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Friday, February 20, 2015

It's A Wonderful Life

Trevor likes old movies, loves the classics. If it's shot in black and white cinematography and boasts Jimmy Stewart in the cast you can bet that he has seen it.

His favorite is It's A Wonderful Life. We watch it every Christmas Eve without fail, and it is also, without fail, the one time each year I watch my generally very unemotional man cry.

The same scene always gets him. It's at the end of the film when George Bailey is in a financial crisis, facing prison time for fraud he didn't commit, and he finally stumbles home in complete and utter despair. And, of course, he opens the front door to salvation.  The entire town has turned out to spot him the money his nemesis stole, saving him from ruin and the damning report of the bank auditor. George is overwhelmed and cries as everyone sings together in the final closing moments of the movie.


A few weeks ago before the increased seizures, before the steroids, before the wheelchair that now is a staple anytime Trevor needs to move, we were out running errands together. On our way home we decided to swing through the drive-in at one of our favorite local drink places. Trevor loves gourmet soda combinations. I love water. So, unsure of what to order I said, "just don't order me anything with coconut in it."


"Don't like coconut, what are you, brainless?" comes his reply.

"You always quote that movie," I roll my eyes at him, "Seriously, you must have every line memorized."

"I love that movie." he responds, "I think that movie captures everything about life. Everything I want to be."

"What do you mean?"

"I want to be the kind of friend George Bailey was."

I put my hand on his leg and say, "Oh sweetie, you are the kind of friend George Bailey was."

"No." he answers thoughtfully, "at the end of the movie his entire house was full of people whose lives he mattered in. The whole town was there. I still have more work to do to impact that many people in a positive way."

Then the drinks are ordered, the conversation turns, we drive home and the details of the day fade into the days that come after. But I remember this conversation.


"Trevor doesn't really want to have a party." I explain to my stepmother on the other end of the phone line, "He's getting more and more weak. We don't know what is happening with this mobility. He says he doesn't want to be the center of attention, but maybe we could do something with family."

"I think people are going to come either way. You should do something. Maybe an openhouse..."


Ten days before his birthday the messages began to trickle in from friends, "Let's all go to dinner...," "Is Trevor up to catch a movie..." The momentum built and  the trickle became an all out flood. "Can we fly in that weekend for Trevor's birthday?" "Let's all go grab Thai food..." "We can't make it out but we want to send a package..." I sat down with Trevor and with my mother-in-law and said, I think it is important that we do something. I know it will be a busy day, but people love you. People need to see you.

I couldn't fathom the details on my own. My focus feels fractured and split in a million different directions these days, and so I did something I seldom ever do with a party (and if you know me at all you know how much I love the details of parties) I delegated. My mother and Josh's mother and my grandparents took over the food arrangements, my dad, stepmother and siblings decorated. My sister-in-law put together a stunning and delightful range of rotating "Trevor pictures" that rolled across the screens in the house all day. My sister threw together a lovely digital invitation. My in-laws and friends cleaned and vacuumed and organized. There are probably a thousand other things I don't know about, little and big efforts that made the entire thing come together on such short notice. Whatever people did, it was perfect and we were ready for people to come. 

And come they did. It's difficult to find the words to describe the love that began to fill our home promptly at noon and stretched on through the night. Uncles and aunts and cousins made hours-long drives from far parts of Idaho, friends we haven't seen in years flew in from Seattle to surprise us. Others made billion-hour drives from Seattle. Neighbors came from up and down the street. A fleet of friends from our Southern Utah circle made the long drive to the northern half of the state, many returning on the very same drive that night. Friends Trevor hadn't seen since high school appeared on our doorstep like magic. Trevor's old boss from Overactdev and his current colleagues from Vivint Solar came. Grandparents and more cousins darling Uncle Kevin brought the sweet woman he has begun dating and introduced her to much of the family for the first time. Little girls wandered in and out of Ivie's room in princess dresses. A once-stranger, now amazing, dear friend, videographer interviewed all the attendees in the privacy of a back room, compiling a documentary of sorts about the amazing man we had all gathered to celebrate. I still cannot entirely comprehend the light and love that flowed around our home that day.

And always there was our amazing family, my angel mother scurrying around managing food and helping people find their way to chairs or bathrooms or kleenex boxes. My darling grandmother with a gorgeous made-from-scratch-the-way-only-grandmas-can German chocolate cake. My dad and step-mother and siblings running point on my two littles making sure their tummies were full and their mischievous selves contained. Trevor's family visiting, crying, cleaning.

I'd requested that guests bring written or printed memories about Trevor in lieu of gifts,  and their gorgeous words filled an entire binder. A dear friend sent one more letter to include in the compilation on Sunday, and she so perfectly summed up the day:

Dear Trevor,

On Sunday after your party, I asked you who came that surprised you.  You listed a few names and teared up a little and then you started to list everyone before you were too overcome to speak. I also noticed that you teared up when we walked in the door Saturday. And I have to say that I was a little surprised by your reaction.

There are these little things people have and they are called 'hidden talents". And I have decided that your talent is hidden from even you.

Why did we drive several hours to your birthday party? Well because you and Chelsi are our best friend.  Why did Michelle come all the way from St George? Because you and Chelsi are her best friend.  Why did Jerry drive all that way? Because you are his best friend. Why did Jeremy and Chelsea fly here? Because your their best friend.Why did people come from Seattle? Because you are their best friend. Why did Justin come? Sure he's your brother but he also is your best friend. Why is Hillary living with you and helping out every way she can? Because you are her best friend.  Why does Stacie hang around and have a hard time leaving? Well that would be because you are her best friend and a brother too. Why are your parents here? Sure, they are your parents, but you are much much more, your their best friend. Why are there some really sad people out there, who couldn't come to your party because of previous commitments? Because you are their best friend.  

It took me a while to realize that we really weren't your ONLY best friends, but I came to realize that you and Chelsi love like God loves, like a parent loves. There are no favorites, there is enough love to treat everyone in your life like they are your best friend. You my dear friend have turned friendship in to something more than just friendship. . . you my friend have turned friendship into an art form.  And that is your hidden talent (apparently hidden from even you) that you have turned friendship into an art form and have made everyone around you feel as if you are their best friend. It is an inspiring talent.

We really do love you (and I we really do believe that you guys are our best friends!!!)

Sarah and Casey Shurtliff

Not many people in this life get to see their "George Bailey" moment.

Even more people, perhaps, do not understand the impact they have on friends, on family, on a community that stretches down the street and around the globe.

But for those that do have the opportunity to see it--even if that opportunity comes through tears--it is an incredible, humbling, confirming, sustaining, reverberating thing that cannot be contained in pictures or in words--only in hearts.

It is my hope that is where January 31, 2015 will always be for the many who filled our home that day...for those who skyped into the party from far away or those stopped by in the days immediately after.

I know it is where it is for Trevor and for me, it is a part of our narrative that beats with love within our chests and flows with light through every fiber of our beings.

Thank you.


Mel Eppich said...

So beautiful! I love the letter from Sarah- it is so true. 1/31/15 is a day I won't forget and the emotions and feelings will remain for my lifetime. I know it had to be extremely hard to open your home and make that day happen- but what a blessing.

MyDonkeySix said...

What a beautiful post. I completely agree. What precious memories.

Kylie said...

I love this! That letter is spot on. I felt so much overwhelming love in your home that day and I will never ever regret the drive. Trevor has made a huge impact on my life, for sure. Love to you both (and those sweet kids that I didn't get to see enough of!)