gratitude, and the gift of betsy

Last night, working on a kitten-and-roses jigsaw puzzle with my sister Betsy, I started telling her about all the music I’ve been making lately with my friends.

It’s her birthday weekend, and I hadn’t seen her in a while.  A lot to say. So I was blathering a little.

I had two gigs this week!, I said,  and then rattled on excitedly, being sure to speak in italics and cap every sentence with a highly emphatic exclamation point. We play gypsy jazz! It’s so much fun! We call ourselves Hot Tuesday! It’s me and these five great guys, and we played at a farmers’ market Saturday morning, and one of my bandmates sent me some videos! Wanna hear them?!

“Yes,” Betsy said, because she’s quite literally the kindest, sweetest and most generous person I know. She’s also the wisest.

Maybe you remember Betsy from a blog post I wrote last year about her, detailing both her utter wonderfulness as a human being and her unsurpassed love of Barry Manilow. (I still haven’t figured out a way for them to meet, so if anyone has any ideas, please shoot me an email.) Betsy is part of the large and marvelous extended family that I wasn’t actually born into. And she is, to quote her dad (belatedly mine, too), “awesome.”

No one is awesomer than Betsy, who happens to be developmentally disabled but also happens to be profoundly comprehending and insightful. I’d be a better and happier person if I had half of her capacity for joy, understanding of people and straight-up acceptance of life.

Take last night, for instance. Pulling up the band videos on my iPhone, I started apologizing for them in advance.

I have a hard time listening to myself play, I explained.

“Why?,” she asked.

Because I hear all of the mistakes I made. I keep thinking of all the different ways I might have played better, I said.

“Why? Nobody’s perfect.”

It’s just a little painful.

“You shouldn’t do that.”

I shouldn’t do that.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t do that. Just be grateful.”

At which point, gobsmacked with awe, I just shut the hell up for a minute. With her usual, plainspoken discernment, Betsy had nailed it. My reflexive self-criticism does nothing constructive — that I already knew. But I had never before seen it as a blindness to all the gifts around me, as a stubborn fixation on what I lack over what I have. And I have friends. Gigs. A love of jazz. A fiddle, and two hands to play it.

When I spoke again, all I could say was this: You’re right. I should just be grateful. And thank you, my sweet Betsy.

I cued up the videos and played her the snatches of music — “Sweet Sue” and “All of Me,” two bouncing early standards that we’d rendered with audible spryness. Betsy smiled. I smiled, too, fighting off a powerful urge to cry. All I could feel was gratitude: for all of the music in my life, for all of the friends I’ve made, for all of my family and all of the love.

Tonight is Betsy’s birthday party; she’s turning 51. Barry, at some point, will be celebrated, and it’s a safe bet purple will be involved. Cake will be eaten. Presents will be opened. But as you can see, Betsy herself is the gift.

4 thoughts on “gratitude, and the gift of betsy

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