Ten

Ten years ago tomorrow, my sister lived her last day. On a late spring morning taxis accelerated and commuters hurried down the street while she was making her way to work. The earth was tilted toward the sun, approaching its solstice beneath golden rays that take their time in leaving.

It was a Thursday. She took no time at all in leaving. It was a moment that forever changed our lives.

Her name was Elizabeth.

Liz2004

She was 28 years old.

Thornton Wilder said the highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.

I don’t feel all that grateful for having lost my sister. In fact I still feel pretty bad about having to live without her. But I am grateful to have had her for a short lifetime rather than not to have had her at all.

I still have so much to say to you.

You were healthy, happy and passionate about creating good in the world. You were opinionated, generous, and funny. You were a newlywed, loved and loving.

You could get really mad.

Do you remember? Tell me what you remember.

We all live in haunted houses, rooms full of memories, coated with layers of dust and longing. Some ghosts move into our hearts. They unpack their suitcases because they’re going to stay awhile.

We watch them settle in.

We might offer them a drink.

The Western world is wildly predisposed toward the concept of “moving on”, a need-to-cure approach that makes you feel like a failure if you don’t get over it and get on with your life after something terrible happens. It’s a dangerous approach to responding to loss. While time has given me the solace and courage I need to bring my sister’s memory to a place where I don’t feel scared or angry – I can consider an idea she once shared, and smile at a story in which she starred in our family history – I can sense those who are unready to listen to my memories.

I know they feel deeply uncomfortable discussing a dead person. Especially one who isn’t supposed to be dead.

Death is such an uncomfortable thing to talk about in our country, despite it being all around us, all the time. Just the other day a colleague shared with me that her brother drowned. Even more recently a close family friend’s wife passed. Both were far too young to leave us.

Most of the time I return to gratitude, remember my sister, and feel lucky to have had her with me for a while. But not a day goes by that I do not wish things had turned out differently.

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The pain has diminished somewhat over the past decade, but that’s partially because I don’t have as much time to think about her anymore.

Since Liz died, I have smiled, laughed, loved. I have escaped. Run. Meditated. Drank. Slept. I have cried until there were no more tears to cry, and then I cried some more. I’ve met my babies for the very first time and witnessed their first smiles. Where there were none when she was alive, our family today includes four grandchildren. So much has happened.

Since Liz died, elders passed, and among them, our grandfather. The fathers and mothers of my friends are leaving us, one by one, as we age.

Since Liz died, our youngest sister and I have been on our own, forging a new relationship of two when there had always been three. It hasn’t always been easy. We grieve differently. We have different memories of her.

Grief is a deeply layered and intimate experience. The complexity of memories and regret assail me unexpectedly. The profound angst of loss, the helplessness of not being able to “do” anything. The senselessness of her death created a hole that was big enough for me to drown in. I’ve been swimming in it ever since.

A single wish echoes timelessly through my mind.

I want my sister back.

bella

She wasn’t entirely mine, not really. A natural connector, she was allied with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences and actively pursued new opportunities to learn and expand her understanding and knowledge of the world.

But she was mine, my heart screams… still, after all this time. And I want her back.

I stamp my foot, toddler-like, frustrated at life.

In those early months after my sister died, I was angry and sad. It didn’t get better for a long, long time. Not one year. Not two. Though today’s mornings dawn lighter, occasionally I move through my day furiously, feeling incapable of joy.

Because I miss her.

You were grumpy in the morning.

You got really mad once when I accidentally used your toothbrush. I laughed. That didn’t help.

You used to call me when you were was alone in your apartment, your husband still at work, and there was a pause at the end of your day. I was 30 and you were 27, and you had a real job after graduating from law school. I, too, was finally in a position with some meaningful responsibility. I commuted one hour each way by Metro, and I silently read all the Harry Potter books along the way. You, on the other hand, ran, walked, or biked to work, and became friends with shop owners and fellow commuters along the route.

We used to talk a lot about running. We ran together in Virginia, New York, North Carolina. Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Louisiana and Michigan. Washington D.C. Maybe other places that I can’t remember anymore. I used to run a lot more back then.

There is a new song I am learning. It is a quieter song, and a gentle push toward something that once was beautiful… not only my sister’s young life, but my own, before.

Before.

Because everything was different.

Before.

Over the past decade, I’ve remembered her, and how she used to smile. She had such a heartwarming and spectacular smile.

Ten years is a long time to feel and wonder and think about someone you cannot touch, or hear, or see.

My own capacity for resilience was quite weak when she died.

In other words, life was good.

During the past decade, life hasn’t always been good, but when I am grateful, fear disappears. There is less to miss and more to hold close. I am more compassionate and less closed. I am striving toward all those ways in which my sister shone… being kind, open, direct, strong of spirit and body. I am better at some than others. As we begin the next decade without her, I will not deny the sadness that will be a part of my experience moving forward. But I know today that I have space to be and air to breathe in her absence.

Sadness must be holy in its humanity. It emerges unpredictably and feels raw, broken, and mean – even years after a loss.

Healing takes time. Forever, perhaps.

When my boys scratch their knee or bruise an elbow, I always tell them to let it heal.

Let it heal.

Let it heal.

Let it heal.

I miss you. Thank you for being my sister, my heart, my friend.

liz in puerto rico

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Holiday lights and haunted houses

A month ago the light was touched with the colors of the season. We counted pumpkins on doorsteps, noting the special ones, unusual colors or sizes, and brought great quantities of candy into our home. The quietly spectacular transformation of green into stains of orange, red and yellow took place before I could appreciate it properly.

One by one, thousands of fallen leaves evaporated into the earth, leaving us with a memory of when they were lush and unseasoned.

Like so many birds, I flew south for a few days last month. During my absence winter came crawling, beckoning at the door. When I got home I dug out gloves and hats in preparation for stinging weather. A rainbow teased itself across the blue only to leave no trace of its existence when I blinked, and suddenly I was gazing upon a dull grey sky.

I blink sometimes, and she is gone again.

When I talk about her with someone who really knew her, it makes it feel real again.

It makes me miss her more, and yet makes me feel like I’m not the only one, and so I am sad and grateful at the same time.

Most of the time these days I’m hardly thinking of my dead sister, though, and the enormous void that was left in our family when she died, and really, for a long time now, my grief  has remained silent. I am happy, and yet my heart is haunted, you see.

So then.

Then something happens, and I am struck, no, torn, torn into a thousand pieces of misunderstanding and hurt and terror mixed with ambivalence and blame and fear, and I fear for my children, for the world in which they are being raised. How on Earth can we protect them?

Yet when I was a child, we lived without sun protection and seat belts. Secondhand smoke was, well, everywhere. I remember tipping full ashtrays into the trash, with no immediate effects. We were routinely allowed to get hurt (or okay, at least put in harm’s way with limited observation especially in the summer time).

My sisters and I made it to adulthood with a few scratches and scars, but nothing serious. Certainly we arrived as newborn adults prepared to live, and live freely and confidently.

This is part of the reason why it’s been so very, very difficult to accept my sister’s death (nine years ago and counting). She was so very much alive.

That, and also that our national and international news is so terrible of late.

I know my sister would be fighting to arbitrate such news today. In her core she was a stubborn negotiator, a protector of human integrity, and a woman who sought to collaborate, agree with or attempt to understand someone despite of or due to their differences.

She was a person who fought back, typically with words but once with a well-placed and most deserved punch to the face. She listened to stories from men and women who were disabled but not downtrodden – she recognized those who needed a hand from time to time were not unworthy of their humanity.

She would fight with me, with us, help me to understand what I can do better.

There’s a lot on my list to do better.

(At least seat belts, smoking and sun protection don’t make the list).

I’ve been doing some yoga lately. I’m not one with the mat or anything, but it makes me feel better.

Yoga makes my wrists hurt, my sister said with a shake of her head, a long time ago.

Some nights I cannot sleep.

There are haunted houses in my dreams, darkened windows, broken glass. The wind scatters leaves across my path; a cat cries before I wake up.

Haunted hearts, empty, shadowed by sadness. Full of memories that can not always be trusted.

I lose you again and again and again.

You move and breathe and smile in our minds, but just like those moving portraits that hang on the walls of Hogwarts, you aren’t really there.

Those whom we we have lost in recent days are real. As usual, I send a silent appeal to my angel sister so that she may greet them in turn, a reflective reception for Michael Brown among them… always, I think, those whose deaths were unexpected deserve a kind and compassionate welcome.

Lights sparkle in our living room tonight, illuminating a tiny Nativity scene organized on the coffee table by our youngest son. He is very taken with the miniature wooden figures, especially the Three Kings and the Baby Jesus. We have been listening to a lot of holiday pop music lately, and not especially focused on theology, but I thought I’d been pretty clear about the meaning of the holiday until he asked me about Michael Jackson’s role in Bethlehem at Christmas.

Perplexed, I asked a few questions, and it turned out that he had confused the Baby Jesus with the renowned rock star.

My explanation of Christmas was puzzling at best, dubious at worst. I attempted to set him straight, and he marched back into the family room to dance to little Michael’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

My sister would have celebrated another turn around the sun tomorrow. Surely she’s dancing, wherever she is, and crying, too, at the loss that we invoke while here on Earth, at the sudden force of grief and mourning that we create when another young life is taken senselessly and forever.

In my heart I remember you as you were, Liz, 28 years old, a smile upon your lips to greet a loved one or a stranger, a frown as you observed injustice around you. I am grateful for you, and saddened by your absence. Always, I remain your sister and your friend.

love

 

 

As my long-time readers are well aware, my sister’s death in the year 2005 paralyzed me in many ways. I was deeply sad, but I was also angry. I was angry that clocks kept ticking, and I resented people who kept being normal. They kept shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. They kept on saying good morning and wearing life is good T-shirts. They kept running, practicing yoga and smiling. They kept getting on planes and working and drinking and sleeping and eating. They did all sorts of things which I, in fact, used to do, too.

How dare they?

It was stunningly difficult to move forward, or on, or through it all, so I didn’t for a awhile. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself deeply grieving her, but I keep shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. I keep doing all sorts of stuff.

I wrote those words about a week ago, but I didn’t hit publish.

I’m not sure why loss was on my mind so much last week. It seems like a lot of people are dying unexpectedly, or earlier than they were intended to. When my sister died I crashed into a grief process that didn’t allow me to check back into life for a long time. Many people reached out bravely and warmly to comfort our family, but all I could think was they don’t understand. They don’t know. They can’t know. Others stumbled over their words, intending to offer condolences but instead made a mess of things. Sometimes the best intended words made me just laugh. The belief that my sister was now in a better place seemed (and seems) to me the most preposterous idea of all… you’d be surprised how often I heard those words, despite the truth that she was 28 years old and more alive than most of us.

You know what they say about good intentions. Well, it turns out that intent is often irrelevant. It flies in the face of truth. This is why people say they didn’t “mean” it when they use a vulgar expression or a shameful term… they don’t “intend” to hurt someone or enrage an entire community. But it happens, all too often.

The unreal thing about grief is that most of us do get through it, pretending to be normal while tending to both those who acknowledge our loss as well as those who ignore it. Practical tasks like eating and bathing may save us from drowning in the “sinking sand” of loss, as my youngest calls quicksand, and if we are lucky we are lifted up both by grace and by a profound strength that we never envisioned having or needing.

Death brings to mind the randomness of humanity, because I don’t think every thing happens for a reason. Depending on the circumstances into which we were born, we may eat, bathe, work, move, rest, want or learn – or do none of these things in a healthy way. Emotionally, too, life’s a bit of a crap shoot. Many of us hail from strong and supportive families, but many of us are also born into a dysfunctional mess, a recipe made up of mixed up relatives + complex life stuff. Add in hormones and aids I like to call mood-makers, and you’re bound to have issues.

[Sidenote: mood-makers may include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, running, sugar, caffeine, drugs, music, silence. I like to practice all of them, some more moderately so than others. What are your mood-makers?]

Last week I read about a woman who died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind three young children, her husband and countless friends.

Three days ago I was 39.

Now I am 40.

Rather than dreading another birthday, I am absolutely ready to take on another decade. My 30s were tough. And beautiful. And horrible. I was newly married when my sister was killed. My life, upended, changed for the worse. I didn’t know me anymore. I didn’t know my family – our dynamic of five changed abruptly to four, and we weren’t ready. I cried constantly, shook with fear, and doubted my place in the world.

Running helped. As much as I could get myself out the door, I used to go out for five and six and seven miles, meandering through the neighborhood and occasionally on a trail. If I hadn’t gone outside, I might never have left my room, that first year after my sister died.

[Sidenote: we adopted an energetic eight-week-old Lab puppy three months after her death. He was practically a service dog. Puppies don’t wait for you to feel better before they get a walk. Eight years later, he is a more mellow version of his puppy self and he brings me this incredible joy – his sweet big eyes are full of love and compassion. I highly recommend puppies as a remedy to sadness.]

To celebrate turning 40, I signed up to run 13.1 miles with a close friend. I hadn’t trained adequately, but the race was flat and scenic. Incredibly, it didn’t start raining until ten minutes after I’d finished. Around mile 10 my body was pretty much done, and my phantom broken toe was burning (stupid faux injury that I can’t seem to get rid of), but I kept going. The final mile hurt, and so I lifted my thoughts to those spirits who could help: my sister, my grandfather, my friend Dominguin. I asked them to be my angel wings.

I ran for my sister, silently, because she is gone and yet not gone.

I also ran for the woman who is lying in a hospital bed right now fighting for her life after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike.  She is a family friend, runner and cyclist. She is broken, but she is healing.

I ran for me.

Within us we all have this enormous power to heal.

Slowly and painfully the final mile ticked by, and it was over. I could stop running. A kind volunteer handed me this medal.

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Angel wings.

I started to cry.

So life goes on. I am 40, and I am ready for another full (and fulfilling) decade, or at least just enjoy today, and I feel good about that. I’ve got much to look forward to, plus an incredible family, a wonderful new job, amazing friends and a home in a beautiful part of the world. I went home after the run to party with my boys. 

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I don’t know exactly where my path will lead over the next ten years (or even tomorrow), but I sure plan to be on the trail.

In gratitude.

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it’s my party, i can cry if i want to

Still.

As I begin this post I apologize to my parents and any one else who will be deeply affected, impacted, offended or otherwise.

It’s just that…shit.

Sometimes it hits me hard, the truth that I have a sister whom I loved and who loved me probably more than I loved her (impossible to know) and then I lost her and she is gone and so is the person-sister who I discovered as a young adult was an incredible person and one whom I’d won the lottery by having her born into my life.

We were never enemies.

We were sisters and sister-friends. Not quite three years apart, I don’t remember never having a sibling with whom I shared a room for at least the first five + years of my life.

Childhood, check. Adolescence, check. Early adulthood (adulthood?!), check… ongoing.. or maybe I’m in Serious. Adulthood. Now.

I loved my twenties, although entering them, I had some problems. My late college experience was rough, and I was incredibly relieved when I graduated and could enter a new phase of life surrounded by (mostly) people who did not know me. Post-college, I immediately landed a job, an apartment and a boyfriend. Life was good.

A few years later, the boyfriend relationship disintegrated and I joined the Peace Corps, where I met some of the best friends of my life, and among them, my husband. I cannot capture those two years in words today. Many of the men and women I met I do not see regularly because we returned to homes all across the map. Regardless, they each hold an incredibly special place in my heart.

I was 31 years old and a newlywed when my sister was killed by a truck while riding her bike to work. The accident took place on a day that was completely ordinary, busy and pleasant. While checking e-mail in a comfortable office in an affluent suburb outside our Nation’s Capitol, my father called. My coffee grew cold…and I disappeared from the world where once upon a time everything was ok.

I’m not sure what triggered this tonight. I miss her. I often think of my sister. And yet.

I am deeply sad that she is gone tonight. I feel extremely frustrated that I can’t pick up my mobile or text her or email her about a run that I am planning to do or a situation for which I would welcome her guidance.

It sucks.

Eight years plus and counting.

I know — I know — it’s been a long time. Lots of reason to get over it.

But I miss her. I love her.

Still.

bella

Long Time Gone

When my sister was born, I’d been led to believe that I would be the recipient of a brand-spanking-new, ready-to-play-on-demand girlfriend.

I was almost three years old.

She came home with my parents at Christmas time. They tell me I looked her over, and she tucked into herself, teensy, wrinkly and perfect.

She can’t play!

I walked away, unimpressed.

What kind of a playmate can a newborn be?

I do not remember this scene, of course, but according to credible sources that’s what happened when Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla joined me in my great big three-year-old world.

I do not remember another moment being unimpressed with my baby sister.

Three days from now she will have been gone for eight years. More than a year after the accident, I wrote,

I either want to live here: that is, here in time and space and being, creating and contributing to love, health, and happiness within my family and myself. Or I want to live there: where she is. But I do not want to linger anymore in this peripheral life that has forced my every thought into such a dark and empty space.

I lingered in that dark space for a long, long time. It’s just recently that I’ve been more fully present in my life, in a good way. Those of you who haven’t experienced immediate loss of a loved one may puzzle why, why it takes so damn long to get over it. The thing is you just don’t get over it, you get through it, tumbling beneath its weight, pushing against its intensity, cringing from its cruelty. You find yourself living a new human experience, one that you didn’t expect nor ask for. You make yourself and your world anew because the old one is a long time gone.

Wondering what the angels are up to today and every day, I imagine my sister as the quintessential angel organizing force. She could lead a union of good will, and everpresent and inclusive prayer, and initiate the transformation among us from a place of sorrow into unsorrow, and then support the work of we survivors as we march heavily toward joy.

A born leader and organizer, my sister was persistent, sensitive and smart. Above all she was a hard worker.

The work of healing is real, but more subtle for the bereaved than I’d expected. When I watched footage of the final survivor of the Boston Marathon bombings leaving the hospital, I was tearful and yet mindful that she was able to take physical action to heal. One of her legs was amputated above the knee and the other is severely injured. As insensitive as this may sound, I am a little envious of the survivors. I hurt for them, but wish my sister had been able to heal, too.

Despite what the DSM says, bereavement isn’t depression, not exactly. It’s more like coming to truth. It might be a coming to Jesus moment, except I don’t believe anyone can save me but me. It’s coming to heartbreak and getting up in the morning and painfully realizing that a measure of joy of your own life has been stolen not only from you but from everyone who knows you. And among them in my case was included the person who promised nine months before her death to love me ‘for better or for worse’.

And then ‘for worse’ happens and that really sucked.

It’s so real, believe me, it’s the realest, darkest, angriest, most terrible thing you can know and know and know it’s real.

It’s real and she’s dead and the next day she’s still dead.

The grieving process feels mean sometimes. It’s that bitter old man who tells everyone who will listen that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Then you wake up again and a piece of your bleeding heart is still beating, but threatening to destroy you so all you want to do is sleep and self-medicate and forget. So you do so, for a long time, and work a little in between the space where the sun rises and slips away, another day done and done.

It’s been a long time since she’s been gone.

For so long I couldn’t give up grieving, because leaving the grief felt like leaving her.

I know I’ve felt sorry for myself. Others have lost children. I haven’t. Others have lost their partners or parents. I haven’t.

Others have been touched by absolute horrors, so much more appalling and more terrible than my own, here in my own community and my country. Across borders and oceans and through lines of people waiting to show passport and greet bored and suspicious people who work in customs.

In the year 2004 I was stopped twice in Miami because the FBI was looking for a woman whose name matched my own. They wouldn’t tell me anything other than she had a scar on her stomach.

I wasn’t her. She wasn’t me.

Finally they let me go. I pissed the border control guy off by switching to English after several minutes of being very nice and cooperative in Spanish. Upon my release, I inquired as to how I could prevent this situation from happening again.

Get married, he said. Change your name.

I was married. Seriously?

During the year after my sister’s death, I wrote this:

Do I have regrets? Yes, absolutely. I feel cheated, brokenhearted, devastated to have lost my sister. People who tell you otherwise are lying. My regrets, however, are not for the past. They are for the future. I took for granted that my sister would be, at the very farthest, a phone call away from me, until we were very old, withered from the sun and rain and adventure of many decades. I looked forward to holidays and birthdays and regular days of no particular significance, other than it was a day and we were there. I wanted to be an aunt to her children, and of course, expected Liz to be Aunt Liz to mine. Yes, I have regrets.

But still. I’m here for something.

I still rise in the mornings.

There’s a lot of wonder in our wonderful world, after all. Maybe even more than before.

I’m thinking of those whom my sister greets in her space within the universe, small children from Sandy Hook, old people who are ready to go and middle-aged people like me. Certainly people who never intended to meet her there, like the eight-year-old Boston spectator, the children who died when a tornado in Oklahoma showed no mercy, and the friends of my parents who have lost their lives since hers was taken.

Given her enthusiasm for life and people and care packages, I know she is capable of providing the most perfect welcome for anyone who crosses her path.

Especially the children, I think.

That said, I avoid looking at the bestsellers at the airport that scream Heaven is for Real… stories from those who emerge from death to tell the tale. I’m not sure if they frighten or offend me because I think they’re simply a fraud or because miraculously they might be true… and in that case why didn’t my sister get to write her own bestseller?

Clearly my handle on what happens next and after and forward is vague. But I do believe in the spirit of my sister. I am filled with gratitude, and yes, joy, at having known her for 28 years. And for knowing her still.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

~ Henry David Thoreau

bella

The first day of December

Today was a good day. Holy cow rain! I fell asleep last night listening to the skies open up and wishing for a zinc roof. Driving rain on a zinc roof makes a beautiful white noise that I would love to make my bedtime music for all time.

The boys slept till 8 am. Swim lessons. Park. Plenty of hang out at home time while the other adult in the house played with friends (MLS championship match). Upon his return, I headed out to run on a race track surrounded by lights and sparkle and colorful drums and nutcrackers and Christmas wreaths and friendly holiday animals.

It rained the entire time. It was fantastic.

Less than one hour and six miles later, I tucked my wet, chilled self into the car to drive wearily and happily home where three men, ages young and less young, greeted and rushed me into the bedtime routine. Good thing the peace a run leaves behind tends to linger, because the homecoming was stressful. The boys were mostly great all day, but evidently fought the entire time I was gone. They continued to bicker and pester one another until both my husband and I had had it. It is so unbelievably annoying and unnerving to have to be a referee all day long. I wonder how other parents manage to talk to each other, because we can not have a conversation without being interrupted by one or both children… say… every three seconds. Seriously.

I’m so glad they’re asleep right now.

On this day a year ago, I wrote this love letter to my middle sister.

A few days later, I wrote this letter to my youngest sister.

Tonight, I am still writing to my sisters. A year and a half of blogging plus a lifetime of journaling have made me tell people that if you read my blog, please don’t hold anything you read against me.

I now understand why some writers elect to use pseudonyms.

Today is my middle sister’s birthday. She would have been 36 years old.

If you don’t know what happened, then you might want to read this post.

She is, instead, forever 28.

I sit, and I light the Guadelupana, and I think, and I remember. I breathe in and out. Again and again and again.

I miss her.

This song speaks the words of my heart, even though I didn’t write them.

Waiting on an Angel.

Liz, I remember you today on your birthday, and hold you close during the holiday season, and attempt to treat these days as critical and unique because we won’t ever get them back, and appreciate that we are overflowing in holly and bells and dreidels and reindeer and cookies and trying to make those curly strips of ribbon with a scissors and wishing for snow days and making a list and checking it twice and threatening small children that Santa’s really watching now. Miss you.

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Liz2004

Old friends, new friends, etc.

Say what you will about Facebook, but it definitely has the ability to bring about a smile. Or a tear. And if it’s your lucky day, both.

I have had such a lovingly laid-back day. Playdate at our place with parents present at mid-day, and then one of the young guests lingered to play with my eldest son until five o’clock. I eavesdropped on their play frequently, but clearly they didn’t need me… much. They surfaced for a snack or two. One asked if he could draw on an old plastic water bottle with a marker. I said sure. Why not?

In return, I received a smile that was such a gift I had to smile back. I wish I could have wrapped that smile in sparkle and soft cotton to preserve it for a darker day. This sweet, gentle child is a bright and clear-eyed foil to my alpha-pirate-in-training-son. My son called out, I’m the Captain! and he said engagingly, I am the Crew! They played beautifully all afternoon while I cooked and thought and did a bunch of around-the-house kind of stuff that just needs to get done.

Evening brought our guest’s mom back to pick up her son and share a glass of wine. Although our dialog was interrupted by kids while I boiled pasta and warmed fragrant spaghetti sauce homemade by Nana and baked chicken and rice for the grown ups, it was still warmly received.

I love stories that only people who truly connect on some not-quite-understood level can share. Old friends are the best, but new friends bring about that sort of uncommon experience when one raises an issue that may be controversial or contrary or candidly funny (or sad) and the person bringing it up honestly doesn’t know which way it will fall. In a flurry of moments today we talked kids, food, money, circumcision, real estate, schools, sleep, aging parents, nationalism, gender identification and probably a few more topics I can’t remember. Because the kids were the focus, we didn’t go too deep into any one of these themes, despite how compelling and eager for exploration they are. But I love that they were a part of a natural and engaging dialog among friends who are friends who don’t actually know one another all that well (yet).

While my morning began with preparations for brunch and said playdate, another scene unfolded across the country. My sister’s race is a memorial 5K run held in Brooklyn, New York City. At the time of her death, she was working for the Volunteer Lawyers Project in New York City at the Brooklyn Bar Association. She loved her job, though she hadn’t held the position for all that long. I remember talking on the phone one night with her. Listening, her voice radiated joy and challenge and energy. She had found a good place to do work. She felt she belonged. She connected with her coworkers. What a blessing. What a good thing. I nodded, though she couldn’t see me. The rightness of her situation sunk into my soul.

I wasn’t surprised to hear good news from my sister since she never seemed to have trouble finding her place in the world, and one of her “challenges” through the years was kindly reclaiming friendship with the men – friends only – who had fallen in love with her by accident. She was a woman who both men and women loved, and love, still. The race this morning represents that great and enduring love. And although I wasn’t able to present, I am grateful. I am indebted to the Brooklyn Bar Association and the Volunteer Lawyers Project for their commitment and contribution – not only to my sister’s memory – but to the community at large. Their work is so important.

I am reminded that my day, filled with play and fun conversation with friends, is a blessing. I must not take these days – these stunning autumn days held carefully in the light that we must remember in a few months’ time during the darkness that the rains will bring – for granted. They may be few, or they may be many. We just don’t know. So let’s move through them with as much energy and grace and fortitude and giving that we can.

When I’m feeling a little low, I will draw upon the energy and strength and patience and perserverance of others who have lived before me and those who live beside me. New friends, old friends, strangers, family. When I’m feeling a little high, I will gratefully share my energy with you. Promise.

And thank you, Liz, for making me remember, commit, and keep going.