A Tribute to Pop

Last Monday, August 15, the world lost a most magnificent man, William Lupinacci, Sr., a.k.a. my Pop.  As a United States Marine veteran who served in World War II and a lifelong member of the rescue squad, my pop loved to serve his country and his community.  He was an amazing father, husband, and grandfather and a selfless giver and wonderful role model to all.  I’m fortunate to have had him as my friend and grandfather, and I hope to continue to spread love in his honor.  As I sit here in my “summer office” on this beautiful day, the sun is shining, the warm breeze is rustling the leaves on the trees, and I can’t help but feel my Pop and his love all around me.

I’d like to share a slightly modified version of the eulogy I read at the wake on Thursday.  If you know my Pop’s sense of humor, you may understand why I had to tweak it a bit for the sake of appropriateness.  Although words can’t really describe how awesome my Pop was and how much I love him, I tried my best.

In the wake of my Pop’s passing, my sister and I have tried to imagine life without him, and it’s nearly impossible.  How do you imagine life without someone you’ve been so close to since the day you were born?  We can’t imagine walking up my parents’ driveway without seeing Pop working on his birdhouses or baking in the sun.  We can’t imagine not hearing my Mema and Pop singing through the wall at my parents’ house.  We can’t imagine waking up on Thanksgiving morning without smelling Pop’s cooking and sitting at the counter as he drinks champagne while stuffing the turkey.  We can’t imagine knocking on his door without hearing, “Come in if you’re good lookin’!”  We simply can’t imagine creating new family memories without him, and that makes us sad.
But after digging through old boxes of photos over the last few days, not only have I been flooded with some of the fondest memories with my Pop, dating back to when I was a toddler, but I was also reminded of how full his life was, how fun his life was, and how a lot of that fun was because of his brilliant sense of humor.  After hearing a number of stories from my Mema and Pop over the years, it’s clear that Pop was always the life of the party, the center of attention.  He knew life was to be lived and he did just that.  He turned any dull, ordinary gathering into a lively event.  He turned soda cans into shoes and would tap around the house.  He turned water hoses into sprinklers.  He often turned frowns into smiles.  He loved to spread his joy to everyone he knew.  His jokes were hilarious and, often times, a little shocking, and the pictures hanging in his garage clearly showcase this.  But it was all for a good belly laugh, and I’m sure many of us have shared a good laugh with Pop at some point.  His sense of humor never failed, and he continued with his jokes up until the very end.      
Not only was Pop funny, but he was so genuinely kindhearted, accepting, and loving of all people, which can be rare for a man his age.  Words cannot adequately express just how good of a man my Pop was.  They also can’t express how grateful I am for his unwavering love and support over the years.  He helped teach me to stand up for what I believe in and follow my heart and intuition.  He was always one of my greatest fans and encouragers in life no matter what decisions I made.  He was, both literally and figuratively, at the sidelines cheering me on at every event that ever meant something to me.  He did this from childhood all the way up to my wedding only 6 months ago.  Not only did he cheer on Jabari and me that night, but he also cheered on all of my beautiful bridesmaids as they made their way down the aisle.  He made people feel good and put a smile on everyone’s face.  
He always let me know he had my back no matter what.  His unconditional acceptance and love accompanied by his amazing sense of humor helped us cultivate a real friendship as I got older.  I’m grateful to say my Pop was truly my friend.  I really mean that.  He wasn’t much of a phone talker, but I knew I could call him on his cell any time.  I could talk to my Pop about anything without feeling judged.  I could tell him secrets I knew he would always keep.  He just cared and wanted to listen, and if I sought his advice he would offer his feedback, sometimes after conferring with my dad first.  He was so good.  So genuine.  I only hope I was as good of a friend to him as he was to me. 
My bond with Pop is eternal, and I still feel his love right now.  It has occurred to me that I don’t really have to imagine life without Pop afterall because his memory, his goodness, and his soul will live on.  He’s probably sitting among us now, encouraging us all to laugh or throw a party in his honor.  He’ll be with us when we think of him or when we call on him.  When I attempt to make my first Thanksgiving turkey, I’m sure Pop will be right alongside me, probably cracking jokes.  He will live on.
The marines say Semper Fi which means always faithful.  And my Pop was always faithful.  He was also always a perfect grandfather, a great friend, and he will always be one of the brightest lights of my life.  
I love you, Pop.
I would also like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support after Pop’s passing.  You helped us during a difficult time, and you are truly appreciated.  We love you.
The days in my “summer office” are numbered, as I’m heading back to school tomorrow to begin setting up my classroom.  While I’ll miss blogging outside in this perfect weather, I’m really looking forward to the new school year, being back with my colleagues, and meeting my new students!

The Value of Existence and Real Sugar

“You are valuable because you exist.  Not because of what you do, or what you have done, but simply because you are.” – Max Lucado

This quote hangs in the dining area at Elijah’s Promise, and I often read it as I set the tables.  I originally viewed these words as simply as they’re written.  A pick-me-up for those who feel lost on their journeys through life, or perhaps a happy reminder that one still matters even if he doesn’t have it all figured out.  My experiences at the soup kitchen this summer have made me consider this quote on a much deeper level.

When our house was under construction recently, Elijah’s Promise became more than just a workplace.  It became my happy place.  Upon entering the kitchen last Thursday, I was greeted by some new and some familiar smiling faces.  A few people asked about my morning and updated me on what I had missed earlier in the week.  My worries and cares immediately vanished just by engaging in a short conversation with my friends there.  That afternoon, I got lost in service and forming connections with others, an absolutely wonderful place to get lost.

Later that day, after another enjoyable shift of prepping, cleaning, distributing sandwiches, and getting to know fellow volunteers, a pleasant, older gentleman entered the soup kitchen as the dining room emptied.  He explained why he was late and hoped there were still sandwiches left from lunch time.  When I returned from the back of the kitchen with his bagged lunch, the man’s round eyes brightened, a fleeting reminder that love lives inside us all.  I was immediately overcome with complete gratitude for this man and the expression on his face.  He ate his sandwich quietly on his own, but I bumped into him again as we left for the day.

We exited together, and he mentioned how delicious the coffee is at the soup kitchen.  He thought it was a shame they didn’t have any real sugar left because “the artificial sweeteners ruin coffee.”  Ha!  If anyone knows about needing a proper cup of coffee, it’s me.  I immediately ran back inside to grab real sugar from the storage closet for his black coffee, and when I returned, he thanked me and told me I made his day.  At that moment, I wondered if this elderly man had any idea just how valuable he was to me.  I wanted to reply, “Your kind words rejuvenate me.  Your conversations bring me joy during a stressful time.  Your gratitude inspires me.  You are so much more valuable to me than you could ever imagine.”  But instead of risking scaring the man away, I replied, “You made my day too, sir.”  And that he did.

My energy and love are always restored after spending a few hours at Elijah’s Promise.  My experiences with everyone there have been incredibly valuable and life changing.  Thanks to the people I met along the way, I have not only learned a great deal about others, but I’ve also gained a better understanding of my own strength, compassion, empathy, and who I am.  I feel determined to continue learning and to love others and myself more every day.  Once again, I’m immensely grateful.



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Love is Everywhere

Since the Summer of Love Project began, I’ve been making a personal, conscious effort to be grateful for the present moment no matter what it may be.  I’m a firm believer that everything happens exactly how it’s supposed to.  Each wonderful moment and trial brings me to where I should be in my journey, and each moment is valuable in some way.  Sometimes the most trying times lead to gained wisdom and allow for new-found strength to emerge.  I’ve been practicing constant gratitude, and it truly is a practice.  To be grateful for a perfect beach day, for experiencing a beautiful sunset, or for making new memories with friends and family is easy.  It comes naturally.  Finding gratitude amidst challenging, chaotic times can be a real test.

I had to take a small break from my “official” service projects to tend to some unexpected home improvement issues recently.  I’m thankful to say it was nothing major, a small hiccup really.  But it was a perfect time to continue my practice.  We had a pretty bad leak in our air conditioning, so our floors had to be replaced along with one of our walls.  During the process, we lost some personal belongings to water damage and mold.  Among them were my childhood memory boxes, letters, and old photographs.

Each night last week, as I went to sleep in the middle of our hot living room, I’d reflect on the day and try to find the good.  I’m embarrassed to say I considered throwing myself a pity party for a second or two, but then I remembered our awesome neighbor who was kind enough to make us dinner.  I thought about our good friends, Kristen and Mike, who after a long day at work, came to our rescue when we needed their help.  I remembered my cousin’s incredibly talented girlfriend, Sarah, who took time out of her busy schedule to help me create and decorate my new living room.  There were countless people in and out of our house over the course of the week working hard to repair the damage and quickly get our place looking better than before.  Everyone was so caring and generous, and we appreciate their love and support more than they know.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a roof over my head and so grateful to be surrounded by such love.  The goodness in people amazes me sometimes, and there is so much of it in the world.  Love is everywhere.  Even right now.  It all depends where we focus our attention, I suppose.

Yes, it does stink that I lost my pictures, but I’ll always have the memories.  I’ll just have to brush up on my storytelling if I plan to pass them down to my children and grandchildren.  I’m also happy to say that the last couple weeks have generated new, exciting, and some hilarious memories that Jabari and I will definitely be sharing with our kids one day.  My heart is so full, and everything really does happen for a reason.