Remembering Peter Borsay: A Fallen Soldier I Never Knew

(This is a repost of what a wrote a few years ago about Peter and Peggy Borsay. Each year I remember…)

It was 44 years ago today (Memorial Day) that my brother-in-law, Peter Borsay, was killed in Vietnam. Peter was married to my husband’s older sister, Peggy. Unfortunately, I never met Peter.  Steve and I met three years after Peter died so it’s a bit strange for me to “remember” Peter since I never knew him.  But I wish I had known him.  I have always had a feeling that there was something incomplete in my history with Steve’s family since I never knew Peter.

Peter’s death was even more tragic (if there is such a thing) because he was killed by “friendly fire” during a cease fire: military speak for our side killed him by accident.  A helicopter still had its load of weapons and was told to discharge the load before returning to base by dumping it in an empty field. However, the field wasn’t empty. Five men were injured and Peter was killed — instantly, from what we were told. It was a horribly tragic communications glitch.

Peter was in his prime when he was killed; he was in graduate school with a budding academic career ahead of him. Peter and Peggy had only been married 17 months when she got the news the Peter was gone. She became a widow at 23 years old.  She never remarried or had children. She went on to get her doctorate and worked in the corporate world until she passed away in 2006  after losing a valiant fight with  breast cancer. But I think a part of her heart died that Memorial Day with Peter and there was always a sense that she never recovered from her broken heart.  On a cold December day, we buried Peg’s remains next to Peter’s, so many years later, in a family cemetery in West Virginia surrounded by Peter’s family.

I remember the first time I went to the Vietnam memorial in Washington and looked up Peter.  There is a large book with all the soldier’s names and I looked up Peter Borsay.  He is on Panel 23W – Line 25, pretty much
smack in the middle of the memorial.  The names are engraved in the granite and I remember touching the stone and running my hand over the indentation.  There was something almost comforting, if that makes sense,
about touching the name of this man who loved my sister-in-law, a womanI loved like a sister.

Peter and Peg are both gone now.  We don’t always understand or agree with “policy” but what I do know is this: Real people give real lives for our freedom. My life has been touched by a soldier I never knew and the world is different place because of his sacrifice.

I guess that’s the essence of Memorial Day: to remember those we knew, and those we never had the chance to know, who have served our country by giving their very lives — and also to remember those that loved them. For that, this Memorial Day, I am grateful.

My Daughter’s Trip to Haiti: Mending Bodies & Hearts, Including Mine

“Hi Mom. It’s Kel. I’m back in the States! We were transported out of Port Au Prince on an Air Force C-17 cargo transport plane to Charleston, SC. Oh, Mom, I have so much to tell you but I’ve been up for almost 36 hours so as soon as I get some sleep, I’ll let you know all the details. It was hard to leave but I’m glad to be home.”

Those were sweet words for this mama to hear! My daughter was home, safe and sound. I could hear in her voice that she was exhausted but she was also exhilarated at the same time.

Kelly and adorable Haitian baby boy, whom they suspect had pneumonia.

Kelly and adorable Haitian baby boy, whom they suspect had pneumonia.

Three days into their trip to Haiti, Kelly got sick with a GI bug (I, not surprisingly, was a wreck knowing she was sick) but she said she was really grateful it only lasted 24 hours and she was able to rejoin the team at the hospital (Kelly and her coworker, Erin, were the only ones who could start IVs so she was desperate to be able to help).

She told me later that the hardest thing for her during her time in Haiti was being sick herself and not only could she not serve, but someone on the team needed to stay with her and make sure she was okay (thank you MTW!). Kelly said she may never know why she got hit with whatever it was that made her ill.  It didn’t seem to be a virus or food poisoning since nobody else got sick.

Gratefully, when she was finally able to get back to work, she was able to jump in full force for some of the 16-hour shifts they worked until more relief help came.

A few nights after that, Kelly and I got into a short but interesting discussion when she called home one night to check in (thank you AT&T for free phone calls home from relief workers!).

I asked her how she was doing emotionally. She said she was okay and that the conditions were frustratingly primitive, but it wasn’t all that different from working in the emergency room and that she was really enjoying what she was doing.

“’Enjoying’ probably isn’t the right word for it, honey,” I said, in my usual mom/editor voice.

“Actually, Mom, I think it is the right word,” she said, with a hint of indignation in her voice.

She continued, “I’m not saying that I’m enjoying the circumstances the people are in, or enjoying the conditions here. But I am enjoying what I’m doing to help. It’s what I’ve trained for and what I’m called to do, so yes, I am enjoying it.”

Sigh. I just hate it sometimes when my kids are more mature than I am.

After some reflection, I decided she was right. She has grown up since childhood reciting the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

She was enjoying God by using the skills, talents and gifts He has given her. She has gone to school for years, taken lots of specialty courses in crisis, wilderness and survival medicine so she can help in such a time as this.

I realized that it is okay to “enjoy” who you are and who you were created to be, even when the circumstances seem to be the most dark and discouraging.

And in this horrible, hot, heartbreaking situation that is Haiti, she was enjoying God, and who He is and I think, too, He was enjoying her. She was being His hands and feet in a situation that so desperately needs His hand and His touch.

When she got home and was finally up for sharing some of what went on, she said there was one incident that stood out that described the conditions at the hospital.

Kelly and Erin were working the night shift and they were trying to get an IV into an infant while sitting on the floor (there were no beds in the hospital). Suddenly, the power went out! She said they didn’t panic because since the lighting wasn’t great to begin with, they were both wearing their high intensity headlamps so they were able to continue working.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the room went pitch black and with their high beam headlamps cutting through the darkness, every bug in Haiti was instantly attracted to the light!

Erin had to keeping blowing in Kelly’s face to keep the bugs out of her eyes! Fortunately, they were able to complete the IV, but as soon as they got the IV going, Kelly said they looked at each other and burst out laughing! (She thought the poor patients must have thought they were completely nuts!)

After hearing her story, it hit home for me what a difference it makes to have light in a dark place. Yes, the bugs come and make life difficult but light gives life… and even joy in the midst of total darkness.

Perspective on My Aging Mom

Ky in ChinaMy mom has always been an amazing woman… strong beyond belief, sharp as a tack, and more energy than a roomful of Energizer bunnies! No kidding, my dad had a stroke when he was 53 (his left side was paralyzed) and my mom took care of him single-handedly for almost 22 years until he died. For all intents and purposes, she had no life besides caring for my dad. She never considered that there was any other choice.

Mom’s of that stereotypical Midwest-Norwegian farm heritage… up at the crack of dawn, get done what needs to be done as quickly as possible and don’t stop ’til you drop. She took care of my dad (never herself) from sunup to sunset, day after day, year after year.

After my dad passed away, my mom cried and grieved for about a year and then the butterfly emerged from the cocoon. She sold the house and moved into a retirement community as one of the youngest members. She made new friends, traveled the world, and was in charge of just about every volunteer activity you could imagine.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to wrap my arms around my mom now (figuratively speaking, of course). It was about two years ago that my bright, energetic, superwoman mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Her onset of Parkinson’s was gradual at first. She would fall on occasion (I was with her when she fell and hit her head while traveling in China and Spain, which was really scary in foreign countries!) and she complained about feeling stiff all the time.

She had a slight tremor in her hand but, still, the diagnosis came as a shock.

The doctors put her on medication to slow down the progression of the disease but it slowed her down, as well. That, and the fact that her body is just plain worn out after years of taking care of my dad…

This is so not what I expected.

This sounds tacky but I always sort of expected that one day we’d hear that my mom just keeled over and was gone. Simple, quick and fast—just like my mom.

But actually, these days she’s looking more like the other, non-Energizer bunny—the one who just slowly winds down and painstakingly stops running.

I don’t know if it’s the Parkinson’s, the medications, or a combination of both, but my mom is acting very differently these days. She falls frequently, needs a wheelchair often, and is getting confused with details more and more often.

And quite honestly, I haven’t been doing so well with that. When mom says something that is off the mark, I get irritated; not all the time, but sometimes she says things that are so out of character, I am shocked. Then I hear myself talking to her with a tone of voice that is appalling and I hate how exasperated I sound when I respond to her.

I have been trying to figure out why I get so irritated with her. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s an issue of my expectations: I expect my mom to be “her old self” and when she isn’t, it makes me sad and hurt and frustrated and angry, all at the same time.

I miss my mom, the way she was. I miss her quick wit and her humor that got her through so many really, really tough situations. I miss her spunk and her tenacity and her perseverance in the face of challenging adversity (let’s just put it this way, my dad was a great guy but would never be nominated for sainthood!). And I miss the person who emerged from that cocoon of self-sacrifice to enjoy living life with a zeal that was a pleasure to watch as I saw her get back some of the “quality of life” that she had missed for so many years.

I know intuitively that Mom hates being in the position she is now. She doesn’t like needing to be the one being “cared for.” She has always been the caregiver so this is a new role for her. And one she wouldn’t have chosen if she had a say in it.

So it’s time for me to emotionally be okay with letting her be who she is now, the same person only in a very different stage of life. It’s time for me to pause and differentiate between my mom in my memory and my mom today with Parkinson’s (she can’t change her Parkinson’s and neither can I—even though we both would want to).

And, most of all, it’s time for me to remember that each day with her is a gift, because no matter what, she’s still my mom and that, I would never change.

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

thenoticer I’ll be the first to admit that I love good romance stories — stories that tug at my heart and transport me to another place and time. I love stories of people who, like me, are looking for love and end up finding it right in front of them. But most of the time, those stories entertain me but don’t touch me deeply. Those stories make me happy momentarily but usually they just create a longing for more romance stories.

That’s why I’m hesitant to call Andy Andrews’ new book, The Noticer, a romance story, but in fact, it is the ultimate romance story because it does what truly good stories are supposed to do — they satisfy you deep in your heart and make you long to be a different and better person because of the story.

The Noticer is about the power of choosing to change your perspective. It chronicles the lives of a handful of individuals and their encounters with a man named Jones, who just keeps showing up and helping them to see things from a different point of view. Jones somehow knows things he shouldn’t know about the people he runs into and then he invites them to see their lives differently and create a different outcome for themselves. One of those people he has an encounter with is the author, Andy Andrews. Andy’s life is changed in ways he never would have imagined.

As I started reading, I kept wondering if this were a “true” story. I’ve read other books of Andy’s and so I know the front of the stories is at least “somewhat true” (that sounds like an oxymoron!). But after reading the book, I decided that I actually don’t want to know. Because what makes it a great read is that it doesn’t matter… it feels like it could be true and that inspires me to think differently about people (and situations) I “randomly” meet along life’s way, not unlike Andy and the other folks in The Noticer.

The Noticer is a quick read… but I realized when I was finished that I wanted to read it again. Because I knew that if I read it again, I would read it with a different perspective. And that’s what a truly good romance should make me want to do.

Hindsight: Steve Jobs Looks Back

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Commencement address by Steve Jobs

CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios

delivered on June 12, 2005

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something-your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky-I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation-the Macintosh-a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down-that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me-I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called the Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand, not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of the Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Thank you very much.