in from a local bakery – and we told stories and comforted Grandma. We visited the gravesite. We reconnected with a family we rarely get to see, and they seemed thrilled to have us there. They loved that my son – a shy, bespeckled boy then – liked stand-up comedy, and they encouraged him to share his “routine.” He performed for about 30 members of his newfound family, right under that oak tree, and they all laughed until they shook off their folding chairs and clapped for him in encouragement.

And the thing is, I would never have known, if I didn’t go, what I would have missed: the reconnection with an extended family, the ability for my husband to express his sorrow, the chance for my own young family to experience an incredible closeness during a long drive through the desert. And my kids would have missed a bond that was formed way back then – a bond to cousins and aunts and uncles who clapped for them and braided their hair.

Ruth and Dixie are right: You should never miss a chance to be with people you care about. It’s a lesson I’m still learning – I still have to remind myself constantly when I let busy days get in the way. I’m always tempted to say no to family gatherings, school-chum reunions, drinks with friends. But Dixie said it well:

Find a way.

People are important.

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0 thoughts on “Life Lesson No. 1: People Are Important

  1. Awww…Laurie! That’s so sweet. I remember that trip meant a lot to you. Thanks for sharing that! Speaking of that, we will move back to The OC in the next few years (even though I LOVE it here!) to be closer to 3 of the 4 kids and grandkids..because People are important.

  2. It has taken me a lot of years to finally realize that life is way too short….Friends and family always come first – no matter how busy or tired I get. The time spent with our loved ones in the good and bad times is priceless. Thank you for reminding me of that…

  3. Hi, Dixie! Thanks for swinging by! You know I could write about 100 posts about all the things you’ve taught me, but this was the first one up. : ) … Wow, a move back to OC, huh? I know you probably don’t want to come back, but the grandkids ARE a wonderful dangling carrot.

    M., Melissa, and Kwana — Yes, funny how time is what teaches you that, yet it’s time that makes it hard to live by, huh? Glad to hear you gals have your priorities in order, though. SO important.

  4. That’s a wonderful story … I’m reminded of a time a couple of years ago when I received an invitation to my cousin Kate’s wedding. My family had moved from the East Coast to California when I was five, and we saw our cousins maybe once every two years at family reunions until I was about 14, when the family reunions stopped for some reason. I had seen Kate once since then when she was a teenager, so I didn’t really know her. But, I’d been across the country twice in the two years preceding Kate’s wedding — for the funerals of my mom’s parents. I had this urge to visit family for an occasion that didn’t involve death.

    I am grateful that I decided to go. I had an opportunity to reconnect with so many family members, and have managed to remain at least casually in touch with several cousins I probably never would have contacted otherwise.

    It’s not as if we’re suddenly racing across the country for visits, but it’s nice to know that if I ever went to that side of the country I’d have family to visit.

  5. I totally agree, as I just made the effort to go up north (just me and 3 kids) to see my brother and his fam, and I loved seeing the kids all together. I wanted my kids to have their cousin memories!

    I struggle with this because what if the people you care about (e.g., parents) are not so fun to be around? I do my regular duty with their visits, but try not to hang out more than I have to, because somehow, I end up feeling crappy. I’m afraid, someday, when they’re gone, I’ll feel guilty for not spending more time with them, but I know when I do I truly don’t enjoy it very much. It’s sad when your own parents aren’t great company! But I do enjoy seeing them with my kids and that’s mostly what they’re about nowadays anyway. I’m thankful for that.

    Laurie – We could fill a book with all the life lessons Dixie taught us! I think, this one you discuss is the most important of all. “Love and be loved,” she said to me once. What else is there?

  6. Bill Q — Yes, that “reconnection” with extended family fills some kind of void we can have (especially those of us who are the only fam members in another part of the world or country). Kind of reminding us that we have a place where we will always belong, perhaps?

    Grace — Love that you just did a “cousin visit,” too. Your kids will always remember that. As for the struggle you described — I think that’s a bit different (unfortunately). What I mean by “people are important” is that they’re more important than time, work, money or the stress of transporting children. But when you throw in different personalities, then … yeah … the advice probably doesn’t stand as clearly. : )

    And yes, we could definitely fill a book with all the life lessons Dixie taught us. … That was a very special group of people, and a very special time.

  7. I want to thank Dixie as well. I was going to just fly out alone, but I am so thankful that we all went together. Our young family needed that, I think. I needed MY family with me. Ended up being one of the most special things we’ve ever done together, even if the purpose was for something so sad.
    Thanks Dixie-Laurie probably wouldn’t have gone without your urging and guidance. You know the “shouldn’t take off work, what about the kids,how are we going to make it in 1 day…” but you just cut right thru that with a few simple words. I have to say that Laurie has used that often since then and it always starts out, “I always remember what Dixie told me…” and then we do.

  8. Aww..you guys are too sweet!
    I always regret what I DON’T do, not what I DO do.
    And you have such a darling family!!

  9. Hi Laurie
    Yes, life is too short and people are important.
    That is how we felt when you and Christopher came to our wedding. When I first saw him there, it warmed my heart. But you really showed us how much we mean to both of you when you stayed for dinner and the dancing. We both know how he hates to eat out… and dancing….ugh!
    Just like you showed Christopher’s family how much they meant to you by making the trip.
    So, thank you for making our special day, extra special.

  10. That is such a sweet story! My family has experienced several deaths and even though the reason is a sad one, it was always great to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in so long. It truly is the blessing in what is such a sad moment. Every day life seems to keep us so busy that it has to slap us in the face sometime to slow us down and remind us of our priorities…thanks for the reminder! Someday it would be nice to come down and reconnect with you, it has been sooo long since I’ve seen you guys!!

  11. Dixie — hmmm, another great quote: “I always regret what I DON’T do, not what I DO do.” So very, very true. …

    Debbie C. — Hello! Welcome! And thanks for what you said. Actually, though, your wedding was one of the few events in Chris’ life that he didn’t even think twice about. It was never “should we go?” — it was ALWAYS “so who can we get to babysit”? : ) We had a GREAT time!

    Debi — Yes, that’s true. And I think I didn’t express enough that the trip I described was really a SAD event. But it had the uplifting result of “connecting” us in unexpected ways. And yes, we’d love for you guys to come down — that would be a fun reunion!

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