Chocolate Spice Cake with Cranberries and Pecans

I spent the entire week trying to find the perfect words to celebrate the life of James Neal Blanton.  Unfortunately, my entire post got erased yesterday, yes a n00b mistake, I know.  A million times Collin had told me "Always backup Joy" "You should write your posts in Word first Zhang." So I guess after the millionth and one time, it finally stuck and NEVER AGAIN will I make the same mistake.

After screaming a string of cuss words and letting out all my frustrations by punching a few pillows (they don't hurt your hand and they don't fight back), I realized, maybe this was for the better. I honestly wasn't entirely happy with what I had written.  So I decided to start over, and go old school with a tablet in one hand and a pen in the other.  I sat outside on a lawn chair, soaking up the sun and waited for the right words to come to me.

Since I was a young child, a common question I'd ask my parents was "What is the purpose of life?  How do we know what our job is?"  My parents would usually reply "You need to work hard and study and do well in school, so you can become a successful person like a doctor or a lawyer."  And for many many years I truly believed that.

It takes a man like Mr.Blanton to help you realize otherwise.

Kate quickly became one of my closest friends in high school, her warm personality, kind heart and contagious laugh made it easy for me to immediately "click" with her.  Her house was always the place to be on Fridays after school.  It was conveniently right by school but the best part was she always had the coolest parents.  I am always very nervous when I initially meet my friends' parents, mostly because I am out of control with the volume of my voice and I guess a bit "rambunctious".  My usual self takes a complete 180 and suddenly I turn very shy and quiet.

However, Kate's parents always had a genuine, positive and loving energy that made you instantly feel at home as if you were part of the family.  Back then, my own personal family life was tumultuous to say the least, and I always avoided going home because neither of my parents were ever in a good mood.  Every Friday, I would look forward to hanging out at Kate's (with her parents) because it always seemed to give me a peace of mind no matter what was going on back at home.

Her parents always took the time to greet us and sit down to see how we were doing.  No matter how boring the story, Mr. Blanton always listened attentively with a big smile on his face.  His eyes never held judgment, and were always filled with much comfort and warmth.

I now realize the solace Kate's family provided me helped me not only keep my sanity during those years but helped me grasp the importance of having an optimistic attitude in life.  It made me recognize that the purpose of life wasnt to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the positive impact, you as an individual, are able to make on other people's lives.  Only then does your spirit and being live on after you are gone.

When I heard the news of Mr.Blanton being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's or otherwise known as "ALS" I knew the outcome would not be good.  My heart sank and I had trouble understanding why certain people were given such fates.  But Mr.Blanton never questioned it, all he knew was that he had to make the best out of what he had.

One of the last times I saw Mr.Blanton was around last November, the disease had almost taken all mobility in his legs and his speech was impaired. By this time, I had not seen him in over a year.  I was shocked as to what this disease had done to this beautiful man.  However, he soon made me feel foolish for even feeling pity towards him, for he didn't seem to let his condition phase him at all.  Instead he was eager to show us his new gadget -- a fully stocked recliner that could raise and lower you in and out of the chair.  We couldn't help but laugh and clap, for his excitement and award winning smile was always highly infectious!  And as always, Kate's parents took the time to sit down and chat, and as always, Mr. Blanton listened with bright eyes and a smile that brimmed from ear to ear.  I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia, missing the same feelings of comfort that always felt so familiar in their home.

For the two and a half years he fought the battle against his condition, I've never seen such determination and bravery come from one man.  And not only was it prevalent in him but the entire family as well.  I am unable to express in words the admiration I feel for this family, but I can only hope I will be able to show the same strength, unity and unwavering faith they held during the challenges we encounter through life.

I was nervous about attending the service.  I was never good at saying goodbyes.  As I was driving to the church, I felt like I was in a complete (panicked) daze.  Before walking into the sanctuary, I paused and took a deep breath -- "You can do this Joy, don't flip out" I kept repeating to myself.

Upon sitting down, I took a look at the program that was handed to me and on the very front was a picture of Mr.Blanton's bright smiling face.  I completely broke down, for I realized that this was it.  He was really gone.  My heart started to race, the blood rushed to my face and I could barely breathe through the choking of tears that poured down my face.

Then, "Amazing Grace" begun, the angelic voices of the choir singers suddenly filled the entire sanctuary with such magnificence.  I closed my eyes, trying to calm my nerves and it was then that I felt it: a blanket of calm and soothing stillness that permeated throughout the entire room.  Immediately I felt my fears erased and replaced with a sense of serenity I have never felt before.

Kate made the perfect speech about her father that left everyone feeling positive and uplifted.  She shared 4 life lessons that her father had taught her and I wanted to share them with you.

Don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk

Always give second chances.

Stay in touch.

Sing Loudly.

We are all born with the opportunity to change and improve the world.  Mr.Blanton chose to make a positive impact through his service to not only his family and friends but also to his community.  He always strived to help the less fortunate and always made an effort to make a difference in people's lives.

He has taught me the importance of sharing and spreading happiness to others, to never assume a person's situation, and to always love with an open heart.  It's men like Mr.Blanton that makes this world a better place.  Though he may be gone, the impact he has made will live on forever.

May you rest in peace.

James Neal Blanton

(July 17 1935 - February 22 2010)