Archive for the 'friendship' Category

Lent: Holy

amywink March 28th, 2018

In the spring of 2016, Stacey ended treatments for her cancer. After a very difficult and almost deadly drug trial failed to affect her cancer, she had tried another as a last attempt to affect the growing tumors but the consequences were unacceptable and that treatment too had little affect. We both knew, and we talked extensively about her right to choose, accepting what it meant and knowing how little time we likely had left, and we laughed as much as we could together. I found a card to send her that extolled the virtues of friendship and how friends were there to help each other in times of crisis as long as each friend had a crisis at a different time! Since my mother’s death and her cancer spreading had both occurred that spring, I added a note “I think we’re screwed” and we laughed when she received it.

We were so screwed.

We laughed a surprising amount that spring because that seemed to be the only thing left to do as we faced what was coming and something in the joyful connection we made together each time we laughed helped us cope. I threatened her “just don’t die on my birthday” and she said she’d do her best. But the weekend after my birthday, she had what we called a spell, and entered the residential hospice after becoming unresponsive.

Everyone waited.

And she came back to us.

We both knew our time was very short. I suspected the cancer had reached her brain. We had been relieved in December before she entered the drug trial when the scans had showed no cancer in her brain but it was now May, 6 months later. We did not talk of this but I think we both knew what it might mean. She probably didn’t want to tell me.

She determined to finish the afghan she had started for my mother and I still wanted, and she was so relieved to be able to work on it as she recovered in hospice. I joked with her “just don’t leave it where I can tell you wrote “arrrgghhhh” on the cave wall.” And she laughed, and retold the story to everyone.

She returned to emailing and was so grateful to be able to write, to return to our “thinking together in writing” which sustained us during the 20 years of our friendship and sustained both of us in the last months of her life. When she couldn’t write, we texted. It was hard for her to talk on the phone so we kept the conversation going and we said everything that was important to say, everything that was important to understand about our friendship and what we meant to each other, everything we had learned from each other. The end was coming so what would be the point of not saying those things? What would be the point in not telling someone how very important she is? We said all the things. I determined I would always say all the things because what is the point of not saying what people mean, what beautiful gifts we are?

I called that time our Indian Summer and we savored every email conversation, every laugh, every dark moment we made light with laughter, every dark moment when all we could do was be with each other in that darkness. She hated that we all suffered with her illness. I reminded her that she couldn’t make us miss her less no matter how tidy she tried to make the ending. We argued about heaven (our first real religious argument) but agreed she’d be disappointed if it looked the same as what she already knew. While she talked of what she had done, I argued we were saved by grace.

Every conversation was holy.

She finished the afghan and she was so proud. She’d tried a new design, learned to sew the border on. She wanted to show it around before she sent it and I agreed she should. I was leaving to get my new puppy, James, over the July 4th weekend so we didn’t want it to be left outside while I was away. She shipped it to arrive once I was home.

The afghan was lovely, blues and cream, and I pulled it from the box so happy to have received this gift of her, made by her hands. It was so beautiful.

And I saw the mistakes.

It wasn’t an “arggghhh” on the cave wall exactly, but with those mistakes, I knew. She’d never have allowed mistakes in her work, written or otherwise, the uneven border, the missing stitches. Her OCD would not have allowed it. I knew the cancer was in her brain. I knew.

And later that week, she knew. She’d decided to try one last thing and made an appointment at Cancer Centers of America. Her husband told me how hard it was to get there but they’d made it. But her scans showed cancer in her brain. A lot of cancer. There was nothing to be done. She decided what to do and I agreed with her.

It was our last conversation.

I sent photos to her through her husband and listened for him.

She did not die on my birthday, but instead on my parents’ anniversary– which I do not think she knew. I was not alone because Kristi was visiting, which Stacey had known and perhaps she decided to go when I was not alone. I think she left things as tidy as she could, with as few loose ends as she wanted, but like I told her that would make precious little difference in our grief. When her husband called, we could not speak and we still can’t speak but we can write and we do. Our grief has brought us close, as it has brought me close to her other best friend.

But it is not tidy. We are bound together roughly, unevenly, with stitches missing and holes where they shouldn’t be.

But we are bound together and it is Holy.

Lent: Conversion

amywink February 18th, 2018

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4: 31-32

Stacey and I spent the last months of our writing time thinking together about the larger issues of our lives, what meaning we could find, where our ideas converged, where they differed. She had evolved in her thinking about what might happen after death, leaning toward the ideas of reincarnation. She was not Christian in her thinking, though she knew the Bible and I would have never challenged her to a scriptural citation competition. We respected each other and our faiths were never an argument, though we did often tease each other. “We’re all God’s children,” I’d say, “even atheists.” And she would retort, “If that’s the story you want to believe.” So we each grew stronger as we leaned against each other.

We did have wonderful conversations, deep and thoughtful, because we knew our time was coming to a close and what else to say but the things that matter? Why not go as deep as we had time for? I did not seek to bring her to God, or make her accept Jesus as her personal savior, in the common parlance of conversion. I always thought more like Henry David Thoreau, who when he was asked if he had made his peace with God, answered, “I did not know that we had quarreled.” If Stacey had a quarrel with God, it was not up to me to resolve it by argument or pressure. If she did not believe, I could only simply be and by my presence, hope that I was help, as she was help to me. And that was faith enough.

One of our last conversations, though, will always stay with me. She was so tired as the cancer grew and she struggled to maintain a public self that belied the depth of her illness, a kind of shield for her growing vulnerability, but one day she was just too tired. She wrote that she had gone to the pharmacy without her wig, in only her soft chemo cap and someone had turned to her, asked about her treatment, revealed her daughter had died, and offered her presence. She asked if she could pray for Stacey (which was not really an uncommon occurrence) and Stacey said yes, taking the true kindness of the offering. And something shifted.

She wrote to me of her encounter and said, “I realize my feelings have been a kind of vanity.”

I asked her what she meant.

” I have always thought, in a way, that only I can be truly kind,” she wrote. “That others are not as kind as me. I realize now that that is vanity and I see that others can be kind, that others are kind.”

“Yes” I wrote back, “Yes, that’s right.”

And I silently offered a prayer of gratitude for that conversion.

Lent: Kindness like a Branching Stream

amywink February 17th, 2018

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14: 27-28

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ” John 15: 12

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the memorial service for one of the kindest men I have ever known, a dear old friend of my parents, who was always a presence in our family memory even though we rarely saw him in my adulthood. His name and his wife’s are part of the lexicon of friendship in my life from the very start and when I read about his death, I was certain I’d go to his service because my father couldn’t and my mother was gone. Because his presence had meant so much to both of them, I would go. My brother also came, from Houston, because we remembered. We knew his family. We honored his presence in our lives, his steadfast compassion, his kindness like a branching stream spreading out to reach the sea.

At the service, I met again his little boys who I had played with as a child, now adults the same age as myself (how does this happen?) and remembered. I met again another old family friend, who had also known my parents from Southwestern, then Perkins, then Austin when we moved here in 1974. I sat next to another dear friend whose connection to Glenn started with the Methodist Church and who knew my mother as a child in San Antonio, and another friend who knew my mother from Mount Wesley. All these streams returned to a branching moment and I think about the map that we do not have of our lives when we start them, the map that is drawn by our living, those points of connection from which we begin to move in a new direction, and always toward another branching encounter.

I started my day in friendship, one renewed and one beginning, and a kinship of mind that engages and changes me, challenges me to think and rethink myself, who I am in the world, and moves me toward a different understanding of myself, something I’d forgotten, something I neglected to see in the map of my life. “Some people are moons,” my new friend said, “some people are planets. I think you are a planet.” And I am caught by surprise at the description, this gift, which keeps coming to me, and I branch in a new direction, toward a new idea of myself in the world.

I ended my day in friendship, with two oldest friends, who I have known since the 4th grade (which will be 44 years ago in the September). We do not remember the moment of our meeting but seem to have always known each other, recognized each other from the start, even though we branched apart, we can always come back to our connecting point. We always show up, even now in the middle of our lives. I asked them, as if they are a legend to the map of myself, “What do you remember?”

“I remember being safe with you.”

“I remember recognizing you.”

I am looking back at the map, even as I branch, deepen, and begin to move in a new direction.

In my Disciple class earlier this week, we all stumbled on our human condition, which read, in part, “We believe in God but we have so little power. We want to witness, to heal to convert the nonbelievers” and that is where we balk. None of us are what we deemed “evangelists” in the way that it has come to mean. We do not actively seek to “convert nonbelievers.” We are quiet, respectful of other faiths. But I ask, because I wonder, how might we be doing that? Is there another way? One of us suggests we do that by our being, by living our faith of kindness, and we launch into a discussion of what power is, what we think of as spiritual power. Have we missed the moments of power simply because we do not recognize them? And in our beautiful conversation, our asking, we branch.

I am thinking of this today, as I read my Lenten prayer: “Dear God, your love is present to me. Make me always aware that it is mine to share with others.” I am looking back at my map, to see where the branching streams connected. I think about how I am now branching, moving into a new territory. “Make me always aware that it is mine to share” this kindness like a branching stream spreading out to meet the sea.

Ashes to ashes, Stardust to stardust.

amywink February 14th, 2018

“In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
when you look at the sky at night.”

~The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When Stacey decided she had to go on disability as her cancer spread, she faced mounds of paperwork made worse by the continuing solicitous phone calls from her case managers, who always seemed to be asking the most pointless questions that feigned concern or empathy, as if that could be scripted and no one would notice as long as the pauses were in the right place. But Stacey was an authentic person and one who did not tolerate fakery at all. At All. Still, she understood that the person was simply reading off a script and wasn’t really to blame for the words that were not their own. So I heard all about it instead of the case manager and I sympathized, gasped, offered rolled eyes or righteous anger as we wrote to each other so we could both deal with her approaching death.

After one particularly irksome call, during which the case manager glided right over Stacey’s comments about having terminal Stage IV cancer, about being riddled with cancer, about only having maybe a year to live, and asked “what do you think you’d like to do after you get off disability?” Stacey was simply flummoxed as to how to get the person to go off script, to listen to her, the person, not the case she was managing, to think of her and not the money that she was costing her insurance company. As she raged with me, I said “Why don’t you tell her you are looking into a future in compost?” And suddenly her frustrated rage turned to laughter, that saving grace that somehow I often managed to find for her, a little light in the dim world. She laughed and laughed and we thought together about how what her future in compost might involve and how that might trip her case manager off her script. But for me, what I recall was that Stacey laughed. I had given her the right word to turn her draining anger into the nourishment of grace, like compost. It is a lovely memory of a terrible time, good dirt made from decay.

Good dirt nourishes the living. That rich dark compost we add to our gardens comes from the organic remnants we discard, returns to us the food we eat, cycling through our bodies, connecting us whether we notice or not. And in our bodies, the atoms that are “traceable to stars” and our cosmic, biological connection to “every other living thing in the world.” Our chemical “connection to all molecules on Earth.” And our atomic connection “to all atoms in the universe.” We are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson says “not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.

The dust of stars in the ashes of our bodies.

Compost.

Ashes can be added to acidic soil to raise the Ph balance in soil. Consciously applied, ashes make the ground more tolerable for some plants that need a less acidic soil.

Consciously applied, a single word can make the world more tolerable for someone.

Consciously applied, a single life can turn the soil into something else, balance the faulty chemistry into richness and change the possibilities for a fallow field under a universe of stars.

So many times, Stacey offered the right word, or right understanding, and turned my life onto something else. And so many times, I did the same for her. All of my friends do the same, offering themselves, their understanding, their light. I always try to do the same, to see the person, not the case in front of me, to hear the human being and understand what they might need to hear, so as to turn toward the light. We are in the world to nourish each other, to make each other rich with growth, to return what has been given to us from the soil from which we’ve grown, the soil that also contains the dust of stars.

I do not know what her husband has done with Stacey’s ashes. I am sure she had a plan. I have my mother’s ashes and I hope one day to drive them to New Mexico and leave them in the mountains where we used to camp, where the wind in the trees sounds like the sea. When my father dies, I expect I will do the same. Those ashes may enrich the soil, like their lives enriched mine and others, and I like to think of them returning to the place we loved so much. As for me, I am making rich and vibrant dirt with my life, cultivating myself so I may nourish others. I hope when I am done, when I return to the earth and stardust, I will have left something growing because of my presence, or perhaps at least a little starlight for this dim world.

The Children of My Oldest Friends

amywink November 6th, 2017

The Children of My Oldest Friends
_For Leah, Toni, and Sharon

I was holding
someone else’s
child, asleep
across my lap,
when I knew
that would not be
the story of my life.
I worked, driven,
toward a different
kind of creating future,
one now coming
to fruition in this moment
a quarter century later,
in this moment
when the children
of my oldest friends,
daughters and sons,
enter the world changed
and changing still,
and I see, with
such illuminating joy,
in their bright faces,
those faces of
my dearest friends,
my unrelated kin,
who I first loved
in the world,
who saw,
and knew,
and loved,
without requirement
or condition other than
the growing pleasure
of my company.

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