I wasn't planning on writing today, but something happened that I needed to share.
Lately I've been on a kick of letting people from my past know that their actions affected me in a positive way. I've reached out to a former teacher, a camp counselor, and some co-workers from a long time ago to let them know how their encouragement and kind words really helped me at an integral times in my life. It occurred to me that many of these people had no idea of the profound effect they had in my life and I realized that if I had helped someone out in this way I certainly would want to know.
So I reached out to someone recently and today I received a letter back. I can honestly say that it is one of the most tragic things I have ever read in my life and it really shook me out of whatever state I was in and brought each moment since into extremely sharp focus. To explain:
Thirty-three years ago I was 14 and had a huge crush on a somewhat well-known actor. His name was Timothy Patrick Murphy. Do you remember him? He had a few small roles on some nighttime dramas in the 80s, including Dallas, and I was a huge fan. Take a look at this picture and you'll see
Pretty cute, huh?
Anyway, every summer my mom used to take us kids to a taping of the local entertainment show called AM Philadelphia. We used to love going and seeing all of the behind the scenes activity that went on and watching the hosts and celebrities joke around during the commercial breaks. Well that summer we went to a show and while I cannot remember who was the guest that day, they did a promo for the following day's show and guess who was going to be on?! My favorite favorite actor crush Timothy Patrick Murphy himself!! I got extraordinarily excited, immediately turned to my mother and asked, "Can we pleeeease come back tomorrow to see him? I LOVE HIM!!!" God bless my wonderful mother she agreed and I was over the moon with excitement.
The next day we got up bright and early again and headed downtown for the taping. To our surprise there was a huge line outside the studio. We had never seen this kind of thing before and I couldn't imagine that all of these people were there to see my favorite not-so-well-known actor guy. Well, it turned out that they were all in line to see a little local band called "The Hooters" who were big in Philadelphia and who were about to explode both nationally and internationally within the year. Kudos to my mother again, who went up to the person manning the door and let him know unequivocally that we knew one of the producers of the show, which was true! The bouncer guy went and got the guy we knew, he ushered us past the throngs of fans to our very own special seats in the audience, where we sat expectantly for the show to begin.
As we sat there I was going on and on about how excited I was to see my all-time favorite actor, and after a few minutes of that teenage girl blathering the woman in front of us turned around to say, "Are you a fan of Timothy Patrick Murphy?" I have no idea what I responded back but you can be sure that there was plenty of gushing involved. She listened and smiled and nodded and when I was finished she said, "Oh that's wonderful, I'm his mother." Again I launched into how much I adored him, how I had seen everything he was in and how I was no doubt his biggest fan. She kept smiling and then asked me to write down my address and she'd send me some pictures.
Needless to say I was overjoyed at this as I scribbled my address down on the card from my mother's tissue packet. I assumed she was just being nice and didn't expect it to go any further than that. I actually completely forgot about it after returning home from the show, where along with my crush I got to see The Hooters perform their original version (and far better in my opinion than the one they released for the radio) of "All You Zombies" and "Fightin' on the Same Side.
(P.S. From that moment on, and to this day, I am a huge fan of The Hooters.)
Anyway, after seeing TPM do his segment, where he was charming and gentlemanly and even pointed out his mother in the audience, we went home, where I'm guessing I was glowing for days after that fun and exciting experience.
To my amazement, about three weeks later I got a package in the mail. It contained several autographed photos - one specifically autographed to me, see above - and a lovely note from TPM's mother, saying how nice it was to meet me and that she just had to send me some photos because I was so sweet.
WOW!!!!!! What a tremendous moment in my otherwise angst-filled teenaged life!!
The personalized photo was immediately framed and hung on my bedroom wall. I subsequently took it to college with me and it has been in every home I have lived in since. I also still have the other photos and the note, and they have been a wonderful reminder through the years of the kindness of others and that unexpected joys are possible.
Four years later my beloved TPM passed away at the age of 29. I couldn't believe it at first - he was so young and in good shape and enjoying success living out his dream of being a working actor. I couldn't help but think that he could have become more famous had he had more time.
Years passed and often I would think about his short life and how incredibly kind his mother had been to me. She didn't have to do what she did and it was such a supremely generous act of kindness. I have never forgotten it (especially since that particular time in my life was rife with stress, anxiety, and often crippling self-doubt) and all of these years later I thought that I would send her a note to let her know how much her consideration and benevolence meant to me.
I started searching for her online, remembering her name and the town in which she had lived, and in my searching I found out some horrible news. Not only did she lose her first son at 29, but she also lost another son, Patrick Sean Murphy at the age of 36 in the September 11th attacks.
Unbelievable. How does a mother deal with the sudden deaths of 2 sons? 2?!
Anyway, I wrote her a note, expressing my thanks for her kindness, letting her know how much it meant to me all those years ago, and also letting her know how fondly I remembered her first-born even to this day. I offered her my condolences on the loss of her other son and suggested that she had 2 very special angels watching over her in her life.
I did not expect to hear back from her but felt glad that I could at least articulate my gratitude toward her all of these years later. You can imagine how thrilled and amazed I was to find a letter from her address in my mailbox today!
I opened it carefully and started reading. It was from her husband Thomas, whom I had not met, and he thanked me profusely for my letter, so appreciative that his sons were being remembered across the country from someone he had never even known. Yay!
My initial glee stopped there. He went on to tell me that his wife was currently wheelchair-bound, suffering from dementia, and was unable to understand my letter but that he gladly shared it among other family members. He then let me know that in addition to losing both of his sons, his remaining son Sam was in the final stages of ALS.
WHAT?!! Seriously?! This was incomprehensible. I mean, how much heartache and pain can one family take? I began crying as I read the letter the second time, and kept on crying through the third and fourth times. I just can't seem to get my head around what this family has had to go through in their lives. I know there's no point in asking "why," there's just me shaking my head in disbelief and incredulity. I can only hope that I was able to bring a tiny bit of joy and light to even a moment of this man's day.
Receiving this letter threw into sharp relief how inconsequential and downright senseless my current little gripes and annoyances are. While I am by no means unhappy right now, there are some things lately that I've allowed to bug me and have cast a bit of a shadow over my daily goings on. This made me realize once again the impermanence of life and how very very important it is to go after the things that will fulfill us, to not go on waiting for another time to do so, and to appreciate all of life's blessings while we still have them. Simple stuff, but I clearly needed a reminder.
Here's what I really wanted to share; the point of all of this rambling:
1. Enjoy your life. Period. Forget about your little annoyances and troubles and focus on the big picture of what's going right in your life. Don't sweat the small stuff because it is indeed all small stuff.
2. Don't put off doing anything that you want to do. Just don't. Life is short, opportunities are to be grabbed when they happen and constructed when they are taking their time.
3. SAY THANK YOU TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HELPED YOU! Expressing appreciation can go miles in improving someone's outlook. And if it takes some time and effort to track them down, DO IT! It's worth it for you, it's worth it for them, and it helps make the world a kinder and more civilized place.
4. Stop complaining. You think you have it tough? Take a look at the Murphy family and "kwitcherbellyakin."
Lastly, hug your loved ones, count your blessings, and appreciate all of the wonderful things that life has to offer.
"I love you and I don't want to lose you." - Timothy Patrick Murphy as Chip in "Glitter."
Dear Tim, we didn't want to lose you either.