Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mario


Mario - Northern Kenya 2008
As I tapped my foot impatiently for the right man to come, I held several low-paying, dead-end jobs, including a park-aid for an OHV park where the visitors flirted with me shamelessly.  My boss, a Chuck Norris type, had just the right amount of concern and protection.  “You’re pretty friendly,” he’d say to me when I complained about the unsolicited attention.  “They might think you’re interested.”

Mario about the time I met him - 1987
My boss was a divorced man, older and wiser.  He also ran the place and I was obliged to listen to him.  He gave advice only when I asked him for it, unless he was telling me how to do my job better.  I knew him only a little.  He was a friend of Lisa, one of my mentors,  respected as a leader in his department and worked tirelessly for the State Park Peace Officer’s Association, even though he was a Republican.  Tall, handsome, and muscular, Mario was seen by many women as an extremely eligible bachelor. 

Even in the workplace, women seemed to become softer  around him. I used to tease him about this, and he brushed me off.  I was not one of the swooners. Nine years older than me, Mario was not my type.  I was attracted to younger bad boys, usually Democrat musicians who were between jobs.  Mario was so clean-cut, a definite square -- and my boss.  Nevertheless, we became friends and I trusted and respected him.  I could tell he appreciated me as an employee and the symbiotic relationship worked in our office.  

One day, after a complicated series of events, I sought his advice on a personal issue.  He listened to my story and then offered his advice with humility and sincerity.  I sensed a deep ache in his words, a vulnerability that I had not seen before. 

Walking me out to my car, Mario and I said goodbye –and then we hugged.

As I hugged him, I melted into the firm, stable contours of his body.  I felt heaven open and the earth move.  There were angels singing, accompanied by harp music.  Doves bearing long silver ribbons descended from the sky and draped us in the destiny that was now irrevocable: we were meant for each other.   

That’s how Mario and I began.

Togetherness was inevitable, but entering a future together was another story.  Instead of sailing off into the sunset and living happily ever after, we were immediately navigating a rock-filled, rushing river in a two-person kayak, using nothing but foam paddles.  We eventually figured out that love, no matter how powerful, was not going to be enough to get us through the life we wanted together, so we developed skills together.  Not just how to navigate the river in our kayak, but how to make it out of the rapids without drowning after it crashed on the rocks.  Through the years, we learned how to seek help when we were miserably stuck, find hope in darkness, and press through tragedy.  We learned how to do all of these things with four children – four beautiful, wonderful and forgiving children.  God and our many friends helped us through the places that were miserable and dark.

Mario, through it all, was a fearless leader.  Together we have weathered many unpredictable storms and come out of them still friends.

My husband is unusually strong and likewise tender.  He is a marathon runner who never accepts defeat and works tirelessly.  Above all of this, Mario is a faith-filled man who loves and understands me deeply. He cares more about the inside of people, their hearts and minds, than any external label anyone can place on another human being.  He’s taught me patience, perseverance and humility.  I love him more than ever—with the kind of love that grows.

All of Us- Father's Day 1993
This year, as if to challenge himself even further, Mario was part of  Davis Musical Theater's production of Man of LaMancha.  Taking part in the 50th anniversary production of his father's signature play was a huge step out of his comfort zone, but he loved it.

He also just finished writing a tribute biography for his brother, Stephen.  He asked me to edit the text, but it was so touching and beautiful that I couldn't touch it.  This week we took it to the printers and when it showed up, I got tears in my eyes.   What a genuine labor of love for his family!

Today is Mario’s birthday—and Father’s Day!  On this day Mario will “uncelebrate” – hunker down and do what he loves to do best: relax.  For a man who never stops growing and challenging himself, he understands the need for peace and rest!  I can plan a party for him and invite our friends and family – fill the house with celebration and laughter, but that would be for me, not him.

Sometimes I remember the day after the hug – the day when Mario confronted me and asked me what happened.

“I’ve never had a hug like that before.  What did you do?”

I smiled, shyly (I am not shy).  I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I loved who he was inside and out.  I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t like all the other girls.  I was designed for him as he was for me.  Instead, I just said, “I don’t know.”

He didn’t know what to say, but he looked at me suspiciously.  As a cop, he might have thought that I could be hiding something.  I swear I’m not hiding anything, babe –but feel free to search me!


I love you, Mario.  Happy Father’s Day and Happy Birthday.  How did I ever get so lucky?

US!  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Joe


Joe - 1987

The first time I met Joe he was wearing a green-striped shirt and following David, his elder brother, into his father’s office.  He looked over the counter and smiled at me.  His father was Mario, my boss who I would marry eighteen months later, though at the time I didn’t see that coming. 

“Boys,” Mario said in a voice reserved for his children.  “This is our new Park Aid, Janet.  She’s brand new so don’t bother her.  She’s still trying to learn how to type.” Mario thought he was funny.  So did the boys.

Instead of “not bothering me” the boys gravitated to my desk.  David told me that they had come on a plane together to California, all the way from Kansas City.

“That’s where our Mom lives,” Joe said, dreamily.  He was a blonde, blue-eyed boy who had just turned six.  David, brown haired and brown eyed was seven, but quick to tell me that he would soon be eight. 

I liked them immediately.  They were filled with observations and questions.  They wanted to use my new electric typewriter.  They told me they had just ridden a horse the day before and Joe actually fell off.

“But I got up and got back on,” he said, proud of himself.  What I didn’t see coming was that Joe would become quite an accomplished horse rider—a cowboy, if you will.  Both boys would learn to break and care for horses with such skill that they could make a living.

I went to Mario’s house for dinner that night (more at the invitation of the boys than of him) and got to observe the family dynamics a bit more.  Both boys basked in their father’s attention.  David appeared to be the alpha, even though Joe would say “You’re not the boss of me, David!”  Joe, as the younger child, was thoughtful. 
Joe and I -that first dinner meeting

At some point, I picked up a book and started reading to them.  It was beautiful and magical.  I read four or five books that evening before I excused myself and went home.

“Why are you leaving?” Joe asked me as I packed up my purse. 

“I have a baby,” I answered above their father.  (Mario was laughing, saying: “Because she doesn’t live here!”)

“A girl baby or a boy baby?” Joe asked.

“A boy.  His name is Vince.”

“Can you go get him and bring him back here?”

I looked up at Mario who was smiling. 

“No, honey,” I said.  “I’m going to go home and spend some time with him.  Usually I give him a bath and put him to bed.”

Mario and Joe at the top of the World Trade Center - 1987
I left that night, feeling like I fit in the lives of Mario and the boys. That seed grew and blossomed into a beautiful relationship, one that we realized would become permanent. What I didn’t see coming was how long it would take Joe to accept me as part of Mario’s life.  He was careful and watchful.  Mario and I were careful to read books on blended families and even saw a family counselor. 

On a trip to New York City, David agreed to hold my hand when we crossed the street or walked crowded sidewalks.  Joe permitted me to hold his wrist.   David shared his heart and mind with me while Joe watched me closely.

Eventually Joe and I became closer and he accepted that I was a part of his new life that wasn’t going away.  Thank God there was that acceptance.  As he grew, I saw that Joe’s heart was so like his father’s: steady, beautiful, tender.

Our Family 1994


A little over a year ago, Joe married Ariel, his long-time girlfriend –who has a young son named Asher.  To see the family together is precious and inspiring.  Joe seems to have come alive with fatherhood and the occupation makes him glow.

Joe (holding Asher) and Ariel (holding Harvey)

Today is his birthday –tomorrow is Father’s Day.  I watch Joe now as he used to watch me; I see him alive and sparkling in full bloom.  A husband, a father and the proud pappy of a new baby, Harvey.  As a man, he has come into his own.

Joe with Harvey -- January 2016
Over the years, I have amassed thousands of memories and thousands of words to describe Joe, but the best way I can sum him up is to say he is like Mario.  He’s kind to strangers, loves his family and thinks he is funnier than he really is (wink, wink).  He  is tender and strong.  He thinks before he acts, works well in a team, and make decisions cautiously and carefully. 

In truth, Joe has become stronger with each passing year, and in this world that matters. 

Happy Birthday, Joe!  Your faithful love and understanding has been greater than I could have ever hoped for.  I love you. 


Saturday, June 11, 2016

words

The Alleys of Khan el Khalili
I remember the day I almost met Naguib Mahfouz.  I was a mess, cramping with excitement.  I had admired his writing, especially Midaq Alley, a book that both enchanted and horrified me.  On our first trip to Cairo, I begged Mario to take me to Khan el-Khalili, the Islamic marketplace that Mahfouz haunted, writing in coffee-houses with a pen and paper, drinking coffee like he was ordinary.  I knew he breathed atoms there; perhaps I could breathe the same ones.  I wanted to understand the hold that his words had on me. 

“Do you want me to take you to his coffee house?” Our eavesdropping taxi driver spoke perfect English, and I was surprised. “He should still be there.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, turning my attention toward him.  “Do you know him?”  I suddenly felt naked and exposed.  I sounded like some literary groupie, but Mario laughed. 

“This is perfect.  You know where he has coffee?”

The driver looked at his watch.  “If we hurry we can make it before one o’clock.  He goes home for lunch.”

We made it to the bazaar in record speed and parked.  I was shaking.  I was suddenly aware of how western I was.  My hair hung, black and uncovered, all the way to my shoulders.  My white skirt, in proper missionary fashion, covered my knees, but not my ankles.  

I followed our driver through the narrow alleys, passing hanging chandeliers and brass candlesticks to a doorway with an ornate carved entrance.  As soon as we stepped inside, an oil painting of Mahfouz greeted us; his books lined the walls.  Here, Mahfouz penned the entire history of modern Egypt in a series of books. 

My knees shook; I held Mario’s hand too tightly.

Naguib Mahfouz's nook at his coffee shop, Khan Khalili
The taxi driver took it upon himself to speak to the maître D, a man in a dishdasha and fez.  He looked over at me as our driver explained what an insane fan I was, and sized me up.  

Then. Turning to our taxi driver, he shook his head slowly and whispered something.  I knew I had been rejected.  Perhaps the master liked to write undisturbed- after all, I did.

Our driver returned to us with a sad look on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said, in a low voice.  “But he died last year.”

The moment makes me laugh now.  What was I thinking? I was going to meet a writer, a fellow author who wrote about his corner of the world.  What would I have said?  What would I have asked him?  

The truth is, it didn’t matter.  I loved the WORDS that Mahfouz gave me; I loved them, ate them, digested them.  They became part of me and I adored him for that.

Like all readers, I have the propensity to write.  I love words and find God in the detail of them.  Whispers of civilizations, friends I will never meet, cultures I will become temporarily attached to, are all in the safe pages of a book that I can buy and own and curl up with somewhere.

Michael Spurgeon, Josh Weil, Christian Keifer,
and Bich Minh Nguyen after the Friday Evening Reading
This year, I heard that Luis Urrea was coming to Summer Words, American River College’s event for writers and readers.  Summer Words is the brain child of two creative writing professors at ARC – Christian Keifer and Michael Spurgeon.  Both authors themselves, Spurgeon and Keifer are master networkers, and model the arts of researching, developing projects, and editing with fellow writers for their students. 

I had managed to power through ARC and graduate with an AAT without taking either one of these professors.  This was not purposeful, but as I wrapped up my time at ARC, it was one of my chief regrets. Going to the Summer Words conference meant so much to me.  I applied for a scholarship to Summer Words and was granted one, graciously, by the beautiful (and generous) English Department at ARC.

 Urrea is a Latino author and poet who somehow brings issues of identity—especially Latino identity—to the fore in order for us to realize similarities in our human condition.  His blunt expression of what is going on along the Mexican border in The Devil’s Highway earned him a Pulitzer nomination.  His newest collection of stories, The Water Museum earned him a Pen/Faulkner nomination.  NPR called him a “literary badass”, which makes me laugh.

Then. My knees started shaking when I thought about it.  Not only was Urrea coming, but I might possibly get to meet him.  Other notable authors were on the schedule, including those two writing professors who I had managed to elude in my rigorous schedule at ARC.

 I chastised myself.  Hadn’t I gotten over this starry admiration of fellow writers?  Hadn’t I realized (by the ripe age of 53) that we are all writers, seeking to connect with readers?  We were all seeking to impart secrets from the corners of our hearts to a readership.  We writers seek the same thing: connection with our readers.  Some of us have made it into that fragile thing we call notoriety; others have not.
Joshua Mohr explains "Plaracterization"
 to our full classroom.


Attending the conference was amazing.  Summer Words covered a broad range of topics, including “Morality in Fiction” “Writing from Your Gut” “Plaracterization: The Kiss between Plot and Character” and “The Organic Outline.”  And there I was, in the center of it all, with words swirling around me like spun sugar.  The presenters were amazing (three of whom signed their books and gave me advice); some were ARC professors. 

By the time Urrea showed up (on Saturday) I was busy having a ball.  I saw him in the hallway and had the shaky knee thing again, but I tried to ignore it.  

His keynote address on Saturday night reminded me why I needed to read him more. Writing about the USA and Mexican border is one thing; writing about the border in our identity is another.  These subjects are not light, they are necessary.  We don’t prohibit them in our country –this is the 21st century and we combine intellectual and cultural influences in everything we call Literary Fiction.  BUT what he is writing is unusual.  It is time-capsule stuff that we deem important and part of our country's identity.  “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them,’” he told us, solemnly.  “There is only us.”

Summer Words 2016 presenters

I knew there was a scheduled Q and A on Sunday morning.  The night before I wondered. If I were to ask one question -what would it be? It was then that I realized I would ask the same question of Naguib Mahfouz.  It is the same question that I would ask any writer: how can I be better?  What is it about the craft of writing that you can impart to me?  I knew I would be “Shaky Knee Janet” on Sunday morning during Q and A, so I wrote the question down on my program.

I asked it, poised and ready to hear the answer.  Urrea raised his eyebrows and casually leaned against the wall as he answered.  “I would tell you that if you’re not going to fill your pen with love, don’t even bother picking it up.”

I began to weep. The answer was the cherry on top of the whole conference.

That’s why I loved Mahfouz.  That’s why I love Austen, Faulkner, Joyce, Urrea, Burroughs, Tan, Cisneroz, O’Brien, Lahiri, McBride, Morrison, Colson, Kingsolver, and Dickens.  Not only do they tell a story well, they love me and show me how they see things.  They respect that I have bought their book and that I want to be taken away.  I want to be loved and shown the corners of the heart…and they do it.

Time and again, they do it.

At the end of the conference, I managed to have Urrea sign the  stack of books he had written that I brought from home.  I even gave him an expired Zimbabwean dollar "A present from another border," I told him.  He was genuinely appreciative.  

Me and the "literary badass"
I managed to hold it together long enough to take my picture with Urrea, which was cool.  I am grateful that he didn't see me as a Kathy Bates kind of fan, which I really am not.  I know that one day I will get over my thing with meeting my literary heroes.  

One day.




Monday, May 30, 2016

Scarlett

Scarlett Star 5/30/14


Scarlett Star was born in a New Mexico birthing room that was perched on the top floor of the Farmington hospital and overlooked the whole city.  We had a view during the night, the sunrise, and a sun-filled day.  Thirty-six hours after labor had formally started, Rikki, unable to smile or pose for pictures sank back into her pillow, exhausted.  


Scarlett was immediately taken and put under a light, as the birthing staff tried to ascertain her health. 

Eventually, she was weighed, measured, and handed over to her father, Vince, my son.  Scarlett relaxed into his arms.  The scene will never leave me. 

Scarlett was finally here.

The birth of a child is wild and unpredictable—a perfect precursor of their life.  Scarlett had to stay in the hospital extra days to be treated for jaundice.  

Under the ultraviolet lights, she wore sunglasses and looked like a cool cat.  Vince held her on his lap so she would feel cuddled, rather than parked.  Eventually she came home and Bruno, the family dog, accepted her as his baby. 

Scarlett was the first child to be born after Mario and I returned from South Africa.  While I rejoiced that we were so close, the family still lived miles away in New Mexico.  I begged them to return to California, where I offered safe lodging and free babysitting.  The offer posed an interesting dilemma: California was Vince’s home; New Mexico was Rikki’s. 

Where would Scarlett find her home?  The answer, as it is for all children, is in the safety of her family.  The father and mother’s connection with a growing child is the most important thing in the formative years.  Vince and Rikki’s closeness to Scarlett was essential to the baby becoming a safe and secure person.  

When Scarlett turned a year old, we could see she was a secure and content baby. Happy, curious, and connected, she didn’t fear going out, wanted connection with others, and even exhibited a sense of humor.  Our favorite picture of her was in a knitted Yoda hat she loved to wear and wiggle side to side.

Last year, Vince and Rikki decided to move “back” to California, where we had set up the room upstairs for them.  Our prayers were answered!  After getting used to us, Scarlett started socializing regularly with us and we have actively participated in her growth.  Any grandparent can tell you that each step is a miracle. 

Today Scarlett Star turns two.  She is amazingly independent.  She is not a cuddly grandchild, but rather someone who wants to participate in every activity we are a part of.  From eating diner to washing the dishes, she engages like she is one of us – and she is.  At two years old she loves water, and finds it wherever she can.  Her outside pool, the dog’s bowls, the bathtub – are all invitations to splash and guffaw with delight. 

Now and then Scarlett wants a hug.  She cuddles into my neck with sincerity and tenderness, making me feel like I could die and go to heaven at that moment.  She is wonderful and special.
Happy Birthday, Scarlett Star!  You are an amazing little ball of JOY!!



Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial


Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007

Robyn Ornsby is a fairly new friend of mine and a Gold Star Mom,
a mother who has lost a son in the service of our country.  She’s not just any mother, she’s the mom of my daughter Alicia’s long time best friend, Morgan.

Like all Gold Star Moms, this weekend will be less festive
for Robyn than most Americans who will be bar-b-queuing. 
It is the official time for these mothers to grieve the child
they have lost in protecting the United States.  It is the one
day that they are joined in their grief by all of us, as we stop
our lives and remember the fallen soldiers that made
life in America possible for the rest of us.

“Ever since I lost my boy I have battled with why people
don’t celebrate this holiday,” Robyn told me.  “I have a
hair salon and if I ask a group of fifty people what
Memorial Day is, only one or two will know exactly
who we are remembering.” 

According to the most recent Gallup poll, only 28%
know that the holiday exists to honor those who
died in war.  Those who have died in war leave
behind families, and they remember the fallen

as more than just soldiers.

“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little
monkey,” Robyn laughed when she first told me
about him.  “Honestly, he was a little character
who found joy in challenging me!” Her laughter faded
and she sighed, “I would give anything
to have him here challenging me now.”

Jay-D was born on  December 9, 1985
and seemed to be all boy through and through right away. 

“He was mighty and tough, and he
wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him.  He’d give them a good fight.”  Robyn was always trying to teach the delicate balance of sticking up for oneself and self-control, especially when Jay-D started sticking up for his friends in the same manner. 

“I would get a call from the principal's office, and they'd tell me that Jay-D was in there for fighting a boy who was bullying someone else,” Robyn told me. 

“When he got home, I asked him 'Why are you fighting other people’s battles?' He answered me  ‘Well, it just didn’t seem right!’”

Robyn told me that Jay-D always seemed drawn to help the underdog.  “At a time when it was not cool for him to help the Down Syndrome kids in school, he would.  We were at the movies once and a man in a wheelchair was trying to gain access and the other teens were just watching. 

It was Jay-D who stood up and helped the man open the door and find his way down the aisles.  He was just like that, always helping someone.”

The boy who fought other people’s battles grew up, discovering
his own tender interior.  “He taught himself how to play guitar, he loved ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which he played very well.”

After high school, Jay-D chose to enlist in the US Army, since career opportunities seemed more promising after finishing school.  “Jay-D wanted to get his life started,” Robyn said.  “He knew that if he enlisted he would be able
 to earn money for college and get other opportunities.” 

At twenty years old, he was enlisted, sworn in and enrolled in boot camp.  It was there thathe became a soldier.  “Once boot camp was over,” Robyn told me.  “Everything changed.  He was very focused on fighting for his country. 
Shortly after, he was deployed to Bagdad, Iraq, where he served as a tanker gunner.  While the main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, Jay D was part of the crew that operated the machine guns mounted outside.

With a heavy heart, Robyn told me about the day
 her son was killed.  “It was actually supposed to
be his day off.  He wasn’t supposed to work that
day, but they needed him.  He agreed to go, not
only because he was part of a team, but also he
could apply that day to his next leave.”  Instead
of their usual tank, the team took a Hummer as
part of a convoy and made their way through the
streets.  On the side of the road, waiting, was the
enemy.  As soon as the company’s Hummer was
 in range, the enemy exploded an IED –
an Improvised Explosive Device.

It was a massive tragedy.  Of the four soldiers in
Jay-D’s Hummer, three were killed.  The enemy
was fired upon by the surviving convoy and killed. 
Retribution, or justice, does not satisfy.  War is truly hell.

“I was able to bury Jay-D in Sunset View, a
 cemetery in Jackson,” Robyn said, after she
 composed herself.  “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.” 

Each Memorial Day, this Gold Star Mom has a
cherished wish: that Americans would stop and
remember what this day really is all about. 
“I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls,
the shopping centers, and the grocery stores. 
All of them say “Memorial Day Sale!”  I wonder
 if they will honor any fallen Veterans there;
I think they won’t.  It’s all a money-making
 opportunity then.”

Knowing Robyn has changed the way I see Memorial Day.
 I think about Jay-D a lot.  His sister (my daughter’s bestie)
 has a young son that his Uncle Jay-D will never meet. 
He’s a beautiful bundle of joy – named Jay-D.


“I love little Jay-D!” Robyn says when she speaks of her
grandson, her voice lifting with excitement.  “Morgan
shares him with me and I watch him every Monday!”

Everyone who has lost a person close to them know the
painful reality that life goes on.  While it does, it helps
to grieve with others.  On Monday, we all grieve together.
 I will grieve with the Ornsby’s for their son; I will grieve
 for all who fell in battle.

Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform.
They are someone's baby, someone's spouse,
someone's uncle or aunt.  I will grieve the fallen;
I will celebrate the freedom that I have inherited
because of them.  After all, that is what Memorial Day is.
(Uncle) Jay-D December 1985          Baby Jay-D   May 2015

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Harvey

Every child enters the world with a story.  Their story highlights them as beautiful and special.

Harvey’s story is one of freedom and unexpected calm.  He was born one day after his parents, our son Joe and his long-time girlfriend, Ariel, were married.  A home birth, Ariel had a team of midwives surrounding her as soon as serious labor set in. One of these midwives was Joe's baby sister, Seantel.


 Mario and I arrived at Joe’s apartment only to be greeted by Seantel downstairs.

“She’s close, but it’s hard to say how long this will take,” Seantel told us, with a serious face.  It made me want to break out in the nervous laughter that always accompanied my excitement. 

“What should we do?” I asked.  “Come back later?”

“Can you go get snacks?” Seantel asked.  The midwives had been working non-stop and would be hungry after the task of delivering a baby was over.  As we would fawn and coo over the new life, the midwives would chart and be administrative at the kitchen table.

Mario and I headed to Safeway, holding each other’s hands tightly in nervous anticipation.  We bought drinks and cheese trays, chips and dip.  When we were driving back to the apartment, we talked about the challenge of another long-distance grandchild.  At least I did.

“Seattle is a long way,” I told him.  “I wish they could be in California.”

“It’s not so bad,” Mario said.  “It’s a heck of a lot closer than Africa.  At least we’ll see him more than we would have if we still lived there.”  Mario is an optimist—or a realist.  Both mindsets have a way of being fine with what we have and enjoying the moment.  I was already grieving the loss of time spent with a grandchild that hadn't even been born.

We got to the apartment in time for Ariel’s transition.  We met Cathy in the living room and silently prayed for the upcoming delivery.  I was in awe of the smooth, careful breathing I heard coming from the next room.  The Midwives’ voices were louder than Ariel’s soft moans of pain that would bring Harvey into the world.  I remember my own deliveries, and my impatient screams that cursed the painkillers for not being strong enough to mask the agony that wracked my body.  Ariel sounded nothing like that.  Instead, her cries were more like sighs,  and that calm amazed me.

Eventually, the sounds coming from the room became urgent and we knew that our Harvey would soon be coming into the world.

I stood in the doorway with the audio of my phone turned on.  Eventually, I heard the sounds of a baby, a soft cry that became a loud one.  Harvey was here!!  I held the phone up, with tears in my eyes.  No one, no matter how gifted with words, can prepare you for the incredible brilliance of a new life coming into the world.

Harvey was perfect. His face was light and beautiful and he seemed content from the moment he was born. Asher, his newly-turned-four-year-old brother delighted in him. Joe was on top of the world
.

The day was amazingly peaceful.  We all took  turns holding the baby, who looked like a perfect blend of his mother and father.

We left two days later, after sharing Harvey with his normally private family.  I got home and went through my mountain of pictures...sighing st the wonder of him.

The next time we saw Harvey was Christmas, where he had become a mobile baby, playful and engaging those around him.  He had a spirit of contentment and cooperation about him, constantly smiling.  While Asher is usually strong and charismatic, Harvey is relaxed and jovial.  He wears an expression on his face as if he knows a  secret joke that keeps the world spinning.

Today marks one year since he was born.  Just last month his mother sent us a movie of him walking!! What an incredible miracle life is!

Happy Birthday, Harvey.  You already remind me of your father—content in not being the center of attention, but being the center of attention anyway.  

We love you more than you could ever know.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

graduation

 
Graduate- 2016
On the hottest day of 2016, I arrived at the parking garage at American River College to practice “the walk” for graduation.  I ran to the stadium, which I had seen every day but had never formally visited, and made my way through a sea of folks getting complimentary Noah’s Bagels to hear the beginnings of the orientation.

“Congratulations,” Parrish Geary said through a bullhorn. “You’ve come a long way to get here.”  As ARC’s Interim dean of Enrollment went through the way we were planning to line up, process, and be seated, I shielded the sun from eyes and tried to pretend my tears were from its rays. 

In reality, it was hard not to get emotional.  This campus was my big cushy welcome back to the world of higher education.  Every part of it worked its way into my heart and now, only eighteen months after I started, I was graduating.

Back at home I tried on my gown and mortarboard and looked in the mirror.  Looking back at me was a nervous, hope-filled girl, the day of her graduation from community college.  Just the day before, I received news from my English teacher, Professor O’Brien, that I was also being awarded ARC’s English Student of the Year.  It was an incredible way to finish this part of the journey.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school and had little or no interest in college.  At least, that was what I told people.  The real story was that college required a discipline I did not have -- and money that was not available.  My prospects were bleak but I was too proud to attend community college, Delta in Stockton. 

“Just go for one semester,” my mother pleaded.  “You will fall in love with it, I am sure!”

“No I won’t,” I said, as respectfully as I could. 

I was dreaming of getting out of Tracy, moving to some big city, and getting my own apartment. I would need to work to save up the money to do this, and would have to stay in the stifling constriction of my parent’s house.  Finally surrendering to my Mom’s wishes, I decided to enroll in CSU Stanislaus –and attend for exactly one semester.  I blew it off like it was nothing.  After my perfunctory semester I left college and moved out of my parent’s house.

My casual rebellion led me to the place where all rebellions do: disaster.  By the time I recovered my balance (and realized my parents were not so stupid) I was twenty-two with a baby boy.  Thankfully, Mario came along not long after and we fell in love.  I was also in the process of being swept off my feet by God, who in his infinite power and mercy, transformed me with His amazing grace and love.  Then came (like the childhood song) marriage, children, homeschooling, teenagers, grandchildren, Africa…. Coming home to America in 2013.

Serenity and focus led me to a season of reflection.  Could I live my life in complete satisfaction and peace without that college degree?

The answer was no –but there was grace to go and get it.

The Graduation ceremony was at 7:00 pm and came with a merciful breeze that took the edge off the long afternoon sun.  I kissed Mario goodbye in the parking lot, and as he headed for the stadium seating, I headed to the graduate’s meeting place.  The breeze blew my gown close to me, and I was glad I wore flip-flops, especially when I watched other ladies walking slowly in their stilettos.  I filled out a card with my details (including the pronunciation of my name) and carried it with me to the line of graduates, who stood in the shade of a vine-covered cyclone fence.

I saw Vanesa, a fellow Statway buddy and we stood together.  Soon we were joined by Jezelle, one of my beloved Statway angels.  Her Ethiopian friend was with her, a political science buddy was just ahead of us.  Surrounded by graduates of all shapes, ages, and sizes, we lined up and got ready to process in to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“I think my cell phone is dying,” I said to Jezelle, just as we started moving.  “How can I text Mario through the ceremony?”

“I left mine with my kids, honey,” Jezelle said.  We laughed at the irony.  Without cell phones on this incredibly important day?  No pictures?  No fun texting during the ceremony? Would the world crumble?

There were about seven rows of graduates on each side of the aisle. I couldn’t count all of them, but out class was very large.  I searched the stands for Mario and finally saw him.  There he was, on an aisle seat half-way up the stands.  I tried to get his attention above the band, the air horns, the applause, the shrieks of other graduates like me.  


He finally saw me, and his face lit up.  I held up my cell phone and made a chopping motion at my neck.  “Dead!” I mouthed.

He didn’t seem to understand, or care.  He kept lifting the camera top take pictures, so I blew him kisses, stood on my chair, waved and smiled.  When he stopped taking pictures, he touched his heart and pointed to me.  I broke down into the happiest tears I have cried in such a long time.

All I could think was…” I’m finally here, and he is here with me!” My best friend and my biggest supporter –without him, none of this would be possible.  He is the one I strategized with when I knew I wanted to go back to school.  How should I do it?  Where should I go? How many night classes vs. day classes?  How many units should I take?  What should my goals be? 

As students have counselors, I had Mario.  My school counselor provided the HOW’s in the strategy.  Mario kept me focused on the real goal: to make this whole thing glorify God.

The speeches were great.  Our student speaker encouraged us as a community, as did the chancellor, and the Trustee.  Nevertheless, the students were anxious to walk onto the stage and get our diplomas.  The real diplomas will be mailed to us in six or seven months, after our grades are recorded and our records are reviewed, but our fake diplomas were waiting for us.  The walk, the handshake, the smile for the camera, and the strut back to our seats? That was what we were there for.

Jezelle, Vanessa and I hugged a lot more than we ever did during normal school days.  Nervous energy and incredible excitement made us overly-affectionate.  I was happy that I was with people I knew, and I absolutely loved that I was at Beaver Stadium. 

Finally, we moved our tassels from the right to the left, and we were pronounced graduates.  In celebration, I threw my mortarboard in the air with a joyous shout.  I think I was one of the few that did. 

“What did you do that for?” Vanessa asked me. 

“I wanted to,” I laughed.  Jezelle was laughing, too.  I guess no one else wanted to lose the mortarboard they had paid for and decorated.  I could see where it landed, a couple of feet past the first row.

As we stood up to exit, I saw a tall, statuesque blonde in the front row, a girl I knew from Statway named Karly.

“Hey, Karly!” I yelled. 

She looked up, and then scanned the crowd for the voice.  Eventually, she saw me and smiled. 

“HI!” she waved in triumphant celebration (I guess she thought I was calling out to Whoop! Whoop! with her).

“Can you get my mortarboard?  I threw it and it’s right there!”  I pointed toward it, and she retrieved it just as we started to exit.

I looked out for Mario, who pointed to the parking lot.  I nodded.
‘We were lost in the maddening crowd for awhile, but only awhile.  By the time I found him, I rejoiced.  I rejoiced and I rejoiced.



This diploma does not signify an end, only a transition, but I have slayed the dragon that used to be my biggest insecurity: I now have a college degree. 

As I type this, I cannot tell you how full my heart is.  Next to me is my red, white and blue tassel that has a hanging “16” attached.  In 2016 I graduated with an AA in English – and an honors certificate –and the distinction of being the English Student of the Year.

Grace beyond measure… the first stage is complete. 


“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”  Ecclesiastes 9:10


The only pic of me exiting the stage (It was pretty far away!)