"Thank you for good days. Thank you for dragonflies. Thank you for book reading time. Thank you for schedules being changed. Thank you for Wednesday night T.V." SAB 11-12-1997
"Thank you for the new S.K. book. Thank you for the Belk job. Thank you for art not looking so bad. Thank you for spring following winter. Thank you for the holiday season." SAB 11-11-1997
Sometimes I lay my hands on the pages of Shannon's journal, I just like the smooth, cool, calm of the pages and I suppose touching the open letters and quick swirls and loops is an undefinable connection that makes me smile.
As I read her thank yous for November 11, I remembered the Belk job... gift wrapper. No one on planet Earth has ever taken more time and made more extreme effort to perfectly wrap gifts than Shannon. From the arduous choosing of the holiday paper to the perfect width ribbon and tape, through perfectly creased corners ... the wrapping was as important to Shannon as the gift. BUT... when she got the seasonal job at Belk, they wanted her to do it their way. Quickly, without using one extra inch of paper and her work was inspected and critiqued and far too many suggestions were made for her liking.
One night, one week in, they called to tell her that they had too many seasonal workers for the volume of shoppers and they would like to move her to the sales floor. I could only hear one side of the conversation but it went something like this, " No. No Thank You. Oh that's perfectly okay. No I understand. Yes I can see that you might think I'm better qualified for sales than some of the other wrappers but that's not really true. No, really I don't mind. I appreciate the offer but I think I'll decline. Okay, bye-bye."
The second the phone hit the cradle there was such delight. Squealing and jumping...Emmy didn't really understand all the fuss but she was standing on her hind legs with her big old paws on Shannon's chest and they were dancing around the kitchen floor like two little children. Brings tears to my eyes, such a joyful memory.
Shannon didn't really like the job but never quit at anything and was determined to stick it out. So you can understand her glee when they offered her a way out.
I know the next few weeks are going to be bittersweet. It doesn't matter that I've lived twelve Thanksgivings and twelve Christmases without Shannon. It doesn't matter that we have adapted and created new traditions, that Jules hasn't had to suffer through the decorating of the tree... since the cats would simply climb and un decorate it... I still miss my Shannon. I still miss her enthusiasm and excitement and my someone to pick cards with and wrap presents with.
I realized this year that it isn't that I miss having someone to do these things with. I have wonderful loving friends who are always willing... but I miss Shannon, and that's a space that won't be filled.
Savor each moment. Get excited over the colors, reds and greens, the glitter and the sparkle. Taste the cinnamon in the cider and left the fragrances of pumpkin and vanilla waft over you and leave you giddy. Remember the reasons we celebrate, the love shared, the kindness extended and don't waste a single second on unnecessary hustle and bustle.
This year, promise yourself to simply be present and enjoy.
"Thank you for the added charity. Thank you for Tony Robbins. Thank you for lunch with Jenny and Mom. Thank you for Savings Bonds. Thank you for the money to pay bills." SAB 11-10-1997
"Thank you for night shadows. Thank you for small changes. Thank you for significant changes. Thank you for weekends. Thank you for time to read." SAB 11-9-1997
Do you ever wonder what your life would be like without fear? Would you discover new friends behind the faces of strangers? Would you discover that you love Mì Quảng ? Would you get a passport and plan a trip to the Rain Forest? Would you take Salsa lessons? Would you forever eradicate 'What would people think?' from your vocabulary? Would you sit outside after dark so that you could count the stars that elude you in the day light? Would you get a bee hive and learn to collect honey? Would you climb mountains or swim in the ocean? Would you whale watch or drive to Maine alone? Would you take a Chemistry class or submit your manuscript for publication? Would you sleep better, worry less, breathe deeper? Would you 'sing along' with windows down?
When Shannon was on the planet I was only afraid of one thing.... having to live without her. In the first few months after she 'left', even that fear was gone and I felt, despite the crushing waves of despair - fearless. All of the years of delving beyond my 'religious' upbringing, gave me a way to understand that she wasn't 'gone', or 'dead', but that her life was continuing, that she was happy and whole and beautiful and wonderful and although I wasn't sure how, I too, would survive. I had to because she expected nothing less.
That fearlessness doesn't last. Like a small child learning to walk, we let go, move away from the hands of God that hold and support us, only to fall back into life. Bruised and battered, we stand again and take small furtive steps into a future that is so unfamiliar that we might as well be trying to cross the interstate blindfolded.
In twelve years I have fallen so often that it's a miracle I can walk at all...but here I am. The last several months, with friends and family facing illnesses, accidents and heart breaking losses, fear has once again forced its way into my days. I pretend to be fearless, hoping I will find that familiar place like a well worn groove in a much travelled road, but the truth is, once you've felt the despair of separation, like putting your hand on a hot burner, you don't ever want to do it again. Don't ever want to feel that agony again. But life requires courage.
Several weeks ago BJ and I took a photo walk. So enthralled with the brightly colored leaves, unfamiliar path and impending sunset, I almost missed the leaf print that she found.
There, pressed into the soft mud was the lingering image of a leaf. It appeared perfect in every way. Every vein, stem and rib ... everything except the leaf itself. We snapped some pictures, trying to capture the feeling of that moment in the fading light.
I didn't think much more about that photograph until this morning when I realized the true relevance of that fragment of time on a dirt path, climbing up the side of a mountain.
Nature is fearless. Not reckless or careless or without caution, but without fear. Seasonal warmth calls the leaf into being. Absorbing sunlight and rain and dancing in the wind, the leaf gives no precious energy to fear. It dances and twirls and waves and when the time is right, lets go and falls gently to the ground where it leaves it's intricate impression on an all too often unimpressed world.
Today I am inspired. Today I will make every effort to be grateful for the sunlight and the breeze. I will release this white knuckled grip on the illusion of control and tuck my fears safely out of sight. I want to choose the best use of the minutes I am given, I don't want to squander them on things that probably will never be. I want to appreciate... and fear just makes me ... well, afraid and constricted.
I hope, that like my incredible daughter, like that landing leaf, I will leave an impression along the way. An impression that is reflective of a life lived with joy and gratitude, with courage and compassion, with enthusiasm and with hope. I'm not quite there yet, I still have some shadows to dispel, but I'm inspired, and that's a start.
"Thank you for getting things done. Thank you for opportunities. Thank you for being able to give. Thank you for things coming in. Thank you for things ending." SAB 11-8-1997
"Thank you for rain. Thank you for Friday. Thank you for Mom. Thank you for candles. Thank you for music." SAB 11-7-1997
Sometimes, I wonder if the little moments that find their way into my life are the result of Angels needing a giggle or if they just happen and entertaining Angels is just an added benefit.
Thursday it rained all day and around five o'clock my neighbor called concerned that our Cul de Sac cat, Norton, was in some kind of trouble. I told her I would grab his dinner and walk on over. As soon as I opened my front door I knew why she was concerned. I'm not sure I've ever heard such pitiful howling.
The mournful wailing was coming from behind our newest neighbor's fence and I didn't want our first encounter to be the result of my snoopiness but those sounds simply could not be ignored. I tiptoed across the creek and peeked through the hole in the fence. There, soaked to the bone, sitting precariously on top of a stack of children's toys was a tiny black and white cat. Her head was tipped toward the sky and she was howling for all she was worth. No one was home, except for the equally concerned Handy Man. We consoled ourselves with the hope that she would ultimately take shelter on the warm, dry porch.
I reluctantly went home, knowing that our newest neighbor would be home soon and let her inside. We didn't hear any more from her until yesterday afternoon when Lori came by to visit Norton. We started across the street, 9-Lives in hand and once again heard the howling. Now, I guess it's important to mention that our new neighbors haven't actually moved in yet. They have been doing lots of work on the house and although we've seen Dad going in and out, we hadn't actually met...yet.
As I strained to see if there was a cat carrier on the front porch or beside the garage, trying desperately to see where the crying was coming from, there she was. Perched on the roof. Not much bigger than a large starling. Once we made eye contact I couldn't pretend I didn't see her.
My friends and I tried to decide what to do. She was obviously not happy about being up there but we tried to convince ourselves that she had gotten there on her own and would get down on her own...but that thought only lasted two seconds, as we watched her scurrying back and forth, pleading with us to save her.
I knocked and rang the door bell to see if our new neighbor was home. No answer. I stood on the side of the house and tried to get the little critter to jump but she was having no part of that. Finally I noticed a step ladder on the ground beside the house, I set it up and climbed to the top where the kitten gladly climbed into my arms.
Of course, as I'm coming down the ladder I see the T.V. on in the new neighbor's house and realize that he simply hadn't heard the door bell and I was about to get caught climbing off of his roof. This time I knocked on the side door and woke him from his nap.
"Hi, I'm Jan. I live across the street. I just got your kitten off the roof. I didn't realize you were home. I'm sorry to bother you, but we didn't know what else to do."
"Hi, nice to meet you. It's not my kitten."
"But you want a nice kitten?"
"I already have two cats, and a dog."
"So, as long as she's not yours... you won't mind if we take her in for the night?"
All I can hope is that his wife is a cat lover and won't think I'm completely insane.
Long story short. We put the kitten in a crate for the night. We fed her and made sure she had water. I didn't dare take her home, Jules would have left us both out in the cold... but I am blessed with the kindest neighbors in the world. Linda took her in, made some calls, and before the kitten had had time to settle for the night... a different neighbor came to get her. She said that she would call around on her side of the subdivision, and either find her people or find her a good home... or keep her. It was just incredible how this tiny little being brought us all together once again.
I know my husband wouldn't agree, but the stray kitties that end up on our street, seem to have a way of bringing out the best in all of us. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy... and incredibly grateful.
"Thank you for no car accidents this morning. Thank you for "knowing" people. Thank you for the sub jobs. Thank you for everything. Thank you for the charity of others." SAB 11-6-1997
"Thank you for loose change. Thank you for "good works". Thank you for Fed Ex. Thank you for goals on their way. Thank you for time to grow up." SAB 11-5-1997
So many times Shannon expresses her appreciation for time. Time to grow up, time to be productive, time to get everything done, time to prepare....I have to believe that we have exactly as much time as we need to evolve into the being we came here hoping to find within ourselves.
None of us are perfect. We lose patience and feel sorry for ourselves. We scream and pout and get angry and yet... we keep trying. Every time I find a penny on the floor, or in the dryer or on the pavement beside my parking space, I am reminded of how precious time is and how grateful I am for 'loose change'... and 'time to grow up'.
"Thank you for health. Thank you for shelter. Thank you for love. Thank you for security. Thank you for wealth in all its forms." SAB 11-4-1997
Wouldn't it be nice to think that I had something to do with her enormous heart and innocent wisdom? But the truth is, I am who I am because of her... and no matter how much I miss her, or how deep the ache, I wouldn't trade one second of my life with her for an easier path.
"Thank you for my Shannon." JJB 11-4-2010
"Thank you for no phone calls last night and this morning. Thank you for nature's beauty. Thank you for my Eeyore watch. Thank you for productive time. Thank you for Beck." SAB 11-3-1997
I've always wanted to believe that I had some control over the Universe. Even when all I could do entailed whispered requests to Heaven, it felt like enough. Then the unthinkable happens and our innocence is shattered and we have to begin again.
Yesterday I got a lesson in trust or serendipity or maybe just an affirmation that the workings of the Universe are in far more capable hands than mine. For most of the last month I've been away from home, a lot. I am incredibly blessed to have neighbors that are also dear friends and I know when we have to be away, our kitties and goldfish are in loving hands.
Around six thirty yesterday morning, I was wrapped in my fuzzy soft pink bath robe sipping a cup of coffee when the phone rang. One of my neighbors had been trying to reach his family and no one was answering the phone. He was getting a little frantic and asked if I might go over and knock on the door just to be sure that everyone was okay. It didn't occur to me to put on shoes or pants... for way too many years I was the one on the phone checking on Shannon every afternoon after school and I knew what he was feeling.
I crawled over the fence, phone in hand, well in hand until I lost the signal and had to leave the phone at the base of the giant oak, knocked, rang the bell, peeked in the window, tried to get the gate open and when all of that failed I grabbed the phone, crawled back over the fence into Shannon's garden, across the bridge and into my own front door to retrieve the key, to let myself into their house to be sure everyone was okay. Fortunately, before I was arrested either for indecent exposure or breaking an entering, my sweet neighbor realized that there was no school and his family was probably sleeping in. We agreed to wait a bit before taking more drastic action. Several minutes later he called back to say that he had finally gotten an answer, everyone was fine, snuggled in bed watching television and hadn't heard the phone.
We've all been there. All I could think was how wonderful it is that he is such a devoted husband and Dad. We all had a good laugh and the episode only reinforced what a special group of neighbors I have.
The day unfolded in ordinary ways. I washed the car and went to the bank and grocery store. I bought cat food and replacement parts for our commodes. I blogged and paid bills and made chili and whole wheat bread in our bread machine.
Once I was satisfied that the water would no longer continue to run after every flush, dishes were in the dishwasher, cats fed, Jules fed, laundry done and teeth brushed, I crawled into bed feeling grateful for 'productive time'.
A little after twelve the phone rang. Of course I had failed to return the cordless handset to the cradle after using it in the computer room so there was a mad scramble to find it in that panic that instinctively sets in when the phone rings after midnight. Another of our neighbors was calling to say that her little dog was terribly sick and she needed help getting her to the Veterinary Emergency Room. This time I did get dressed before dashing out the door. We sat together in the brightly lit waiting room, until the doctor come out and said that although she would have to spend the night, he thought she would be fine.
This morning I took my Mom for her breast biopsy. Although the official pathology reports won't be available until Friday or Monday, the Radiologist said that he saw no reason for concern, basing his assessment on years of experience and countless lipomas and fibroids. We had lunch, bought three collectible Christmas ornaments and several candle holders. I raked more acorns and mowed the grass before heading home, all the while whispering my gratitude to Heaven for yet another medical test with excellent results.
Today is my friend's husband's Heaven day. I've thought all day about a bright sunny warm October afternoon that I sat with him while she did some quick shopping. They were the epitome of courage and devotion and unconditional love. They inspired me to be a better human being. They reminded me of how precious and fragile each moment is. Bob sat in his comfortable chair in their living room, sunlight on his lap, his brown Nikes turned slightly inward. I felt like I needed to make conversation. He probably just enjoyed the quiet but silence made me uncomfortable so I rambled. I miss him because I love her and she misses him.
I guess all of these moments... these tender ordinary moments allow me to release my white knuckled grip on the illusion of control for a little bit. I wasn't out of town when my neighbor couldn't reach his wife. I wasn't out of town when my neighbor's doggy got sick. I was there to receive the good news about my Mom and I am here... remembering with my dear friend.
Sometimes I chastise myself for not being more 'social'. I feel somehow that my reclusiveness since I retired is a flaw. I search for purpose and meaning and direction... but I remember Shannon saying how glad she was that she didn't have a job, the job that she had tried so hard to find, so that she could be there to take care of Gram after she broke her pelvis, and I wonder if I'm failing to see the forest for the trees.
I love my family. I love my friends. I love my neighbors and their children and their pets. I love my husband and my home. On the days when I make myself crazy searching for answers to questions that needn't be asked, I am so grateful for the special little reminders that sprinkle on my life like brightly colored sugar on a warm from the oven cookie. Reminders that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. We are here because we are here, and hands far more wise and wonderful than mine are holding us all.
"Thank you for everyone who touches my life, and illuminates my path." JJB 11-3-2010