Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nesting Part II

In the fall of 1992, I was pregnant with my first baby.  I went about my days teaching school to some 5th graders and coming home and painting, preparing and otherwise "nesting" in a big way.  That word was unknown to me at the time but I was feathering my nest just like a mother bird...anticipating, smiling, imagining and wondering.  It was a blissful time.  
It was impossible to picture -- us with a baby.

John would take the tiny outfits that we had been given and make the tiny legs walk with their hanger and speak in a  tiny voice..."Here I am!" he would say.
We'd giggle and try to picture us as parents.

Preparing for a baby when it seems that most of the world is preparing for another important birth is extremely special.  It felt like my universe made sense.  I could relate to Mary on the back of that donkey in a big way...and giving birth in a stable didn't seem so bad, better than on the side of the road!
I cherished the idea of a star pointing the way to that stable...loved the royal visitors...every part of the story seemed better for being pregnant too.

As we got the room ready, our hearts ready and our world ready we felt nervous and excited.
There was no way to know how it would all go but it didn't matter.  It felt joyous and right.

And on December 26th, 1992, we met our first born.  He came easily.  He was sleepy and snuggly and the very best bit of Christmas magic around.  We slid into parenthood and marveled.
Nothing can prepare you for the expansion of your heart or the experience of a whole new world.

And so yesterday, as I found myself cleaning and washing and imagining and picturing not just one child coming home from college but two, I couldn't help but smile.
The nesting, it seems, doesn't end.
Like everything, it morphs...
but there is a familiarity to it.

I went into Jack's room yesterday and got it ready.  I lingered over the pictures from high school, the photos, the memories and the feel of having him here.  I moved to Mary Kate's room, changed the sheets, smiled at the pictures and posters and primping supplies left behind in her safe haven.  

It felt a lot like getting ready for babies to be born...and in a way it was...my babies are most definitely in their college cocoon.  They are transforming and growing and changing and slowly being born into adulthood.

It's scary and sacred...just like the months before birth.

So, I guess I'm Nesting Part II.

Who knew that it continued?

Never got that tidbit of info.

But, it doesn't matter.  I'm smiling with anticipation.  I'm looking forward to seeing them both walk off their airplanes...ready to look deep into their eyes, hug them tight and drink them in...just like their real birth-days many moons ago.

Welcome Home sweet ones...we missed you!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dear Winters

"What we have done alone for ourselves dies with us; 
what we have done for others and the world remains immortal."  
--Albert Pike

You are so darling.  
You are a small community...connected and close.  
You have natural beauty and the authentic beauty of a community that cares.  You are special and rare.

Last Monday morning, your beautiful town was forever scarred.

You lost a citizen to murder, in broad daylight, going about her everyday routine of living in your town being a single mom.  Her boyfriend, filled with anger and hate, stole a life and created a shadow of darkness and fear.

I am so so sorry.  

Know that many are praying for you, sending their love and surrounding you in good thoughts.

In your grief you have a choice. 
You can choose love.

You have a chance to honor the person stolen from you.  You have a chance to remember her light and her beauty.  You can share her stories, her humor, her acts of kindness and her strength.  You can look this act of rage and anger straight in the face and recognize that these sorts of stories need outside support and greater acceptance.  You don't have to be ashamed if you are being mistreated or abused. 
When we stand with people at the margins, there are no margins. 
(Wish I could claim credit for that line but that is the wisdom of Father Greg Boyle who has seen more than his fair share of loss and murder working with the gangs of east LA.)

Or you can choose fear.
You can close yourself off from the outside world.  You can suspect the outsider and shut your heart off with judgment and criticism.  You can pretend it didn't happen.  Never speak of it again.  You can comfort yourself with the numbing idea that those sorts of stories only happen to other families and other people or that this was a one-time-only weird thing.

I hope you choose love.

I pray that with your broken hearts you can recognize the crack in others' hearts and see that we all need forgiveness, kindness and light.  I hope that as a town you can do something big that honors this woman and creates a safe haven for the many others that are just like her.

I hope that Winters becomes the ground-zero of bringing community compassion and care to a whole new level.  

I know you are that kind of place.

And I want to remind you of one of the laws of physics: the conservation of energy.
Energy doesn't just disappear.
It transforms.
Although Leslie's physical self is no longer here, her energy most certainly is.
It is surrounding you, transforming you -- moving and calming and guiding.
You can already see this in the way people are responding in this terrible moment.

Hold this knowledge close...let that be your comfort.
Hold each other close.
Choose love.
We are with you.every.step.of.the.way.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wide Open Day

Don't think -- Just GO.

Today we had a wide open day...miraculous, really.
No obligations.
No soccer.
No birthday parties.
No chores that couldn't be avoided.
As Caroline would say, "No, must-dos."

So...what do you do with a wide open day?
So many times I fritter it away...cleaning a dirty bathroom, putzing about the house, wasting time on the computer or just letting time play its game of endless one minute and gone the next.

Because John had something fun he was doing with a friend, I decided I wanted to try a hike.
I decided this late in the day...after lounging and putzing.
I prodded the kids along and went to my favorite deli to get a picnic to go.

In my mind we were going to go on a hike...something that is not our normal but something I'm hoping to make a real part of our lives.

I found the name of a trail,
The Independence Trail.
How could we say no?
My life vest was that it was a completely accessible trail.  
The first wheelchair accessible wilderness trail in the United States -- and it was only 2 hours from my house.
If someone in a wheelchair could do this hike, we could too.

So, armed with some bottles of water, a yummy picnic and some willing participants I started driving.

We made it about halfway when Caroline piped up that she was hungry.
Patrick too.
So, using my GPS in my phone I found a random park in a random town.

Turns out it really was only a patch of a park.
It had a path, it had a creek and some pretty fall trees...but not for long.
It was pretty tiny.

And it looked like some homeless people thought it was their park.
Of course, I had two hungry kids, both on a mission, so they just walked right passed what can only be called the homeless encampment's brunch, with a look of determination.

I smiled awkwardly...feeling super self-conscious of my random kids in a random patch of green in a random town.  
It could have gotten weird.

And that's the thing with adventures, 
you find yourself in situations that don't have clear cut lines.  
Your known world doesn't really compare to this unknown one.  
You have to navigate the blurry lines, 
take your best guess and listen to your gut.
Sometimes it gets weird.

To me, the people seemed homeless and dirty but harmless -- I made my best guess.

We chose to sit downstream from them and have a picnic.
It was quiet and peaceful and that untended spot rewarded us with dancing leaves of every color falling into a tiny creek -- playing nature's version of hide and go seek.

We could have called it a day right then.
We could have been satisfied with a smaller outing and a taste of nature...
but it was a wide open day.

We didn't think too much about it...we just kept going...looking for Independence.

An hour later we found the trailhead -- those Internet directions were right after all!
It was clearly my lucky day.
Except well...Patrick had decided he'd had enough.
That picnic was about all he needed for time outdoors.
We could go ahead and hike but he would be staying in the car.

Time was not on our side.

I put on the table his choices...including his cell phone usage in the future...and still he stayed strong.
Finally, I had to pull out his favorite outing at Christmas. 
I told him he would not be attending that if he didn't find his way to the trail.
I let it sit there and then I turned my back and walked to the trail hand in hand with Caroline.
As the trailhead I started counting down from five and somehow, someway he began to run.
With a big smile on his face he started walking.
(A true Grace in the Ordinary moment, trust me.)

We had no idea where we were going or how long the trail went or what we were doing.
You have to make your peace with looking at the world and not knowing what's around the bend.

We just started walking...without any destination in mind.

Just because we could.
Just because it was a wide open day and the sun was shining and we were together and it felt right.

We found leaves that were beautiful.
We soaked in the quiet -- like dry sponges.
We sang songs and found walking sticks and noticed things.

Sometimes we hurried...curious to see what was next.

Hardly ever does this happen...but what they saw up ahead freaked them out...not in a bad way,
in a "No Way! This is Awesome way!"

Without trying, I got this shot of Caroline...
(Notice Patrick running in the background...the guy runs for no one.ever.  He was amazed!)

This amazing trail winds its way down to the river!
You can be in a wheelchair and find yourself able to get to the river, safely and easily.  
It's incredible!

I LOVE whoever had this vision, whoever created this place and the many people who must work hard to maintain it.
Thank you doesn't seem good enough.

Of course I had to go home and do a little homework.

John Olmstead, thank you for dreaming BIG.  Thank you for tirelessly and patiently working to get the property rights and the easements that allowed this trail to become this amazing spot. 
Thank you for finding a way to get to the river from up so high.

Thank you for your belief that ALL people deserve to enjoy the wilderness...really steep in nature...
not the sanitized way that so many people in wheelchairs are forced to do it...the messy, leaf-filled, acorn-strewn, golden hued path that you envisioned.
It really exists.

You did something really awesome.
You gave people who often have something holding them back a real gift of independence.
The Independence Trail lives up to its name.

I'm so grateful I had the chance to taste your bit of the world today.
It was delicious.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."
--John Muir

Sunday, November 3, 2013

You Don't Remember

When Patrick was in kindergarten, he was just completing all treatment for leukemia.  He had been on a steady stream of drugs and drug therapies for over three years.  His body, just turned six, could barely remember what it felt like to feel strong and healthy since over half of his life he lived with the effects of cruel chemotherapy. 

So, going to kindergarten was a big deal.  

He had virtually no stamina.  He got tired quickly physically...now add in what we were asking his brain to do.  We had placed him in a typical kindergarten with typical peers and crossed our fingers.

We knew the academics would be rigorous...but we also thought he could do it.

He thought he could do it too.  
He went about his days, learning to make the letters of the alphabet, learning to add, learning to come in from recess and learning to follow directions --  from all directions.
It was a huge task.

Every day I would toil with the uncertainty of it.
Were we asking too much of him?
Could he do it?
Could the school do it?
What did his peers think?
What did the other parents think?

I had no idea.

Then came the trip to the pumpkin patch about eight weeks into school.
It was obvious that Patrick was worn out...tuckered out.  
He asked me to hold him.

I cringed.

No one else was holding their kindergartener.
I wanted to say no...play the tough guy...but I couldn't do it.
I could see it in his eyes.
He needed a lift.

So...holding him, inner cringing, here comes a mom with her camera 
(long before the days of everyone having a camera in their phone)
and asks to take a picture.
Although I felt awkward, I was touched by her out reach.
I didn't know her name.  She wasn't a friend.  
She was just a mom on a field trip and
she didn't seem to care that I was holding Patrick.  
She didn't seem to mind that he was tuckered out while all the rest were climbing hay bales and scurrying around.  
She thought this moment was picture-worthy.

Now here's the crazy part.

Apparently, she didn't just think it was worth a casual photo-op.
A few days later...yes, back in the days of developing pictures at a store...I receive in Patrick's backpack a clear plastic picture frame with a little red bow and this picture:

My pumpkin.

I was stunned.
Who was this stranger?
Who takes the time to develop a photo of some random classmate, put it in the frame, decorate the frame and somehow get it to the person?

I honestly couldn't get over the thoughtfulness...still can't.
When I see this picture, that still is on Patrick's dresser, every time I get choked up.

It was the tiniest touch of grace and goodness...a simple message:

I accept you.
You deserve to be photographed.
You are part of our class.
You matter.

This was my rainbow after a storm of not-knowing.
This was my sign.
It was all going to be okay.

I know this mom has no idea the depths her act of kindness has traveled.
She very likely doesn't remember doing it.
She definitely doesn't think it's still hanging around some kids's dresser.

Isn't it funny what sticks around and makes it to the trophy case of our life and lands on the bookshelf or dresser or wall?  
I always want to know the stories of these pictures because I know they're good...just like this one.

I actually forgot about that picture until a few days ago.
When the very same person came up to me, nine years later, saying:
"I'm so excited about this picture Beth.  I got his real smile.  I got him with his little buddy carving their pumpkin at just the right moment.  I'll send it in an email."

Sure enough...

...those smiles came through an email.

And I thought about her act of kindness all those years ago.  
About the door she opened of acceptance and inclusion.  I thought about her -- always behind the scenes -- taking pictures, remembering, capturing and holding close precious moments that drip.drip.drip away every single day.

She has no idea the lift she gave me many years ago.
She has no idea the example she set for me.
Her welcome couldn't have been any more warm or sincere.

I guess it's about time I said thanks.
Thank you for your kindness, your generosity and your grace.
I'm still holding it close many years later.