Last night I was thinking back to my days when I was in the Air Force and about one of the events in my life that planted the early seeds for my current “connecting the circle of life” mantra. I served for four years at Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey and the remainder of my time at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL. While at MacDill, I worked in the base hospital. Every day I would go to the hospital cafeteria for lunch and there was an African American lady that worked behind the counter that would always catch my eye for some reason. At this time I was in my early 20’s and she was about 30 years older than me. Every time I went through the line she greeted me with the best smile and always said something to make me laugh.
On one trip through the cafeteria we got on the subject of Jai Alai. We decided that we were going to try it out one night and I soon discovered that she lived with her sister in the projects and took the bus to work every day, so I would need to pick her up. Pick her up I did and I quickly learned that Ruby would become one of the best friends of my life. Her laugh was infectious and her love of life despite the lack of material things was amazing. We often went to dinner. I took her to the Bahamas, Las Vegas and home to Okeechobee where she became good friends with my grandmother. She had a love for fishing, bowling and just about anything fun that you could think of.
I didn’t have much then, but I was sure determined that she was going to have things to make her life a little better. We were friends in the south in the early 80’s. Everywhere we went you can imagine the stares from people when they saw this 20 something boy with this 50 something woman hanging out and enjoying life. Remember, growing up as a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, so this was all natural to me. Ruby and I never lost touch when I moved from Tampa and she was so thrilled when I moved back six years ago. Unfortunately, about three years after I returned Ruby passed away and I had the honor of being asked to provide the eulogy at her funeral, which I did proudly.
There are two points to my story today. The first is that when we can connect the circle of life, something magical happens. We enrich both lives and instill a sense of respect for others that often stays with us throughout our lives. The second is that friendship should know no barriers. Be it race, gender, age or anything else, true compassion and love for someone are all the ingredients we need to care for someone no matter who they are. I miss Ruby and my grandmother, but I know that they are both up there looking down on us, watching us work hard to bring smiles every day. Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and I hope that someone in your life brings you as much joy as my Ruby did.
Have a great weekend and remember to be the reason someone smiles.