Jennifer Horn column

MY BROTHER-IN-LAW is one of those really great guys who everyone loves. He always shows up with a smile, works hard to care for his family and just gives at every opportunity. He is exactly the kind of guy you want to have move in next door, coach your kids, drive carpool and have over for your annual 4th of July BBQ.

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He was in a tough position when he proposed to my sister. Liz is the baby of the family — the youngest of 10 children — which meant that poor Chris had to pass muster not only with our parents, but with a whole gang of siblings. He’s a little quieter than we are, being one of just two children himself, but he’s easy to love, he seems to love us back, and we’ve called him our own for over 16 years.

Chris and Liz came to visit with their five young children several weeks ago. Aged 3 through 11, the kids are genuinely delightful; running around, laughing, enjoying my baking, full of joy. Long days at the beach, breakfast at their favorite donut shop, ice cream by the lighthouse and all the fun of visiting their Aunt and Uncle’s house by the ocean.

One evening, as we were getting ready to take the kids out for ice cream, Chris lingered upstairs. It had been a long day and I knew he was tired so I told him to go ahead and nap if he wanted and we would take care of the kids with Liz.

As he came down the stairs he said, “I’m OK. I don’t want to miss this. This is what I’m fighting for, you know? This is why I’m here — to be with them.”

I smiled and teared up at the same time. Of course. This is precisely what he’s fighting for. Earlier this year, Chris was diagnosed with Stage IV renal cancer and he has been fighting like hell every day since. His words linger in my mind, whispering to me many times each day … this is what I’m fighting for … this is why I’m here … to be with them.

Chris — and so many others like him — is fighting for his life.

He is fighting to just be here.

Fighting for months, hoping for years. Afraid to even dream of decades.

Focused on making memories that his children will be able to hold close on dark nights when they can’t sleep, endeavoring to teach them lessons they don’t yet realize they will need, holding their hands in the hope that they will remember what that feels like long after he is gone.

Watching Chris live — for his children, for my sister — is a reminder of just how precious, and tenuous, life really is.

It’s hard to feel hope when we are consumed by fear. It is difficult to see good in the fog of despair. And gratitude is not always easy to come by. But somehow, through this journey, Chris finds hope, good and gratitude in every day.

We walk out the door each morning to jobs and responsibilities thinking we are heading out into the “real world” as we leave the comfort of home behind, but I think we have it entirely backwards.

Jobs and traffic and conflicts and politics and bills and stress and pressure … this is a world we allow ourselves to get sucked into, and that we have to somehow manage, but it’s not supposed to be what we live for.

The real world, the reason for our very existence, is the people God gave us to love, the people who love us in return. In the chaos and conflict we so often confront, it is easy to lose focus on things that have lasting meaning. Things that really matter.

Like holding your son’s hand at the ice cream stand when he can’t decide what flavor to have; rocking your baby girl to sleep in your lap; smiling at your wife across a crowded room full of rambunctious children; and praying with your family over a holiday meal.

These are the moments that make a life, each one stitched carefully on the tapestry of our minds. Each smile shared, each tear wiped, every peal of laughter that rings merrily in our memories; these are the snapshots we carry forward to keep us connected to all the people God has gifted us in our lives.

If you are among those who are trying to figure out how to get through the holiday season without screaming at your sister or hollering at your uncle, you are doing it wrong. These are the people we live for, the reason we are here.

Just be with them. Hold them. Love them.

And be grateful.

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Former state Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn is active in political and civic affairs.