I have had a hard time trying to find the words to express the loss of Cindy Byrd. I wanted to release my thoughts before her celebration of life but I couldn’t wrap it all together. Cindy Byrd was a woman of many hats, I could tell stories about her for days. After her service Monday morning, I thought I want people to remember the woman I had grown to love over three decades from the halls of Ada High.
Hat #1 “Teacher”
If you had “Mrs. Byrd” at Ada High you know she was a nurturer. Over the years, she had over 1,000 students pass through her classroom. She kept up with her students long after they had graduated. I read on facebook this week of many students who had stories to share. I didn’t know until today after her service that she would text my mom and ask about me.
I was not always the perfect poster child in school, to be honest I should’ve been a statistic. But she cared about me and she wasn’t even one of my teachers. I wasn’t her student, I was just another body in the halls!
The only time I had a conversation with Mrs. Byrd was my freshman year when I tried out for Cougann. Mrs. Byrd knew who I was. Years into my adult life at a local event, she hugged me and whispered “I always knew you would be something great”. She will never know how much that meant to me.
Hat #2 “Award Winning Columnist in the State of Oklahoma”
In 2019, I took over as the publisher of The Ada News. I came across Mrs. Byrd’s blog. I immediately called her and begged her to let us publish her pieces as a column. She was flattered and agreed. After the third or fourth one, Cindy started receiving fan mail. Women of Ada could relate to her and enjoyed reading her column.
Through reading her column you would learn she was an open book and loving. She valued memories and spoke on topics that most shy away from. Her columns covered racism, abortion, being an American but also she wrote about love, memories, women, her faith, children, speaking up about what was right, choosing your battles in life.
She wasn’t afraid to speak on topics that caused an uproar. This tells so much about her as a person. She was strong and confident. She could write and speak in a way that was of class and nurture. She wasn’t trying to argue, she just spoke from the heart.
As a surprise in 2020, I entered Cindy’s column to the Oklahoma Press Association for “Best Columinst” in the State of Oklahoma. I did not call or even forewarn her. The requirement was that I submit at least three columns she had written in one year. That was the easy part.
The weekend before the awards were announced in May 2021, Cindy wrote “God is with us”. This was the release to the public of her diagnosis of stage four cancer. The day the awards were announced, Ada News took first, second and third place in columnist.
The Ada News staff got her official certificate and ran to hobby lobby to get a frame. As I walked to the register, on the shelf was a cross about the size of your palm. It read “God is always with us”, what a sign! I bought that cross for her. We delivered her certificate to her home. I told her you are many things to a lot of people but today you can add to that list “Award Winning Columnist”, “Best in the State”. She giggled.
Hat #3 “Magician”
This is the good part. This is where she can have one hat on and boom like a magic trick another one appears. Under this hat, she is a woman of God, hiker, baker, friend, mother, wife, sister and counselor. I could add more to this hat but these are the ones I know best.
During Covid, I took an Ignite Fitness class at Wintersmith Park. I do not exercise, I just wanted out the house. About 15-20 women showed up at 10 a.m. in 105 degree weather at the amphitheater. I thought this was a spin class but turns out it was a full out conditioning class, more for advanced level.
I looked at the attendees and saw Cindy, she was decked out in her running shoes and leggings. We started with stair steps, I looked over at Cindy and she was breathing all fitnessy and I was gasping. Then they started running the stairs. After about 10 I was slowing down and Cindy ran right past me prancing like a cute, little deer. I am in my forty somethings and she is sixty something, how in the world is this possible.
I was starting to see my life flash before my eyes, I thought this is the end. After twenty five stairs she saw my beat red face and came over to run with me. She said “It doesn’t matter how fast or how many you get done, just do it!” I have to admit I couldn’t give up because she was cheering me on. I couldn’t let her down. After 45 minutes of complete torture, I made it.
Cindy rubbed my back as she smiled all big, barely sweating and told me about the next class dates and times. She said “You made it, you did it”. In this moment she was a friend, mentor, nurturer, counselor and I do believe she was sent there by God to keep me alive that day.
These are just a few memories I have of Cindy Byrd. I have many more. I know everyone she encountered she left a mark on them as well. I learned from Cindy to be kind, always lend a hand or give encouraging words.
When your heart speaks, listen. Speak to the stranger, you might find a friend. I want to leave this piece with words straight from Cindy for you to see the inner core of her thoughts. I hope these words can affect your heart as they have mine. I hope it may help you change the world. I was blessed to know her but her words are left for those who didn’t get that amazing opportunity.
“My friends, find your everyday miracles. Life is so hard, but beauty and wonder are still there, and we must be sensitive to it. God keeps sending us little winks to help us remember that each day is a gift– even the hard ones.”
“I have seen the evidence of Emmanuel. Emmanuel isn’t just an abstract, mystical concept. God is with us through the acts of love shown by friends, by strangers, by family. People reaching out to help, trying their best to give comfort. If that isn’t God with us, I don’t know what is. And even more than this, we all have this capacity. All of us. We have the power to change lives with loving acts of kindness. This is the power that will save us, not government or money or jobs or luck. God is with us and has given us the ability to make things better through love. I am forever changed for the better because of the love and blessings of so many sweet and wonderful people. Even in the darkest of days, there is light.”
“We must accept the fact that we are not always going to agree on everything. We must be willing to strike compromises, hammer out solutions, and just let some arguments go. To let the “other side” have their way doesn’t mean you’re a loser or weak. It may just show some maturity.
So friends- count to ten before you respond. If you must write something hateful, write it, then delete it rather than posting it. Choose to offer solutions rather than criticisms. Know that we are more alike than we are different. And pray that we start turning to help one another, rather than shove one another.”
“And if you’re tired of drinking lemonade, put a little more sugar in it. If that doesn’t work, maybe a shot of whiskey will. But the last thing we should do is give up the fight. We can’t stop looking for practical ways to make things work as we slog through this tough time. And for heaven’s sake, quit whining about everything. It doesn’t make things easier and no one wants to listen anyway. My hope and prayer is that when this is behind us– and it will be, someday– that every single one of you will have lived to tell about it. Cheers to fighting this pandemic to the bitter end, and fight on as only we as Americans can.”
“You have two choices: start again, or give up. I am in favor of the former. I am not giving up on our communities or our country because things are looking chaotic and bleak. I believe we each have a responsibility to each other and our communities to keep trying, to look for solutions, to make things better. We can start right here, right now, to listen to each other and to seek to understand.”
These words are all from different topics of her blog, https://musingsofamatureamericanwoman.wordpress.com/
Today we throw our hats in celebration of a job well done. May her legacy live forever.