Friday, August 30, 2013

Finding Each Other

"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." 
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

America doesn't do grief.  
Americans are downright wimpy when it comes to facing loss head on.  
We want the path to be easy, the bumps to be light and we cringe when we have to go to the bad place of real loss.

When my friend lost her mother in her twenties, her young husband asked, 
"Just how long do you think it will be until you are over it?"
She wanted to punch him.  
But instead she looked him straight in the eye and let him know the truth:
"I'm never going to be over it.  I'm forever going to have this hole.  I am going to be different."
I'm pretty sure he didn't want to hear this because that's how Americans are.
We want a fast food method to grieving.
Let's get this over with.
Let's move on.
Let's pretend it never really happened.

This intent to gloss over the pain of loss is so classically American and so unnerving to deal with that rarely do we discuss it.
We shut it out.
We steel ourselves for the sad moment...the funeral, the hug, the up close shot of grief...and think we're done.

Thank God for the Irish.

My friend, Carolyne, lost her mother a month ago.
She travelled alone to Ireland to say good-bye and to grieve with her family and friends.
Out of necessity, she left her children here.
So it only made sense that Carolyne would observe the Irish tradition of the Month's Mind.
I got an invitation to it and thought to myself, "Alleluia!" 
I knew nothing of what a Month's Mind entailed but I did know enough to understand that it would be a way to share in Carolyne's grief, if even for a moment, and I wanted to be there.
I was grateful for the chance.
I had no idea.

The Month's Mind is basically a mass held in your home one month exactly after the person has passed away.  The fog of shock and the harboring clouds of the initial, deep sadness have had thirty days to clear out...some sense of clarity and a willingness to remember and honor and cherish the person are present.  
In essence, the person grieving can finally take a deep breath.
One month into it, the eyes of the heart have adjusted somewhat to the deep darkness of loss and some stars can be seen.
It's a beautiful time and a real gift.

We gathered for the Month's Mind at Carolyne's home.
All of us knew Carolyne from very disparate parts of her life and it was wonderful to see her house filling up with the people who loved her and wanted to remember with her.
Her children were there.
Her children's friends were there.
Their dining room table was made into an altar.
Their living room into a chapel.

It was intimate and close and a chance to see grief head on.
But it was also a chance to laugh and be light hearted and sing songs that wouldn't normally make it into a traditional mass.
There was darling Father Dan teasing about the supremacy of Kerry versus Carolyne's Galway.
There were You Tube videos of a famous Irish folk singer leading us in song.
There was a rendition from U2.
There was time for grandchildren to speak and Carolyne to speak and an opportunity to see pictures and get to know Carolyne's mom in a way I never did.
We said prayers and received blessings but mostly we were together.
We were together for the official Bailey's toast.
We were together as we rocked out to Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act.
And some were together long into the night singing at the piano with dear Father Bong.

We felt the love of family and friendship and together we knew that grief, although overwhelming, terrible and debilitating in its isolation was being shared right here, right now.
It was palpable and powerful.

At the end, Carolyne read a poem from the book Benedictus, a gift her dear brother Bobby had given her years before with the very page marked with this blessing.  


On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
 And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And may a slow
wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
 -- John O'Donohue 

In that moment, cloaked in John O'Donohue's words, our group found each other.
Strangers held hands and prayed.
Tears were shared.
Remembrance was thick.
It was a sacred moment.

A clock stopped.
Later that night, as Carolyne and I and a few others were talking, Carolyne took an astonished breath. 
Her clock on her book shelf had stopped at the exact moment of her mother's passing.
The clock would stay forever at 5:15...reminding and tending and holding us close...time is relational and fleeting...time does stand sacred holy places...where love is a cloak.
Grief can be beautiful...Carolyne taught me that.
Tonight I'm grateful for friends, for the hard times and for the moments that bind us.
Maybe us Americans can be a little more Irish.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It Happened!

"We all have our own life to pursue, 
our own kind of dream to be weaving...
And we all have the power to make wishes come true, 
as long as we keep believing."  
--Louisa May Alcott

Last Friday, after years and years of trying, five different bicycle camps, three different bicycles and a whole lot of wondering if it ever would happen...Patrick rode a bike.

He didn't just ride it for a short distance. He's been able to do that for awhile.  
He rode it for three miles...out on a green belt, to a duck pond and back.
He came home sweaty and wiped out...but he came back a bike rider.

Hot and sweaty...still needs to get home...but a bike rider none-the-less.

In his mind, during that ride, he made the leap.
He jumped over the mental hurdle.
He now believes he is a bike rider.
He feels it.  He knows it.
He freakin' did it!

When he rode up to our house,  I ran out the front door clapping and cheering and crying like the guy had just won MVP at the Superbowl and we were going to Disneyland.
I was jumping, hugging him, holding him by the shoulders and telling him so loud 
and so over-the-top how proud I was that he had done it.

He got that small, shy smile that they all get.
You know the one.
The smile is one part: 
"Hell yes. I know. I did it.  I'm awesome."
another part: "Still trying to wrap my head around it...hey, wait, I did it."
mixed in with a smidge of "It's really no big deal, don't know why you're freaking out."

He got embarrassed that I was making such a big deal about it.

Our neighbor who is Mr. Gruff, Let-Me-Ignore-Those-Crazies-Next-Door, actually walked across the street 
and shook Patrick's hand.

I swear that Patrick can thaw even the coldest of hearts.
It was another awesome cherry on an already huge sundae.

Sarah, Patrick's amazing aide and personal friend to all of us Forakers, was the one who helped seal the bike riding deal.
You see, when you're 14 and you know your mom wants you to really do something, you can't help it, you push back.  
It's just in your teen-age DNA to refuse.
So, I couldn't be a part of all.
Even though I really wanted to in my interfering-mom-knows-best way.

I had to hand it off, like the proverbial baton at the Olympic trials, and let her run.
The chick knows how to motivate.
She used every tactic available.
Donuts, music, cheerleading, videoing, deal-making...but mostly, her own belief that he could and would do it.

Day after day throughout the summer they practiced.
Day one was rough.
He couldn't get his balance.
He couldn't fit the bike.
He didn't believe he could do it...and so he didn't.

But, like the faithful friend she is, she just kept at it.
Kept encouraging.
Kept nudging.
Kept pushing...farther and farther.

Before we knew it, he started making the mental shift.
He started telling her that he could go further.
He started showing off.
She could no longer run beside him...she needed a bike too.
And that was the day they just rode and rode -- all the way out to that duck pond.

Yesterday, Patrick in the early morning suggested that we ride our bikes to school.
I smiled.
How do I say no to that?

He's still wobbly on the take off.
He still needs waaaaaay more practice with riding on the street and navigating traffic and other distractions...but he can do it.
Now all he needs are just hours under the belt.
Because now he believes.
He is a bike rider.

And we all know that being a bike rider is way more than having a new way of getting from Point A to Point B.  
Patrick got a little more freedom last Friday.
He got a ticket to expanding his world.
Just like the gift of learning to read, riding a bike affords him a little more independence and a whole new way of seeing the world.

I've been steeped in a full, grateful heart all week.
What can you say to someone who helped your child in such a profound way?
What can you give them to show your appreciation??

I gave her the only thing I had to give: my tears and my full heart.
I looked her in the eyes and told her that the day her first child rides a bike, maybe, just maybe, she will understand what she has helped to give Patrick.
But for now, all I can do is surround her with my love and appreciation every single time I go for a ride with Patrick.

I live in a bike riding town.  
You can bet that I'll be riding with Patrick all over the place...
each time I will send some sunshine Sarah's way -- she'll feel it.
I know it.

So today I'm grateful for two blessings: Patrick's own determination and ability to just keep trying...
no matter how many times it didn't work.
And I'm grateful for Sarah's enthusiasm, her coaching, and her perseverance through some 
hot, tiring days that looked awfully bleak.

Together they made it happen.
Unbelievable what friendship, faith and determination can do.
They make quite a team.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Building A Door

"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." -- Milton Berle

Last Saturday night I had a dream come true. 
It isn't often that something that you have been thinking about for years and creating in your mind takes place, but last Saturday night that's what happened.  We had a Dinner Under the Stars in our backyard.  We set out tables of eight and put on white table cloths. We had someone fill vases of flowers with gerbera daisies and sunflowers.  We had a chef create delicious treats and we paused our busy lives and said thanks.

The universe seemed to be in on the action too.  The weather cooperated with a lovely cool night.  The sunset went down with its typical, breath-taking beauty.  The stars came out and danced and decorated the night sky.  

Last Saturday night, I had the joy to formally thank, out loud and in person, two people who helped build a door, 
Father Dan Looney and Mary Kay Bolz.

Do you know why it's blurry?  My hand was shaking...that's what happens when a dream is coming true!

When Patrick was born, one of the very first things that broke my heart was the idea that he wouldn't be able to be a part of Jack and Mary Kate's world at school.  I thought that because he had Down Syndrome he would be automatically excluded from attending the Catholic school that was such a huge part of our lives.  I felt the feeling of isolation and exclusion almost immediately and I cried for Patrick.  I cried for Jack and Mary Kate and I cried for all the others who had been excluded before us.  I could feel the deep sadness of being an outsider and wanted an opportunity to belong.

When Patrick was just days old, we attended mass.  We were reeling from the news that Patrick not only had Down Syndrome but that he would need open heart surgery within just a few weeks.  We were scared and sad.  We tried to go through the motions of our old life but we knew that it was just that...we had crossed a bridge and our life would be forever different.

Guess who met us outside of church?  Guess who held tiny baby Patrick...held him close, looked into his eyes...saw his beauty and acknowledged it?  Guess who gave him a blessing -- simple and from the heart -- right there outside of mass on a sunny, hot July day?  Yes, that dear man in the picture above, Father Dan.  I remember hot tears in my eyes and the beauty of acceptance. I am forever grateful...and let's not even talk about John's love and appreciation of that moment.  I know for him that was a salve and a healing that will be with him forever.

As Patrick grew, the feeling of being excluded from school led me to search online in the hope that maybe others had been included in their local Catholic schools.
Turns out, they had.
I linked up with nationwide groups like the Network of Inclusive Catholic Educators.  I found out about FIRE and REACH and a whole host of other small groups working toward including people with disabilities in the classrooms and in the religious education classes of Catholic churches all over the United States.  There are pockets of inclusion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Miami, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Kansas City, Missouri; Charleston, South Carolina and Los Angeles, California.

It was happening all over the country.

So, Father Dan, the pastor of St. James parish, and Mary Kay Bolz, the principal of St. James School,  took a leap of faith.  Together they allowed Patrick the opportunity of becoming a student at St. James.  When I asked Mary Kay if she wanted me to write a note to the parents of the kindergarten class about Patrick I will never forget her words: "No, Beth, that's not necessary.  You see, I want them to come talk to me.  I want them to look me in the eye and tell me how Patrick being in that class will be a problem for their child.  Bring it on."

Turns out that no one ever felt the need to approach Mary Kay.  The parents in Patrick's class have been nothing but supportive, encouraging and welcoming, always.
The Dinner Under the Stars was for them too.

And for the teachers.  God bless the teachers...the ones who actually had to navigate the uncharted territory of full inclusion.  The ones who had to deal with the everyday glitches.  The ones who had to make the phone call and troubleshoot. And it was for Bev, our school secretary, who has been in on more than her fair share of various forms of Patrick illness and Patrick's lovely sense of time and slowing down the journey.  I don't want to total up the number of tardies she has written for my son...but it's plenty.

But the Dinner Under the Stars was also for other parents of children with disabilities.  It was for other teachers at other schools, other administrators and other angels who believe in this mission even if they have nothing to personally gain from it.  They are the cheerleaders and the encouragers.  It was for them too.  It was a chance to look over the road we have travelled and a chance to see the road ahead of us.

The door has been opened for Patrick but that's not the end of the story.  There are other doors to be built.  Other doors to open and other people waiting to cross through the threshold.  It's up to us to widen the entrance.  It's up to us to hold out our hands and welcome them.  It's up to us to let them know that inclusion may be scary and uncomfortable but it is never pointless.  It is never a waste of time to include those on the fringes....isn't that whole point of being Catholic?

So, while I got to stop and say thanks to two amazing trailblazers, we aren't by any means done.  We have many, many more families to include and welcome and plenty of students who wish for the same opportunity.  It's up to us to point the way and keep walking the path.

 And, to the many whose shoulders I have stood on in this journey who could not be at the Dinner Under the Stars, please know you were in my heart.  Angie Quissell, Kevin Baxter, Lilly Rangel Diaz, Cindy May, Dave Perry and countless others -- you were there.  You were sparkling and shining.  You were a part of something that I hope keeps growing and thriving and becomes a full-on paradigm shift within Catholic education.
Keep shining.  Keep building doors.  Keep at it.
We're not done.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tender Mercies

"Happiness isn't complicated.  
It is a humble state of gratitude for simple pleasures, tender mercies, recognized blessings, and inherent beauty." 
-- Richelle E. Goodrich

Today was a happy day.  
It included nothing fact, it was free.  It was filled with inherent beauty that's for sure.  
Simple pleasures were abundant.
I counted more than several blessings and one tender mercy..but that's a story for later.

In my local paper I had read about a man who grows two acres of zinnias and offers them free to anyone who can pick them.  His one caveat: for every bouquet you pick for yourself, you must pick another one and leave it at the zinnia patch.  The bouquet left behind is for someone who cannot pick it for themselves -- maybe they are in the hospital or a nursing home.  The farmer has the pick up and drop off all lined up.  All you have to do is fill the empty vase...with his freshly picked flowers.

Like some sort of Bobby Flay "Throw Down", a proposal like that is irresistible.
We set off for the zinnia patch.

Anyone know California's state motto?  Eureka!
(aka: We found it!)

We picked.  We wandered.  We stared at the wildlife that hangs out in a flower patch: hummingbirds, spiders, lizards, butterflies, dragonflies...the list goes on and on.
We gathered zinnias and then gathered some more.
We marveled at the varieties.

We were all alone in a patch of flowers...thanks to one man's joy in simple pleasures.
And who exactly is that simple pleasure for?
Me? A mother looking for something fun to do during the summer?
My kids? Who need waaaaaaaay more time spent wandering flower patches, exploring nature and being in the quiet outdoors.
My sister? Who was looking for a place to hang out with her kids.
Her kids? Who love to explore.
Maybe it's the people who are going to get our extra bouquet...stuck in a hospital room or nursing home with a burst of the beautiful outdoors gracing their room.
Maybe it's for all of us...just sprinkling a little more beauty in our needy world.

That's the power of an act of kindness.  It just doesn't stop.
My bouquet gracing my kitchen table just puts my whole family into a zinnia kind of mood: vibrant, joyful, sparkly, unstoppable.  We can't help but smile...and stop and admire their beauty.
How about this beauty?
Just waiting to be picked...just beggin for a home.

I have to admire someone so willing to decorate our zinnia at a time.  It challenges me to think of ways to do the same.  It reminds me of simple joys and the grace that surrounds us every single day.
Today's clouds...trying to decide which kind they were...fluffy, feathery or maybe stormy all in the same sky.

So...we got home, played florist and placed each flower in a hypnotic way into our vase and away we went.  I picked up Patrick from his play practice.  I filled my tank up with gas.  I noticed my tire was low.  So, I attempted to put air in it and I failed.  Thinking it was the air machine (it couldn't be me, could it??) I went to another gas station and tried again.  This time the tire pressure gauge was not kidding, my tire was low, really low.  I attempted to put air in again and wound up somehow letting more air out.  Can you say...really sad.

I looked up and there walking right by me was a young guy.  He was clearly on his way somewhere and moving fast.  I reached out and asked him if he knew how to put air in a tire.
Kindly, he stopped.  He didn't just do it for me, he took the time to teach me, sharing his technique of pulling the hose way out and tucking it under his foot to keep it steady. He filled my tire...checked in with me...warned me about over-filling my tires and then was on his way.
A tender mercy.
A stranger...crossing paths for only moment...but making a difference with his kindness and care.

So today was a boring old summer day.
Filled with zinnia pizzaz, kind guys willing to fill up low tires, sunshine and the freedom of summer.
Who loves summer? Yep, me...big time.
What have been your spots of sunshine this summer?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

This Day

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: 
a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes.
All is a miracle.
                                            --Thich Nhat Hanh

A few days ago a thirteen year old was having fun at a family summer camp with her entire family and some cousins and friends...within a few hours she was dead, in her father's arms...from a peanut allergy.
Honestly, it just doesn't get any more heartbreaking than that.

I've been thinking about her.
I've been looking at my children differently since I heard that story.
I've been noticing the tiny details of this day and recording in my mind its precious presence.

How many days do we have??

None of us know.
So we go around pretending that we have an infinite supply.

Or we freak out and hover and can barely breathe through the thought that someone we love will die.

Let me tell you a side story right here...when I was newly married, I had the summer off so I wasn't working but John was.  Off he would go in the early morning and when he would leave and I could feel his absence I would just cry and cry.  Why?  Because I was scared, really scared.  I suddenly knew, without any doubt, that if something were to happen to John I would be devastated.  I couldn't be distant from that vulnerability.  It stared me in the face every day he went off to work.
I felt the same intense vulnerability when Jack was born.  There was no shrugging off this connection -- what was I going to do??
I had to find a way to accept the gift of marriage and motherhood without drowning in the vulnerability of it.  The only way I found to do that was to really pay attention to the moment I was in.  Trying to outwit the future was impossible.

Is there an in between...a happy medium?
Can we find a way to cherish today and not get overwhelmed by the mundane and the monotonous?
Without a doubt.

We have to notice it.
We have to abandon the to-do list and let the day flow.
We need to find a space for silence.
We need to experience the moment and then cherish it.
We need to music, to others, to the people we love...really listen.
We need to notice the light, the leaves, the sigh of the dog, the blossom on a tree or
the tiniest snail making its way.

Those iridescent snail trails are one of the most magical things just littering our daily life!

All of it is there for us to notice...just waiting for us to accidentally stumble over its beauty.
And I do mean stumble...over the legos, the Barbie shoe, the random marker cap, a grape, a blob of's all there.
But in that "there" is the good stuff.
The proof of family, of people to love or work that means something to us.
It's connections and seeing things a new way.
It's learning and growing and finding that moment of peace.

It's there. Today. Right now.
The scent of roses or coffee or your husband.
It's in the juicy bite of a peach, the salt and pepper deliciousness of a ripe tomato, the incredible poetry of fresh basil.

It's in the satisfaction of a newly swept kitchen floor.
Or a stack of folded clothes.
Or a plant that finally decided to take root.

It's all around us...just waiting for us to acknowledge the gift.
Just waiting for us to open it.

My latest reminder...waiting by my front door.

Let's not bank on the extra days ahead.
Let's make this a day to remember.

Found this sign in a bathroom (of all places!)  of an awesome restaurant, Mama D's in Newport Beach, CA.
and if you go, order the pink sauce!

What do you do to make the most of this day?
Please tell me how you find the magic in each day?