Erased Faces

Eddie was all jazzed up, ready to go burn the turf at the district-wide track meet after school today. He had been going to track practice and running his soccer drills with his soccer team for weeks now. This was for real. So we pulled up to the school hosting the event and it was abuzz with parents, coaches, kids in their school colors, strollers, leashed dogs swarming all over the track and field. One coach was yelling through a megaphone but getting through to no-one. To be fair, the ‘mega’ part of the phone was pretty chintzy. It was the quintessential unorganized, haphazard elementary school event. Everyone was excited – kids running around “warming up” while parents were either trying to figure out what the heck was going on or chit-chatting amongst themselves.

Eddie decided to warm up at the standing long jump where a pack of old friends and acquaintances were doing the same. But something felt a bit off. I noticed that kids would try to nudge and say hello, but he just stared off into the distance waiting his turn. And then, Sue grabbed my attention with her general naughtiness and I had to chase her down. A few moments later, away from the standing long jump, I saw Eddie make his way toward another side of the field. (Look a squirrel…nope, just Sue running off again on her fat toddler legs.) I looked up again, after I caught my “squirrel” and noticed that Eddie was surrounded by a group of familiar kids from his old school and a parent. He had his back turned to the parent (who I have known as an acquaintance for a few years), staring off somewhere….I don’t know. Then my stomach dropped. Something was off, there was no smiling and  no “happy to see you again” gestures. Everyone seemed troubled and tense. We saw it at the same time and my husband and I darted over in the same split second to try to figure out what was going on.

As we circled around, I overheard a little girl that Eddie had an enormous crush on say, “…what do you MEAN you don’t remember who I am? We sat together at lunch every day last year!” That is what her words said, but her tone meant – “Wasn’t I important enough for you to remember me even though we haven’t seen each other for a while?” She was hurt. The group thought he was just being a jerk. And I wasn’t prepared for this. I never am in these situations. The father was trying to coax something polite out of Eddie. But all Eddie knew was that he was surrounded by people he had never seen before in his life. And these strangers had expectations of him he could not fulfill. He knew he should know, but nothing was coming to him. I could see his embarrassment and uncertainty.

So I had to speak up, he really really wasn’t trying to be rude or hurt anybody. But hurt, confused and upset they were. Rightfully so.

Stop for a second: imagine walking up to a friend (or even in our case sometimes – a relative) you have known for years, spent meaningful time with, or even shared your every day life with. You spot the person after a prolonged absence and run up to say hello, glad to see them…only to find he or she has no idea who you are. It would be very difficult to believe. I mean shoot, our brains are wired to be able to remember every face we ever see. We may forget their names or where we know them from, but it is rare that people actually forget faces. Not so for Eddie. Everything from his side of their friendship has vanished.

Blank. Dark. Empty. Nothing. Nada.

Anyway, I had to speak up so his old flame would know. I didn’t even know what to say. So I did the best I could, something like, “Oh honey, it isn’t you. He really doesn’t remember you. [Eddie walks away to another part of the field] His brain cannot remember people or places if he doesn’t see you every day. He can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy being your friend when you were with him every day.” How in the world to help her understand? I felt terrible. I sounded so unnatural and unoriginal. Her father is a nice man and we talked some more for a while and he was as understanding as he could be under the weirdness of it all. I could see the effort to grasp what I could possibly be talking about but she was just as confused as she initially was. I pray she understood he was not trying to be mean to her.

But I wonder…if her face and their shared experiences are erased from his memory, are they still friends? Can that chasm be bridged? It is so complicated. Friendships are complicated. What does it really mean to BE friends. If he does not return the affection, the memories, the commonalities of the past between them, then where the heck does that leave her? These things don’t really occur to you until there is a sudden void. It is all gone BETWEEN them. She still has those things but they no longer share it. No recognition – she is not reflected in his averted gaze anymore.

And my heart broke for them both and it leaves a pit in my stomach. The FIRST girl he had a crush on, he will never remember. These are things we are supposed to carry with us into adulthood. Things to wax nostalgic about when he runs into her sometime in his late 20s. Or something like that. For her, this friend she cared for and laughed with (and AT, believe me!), is gone. But not GONE, gone. Not dead. Its so bizarre even trying to explain it. This is not the first or last time someone has been or will be hurt because Eddie forgets a person he truly cared about. They will have to start over. And over again.

And then my egocentric mother-worry my mind spiraled…how long would it take for him to forget my face if we parted for a very long time without any contact? Chances are, he will be living in my basement until death do us part, so I don’t have to worry. My friends, my family that I have not seen in person for years, I can’t fathom not knowing them – that they would be lost to me and I wouldn’t know it. I am grateful for each person I have shared some part of my life with now more than ever.

Later, as I looked on, his coach and teammates cheering him – the ones he remembers for the time being – as he won his 75 meter dash, and I couldn’t stop my aching, clenched jaw and hot tears. Because there is no such thing as a one-sided relationship. And it isn’t fair.

 

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Pipe Cleaners, Cake & Fireflies

Today we celebrate Motherhood. And my day was full, over-flowing with all that is good and beautiful in my life. I even saw a REAL silver lining, brilliantly framing a dark cloud in the evening sky tonight. And every so often, throughout today’s entirety, my phone would chime with another text from another friend or family member sending their love and blessings. So, let me share with you each of my children’s Mother’s Day world. I needed this day. It was good.

Sue – We spent the morning with her birthmother, grandmother, and aunt. We parked in front of an old house that we discovered was only a 5 minute drive from our own home. I had no idea when we moved cities 2 years ago, that we managed to move into an old home only 5 minutes from her birth family! We sat on her grandmother’s couch (draped in a white sheet) in a living room with decor that hadn’t changed since before I was born. I was sitting in a time capsule. Sue reached her chubby paws into the tupperware bowls containing all the potato chips her little heart could desire. She was so happy to see her Joo-Jee (as she calls her birthmother) and “Gam-mah.” She played, she stuffed her mouth with potato chips, and sat near Joo-Jee as she took her brief cigarette breaks in the backyard while Eddie accompanied them. When they came back into the house, Sue just climbed up into an old chair in front of the window, sunlight bouncing off her golden curls, and looked around at us all like a well-contented cat. She watched from her perch all the people who love her well and either gave her life or nurtured her into a healthy, precocious toddler who can talk, walk and JUMP. As I buckled her into her carseat, Sue exclaimed “A goo’ day, Mama! A goo’ day!!” I could see it in the contented look of peace in her blue eyes and the joy in showing off her new hopping skills. It was a “goo'” morning.

Layla – We arrived later that afternoon at my mother and father in law’s home. Layla had been staying there since her over night stint at the hospital this past week. She was excited to see me and ran to hug me and hand over a tiny book she made me that told me all the reasons she loves me. And the day before, she had baked and decorated a cake that she was so excited to unveil for me. She brought it out, expectancy beaming from her face as she presented the most beautiful home-made cake I have seen in quite a while. It had a sage green layer of frosting smothered in luxurious, soft pink roses. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but I did – all three decadent layers. All evening, she would find me and hug me, squeeze me, just touch to me. It was like a continuous apology for the grief we have been through of late. She had put so much of herself into creating and choosing gifts for me. And for today, all was well with us. Today.

Eddie -Eddie had me all to himself this weekend and much of today. He loved every minute, and we even enjoyed a little mother-son date to the movies late last night. Much later than little boys should be out on a Saturday night. And all the while, “Mom, I can’t WAIT to give you the present I made. I just can’t wait!” He forgot to give it to me this morning before seeing Sue’s birth family. He forgot when we visited his grandparents. All on account of epilepsy of course. But tonight, just before he went to bed, Eddie dug it out and handed it over: Kleenex-pipe cleaner flowers stuffed into an old applesauce jar covered in dried up glue. Some of these pipe cleaners are the green sparkly kind. I mean – THIS. IS. AWESOME! All I could do was to yell in giddy excitement because what else is there to do when someone hands you kleenex, pipe cleaners and up-cycled glass jars? He was so proud of his creation. And you better believe it is supposed to go right next to birth mom & birth dad’s commemorative Fanta Bottle. Yes, indeed.

Days like today, the real silver lining clouds, the beautiful people in my life who hold me a little tighter and share the hug a little longer, text me a little more often, authentic-one-of-a-kind-creations by my children, sharing motherhood with a birthmother, phone calls from my brother, the inappropriate jokes my good friends tell that they KNOW will make me throw my head back and laugh out loud, extra kisses from my husband who looked at me from across the room a little longer today and then told me how beautiful he thinks I am – these are the fireflies that are lighting up the darkness that has overtaken this season of my life. I know it isn’t forever and they all know it, too. But they are doing what they can, when they can, to light up my world until the break of a brighter dawn. I am thankful for each firefly in my life.

I was spoiled rotten today. And I am so thankful for it. I looked over at my sister in law tonight and sighed jokingly, “I wish it were Mother’s Day, every day.” To which she quickly replied, “Yeah, but then the world would fall apart.” Yes, it would. So tomorrow, I will go back to it refreshed and try again to hold the world together for my beautiful, loving, thoughtful, goofy, in-process, healing children.

 

Shifting shadows in the sun

 

I was sitting (staring blankly) after an ordeal sending my daughter to the hospital this past week, with the possibility of inpatient treatment for her uncontrolled mental illness. I was drained and slightly catatonic trying to readjust to life in the warmth of my comfortable home. I spent 24 hours seeing the world under fluorescent lights and walking through sterile halls – Sleeping under the survey of watchful cameras and strangers I will never see again. Hopefully. The luster of my hardwood floors repeatedly caught my eye as the tree outside our window cast furtive and fleeting shadows of the leaves playing in the wind. The shadow moving against the light continued to grab my lost attention and drew me to look up toward the sharp light cascading in.

Shadows move in traveling light
Undetected at their leisure
They cast a stagnant pose

But as the shadows shift
in the halted noonday sun
The eyes tease tricks
While the wind plays fast
An unheard tune
for the phantom leaves to dance

their contrasting ruckus
crisscrosses my floor
Returning my gaze to the Light

Mental illness casts a shadow over our family’s everyday life. As it shifts in its unpredictability, I find that the uncertain way it teases and wobbles our equilibrium continually brings me back into a place where I look and strain toward the one place that I can find peace, in Christ alone. And as I outwardly sit in silence, my heart and mind are screaming out to Him. I remembered in my waking moments earlier that morning, before I opened my eyes, I was crying out from the deepest parts of me, “Please. Please make a way.” But these things you won’t see as I sit on the couch, watching the shadows play on my floor. And you won’t see it when I smile at you and hug you “hello.” These are the shadows inside, but I hope somehow, light still shines out of me next time I see you. Today, I laughed out loud willy nilly, so its glimmer must still be there.

After the ordeal ended, and we checked out of the hospital, we made a new plan to try to help her heal. And try to help us heal.  It doesn’t include a hospital, but intensive therapies and medicine changes in my home. With an entire support team intruding upon the eco-system of my house. If it wasn’t before, it’s about to get REAL up in here. More shadows lay ahead, but in that, I keep close to the Light. Straining harder so I don’t miss the mark. I need the light when I am standing in shadows. And shadow is what helps us bring light to a piece of art. This heartache? It must be a work of art. But it doesn’t feel very beautiful from this side of it.

__________________________

Response to daily prompt Shadow

 

My Hope – Above the Clouds

I have said before that I write to process my life – circumstances, my family’s needs, our heartbreaks, our victories, our joys, everything that swirls in my blender of a mind. I often don’t really know what I think or believe until I write it down.

So, today I share 2 poems, written almost exactly one year apart and over the same life circumstances. Namely, the health of my son who has epilepsy and Intellectual Disability diagnoses. Traversing the terrain of his world, armed with an extremely vulnerable brain leaves a parent lost and powerless. We spent 7 long years begging and pleading school districts to help us accommodate him and we whittled away thousands and thousands of dollars searching for diagnoses. I spent days and nights on my knees (sometimes literally and other times figuratively) humbly presenting my requests to God. The first diagnosis that came was “epilepsy” and trying to control the seizures was a long, arduous process that was difficult to walk through. Here was my response to years of heartache with no reprieve in August of 2014:

Storms & Silence

Anger beats red and
A Bitter taste chokes my roots
Clawing for some help
My hands are dirty and I am raw
Grime clings beneath nail-beds
And soot stains the heart-lines
Hope has fled with my youth,
Sorrowed and soiled.
I can’t help him.
From where will help come?
I have lost my breath.
From where will his help come?
The fight’s gone from my bones
Worn, with an ache in my knees
From begging far too long.
Worry lurks behind me and a fear that is real
Steals my sleep and chases away peace.

Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I lean into backbreaking winds.
once they slowed, I fell face down with nothing to resist.
I am hoarse from calling out to You.
I need water, my well is dry.
I watch. Wait.
Prayers carried by the wind
And dashed against rocks I can’t see.

I watch.
Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I clench my eyes shut and bite down hard.
Straining to hear.
But the silence ensues, piercing me
And Ravaging him
No shelter from storms that seek to destroy
This small life, significant to ME
my prayers, love and patience poured out on its behalf…
is crumbling to ruins before my eyes.
Too many can’ts, numberless don’ts.
Isolating us each morning.
Where are Your promises? Where are your new mercies?
Why.

The second poem I wrote a few months after receiving the second diagnosis of Intellectual Disability (formerly known as mental retardation). While the people in our lives grieved, I found solace in having everything I already knew – validated. Finally. And with that validation came the help of school districts and more specialists. The best part? I could give myself a break, and lower my expectations of him and require the world around him to do the same. It gave us all more room to breathe. It saved our family and here was my response to the help after long years of searching and waiting in desperation for a breakthrough (August 2015):

above the clouds

In all this, I found that God is still the same. Even when it seems as though He does not hear and we are alone, we are not. And if I am angry, He can handle it if I pour it out to him. I cannot strive in Hope for a better future or relief or changed circumstances. Those kinds of hopeful prayers will be dashed. Instead, I must make God Himself my hope. He is with me, He is with my son. He is for me, He is for my son. God is enough and He does sustain, if I keep my head up and looking above the clouds…even while they block the sun.

The music in my bones

seasons of frustration
take their toll within a
shell-shocked phantom limb
i can’t win and neither can i lose
just running circles round
things i’d rather choose
so tired of wondering
can’t wait to stop the waiting

sometimes, these prayers bounce right back
and the logic makes no sense
has my heart really missed the mark
did I color the wrong lens?
desert sand cracks my skin
and hangs my soul to dry
living water trickles slow
but great floods fill the sky

some things most dear to me
slipped through my fingers long ago
old mistakes are traded for
the music in my bones
oh, I let the song in my soul fly
but an ache traps the melody,
it vanishes in smoke

 

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In response to the Daily Post Prompt “Music

In the last several years, I have had to put many of my personal interests and talents on hold as my time is given over to caring for 3 children with special needs. But the flip side is that I am a classically trained vocalist and I can easily catch a brief but genuine escape when I sing, losing myself to the melody. And when the song ends, its back to the daily grind and some of the ache of today returns. So sometimes, I just try to keep singing through the day – If it is socially acceptable. And sometimes when it isn’t.

Set in stone – MY stairway

It took 36 hours, 4 flights, a week in a city I had never heard of just months ago, and a long bus-ride into the countryside, heading toward a small village in Southern India to find my stairway. And it had been carved out of stone into the hillside around 1,000 years ago. For me. For any local worshipper, or any wandering pilgrim. On this bus-ride, outside the chaos of the jungle-city of Bangalore, I finally had time to reflect how far I had come. Not just the miles, but my own personal journey.

The countryside was rolling by my window seat as our bus carried us (we were a pack of university students studying Social Justice) outside of Bangalore to Hassan. It finally occurred to me that I had made it to India…and had survived the first week. No, more than that — I had conquered my fears and was soaking up all that Bangalore was becoming to me. I knocked the door right off its hinges and came charging through. For the first time, I was truly proud of myself. But in many ways, I was also terrified of what it all meant: going back to college, traveling to India, and leaving my little girl, Layla behind. I was not afraid of doing any of those things but I was terrified of going against the grain or having my mothering skills and personal judgment questioned. “Don’t you know that there is poverty in India?” and “Your poor husband, how is he going to take care of Layla all by himself?” or, my personal favorite: “What a nice vacation from Layla!” Despite all of that nonsense, I found freedom within myself on my journey to India.

And now to MY stairway.

The students I had traveled with filed out of our bus and we were instructed to remove our shoes and wash our feet.IMG_3931 After we unloaded our belongings, armed with our cameras and clean feet, we approached the rock staircase carefully carved into the side of the daunting land-rise before us. And we climbed and climbed and climbed. Local worshippers passed us, we stood aside as 4 men carried an old woman down the steep stairway after she had done with her rituals atop in the stone-carved temple above. I turned around and looked at the ancient mosque atop the hillside opposite our perch. I was in awe. My mind and my soul were silenced as my feet plodded left-right, up the hill.

I reached the top, inhaled the haunting elixir on the quiet breeze of old moldy stones, incense, and a little marijuana. I was free. I realized I had left all the fear and uncertainty down at the bottom and I knew I had conquered it all – travel preparations, the stairs, breaking the mould, living the life I was meant to. From there, my journey had begun. I would not live as I was expected to by the world, the culture, the family, the community around me. No, I would live with my husband the life we were called to. I would take these lessons I had learned on my way to this place, and everywhere after with me. I would write them on the hearts of my children. I would live a life that is separate and undefiled by the world around me – something holy and fully committed. My family would serve the underprivileged women and children in our community the best way we could. Providing safety and support.

And I am trying to, 10 years later, imperfectly and with a 1,000 miles of other stairways into other unknown realms. I often feel like a foreigner in my own community. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because I am still there in the Southern Indian countryside, still learning here at home in my community, finding my lessons, conquering stairways into places my neighbors tend not to go. And if I am not, then I have forgotten what India became to me and I have lost my way.
Stairway

An Infinite Curve

IMG_3927
Near Hassan  in Southern India atop a 1,000 year old temple. In this moment 10 years ago, I set an intention for my life: grateful I am still in its arc.

ride an infinite curve

grace acquired in treacherous storms

chiseled fragments fly

  on sweet swirling breezes

that bend but never break

my repose in fast stillness

Curve