Evelyn at Ninety Nine

Aunty Evelyn has always been my refuge.  Growing up my family home was adjacent to that of my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Freddy.  Their yard was an extension of ours providing a shared space where we cousins played.

For several summers during my boyhood,  I’d go on vacation with Evelyn and Freddy’s family to Newfound Lake, N.H.  There we created memories which have lasted a life time.  A favorite is of  hiking on a bluebird day, with my cousins Tom and Sandy,  to the top of Mount Cardigan.  We picked wild blueberries as we scrambled up and down that mountain.  We returned famished to Evelyn’s chicken dumplings.

Over the years I’d  remind Aunt Evelyn of this memory and ask if she’d make me a batch of her famous chicken dumplings.  Her response was always the same: “Kent, my dumplings can’t match the memory of you at age fourteen, having just climbed a mountain and digging in to those dumplings for the first time.”   She’s right.

Over the years Evelyn has provided me with a gift even greater than her chicken dumplings, the gift of unconditional love.  Evelyn (and Freddy) were always there for me.

They made a place for me in their home and in their hearts and for that I will always be grateful.   In recent years I’ve moved back, from Oregon to Massachusetts, less than a few hours from where I grew up.

On a regular basis I stop by to visit Aunt Evelyn.  The welcome is always the same: “Kent I’m so glad to see you.  Tell me about your daughters.  Tell me about Tricia.  I love you so much.”

We never lose the need to know we are loved.  Loved without conditions.

Aunty Evelyn has always offered me this gift.  This love was my refuge as a boy and remains mine to this day.

Garrison Keillor in his book, Lake Woebegone Days, writes: ‘The kindness we offer to a child is never forgotten.’  This is true.

Now at age ninety-nine Evelyn looks back on her long life.  She thinks of those no longer living:  her husband, her siblings, friends.  She’s grateful for her mother Anna, who taught her how to live with courage and a selfless spirit.   Evelyn chooses to look back with gratitude and a sense of wonder at how her life has unfolded.

And, she chooses to live in the present with a sense of gratitude too.  Grateful for the gift of her friends and especially her family.

Evelyn on her 99th birthday with her Great-granddaughter, Riley.

Recently the family gathered for her birthday.  A few days later a group of friends baked her a cake and presented her with flowers.

In keeping with who she is, Evelyn voiced surprise for all the kindness shown to her.  I replied: ‘Aunty Evelyn, your family and friends are simply responding to all the kindness you share with others.  You are  a gift to us.’

When I grow up, I want to be like my Aunt Evelyn.  I want to live my life loving those around me unconditionally.  I want to learn to focus not on what I’ve lost but on what I have.

I too want to offer kindness and accept with gratitude the kindness of others. I want to live with as much grace as Evelyn Wisz Harrop.

Thank you Aunty Evelyn.  You’re the best.






Flat On My Back

This morning was beautiful in Massachusetts. I rolled out of bed, put on my pants, an old sweater and slipped on my fuzzy slippers.  Outside the  sun glistened upon a trace of snow.  I opened the door to retrieve my daily Boston Globe.  One step was all it took….

Ever notice how an accident is never graceful?  With one step off the porch my foot hit a  film of black ice.  In a moment I was on my back, lying on the sidewalk.  It’s impressive how quickly you can go down four steps and land on concrete.


With the wind knocked out of me, I lay on the sidewalk…checking my body parts before I tried to move.  Coco a black Labrador happened by at that very moment and began to lick my face.  Mike (Coco’s  owner) asked: “Are you hurt?”

Gradually, we (Coco, Mike and I) decided that I was ok.  Everything worked.  I took a few ibuprofen and got on with my day.

My accident reminds me of how lucky I was not to break something and how the rest of my day could have proceeded very differently.  A reminder of how unpredictable life is.  We roll out of bed and think we know what is going to happen….and, ‘BAM’, we find ourselves flat on our back.

Accidents by definition are never graceful.  No one falls down the stairs or off a ladder ‘gracefully’.

But such moments can be ‘full of grace’.  By grace I speak of  an awareness that we’re not alone.  Whether we are on top of the world or flat on our back, that mystery we call God/Spirit is with us, especially when we are most vulnerable.

Like it or not, stumbles are part of the rhythm of every life.  No one avoids falling down the stairs.

Ruminating on this…and feeling a little bruised,  I happened upon a poem by the Australian poet, Joel McKerrow.  Here’s a portion of that poem entitled ‘We Dance Wild’.  This poem speaks to me and perhaps will speak to you too.

We Dance Wild

We dance. We dance wild.
Not a two-step, structured repetition. We dance large.
We dance flailing arms.
We dance the erratic and the wriggle,
the blunder, stumble and fall with no need to get back up again.
For our fumbles are our dance
and our dance is our rebellion and our declaration and our surrender.
Our falling to the floor is a knowing that it is only in the places
of dust and grime and footprint, only in the failed step and the rusty body, only in the falling
that we can ever truly meet the holy and the sacred.
We meet God on the floor.