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Nothing like a folk tale to engage imaginations and enlarge the world around us—Such is the Brothers Grimm’s Town Musicians of Bremen (1819), still enjoyed by young hearts, six years old or ninety.

The story begins with an aging donkey, decrying his master’s displeasure over his slowness in pulling the cart to market. Rather than face probable death, the donkey flees to Bremen where he will become a musician.

On the road he meets a weary dog, fire thinning his bones. No longer able to hunt, he fears being put down by his master. But the donkey’s invitation to make music sparks his interest and he climbs onto his back.

Next they meet a cat with a face “like three rainy days.” She fears her mistress’s 

drowning, because blunted teeth prevent her from catching mice in their cottage. She, too, joins them.

Then a rooster crowing with all its might causes them to pause along the road. They learn that cook will cut off his head and prepare him for tomorrow’s dinner. He, too, welcomes the invitation and they continue on toward Bremen.

Although the story contains other adventures, I want to focus upon the four friends, so human in their fears of aging and the specter of death. Happily, the donkey sees beyond his fate and chooses an alternative: making music for others. So inspired he is that others choose similarly and climb onto his back and head for Bremen where everyone loves music.

It’s about discovering and developing meaning in life that keeps us fresh—even living with a terminal illness. I have found it so.

The bell rang for recess, my heart thumping like a flat tire, my fingers twisting my uniform navy tie, my brunette braids still throbbing my temples from mother’s earlier styling. “No stray hairs,” this morning,” she always said, between puffs on her cigarette.

It was time. All week, it had sat in the corner of the classroom, a large box covered with several thicknesses of white tissue paper, with red velvet bows, cut-out hearts, and silver cupids; in the front was a slit for our Valentines. Each morning, my classmates dropped in handfuls, some appearing to have cherry lollypops. Mine were cheap store-bought ones with little adornment, addressed only to the few that I knew.

And now the cards would be distributed by Sister’s pets as we sat at our desks, our geography books still open to the lesson on South America. Up and down the rows, the gifted ones tossed all sizes of cards toward the recipients, often dislodging red-hots from their staples, splattering them over the hardwood floor. In no time, a flurry of hands scooped up each one, their red-stained tongues whooping with laughter. A bacchanal frenzy seemed to infest everyone, while I sat in the last seat of the aisle row, wincing as I was repeatedly by-passed, stewing over receiving no Valentines from those I had remembered last year. My head lowered, I studied the two cards I had received, then stuffed them in my geography book.

Another bell ended the clamor of recess as Sister restored order in the classroom. I was sorely grateful for the resumption of the lesson on Peru.

But the shame of many Valentine’s Day boxes only deepened, together with other experiences that intensified my invisibility and voicelessness in my development.

Only decades later did I learn the true source of love, present within my own heart, thanks to many humble coaches who knew such things.

I wait for words, my note card opened on my table, my pen in hand. Distractions assail me: in my neighbor’s yard hangs the KC Chief’s banner, its bold red and black design flashing in the afternoon sun. I shake free of the team’s fierce determination to trample the Raiders in tomorrow’s game, then adjust my note card and wait for words. They must come.

My friend of long years is ill with double pneumonia, worsened by a blot clot in her lung. Round-the-clock surveillance monitors her condition and keeps her bed-fast. This is just another hospitalization. Others have checkered her life-steps, from all of which she has rebounded, her cheery attitude still sunning others through her continuous practice of acceptance—Even more following a night in her own bed, in quiet environs.

Indeed, she exemplifies Twelve-Step Living, even during these uncertain circumstances; her discovery of the joy of living deepens and teaches us to do likewise. Over and over, we learn that it’s not about us.

In some ways, her hospital stays mirror my own, but with my hospice admission, my return is unlikely.

But enough of this word-game. My note card is still empty, the pen limp in my hand.

I begin, “Dear Judy…”

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