Well, he may be about to turn 50 – and has tasted far more than his fair share of adversity, thanks to MS – but I must say that my good friend Walter continues to live his life with a youthful effervescence that I think this photo so nicely captures. The occasion was a surprise birthday party which his wife Lynn – a terribly deceitful person, it turns out – planned and faultlessly sprung on her unsuspecting husband. Part of what threw him way off of the scent was that this party came exactly two weeks before his actual 50th birthday. . . and she concocted a brilliant ruse to get Walter to church last night by telling him that there was a surprise party being thrown in honor of Pastor Jeff, which Walter bought hook, line and sinker. But the party in fact was for Walter – although when he first entered the room and people yelled surprise, for a few moments he thought they were just joking around. But then he looked a little closer and realized that the people in that room were very definitely from HIS life- not Jeff’s – and that in fact this party was for him, commemorating his half century on this earth. And from that point on, Walter just never stopped smiling- and neither did we.
And there were lots of reasons to smile. . . including the catered all-you-could-eat Mexican buffet that might be the best Mexican food we’ve ever had . . . a fun game of Pictionary in which the words we had to draw were all things from Walter’s life, such as “lentil soup” or “rock lobster’ (whatever the heck that is) or “leftovers” (you’d be amazed how hard that is to draw) and in which Kathy and I managed to finish a close second to a team which I’m certain cheated (how else could they have possibly beaten us?) . . . and mostly just the great pleasure of being in such good company. We knew almost everyone there but in a strange sort of way we felt a very close kinship with every single person there, including those folks we had never even met. All we needed to know is that they were friends with Walter, like us, and many of them you could think of as Walter’s “Village People.” By that , I’m actually echoing something Lynn likes to say – “It takes a Village to raise Walter,” meaning that there are all kinds of people who contribute to Walter’s continued well-being (helping to transport him, since he no longer drives – helping him in and out of the pool at the YMCA – helping out at the house when Lynn has to be gone, etc.) and without whose help Walter’s life would be so much sadder and smaller. I wish I could count myself among those Village People but alas, my crazy schedule has pretty much prevented me from being any sort of meaningful help to Walter outside of an occasional lunch – but I can sure sing their praises. . . and then try to make up for lost time once the summer rolls around and life is not quite the wild ride it usually is.
Anyway, last night was one more reminder of how much Kathy and I love and admire Lynn and Walter and the way in which they continue to live so joyously, despite this enormous, unwelcome load of sorrow and frustration which landed in the middle of their lives over ten years ago and which is never going to go away. But here they are, both remarkably unchanged by it all and yet, of course profoundly changed for the better. And all of us are who are privileged to know them and to be called their friends are really the ones who are changed for the better.
pictured: Walter beams as a roomful of “village people” sings Happy Birthday to him.