Archive for the 'friendship' Category

What Would Stacey Think?

amywink May 16th, 2018

The Sunday after my birthday, I told the story of my faith journey with the Creating Spirit to my Sunday school class at First. I was nervous but some people knew I could do it and I felt their support as I talked. It was the first time I’d narrated my experience this way, but I had thought about it for a long time. I closed my talk by saying that I had come to church in March the year after Stacey’s and my mother’s deaths to grieve and I spent a lot of time crying in the balcony until by September I started laughing again.

Though I am still in such deep grief some days, I am laughing so much more than I ever expected to be, just 2 years into this new life, and every time I laugh, I know Stacey is with me. She worked so hard to make me laugh sometimes, and she usually succeeded because she was very funny. And we had laughed a lot together in our last months, when we knew the end was coming. Even when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we fell back on our sense of humor after our initial shock. She had spent a lot of time worrying about having an old age like her mother, who had several major health issues and had been on the brink of death many times, and also, ironically, outliving her money because her grandmother had lived to be 92. When Stacey was diagnosed, it was clear she wasn’t going to make 92, or even 52, so she could start spending the carefully gathered hoard of money she had meant to use to get to her old age. As we talked about the 3-year-deadline she’d been given, she said, “I guess I’m not going to have to worry about being old either.” I replied “yeah, I guess you should have been more specific when you said you didn’t want to be old like your mother.” And we laughed. All the times we laughed are what I hold dear now, and what I remember most fondly. I can make myself laugh by thinking of those moments, even the ones when we joked about death, because what else is there to do?

When it became clear that the experimental drug (the one that worked for Jimmy Carter) was not working (Why not Stacey, Lord?) and she felt she had been betrayed by her doctor who had not really informed her of rules of the study she’d agreed to enter, she sat in her own darkness but I could not leave her there, just like she never left me. I texted her “your mind is a dangerous neighborhood right now, and you know how I feel about leaving people alone in bad neighborhoods” and we sat together, via our phones, in that dangerous neighborhood until I said the right thing and she laughed. Then she thanked me for making her laugh and we walked out of that bad neighborhood together. I am grateful I was able to do that. Thank you, God, for a sense of humor.

Recently, BFF Caroline asked what I thought Stacey would think about my return to the Methodist church, (and becoming so religious) and I have thought about that for a long time. My answer at that moment was she would be ecstatic about my writing, having walked with me through my long darkness as well as some of my most creative times. But I imagine she’d have been taken aback by the startling depth of my faith, something we never talked about specifically–preferring the “spiritual” not “religious” discussion. She had been similarly surprised when I mentioned a desire for chickens, a hereditary craving that I wrote about for our City Ancestor/Country Ancestor project, and just like she had been floored when I decided to buy a horse, something she never knew because she’d come into my life in the middle, when I had almost put that dream away for good.

But early in our friendship, I had mentioned that I didn’t think I was very good at being Christian (given public perceptions of what is deemed Christian, re: Baptist, and I was a free-range, unchurched person-of-faith), to which she, my Jewish-turned-atheist friend who had read the entire Bible on her own, had replied, “Oh, no, I think you are exactly what a Christian is supposed to be. You do all the right things, you just don’t talk about them.” Once, much later, after a moment in which I ranted against some public idiocy I can’t recall and wrote a rather fiery response in an email about how we are saved by grace, she had carefully asked “so, what is your religion?” (after 20 years, she asked!) and I replied “ecumenical Zen-influenced Christian” and she said “well, I thought so.” I should have just said Methodist.

So, what would Stacey think? I don’t think she’d be surprised for long, having known I had a deep but private faith– though an equally deep lack of faith in myself– and I know she’d be very happy that I am so deeply happy and creative again. And I have made myself laugh by thinking about her arrival in Heaven, because I know that after her surprise wore off, she’d have marched right up to Jesus and threatened to break his arm if he didn’t help me after all I had done for her and everyone else in my life. I imagine He said “It will be all right. Don’t worry. I have my best people working on it.” And He would laugh.

Missing

amywink April 27th, 2018

Missing
for Stacey 1964-2016

At any moment,
or perhaps just not any
but the moment of
happiness or need,
I stumble into the emptiness
where you were,
and falling I am swallowed
by that deep chasm
of our friendship.

What I missing now,
those moments I’d have turned
to you to celebrate
some teaching glory,
or the moment you
carried me through
some aggravation
on your sharp wit,
or when you stood fierce,
unmoving, against my adversaries,
daring those you would so happily,
so eagerly vanquish,
or when you stood
always ready to help me risk
a leap into the unknown.

What I am missing now
is how you knew me,
how you understood
what troubled me,
how you accepted
who I was without question,
and even in those rare moments
when you discovered some included flaw
suspended in the amber of my self,
how you held that relic
up to the light in wonder
and discovery of a glowing treasure
that you would turn as priceless gift instead.

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.

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