Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ms. thorne

i want to tell you about sarah.

of course, the first thing i want to say is also the thing that i know i should wait to tell you until the end for the dramatic effect.  but i can't use her that way.  or the memory of her that way.

sarah died.

i don't even know exactly when she died.  i learned about it from facebook.  sitting right here when suddenly i discovered her gone.  a light i thought was burning up in alaska or maybe in south america somewhere.  a light that every now and then would show up close by and i would be in awe of it.  of her.

i met sarah while i was student teaching.  she was in the 8th grade.  i think i met her parents once- but it was her presence that taught me a lot about parenting.  she talked about her family with deep love.  she described their trips together- she once mailed me a photo of a flower blooming in the desert.  a teen-age girl mailed me a photo of a hot pink flower growing out of dry sand.  that still astounds me.

i spent part of my day with sarah for twenty-weeks.  a small part- in a room with 30 other teens.  we met up a few times.  we wrote letters to each other.  she mailed me a swatch of fabric for the quilt i have still not made for cyrus.  in honesty, i didn't know her very deeply.  i considered her a friend and i knew some facts about her.  but she was one of those folks i also intended to spend more time with "someday."

and then one day she was just gone.

when i heard that she died i went through my box of photos and old letters.  i found that photo of the pink desert flower.  it seemed so impossible for that lusciousness to grow in such a seemingly barren landscape.  that bush maybe only bloomed once every 10 years- when the rain and the wind and the sun was all just right.  the seeds could have sat dormant for longer than i have been breathing.  miracle in the soil.

while i was searching through my memories i also found sarah's graduation announcement from high school.  i went to the ceremony.  her announcement has a picture of her in jeans, sitting near a moss-covered tree.  her smile is shy and confident.  on the front of the card it has a quote from fanny brice: let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be.

i could think and feel on that quote for days.

but it's the inside that really tears at me.  it's from thoreau.

i went to the woods because i wished to live deliberately.  i wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, and see if i could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when i came to die, discover that i had not lived.

i have this card right next to the computer along with photos of my boys, bits of poems, forgotten log-in names and passwords.  i see her everyday.  but most days i don't see her at all.  or i see her photo and forget the message, the moral of her life-story.

sarah died while hiking in alaska.  she was outside, under blue sky, green trees.  i don't have the medical terms for it.  was it an aneurysm or a blood clot?  it doesn't matter. i know i romanticize her death because i want to believe that she didn't suffer, didn't want more, didn't feel cheated.  i want to believe that she knew she was living deeply.  she was sucking the marrow out of life.  i want to believe that she was ok with it so that i can be ok with it.

i miss sarah.  i miss the curiosity i had about her life- wondering what she was up to.  watching her grace spread about like the dawn.  i miss seeing exactly how to suck the marrow of life.  how to live deep. 

dive deep.
so when we come up for air.
we gasp at it with intention
and gratitude.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


here's something i know about writing: usually you need a point.  like, a moral, or at least a punch line.  sometimes it's so easy to have this nice little package of thoughts with the a-ha moment neatly tucked in at the end.  sometimes vignettes just happen to me and all i have to do is record them.  the plot is all lined up complete with climax and resolution.

i guess that's it- the resolution.  the coming together or throwing apart- but when you are the end you are ready for it.

maybe this is why i write- the ability to resolve conflicts, the power to wrap up life into paragraphs.  the need to have things have a beginning, a middle, an end.

because in real life it just all flows together, doesn't it?

the endings of one moments mesh with the beginnings of another and most times the moral is: keep going.  just keep going.

other times there are moments of peace- like that still point between a wave pulling back and rushing forth.  in that moment i try to make sense, to slow it down, to write it down because then it can be absorbed, savored, honored.

i sat down and opened the blog page because i wanted to write- but i had no story.  nothing but a need to construct.  a need to resolve.  part way into it cyrus wanders in and asks for cereal.  since he went to bed at 6 pm he was up at 3, and cereal at 4:40 makes sense.  after i poured in the flakes, sprinkled the raisins, soaked 'em in milk, i turned to leave the kitchen.  through a sliver crack in the curtain the moon, full and glowing, caught my eye, my heart.

"cyrus!" i called as i opened the front door, "look at the moon!  isn't she beautiful?"

he came over to me, cereal in hand, and looked up at her.

"it's bright!" he observed.

"it's the full moon!"

"it will squish you," he cautioned.

"i love her" i said in response.

"i know you love her" he calmly stated as he walked back inside crunching his flakes.

and that's the moment.  that's the resolution.  that my 2 year old son knows that i love the moon. 

it's all wrapped up nicely.
now time for tea.

Friday, June 3, 2011


so- as a mom there are experiences you decide your child should have.  these experiences will "teach children lessons" about life.  lessons we think they should learn.  so we ship them off to camp or make them make their bed each morning.  usually these are lessons are parents forced us into.  most are about Responsibility.

some are about chickens.

see, the cats died two years ago now and they were old and mine- felines from my college days.  the dogs- well, one was old when we picked her up from the pound in new mexico and the puppy- the saddest day when she was hit by a pick up truck and killed in front of seren, who was 4. 

but pets are good for kids, right?  they teach them about poop and fur and death.  of course, they teach about death.

the tetras weren't mourned much.  sad?  yes.  flush and done.  oh, and the hermit crab.  well, she buried herself in the sand and was never heard from again.

then this spring we started talking about chickens.  from all accounts they are the perfect pets.  they live outside, they eat left-overs, their poop is good for the ground and they give you eggs.  we got five chicks and the boys loved on them endlessly.  now the chicks have almost earned their -en.  they live outside.  they go in and out of their coop.  they run from hawks.  good girls.

after dinner we often send the boys outside with the table scraps.  they throw the steamed veggies and such into the run and the girls go to it.  shortly after they are snug in their roost for the night.  sometimes there's a hitch: "no, cyrus chickies (as he calls them) don't actually like to be poked at with sticks."  most evenings it's not a problem.

last night was a big problem.

seren promptly reported that amelia wasn't in the coop.  her full name is amelia one-dot.  she was the first to show off her flying abilities and had one dot on the side of her head.  she is a barred rock- also sometimes called a plymouth rock....maybe the pilgrims brought her over.  in any case, she is peppered black and white with a red comb.  she's an odd bird.  often alone, a few steps away from the flock.  like  me in high school when i was transported from torrance to edmonds.  sometimes the other birds pick on her a bit.

i wasn't surprised to know she was the one who wandered off.

we began the search- chick, chick, chick- we called.  we looked in the fire club, the garage, the basement, under the tractor (so weird that i own a tractor).  no amelia.  then seren asked, horrified, "what's that?!"  at first i thought he was pointing to the black plastic sticking up from under the wood chips  but his gaze extended over the fence into the neighbor's yard where a pile of feathers lay with yellow legs sticking out at unnatural angles.  it was a chicken.  a very dead chicken.

seren has never been one to hold in emotions.  he doesn't "buck up" well.  he immediately went into the "no! no! no!" stage, his eyes rimmed with tears- his hands dug into his wild hair, as his dad went over the fence to retrieve the bird.  her body was still warm despite the gashes on her back and all along her underside.  the neighbor's also have birds: laying and broiler chickens and turkeys, two hens and a tom.  the tom strutted nearby, nervously.

as ben looked at the barred rock, seren fled into the house.  cyrus began his endless chant of " i wanna hold the chickie!" as he followed ben around while i followed seren inside.

let the lesson begin.

poor guy.  a dead chicken, a heavy heart and a real big part of his pain turning into anger, into revenge.  all eyes focused on that tom turkey.  the one who puffed up if you even looked at him, the one that chased the turkey hens around with a determination rarely seen.  the one that just looked damn mean.

seren cried and cired.  he wanted to know if it was amelia but would not go outside to look at the bird, wouldn't go outside to bury it.  yes, we bury all the dead animals.  pets and roadkill.  hawks, dogs, moles, owls, cats, finches, frogs.  first we pry them out of cyrus's hands while he hollers "it's dead!  it's dead!" and then we put it in the soft ground, say some words, pour some water and lay it to rest.

seren refused to be part of it.

meanwhile, cyrus was determined to hold the dead chicken which i had looked at and confirmed it was a barred rock- that it was amelia.  she looked bigger in death.  her feathers puffed up, her head still.  i looked at her eyes quickly, saw the dot and went back to consoling.

ben was focused on the funeral.  all business, gathering this and that.  stashing the box with the bird atop the shed as we debated where to bury her.  cyrus still wanting the chickie- then arguing "she's not dead, she's sleeping."  me in that place again of wondering what death means to a toddler- if it was possible for them to understand such a bizarre concept.  then me going back to the child who did understand it enough to know that it sucked.

this idea that something is and then something is no longer.  who made that rule?  that one minute you have joy in your heart and then the next sticky blackness that pulls at your gut and pushes out tears and tears and tears until your nose is stuffed, your throat is sore and you neck begs for a pillow.

i held seren and agreed with all his rants while trying to inject small bits of "wisdom" that sounded like hallmark meets disney with a new age twist.  "it's like the yin and yang, death is part of life, life is part of death."  i even used the analogy of the robin nest on the deer skull- which barely makes sense to me now that i think back on it.  and i deeply regret pointing out how the birdsongs were using the downy feather to add to their nests.  while i think this is beautiful- well, seren didn't react well.  he kind of gagged in disbelief and disgust that these birds didn't know enough about his love for amelia to know it was not ok to be looting her feathers for their own purposes.

even in his sadness, seren was all about who did this.  and so was ben really.  while seren went into payback mode- convinced without any evidence that it was the turkey- ben went into problem solving about how to protect the remaining chickens even though we still didn't know how the chicken had died.  cyrus pulled the pillows from the couch and wandered around half naked.  blissfully unaware.

ben was processing his own experiences with death- so many- and how as a child he wasn't allowed to cry for them.  how watching his son fragile in grief shifted something inside of him.  something about how sadness sits so close to anger inside of us for many different reasons.

then slowly it seemed like the worst wave has washed over us.  that seren was calmed, reserved, resolved.  he had thrown out his angry solutions and deepest fears and the regrets- and we did our best to talk about them, rub his back, set things right while knowing we couldn't really set them right.  then, seren decided to go outside- rather suddenly.

later he admitted he was going to see "if there was blood on the turkey's beak or talons."  as we walked outside to look over the neighbor's fence he saw a flash of movement and then promptly returned upstairs.  his brown eyes were round and hopefully- his face shown just like in the photo of him holding his newborn baby brother- "i think i just saw amelia!"

i wanted to believe but for a split second i wondered if he had cracked.  like he was going to be the kid who saw his dead chicken following him around- just always out of the line of focused vision.  shadows of her everywhere.

but against all sense- there she was- waiting at the door to the coop.  pacing because she decided she really did want to be part of the group afterall.

i looked down on ben and seren herding her inside and i laughed with such relief and gratitude.  the complete 360 degree turn about of a split second.  the wish of an 8 year old suddenly granted.  he didn't want that dead chicken to be amelia and it wasn't. 

or maybe it had been- maybe we had buried her with love and prayers- and maybe something shifted in what is possible and she became alive again.  miracles happen, right?  it happened for jesus.  maybe it happened for amelia too.  for seren. 

because maybe the lesson that miracles- even when all the facts point to something else- the feeling of a miracle happening to you, the heart-healing miracle- maybe THAT is the "life lesson" we really need to learn.

again and again.