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A Breathtaking Vision

The 4th of July has always meant a great many things to me throughout the course of my life.  In my younger days it signified summer and all that was most rich about it: sunshine, barbecues, pretty girls and the promise of a future bound by nothing… As I got older and started to see my business grow, which never would’ve happened without the lessons instilled in me by my incredibly wise Uncle Moe, I acquired a deeper appreciation for what Independence Day actually meant.  But no prior year’s celebration could hold a candle to the one that just passed.  Last week I stood before one of the most breathtaking visions that I have ever had the pleasure to see.

I knew this year’s fourth was going to be inspiringly memorable.  Back when I was living in Hollywood, barely scraping by and subsisting on McDonald’s Happy Meals, I befriended a charming girl at the Bullock’s department store where I worked.  She had a warm yet radiant personality and an infectious smile; she was just the kind of person who made your day brighter if you saw her.  We never dated, which I’ve always regretted, but as the months passed we grew rather close.  We kept in touch over the years as best we could, but life inevitably took us in different directions.  She got quite a kick out of the fact that I made a recognizable name for myself, so every so often I’d get an e-mail or a call.  I enjoyed these immensely and I could feel my face light up as I wrote her back or heard her voice, but earlier this year when she told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer it crushed me completely.

I’ll always be able to hear the fear in her voice from that call and if I think about it too long my eyes still well up.  Though we’d only been a part of each other’s life for a short amount of time, we’d both made an indelible impression on one another.  She wanted me to know.  She wanted me to visit if it was possible.  When I finally came to see her she was in the throes of her chemotherapy treatment.  Her hair was gone and she was clearly in agony.  I gave her all the comforting words I could muster, but I couldn’t understand why such a vibrant soul would want anyone to see her this way.  As her husband walked me to my car he explained that she wanted to see those who had meant something to her one last time, just in case she didn’t pull through.

This made sense to me as I thought about it while I drove up to her house that afternoon.  Several weeks prior I had received an impassioned letter from her, thanking me for making time to see her and inviting me to their celebration.  Her cancer had responded well to the treatment and she was now in good spirits.  I arrived to find their home full of family and friends.  The grownups were telling stories, kids were swimming in the pool, and there she was, right there in the center of it all.  I couldn’t believe how much better she looked; she had that same bounce in her step I noticed the very first day I met her and her hair was already growing back.  We spoke at length and she told me that for the time being she had fought off the cancer, but the chemo had damaged her heart, which she would have to work vigorously to strengthen.  Immediately I noticed the plate of fruit and vegetables she was snacking from.

As the day wore on I saw my friend regale her guests with entertaining stories, sharing tender moments with relatives and she even took a dip in the pool with the kids.  She lit the whole party up brighter than the burning California sun, which was exactly how I’d always remembered her.  But it was at night with the fireworks exploding in the sky that my confidence in her resolve to live was truly affirmed.  During the grand finale, which thundered harder than any fireworks display in recent memory, my eyes were drawn only to the fiery glow from my dear friend’s sparkling face.  Surrounded by that those she loved, she gazed up at that bursting sky with all the wonderment of a child.  She even caught me looking at her, then in that fine subtle style of hers, she fired a reassuring wink at me.

One of the most breathtaking visions I’ve ever seen was what that was.

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