Brighten the Corner

A quick perusal of the dates of my previous posts will show that quite some time has passed since my last one, and some explanation is in order. I’m too new to the Blogosphere to know its protocols, as to what is appropriate and what is not. This post is going to be quite personal. Perhaps that’s not appropriate, but for me it is unavoidable. One of my primary emphases in this blog is oriented toward writing, and self-publishing. Germane to those topics are factors that have influenced my writing, the books I have written or plan to write, my very motivation for doing so. Soon after my last post, I lost the greatest source of my inspiration,  my most dedicated advocate, the one who has most influenced my writing. After a brief illness, Colleen, my best friend, my wife and dear companion for over fifty-five years, left this earthly vale for a heavenly one.

When I was first attempting to wean myself from years of engineering writing and stick a toe in the water of fiction, I created a novel I called The Old Man. I had told Colleen as I was working on it that the story was a “character study.” When I had a draft sufficiently well done that I was willing to let her read it, after doing so she smiled at me and said, “Mister Engineer, you do realize you’ve written a love story, don’t you?”

“No,” I insisted, “it isn’t a ‘love story.’ It’s a story about love—how love should be, between two people.”

“Well, perhaps,” she replied, “but it’s still a love story.”

I suppose we were both right. It is a love story. Likewise for my second novel, Ad Astra. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Good things happen. Bad things happen. But one thing is clear. For two people truly committed to each other, love always transcends, always survives the bad and nurtures the good. To the extent my abilities as a writer permitted, the stories reflect life and certainly reflect my perception of how love between two people should be.

It was our marriage, our life together, that gave me the understanding and experience that make those two stories feel real to the reader, and that led directly to my writing Happily Ever After: A Tribute to Marriage From a Fifty Year Veteran. It was Colleen’s gracious hosting during the many hours of interviews in our living room with Albert Cheng that smoothed over the pain as he relived his tortuous years of captivity by the Khmer Rouge, as I prepared to write Grace Will Lead Me Home: the Albert Cheng Story. Obviously, she deeply influenced all I have written. How her loss will affect my writing I cannot speculate.

But that is not the take-away I want to leave from this post. No, what I want to leave is the realization that has come to me over the past months of how profoundly our lives can be affected by something so simple as a smile. As I read through the many sympathy cards I received, and was supported by our friends, the one constant that was near-universal in the comments was “I’ll miss her sweet smile.”

When we graduated from the small community college where we met, there was a tradition of signing our classmates’ yearbooks. Usually, we penned such memorable lines as “Don’t forget the fun we had in Chemistry Lab.” But in Colleen’s book, most of the comments were variations on the theme of “I’ll always remember your smile.” Of all her accomplishments in her life, and there were many, in the end what we all remember is “her sweet smile.” Such a simple thing, but what better legacy could there be?

My dad was a dedicated Christian, and as we three kids grew up in the Hayes household, it was a rare Sunday that did not find Dad’s old Chevy one of the first to arrive at the small church in our hometown. One of the hymns we sang there, of the many that became part and parcel of my life, was “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” As we would finish each verse and move into the chorus, the singing became quite enthusiastic as we all exhorted ourselves to

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

That simple philosophy was as natural to Colleen as breathing. Her smile brightened all our corners, and helped family, friends, neighbors, people she didn’t even know, regardless of how far from harbor they might have been.

Can any of us leave a better life-lesson from our own life? Each time we greet our children, deal with a co-worker, check out at the supermarket, let the cable guy in, say good morning to our mate or pass a stranger on the street, what a difference it would make if each of those times that person could be greeted with a smile, their corner brightened if only for that moment.