There is something haunting
in the light of the moon;
it has all the dispassionateness
of a disembodied soul,
and something of its inconceivable mystery.
~ Joseph Conrad ~
June 29, 2012: Remembrance of Dad
I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.
The same hand that had once changed my diapers, given me a bottle, taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car, that fed me my first (and last) piece of liver, that cut my hair into a pixie, that held onto me when I crossed a road, that gave me away in marriage, that slipped me money at the beginning of every month, that signed the checks for oh-so-many years of education, that taught me the importance of giving…
I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell. In disbelief.
That Friday morning, ready to leave for work, the phone rang. Dad probably couldn’t wait until my Bluetooth call while I was on my way to work; he must have had something important to tell me that happened on this date, from the calendar he kept with all family events (big and little) catalogued.
Something very important. My sister’s voice – hysterical, sobbing – “Dad’s dead.”
I calmly called Michael, who told me to wait until he got home from the office; he didn’t trust me to drive. On our way there – on our way “home” – I knew it would take at least an hour – I prayed that you would still be there when I got to the house.
How could I have prayed for what I saw when I arrived? The State Trooper was just leaving as I flew out of the passenger seat and ran across the lawn – the same lawn that you mowed on your John Deere, a special handle screwed into its casing so you could drive your grandsons around with you 30 years ago – to the figure half-hidden by the hedge, covered with a thin white blanket.
I heard someone wail in anguish and didn’t know it was me – your baby of 58 years.
Where was the dignity in this? Dad – my father – a World War II veteran – lying in his driveway, in the sunshine. (Thank goodness for your being covered; lupus doesn’t like sunshine, remember?)
I held your hand in the driveway.
It was right where I had seen Mom standing at your side, oh-so-many years ago after she died, as Steve, Alex and I pulled out of your driveway; by the flowering tree Mom loved that nestled the bird feeders you kept filled for the songbirds and squirrels.
The diamonds in Mom’s ring sparkled in the sunshine as my fingers entwined with yours, your strong hands, nails neatly trimmed, relaxed…at peace. My tears fell onto our hands, a baptism, a cleansing of our relationship, joined with Mom in a bond not unlike diamonds that would only strengthen with the weight of time passed.
There was a dignity in this, of a sort…a communion, a joining, rather than a separation… A quietness…a birth…an arrival upon the heels of a departure.
You were already being greeted by the God whom you so loved, along with Grammie and Grandpop, who sang the words of Matthew 3:17: “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
A trembling voice echoed off the walls of my broken heart: “This is my Father, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Related Post: Remembrance
He endured being called a girl, playing sports with waist-length hair and attracting disapproving looks from adults — all for a child in need he’s never met.
Eight-year-old Christian McPhilamy grew out his blond hair for more than two years so he could donate it to kids who have lost their locks. The mission ended with success last week after an epic haircut.
His mom Deeanna Thomas is still awed by his determination.
“Christian has such a huge heart,” Thomas, who lives in Melbourne, Florida, told TODAY Parents. “I don’t even know if there are words to describe how proud I am of him.”
“It’s definitely inspiring to see kids starting so young with wanting to help and do good deeds,” said Christine Wong, COO of Children With Hair Loss, the charity that received Christian’s hair. Wong estimated only 1 in 50 donations to the organization come from boys.
It all started during Christmas of 2012 when Christian saw a commercial for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital. The TV spot featured young cancer patients without hair, which piqued his curiosity.
Christian and his mom have a nightly ritual where they take an iPad and search for whatever fascinates him on Google. He’s usually interested in animals but that night, Christian looked up St. Jude’s. When an ad for a hair donation charity popped up, he asked Thomas what it meant. She explained to him people can donate their locks to cancer patients who have lost theirs due to chemotherapy.
“And he said, ‘I want to do that,'” Thomas, 28, recalled. “I was blown away… usually when Christian sets his mind to something, he pretty much goes with it. He doesn’t let anything falter his goals. I was pretty confident that he was actually going to follow through with it.”
At the time he had a short spiky do, but with his mom’s OK, Christian began growing out his blond hair.
The taunts and comments started when it got below his chin.
“Sometimes they would call me a girl,” Christian told TODAY Parents.
“Even out and about or at a park, he would be playing with a bunch of boys and they’d be like, ‘You look like a girl.’ And he would just explain to them. He held his head high and he never once said that he wanted to cut it off ever,” Christian’s mom added.
One man bluntly told Christian his hair was getting too long and he needed to do something about it, but once he found out about the boy’s mission, he offered a heartfelt apology, Thomas said.
Thomas also got used to hearing “Your daughters are so pretty” when she was out with Christian and his younger sister. At a doctor’s appointment, a physician once greeted Christian with a cheery, “Oh, hey beautiful girl,” to which Christian calmly replied, ‘I’m a boy.”
Even though he seemed unfazed by the comments, Thomas still always tried to reassure him.
“I just told him, buddy, if you’ve got goals and you want to reach them, you have to follow them. You can’t let what anybody says to you bring you down, and he never did,” she said.
Christian’s hair grew well down his back, but he would only wear it down despite heavy encouragement from Thomas to put it up.
The big haircut day finally came last Wednesday, as the family gathered in Christian’s room and his mom took scissors into her hands.
With his thick hair partitioned into pony tails, the two-and-a-half-year-mission produced four 10-inch long sections that the family sent to Children With Hair Loss. The charity provides free wigs to kids who have lost their locks for any reason, including cancer, alopecia and burns.
“My hands were shaking. My heart felt like it was going to explode,” Thomas said about the haircut. “It was just incredible.”
As for Christian, he said it feels good to have short hair again. Somewhere, another child will be feeling good, too, because of Christian.
TODAY – A. Pawlowski
The Tree of Life
When working with students, many times on their first visit to my office, they remark about how relaxing it seems. The colorful prints, inspirational wall words, plaques with favorite sayings, bubbling fountain and the hint of aromatherapy are a calculated effort on my part to not only relax the students, but myself. I also use some of these items as therapy aids when appropriate.
One of my favorite pieces is a unique wire sculpture that I found years ago at a flower show. It is a windblown tree made of twisted wire in a sienna brown finish. Its solid roots are thick and gnarled, leading into a sturdy trunk, filled with branches that are leaning in one direction, as if buffeted by a strong wind.
To me, that sculpture is indeed the “tree of life” we hear so much about in philosophical readings. The image represents the triumph of the human spirit that I see so often when working with clients in the often difficult therapeutic process.
The roots are our foundation – our family background, our experiences, our heritage – the basis of who we are and where we come from.
The trunk is our self, determined, always reaching up toward the light as we continue to grow, to heal, to seek.
The branches are our life journey, each twist and turn a major decision, whether good or not-so-good, that takes us off in another direction. Some branches are shorter than others, some more twisted, some joining or grafting together to lend strength, others growing in a convoluted route that seems impossible to follow, without a clear beginning or defined end.
It sounds like life, doesn’t it?
Whenever I offer my interpretation of its symbolism, people usually groan when I mention the branches being a map of their decisions. They’re probably remembering the ones that still loom as regrets; the ones, in hindsight, they wish they’d never made at all. But without those questionable decisions, our tree wouldn’t be as full, as beautiful or as complete.
That fullness affords us with hard-earned wisdom that we can pass on to others in need. That fullness gives us the power and stamina needed to withstand what ever life hands us – the gale force winds, the torrential rains, the searing sunshine and drought, the changing of the seasons. Yet that same fullness is flexible enough to lean with the forces of nature, yet not be uprooted.
Each season brings its own joy. Spring, with its beautiful blossoms that burst forth from tiny buds. Summer, with its sunshine and warmth. Autumn, with its colorful palette of bronze and gold, orange and scarlet. Winter, with the gentle touch of drifting snowflakes and a veneer of ice that glimmers like diamonds when brushed by the sun, its starkness a beautiful simplicity.
At any one time, the same tree might provide beauty, shade, food, heat, light, exercise, furniture.
A nesting place, a perch, a house, a climb, a landmark, a place to lean on or hide.
A groundedness, a permanence, a sense of time passing and history.
A quiet purpose, a meaning, a truth.
We can count on the tree, just like we can count on ourselves.
We are the tree, still standing, still growing, still providing, still seeking.
We are beautiful, we are natural, we are a gift.
A Tree of Life.
At the end of this year, Mankato Area Public Schools honored five fifth-grade boys from Franklin Elementary in Mankato, Minnesota with its Spirit of Youth Award.
Their teacher, Mallory Howk, had nominated them after witnessing their interactions with James Willmert, a boy at the school with a learning disability who’d been adopted from an orphanage in Colombia, and whose new father had been killed in a bicycle accident.
But the kids didn’t have an award in mind when they decided to pay some attention to James. As Jake Burgess, one of the boys, told NBC affiliate KARE, “He’s an awesome kid to hang out with.”
Jake had first witnessed James getting bullied one day at recess. He and his four friends — Jack Pemble, Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones, and Landon Kopischke — explained that what they saw wasn’t explicitly violent or physical. But it still upset them.
“They were, like, using him and taking advantage of him,” Jake explained to KARE.
“He’s easier to pick on and it’s just not right,” Jack added.
The five of them knew that they couldn’t stand for something like that to happen to James again. And they realized that the best way to protect him and stand up to the bullies was quite easy: They would be his friend.
Easy, maybe, but certainly not the normal course of action for a group of socially-conscious fifth graders.
They began inviting James to eat at their table during lunch, which he now does regularly. Often, he’ll need assistance opening bags of chips or small boxes of raisins. He simply holds up the package, and, without so much as pausing their conversation, his new friends patiently break the seal for him. And whenever he needs someone to tie his shoes, another frequent occurrence, one of the friends will quickly bend down to do it for him.
“It really kind of makes you proud to be their teacher,” said Howk, who believes that the school’s anti-bullying programs have had some effect on the kids, but that their kindness must also come from sheer instinct.
James and his family have also been moved by the boys’ kindness. His mother has been particularly grateful.
“He used to not want to go out for recess or anything, it would be like a struggle. And now he can barely eat his lunch to get outside to play with those guys,” said Margi Willmert.
That’s probably because when everyone gathers outside to play touch football at recess, Gus, Tyler, Landon, Jake and Jack always make sure that James gets to make a touchdown — sometimes, more than one.
But this isn’t just about being kind for the sake of being kind. The five friends have learned that there’s a lot to love about James. And while the whole thing’s mostly been a lesson in empathy, it’s also led to the development of a genuine friendship.
“He has a notebook with over 600 teams of college,” Tyler told KARE when asked about his new friend.
“That’s how much he likes sports,” interrupted Jack, equally impressed.
Even outside of school, the kindheartedness continued. James took the time to explain. “We’re like, ‘Do you have any sports games?’ And he was like, ‘No, I don’t have any video game systems.’ So that’s when I came up with the idea.”
The boys pooled together their own money and a collective donation from their parents and recently delivered video games and a PlayStation to James’ house. Video games alone are pretty exciting. But the occasion also marked the first time anyone from school had come over to play.
“I’ll never forget it. Never,” Margi said.
TODAY – Rebekah Lowin
Fortune sides with him who dares.
~ Virgil ~
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people,
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics,
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that even one life
has breathed easier
because you lived.
That is to have succeeded.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~