Although this post begins with a tragedy, it is a post about hope.
I was thrift store hopping in 2003 when I missed a call from a girlfriend. Stepping out from the thrift store I’d been shopping at, I dialed my voicemail access number. I knew something was wrong when my new voicemail began not with “Hi, Debbie!” but “Oh, Deb.”
Only a handful of seconds later, I sank to the sidewalk and thought, “No. No, this is a terrible joke. This can’t have happened.”
But it had.
Months later, I continued to struggle with how suddenly lives could be ended. I found solace only in my long nighttime runs, during which my thoughts ran even further and wider than my legs.
One evening shortly before the 2004 marathon that would be my first, I noticed a car passing by me slowly and repeatedly. I started getting anxious about how dark it was, how long it had been since I’d seen another person, how if someone managed to get me into their car, there’d be no one around to notice.
I ran in the direction of the nearest police station and I prayed. The car fell away, eventually, but the adrenaline didn’t.
I wondered about what would have happened if the ending there had been different. Would my friends remember me for all the happy memories we shared, or would they remember only how my life ended?
The thought horrified me. As I wept while running homeward, I thought over and over again: We are so much more than the ways that we end.
Afterward, I endeavored to remember those who had died not for how their lives concluded, but for who they were while they lived. For their lives.
And yet, when my friend Karin began daily posting links to a blog series about a young girl’s struggle with cancer, I thought, “Gah, why would I want to read so extensively about a girl’s death?”
It was only when I read Karin’s husband Chris’s Freshly Pressed entry about why they are going “Blissfully Bald” that I understood just how much I had misunderstood. This wasn’t a story about a girl’s death to cancer.
It was a story about a girl’s life.
As I read Chris’s post, I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. If her life story had moved him so, so very much that this post flowed from its reading, I had to experience it myself.
Friday evening, I started reading her story.
Saturday morning, vision blurred from crying, I finished reading it.
Notice what I did there? I didn’t say I finished the story. I said “I finished reading it.”
That’s because Donna lives on in the things we do to remember her.
On March 24, my dear friends Chris and Karin, subjects of my first stick figure animation, will shave their heads to raise money for St. Baldrick’s. I’ve donated, which you can do via the “Blissfully Bald” link below. I’ve tweeted. I’ve posted it on Facebook. Now, I must share their fundraising efforts here, in the place I’m freest to explain everything they mean to me.
It’s been almost two years since my mom died of cancer. I remember daily the strength I feigned to cover the helplessness of watching her fade.
I remember deciding to run a half-marathon to raise money in her memory. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it was something I could do.
When you’re watching cancer steal away someone you love, there is painfully, wretchedly little you can do.
In running, I found a way to look forward instead of backward. I couldn’t bring my mom back, but I could take very literal steps toward ensuring someone else’s life didn’t end the same way.
So I ran, with my siblings, for Mom. When we were done, we placed our congratulatory roses on her headstone, and I felt a fluttering of peace. It faded quickly, but feeling it made me know it was a beginning. It was another step in the right direction.
This afternoon, as I drove home from brunch with girlfriends, I marveled at how deeply interconnected are things and lives whose connections we can’t always see: a pediatric cancer charity, a dojo, my mom, a scary encounter running, a pair of Michigan bloggers, and a little girl who filled the world with so much brilliance in the four years she was given to do so.
I thought about the 21-year-old woman the memory of whom inspired the memorial scholarship that enabled me to finish law school. I recently sent a note, via the law school, to let her family know that she continues to inspire me, although I never met her.
I remain grateful to this woman, and the family whose steps to remember her so tangibly impacted me. My life would not be what it is today but for her blessed memory.
Our bodies will cease. That is inevitable. But we will live on in the hearts of those who shared the journey with us, and whose lives we touched with our actions. In the hope that we helped build through these actions.
It’s thus I leave you with the words I shared on Facebook right after finishing reading Donna’s Cancer Story:
Last night I started reading Mary Tyler Mom‘s blog series “Donna’s Cancer Story.” This morning, through tears so abundant it was hard to see, I finished it.
I hope you’ll consider reading the series yourself, someday if not today. But if you don’t think you can read the whole thing, I’d recommend you read this last entry. It’s full of thoughts about what you can do to help Donna live on in the good things you do today.
If you are able to donate to From the Bungalow‘s team “Blissfully Bald,” that’s one thing. There are many more that don’t cost a thing but will help make life easier or brighter for someone else. Check out Donna’s Good Things for more on this, even if you don’t read this entry or the series.
Like its name suggests, it is full of good things, but there’s always room for more.
After I post this, I’ll greet my little man for the day, and be grateful. And I’ll remember these words, this morning and always, as well as the little girl whose story brought them to me:
“Choose hope. Live until you die.”
In doing so, you’ll live on further still in the memory of those blessed to love and have been loved by you.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Peg (Ramblings) was one of the first bloggers I stumbled upon in my efforts to expand my blogging horizons. Her tongue-in-cheek approach to most topics has had me giggling at things—such as the cost of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act freeway signs—that in less deft hands might be as hard to wade through as this sentence. But, oh! Her hands are deft, whether she’s using them to write compelling posts or to modify images in equally compelling, usually hilarious ways.
Recommended post: Contract Law 401: Negotiating With God
I have… my children…my husband and my friends…enough to eat…a home…my health, and the health of my family…an agile brain and the education to feed it… a loving, supportive family that nurtures me…been born to a country where freedom is a right.
When I consider how much I have, the concept of gratitude is overwhelming. My mind shies away from it. I have done nothing to earn these things. There cannot be enough gratitude in the world for this embarrassment of riches.
I am reminded of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who lived in the 19th century and died at the tender age of 24. She knew she would probably never do big, great things with her life. She decided to praise God and help others by concentrating on the small things; how she handled chores, annoyances and the myriad triumphs and tragedies of daily living. She called this the Little Way.
“The only way I can prove my love is by… the doing of the least actions for love.”
I don’t mention Saint Therese as a prelude to comparing myself to her in any way, although her example encourages me anew to do better. No, I thought about the Little Way because it has something to do with how I have approached the blessings in my life.
My gratitude for all the big things is bedrock supporting an intention to try to truly appreciate the small, as well. I have unconsciously adopted a habit I will call the Little Gratitude.
In my life, there have been moments out of time that strike me almost a physical blow with their sweetness. Here are a few remembered:
- Running down the stairs in my parents’ home, my home, and being stopped, just for a moment, by the particularly luminous quality of autumn sun. It is pouring like golden, melted butter through the small, high windows of our front door, setting the dust motes to dancing before it falls onto the carpet of the front hall. Wanting to curl up like a contented cat in that spot of sun, secure in the knowledge of being a child well cared for, and well loved.
- Driving, every day, over the bridge that leads to my home, oblivious to my surroundings. Then a gleam on the water catches the corner of my eye. The setting sun, peeking from under low, purple clouds turns the water in the river to molten as it dies back for another day. I am struck dumb by the gift of such beauty.
- Coming around the bend on a summer country road in the deepening time past twilight, and spying a field heavy with fireflies. I stop with my two, young children and whisper that it is the Fairies Ball, and they are dancing with their glowing partners. We sit, spellbound, marveling at their graceful gavotte in the hot, perfumed night air.
- Lying on my husband’s warm, firm shoulder, hair tickling my cheek, his steady breath raising and lowering my resting head, and the feeling of being safe and cherished and home.
- Walking down our rutted, dirt lane, the fall air so crisp each deep draught is almost a bite, the sky a shade of blue saved from impossible only by a scattering of high, cotton-candy clouds. My hand clutches the small, soft one of my daughter and my heart is full to bursting. I am almost weeping, trying to memorize the sound of her high voice, the slight dampness of her hand, the wood smoke whiff of a distant fire and the crunch of leaves under our feet. I am thanking God for this here and now, and praying I will be able to bring it back to mind in the many, many years that may come.
These small times of blessing have usually taken me unawares, and left me trying to catch my breath in joy and thanksgiving.
For these and countless other bright, shining little moments in my life, I am deeply grateful.
John (The Adventures of Daddy Runs A Lot) had me at “I like Buffy.” Okay, I confess it’s unlikely he said those exact words, but it was somehow established we had a mutual affection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As you probably know by now, 99% of the people who like this TV show are 10th-dan black belts in the martial art of “awesome.”
Much like our mutually beloved Buffy, John’s blog is a mix of humor and earnest contemplation. Each of these things is precious of its own right, but it’s the mixing of the two that leads to the truest reflection of life well lived.
Whether through the words “I like Buffy” or otherwise, I simply count myself grateful our blog paths did cross.
Recommended post: Where I contemplate the zombie infestation
Where I embrace my inner geek
I’m not sure how I came to follow the lovely Deborah here . . . maybe I was blog-hopping and she wrote a comment on someone’s blog that caught my eye. Maybe I was looking for topless photos of Jennifer Garner and somehow came upon her notes from being an extra on Alias. Maybe she stumbled upon my blog and I followed the link back to her place. All I know is that, once I figured out what “this,” was, I knew I was at home.
She was the mother of a little child. She loved to read. She enjoyed going to a comic-convention or two and has done what I hope to do, someday: complete a novel. She’s run marathons and can write something to make you sore from laughing one day and bring you to the brink of tears the next. ”Self, you’ve found your home,” I said to myself when I clicked on the subscribe button – and since then, it’s become just a wave of awesomesauce.
So, when the call for guest writers came out – well, I didn’t have much of a choice. I mean, I’ve already made myself at home, writing a few words seems to be the least I could do. And, somehow, writing about my inner-geek seems just about perfect here.
Why did I come to this conclusion? Because I delayed writing this because I had the Lord of the Rings on in the background, and I had to take a break for the Cave-Troll battle.
I’m fairly certain that I’ve had full conversations in nothing but movie quotes. Or Harry Potter quotes. I lament the fact that second breakfast and elevensies are not part of our culture. I know there is no greater way acknowledge an order than the words “as you wish.” When someone has unnaturally blue eyes, I wonder if they’re part-Fremen. I’ll argue, loudly, that we need to eat Irish babies in order to cure poverty in the world. I’m fluent in the rules of zombies, and I constantly question why there isn’t a single standard for vampires. I’m openly distrustful of six-fingered men. I associate the term “sex and violence” with the Muppets, and I firmly believe that the absolute apex of celebrity is to be on Sesame Street. The best way for the subject of a prophecy to not learn about said prophecy is to keep that subject from learning to read. The Seminal Fluids is a great name for a rock band. My favorite politician of all time is Clinton “Skink” Tyree. ”I know” may be the single most romantic line ever uttered on film, and Han shot first. If I could have but one item to hang on my walls, it would be the greatsword Ice. I’d fear a confessor more than I’d fear the electric chair, but not nearly as much as I’d fear thread. I truly freak out whenever I have an earache, as I’m convinced that the mind-control is near complete. Sometimes, the shadow of the great story is a better way to tell it, especially if the shadow is that of Bean. My Room 101 would have Fear Demons that grew well-past their actual size.
There was a long time of my life that I based what I liked on what I perceived others would think about it. Now, I gladly don’t care . . . and what I love about being around here is that it feels like there’s always a couch available for me.
Thanks, Deborah, for the opportunity.