Good luck and goodnight Abigail. We love you so much.



Image credit: Abigail holds a bird given to her by her medical team. 
It's given in honor of finishing her last round of chemotherapy and with the message, "Spread your wings and fly." From her Facebook photo album. 


“Where’s the pizza?” my husband asks.

We eat dinner out. He wants to make sure one of us brought the leftovers in from the car and put them in the refrigerator.

“I don’t know,” I respond from my reading chair as he walks over and takes the pizza box resting under my book off of my lap.

Oh.

He smiles gently though doesn’t mention that I still have my sunglasses on. I notice them when it’s hard to read while squinting over Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem about night travelers who search the darkness instead of running from it (Search the Darkness, The Pocket Rumi, edited by Kabir Helminski, p. 53).

I’m dwelling on the part where Rumi says that night travelers are full of light.

Here it is again: adversity is a harvest opportunity. Those night travelers are full of light from a practice of softening and opening while in the darkness of pain.

I think about Abigail, and that she knows about this type of harvest. (I meet her about a year and a half before she is diagnosed with cancer and while I am in treatment for lymphoma. I’m now stable.)

She just died.

Abigail passed from complications during an autologous stem cell transplant. She is thirty-one.  

I’m sad and shocked. I knew she was very sick. I knew about stem cell rescue statistics. So why does her passing feel sudden and unexpected?

Because she thought, spoke, and lived like she wasn’t sick. Well, it’s more than that. She lived a moment as the best ever, even at her sickest. She had that kind of life-loving spirit.

Even when her stem cells are being drawn to save for re-entry later, her “no big deal, I can do this, wait, I can do this with humor and acceptance” comes through. As if giving a White House tour, in a video she says:

“Welcome! Here I am at the hospital…blood being drawn. Stem cells! As you can see, I have a corner view.” She gestures to large windows and raises her eyebrows in jollity, making me wonder if she’s at a five-star hotel. With a click of her tongue, a nod, and grin, she closes with an Edward R. Murrow mimic. “Good luck and good night.” Then she smiles like an Olympian who has already won a gold medal.

And just a few weeks ago when her healthy stem cells were being reintroduced into her body, a group of nurses gather to sing happy birthday. Abigail opened to the love, raised her arms, and directed their song as if conducting a choir.

Abigail was happy.

Overflowing happy. I see it in her short simple videos: a close-up glee of a sparkler aflame, pleasure in seeing rowing crews glide by on a river outside her window, sounds of the Pacific lapping on the shoreline, a recording of her beloved Stanton’s Daffy Duck voice. And the video of a butterfly visit and request: “Butterfly, tell me your secrets.”

I think that butterfly gleaned from Abigail’s secrets. I imagine that large black swallowtail gathering and sprinkling golden pollen dust in a Roald Dahl BFG blow-dreams-into-hearts way. That's how Abigail's attention felt. (Being happiness was giving it.)

Her happiness is confident and evident in our conversations. Even ones about tough topics.

We talk about how both her brother and my son die unexpectedly. She says, “You know how when someone dies they’re still here?” I smile and tell her about the day a hummingbird flew into my school classroom and landed at my feet when I am in early grief about my son’s passing. Her face lights up as if she knows that bird. She speaks with a heart-connected sparkle in her eye, “I feel my brother nearby like that.” And then we share beautiful and quirky ways we’ll visit loved ones after passing on.

She calls around the end of June.

She talks about the coming stem cell capture procedure. She’s thinking a lot about that. Well, not that exactly. She’s thinking about love. And those who love her.

She hopes so much that they feel her love. I listen to what I believe is one of the most precious soliloquies I’ve ever heard about her deep and abiding love. Her voice sings in joy.

In love.

She loves them and she knows they love her. She can feel it.  It’s like nothing else matters. There is nothing else to do.

I feel like I’m part of a privileged awareness.

I take in her message.

She thanks me for listening and ends with what she tells everyone she meets, “I love you so much.”

I miss Abigail. I think of all those people missing her right now. Her fearless journey reminds me that love enlarges when I face difficulty with an open heart in community with others. Her passing invites a high calling: face your joy and despair at once.

With inner brilliance beacons, Abigail shows us how. 

Published 7/29/14. 
Republished in celebration of beautiful Abigail, with love and tenderheartedness for her Mom, JoLynn.

NOTE: Pondering that comment Abigail made about visiting someone in quirky ways after passing on—twice in the last months my phone rang for Facetime with Abigail while I was in the middle of a call. Why hello, Abigail.



New eyes (and focus) from a wasp nose-landing



An image from the book The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. The book is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s original story. Found on Brain Pickings.

I’m sapped. Outta gas and ready to drop.

It’s not physical fatigue. (Well, maybe a little.) I’m mentally spent. I should, right this minute take a flying leap into the bed to rest this weariness, but I’m charged up up up as in oh-I-just-got-a-juicy-realization.

So here I am tap tap typing.

What is it now?

My active, alert, awake, apperceptive nineteen-month-old Grandson is a wasp.

Yes, a wasp.

Oh, gee. How do I explain this? (No, he doesn’t sting.)

When I’m with him, when he’s in my care, he’s like a wasp in the room. I go on high alert. Owl-eye alert. I’m awake and focused. Just like the time a wasp flew into our home and stayed a few days before it flew out. (That was some of my finest being present practice.)

This is how my aha unfolds:

I’m in the car listening to Pema Chödrön’s Walking the Walk talk. It’s from a weekend retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This part grabs my attention: she says the mind has an inherent ability to focus, to be present and know what’s happening.

Inherent? Oh really.

When I meditate, the tendency is that active mind leaves my mantra and goes off questioning an article about kale causing hypothyroidism or wondering what kind of snail it was I saw crawling up the screen.

And then Pema offers an example of what she means by inherent.

“Take tooth brushing,” she says. “I can brush and brush, froth it up, and all of a sudden I’m off thinking about something else. But what if I have an infected tooth? I’d be pretty attentive while brushing.”

There’s the inherent ability. (Thank you, pain, for the reminder that this focus is always there.)

I’m enraptured, enchanted and believing in my potential.

Okay. So I’m still listening. 

And, just after Ani Pema tells that part about the inherent strength of the mind, a wasp lands briefly on her nose. Out of the blue!

“Hello, wasp. Who are you?” she asks, and then, “Darling, it won’t be so funny if you sting me.”

I notice by the intonation in her voice that she becomes totally focused on that wasp. I can feel her heightened awareness. I’m positive she gets that it’s a synchronistic explanatory gift.

And then it’s my turn.

A few days later...

I’m sitting in a chair near the pool. My gaze focuses on Grandson who walks the organic-shaped perimeter edge. Around once. And then again. He pauses on the deep end side. (He cannot swim on his own yet. Close, but if he fell in unwatched, uh oh.)

He turns and faces the pool as a diver might, toes curled slightly over the coping. He bends his elbows, raises his eyebrows, and stoops a bit.

(I remain in my chair. But, yes you guessed it: owl-eyes, quiet mind.)

He stills and watches the pool vacuum slowly sweep the bottom and inch up the sidewall. He squats deeper, a malasana stance that balances his forward lean, as his eyes follow the slow graze of the brush.

An upward swoop over and down moves Grandson two steps sideways.

And he begins again, with both of us, yes, yes, yes—accessing our inherent ability to be with what is happening.

That’s when I notice a few things.

One.

I’m at full attention. It would be dangerous not to be. (Fear is one way to bring about the being present thing.) I’ve never seen a pool pump move so beautifully.

Two.

He’s at full attention. He’s with that brushing activity as if he’s been strengthening his mind to be present for eternity.

Three.

He shows me what we naturally know. 

This isn't a fluke focus. Earlier, Grandson came to a complete halt when the air conditioner intake came on, turning his face upward and pointing at the air duct, smiling as if he just heard Leonard Cohen sing Hallelujah live.

I can learn from him how to be and see.

Ani Pema reminds us that it might be hard for us to be still, quiet, and focus. Yet, she encourages us to just keep practicing. Over time awareness becomes vivid and clear. 

So I practice. 

When I'm with Grandson, the instruction is to be there. All there. Awake and alert as if a wasp-beckoned my attention. 

Note: Originally published 7/14/14.