Steve Blevins

Steve Blevins
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
November 05
Steve Blevins teaches medicine at the University of Oklahoma. He enjoys reading, music, and travel. He is interested in American and European history, French literature and culture, and music for piano and chamber ensemble.


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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 9, 2010 8:00AM

Gazing at the Future

Rate: 133 Flag

Nothing brings me more joy than seeing Jerry Bryant in the clinic. Jerry has advanced Parkinson’s disease, but he never complains. He is fifty-eight years old and inseparable from his wife, Betty. They are irrepressibly cheerful; when one laughs, the other cheers. As teenagers, they fell in love, and in love they remain. They are masters of resilience – emotionally, that is. Physically, Jerry has struggled, but he is better now, thanks to Betty, and ready for their 40th "honeymoon." Soon they will be sunbathing in the Caribbean.

I am delighted to see Jerry and Betty at the end of a long day. Jerry is sitting on the exam table, quiet and motionless. He has lost a few pounds, but he is still plump. His thin, straw hair is neatly cut. His brown eyes are magnified by thick lenses. He looks awkward in an undersized gown. Staring ahead, he seems transfixed by the empty wall in front of him. Betty stands by him, her arm draped casually around his shoulder.

"Good afternoon," I say.

"Hi, Dr. Blevins," they reply.

I smile at Betty and turn to Jerry.

"So, Jerry, where are you taking your lovely bride?"

He grins and glances at his wife. "Anguilla," he mumbles.

"Really?" I ask. "Why Anguilla?"

His face brightens; his eyes sparkle. He begins to rhapsodize on the charms of Anguilla, or so I suppose, for I cannot understand a word he is saying. Still, his enthusiasm is unmistakable.

Betty understands every word. She translates: "Anguilla has sun-drenched beaches, pristine waters, and midnight barbecue." Then realizing that she sounds like a brochure, she laughs and adds, "Jerry’s dreaming of the barbecue. I’m dreaming of the beach."

Jerry is amused, which brings joy to his wife.

"Are you healthy enough to go, Jerry?" I ask teasingly.

"You bet!" he mumbles.

I look at Betty, as if needing confirmation: "Is he telling the truth?"

"He certainly is," she replies. "He’s having some trouble with balance, but he walks every day."

Jerry’s tremors began when he was thirty years old. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His condition has slowly progressed. Last year, he received a brain stimulator, which has helped. His tremors are gone now, but his voice remains muffled and his limbs are stiff. He cannot write, but he can walk alone, although he prefers to hold Betty’s hand.

Removing my stethoscope, I check his blood pressure and examine him. As always, I regale him with stories of my weekend adventures. He enjoys my stories, even the silly ones.

"Well, everything checks out," I conclude. "You’re perfectly fine to travel. Have a great trip – and don’t eat too much."

I leave the room smiling. Jerry and Betty have a magical effect on me. Their joy is contagious.

Returning to my office, I sit at my desk and dictate a few notes. After completing my work, I reach into a drawer, pull out a bottle, and remove an orange pill. With a swig of water, I swallow the day’s last dose of levodopa.

Leaning back in my chair, I reflect on the events of two years ago: the evening my hand fumbled as I was combing my hair, the morning I used two hands to brush my teeth, the afternoon I struggled to write. I was forty-five years old then. When my doctor told me I had Parkinson's disease, I journeyed into the surreal: I heard children giggling in a distant exam room and smelled alcohol in a nearby sink. I noticed crickets in the overhead light and saw patches of light and dark on the wall.

For several days I was too distracted to work. I barely listened to my patients. I wrote incorrect dates on prescriptions and impatiently waited for the weekend with its promise of isolation. When Friday finally arrived, I was too pre-occupied to notice Jerry’s arrival.

Dazed, I entered the room and looked at him. He was perched comfortably on the exam table. Betty was standing quietly beside him. Perhaps we conversed. One memory remains: As I approached him with my stethoscope, we looked at each other – he with his Parkinsonian stare; I with the gaze of abject fear. I imagined his decades-long struggle: the frozen movements, the shaking, the distorted voice, the stimulator. He was a crystal ball through which I saw my own bleak future. I wondered when my movements would congeal, when my voice would fade, when....

Jerry’s smile interrupted my reverie. I began to examine him. I checked his blood pressure and listened to his heart, but I could only think of his silent immobility.

As I listened to his lungs, he began to snicker. Jerry behaved oddly at times. I usually delighted in his eccentricity, but not that day. From the corner of my eye I could see Betty’s nervous expression. Raising her finger to her mouth, she encouraged her husband to shush. But Jerry kept smiling.

"What is it, Jerry?" I asked.

He turned to Betty and mumbled something. Betty was perturbed. She tried to ignore his childish behavior, but Jerry waited for the translation, knowing she would eventually give in. Soon her expression softened, and with rolling eyes, she said, “Dr. Blevins, Jerry wants you to know you have shaving cream in your ear." Embarrassed, I wiped my ear and completed the examination.

That evening I sat on my bed and looked out the window. The park was lovely with its vernal backdrop of blue skies and green fields. An old man was riding a bicycle. A mother was pushing a baby carriage. Children were racing on their skateboards.

I thought about Jerry. His happiness defied nature; it was perennial. For ten years I had reveled in his good humor, though now it seemed eerie and discordant. My despair, of course, seemed justified – but why? My limitations were few and mild. Jerry, by contrast, was almost mute, but he seemed oblivious to his condition. Was he unrealistic? Was I?

Spring drifted into summer, and Jerry returned to the clinic with his usual cheer. During that visit, I glanced at him repeatedly, hoping to glimpse the future. His condition had not changed: His eyes were unblinking; his pose, statuesque. But the crystal ball, which penetrated deeper, revealed a future less foreboding. His suffering, although still extant, was subsumed by a graceful serenity. Perhaps I had misread the future. Perhaps time had sharpened my foresight.

I thought about Jerry throughout the summer.

Then one day Betty called to say Jerry wanted to go to the Caribbean. He had never been, and with the 40th anniversary approaching, he was determined to go. He needed a "preflight clearance" and had scheduled an appointment to see me.

And so he arrived, fit to travel. His blood pressure was normal. His neurological condition, although advanced, was safely quarantined from his happy life. He had heard the Caribbean’s call and would pursue its promise of sunny beaches and midnight barbecue.

Daylight passes along with my daydream. The clinic is empty. I put on my coat and turn out the light. For a moment I imagine Jerry in a swimsuit, covered head-to-toe in sunscreen, mumbling and fumbling on the beach. Maybe it's time to stop thinking about the future. After all, there is no crystal ball, just a mirror reflecting the obvious: Jerry is happy.

And I am happy, thinking of Jerry, dreaming of Anguilla.




 *This essay is dedicated to Christine Bollerud. **Mr. Bryant gave me permission to use his real name.  ***The seasons and vacation destination were changed for literary effect.

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There is nothing like your writing. Nothing._r
One of the best things you've written, Dr-as-patient-as-philosopher Blevins. No crystal balls indeed. My life amid neurologists left me with a permanent fascination with the topic.
He seems to take his disease one day at a time. I guess you have to. Steven, this was a great post and must have been a little hard to write. I salute you my friend!
All summer I have been thinking about your first Parkinson's post, it changed my life and outlook profoundly. This is icing on the cake. When I look at the uncertain future of my mom's life, your words will be my comfort.
Gasp. (I'll think of something more intelligible later, but right now I'm stunned , awestruck.) Whew.
Beautiful and thank you for dedicating this to Christine.
I am thankful you have an example like Mr. Bryant to set your sights. I will keep you in my prayers!
After a lifetime of reading other people's bodies, all you can do is listen to your own.

As Dr. Manhatten says on Mars, we are each an improbable miracle of creation and mystery. Your body will have its own story.
Lovely, Dr. Steve. Very lovely. A wise man is one always open to seeing things in a different way.
Dr., I always come away from your essays with things I had not thought territories of understanding. That's the real function of high art.
State of mind is everything. You can be in the midst of huge pressures and unpleasant situations and be happy, or you can be in a great situation and be miserable. All depends on the state of mind. Jerry seems to have it down.
I love the honesty, charm and wit of this piece. Your cheerful attitude is contagious.
To say reading you is like watching Jimmy Stewart perform is not quite right, but it it's the best thing I can think to say, so there it is.

Jimmy Cagney once said acting is planting your feet, looking them straight in the eye and telling the truth, so you are Cagney too, but not at all pugnacious and I doubt you can tap dance.


The thing is, there is real; there's also Real and REAL, and all good writers want one of the three, at least sometimes, to prove that they are "that good" when it all works.

Then there are some who just breathe, and deliver the best thin, heart-strong whole-fiber 12-grain cerebral mac and cheese, home-style -- and then you want to sit with them, talk about anything at all, later, on the porch, while the kids chase each other in the fade before the streetlight comes on. Not mushy, just friend, fine mind, good heart friend, and funny. You don't do what most of us do: bring in fuel and matches and pile up rocks for a temporary hearth; Steve, you ARE the fuel, the hearth, the struck match, the friction and the unpredictable flare.

THIS: "I heard children giggling in a distant exam room and smelled alcohol in a nearby sink. I noticed crickets in the overhead light and saw patches of light and dark on the wall. "

Only an artist with real sand knows to to say that, instead of all the cliched or beautiful or moving or obvious or sly things, at that exact moment in this work of art. The whole piece has such magic: plain observation that gives us the deep abyss, just under our swinging fingertips, on the walk home from our station.

And Elvis, your aim is true. The arc of this is even better than the parts. We know how all of this ends for you and Jerry and everyone, but for 5 minutes? I wanted that beach for someone other than poor pitiful me. Man, tell the truth and shame the devil: THAT is a miracle of exceptional writing.

You write like bees buzz.
You've revealed Jerry's, and your, soul in this post, and both are right side up. Beautifully written, and inspiring.
Yes, all we can do is live the best we can, in the present moment. Expertly told. Both Jerry and yourself are inspirations.
Greg has said it all. Completely excellent!
i thought of christine as i began to read this story. it's quintessentially you to have written it for her. you are a hero, steve.
Extraordinary writing about an extraordinary state of being. Your perception of Jerry and the transformation of your view into his experience versus what may be your own is an penetrating revelation, Steve. And bravo for the dedication to Christine.
I appreciate being allowed into your world.
Great post, Dr. Steve. I appreciate your humanity. Dedicating this to Christine was a very loving thing to do.
The quiet of this is one of the thins that makes this so special Steve, and knowing that you are inspired by Jerry, as we are inspired by you.
My grandfather lived into his 80s with Parkinson's. He had tremors, but retained his mobility and speech. Here's to a future faced bravely, and with hope, for you and for Jerry.
There is a whole new understanding of Dr. Steve Blevins for me here. And a whole new feeling of hope as well.
Thank you for this Steve. This strikes pretty close to home with me as my brother has Parkinson's and my father before him. This was very brave and insightful and I appreciate it greatly.

Keep living in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest.

You and Jerry are an inspiration.
You're writing grabs readers from Jump and doesn't let go. So Rated.
A lovely gesture, and an even lovelier piece of writing.
I think I'm a little in love with you now...
Sir, I am late to your writing but I am so glad I have now found you. This was masterful, deep, and oh so very hopeful. I loved every word and didn't want it to end.....thank you.
Rated. (I have nothing to say. But, dammit, I have the capacity to say - how ironic. I'll think of something and say it, clearly articulated. To think when I was young that I was told not to mumble...) All best to you and Mr. B.
Neurology seems to be something we can't control. Happiness, however, may be. I wish I'd known that earlier in my life but I know it now...

Such love coming at you, Dr. Steve...
Steve, I see why you're the top Rock Star of OS.
Fabulous, and thanks!
This is why you are the man, Steve Blevins . . . you take the time to notice, to really see your patients. Thus, you learn from them, too. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, that we may benefit as well.
This is a marvelous piece and I don't know what to say that doesn't sound trite and asinine except that.
I can't help but read every single word in your posts. There is meaning in everyone. I would imagine concentrating on the present helps you to think less of the future. Hopefully by then, there will be a new medicine that will keep the disease at bay.....or at least under control. Don't ever stop hoping.....and praying.
Steve, this is so powerful and beautiful. I hope your positivity is contagious. I wish you all the best.
Wonderful, touching, profound, and a reminder that none of us get out of this unscathed. Thank you for this, Steve.
I am convinced that you are one of the best doctors on this planet.
You've shown us true nobility.
Doc, I would've expected you to write so sublimely about a condition that can cause such hardships. You are an inspiration to us all.
God, Steve, you're the best. I'm certain you're a wonderful doctor. You're definitely a brilliant writer, and a world-class human. You light this place up, mister. I'm glad you're here, that you do what you do so well, and that I get to touch a piece of it by reading.
Steve – I was only going to glance at this and come back later when I had time to comment and now of course I just can’t let it go. I didn’t know what to expect – probably something humorous I thought as that’s been the norm lately. I did not expect this touching personal piece. You did indeed gaze into the future and I trust that it feels hopeful.

There are a gazillion things I want to say; however, what will have to suffice is a genuine “thanks” for taking the time to share your own feelings and thoughts about your situation. For that I am grateful.

You are obviously very connected to your patients’ lives, and they to yours in so many ways. It is the greatest gift and blessing one could have.
I always look forward to what you have to say....I am always amazed at those who manage that serenity in the face of life's worst struggles...
Excellent post, sorry to hear you got the diagnosis you did.
You are one of the bravest humans on the planet. I would be a quivering coward faced with your diagnosis.
My heart wants to book a flight to OK just to shake your hand for this piece. Your gentle language calmly leads us to the deep recesses where we must face ourselves. "Could I be like Jerry?"

Damn crickets.
After a long, reflective pause: Bravo. My dad has Parkinson's, but it didn't start until he was in his mid 70s. His hand tremors are noticeable, but it is likely that he'll die before the symptoms get too advanced and limit his mobility or affect. I think that if every patient read pieces like this one it would go a long way towards putting paid to the myth that physicians are "not like us" and sit in judgement. You are us.
An extraordinary and inspiring piece, Steve. The kind of writing that makes me proud to be part of Open Salon, and the kind of human being that makes me happy to be on this planet the same time as you.
Thanks for sharing this. We could all learn something from Jerry.
Your writing is surpassed only by your generosity. Appreciated.
There are reasons why I have lost faith in doctors. Reading you is helping to restore that faith. Thank you.
In my 30+ years of practice I remember a lot of Jerries. Like you, I enjoyed the ones who really were filled with joy even in the face of advanced disease.
There were other's though who I suspected weren't all that happy. They smiled and laughed and told me they wre doing great even when I could clearly see they we going downhill. For a long time I was perplexed by this behavior. Then it hit me. They were trying to be my doctor. They had been my patients for years and they knew I would feel sad if they were truthful about their deterioration.
One man, Roman, finally explained it to me. "It's all I can do for you, and I wanted to do something"
He warmed my heart.
I so love your writing and your observations. I think often of the post you wrote about the day you were diagnosed, and of what you realized that day: The world is no less beautiful. It's true today, too, and will be true tomorrow.

Steve, this was beautiful. You are a wonder of self-awareness, and a damn fine writer.
I cannot add anything to the discussion here, but I simply say: Thank you.
This is a shimmeringly perfect piece. And you, my friend are hero, mentor, and inspiration via this work and endlessly more. ;-} there are not going to be enough Rs to describe how I feel about you and this piece...and your future! xo RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
I go to my mother's assisted living facility every day to dress a wound on her leg that the assisted living nurses won't touch because this is an assisted living facility and we don't do that here.

So, I go there every day, and every day I have to see my own possible future, as age and debilitation rob me of my strength....and this is the case for all of us as our elders show us what might be in store for us when we reach their ages.

Parkinson's is one of those disease that turns life into a protracted struggle for survival, but it's just one of those things in store for us. We each face one hurdle or another as we go on.
What a wonderful story and beautifully written. I salute you Steve. R-
This reads as though a butterfly has landed softly on my shoulder. It's peaceful Steve. A reflection perhaps...
Your words are beautiful and comforting. They have that intelligent insight into life that I look for, but don't often find, in writing.
This is beautiful.
Another reason to live in the present, because life is a gift. Thank you for reminding us. -R-
I so appreciated this work. I found meaning in it. We are subject to the whims of nature, genes and disease, but we are so much more than our diseases, and sometimes it takes another person to tell us that. R
It's such a cliche, but true: attitude is everything. Marvelous writing, Steve, honest and heartfelt.
a patient's efforts to retain a semblance of normalcy post diagnosis, concurrent with the malady of affliction, teaches us all. your future?
Undoubtedly, Mr Bryant has the finest of care. Kudos, Dr. Steve... and your words are superb.
There's a long, respected tradition of doctor-writer. You must be proud to be part of it.
Nothing to be said that you didn't already say. Bravo , Dr. Blevins.
Thank you Dr. Steve. You not only administer and teach medicine as a career, you bring us the good medicine here as well - like the ancient snake handlers that survive venomous stings so they can draw the venom out of snakes as the antidote that will save others from its bite. Thank you for this antidote for transmuting despair of the future into the aliveness of the present moment, for the lesson on training the mind toward that joy. rated with gratitude.
just great writing. i hope you continue to stay in the moment.
What a perfect essay to come "home" to. I love you, Dr. Blevins!
Your a doctor? My crush just tripled, but about the writing...

Unshakable writing.
I am always speechless after reading one of your pieces. Touching, thought-provoking, real. Loved it.
Stunning, human, vulnerable writing. The best kind. Beautiful story of hope and reality. And brave of you to write this Steve. You are pure inspiration in a multitude of ways. Thank you for this.
Reading this reminds me of how much I was missing you Steve - you shine through your writing and make me feel as if I am sitting next to you having a conversation about the day. Oh, and what a conversation it is; deep, rich, inviting. Thank you and your glorious soul.
what grace permeates this piece. i am blessed to witness it.
We're so glad you came back to OS - you have lessons to teach, lessons that you have learned whether you wanted or not, and we have much to learn. . .
~fatRocco and stillferalRusty
Brave and startlingly honest post. Appreciated for many many reasons.
speechless, wordless, silent and awed
(that's me right now)
this writing is truly a gift
thank you
This is stunning ... in every good way.
Dear Dr, Blevins,
We had 20 years with my mom and Parkinson's . She was so stoic. There is much to be learned even as one fears the possibility of the disease being theirs. As my Dad died of a brain tumor she said "I know how to be alone."
Put your trust in God. A Catholic priest told me, "God chooses some to suffer Purgatory during this life....." I guess God has decided that Parkinson sufferers should skip right along to the good stuff.
I am not going to imagine how you feel, and I will try not to offer cures and relief in notes and thoughts. My heart is there, and I totally totally get this. Best wishes, as always.
Nothing gives me more joy than seeing Steve Blevins on the cover. I know I will be reading something so sublime it will make me weep. Or so inspirational it will give me hope. Or so hilarious I will laugh on and off all day.

You gave us the latter a couple weeks ago and the first two today. I can't possibly thank you enough. The world is so much a better place with you in it. Courage, Friend.
Dear Steve,

What can I say? I am very moved. This made me cry--bittersweetly. On my work computer I will put a bright yellow sun shiny post-it that says, "AT THIS MOMENT" --to keep me here now. Because in all honesty that's all any of us have isn't it?
Wow. This is staggeringly beautiful and profound on so many levels. The richness of the writing. The beauty of your soul. The lessons from Jerry. Thank you for sharing this with us. Wow.
Very telling, very insightful, moving. Marty had strokes and for the longest time after we finally came home all I could focus on was the end game, her dying. It kept me from enjoying the present. It's hard but I was finally able to figure out you just need to live in the moment and enjoy what you can, as you patient did. Best to you, kudos for your courage.
I know we will all face struggles in our lives -- with our human bodies, it's inevitable -- and I hope we all face them with the grace that you and Mr. and Mrs. Bryant have faced them.
Here, here! Live, laugh and love, my friend!

Excellent and uplifting.
(R)ated for same.
Gobsmacked I am......late to the party, but smacked hard enough to want, to need, to weigh in. (And what Greg said was sublime.)

What everyone is saying is sublime. You inspire us, Senor Blevins.

You inspire all of us.

Thank you.
I wish the world were full of Steve Blevinses. You are that level of goodness, in living, in writing, and in sharing compassion toward others to which I aspire. I am honored and privileged to know you. XOXO
I've read this three times, each time drawing more energy from it than the effort required. Good work, Doc, and I'm not just referring to the writing.
oh, Steve Blevins. You give me hope. For myself. For us. For humanity.
Wonderful account. Jerry Bryant found a keen listener in you.
Whatever I wanted to say in response to this has been said repeatedly by the 110 people who commented before me. But let me say that I continue to be awed by your brilliance, your compassion, your shrewd perception and your stunning ability to put the whole package into words. Bravo and God bless.......
Steve, you make me cry.
Once again, your words have stunned me. There is good reason why, when people ask me about the writers on OS, I always send them to your writings first.
Exquisite! I love your voice.
Really beautiful post. Wishing you lots of health & happiness!
Can I be president of your fan club?
How incredibly beautiful. Bless you, and bless Jerry.

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, I used to want to shake people who complained about lingering colds, chronic aches and pains, their weight or wrinkles. I yearned to exchange bodies with them, yearned to enjoy a little bursitis or flabby tummy, instead of rogue cancer cells noodling through my lymphatic system. Not so much anymore. Envy gets in the way of sucking the juice out of right this minute, when I am as healthy and as young as I will ever be.

One time, under particular duress, I asked my oncologist if she had ever had cancer. She had not. You offer your patients something that is of inestimable value, an understanding of the frailty, vulnerability and just plain circus that is a body. I wish you were my doctor. I am glad to have your words though. Thank you.
I know it's been awhile since I've been anywhere near OS, and you. I was back briefly quite awhile ago and was unpleasantly surprised to see that you were taking a break. I'm back, again, I hope not as sporadically as before and, of course, I had to look in on you to see if you are back, too, and, oh my, I'm thrilled that I did. It's not humor, but it's you, elegant, ever perceptive, ever writerly you. Fine story. Fine lives, both yours and Jerry's. So very fine. I haven't started going backward, yet, to catch up with you, but I will, with pleasure, I'm sure. Wonderful piece, just wonderful.
Hi Steve - I am new to OS and was strongly encouraged to read your blog--it's marvelous! You're now on my favorite list.
I have a mild brain injury that prevents me from doing many ordinary things--like, um, writing! But still, I write. And read. I feel blessed. Blessed because there are doctors like you out there!
THank you.
Lee Harrington
Gorgeous, Sir Blevins. Simply gorgeous and you know it. But this...this speaks of a philosophy in and of itself:

"But the crystal ball, which penetrated deeper, revealed a future less foreboding. His suffering, although still extant, was subsumed by a graceful serenity. Perhaps I had misread the future. Perhaps time had sharpened my foresight."

How true, how true. Life is so effin' relative. Our point of view can change on a dime, if we let it, and then, so in turn, so does life. In short, don't we all misread the future to some extent? So much projection and worry. Our living in the moment is so difficult to find anymore...yet its the only place that really matters.

What are those Tom Petty lines?

"Yeah, every time it seems like there aint nothin left no more,
I find myself havin to reach out and grab hold of somethin
Yeah, I just catch myself wonderin, waitin, worryin
About some silly little things that dont add up to nothin"

Here comes my girl...listening now and rocking out in your honor. And Jerry and Betty's.
You told me one side (yours) of this story when we met (how long ago?). And now, reading the other, makes me just love you even more (if that's possible).
Beautiful, and attentive to detail as usual. It reminds me of the value many psychologists place on informal groups for those with chronic illness. The contact with long-termers gives the newly diagnosed a renewed sense of life, since one of the first effects of being diagnosed with a serious illness is a drastic reduction in life-script, a feeling that you might disappear at any moment. I'm glad that Jerry provided a much needed correction. You're very much with us Steve. Thanks.
"I journeyed into the surreal: I heard children giggling in a distant exam room and smelled alcohol in a nearby sink. I noticed crickets in the overhead light and saw patches of light and dark on the wall. "

Maybe your Parkinson's eye is connected to your writer's ear. This essay is perfect. It was a privilege to read it.
I missed this when it was posted as I was on my own vacation. I think of you often, and I imagine that they'll find the solution for Parkinson's long before you need additional help. Sending you good thoughts, and envious, as usual, of how well you write. I bow down in your presence.
I hope you are doing okay, Dr. Blevins...please stop by just to say "hi"! :)
Great to see you back here! What a warm, wonderful piece, what else would we expect? R.
People touch your heart, you touch ours and we touch you back. What a fine circle. Thank you!

Miss you Steve, hope you are well!!!