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September 2008

August 2008

Words on a Page

This week I had the pleasure of "talking" with an old friend... someone that I was peripherally close to in High School.  Thirty five years have passed since then, a lifetime, and yet somewhere in the mystical world of cyber space, we have developed a friendship that is comfortable and pleasant. 
Maybe I'm getting lazy in retirement, but I love being able to sit in my "office", at my computer, talk openly and honestly and not have to worry about what I'm wearing, whether I look 54, the extra padding on my mid section or the other superficial judgments that we fear from those we only know peripherally.
We talk about our children and spouses, our jobs, our homes, our hopes and dreams and the memories of people we once were and wonder where they are now.  We convince one another that there is wonder in being fifty something, that it's okay to still not know what we want to be when we grow up, and that we can be the swim ring for each other on those days when life seems to be pulling us under.

We shared an English class all those many years ago and Monday I start another.  This one is creative writing and I'm trying to get more comfortable with being honest and concise and unafraid.  With that in mind I have decided to share an essay that I found tucked away... it speaks to our connection and our solitude.

"September 15, 1994"
I have a theory that before we enter our human form we exist as part of a vast whole.  Even at the moment of our conception, although somewhat individualized, we are still part of a larger whole.  There is warmth and comfort and intense security in that infinite connectedness and when the umbilical cord is severed we go into a state of shocked separateness that we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from.

As I sat on a park bench along the main walkway of a college campus observing the people passing, I had a remarkable revelation.  We expend great amounts of energy expressing our individuality to a world that emphatically encourages independence.  We are to "manage one's own affairs, make one's own judgments, and provide for oneself."  Obviously, as a society, we place great value on being able to make it through life alone, yet what I saw in these wondrous new adults was a longing to reconnect to a larger whole.

They make incredible leaps toward establishing their identities, independent of family influence and childhood innocence.  They wear their pants to their knees with their underpants glaring brazenly from behind, earrings in their noses, navels and knees, and dye their hair to match the afternoon sky.  Bell-bottoms with flowers embroidered on the knees, mini-skirts, peasant blouses and clogs are as acceptable as Levis, tee shirts, high-tops and work boots.  They come in every shape and size and color and yet through some mysterious force, those of like mind and measure find one another.

A group of Asian American young people walked by, deep in conversation.  Their raven hair glistened in the sunlight, their dark eyes intense.  They were followed by a group of African Americans, laughing lightheartedly over some private joke.  Several boys, then several girls, a pair of skaters and a group of musicians, all moved by, enjoying the ease of their affinity.

Earlier in the week I had noticed a young girl dressed in black.  She stood out because of her solitude... and her blue hair.  This was not "old lady" blue, but a bright, brilliant, beautifully belligerent blue.  She sat alone on the wall in front of the library.  She sat alone in the dining hall, and she sat alone on the bench outside the bookstore.  I had convinced myself that she chose to be alone, that she was making a brash statement that kept people at a distance.  With great comfort  I saw her today with two other young girls dressed in black.  They too, had crew cuts, with flamboyant stripes of yellow and scarlet and they looked like bright flowers as they sat on the lawn by the fountain.

I expected to be observing college students whose main concerns were money, music, telephones, grades, clothes and dating.  What I sensed was something altogether different.  I saw marvelous people searching for a way to reconnect, to once again be a part of a larger whole.  Up to this point, most of these kids had the security of home and family and, even in their rebellion, felt safe.  When the cord is cut yet again, they are thrown like so many fragments into a sea of difference, and yet magically they are drawn together.

Ultimately, I am convinced, we will all return to the vast whole of our origin, but I am elated to see so clearly that we are not in this alone, and that our journey home needn't be a solitary one.  although isolated within our physicalness, our spirits are free to search out and join with those who give us a sense of who we truly are, one small part of a much greater whole."

In 1994 Shannon was a sophomore in college.  I was sitting on her campus, observing her peers.  I love being able to return to that moment... to be reminded of my thoughts and my heart and how clear everything seemed to be.  I know that I am suffering from the isolation of my "physicalness" while my sweet Shannon is free to search out and join with those who are who she truly is... who I will one day be.  For now, I simply try to bridge the gap between Heaven and Earth by finding and appreciating the moments that reflect the undeniable pull of our fragments, forever and always, magically drawn together.

Friday August 15, 2008

August 15, 1997
Thank you for Pottery Barn
Thank you for letting Gram and Kids get around today... without the car breaking down!
Thank you for the job opportunities that are available.
Thank you for Alex and the kid that's still in him
Thank you for giving me my Mom and Dad instead of someone else's.

Memories are like the little lines on rulers.   They mark a specific measurement in our lives.  They point to a frame of reference so that we can be drawn to a point that will unfold into the spaces in between.
Shannon's Gratitude Journal is that for me.  Each thank you draws me into the memory and from there I can watch our lives as they were unfolding.

We have always been very fond of incorporating television wisdom into our personal philosophies, and one of my favorites is from Dawson's Creek.  I never watched the show when it was new ... discovered it much later in reruns at 5 a.m.  At one point there is a discussion of the writer and how blessed he or she is because she gets to live her life twice.  The first time moving spontaneously from moment to moment experiencing quickly and aware of everything and nothing.  The second time, life slows to a more manageable pace and details become illuminated and the richness of the moment can be captured and savored and simply absorbed, knowing what the outcome will ultimately be.

Shannon and I spent her 23rd birthday shopping and eating and standing in line for an Escher exhibit in Washington D.C.  She chose Tyson's Galleria and Burger King!  We walked through the Pottery Barn and although we could have purchased whatever gift she wanted, she simply wanted to look at the things she had admired in the catalog and then decide.  The pewter clock now sits on my desk.  I can almost smell the onion rings and Whopper Jr. we had for her birthday lunch.  That little line on my life's ruler, pinpointing a moment in my life, shared with my best friend... held forever safe in the lines of her journal.

Thank you for my Shannon.
Thank you  for memories...made and in the making.
Thank you for Friday mornings.
Thank you for french toast.
Thank you for a husband that doesn't mind catching the frogs Sam brings in the house.

Heart Steps August 14, 2008

I came home from vacation with a bug... the fever, headache, stuffy nose, watery eyes kind of bug.  After posting my last blogette, I decided to soak in a tub of warm water, essential oils and flower essences, a good book and a healing intent.

The book that called to me was "Heart Steps" by Julia Cameron.  As with so many books on my shelves, I knew I had to have them but never quite found the time to read them.  They are patient friends and I can only hope my eyesight holds out long enough to enjoy them.

As so often happens in life, when you give up searching, what you're searching for appears and that happened with this small volume.  What I had been trying to express was written so perfectly on the page I opened to ...Page 8 ... "What the people of the city do not realize is that the roots of all living things are tied together." ~ Chan K'in Viejo.

 So there we are... no matter where we are... no matter what life offers... we are all affected...

because our roots are tied together.


From Shannon     August 13, 1997

Thank you for photograpy and all the gifts it gives

Thank you for my family

Thank you for water bottles

Thank you for Advil

Thank you for my uterus. I just hope that I can one day have birthing cramps...rather than monthly ones!

August 14, 1997

Thank you for Maw Maw and Paw Paw

Thank you for "Men in Black" - made me feel like a speck of dust

Thank you for night air

Thank you for the river

Thank you for not giving me manic depression, I'd die if I couldn't pull myself out of depression

without the aid of substance.

And that is exactly the way she thought.  One moment incredibly accepting of everything and everyone and then, for a moment, afraid for the people she loved and the challenges they faced. 

Shannon was diagnosed with diabetes at 13.  She accepted the restrictions, the blood tests every few hours, the injections four times a day.  She shared a room in UVa hospital with a young girl who was waiting for a heart transplant and met the young man who basically lived there because of injuries that left him quadraplegic.  I look back on those moments, I remember how brave she was ... how wise beyond her years.  We agreed that we were lucky.  Diabetes was something we could LIVE with.

Shannon heard a speaker in her third grade class talk about a kidney transplant.  At nine, she thought it was simply amazing that when we no longer need a part of our body, due to an accidental brain death, that those parts could give life back to someone else.  She never faltered in her efforts to convince anyone who would listen, that organ donation was a miracle.

How profound the circle of life seems to be.  Shannon's accident restored hope and promise to four amazing people.  Her heart recipient has a new baby.  Her kidney recipients include us in their lives by e mail, and her liver recipient's family always includes us in Thanksgiving celebrations.

We couldn't know when our nine year old bounced off the bus that October afternoon chattering excitedly about what she had heard that day in school, that almost twenty five years later I would be marvelling at the way life unfolds. 

The miracles we prayed for were answered.  We are all connected by invisible threads of light that I think make us indistinguishable one from another... when observing through the eyes of love.

I heard a writer say once on Oprah, that "all mothers grieve in the same language."  I was deeply touched by that realization.  In those moments when I see Shannon in every smile and hear her laughter whispered on a breeze, or when I think my heart will simply stop beating for missing her, I know I am not alone.  Somewhere there is another mother experiencing the same joy or the same sorrow and in that moment our souls touch and we look forward together.

We're home again

From Shannon's Journal 1997

August 9

Thank you for...    Leo,   Otter,   Celeste,  cracking backs,     and the change a fresh coat of paint brings.

August 10

Thank you for...   "Mud Masks",   complimentary colors,   dragonflies, even the wee little ones,   

Thank you for art - in all of its forms

Thank you for giving me the gift of being human.

August 11

Thank you for...   sleep,   Crystal Light ice tea,   that perfect job I've found,   families through gossip times and not,   sitcoms that make you laugh 'til your sides hurt.

August 12

Thank you for ... cat naps,   a Paw that can build doll houses,   photographs that are worth drawing,   music,   time that belongs just to me, to give me time to do what I want to do.

I read Shannon's journal and cannot help but wonder what I ever did, in this life or any others to deserve the gift of her.

I remember shortly after Shannon's accident when the agony was so fresh and the pain so unbelievable, in a life that bore no resemblance to my own... what horrible thing had I done to deserve this ?   The thought lasted only a moment because following much more loudly was the thought..."What incredible thing had I done to deserve her?"  ...for any amount of time.

It is tempting, when life offers us the painful and unreasonable, to fold in on ourselves. To blame and curse and allow bitterness to be the only flavor we can accept.

I sat next to Shannon so many mornings watching her sleep.  Even at 23, between jobs, between the worlds of childhood and of adult, between the land of sleeping dreams and those of the waking, her innocence surrounded her like an aura of soft light.  I wanted to protect her from any hurt.  I loved her beyond reason and admired her sense of absolutes, her honesty was brutal but we all went to her for the truth. 

I sat next to her on her hospital bed seeing all the same things...feeling all the same things... helpless to change even a whisper of what was happening before my very eyes.  I begged her not to leave me.  I whispered desperate pleas to my sleeping child to stay just a while longer, knowing she could not.  Finally, my selfishness gave way to my love for her and I told her it was okay for her to go.  To be free and fly with Angel's wings.  I would be okay. Even as I write these words, ten years later, tears fill my eyes and my heart and yet I know it was the only decision to be made.

Love is a might force.  The only thing I was ever afraid of was living my life without her.  I knew without doubt that I could not.  That life would hold no meaning without her and that I simply could not survive.

But we do.  If you find yourself in a desperate moment, lost and alone, hold on.  Life waits for us.  There is no law that governs grief and no time table.  I used to scream at the top of my lungs when I was driving alone... I'd scream until I had no voice left.  I cried myself to sleep.  I secretly resented listening to other mothers fuss about how awful their children were and how willing they were to give them away.  I knew they didn't mean it... I knew that they just had to vent but I wanted to scream "Don't you understand... this might be the only moment you have?  Could they do anything in this moment that would make you love them less?   Tell them!  Tell them!"

I kept Chef Boy R Dee spaghetti in the pantry for years.  Shannon loved it.  Her clothes are still in the closet.  Her stuffed animals on the bed.  Her books and music on the shelves.  I know, there are well meaning people who have "kindly" told me that I should "get rid of that stuff"... "move on".  My philosophy is this... I have found a way to function.   I work, I think, I take care of my family and friends... I didn't need to take pills or alcohol, although I don't condemn anyone who needs that bridge... but I do need that safe place to go, to be with my memories, and I will no longer make any apologies.  There is magic in being in her space that gives my heart a break from the necessity of moving toward her new space.

Each day that I can live with grace.  Each day that I can find a way to ease the weight on another heart or capture the beauty of a single moment... to cherish what seems insignificant or allow the little annoyances to flow invisibly through me ... is one day closer to Shannon.

You know, the blessing of blogging is that I can write what I feel.  No one is forced to listen or respond.  But it gives concrete validity to my life and what I have experienced, and somehow by putting it out there, I open just a little more each day.  Being open means being vulnerable but it also means there is more space to allow.

Thank you for the gift of being human.

August 7, 2008

Thank you for extended family.

Thank you for memories shared.

Thank you for friends taking care of everyone at home during vacation.

Thank you for solitary beach walks.

Thank you for tiny sand dollars.

We're spending a week in Gulf Shores, Alabama with family.  It is a bittersweet time.  Our family has grown and there are now great neices and nephews and precious moments becoming newly cherished memories and for the most part, I find my heart embracing each one.

But there are those moments when the tiny cracks in my heart ache deeply.  I think about what it would be like if Shannon and her family were here with us.  I think about her as a mother, about watching my child with her child, about a future with all of us growing older together.

Yesterday I walked down the beach alone.  I felt the sun on my face and the cool water of the Gulf on my feet.  I got lost in the memories of our family a decade ago.  I thought about Shannon lamenting the fact that she was so pale next to her "brown as berries" cousins.  I could hear her laughter and appreciate all of the years we had.  She loved being here with her family.  She loved the sun and the water, the surf , the dolphins and the dragonflies.

The last movie we saw together was "City of Angels".  We marvelled at the incredible images of the Angels gathering on the beach at sunrise and sunset and their desire to feel the water and the sensation of body surfing, their longing for the tactile experience of life.  Shannon seemed to have a deep understanding of the message of the movie.  She said that it wasn't sad to her... that separation doesn't mean that love ends, and that even though their time together was brief, it was incredible.  She loved the beach and body surfing scenes.

Two weeks later she was an Angel.

Something happens to a heart when it must learn to love and express that love in a different way.  When you have to love your way through the most intense pain imaginable.  When you have to find a way to quiet the screaming in your soul and somehow manage to function with grace, when all you want to do is curl into a ball in a corner somewhere and weep forever.

Shannon loved life.  Every entry in her Gratitude journal is a testament to how much joy she found in simply being.  Of course she grumbled and complained and whined like the rest of us, but her moments of "being human" were always tempered with those moments of her total awareness of what a gift life is.

"Thank you for the gift of being human for a time."

She told me once that she thought she would be an "awesome Guardian Angel" because she was so "textile".  For a minute we just looked at each other and then laughed hysterically.  We both knew she meant "tactile" but she had a way of sticking the wrong words in now and again and creating "Shannonisms" that never cease to make me smile.

I know she's here with us.  I know that through our hearts' connection she still feels the surf through her Dad and the joy of children through her cousins.  She swims with the dolphins and flys by with the dragonflies and I think despite and because of our silent longing for her, we all love a little deeper, experience with a greater appreciation and cherish this time together.

This time next week we'll be home.  We'll have memories of these days.  Snapshots and sunburn and sand dollars and sea shells... and we will have each other.

Thank you for awareness of what really matters.


Today is August 1, 2008.

Eleven years ago my daughter Shannon and I were about to embark on an adventure.  I believe that we chose this life, together, before we came.  I have imagined sitting around a table, sipping iced tea and mapping out the lives that would offer us the greatest opportunity for growth.

"I'll be the Mom."  "But one of us has to come home early and you know that is going to really hurt."  "I know but you were the one that had to stay last time so this time I'll be the one."  "But it really hurts... I mean it really hurts."  "It's hard to imagine hurt."  "Trust really hurts."  "I know, and I love you and this time, I want to be the one.  It'll be okay.  I promise."  "I'll stay close, I'll watch over you ... you will never be alone."  "Of course you realize that neither one of us will remember this conversation once we're there."         "Our hearts will remember."

On August 7, 1997 we started gratitude journals together. 

Thank you for this book,

Thak you for the cat that was Riddle,

Thank you for the goofy, smiley Emmy,

Thank you for Denise,

Thank you for Fall and Spring.

This year I plan to start a new gratitude journal... here, with you.  We will  inspire each other to express what so often is forgotten.  Shannon will lead the way and our hearts will open to the possibilities of living better, happier, healthier lives.

Riddle was her cat, who went to Heaven before her.  Emmy was her dog and Denise her best friend.

Several months before Shannon's accident, she told me that she had seen Riddle sitting in her bedroom window.  She was startled and unnerved and pleased.  She never once suggested that it was a dream, she simply acknowledged that her cat... her angel cat, had been there to visit.

I'm ready for a visit.  I, too, will be startled and unnerved and incredibly pleased!