6 months ago today was the last day I would spend with the love of my life, Maureen, alive. I came to the only place that seemed appropriate to write, “To Catch a Falling Star.” I am sitting at Teo’s Gelato and Espresso across from Seton Hospital on 38th street. I am looking up at the room on 7 North, the room that 6 months ago tomorrow I was looking down from as the day dawned. I looked out over the Hill Country and saw stars twinkling as dawn was arriving and looked down and saw Teo’s. Teo’s, the place where Maureen and I brought our 3 kids for gelato frequently after school. It has always been a special place. Now, it is sacred space.
With the title, “To Catch a Falling Star,” you might not expect me to talk about clowns and the circus, however, that is exactly what is to follow. Its connection to catching falling stars will become apparent and explicit at the end. Like so much of what I write, this one has been bouncing around in my head and my heart for months. Today, though, is the one where it will flow out, though my fingers, and into this latest post in the Love Of My Life. As I said in a voicemail I recently left for my sweetie, my Maureen, my love has only deepened and strengthened since her passing. I miss her terribly, but every time I think about her, every time I write about our love, I realize how blessed I was and am to have spent more than half my life with this truly incredible woman. So, you might be thinking, how exactly does the circus fit into all of this.
Well, after Maureen and I were married on July 14, 1990, we were eagerly awaiting our honeymoon to Denmark and Norway (I will write more about that journey in the future.). Before we embarked for that epic trip to Scandinavia, we decided to have a few days to ourselves to relax from the joy of our wedding and the celebration with our family and friends. We decided on a lovely B&B in Delavan, Wisconsin. It was spectacular, and we learned from the innkeepers at the time that Delavan, not Baraboo, was the actual historical home of the circus in Wisconsin. 24 years before Ringling Brothers raised its tent in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the U.S. Olympic Circus was raising its tent in Delavan. Delavan is in the beautiful Lake Geneva area of Wisconsin, and it was the perfect spot to rest and enjoy our first days of marriage. I’ve frequently joked with Maureen that like the clowns in the circus, I’m simply here for comic relief. During the 11 years of her on and off battle with breast cancer, there were many moments where being a clown is all I knew how to do.
One of the things that is fascinating about the circus I learned many years into my career in sales and marketing (as you may recall, Maureen and I met at Apple, where I was in sales). In sales, you frequently hear the slang term, have you made your nut? This is slang for have you made quota? Years after our trip to Delavan, Wisconsin, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about the circus. It caught my attention, and as I listened, I learned about the nut. Apparently, in the old days when the circus rolled in to town on a train, the head of the circus would hand the mayor the “nut.” The nut was the item that linked the engine of the locomotive to all the other circus cars. The head of the circus would then make a promise to the mayor about revenues to be raised while the circus was in town. Only when that commitment was made could the circus leave town. In order to connect the circus cars back to the locomotive, they would have to “make their nut.” I love trivia like this, and I loved the fact that it connected back to the circus and to the town in Wisconsin where Maureen and I started our honeymoon.
Maureen and I crossed paths with the circus again last September as we were driving a “triangle” from Austin to Houston to Dallas and back to Austin. We had headed over to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to get some ideas on next steps in treatment and from there headed up to Dallas to Texas Oncology at the Sammons Cancer Center. On our way up 45 from Houston to Dallas, we stopped in Corsicana for a bite for lunch. We went to the Collin Street Bakery. I still remember sitting across from Maureen, both of us eating a chicken salad sandwich on their amazing pecan bread. Obviously, this was a heavy trip, knowing that the metastasizing breast cancer needed new answers and new treatments. However, as I said before, comic relief was my natural suit, and for those that know Maureen, watching her laugh was as joyous and beautiful as watching her smile. As we read about the history of the Collin Street Bakery, we reflected on the start of our honeymoon years earlier back in Wisconsin. Apparently, the Collin Street Bakery and its fruitcakes had achieved worldwide fame because John Ringling and his circus had stayed in the hotel where the bakery was once housed. They so loved the fruitcakes that they began sending them as gifts to friends around the world. We not only brought some pecan bread home to the kids but also shared the stories of Delavan, Wisconsin.
So, this explains the circus, but you might be wondering what all of this has to do with catching a falling star. Well, many, many years ago when I was in a youth group at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Westerville, Ohio, long before meeting the love of my life, I had gone to an Episcopal retreat. At the retreat, one of the activities was to paint our faces in “clown face” like the circus. This was pretty entertaining and fun, but it was only once we were done with the activity that the power of the clown was fully understood. Apparently, when we are at the circus, laughing hysterically as all the clowns pile out of the Volkswagen, there is something much deeper and incredibly more meaningful unfolding. For, the clown has a very special role at the circus. You may have noticed that in the middle ring, during the flying trapeze, there is no net. Just like life itself, we fly high above the ground with nothing to catch us, nothing to catching our star. In the case of the circus, however, that is indeed the role of the clown. The role of the clown is to catch a falling star. The role of the clown is to dive under the trapeze if the star falls and to break their fall and as a result, to give their life for their star, to “catch a falling star.”
If there was any biological way to have taken Maureen’s cancer cells and to insert them into my body, I would have done it. She was my star; I wanted to be her clown. Instead, she was mine. And, there is no doubt in my mind that God had decided she had made her “nut,” and He was ready for her circus train to return to heaven 6 months ago. Sweetie, I miss you, but I will make sure that I make my “nut,” along with the kids. Save me a spot in your ring in heaven, so that I can be your clown once again.