Donna Day: Playing in the Sandbox with Donna Lu

Donna Day: Playing in the Sandbox with Donna Lu
A nice photo of Donna, gratuitously poached from Mary Tyler Mom.

There's a lot of crap on the internet these days. A lot of negativity, a lot of gossip, a lot of one-uppsmanship. Nowadays, it seems that every news headline, TV show, or song on the radio, and even the places we write, are littered with the kind of comments and negativity that grace the stalls of America's truck stop bathrooms.

That's not to say I don't enjoy a little off-color humor and potty talk anymore. Life's serrated edge and the hilarity it brings out in people, whether under stress or within everyday's accidental humor, is something that I savor every minute. Without jokes, jest, and poking fun at each other, the business of being human becomes pretty boring.

Still, sometimes I wonder if TV, pop culture, and our innate need for attention as individuals has us acting like assholes.  The average person, it seems, spends more time in a week talking about the Kardashians or Justin Bieber’s latest bowel movement than they do speaking to their first cousins. We expend a lot of energy talking about people we don’t know, don’t respect, and supposedly things we don’t really care about.

So, it’s important every so often to take a step back. More often these days I think about having in-depth, meaningful conversations with people I’d wish that I had known better. Every once in a while I imagine having a beer with my grandma who passed away back in 2003. She is someone I really adored.

Not being a Mister Sentimental, I hadn't even realized this fact, that I adored her, until she was gone. But I am glad I realize that now.

One night in my 20s I was driving from Chicago to Philly for a venture home, and partly out of convenience I stopped at Grandma's to pay a visit and stay the night. The evening was anything but simply convenient and routine.

We watched Caddyshack together and I watched her light up a smoke, never having even known my whole life that she smoked even occasionally. Witnessing her laugh with the jokes of a classic comedy movie was –-just like my new discovery of her vice for smoking—- a little gem that I stumbled upon just from being a small part of her life.

Just the same, I think about the people out there I only know by name. They are the ones that I know have influenced others greatly, often simply by being the people they are.

I never got a chance to know Donna Lu. She died a few years ago at age 4, after battling cancer for nearly two and a half years. But getting to know her parents, Sheila (aka Mary Tyler Mom) and Jeremy over the past few years, I have gotten a glimpse of a kind, playful little girl who loved books and often spoke pithy and insightful words for her age.

This came to mind recently when I was discussing with my own kid about playing in the play lot with cars and Star Wars figures, while we simulated crashes, explosions and typical boy stuff.

bill-murray-caddyshack
Caddyshack and grandmas, great together.

My boy, whom I call “Boodah”, is 6 and is a little bit of a rascal as I was. We reminisced about the last time we played in a sandbox --or with sand of any kind, like at the beach in Mexico-- and how fun it was to build castles to destroy them. Boodah, being a growing Star Wars nut brought in tie fighters and the Millennium Falcon to finish the job, leveling the land.

We also talked about the way other kids play, and that when playing in the sandbox with others that it’s OK to put aside the explosions, adventure and action film theatrics in order to share the sandbox and also to share time together.

Hanging in the sandbox with Donna Lu I’m sure my kid and I would have learned a couple of things. I’ve always been taken by the way that people who speak softly and lead with a smile can often move us more than the go-getters. I believe, even at her early age --based on what I know her from her parents and anecdotes within Donna’s Cancer Story— Donna had a speak softly/big stick kind of influence on people.

Along the way, I have discovered that  best way to blow off some steam and dust off negativity is to take the time to get to know the people around you. Get to know their quirks and their harmless little secrets. And to take a deep breath and enjoy a day in the sandbox.


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