I was once asked to describe my best friend by someone who had never met her. I said she was beautiful, but when it came time to describe her physical characteristics I fumbled. How to describe her so that someone who had never met her would recognize her? It was a puzzler. I could only describe her eyes, which are bright and wide, and look at you like you are the only person in the room, and her smile, which is thousand watt. Her beauty is something that shines out from the inside.
There is a scene from "Eight is Enough", where Tom Bradford's daughters ask his new wife, Abby, if she thinks their dad is attractive or handsome. It is asked with hidden laughter and the affectionate puzzlement of children who love their dad but can't figure out why anyone would be attracted to their bald and chubby father. Her response has stayed in my thoughts for years. She said that she loved him so much that all she saw was his beautiful insides, or something to that effect.
Over the years I have met people for whom this statement seems the only true way to describe them. When you look at them, you can only see their insides. And that is how I describe my friend, Jana Wilson. Jana and I have been friends since the third grade. Her dad was also our principal and is a man for whom I could also write a tribute. He's truly one of the great ones. Jana is the result of two loving, kind, disciplined, merciful and encouraging parents and a house full of three sisters and a brother.
Most tributes are written after the subject is long gone, but I'm happy to report that Jana is very much still with us. Happy is a great word to use with Jana, as she is one of the happiest people I know. In the past that sometimes made me uncomfortable as I saw happy people as either genetically predisposed toward happiness, circumstantially blessed to the point where happiness was the only possible result, or stupid, and thus unable to recognize the things that should make them unhappy. Or they were faking it. Any way you look at it, that meant happiness was for other people and perforce not for me. Jana's happiness bugged me. Not because I thought she was fake, but because I knew she wasn't. If she wasn't fake, that messed with my ideas of the provenance of happiness, something I wasn't prepared to deal with for a long time.
I was visiting her one day when her son came home from school. Her face lit up with genuine delight. "Hey, Bubba, how was your day?" For those few moments, that boy was her entire world, and he basked in the light of that love. I watched similar things happen to lesser degrees with everyone she came in contact with.
She used to end our phone conversations with, "You're my hero!" and the special way she said hello let me feel like I was just exactly who she was hoping to hear from right then. I was sitting in her house one day with another friend when the phone rang. "Hello!" she answered. I looked at our other friend and grinned. "That's MY 'hello.'" She said, "I thought it was mine." But how could I be mad when I knew what it felt like to be the object of that joy and delight?
I have been blessed to not only be in that circle of sunshine, but to witness the effect Jana has on others, when they also enter that circle of warmth and light. I'm proud of her ability to delight in other people, to build their confidence and lift their spirits and to encourage them with a well-spoken word, or even with the force of her smile.
There was a time when life got really hard for her. The people that surrounded her were making life miserable with their pettiness, and outright meanness. During that time she continued to keep her family in a protective bubble of encouragement, warmth and light, no matter how hard things were for her. I worried. I prayed. I hurt for her and once drove the 11.5 hour trip to check on her. I could hear in her voice that the sunlight was dimmed. But as I knew she would, she came through it, and just as the clouds pull back to reveal the sun as bright and warm as ever, she has retained her essential Jana-ness (yes, I just made up that word.) She is bright and lively and full of fun, and since moving away has pulled new people into the universe lit by her brilliance.
I sound overly effusive, I know, but it is hard to describe someone so full of life and joy and...well, happiness, without sounding like I've been getting into someone's Prozac prescription. Talking to her or even thinking about my friend to write this piece is like having all the lights and colors in my world brightened up a few notches. That is her gift, I think. She is like a polarizing filter on life, making the blues bluer, the yellows, sunnier, the reds richer, the purples more royal and the oranges more deliciously outrageous. She is the Bose speakers, making everyone wow over the same old CD, hearing sounds more clearly. She makes others seem more delightful, more clever, more sweet, more heroic, and when under her influence, you want to BE the person that she seems to see when she looks at you. You work harder to be that much kinder, that much more noble, that much more forgiving and brilliant.
That is a beautiful talent, and the essential goodness and decency that is so much a part of who she is, makes her not only my dear friend, but one who truly is MY hero. And now that I have described her, I think you could pick her out of a crowd, don't you?