Serendipity – A Fairy Tale

Family, Friendship, Love

It started with an Angel. An Angel named Mary Ellen. The three Princes were gathered in the palace of the King. The Princess could not join them, not well enough to make the long journey. Nor, in fact, was the King present. He, being on a journey of his own. Days before, prior to his departure, the King had issued a proclamation: “Not that you will want them, but, take what you will of the things I have left behind. What you do not want give to the people as a token of goodwill.”

The three princes found themselves surrounded by untold treasures left abandoned in the castle. The King’s prophecy seemed to be true, barely a treasure had been spoken for by the Princes or the Princess. It was then an Angel appeared amongst them (hey…I’ve heard this story before!). She spoke not a word. She seemed to float, yet not. Light surrounded her. Upon her robes there was writing. An ancient text; given the date written after the words. As luck would have it, the bride of one of the Princes knew the ancient language. The fair maid, translated the words: “The Family of Sayre”.

The middle Prince, and most handsome (hey, it’s my freakin’ blog, you other two can write your own blog if you want to be the most handsome!) immediately sent word to the head of the Family of Sayre to join them at the castle. There were a handful of trinkets representing the Holy Days, surely the Family of Sayre would find use for them during the upcoming Season.

When Larry of Sayre arrived, the Princes bestowed upon him a dozen or more trinkets. Being an old and dear friend of the King and very well known to the Princes, they took to telling stories from the ancient of days and more recent news from the Family of Sayre. They were acquiring a second castle in the southern part of the kingdom. A place for their family to rest and to feast. A place for his Princess and Prince to bring their offspring and frolick in the spiritual waters.

Now, I don’t recall who thought of it first, I believe it was the handsome middle Prince (again, it’s my damn blog!), “Don’t you need some fine furnishings for this new castle? Perhaps, a bed upon which to rest after a day of chasing the fox with the hounds? Perhaps a dresser to store your robe and garments? Perhaps a lounge upon which to look out across the kingdom?” Perhaps, a rack in which to store your pages? Perhaps a roll of paper with the King’s seal?

Larry of Sayre was overcome. Yes, he would be honored to take use of the King’s things. He called upon more of the Family of Sayre to bring their wagons, they would fill them with their good fortune. Wagon load, after wagon load of treasures were taken to the the Castle by the Water. Soon, the King’s Castle had but a few items left. The Princes were pleased, they knew the King would be pleased. Not only were his things taken, they were taken by the Family of Sayre. That evening there was rejoicing throughout the land.

…and they all lived happily ever after.

An Angel Named Mary EllenOk, enough with the Fairy Tale…I could not resist! As the actual events described allegorically in the tale unfolded, the word “serendipity” was used multiple times throughout the day. The fact that we found a ceramic angel, upon which mom had written “The Sayres – 2007” was serendipitous. The fact that we called Larry and he was immediately available to come over was serendipitous. The fact that Larry and Nancy, along with their daughter Laura and her husband were, at that moment, in the middle of purchasing a lake cottage was…serendipitous. The fact that they needed furnishings for the cottage…almost the exact furnishings that dad could no longer use was…yep…serendipitous.

Serendipity was a word my mom used a lot while were were growing up. I thought it was some 60’s thing the church had created to compete with groovy, far out, and alright to try and sound cool to teens. I don’t think I had used the word in a sentence in 40 years! When Larry (of) Sayre started using it, I was transported to another place and time.

As I sat down to write this post, I went to Google to look up the definition. Little did I know I would be taken back a wee bit further than the 1960’s. I was taken back all the way to the 1750’s! 1754 to be exact, when Horace Walpole coined the term in a letter. He was describing a Persian Fairy Tale to his correspondent. The fairy tale? “The Three Princes of Serendip”.

There are SO many layers here. Three Princes…(now, do you get the three Princes reference in my little fairy tale??)…the Three Kings from biblical texts, one or all of whom could have been Persian…Persia, today’s Iran. I love when history does that to you…you go looking for one thing and you find another, far more powerful…it’s incredible, you might say…or rather, it’s serendipitous!


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The Sprinkler Head

dad, family, loveIt came when I least expected. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked through that garage. Dozens? Hundreds? At that moment something caught my eye. I had seen it a million times, but had never given it more than a passing thought. What was that? Today, I had to know. I walked over and picked it up…WHAM! A 2×4 right between my eyes. Holy shit! Dazed, I staggered back,as I did…UMPHFFFFF! Jeeeeeeeezussss! A sucker punch right to the gut. It would be cliche to say, “life passed before my eyes”, nay,  lifefroze before my eyes! As the moments passed, life did indeed pass before my eyes…but it wasn’t my life.

I could see them, mom supervising the planting of the spring flowers, no longer able to help, much less do any of the work. I could hear them discussing which flowers to put where, how best to plant them, and my mom’s reminder to dad to keep them watered.

Life rewound…to happier times. They would shop together at Wild Birds or Altums, picking out the perfect feeder or plant for the small manicured lawn, chattering excitedly as they drove home to place it just the right spot. Later, holding hands as they walked around the yard to examine God’s handiwork.

There they were again, moving into their new home in the retirement community. Doing it for the kids, they’d say. The pride they took in decorating the house just so. The paint colors, the fabrics, the knick-knacks. Out front was a flag pole, shrubs trimmed just so. Welcoming. The prettiest house on the block. At Christmas (a favorite time of year), lights were hung, their twinkle giving the appearance of falling snow.

Now there is a different house. They look younger. This house had something special. Grandkids! Five in all. Oh how they loved to visit Mimi and Popper. Mimi would spend hours with them exploring the scary crawl space. The boys begged for her to take them down there…even though they were a little bit afraid of the dark. Calling out occasionally in shaky voices, “Mimi are you still there?” I’m right here, just shine your flashlight this way,” would come the response.

Popper loved to play in the yard with them. They would play hide and seek for hours on end. The giggles once again giving away the best hiding spot yet!

The house and yard was as you might expect. Immaculate (except after the visit of the grandkids!). The grass mowed and trimmed. The trees bursting with leaves. In the back, were his rose bushes. He would meticulously prune them, fertilize them, and water them. He loved to take her and point to each blossom at is began to unfold.

A new image takes the place of this one. It is a house with four teenagers. Chaotic Sunday mornings getting everyone ready for church. The house was decorated with dozens of banners. Each one made with love and care. Each one with one of her favorite quotes, or scriptures. “Bloom where you are planted”, “Marantha, Our Lord Come”, “Celebrate”, “For God So Loved the World”. The newest one placed in the entry hall, the others hung throughout the “Wreck” Room (hey it WAS a house full of teenagers!).

Together they would explore their faith, their relationship, and their marriage in new light. She was beginning to be her own person. Yes, she was still the minister’s wife, and, very, very proud to be. But she was learning that she had a ministry as well. She could write! At first it was for a Sunday School lesson, then short magazine articles, finally a book. Yes, a book! I could not tell who was more proud…her, or him.

As before, the image fades and a new one takes its place. The kids are younger now, but then so are they. The house is a huge old house next to the church where he served. The house was clean and tidy, despite four young kids (don’t look in their rooms). The garage held the car. THE car! One of the first new cars they had owned. The car was hand washed and waxed…it sparkled. He loved to take her for a ride in the car, letting the wind blow through the open windows (4×4 air conditioning they would call it).

Every Sunday, she would sit in the balcony with the kids (squirming less visible there) and look on with pride as he tended his flock. He was magnificent. His faith and passion exposed with every word. His hair was dark, his eyes flashed. Without anyone being the wiser, he would look to her for affirmation that his words were heard and his message, nay, God’s message, was delivered. After church, they would all sit down for Sunday lunch around an ancient kitchen table.

The images came much faster now, like life as we age, the years moving faster and faster. They were getting younger. The four kids, were three, then two, then one. Then it was the two of them. She dressed in white. Beautiful, simply beautiful. He dressed in black, barely able to breath as he looked at her. Handsome, eyes blazing.

They were teenagers now. He making excuses to go visit his friend Chuck just so he could catch a glimpse of her. Acting totally cool and disinterested, in his rolled-cuffed jeans. She just happening to leave this doll, or that doll out so she would HAVE to go pick it up, her dress clean and bright, like she had just put in on (because, of course, she had). Days, weeks, and months before he would work up nerve to ask her out…to a church youth event (yes, a first date at a church youth event, would you expect anything else from him?).

And then it stopped. I was back in the garage. That same garage, I had been in countless times before. That same garage, where we stacked some of her things when she passed three years prior. That same garage, where I helped him fix his golf cart to make sure he could still get around, even though he could no longer drive. In my hand was a sprinkler head. The shelves before me, organized meticulously, untouched in the three years since mom had died, just as she and dad had left them, now covered with dust and cobwebs. Frozen.  It was frozen. Nothing touched, nothing moved in three years.

We were there to pack dad to move from this house to an apartment. He would be safer there. He would have better care there. We were moving him from this house. The last home they had together. The house where she laid and took her last breath. The house where he had hoped to take his last breath to join her once again. He isfamily, dad, love no longer able to care for the house, I said. He is no longer able to care for himself, I said. He cannot live alone anymore, I said. It is the right thing to do, I said.

I carefully placed the sprinkler head where it had laid, even straightening it, just so. Packing the garage would wait for another day. I took a deep breath, wiped away a tear, and went back in the house to continue packing. Later, as Carmen and I left for the day, I held my hug with dad just a little bit longer, kissed his check a little bit firmer, told him I loved him just a little bit louder. Finally knowing, what I had known in my heart for a long time…he died when she did three years ago this month.


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The Traffic Stop – by Kenn Beckwith

I am very excited to have a guest blogger for this installment of Rivers of Thought. This is from the pen (ok, keyboard) of a great storyteller. I have been after him for MONTHS to write a post for Rivers of Thought. This storyteller is none other than my cousin, Kenn Beckwith.

Kenn and I were pretty close as cousins go, even though he grew up in Milwaukee and I grew up in Indiana. A couple years ago we reconnected after being out of touch for DECADES! As we have gotten to know each other’s life journey, it is remarkable the similarity in our paths. So without further ado:

family, leadership, #AllLivesMatterIt was last October.

I was late for a meeting.

Traffic was heavy.

I was in the HOV lane because I can afford to pay the toll.

I was driving 69 in a 55.

I was pulled over.

As the trooper approached the car I had my license and insurance in my hand waiting for him. He took them and went back to the squad car. I have a clean record, but was bracing for an expensive fine.

Upon his return he noticed the windows of my recently purchased car and observed they were darkly tinted. After checking the glass with a gauge, he confirmed they were too dark. I explained I had just purchased the car and he told me to take it back to the dealer to rectify.

He then noticed my low tire pressure warning light was illuminated. I told him I had just swapped tires and the sensor had yet to sync. He walked around the car to check for himself.

He then handed me a warning ticket for the entire episode. He was polite, helpful, and in all ways, represented his profession well. I thanked him for the warning; since then I’ve slowed down and I’ve told this story many times.

I’m white.

A few nights ago ago a 33-year old man, his girlfriend, and 4-year old daughter were leaving a grocery store and were pulled over due to a broken tail light. We all know what happened thereafter. I used to have a carry permit – this man did exactly what I was trained to do – he notified the officer.

He’s dead now.

He was black.

I do not pretend to know what it is like to live as a black man in our society. Every time we add one more body to the count of dead people we hear the words “black lives matter.” Then we hear well-meaning people say “all lives matter.” As President Obama said yesterday, “you cannot ignore the data.”

The one question crashing around my brain every time I’ve told the story of my traffic stop has been, “would I have had the same experience if I had not been a 59-year old white male driving a nice car?”

No answers – just sad about the state of our country.


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The end of a very long week…

family, autism“Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”. Three of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. I could not imagine a more perfect ending to what had been a very long week! I think I probably watched the video a dozen times…”Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”…the last two words barely whispers.

The week started much like many others, Monday morning and off to work. Pretty typical Monday, One on One’s with my staff in the morning, followed by an afternoon full of meetings. That evening, while sitting in my office at home catching up on email, my cell phone rang. It was a number I did not recognize. So, I did what I always do with a number I do not recognize, I ignored it and let it roll to voicemail. Before I had a chance to listen to the message, it rang again, this time it was my dad’s number.

I answered, fully expecting to be talking to my dad…except I wasn’t. It was one of the nurses from the retirement community where dad lives. Dad had fallen several times and was very disoriented. She was calling an ambulance. I dropped everything and rushed to his condo. As I arrived, they were loading him into the ambulance. One of the firemen gave me the low down on his condition, I asked them to tell him I was here and I would see him at the hospital. After speaking with the nurse and the neighbors who had called her, I followed the ambulance to the ER.

Hours later, after myriad of tests, we learned that dad had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke” and was also suffering from pneumonia in both lungs. They started a series of IVs and admitted him into the hospital. (For those that know Dad, he has improved and is now back in his duplex.) As for me, I stayed with him until he was in his room for the night. I think my head hit my pillow about 2 AM.

I was up and off for a 7:30 meeting the next morning. The rest of the week was a blur. Carmen and I would tag team. She would spend hours at the hospital during the day, texting me with updates. We would talk by cell in between meetings, then meet at the hospital as soon as I could get out of the office. We would spend the evenings with dad and then head for home, stopping for dinner on the way. Most nights it was 9 or 10 before we arrived home.

Dad was improving, albeit, slowly. By Friday, we were exhausted. As we talked mid-afternoon, we decided Carmen would head for home, and I would stop in and visit with dad before I headed home. As was typical, dad would be awake and talking one minute and fast asleep the next. During one of his “naps”, I was checking Facebook. There it was, a post from my son Jeremy. A short video of my grandson, Braxton, uttering his first words. “Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”. Not wanting to disturb dad, I texted Carmen and my heart beating like a drum…”OMG, have you seen Facebook?”

First words are always a big deal. These first words, however, had been a long time coming. You see, Braxton is 3 ½ and has been diagnosed with autism. His language skills and socialization have been particularly slow to develop. He had not spoken a word, not even close.

Carmen was not responding to my text, nor was she “liking” on the Facebook post,  could barely contain my excitement, I wanted to share the news! Finally, dad woke up and I called Carmen to share the news, then showed the video to dad. By now, all three of us were in tears.

The next morning when Carmen and I went over to Jeremy’s house to visit with him and Braxton, all I could do is grab Jeremy by the shoulders and look him in the eyes and say, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God, Oh, my God!!!”

After the week we had had, I can’t think of a better way to end it. Dear, sweet, beautiful Braxton speaking his first words.

“Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”…the sweetest sounds I had ever heard!


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Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)

Wennie and ScottiesIt was the year 2 BJ (before Jeff) when Wennie (Wednesday) wandered out of a field and into Carmen’s heart. 17 years later (15 AJ, for those keeping track),on Saturday, Wennie crossed the Rainbow Bridge, while she will still be in our hearts, she leaves a hole and an ache.

When Wennie entered Carmen’s life, she joined a family of two Scotties, Guinness and Watney and a beautiful soul (Carmen, duh!). Guinness left us about the time I showed up on the scene. I am fairly certain, however, if the man of the house had not approved, I would not have been let in. That left the three girls and me, talk about being outnumbered!

This Christmas (stay with me on this one…you will see the point soon, I promise), we started a new tradition at Whitemeadow. We called it “Cookies and Cocktails” but it waWennie Bowls more like “Donuts and Drinks”. Both sons, Jeremy and Brad, brought their families over on Christmas Eve. The plan was to spend some quiet moments together and for Grandpa (yours truly) to read “Twas the Night before Christmas”. As I opened the book, a long forgotten sheet of paper fell out. It was “Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”. Something I had written way back in 2001…our first Christmas as husband and wife (and dog and cat). I could not think of a better way to celebrate Wennie and the life we had together than to share it here with you. So…without further adieu, and with apologies to Clement C. Moore…


”Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even Wennie’s mouse
The stockings were hung on the mantle with care
In hopes that the cat would leave them right there

Watney was cuddled with us right in our bed
While visions of dog treats circled her head.
And Carmen was snuggled warmly on my shoulder
And I was just content to lay there and hold her.

When right there on our bed there arose such a sound
That we both shot out of bed with one giant bound
The room was ablaze from our outdoor Christmas lights
I thought we would both keel over and die from fright

It was then that I spied our dog and our cat
Turning our bed into there own wrestling mat
They were jumping and twisting both this way and that
I collapsed back in bed and told them to scat

Wennie went running straight up the darn tree
Watney just prancing and dancing, trying to see
The tree, it  began to shimmy and shake
The ornaments, they began to fall and break

Now Watney, Now Winnie, now doggie and kittie
On Winnie, On Watney, On kittie and puppie
Out from under that tree, get straight down that hall
Now scoot away,  scoot away, scoot away all

As quickly and straightly as arrows do fly
When shot from a bow with an archers great eye
So down to the kitchen the critters they flew
With a strand full of lights and some ornaments too

And then in an instance I heard in the hall
The crashing and smashing of the tree in its fall
And I was jumping with fright straight out of my bed
Yelling and screaming and seeing nothing but red

When Carmen and I the kitchen did reach
The critters were covered with 12 ornaments each
Watney had lights all strung from her toes
And Wennie had antlers and a red little nose

I looked over to Carmen and she looked at me too
Neither of us really knew what we should do
Laughing so hard, my eyes they did cry
I leaned down to Watney and just asked her why

Slowly I untangled the lights from her fur
While Carmen helped Wennie she quietly purred
We looked at each other right there on the floor
And knew that God could not bless us with anything more

We had each other and our dog and our cat
We had a nice house filled with this thing and that
We held on to each other with all of our might
Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

Rest in Peace, dear Wennie. You will be sorely missed, for this evening when I sit on the couch, there will be an empty spot next to me and an empty place in my heart. Wennie

Want to connect? Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@jtonindy)
Interested in IT and the changing role of IT? Read more on: Intel’s IT Peer Network
For posts on life, love, leadership, and just about everything else:  Rivers of Thought
I write about Leadership and Leadership Development for:  People Development Magazine