Thursday, February 28, 2013

ELLIE


She has mismatched eyes.  It used to be that one was missing, until Mommy found a dark blue button that was close enough in size and stitched it on.  She has mismatched eyes and her trunk is wimpy and her neck will not hold up her head when she's propped up on the bench at the foot of the bed, next to the ballerina doll and purple horse.  She used to be a very pleasant shade of pink, but with all that life and love smothered on her the past four years, she's a fine example of dusty rose. She is weary and worn and deeply loved.
 
Her name is Ellie, short for elephant, and that little hand holding her by the trunk is Ruby's.  Ru; Ru Ru; Ruby Luby. As you can see, Ruby has her own style.  She knows exactly what she wants.  Well...she's pretty sure that's just exactly what she wants...sort of.  She has the blasted-blessed tenacity that some people call stubbornness.  But she also has this tender heart; the kind that will act like she wants nothing to do with you, but if you can catch her and tickle her just right and then start smothering her with kisses, she will thrust her arms about your neck and squeeze the breath out of you while she declares that she loves you to the moon and back and then past all the stars and you could never love her as much as she loves you - no, not ever!
Ruby is the youngest; little sister to 9 year old Sophie and 6 year old Parker.  She was God's first test sent to Parker.  Once, exasperated and frustrated beyond control, he commented from the back seat of the car:
"I don't like Ruby.  I'm not gonna kill her; but I just don't like her!"
Of course that's not true.  Sort of.  But she does certainly know how to push Parker's buttons.  Their poor parents are forced to mediate more often than their childhood dreams ever forewarned about. "Maybe we should have stopped at two," John will quip.  Ash will hit his arm and tell him to stop it.  Then in the morning Ruby will hang onto John's leg as he's trying to leave for work, her little knees bent around his calf, her feet locked into each other, Ellie in one hand and her Ba Ba in the other, the back of her head looking like the sandman came with his magic comb and ratted it up in the night. He'll drag his leg until he reaches the doorstep, then he'll bend over and snatch her into his arms and tell her he loves her to the moon and back and she'll tell him that she loves him more and is not going to ever let him go to work but instead he has to stay home and play dolls with her until it's tomorrow.
We were shopping for pajama's once, Ruby and Sophie and I.  All through Target, at Christmas time, when the selection was grand.  Ruby wanted one of every style, even when it didn't come in her size.  Finally Sophie pulled me aside, back behind one of the rounders of nightgowns at the Target store.  "Gummy, you just have to tell Ruby that she can get one for today and then tell her that we can come get the others on another day. She'll forget, so don't worry about having to buy all those pajama's Gummy."  She smiled and peeked around the gowns to make sure her little sister was safe behind us.  So Ruby picked one set of pj's for that day, and one for Sunday, and Monday and Thursday and Tuesday. We put them on a rack for later. Thanks for the tip, Soph.
I get to spend every Monday morning with Ruby.  We color pictures, and make up stories, and I pretend to be one dolly and she pretends to be the other.  If you try to call me on Monday morning there's a good chance the phone will have to ring because we are focused.  One of our favorite games is when I sit on the couch and pretend to be sleeping, my head in my hands as I sit, my mouth and nose making my best snoring sounds.  Ru will sneak up on the couch, climb behind my back, and grab me around the neck.  I will pretend to be so surprised that I thrust my back, with her attached, back into the cushions of the couch, smashing her until she loses her breath with laughter and begs for mercy.  I'll reach up and pull her in front of me and smother her with loves until she cries uncle.  Then we start all over again. 
One of the best things to happen for Ruby is that she got cousins who are younger than her.  She can show Calvin and Charlotte how to do things.  She can cuddle and coddle them and yet still play with them.  Every littlest kid needs to be bigger than somebody.  It diverts their attention and keeps them from being murdered by their big brothers.
Some Mondays, after we have played and cooked and read and sometimes had a bath, Gumpa will come home for lunch.  We'll have a bowl of soup and maybe a pear and Ruby will put her boots on twice, once on the wrong feet and once again on the right, then Gump will strap her into her car seat, her backpack on the floor in front of her little dangling feet, and drive her down to preschool.  He will park the car, open her door, unbuckle her seat belt and take her hand.  He'll walk with her, hand in hand, through the halls of Knowlton Elementary, back to the preschool room.  The halls are familiar to this grandpa.  He walked once, not so long ago, those same halls with our children who grew into parents.
We try not to bring Ellie to our house.  Ellie is happier in her own house, because if she ever gets lost the world will lose her balance and fall off her axis and we will all go spinning into space and gravity won't hold us on any more and...well, how will we ever find Ellie then? Ruby finally understands that now.  Only if Ruby is very sick will Ellie journey away from home, and that's only if we promise to put Ellie in the backpack for positively absolutely sure. 
The other day when I went to pick up Sophie for piano Ruby was swinging Ellie like those toys that have a button on a string.  Round and round, as if her arms were going to twist off her.  She threw her up in the air and she landed on the cherry wood floor. I picked poor Ellie up and held her to my shoulder, patting her back, telling her it would be OK.  I held her up and gazed at her. 
"Look Ru!  Her eyes are blue, like yours!"
"Only one is blue, Gummy.  They don't match."
"Yup, you're right.  But it's a good thing she has two eyes again, so she can see you."
"It's a button, Gum.  It can't see."
That's Ru.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

MARY POPPINS

On Valentines day my honey and I walked hand in hand through the chilly New York wind, over to the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where we gobbled up a delicious theatrical treat; Mary Poppins.  It was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! The show is closing next week, so we seized the moment while we were in town. It made me feel like a kid again, though the sweet little lullaby Stay Awake was not in the stage version and I missed it. But there was Bert on the chimney tops dancing with his fellow chimney sweeps, steppin’ in time; and Mary turning everything into magic; the Banks family; and the blind woman feeding the birds at the steps of the cathedral.

During intermission we moved back to the concession stand and I snapped this picture to send to my sister:

“Does AM still have her Mary Poppins Barbie?” I asked Lib.  If she didn’t, then I was going to buy it for her.  By the time I got a response the show had ended and we had left the theatre, but we went back a few days later and picked one up.

When we were small my mom put three little dolls under the Christmas tree one year.  The controversial dolls were not the typical baby dolls people were used to.  These ones had figures – thus, the controversy.  How we loved our Barbie’s! Mom’s three little girls had the same hair colors as the dolls: I had the blond Barbie with the Camelot outfit.  And Libby’s was the red head, of course, with a sleek black glittery dress you might see in White Christmas.  Ann Marie had the brunette, and she got the Mary Poppins outfit, complete with the hat, carpet bag, and the parrot topped umbrella. Of course we had many outfits for our Barbie’s, some of them hand knitted by people I can’t recall.  We loved them all: the people and the dresses.  And the Barbie’s.  Little girls have a lot of love to give and dolls are so accommodating. I was reminded, when I looked at the tiny brimmed hat she wore, with the flowers on the side, of the first time I ever saw the movie Mary Poppins.

We had moved from our small town in Idaho to the bustling metropolis of Pittsburgh, PA.  Though we lived in the suburbs, we went into the city to shop, and to visit museums.  Shopping at Gimbles' or Kaufman's or Horne’s in downtown Pittsburgh was a cultural treat, and rather rare for us.  We mostly wore hand-me-downs, but Mom did love fashion, and I’m sure there were plenty of arguments between Mom and Dad about…well, that’s not the object of my writing today, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice it to say that going out to shop or eat was quite unusual for us. Museums in those days were free, blessedly.

One day, however, when I was six years old, the stars aligned and Mom’s friend Anne Fasulo drove over to our house and picked us up.  I’m quite sure no one was wearing a seat belt on that trip, since there were many of us, besides Anne and her little daughter Margie. But then again, cars didn’t even have seat belts in those days. We drove down Old Clairton Road and merged onto Route 51, weaving our way through the potholes, down past the belching steel mills across the river, through the Liberty Tubes and over the bridge into the city.  We were dressed in our Sunday best, with knee highs and shiny Mary Jane patented leather shoes.  We followed Anne and our mother across the street like little ducks, waddling into the massive movie house where the brand new movie, (in living Technicolor) MARY POPPINS was playing. I was wide eyed and breathtaken by the majesty of the theatre, with opulent gilding on the columns holding up the cathedral-like ceiling. It smelled of rosewater perfume and cigarette smoke. We sat in velvet cushioned seats that flipped up and down, my knobby knees barely reaching the edge of the seat, the arm rests too high for my arms to comfortably rest upon. I leaned forward then back, forward then back, listening to the chair seat squeak as it shifted up and down beneath me, as if I were on some sort of cultured swing. Suddenly the lights dimmed, and the deep red velvet curtains lining the front of the stage began to part as music swelled.  I felt myself lift onto that stage in my make-believe way, like Mary popped into the pictures Bert painted on the sidewalk. Above us I could hear the click-click-click of the projector and became mesmerized by the colorful specks of dust that floated through the beam of illumination shooting onto the massive screen at the front of the theatre, until my eyes met Mary up there on the stage and I was no longer in Pittsburgh or Idaho or even in my familiar dream world.  I was in London England and I was Jane.  Jane Banks.  And my nanny was Mary.  Mary Poppins.

In those days movies had intermissions.  We waddled, our little flock, behind Mom out to the lobby.  They were selling things in the lobby.  Really wonderful things.  Treats and drinks, and buttons and umbrellas and…oh my goodness…Look at THAT…a Mary Poppins hat! It was straw, and made for little heads, and it had flowers and cherries and a little button with Mary Poppins’ picture on the front. I watched as other moms and dads reached into their clutches and wallets and traded paper for hats, and I wanted one.  A little girl, just my size, shimmied past me as she adjusted her hat on her head, her mother bending over, licking her thumb and wiping her daughter’s cheek, then stepping back to gaze upon her.  She was lovely.  And she was magical.  And oh, how I wanted one of those hats! Of course no one got anything at intermission.

During the rest of the show it sat back there, festering in my six year old brain, the thought of the hat.  I can’t recall the particulars, maybe because I don’t want to, but I ended up in tears as we walked out of the theatre, my head uncovered, my hands empty.  I must have thrown a tantrum of some sort, because even now I ache for my mother.  She was not one to abide misbehavior and I am sure she marched us right out to the car. But I feel so sad that I would be so ungrateful to leave in tears.  There must have been some little discussion between my angels and me, after I had settled down and had a minute to look back on the situation. My angels must have reminded me that my mother did not have a lot of that paper in her purse, and what little she did have she had spent to get us into the movie. It was the first movie I had ever seen in a theatre, and I recall feeling, even at that tender age, a deep sadness and regret at how I had behaved.  

Later that week Libby and Ann Marie and I were playing in the back room of the basement, the place where we had our pretend stove and the cans of lentil beans served as make believe dinner in our make believe apartment where we were make believe roommates. Mom walked in, and behind her was her best friend Ann Fasulo. Ann’s hands were tucked behind her back.  She called my name, and I looked up from my pretending as she brought her hands in front of her, a home made Mary Poppins hat appearing right there before my very eyes.  An old straw hat, covered with artificial flowers and berries, and a bright red ribbon floating down the back.  The hat was a little large, so Ann had added an extra ribbon to tie under my chin.  I don’t know how I reacted.  I truly hope I threw my arms around her neck and covered her with kisses, because if I saw her now that is exactly what I would do.  My heart is cinched to Ann Fasulo, who did not have to love me, but did none-the-less.  I imagine Ann, who may have had money in her purse, allowing my mother to maintain her dignity.   But I also imagine her getting in her car and driving to the Good Will store, and wherever else she may have needed to go, to buy materials to make a silly little hat for a tender little girl. I imagine her hands wiring and gluing and stitching, her artistry evident in her handiwork. 

I wish I still had that hat.  I wish I could place it in a position of honor to remind me of the kindness of so many people in my life.  The memory will have to suffice.

It makes me miss my mom.  And it makes me love her all the more.  And Ann Fasulo…wherever you are…I hope the love you gave has returned to you seventy times seven.

 

WEIGHTY MATTERS

I’ve lost some weight.  A lot of it, as a matter of fact. I finally took the proverbial bull by the horns and with the help of modern medicine I’ve released a sizeable chunk of my former self to the universe.  I’ve always said that this old earth needs to remain balanced and I was trying to counter balance my brothers and sisters in drought devastated Ethiopia.  That comment was not meant to make light of the heart breaking hunger in a place I’ve never even seen. It was meant to make light of…well, to make light of something… heavy: me. I have historically joked about my excessive weight.  I think I wanted people to know that I am perfectly aware of my obvious flaws.  For decades now I’ve analyzed my reasons for carrying so much extra protection. I have thought of my overweightness, strangely, as a passive aggressive friend. The kind who is always there, often friendly and comfortable, but down deep hates you and wants to poke her bony little finger into your fleshy back till it breaks the skin and drips blood down your spine, smiling while she does it. It’s a love/hate relationship.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the beautiful things in my life that seem to be a consequence of fleshy abundance.  For one; I have not been tempted to flirt.  Dave, true and faithful man that he is, has never once made comments about my size and has always been loving.  Since it’s him I love, and never want to be tempted elsewhere, my fatness was a nice shield.

I had to, in an effort to make myself feel worth healthy human attention, develop talents and personality traits that made people take notice in spite of a less than appealing package.

I also wanted to show my community, filled with svelte and beautifully coiffed women, that we do not all have to be the same.  I’ve said for years, that I wanted to be a missionary for diversity; to prove, especially to young women, that you could be friendly and outgoing and approachable, intelligent and respected… and be fat.

I’ve had things to say, and songs to sing, that needed a hefty vehicle to deliver it.  I sang my song Ice Cream the other day, and it was very strange.  People didn’t laugh. I can’t really say why.  But they usually laugh, in that “oh, she sees herself and is willing to laugh about it, so let’s laugh with her” sort of way.  It kind of confuses me now and I’ll have to think on it a bit before I sing it again. 

Heavy people are naturally prone to be viewed as jolly, unless they are grumps, and I like that.  I like to think of giving big squishy hugs.  Watermelon hugs, as my friend Jed calls them.  Big soft embracing hugs. The melons, and the patch, are shrinking.

The boys at lunch at the Yale Club. 
(A dignified bachelor's party)
The other night I was talking with Dave about our New York trip.  What a grand time we had.  It was so fun to reconnect with Dave’s friends from his college years.  We had gathered for Peter’s wedding. We had not seen some of them for nearly four decades.  They travelled from Canada and Texas and other places to celebrate, eleven of fourteen men who had shared a brotherhood in a senior society at Yale.  They had brought wives and girlfriends, many of them, and we spent two wonderful days together. In the past I have always…always…been conscious of my size.  I was gifted with a mother who had taught me through word and deed that there was so much more of value in all people than the way their body looks. So I generally have not hid in quiet corners hoping no one would notice me.  I talked, and laughed, and sometimes sang, and felt generally accepted.  But I always felt self conscious about my body.
 
It was interesting as Dave and I talked the other night, that these words came spilling out of my mouth:
“For the first time”, I said, in a rather sad and wistful way, “ I did not feel shame. I didn’t feel pride, either.  I considered that my body was neither attractive nor offensive.  Rather benign, I guess. But, for the first time in a long, long time, I did not feel shame.”

Dave’s response: “You are beautiful to me.  You have always been beautiful to me.”

The realization that shame was not in my physical self-definition any more was a sad awakening.  I’m  not a fan of shame as a tool.  It rarely works in any useful way.  I cringe when protestors hold up signs that begin with the words “SHAME ON….”  As if we had the right to lift a bucket of guilt and sprinkle it on anyone…including ourselves.   It’s a tool of the devil and I am so sad, so very sad, that I notice now that it has been traveling with me all these years.

I think of Jesus bending over in the dusty street, drawing with his finger in the dirt.  I think of him speaking to me, to all of us, “Where are thine accusers?” and following with “Neither do I condemn thee.”

A wise bishop once told me to reserve guilt for sin.  And when the sin is gone, let go of the guilt as well. Fat is not a sin.  It’s a weakness I suppose, as are so many other things that don’t show the way fat does.  It makes me so sad to think of the shame and guilt we all carry for misplaced reasons.  Ah, me.

I’m grateful that there is currently less weight I have to carry around.  I can cross my legs, and tuck my arms around my waist, and last week I fit in the seat belt on the plane and had to tighten it.  Do you have any idea how liberating it is to pull that dark gray strap through the seat belt buckle and feel it cinch across your hips?  You probably don’t even know how lucky you are if you’ve done that all your life. I’m grateful for all of this, and understand that it might be gone tomorrow and I’ll wake up from the dream. 
 
I've lost a lot that I'm glad is lost. But I am conscious of the good energy that was squelched and smothered and also lost under the oppressive invisible weight of shame. Be gone, evil one.  I throw out my arms and refuse to hold you any more.

Monday, February 25, 2013

EMPTY HOLES

I decided to see what the oldest photo I have on this computer might be, so I looked in my picture library and pulled up this shot, which was not taken by me. I’m not even sure why it’s saved in my picture files.  But, since it’s the one that came up as the oldest on this machine, I’ve decided to write about it.
 
I sat on the edge of my bed, still in my pajamas, though it was mid-afternoon.  Exhausted from the emotional treadmill I’d been racing on, I could not pull myself from watching the television coverage of the tragedy in the east; a plane thrust like a dart into the Pentagon; another hurled into the ground in a vacant western Pennsylvania field, and still more, unbelievably shot straight into the massive pillars of steel known as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. I had watched the second plane disappear into the second tower, a scene not wholly unfamiliar on a television screen in an era of dynamic special effects. I had to tell my brain that this was not make believe, that I did not have to pretend to be terrified.

I sat there, my toes curled into the nap of the carpet, my arms folded in front of me as if to shelter my heart.  They were perfectly situated, my arms, for repeated prayer.

The news coverage went frenetically from newsroom to street scene to shots from the sky then back to the studio. I remember calling each member of my family.  I suppose I needed the comfort of hearing their voices.  I worried about my kids in school.  I wanted Dave to come home.  And I would have driven myself over to Mom and Libby’s condo but I couldn’t pull myself from the television. We stitched ourselves together by phone instead.

At one point a reporter was interviewing people waiting in line outside of New York City hospitals.  There was a surreal silence and feeling of order in those lines.  You could almost hear the breathing through the stunned silence.  “I just need to find my daughter.  Someone said my daughter would be here.  I need to find her.”  They did not know then that there were very few people taken to hospitals from the tragic event.  If they did not walk out on their own, they were sent to heaven as little specks of dust.  I imagine the masses of souls at heaven’s gate.  I never imagine sadness there at the front steps of heaven.  There is always just happy.  The sad is held down by gravity.

Every person the reporter interviewed was crying, except for one woman who looked to be in her 40’s or 50’s.  I can still hear her voice, calm and pleasant, like she was talking about the tomatoes she was planning on planting in her garden next year.
“I’m looking for my husband.  I just need to know if he’s OK.  If he’s dead, then I know he’s OK.  If he’s not, then I need to be with him.”
She smiled, and turned back to her place in line. 

I hear her voice a lot; calm, and matter of fact, though not without feeling. I hear her when I get panicky; when I feel like the sky is falling or I will cease to breathe for fear of something happening.  I hear her, and I want to be her. 
We were scheduled to perform the Saints on the Seas Oratorio I had written with Kurt Bestor at New York’s Madison Square Garden a few weeks later. We had just returned from performances in England a month before, where we saw seven large tall ships set sail from their British ports, planning to meet them when they arrived in the US.  The Seatrek event was commemorating the crossing of LDS converts 150 years before. I had been commissioned to write songs and scripts for the oratorio.  The massive white sails of those ships came quietly into the New York harbor, the air still thick with smoke and debris, so that the setting sun was brilliant and strangely beautiful behind the sheets of billowing white. The concert was cancelled.  But I did visit New York that next spring with my daughter Kate and her high school Madrigals group.  We trekked over to the hole in the ground where the towers once stood.  We saw weathered posters, handmade signs begging for information on people missing after the attack.  We left untouched the small winter-worn stuffed animals tucked into the corners of plywood walls, little shrines of candles burnt down and wickless.  We walked past them slowly, quietly, reverently, soberly. We gathered, two dozen high school seniors and some parents and teachers, at the temporary wooden platform overlooking the haunting gaping hole. Ms. McGuire lifted her chin.  She didn’t need to even raise her hands.  These kids had been following her lead for a full year. She raised her chin, then lowered it on the down beat and their voices rang in perfect four part harmony there at that holy spot:

Oh say can you see by the dawns early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming….

I’m glad, despite the tremendous financial loss it represents, that they chose not to replace the twin towers.  Some holes cannot, and should not, be filled.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

LEAVING

They say that early morning is the best time for a creator to create. The mind is more free, unencumbered by demands of the day. It is true, for me, that I am not weighed down by daily tasks in the early hours, but I am often heavy with the residue of dreams.

My sisters came to pick me up to run an errand the other day.  I had not been feeling well, and in an attempt to rid myself of a headache I had laid down on the couch before they came.  As usual, I drifted off.  Sad to say I can fall into a fairly deep sleep quicker than any other person I know.  By the time they arrived I had experienced a complete dream, filled with detail.  I cannot recall it at the moment, except that at some point in the storyline I had tried to bargain with a woman to lower the price of something I was buying.  As I discussed the dream with my sisters, I commented that I was saddened that I would try to talk this young woman down on whatever I was buying, because she was obviously in need and I certainly had enough to pay what she was asking.

“I wonder,” I said, “if dreams are just a way of living our lives quicker than reality can offer us?  I wonder if we teach ourselves and train ourselves as much in our dreams as in real life? I wonder if dreams are Book I of the test and real life is Book II?”  I think we got to the store or the post office or wherever we were going before we got it answered. I suppose it’s unanswerable anyway.  At least at this point.

I’m not sure what I dreamt last night.  Can’t even recall the last dream of the morning, the one that often sits in the back of my head, quickly fades into the background, and sometimes starts reappearing as I get sleepy at night. Whatever I dreamed put me in a certain mood, and when I stepped out of the shower and looked out over the wooded hollow outside our bathroom window, the trees all covered with snow and looking like a ruffle of lace tucked into the bosom of the hillsides, I heard that familiar whisper in my head; “Oh, I am going to miss this.”

I am not planning to leave, permanently leave, any time soon.  But I know I will leave.  And knowing that, but not dwelling on it, is important.

One day this will not be my home.  Hopefully someone else will love it and build beautiful memories here.  But for now, it is the place where my memories store themselves; the books on the shelves, the artwork on the walls and marks on the floor.  The little red permanent marker spot imprinted on the wooden refrigerator door.  I love to see it there, because it makes me think of Kate, who was leaving me a note in high school and the ink bled through.  I get to think of Kate often because I go the fridge often, so I love that it’s there.  Someone new would sand and refinish it, but I won’t. There’s a large drawing of an old man holding a lantern behind the armoire in Johnny’s old bedroom.  Someone new will paint it over. But I won’t. I pass by that room and remember my teenage boy, full of passion and adequate angst, lying on his bed with a copy of Leaves of Grass in his hands, the music of Led Zeppelin wafting through the air spinning from the ceiling fan over his bed. There are paintings gracing the walls of this home, crafted by the mind and the heart and the hands of my Sarah.  And in the corner of this very room are photo albums bursting with memories collected and sorted and lovingly preserved by my Nanners. I’ve been to estate sales and garage sales where photo albums are sold for 50 cents, not for the value of the photos but the value of the book.  It breaks my heart.

Sarah has an old dresser we bought from a friend at a garage sale after his wife passed away.  As we were moving the dresser to Kansas City for Sarah’s medical residency, we noticed on the back of the piece, when the drawers were removed, these words painted across the wood: Eric loves Sue. The dresser was painted red, but these words remain.  We treasure the love that imbedded itself in the wood of that physical thing, which will one day be dust as well.  One day God will take those words back to the earth and remove them from all of us.  But we won’t.

I allow myself to think, in small enough bites to digest but not make me sick, the concept that I will leave the things and places and people I love.  I think it’s important to imagine myself leaving.  I try to tell myself that its all good, because change is part of life and I want to be part of life and not just live in fear of it. I imagine myself moving to a smaller place.  I picture a little patch of earth where I can plant just a few flowers and not have to be overwhelmed by a whole big yard.  That’s what I tell myself.  I imagine sweet images. I tell myself this space is better suited for a young family who will create so many good moments here. I allow myself to pack up, to give away, to move on. 

I think to myself…I could leave THIS…

as long as I don’t have to leave THIS…

And yet I know that this is not going to be the case.  And I attempt, with the aid of the Comforter, to tiptoe into that holy spot, without even a whisper.  I cannot even approach that door without the rims of my eyes running over, my chest curving over my heart.  Just imagining it here, blowing a breath of sorrow onto the chilly crusty surface of pretending, I ache to go hold the man I love.  But it would startle him, and make him laugh and then stop and he would draw me in and let me cry and then the moment is gone.  

We were talking to a woman the other day who said she had never been to a funeral.  She was in her late twenties and said that she had not yet lost anyone close enough to attend the funeral. Imagine that! I suppose my present state, which may appear morbidly morose to some, is triggered by the recent loss of my mother. Or perhaps it was the link on Facebook that led to the blog by the young widow whose husband died just after Christmas, during his last year of medical school. I am woefully conscious of the fragility of life, and the temporary nature of our present state. I attempt to process all of it and still function as normal. 

I know I will leave one day.  But I know, just as surely, that every single thing that matters to me…really matters to me…will leave as well.  And from the other side of it, it will feel like this was just a moment, just a tiny breath.  But a life sustaining breath nonetheless. To release myself to the fear of losing would be such a sad thing.  I dive… in my dreams…in my remembering…in my imagining…deep into the realm of potential, of inevitability.  But like the girl I used to be, back in the Jefferson Swim Club, I touch the bottom, bend my legs, and push myself right back up, my nose facing up toward the Son, my arms raising out of the water and my lungs sucking in the warm clean air, my laughter claiming victory over fear.

I will one day leave THIS. 

And for a moment… THIS. 

But THIS….  I won’t.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

SNAPSHOT

I read somewhere that a famous photographer was asked what kind of camera was best for the average citizen, and his reply was “The iPhone”.  And the reason? Because it was the most accessible.  He contended that anything that captured the moment was better than nothing, and most people have their cell phones with them all the time. It's not necessarily art.  It's a snapshot. But a picture's worth a thousand words. 

Last week, when we were in the Impressionists wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art I came upon this sweet little piece by Claude Monet, along with this explanation next to it:

 

I thought to myself, “It’s a good thing Monet didn’t have a smart phone.”  If he had, he may never have painted this picture of his small son. I love thinking about the Monet’s finally having enough money to move into a little house with a garden. This quickly executed painting is his version of a snapshot. The emotion that compelled a young father to pose his son and capture the image is that same emotion that drives me to plant my grand kids by the back gate, next to the peonies when they are in their spring bloom, and grab my iPhone to preserve the moment.

 Since I’m not Monet, I am grateful to have a smart phone.  That’s how I captured this little dandy of a photo at the tiny gym down the street:

When I made the decision, for the umpteenth time, to do something about my slug of a body last year, I joined this little gym that was open 24 hours. My sisters and husband joined, too. You got a membership to use the equipment, and no one was there at night, so most often we would all trek on down at 11 pm and rotate through the weight machines. Sometimes Mom would come sit and watch us. We could have our own privacy, cuz no one else was ever there.  When you are not a young hip and healthy work-out kind of gal, a little privacy is kinda important.  When my brother John and sister Ann Marie visited last spring we took them with us to show them how do-able exercise was. Here we are all taking turns doing a dozen or so turns on each machine.  We were quite a sight. I wish I had recorded the sounds of us grunting and groaning and giggling and guffawing.  I love my family!

That little gym closed down. Not enough business, I guess. No wonder.  If you had come down and seen this crew working out…and I use the term “working out” loosely…would you have come in?
(As you can see, we wore our best work-out clothing.)
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

THE BURGHERS OF CALAIS

“These steps are perfectly designed,” I commented, as we rose from the bustling streets of New York into the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I found the steps to be representative.  People who design steps most often make them utilitarian, designed to get us from one place to another without much regard for the comfort level of the ones who will use them.  The steps to the museum hardly feel like steps to me.  They are shallow enough to feel like, when you traverse them, you are effortlessly rising, and all of a sudden you are swept through those heavy doors into the echoing chambers inside. It makes me grateful that forward thinking people took such care in making art accessible to the average human being.
We had one full day to ourselves in our recent trip to New York City, and we chose to spend it in the museum during the day and at a Broadway show that night. We love that museum! I am very lucky that the man I love likes similar things.

One of my favorite exhibits at the Met is by the sculptor Auguste Rodin.  The museum has many of his pieces on display, but my favorite is called The Burghers of Calais. I love it for its artistic mastery and the emotion it evokes.  But I also love it for the story it portrays.
The piece is actually six individually sculpted figures arranged for this installment on a pedestal.  The six figures seem to swirl in a circular motion so that you can walk around and around the arrangement and feel like you are in it.
The story goes that the French port city of Calais was under siege during the Hundred Years War. England’s Edward III basically entrapped the city for over a year, not allowing any trade to come in or go out of the city.  The citizens were starving.  Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves, presumably to be executed. He stipulated that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other prominent citizens (burghers) joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, with its poignant mix of resignation and heroic self-sacrifice, that Rodin captured in his sculpture.
At one point as I was ingesting the mastery of the piece I saw through the collection of arms and legs and nooses the face of my husband on the other side gazing at the piece.  It stopped me short. 
My husband was the mayor of our city for four years and for eight years before that he served on the city council. I imagined him among these men willing his feet to move under him, requiring himself to not look back.  Then my imagination took over and I saw my children and others who love him watching him go, believing that the steps he took would lead to a point of no return and imminent death. That, I believe, is exactly what Rodin wanted when he created this piece.
Look at these hands.  They are massive.  And these feet…how heavy.  I stood there on that cold marble floor, the whisperings of fellow citizens reverberating in that chamber, and thanked the Lord for Auguste Rodin; for not only his able hands but for his insightful mind and sensitive heart.  And I thanked the Lord for those citizens of Calais who went willingly though not without fear.  And I thanked the Lord that I know and love someone who would so naturally fit in that scene if he had to, though the prospect of it breaks my heart to even ponder .  I realized that my life and every life is enriched by unusual collections of people whose decisions weave together unawares.  The leadership of England and France at battle over things the average citizen would not fret about; the suffering that led to crisis that led to proposals that led to the decision by six families to sacrifice someone they loved for the sake of the town; the act itself…where six men stripped themselves and wrapped their necks in rope and walked away from all they loved; the vision of the people of Calais 500 years later collecting their funds and commissioning a tribute to their forefathers; the inspiration of Rodin in choosing to depict in this way; the wisdom of the stewards at the Metropolitan Museum in acquiring the piece and preserving it so an average girl from a small town in Utah could experience it up close and personal and in the process seal her heart once again to the man she loves and admires. We swirl in our existence like those burghers of Calais, our lives touching each other like the robes of the martyrs.
I wonder if I would have the courage to sacrifice myself like that.  I am not sure what I would do.  I am not sure if I could support my husband doing it.  Or my son, or grandson.
I suppose what matters most is that we are willing to consider it, because in considering we own the possibility, and in owning the possibility we deepen our respect, our devotion, and our understanding.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

WHEELS

My sister Libby's leg hurts.  She's not a complainer, so it must really hurt. And her shoulder blade is cramping. 
I laid in bed after morning prayers, pondering her pains and I had a moment of stinging understanding. 
Atrophy.
For the last number of years Lib hasn't really had to think much about exercise because her daily routine involved considerable weight lifting and aerobic motion.  She lifted our mom and moved her and bathed her and entertained her every day and every night.
"Give me a hug", she'd tell our mom, and our mother's arms would go up around her neck and her fingers would lock into each other back there under Libby's thick sable hair. Lib's arms, at the same time, would work their way around Mom's ribs , her knees bent and positioned as if they were embracing Mom's knees, her back curled over Mom who sat looking up at her from her leather recliner.  Lib braced, tightened her belly, sent her energy to her legs, pulled with her arms and hefted Mom into her wheel chair with a graceful half circle of a move.  Then off they went, the wheels of Gram's chair rolling against the maple floor of the family room, up over the ridge of the garage door and down the ramp.  Down Summerwood Road on a Springtime walk, stopping every twenty feet for a five minute conversation with neighbors.    Or up to the passenger door of the van, repeating the same dance of devotion, Lib driving Mom up Route 89 then right at the canyon and up over Trapper's Loop, Mom's beloved Tabernacle Choir CD's making a soundtrack to the scenery. When Mom was alive Libby moved for two people, assisted by small black wheels now and again.  Blessed wheels.
My mom's sister, when moving became difficult for her, refused to use a wheel chair. Instead she sat at home. Though our mom had her share of personal pride, she did not allow her infirmities and limitations to keep her from participating in this life. She said she had fought hard to be a part of this world, eons ago, and she wasn't about to let arthritic legs keep her from participating in it. She didn't love that she needed wheels, but she was grateful for them, and for Libby's good strong arms.  Lib could flex her arms and legs and muscles would pop out like a body builder. She earned those muscles; earned them without thinking about making them.  They were a fortunate consequence of her love. 
Now Libby's leg hurts.  Her muscles only work for one.  I think they are sad.
I found these pictures today.  When this blasted eternal winter finally ends we should put those wheels back to use, Sister!  
(Can you hear those boys' laughter through this photo? We could build our laughter muscles, too!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

PICTURES THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN

I have a photo album, somewhere around here, that is filled with less than flattering pictures.  It began with a photo Dave took of my mom and me when we lived in Pittsburgh.  We were both adults, Mom and I. Dave had graduated from law school, filled a federal circuit court clerkship in New York for a year, and had taken a position with a firm in Pittsburgh.  We moved back with our two kids and mom lived with us.  The photo is of mom and me leaning over the fireplace hearth; a butt shot, so to speak. It's just lovely. It's so lovely, in fact, that we giggled every time we saw it.  It's not the kind of shot you want in the photo album you might put on the coffee table.  But I didn't want to rip it up, because it was good for a laugh, and there are so few things in life that can guarantee a good clean giggle.  So we bought a small photo album and labeled it:
PICTURES THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN.
I've gotta find it!
Now adays we hardly ever actually develop a photo, on paper.  We store them in our little portable machines until we make the little machines attach their techno-umbilical cords to the big machine and transfer the photos to the computer.  I need to make a file on the computer with the same label.
 
Last night we were at Libby's house watching the downer of a season finale of Downton Abby with Lib and Sherry.  I got a message from Kate about the Lent writing which has already been published this year right here on this blog.  She alluded, in very sweet words, to the sober and oft times sad nature of the posts.  So I decided, in an effort to lighten things up a bit, to publish (at great risk to my stellar reputation for stunning grace and beauty), the first installment in my new photo library file of

PICTURES THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN:

There you go.  Yuppers.  I took it so I could show Libby my new perm.  This was a year ago.  Don't you think I look like John Goodman?  It makes me laugh.  It makes Libby laugh.  I like to think of Libby laughing.
Lisa has to really damage my hair to give it body, and this is what it looks like when it's just done, air dried, and brushed out without a curling iron taken to it. I think it's a dandy angle too, don't you?
True confessions.
I've lost 100 lbs since then. But I can still get the same lovely look after Lisa perms my hair. 
 
I think I might regret posting this.
 
 
Nah. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

KISS

This Lent writing based on my photographs has been so fun, because I get to look at my pictures each day and choose one to write about.  I’ll betcha I could write about one single picture every day of Lent and have a different aspect of the photo driving the words. A picture really is worth a thousand thoughts.

Today I came across this photo of Sarah with baby Anna Bella.  I thought it was perhaps their first kiss, but decided it must be the second because they both looked too clean. It started me thinking about kisses. When you get fixated on certain subjects they start to look really sweet, then full-on beautiful, and then at a certain point the subject becomes sort of odd. 

I think it’s really interesting that we kiss, we humans. I guess it must be instinctive.  Maybe it’s learned and just passed down through generations.  But on second thought I’m pretty sure it’s instinctive.  And natural.  Our first full breath is through the mouth, and it’s followed by our first cry.  Then our next instinct is to open our mouths and eat, and the motion is to pucker.  We purse our lips and draw them in. Try it.  That very motion becomes a kiss. 

Maybe kissing is eating for the spirit. That’s how we nourish it, with love.  That’s how it’s sustained, with love.  I think, if you don’t have someone with whom you are comfortable doing the lip love transfer, you aught to consider blowing kisses to people you sort of know.  They don’t need to know about it.  You can be really discreet about it, I think.  Just sort of smack your lips silently and exhale. I should emphasize here that I am talking platonic love.  Romantic silent kiss blowing might get a little strange. So I’m thinking that if I’m worried about someone or even having a hard time with someone I care about, next time I see them I’m gonna do the old smack and exhale thing. I think it might be kinda like saying a silent prayer for someone.  I do that a lot, too. Kinda like sending good karma toward someone.

I like the idea of the silent kiss.  I’m gonna do it!

I think of kissing someone as a way to express an emotion to them, but on another second thought, I suppose in reality it’s an expression to ourselves about how we feel toward that person, or that thing.  I smothered my baby dolls with kisses when I was a girl.  I can feel that cool smoothness in my memory; smell the distinct aroma of baby doll rubber, feel the soft starchiness of the fabric of her ruffled dress, hear the click-click of her eyes as they open and shut, recall the tickle of her synthetic Madame Alexander hair against my neck. I thought I was telling her I loved her.  But really, I was telling ME that I loved to love, and she was safe and would never betray my love.

I miss kissing…even blowing kisses…to some people.  Mom, of course.  I miss touching lips.  Her lips were soft and reassuring.  I miss my lips on her forehead, her warm skin and sparkly eyes.  I miss kissing my Kate.  I pucker and blow really hard out my front door, to the south east, and hope the wind will catch it and carry it to her all the way down in Houston.

And strangely, I miss kissing people I don’t even know.  I feel that empty place where a girl should kiss her father; yearn for old friends I should have known but forgot to meet; flutter for little ones yet to come. What do we do with love unspent?  Does it store up inside and come out in anger or acne? I think it’s a good thing we talk and eat and drink through straws because it makes the lips do the motion even if we are not consciously sending love.

We breathe. We talk. We eat.  We kiss. Seal our devotion over the altar.  Part from one another with one last token of affection.

And, going a little deeper, I think it is not just a strange coincidence that Judas, on that fateful night, leaned into his friend and master, glanced toward the soldiers who were watching, and betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  They say love and hate are Siamese twins.  I don’t know at all what compelled him to do such a thing, and I’m grateful that I am commanded not to judge him.  I’m even more grateful that I’m not him, though I suspect there is a little Judas in all of us, sadly.

But I think…I hope…there is more Jesus in all of us.

I imagine his mother’s lips against his newborn flesh.  Joseph’s lips against the soft curls of his young boy head in the carpenter’s shop. I imagine the gentlest soul who ever lived pursing his thirsty lips and exhaling love to his mother at the base of the cross.

And I can just as easily imagine him in his heaven place, looking down on us, not nearly as stern as those paintings the masters of art made him out to be…blowing kisses.

 

Monday, February 18, 2013

LITTLE LOST


We go to the well. Thirsty and tired and weary with grief, we will ourselves to rise from our beds and return to the well.
Two weeks after we bury our mother the three little girls who grew into big girls pack our fishing gear into the back of the van. And though we plan to only be gone one day, we gather enough emergency food to guarantee our survival should we become trapped in the elements for a month. We purchase temporary Idaho fishing licenses over the internet, print them out and slip them into our pockets, then load ourselves into the van and follow the ribbon of highway between Farmington and our piece of the Little Lost River. Dave and our brother-in-law Steve come along.  It’s a five hour drive.  Five hours for a little stretch of stream in the middle of nowhere in the belly of the Arco Desert. 
I think maybe it takes five hours for the present to sift out.  We pass the nuclear testing site, diving deeper and deeper into wilderness, taking a right at Howe - the tiny micro-cell of a town with its old abandoned post office and schoolhouse.  I can feel the energy shift. As we get closer, I grow younger.  I feel my wrinkles tighten and the limbs shrink and my hair grows thicker and longer until by the time we arrive I am ageless and my mother is alive and well and ready to flick her graceful wrist and let her line dance over the wistful waters. I do not have to close my eyes to see it, nor beckon memory to feel it.  It comes easy and natural-like, all on its own.
 As we tiptoe through sleeping Howe, down past the specks of farmhouses that line the road, I look out over the expanse of sage to a line of trees in the distance.  That’s where the river runs, out there by the trees.  Like a thin blue vein in the breast of Mother Earth, the trees hug the water as she runs, crossing now and again under the road we are travelling, the water shimmering in the Idaho sunlight, singing in her comings and goings. Eventually we find the turn off, marked now days by a forest service sign.  Back in the day we knew it by heart, with the aid, perhaps, of a smoke signal leading us to Aunt Mae and Uncle Les’ campfire. We pull up beside the barbed wire fence, freeing the prickled thread at the loose fencepost that becomes a gate.  The water whispers as we move on through, the dust rising behind us like we are pioneers on the trail.  There is a distinct aroma on the river; something of an earthy perfume of fish and grassy mulch infused with sage and earthworms. It comes to us in wafts sent by the Idaho wind, mixed with the swirling dust and the dry hot Idaho air. We are alone out here.  But we are not lost.
We change our shoes, gather our individual gear, and disperse. We know this section of river, and her place on this piece of land.  She is constant and steady, and though the trees, through the seasons, rise and fall beside her and over her, her bed is dependably true and her waters dependably clear and accommodating.  Libby and the boys wade out in their rubber waders, their flies tied on featherweight line.  Ann Marie and I weave in and out of the banks, our poles cocked and ready, our juicy wriggling worms tempting at the bottom of swirling deep throated holes tucked into the crooks and bends we know so well.  Our lines first wet themselves in that comfortable spot where mom sat when her legs quit working so well.  I channeled her, my heart throbbing as the tears poured out, my hand imagining her hand on it, her belly against my seven year old back, her arm leading my arm, whispering when it was time to let go with my thumb, watching the weight of the sinkers carry my bait out over the water and plunk into the center of the hole across stream. I am my mom when I fish.
Right off I get a nibble.  I hear her voice… “Wait a minute…wait a minute.  There he is again.  Give him time to want it bad.” We watch the end of my pole quiver.
“Now!” she calls, and I jerk my pole back and begin to work the reel. Keeping the tip of my pole close to the water, the line taught, my hands steadily turn and turn until the creature comes to me there at the water's edge. I work my thumb and middle finger up under the gills, and remove the hook, then dip my dry green creel into the cool running water.  I thank the fish for the nourishment he will provide, then let him slide into the mouth of the creel.  He flips and flings in there until I put the creel back in the water, the strap wrapped safely on a willow branch. The men, and my little sister, like to let their fish return to thir waters.  Ann Marie and I have to ask them to keep them if they want to eat.  We are the keepers of the fry pan.
We follow the river to the barbed wire that marks the farmer’s property upstream, pushing our way through thick clusters of willows, listening to the pitch of the river, knowing that the deeper gurgles indicat deeper waters, cooler waters, where the bigger fish like to rest in their journey. My wet tenny runners squish a steady beat as I walk, the suctioning sound playing against the pulse of the river and the descant of the wind in the willows. As we make out way back downstream the sun descends behind the mountains to the west, her thick soft paintbrush washing across the canvas of sky in deep amber and orange hues, the colors intensifying as she falls until in the end, there is just a brilliant sky and the silhouette of mountains below, like God had used a pair of scrapbooking scissors to scallop the edge of the earth.
They call it the Little Lost River, because she disappears into the ground at some point.  But she comes up again somewhere over that mountain range, somewhere near Sun Valley I think, though I’m not really sure.
But I know she comes up.
Like I know one day we will; all of us.  All of us will go down into the earth at some point, though I can’t say where.  But I know we will. And I know we’ll come up.  I’ll come up, and so will my mom, and my sisters, and my brothers and husband and children.  We will all find ourselves like that water, clean and clear and very much alive, weaving our way through the spanse of eternity. I can’t say how. But I know it as well as I know that stream still runs out there in the desert on this winter day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

SEE'S THE DAY!

My Honey knows me well enough, I'd say
To rub my feet at night, and See's the day.

This week we have been blessed to return to the city that never sleeps, New York. It's been ten long years since I was last here. Ten years and seven grand-babies ago. We have enjoyed reuniting with friends from Dave's years at Yale, and celebrated the wedding of one of those friends.  It was an absolutely fabulous series of events culminating an amazing dinner/dancing celebration at the famed Union Club in Manhattan. We spent the morning in the Mormon temple, the evening in the Jewish temple.  And lunch in between at the Yale Club. We've seen fabulous shows on Broadway, eaten delectable meals in a variety of styles.  We climbed the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, inhaled masterpieces and new found treasures, including a new Matisse exhibit and a collection of rare Italian stringed instruments.  We dined on crab cakes and lobster salad while overlooking Central Park, then strolled through the park on the way  back to our hotel.  Saturday morning we woke early enough to visit Hell's Kitchen and other flea markets in search of antique treasures.  We spent every last dollar we had in cash, minus $10 for the cab fare home, on a wonderful old Santos of St. Joseph. My feet are blistered and happy. My cheeks are chapped and happy, from the 40 mph winds and the relative single digit temperatures. It's almost pitiful to speak of it in so few sentences, to neglect the vividly colorful details; like the stunning sculptures adorning the apartment of Peter's mother, chiseled with her own hands (now 84 years old); or the opulent mosaics in the massive synagogue where Peter and Laurie were married,,,the sound of the breaking glass under his foot...the echoing of Mazel Tov rising from the circle of friends gathered around the couple and the Rabbi.  The scent of fantastically fragrant wedding flowers one moment, followed by the aroma of chicken and pretzels, some of them burnt, swirling around the corner where the street vendors park for the evening...the sound of steel on steel in the subway station...the warmth of air wafting up from the grates in the sidewalk above the trains...the checkerboard image rising into the air outside our hotel room window, most of the squares lit all through the night in the New York Times building kitty corner from our hotel...the rhythmic clicking of tap shoes over an ensemble orchestra in a wonderful old Broadway Theatre.  Taxi cab yellows and Times Square lights and incessant horn honking and a cacophony of languages on every street corner.
It's been a stimulating, tiring, wonderful 5 days.
Our first morning here, Valentines Day, Dave set these chocolates on the bed. He had been sweet enough to secretly pack them, hand selected, in our suitcase so he could surprise me on Valentines morning and not break the age old tradition in our family.  Mmmm, lucky me.  Rum nougat for breakfast!
Our daughter Sarah wrote this on her Facebook page that day.  She posted it with this picture of baby Joe, holding a box of chocolates from his daddy, Dave Petersen:

"I felt like a princess each Valentines Day when my dad would surprise me with a heart shaped box of Sees chocolates. Thank you for starting that sweet tradition, Dad! Thank you for loving Mom with such selflessness and adoration.  I love you both!"
I am blessed.  I try not to feel guilty about being so blessed. I try to reserve guilt for sin.  Instead I try to feel what is most appropriate: incredibly; humbly; lovingly grateful.
(Some days are easier than others to seize.  See's always helps!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

JOURNEY


I lay on the bed in the back bedroom of our family cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan, two of my grandchildren snuggled beside me as I read. The sun was gone and the summer night finally cooled. I could hear my phone ring in the other room.  Dave brought it to me; “It’s Libby”, he said. 

“Hello!”  There was a pause on the other end. Then her voice shook.

“When are you coming home?”

And that was the beginning of the end.  The moment where my mind takes me to the first step on the journey to my mother’s death.

My mother was 88 years old.  One should not be surprised by any sad turn of events at that age.  And yet she had baffled so many doctors in the past that we had just become accustomed to her tenacity. As one dear friend said in a text to me: We became complacent and thought she would live forever.

I began to pack; my heart throbbing, tears flowing.  I listened to Timo sobbing in the family room as his mom explained we would be leaving the beach, and his cousins, days earlier than we had planned. His mind tried to grasp that their kid’s Beach Olympic competitions would have to give way, but his 9 year old heart struggled to accept it. The cousins with plane tickets would get to stay, but we had to leave.  It’s hard to be little. Because Sarah’s baby was just a few weeks old, we had driven from Utah to Michigan in the van.  So we had the power to change our travel plans.  Everyone else had flown.  We would leave at sunup.

My emotions jumped from sorrow to anger to gratitude and back to sorrow.  Mom had been fighting a cold when we had left a week before.  We stopped by on our way out; said a prayer together.  I kissed her on the forehead and told her to get better.  A few days later my sisters took her to the hospital.  After a day or two she came home and we anticipated the healing would commence.  But it did not, and once again they returned to the hospital where she danced in and out of lucidity.  My brother John and sister Ann Marie had come to visit while we were out of town.  They had planned to help Libby clean out the storage room in the basement.  Instead, they spent their time at Mom’s bedside, playing music, telling stories, laughing with Mom when she was herself, praying and trusting when she was not.  All of us love her, and all of us own her as our mother, but no one felt more deeply the threat of impending doom than my sister Libby.  For  the past several years Libby has cared for our mom 24/7.  Every shower, every meal, every pill, every time she needed to go to the bathroom. Daily drives in the car, walks in her wheelchair, pretty sweaters and dangling earrings on the Sabbath, warm blankets over her lap in front of the fire.  Libby was the face of God to her…to all of us.  And so the sorrow at the prospect of losing our mother was deepened knowing how it would affect my best friend, my sister, my Libby. The thing about being close-knit, upon the death of someone in that circle, is that everyone else in that sphere of love is aching too.  So while one deals with her own loss, she also aches for those she loves who have lost as well. I could feel it coming and it frightened me.

I threw things in a haphazard fashion into our bags. At some point I snapped at Dave, slammed the door, and then I crumpled in sobs on the bed.  Six year old Parker tiptoed into the room and laid down on the bed beside me.  He just laid there, his little arm stretched up over my shoulder.  He looked into my eyes.  I watched him follow the trail of tears as they fell on my pillow. His hand began to pat my back, and then his own eyes filled up and overflowed.  I pulled him in closer against my chest. His back tightened, trying to hold his emotion, and then let loose in a sobbing sigh.  We laid there, we two, alone on that twin bed in the cottage, looking into each other’s sorrowful eyes, wordless. I will love him forever for that moment alone.  Eventually he rolled over and faced the wall, my arm still slung over his waist.  He wept without reservation, facing that blank wall.  I think he needed to be alone in the depth.  I whispered in his ear.  “Are you alright my friend?”  He rolled his head up toward my face, his shoulders rising and falling in unrhythmic fits, like his chest refused to move until it could take no more and then it filled with a rush of air and an audible moan.  “I don’t want Gram to die.”  He hurled himself back over in my direction and thrust his arms around my neck.

“Neither do I, Buddy.”

We embraced each other until sleep overtook both of us.  Not for long.  Just long enough to seal our hearts for the coming journey.

We drove through the day and the night and back into the day, westward with the sun.  A soft summer rain fell upon us as we wove through the states. Dave and I dropped the kids off at home and went straight to the hospital.  Mom was resting when I arrived. When I worked my way from the door to her bed her eyes fluttered open.  I felt like Marmee, arriving at Beth’s bedside in that scene from Little Women, rushing to be with her, hoping there was some magic in the reunion that might revive her.

“Hi Cor.” Mom smiled, the sides of her rising cheeks shifting the plastic oxygen line as her eyes sparkled up at me.  I bent over and kissed her, breathed her, inhaled her with a slow deep breath.

We would not know until weeks later that we had already begun.  Our feet were planted on the road of a sacred journey; unfamiliar and holy.