Thursday, May 10, 2018

From Summer to Autumn, Sunrise, Sunset

I'll never forget my introduction to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It was a lovely, crisp autumn night in the early summer of my adulthood.

I was in Washington on an assignment for a national magazine. I had just had a wonderful dinner at the Alexandria, VA home of Tim Schellhardt, my best friend from college, his gracious wife Barbe and their beautiful baby daughter Laura. Tim was White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, the job of his dreams. Life was incredibly good.

As he drove me back to my hotel, Tim said "Oh, wait! I want to show you something!" We stopped at the Kennedy Center and walked around the place, marveling at its beauty and at the artistic wonders offered on its fall schedule. We talked and laughed and Tim exuberantly raced a total stranger up the down escalator there. Life was filled with youthful energy and promise that lovely night when we were barely 30 years old.

Those were heady times -- with our careers on the ascent, so much of our lives ahead.

Tim and Barbe would have more children -- with Mary Kate, Eliza and Stephen arriving in the next seven years.

I would marry Bob Stover two years after our Kennedy Center adventure and write my first book -- an award winning best seller -- two years after that.

Bob would become a Big Brothers volunteer for 22 years and his third Little Brother, 9-year-old Ryan Grady, who called himself our "surrogate son", would become a pivotal part of our lives. He and Bob spent many hours together -- exploring, arguing, laughing, teaching each other so many things. As a teenager, Ryan helped me to study for my oral licensing exam to become a psychotherapist and, in the process, declared that he wanted to do this, too, one day.

Tim back in the day with (clockwise) Laura, Mary Kate, Eliza and baby Stephen

Bob and I never had children, thus no grandchildren, though my brother Mike's late-in-life kids with his wife Jinjuta -- Maggie, 8, and Henry, 5 -- are a wonderful substitute. It's fascinating to see them grow and develop into quite distinct individuals. I look at Maggie's face and catch fleeting glimpses of the strong, socially adept, beautiful woman she will be someday. I see fierce intelligence and wry humor in Henry that are far beyond his chronological years and a fascinating look at the man he will grow up to be.

Henry and Maggie near their home in Bangkok, Thailand

For a long time, with all of the younger generation, we would seek such glimpses into the future. But now, increasingly, the future is here. Oh, Tim and I are still writing. We did a lot of talking and laughing as we visited during our 50th college reunion last fall. Bob still enjoys long talks and recreational arguments with Ryan. He was Ryan's Best Man at his wedding last summer.

Bob, far right, as Best Man at Ryan's wedding

But something has changed.

The babies of our youth are in the sweet summer of their own adult lives, with careers on the ascent and growing families and strong shoulders and patient listening ears

When did that happen? When did we start depending emotionally on them? When did we first seek out their advice? When did we start stepping back to admire their career and life accomplishments which have slowly, but steadily, begun to eclipse our own? And how could we have guessed what a joy that would be?

It's fascinating to watch another person grow from helpless infancy to competent adulthood. One can always remember the full life span -- seeing a glimpse of the dimpled toddler in the woman, the loquacious child in the man. And, even while still basking in the sunshine of one's own life, the chill of autumn is unmistakable. Our steps are slower, more cautious. Our futures don't stretch endlessly, luxuriously, through decades. We entertain less engaging "What if's" as we plan the rest of our lives with Power of Attorney documents and Living Wills and trusts. We deal with the nagging physical limitations of time. We watch dear friends die and become a bit more reconciled to our own mortality. And so much of the focus has turned away from ourselves and onto the triumphs and wisdom of the young people we love.

My friend Mary Breiner, whose husband John passed away recently, enjoys the company, comfort and counsel of their three adult children Matt, Liz and Katie, their loving spouses Patti, Nigel and Josh and the grandchildren who are growing up so quickly and wonderfully. Two days after John's death, just before Christmas, Mary's beloved niece Monica Fulton appeared at her door with a little Christmas tree, hugs and words of love. Mary's children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews love and worry and advise and reach out to her, to support her through the grief and her transition to a new and very different life.
Mary Breiner and her niece Monica Fulton, who brought her love and Christmas cheer.

And when we faced an unsettling family crisis not long ago, Bob turned to me and said "We need to call Ryan and get his advice. He'll know what to do...."

And it was true: Ryan did fulfill that long ago dream to become a psychotherapist, too. He is a licensed clinical social worker in L.A. and is director of a social service agency. Was it only a few years ago that he and Bob would argue about job interview logistics and management practices? Now Bob marvels at his competence and vision. And, after an hour on the phone with him, discussing our distress over my sister's medical and financial crises, he gave wise, practical and spot-on advice -- and once again, expressed his love and support.

Ryan Grady, all grown up and source of  comfort and wisdom
And I marvel, too, at my friendship with Tim's daughter Mary Kate, a film and television actress in Los Angeles. Whenever I'm in town, we have long lunches and delightful visits together, talking about our lives, advising each other, laughing like old friends.  She talks about her joy in being able to help her parents in little ways -- assisting her mother after knee surgery, taking her father to the beach for some serious de-stressing. And we talk about her love for her very special siblings -- Eliza, a gifted musician who is happily married and the mother of two lovely and thriving little daughters with a third on the way; Stephen, who has a wonderful marriage and a busy career as an actor/singer/director/choreographer in Chicago and who also teaches musical theatre at Northwestern University where Tim and I met and became lifelong friends more than 50 years ago. And Stephen is not the only Schellhardt on the NU faculty. Laura, an award-winning playwright, heads the undergraduate playwriting department at Northwestern, is happily married and the mother of a delightful four-year-old son. She and her husband just bought their first home in suburban Chicago.

Mary Kate Schellhardt, a treasured friend
Stephen Schellhardt with dad Tim, all grown up and excelling

Life is incredibly good.

Tim recently returned to the Kennedy Center. He no longer lives and works in the Washington area. He is a public relations executive in Chicago and just beginning, at age 73, to imagine retirement. But something special drew him back to Washington recently: the debut of one of Laura's plays, the first of two that will be produced this year  -- at the Kennedy Center.

Tim at Kennedy Center between posters for two of his daughter Laura's plays                                                                                        

Summer into autumn...feeling the aches and pains of age, the limitations of time...but who knew how warmed we would feel against that chill as we marvel at the talent and love and wisdom of those who follow us.


  1. I enjoy the trip your writing provides, the sweet joys amid all of life's up and downs. You are a credit to your profession.

  2. Lovely post. I am noticing the same things about our grown children, as we begin to pass the generational torch to them.

  3. Hi Kathy, I always enjoy reading your posts, and learning more about your friends/family.. SO much love there --and SO many memories... The older we all get, the more we cherish those special people in our lives --and NEED them... When I was younger and SO busy working, raising my sons, etc. ---I didn't keep up with my family/friends as much as I should... But---when we did find time to be together, it was almost as if we had never been apart... Such special times!!!!!

    And---isn't it wonderful to see the Kids/grandkids from our past grow up and make wonderful lives themselves... We ARE passing on the torch..

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

  4. This is beautiful, Kathy -- and offers such perspective. I see much the same qualities in some of the young people I've been privileged to know -- children of my cousins, Kevin and Greg... In time we will rely upon their thoughtful advice all the more. For those of us without our own birth children, this younger generation of others is perhaps all the more important. I love that you have this in your life.

  5. Dear Kathy, this is--for me-- one of your most helpful postings for it encapsulates the realizations I've had since moving back here to Independence nine years ago and being with my family again. The nieces are now in their fifties; their children are in their late twenties and early thirties; great-grandchildren for my brother and his wife have come along.

    And I am finding just what you write about--that my nieces and great-nieces now bring great joy in my life as they make their decisions and embrace the wholeness of the span they've lived. Thank you for examining all this by using your own life.

    I remember so well teaching grade school, then high school, then college. And in each I met young people who delighted me because I could see such potential in them. One of the joys of teaching is to have students who surpass our own achievements. That, to me, is all part of the Holy Oneness of All Creation. Peace.