Posts Tagged ‘life’

Life is for the Living

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Life is for the Living

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
All Rights Reserved

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile. Simon & Garfunkel

One of the goals of our Face of America project was to demonstrate that one can live a full life after open heart surgery.

Five years ago this day, Operating Room 4 at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital was my home. The fact that I am writing this note indicates that Dr. Michael Harostock and the members of the surgical team who helped him performed my quadruple bypass surgery did a good job.

During the past five years, I tried to make the most of the opportunities I had to help others and serve my community.  I tried to be a good friend to those who sought my friendship. I tried to produce television programs and tell stories that would help people find examples of hope, inspiration and service. I made a commitment to do at least one kind act every day. I worked in quiet ways to refine the gifts of forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. I realized a childhood dream to travel the highways of our country searching for the greatness of America. I tried to be a good steward of Windsor Park.

Most important, every day I try to be a good husband to Kitch, father to my children and grandfather to Julia and P.J.

On the good days when I am successful, I feel a peaceful kind of joy. On the bad days when I don’t quite measure up to the standard, I remind myself that I can and must do better. Every day, I learn something that helps me to grow in ways that would make my parents proud. I gain strength and comfort from the words of George Bernard Shaw:

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

The Blessings of a Second Chance at Life

For the past five years, I have enjoyed the blessings of a second chance at life. For that I am more thankful than any words can express.

In 2007, my near death experience taught me some invaluable things about life.

Life is what you make it, not what others give you.  Make it a good experience. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson apply:

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Life is not always kind. There are many disappointments, but disappointment is the mother of opportunity. Margret Mitchell’s words are prophetic:

Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.

Life is about humility. Not the humility of the saints, but the humility of the heart makes you realize that you are not the center of the universe. To paraphrase the words of Khaled Hosseini:

It is better to be hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.

Life is short, and it is about slow progress:

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Ralph Ellison

We have to be content with slow progress. Fr. Joe Grizone

Life is about giving, not taking. Give generously and thoughtfully of your time and your talents when you can. One of our greatest minds gave truth to these words:

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. Albert Einstein

Life is about looking forward. Don’t look back with regret. Move forward with resolve.

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride! Hunter S. Thompson

A meaningful life is about caring in genuine ways about family, friends and country. Emily Dickinson’s advice always wins the day:

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Life is for the living. Live it fully, because you may not get a second chance:

Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted. Sylvia Plath

Life is a monument to friendship. Without friendships deeply rooted in caring, gratitude,loyalty and sharing, life is empty:

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing. Elie Wiesel

Life is about courage translated into daily practice.  Do the right thing for the right reason:

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. Anais Nin

Life is about disappointment, discouragement and despair. Don’t Give Up!

When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way. Paulo Coelho

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today life goes on, and it will be better tomorrow. Maya Angelou

The words of Langston Hughes summarize the most important lesson I learned on June 12, 2007:

Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.
Langston Hughes

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Montoursville, Celebrating Death to Understand Life

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Montoursville, Celebrating Death to Understand Life

Written by Tony Mussari & Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Karen V. Kennedy & Tony Mussari
The Face of America Project
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, 2011

I have been sitting here thinking about life, death and everything in between. It’s been that kind of a year, and this is a very special evening.

One year ago, Kitch and I were walking on cloud 9. We had just finished two wonderful Face of America days in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, during our trip to the Middle West. We interview 14 people including the city manager, the police chief and the fire chief. We presented the National 9/11 Remembrance Flag to city officials, and it was quickly put on display in the City Center. We were invited to address the city council. Our presentation resulted in an invitation to appear on a television talk program.

It was an experience like no other during our journey.

The next morning as we made our way along highway 77 to Minneapolis, we were jubilant and filled with a feeling of accomplishment. Then it happened. We were sitting in morning traffic waiting to take the next exit when out of nowhere a car came crashing into our Prius. In that instant, we and our project were changed in ways we never expected.

We survived the crash, but not the complications that followed. To this day the reverberations of the accident are a part of our life. Whenever we are on a highway, we are aware of the unseen and unexpected danger from behind. Each month we receive an invoice for our 2010 leased Prius. Our 2007 Prius was debt free.

Fast forward 12 months. Our road trip is finished. Our book is written. We survived other more serious bumps in the road, and we are we are blessed to be alive. Every week we receive encouraging notes from people we met during our journey, and we continue to add new Face of America experiences that help us to refine the face of America on its best day.

Our greatest blessing is the progress Kitch is making in her battle with breast cancer. With the help of Dr. Dan Kopen and his wonderful team, she successfully completed all of the surgical procedures. The life enhancing, but very challenging, chemotherapy treatments are behind us, and she is making her way through six weeks of radiation treatments.

A recent visit to Montoursville, Pennsylvania, on the15th anniversary of the tragic ending of TWA Flight 800, put everything in perspective. I had to make this journey alone because Kitch cannot be exposed to the sun for any length of time.

While covering the visit of the North Plainfield cheerleaders to Montoursville, something they have done every year since the crash, I met the father of Julia Grimm. Hers is one of the 21 names engraved in granite on the pedestal supporting the angel in the memorial garden adjacent to the high school. When I read the name, I had an instant and special connection with Charles Grimm. My granddaughter’s name is Julia. I could feel his pain, his loss, his emptiness.

In that moment of connection, I had a gratitude moment that will be with me until my final day.

It happened again at Johnson’s Restaurant. I followed the cheerleaders inside the restaurant. They presented symbolic flowers to a pleasant woman named Kate Meckbach who just happened to have a connection with North Plainfield. Her mother was a North Plainfield cheerleader. When I asked Kate a question that brought back memories of July 17, 1996, she tried unsuccessfully to hold back tears of sadness.

And again, when I read a note from Rev. Steve McGough that ended with these words, “The families have suffered much. Many were so devastated they never completely recovered.”

A few minutes later, I heard the words of Mary Ann Peck and her daughter Elaine Slattery. Sitting in an SUV waiting for another relative who was making a purchase at the Montoursville Creamery both women spoke glowingly about the cheerleaders and their act of kindness.

I was fortunate to meet Whitney Boyle who was treating her 80-year old grandmother to ice cream at the creamery. They presented the quintessential picture of this wonderful town. It’s a joyful picture, a family picture, a picture of affection, connection and respect.

Montoursville is small town America at its very best. It’s a place where people care about one another. It’s a town where friendship, civic pride, community service and patriotism are not just words. They are shared values that are practiced in a way that improves the quality of life for everyone.

The lesson of Montoursville is poignant and profound. Those of us who have life often take it for granted. It is something we wake up with in the morning and something that sustains us through the night. It is always there, always available. Seldom thought about, and never expected to end the way it did for the 16 students and 5 chaperones on Flight 800.

That is why it is helpful and important that our life journey take us to places like Montoursville. When we connect with Julia Grimm, our lives take on a new and deeper meaning, and a rich appreciation for what is really important in life. It helps us refine two of the essential qualities of America on its best day, compassion and empathy. It makes us realize that life is a gift. It should not be taken for granted or wasted on thoughtless, reckless or frivolous activities.

When I looked into the eyes of Chuck Grimm who lost his daughter and Stephanie Bedison, who lost two of her track team members, I saw the legacy of TWA Flight 800. On the outside, they were living, laughing, talking and making the most of life. They were keeping themselves busy so they would not have time to concentrate on the painful memories of the past. But on the inside they were tormented by a question that has no answer, Why?

Before I left Montoursvillle, I returned to the Memorial Garden. I stood in silence as my eyes followed the configuration of 21 maple trees that create a circle of life around the huge angel whose hands reach out in prayer. In that moment, I experienced the powerful impact of this place of hope and remembrance. In that moment I understood the gift of life.

As endearing images of this peaceful garden made permanent etchings on my soul, I heard the beautiful words of Amy Grant:

And oh how the years go by
And oh how the love brings tears to my eyes
All through the changes
The soul never dies
We fight, we laugh, we cry
As the years go by

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