By Christopher Green
Today, a very special woman is being laid to rest.
As long as I knew her, Betty Geers was an inspiration to me. You see she was badly burned as a very young child. While running around her yard one Fourth of July, Betty tripped and fell, landing on a lit Sparkler. Her chest, neck and arms were severely burned, causing pain and problems for the rest of her life. She could not reach high above her head and the skin graphs and muscle damage caused her to always be a little clinched in.
Think about it. She spent over 85 years dealing with what could have been the great excuse of her life. It would have been easy for her to say I can’t do that because of, well the burns and the scars. But she embraced life with a gusto I have seen rarely in my fifty or so years on this earth. And I did not get the chance to meet her until she was well into her 60’s.
I was in a bad car accident a few years after Laurie and I were married. I shattered my hip in so many pieces that when Doctors look at my X-Rays they pull back just enough to notice. Comforting. As I was recovering, I started to notice how Betty navigated her way through life. She moved with elegant deliberation, never willing to sit anything out, never willing to miss a chance to take an active part in her life.
I basically said to myself, if she can do this so can I.
Three months later, I was running for Congress using a gnarled cane Betty picked up somewhere in Europe to hobble around the Congressional District Dennis Kucinich now represents. The cane is all twisted in on itself, kind of like my hip, kind of like the district. It became the unofficial mascot for my campaign.
Since that accident, I have been in almost constant, undulating pain. Combine that with the slow but steady erosion of my lung capacity and you can see why I need inspiration.
Betty never complained which is something I cannot say I never do. But whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, my thoughts inevitably turn toward Betty and I soon realize that I just have to keep going on with my life. After all, if I don’t do it, no one else will.
My mom is my other guiding spirit. She battled various kinds of cancer for almost 20 years before she was taken from us shortly after Laurie and I were married. She also never complained; never let it show that she was in what was almost surely relentless pain. I never once caught even the slightest grimace.
My mother was an inspiration to not only me, but for many others as well. I cannot tell you how many times women I would meet and tell me, after finding out I was Mrs. Green’s son, how much my mother meant to them. You see she taught Home Economics at an inner ring suburb here in Cleveland for almost 20 years. My mother showed a whole generation of women how to first be true to themselves.
She went for her Master’s Degree after her marriage to my Father crumbled apart. Now this was back in 1967. Divorce was a big deal back then. Women were being advised by priests and family members to just tough it out, always for the sake of the kids.
Since my dad, who would never be mistaken for a responsible man, rarely made a child support payment, my mother could have used that as her big excuse. Instead, she took control of her life and never once looked back.
Gretchen, or as we all liked to call her, Gretchy, was there for me when I was strong enough to finally realize I was drinking my life away. Once I decided to stop swilling the booze and started to deliver, for once, on my word, Gretchy was there to help me make it through some very tough times. She made it easier for me to get back on my feet, allowing me to reclaim what was left of my life.
It is interesting that just as Gretchy was letting go, Betty was there to fill that void.
The point of all this is that I have had the unique experience to be molded shaped, really, by the example of two strong-willed women. Each was there for me at two very different and critical junctures in my life. Both taught me by example to be strong and to keep on going no matter what.
They both showed me, by being such extraordinary role models, how to live life to the fullest even if the odds are not always stacked in your favor.
To borrow one of the best lines Jack Nicholson ever uttered in a movie, they both made me want to be a better man.