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January 2014

You Never Know

"Thank you for time - 'healer of all wounds'

Thank you for time to grow and evaluate

Thank you for the ability to become braver and more decisive with time

Thank you for time to prepare

Thank you for time to breathe

Thank you for time to be alone

Thank you for time to just be"

834

August 1997 ~ Rushed home from work to catch the last few minutes of Oprah.  'A gratitude journal will change your life.'  Grumbling about "what do we have to do now because Miss Oprah says so", Shannon rushed with me to the bookstore to purchase 2 Gratitude Journals before they sold out.

May 1998 ~ In a soggy suitcase from a fateful trip that same Gratitude Journal would continue its journey to change my life.

Do you think that Shannon gave one seconds' thought to who might read her journal nine months after she first put pen to page?  No.  Did she spend hours making sure her words were perfect or her penmanship legible?  Again No.  In her perfectly expressive scrawl, she thought about what in that day had made her heart sing, or mind wander or her spirit question.  I'm sure it never crossed her mind that she might not complete every page, fill every line, but she never missed a day.  There were no excuses, she was never too busy or too tired to acknowledge what mattered. 

I sometimes think that she was watching over my shoulder as I used her words, from that journal to share her wit and wisdom with friends and family at her memorial service, and create the bookmarks that we included in the thank you notes that followed.  I felt her with me as I started writing to the people mentioned by name in her journal, the people who touched her life, inspired her or entertained her or gave her direction.  Gary Greene, Steven King, Oprah, Rosie, Jabberwocky and Germanna, to name a few. 

A young producer, Sandi, called to see if we might share Shannon's story on an Oprah show about Gratitude.  Filming would be on June 17th, my Mother's and my Niece's birthday and would air on July 19th, my Nephew's birthday.  They were all the signs I needed to believe that this was all part of some magical plan Shannon was orchestrating on the "other side" to help me meet Miss O.

April 2000 ~ Another young producer, Andrea, arrived at our home with a film crew from Northern Virginia to tape a three minute segment "Remembering Her Spirit".  I sat on Shannon's bed talking to strangers about how amazing she was.  We were still just trying to find our way.  After the show aired, we got a call from Oxygen.  They were receiving so many requests for bookmarks that they couldn't acknowledge all of them and wondered if we had a website that they could refer people to.   The blessing from Heaven was that we had met another Angel's Mom who was willing to put a website together so that we could respond.  It could only hold 500 emails at once and we had to start printing them so that we didn't lose anyone as they fell off the technological deep end.

For months we were spending every spare moment printing, cutting, laminating, packaging and mailing bookmarks to people in every state, Canada, New Zealand and the Phillipins.  Our grief was buffered by the incredibly kind words of strangers who opened their hearts to Shannon and were inspired to express their own gratitude.

December 2013 ~ Almost fourteen years and 300,000 bookmarks later.  Oprah has moved to a network of her own.  Sarah Ban Breathnach has made and lost her literary fortune.  Articles shared in newpapers and magazines are turning yellow and I have to be very careful with the Gratitude Journal, that like me has aged and frayed a little around the edges, and our Shannon is still radiating.  By some perfectly brilliant magic, we are still out there and friends are still touched and touching us in return.  We are still making bookmarks and reading wonderful uplifting letters from people who never met Shannon but recognize in her simple, wonderful words of appreciation, what can change our lives and lift our spirits.

This morning I answered emails from new and very special friends who saw that three minute segment that has defied time and space and growth and change.  I'm never sure that I will say the right things to ease their sadness or share their joys, but I try to be present.  I try to express to them, how much their efforts to find us, and their fondness for Shannon, mean.  That the time they spend searching the internet, or writing the letter lets me know that Shannon is still there, still doing what she had always hoped, "touching lives and making a difference."

You Never Know.  You never know what ripple effect your actions or thoughts or kindnesses are going to have.  You never know when a smile in passing will transform a moment.  You never know what impact your words, written quickly in the quiet before bedtime will have.  You never know.

Or do we?  Is it possible that  when we take the time to really feel that soft quiver in our hearts, when our eyes well up for no apparent reason or we feel the faintest touch on our hand or cheek from some invisible guest... is it possible that in that moment, when Heaven and Earth are one...we do know?

I think so... and it's amazing.

 


Hidden Treasure

Mom and Nan

My Mom and My Shannon

January 13, 2014

Today I found a card.  Addressed to Shannon while she was staying with Mom.

March 2, 1998

To my little 'bulb',

I see reflected in you...

All that I am...

All that I deam of...

All that I cannot express...

All that I hold dear.

 

I see born in you...

The wings of promise,

The fear of things unknown,

The roots of certainty,

like the seedling's.

The joy of sunrise

And the tenderness of women.

 

I see you struggling to become.  Like the tiny bulb that isn't certain of the flower it will be, but reaches ever for the sunlight ~ from the safety of the earth.

Knowing only what it must do to fulfill its purpose.

I love you

Mom

I am so grateful that I told her, every day, how very  precious she was, and that she saved the reminders so that when I start to worry that I wasn't enough...she is still with me to remind me. 

Never let a day pass with things left unsaid.


Standing Still

July 28, 2008

"When life begins to change too quickly, when memories sustain you but life calls, imploring you to rediscover passion and joy, the only course of action seems to be, to stand perfectly still.  To allow the breeze of change to wash over and through you and just breathe.

I have grieved a seemingly endless grief.  Most of the time it has been in silence, in the quiet hours of night, on the way to work, on the porch, in a crowd... at the grocery store facing Chef Boy R Dee.

I'm not completely sure how to move back into the flow of a life that doesn't have Shannon in it in the same familiar ways.  I've been moving; I haven't given up on me or Shannon or life and I've searched to complete exhaustion for the hidden meaning in losing my only child so soon."

 I was having trouble this afternoon finding words, so I returned to the beginning only to discover that six years have passed in the blink of an eye. 

My heart has mended and stretched and grieved again and again as is inevitable in life.

There is a tenderness that has replaced the agony.   An acceptance that accompanies the search and I am rarely blindsided by the sorrow that once brought me to my knees. 

Transformation happens gradually. We don't even notice until we glance over our shoulder and see where we have been.

  The passage of time is relative.  I can smell the warm lilacs outside the bedroom window from fifty years ago.  I can feel Shannon's tiny fingers wrapped around my own.  I can see my Mom puttering around on her red Murray lawnmower and taste shrimp glace the way Maw Maw made it ... but I can't remember what I had for breakfast. 

Today I am standing still again. Allowing change to wash over and through me.  I am different but I am the same.  I am older.  Perhaps I am wiser.  I think maybe I am learning to surrender to everything life has to offer with a little less fear.  Accept that it is exactly as it is supposed to be and believe that we are never alone, no matter how it might feel.

It's true that we can't dwell in the past but every now and then, when the present page is blank and tomorrow's seems too distant, a step back is all it takes to set you right again.


Week two of Art and Soul

So today begins week two of "Art and Soul" ~ the guided journey by my new pal Pam Grout.  I'm not sure I'm off to the best of beginnings.  At four I was awake working on my Artist Proclamation Amulet.  The glue is still drying and it doesn't look very appealing but in essence it says...Live Life, Now it's Your turn, State of Grace, Embrace Your Critics, Cultivate Wonder and Your Future is Yet to be Written.  There is an open hand, an owl, a lily, the number nine, a dragonfly, a photo of Shannon and one of my Mom.  There is also a mirror to remind me that this is my story.  Good, bad or ridiculous... it is mine.

I didn't go to the thrift store for a ridiculous outfit, there were plenty in the closet in a multitude of sizes so I decided to take to, instead of from Goodwill.  I did make cookies but they were from Shannon's Christmas cookie recipe .... the Martha Stewart recipe with oatmeal, cranberries, toffee bits, pecans and butter, sugar and flour. 

The third "fun stuff" for week one was to learn three little known facts about Martin Luther King Jr.  His given name was Michael.  He skipped two grades in High School and entered college at 15.  He tried to commit suicide at twelve when his grandmother passed away.  He was only 35 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have to admit that I started to feel a little guilty that I knew so little about this man who was such a force in all of our lives.  What touched me the deepest is that upon completing his autopsy, it was revealed that he had the heart of a 60 year old man, attributed mainly to stress.

~~~~~

Week two includes titleing my autobiography, inventing a new soup, naming a rock band and painting my fingernails 10 different colors.  I mention these things in case you want to play along.

You know, we want to be our best selves.  We want to be inherently good.  Patient.  Non judgemental.  Optimistic.  Loving.  Open.  Honest.  Giving.... and we want everyone we come in contact with to be the same.  Trouble is, we are first and foremost human.

I haven't been sleeping very well... for years.  It wears on you after a while.  I have tried everything from Excedrin P.M. to guided meditations.  My mind simply doesn't want to calm.  Fretting only makes it worse so I have decided to just go with it.  Sleep when I can, where I can.... and figure out a way to be productive when I can't.   With that thought in mind, I had an epiphany at 2 a.m.   I was simmering over conversations that I have had over the last few months.  Reliving all of the details of my Mom's illness.  Her medical treatment, her medications, our last heart to heart talks ... my fear that lead to impatience.  I tried to remember the essential oils I used to make the massage oil that I used on her very swollen feet and legs those last few days.  I churned over the missteps I have made with my brother and sister in settling Mom's affairs.  I lamented over the fact that even when your intentions are good...understanding isn't always.  I felt my heart open as I thought about the new friends that have come into my life in the last few weeks, sent by Shannon and her three minute Spirit Segment on an Oprah rerun.  It was all just like a two liter bottle of Diet Coke.

Bringing in the groceries yesterday, I dropped such a bottle.  It rolled under the car and down the driveway.  I picked it up and took it in with every intention of marking it as the volatile one but you know how that goes.  It sat there on the counter, all innocent.  It looked calm.  It appeared identical to the one sitting next to it.  You certainly couldn't see all the bubbles just waiting for thier opportunity to spew.

So you see, we are all at times a Diet Coke.  We simmer and bubble and seethe and try to keep the lid on so we don't make a big mess of things,  but let us get dropped or rolled or slighted in some meaningless way and watch out ! 

I hate to spew.  It always leaves me feeling guilty and not at all the perfect being I want so desperately to be.  BUT it has been that kind of day.  Despite my beautiful Art and Soul badge and the blatant reflection of imperfection staring back at me from the oval mirror on my beautiful Art and Soul badge and despite the time spent with Martin Luther King Jr., and despite the kindness of a friend willing to get spewed upon... it has been that kind of day.

I am ready to try again.  To drop the unrealistic expectations of myself (and everyone else ) and let the evolution begin.  I mean, as Phil would say, "Hey Jack" it's only been a week. 

There is an opening poem in Art and Soul...

He keeps sending me angels

From up on high

He keeps sending me angels

To teach me to fly

He keeps sending me angels

Just like you.

Just like you.   All of you, willing to make this journey with me.  I have Shannon's journal beside me, and I am endlessly and gratefully amazed at how perfectly her thoughts from sixteen years ago, affirm that she is here, aware and certainly smiling today.

"Thank you for creative outlets.

Thank you for books to read.

Thank you for eyes to read them with.

Thank you for headaches that go away.

Thank you for re-runs being over."

January 2, 1998    ~     SAB


Shimmer Around The Edges

Shimmer Around the Edges

The sun has just come through the window into the living room where I am sitting on the sofa.  There seems to be an uncomfortable tilt to the cushion, too many years of sitting in this spot.

I have imprinted.

I sat here reading "The Old Turtle" to Shannon on her twenty third birthday.  We were having banana nut pancakes.   I sat here talking to my Mom.  I sat here watching snow fall and the butterfly bush bloom.  I have written countless thank you notes and cards of celebration and remembrance from this spot.  And here I am once again.

I have to squirm a little to get comfortable.  Time changes how we fit, even in the most familiar spaces.

Writing is my familiar space.  It gives me room to breathe.  Encourages me to stretch and search and allow.  I've never been very good at allowing.  I want to control and plan and perfect.  Consequently I am getting all too familiar with failure but even that doesn't seem so awful with an adequate amount of squirm, now that I am facing sixty !

Looking back on 2013, I tend to see only the moments that hurt the worst...first.  I think of the friends who have lost someone dear.  I think about my Mom.  I wonder if I have allowed losing Shannon to define me in a negative way.  Then I look down, become aware of the page illuminated by the morning sunlight and allow myself to receive the message for this day....

SHIMMER

Pain carves details into us, yes.  I would wager, though, that great joy does as well.  Strong emotion, Virginia Woolf said, must leave its trace.  Start writing, grow still and quiet, press toward that strong emotion and you will discover it anew.  The Adlers were the first of a particular kind of hurt for me.  And so they stayed alive inside of me.  They are alive still.  These traces that live within us often lead us to our stories.  Joan Didion called this a shimmer around the edges."

( Thank you Dani Shapiro ~ "Still Writing" )

 

We all have something of value to share.  Facebook and Twitter are a testament to the desire to connect and invite.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said in one of his journals that "the good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things."    And we are all good writers, touching one another as we keep a watchful eye on that thread.

Dani Shapiro, Pam Grout and Brene Brown are my new BFFs.  They write about creativity, vulnerability, possibility and courage.  They are the members of my new writing circle, along with you and we are leaving the critic and the censor at the door as we stare at the blank pages of a new year and watch our stories unfold.

Shannon will always shimmer around my edges.  She is carved into the very soul of me, still alive, still part of every breath.....never in a negative way. 

We have no idea what the next year will bring.  One thing is for certain...there will be no darkness without light, no pain without comfort, no joy without sadness, no fear without courage... and if we are willing to simply open our hearts and see.... no edges without shimmer.

"Thank you for Email.

Thank you for movies that warm your heart enough to want to see them again.

Thank you for photo opportunities.

Thank you for the healing process.

Thank you for "As Good As It Gets", all three of us enjoyed it."

January 1, 1998  ~  SAB