So very much is determined by focus. Deep blue waves, framed by a beach of golden sand, and a sunset of vivid pinks and oranges are missed because the focus is on the lone pigeon walking on the beach. Majestic mountains, crowned with snow, and covered with deep green pine trees and crisp yellow aspen trees become a blurry mess because the focus on the camera was set wrong. An alley strewn with trash and surrounded by abandoned buildings is made beautiful because the focus is on the child who is sharing lunch with a homeless stranger. No matter how beautiful, or ugly, the scene, our focus determines what we actually see. In turn, what we see often determines how we feel and how we respond.
This past week a tragedy claimed the life of Carolyn Bridger. The world lost a musician who touched your heart and soul with her passion and her talent. Let me be clear, when I say world, I mean at the very least the four continents on which she has performed, taught, and won awards. The communities in which she lived and served are reeling from the loss of a mentor, colleague, friend, and an indispensable member of more than one staff and of a symphony. Most importantly, a family dear to my heart, lost a sister and an aunt, one who they treasured. A facebook post by one of nieces is what sparked my thoughts on focus. She stated, “Our family is choosing to focus on and celebrate her life rather than dwell on the tragic manner in which she died.” What struck me was the truth of that statement. This is a family who will truly focus on the joy their loved one brought and the cherished memories, rather than the tragedy. That’s powerful to me. Powerful because that is not the easy way out. Powerful because it shows the nature of this family. Powerful because, I know, it represents the deep, unconditional love they share.
In order to in any way give you a true picture of the power of that statement, you either need to know the family, or have some background. These are not hollow words thrown out because it is the right thing to say. This is the heart of this remarkable family. Having known them for over 30 years, I can almost hear some of them in my head. They are thinking right now that I am overstating or exaggerating. They are thinking that I am presenting a perfect family when we all know that isn’t even possible. To me, that is exactly what makes them so remarkable. They aren’t perfect, they work at it. They love each other because they choose too, not because they live in a fairy tale. One of the nieces said that to be fair, I should tell you how much they have fought throughout the years. So, I will try. I met three of the nieces when I was six. Katie and Amy became my very best friends. Erin, who is several years younger, was subjected, along with my brother, to the torture that three older “sisters” can inflict on younger siblings. Yet, she is kind enough to still call me friend. Yes, they could fight. If one were to judge fights, many of them would have been ranked, epic. The nature and intensity of their fights comes from the brilliance of each participant. All three sisters are incredibly gifted artists and have brilliant minds. That much intensity, talent, and passion is bound to explode at some point. The crucial point here though, is not the fighting. It is the fact that they have chosen to love each other, protect each other, and value each other with that same level of intensity. If their fights were epic, their defense of each other is nothing short of legendary. No amount of disagreement among them could change their level of love for each other. They watched their mother and her sisters model it and live it out every single day. They have a bond that I simply cannot find the words to express. I know that I crave that kind of connection with others. I know that it is a palpable love. I know that it has been tried and tested, maintained, and strengthened. I feel when I am with them, I see it in their actions, and I hear it in their words.
As a child, I marveled at the relationship that their mother, Susan, shared with her sisters and their mother. They were a force! Only Susan and her sister, Beth, ever lived close to one another, geographically, that I can remember. Even then, Beth and her family moved while I was still young. The distance never stopped them. To this day, they are together whenever it is possible. Plans are made, schedules manipulated, and every resource used, to ensure that they are together often and for every important event. If you know me, you know that I struggle to remember details, especially from when I was younger. What I remember well are feelings. When I think of Susan and her sisters, I remember that there was love, and respect, and deep desire to be together. I know that I specific, tangible, memories of both Beth and Carolyn – which is proof that they were extraordinarily important and present. I remember that Susan felt a deep love for all three of her sisters – including Ellen – the youngest – of whom my memories are very limited. She enjoys them, she cares for them, she is connected to them, and it was such a powerful testimony to me. It continues to be. I remember when one of the nieces, Robyn, was performing (yes – they are musically gifted). It immediately became the focus for the entire family. Everyone was excited for her, everyone made an attempt to be there, everyone shared their encouragement and deepest hopes and wishes with her. Focus. Their focus is on family. Their focus is on celebrating each member of the family.
Katie, Amy, and Erin, have continued that legacy in such a beautiful way. Right now, as I type, they are together. They all have jobs, and families, and responsibilities in other places, but they are together. They are laughing and crying together. They are supporting each other and celebrating their Aunt Carolyn. They are allowing their children to play and enjoy each other, even in the midst of their immense pain. Focus. Their focus is each other. Their focus is family. What they share is exceptional, and is made even more remarkable because they choose to make it that way.