The letter I never got to send to Barbara Bush

About a month after we bought our old minivan, a full decade ago, a pair of little hands managed to stick a quarter into the CD slot.  The massive POP! moments later let me know that the days of rocking out to our favorite tunes were over, at least for a while.

Our options at that point were the radio, or the cassette player.  Remember those?

When we returned home, the first thing I reached for was the bag of cassette tapes that had been relegated to the basement shelf which was filled with items we didn't use anymore, yet couldn't bring ourselves to toss. Desperate for something other than the luck of the radio station draw, I would grab a new cassette tape each time we pulled out of the driveway.

One particular day, I dug up the audio version of Barbara Bush's first memoir, written in 1994.  Although I had read the book, hearing Mrs. Bush's voice describe in detail the glory days and dark nights that comprised her life grabbed me with the first sentence.

Barbara Bush had such a melodic voice.  As she shared the moments of her life, both the routine and exquisite, I felt as I was right there with her.

A common theme throughout her memoir was Barbara Bush's belief in reaching out to others. Seasoned friends, new neighbors, co-workers and, of course, family members, were not only welcome, but expected.  Mrs. Bush would recall who came for what meal, and how she enjoyed a post-lunch nap, and implored listeners to invite people over to their home for food and fellowship.

It was not about the cuisine, she noted; it was, instead, about sitting down with others to break bread, share thoughts, offer support, educate and create relationships.  Mrs. Bush said it didn't matter if you served spaghetti; make the effort and it will be fun, she said.

The stories that have stuck with me are those of the annual summer trips from Houston to Kennebunkport, with five children packed into their station wagon.  Paula (POW-la), the household helper who became like a second mother to the Bush brood, making the trip eased the load.

Getting seven people up and on the road at the crack of dawn and driving until 2:00 in the afternoon, when the call of the motel pool allowed for pent-up energy to be released, in addition to feeding, cleaning and enduring incessant sibling fighting, is hardly for the faint of heart.  Hearing Barbara Bush recount those days with such joy got me thinking that if she could do it, I could manage my own group, half that size, traveling half as far.

Hearing Barbara Bush speak of losing her daughter was life-changing.

When Robin Bush was three years-old, she was diagnosed with leukemia.  George and Barbara travelled to Manhattan with Robin for months of medical treatment, leaving infant Jeb and older brother W with family and friends.

After Robin passed, Barbara Bush said that she felt lucky.  She said what?  I had to listen again.  Yes, she, in fact, said that she felt lucky.  How, I thought, and what could she mean?

In a tender, lower voice, Mrs. Bush explained that while she has lost a child, every other parent in the rooms lining the hallway of the hospital's pediatric floor, had lost a child.  Mrs. Bush added that she felt lucky that she had a husband; other mothers did not.  She had a deep faith in God as a source of comfort; others did not.  The Bush Family had health insurance; others did not.  She and George were able to be with Robin during her treatment; others were not.  She and George had two children waiting for them in Houston; others had lost their only child.  She and George had loving family members that cared for their boys back home, and local friends who came to the hospital to visit and pray with them; others did not.

A mother who lost her daughter considers herself lucky.  Wow.  Mrs. Bush thought she was lucky to have had greater resources to manage the same grief that others who had experienced the same loss had.  Just, wow.

As life's curveballs continue to find their way to my door, I remember these words.  I am lucky. While knowing that other women, and other families, have to navigate the unexpected, the awful, the unwanted, in no way negates my own distress.  What it does do, is help me see that others must take on the same challenges, but with far fewer resources.

This singular ethos from Barbara Bush, quite literally, shifted my perspective on daily life. It brings me back to baseline and forces me into a place of gratitude.  Every time, not always right away, but every time, it works.

On more occasions than I care to count, I said I would take the time to write Mrs. Bush to let her know how her example, her outlook and her dedication to her family inspired me to be a better version of myself.  As she herself was a prolific note writer, she would have appreciated someone taking pen to paper and sharing a thought or thanks with her, yet not accepting any of the credit.

If I had actually taken the time I said I would, Barbara Bush would have known how much I appreciated her sharing successes, struggles, doubts, opinions and admonishments, as they made me reflect on the kind of life I wanted to live.

I would have thanked her for personifying grace and graciousness throughout her public service.  I would have told her how much I loved those photos of her and President Bush in bed, with coffee mugs and newspapers, with grandchildren spread across the comforter.  I would have told her that the day I visited the White House in 1991, I wore a royal blue skirt and jacket with a double strand of pearls in her honor.

I would have said thank you.






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