Friday, September 16, 2005

The Best Things In Life Aren't Things

"Top Shelf" - that's a term used in bars and restaurants to describe "the good stuff" when it comes to liquor. In San Antonio it's not uncommon for a waitress or bartender to ask if you'd like a "top shelf" margarita which means a margarita made with one of the finer - and most expensive - brands of tequila.

When I was a serious drinker I steered clear of the top shelf...I found more value in quantity than quality which is probably all I need to say about my drinking days.

These days there are far different things on which I could not put a price, the one that springs to mind this evening is the feeling I get when I awake from an afternoon nap and realize it's Friday. The value of that realization is incalculable.

Over the past few days, our house has been filled with sounds including the welcome resonance of laughter and joy. To hear Ana giggle or John` laugh out loud is something else I have quickly come to cherish as priceless. I know the trauma they've endured is still vivid in their memories - everything which had always brought them comfort: home, family, health, school - is now in a state of upheaval. John` was amazingly upbeat almost as soon he arrived and he has grown more comfortable with each passing day. At first Ana was quiet and I suspect a little unsure of what to expect, but now she's obviously at ease...she feels safe again.

Both Ana and John` play instruments - so I hear them practicing and it brings back memories of Joey's French horn...Lisa's oboe...Tiffany's violin. I remember listening to our kids practice - admittedly some of those early memories still make me wince a bit - but eventually each mastered their instruments to varying degrees, Lisa foremost among them...the little girl I recall praising for making her oboe "squeak" eventually became first chair in the state orchestra and is currently pursuing a degree in music education.

To have musically talented kids in our house listen as they proceed on their journeys of joyful discovery...what's that worth?

On several occasions over the past couple of days I've spoken with Lee and the kids about what they were forced to leave behind when they fled New Orleans...the short answer is: virtually everything. Lee has no intention of going back to New Orleans to stay but she hopes to be able to return for a short while once it's safe so she can retrieve "her valuables." There is no jewelry or fine china...Lee's "valuables" are the baby pictures of her children - images of the past - memories frantically stashed on the highest shelf of their home before she and her family members scurried for their lives to New Orleans convention center where the children became witness to the indignity of human life devalued...a lesson no one should have to learn at any age.

Those are images I wish Lee and her children didn't carry with them, but I know those visions are etched in their minds...close to the surface - the giggles and the laughter...the music and the dreams of songs to come - will not erase best they'll serve as concealment of a sort..

So we're praying that tucked high on a shelf in the remains of a house in central New Orleans childhood photographs are still in tact...memories that mean so much...there is not enough money in the world to convince Lee to part with them.

That's the real "top shelf" stuff.