Today is the year anniversary of the death of Maggie’s dear friend Becca. A simple accident born of her love of life and adventure. An accident that coursed over 5 days as donors were found for her many magic-infused and life saving organs that would ultimately be given on her 22nd birthday. Five days which would only be the mere beginning of lifelong grief for her family and friends. A simple accident that forever changed the trajectory of so many lives.
Three months later Becca was followed by Amanda, long time friend of the Homer kids (hers would be the 8th death Will would experience of friends/family over the past 2.5 years). Another young woman so in love with life and filled with sass and laughter. A simple accident born of love of friends and adventure and a limousine gone wrong. Trajectories.
Mama Bears and Lionesses
And then a couple weeks ago one of my best friends’ daughters was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 32. I am caught between screaming and melting into a puddle. Enough is efuckingnough.
What I realized in the midst of that latest news, though, was how lucky I am that I am the one with my cancer. Feeling the pain of my friend overcome by the deep worry and helplessness for her daughter showed me how completely different, and so much worse, this experience would be were it to be Maggie (or Jack or Will for that matter) with breast cancer. I can deal with me.
Feeling the pain to the degree possible of Becca’s and Amanda’s families again puts my own situation in stark contrast. As parents of young children (oh, hell, any aged child) we try to make the world the safest place we can for them. We become Mama Bears, Lionesses, Papa Bears, and Tigers. That may be one of the greatest disservices we provide as well as the one virtually impossible not to try to provide. As so many of us in my relatively small circle have experienced this year, the world is not a safe place, nor was it ever promised to be; it is full of accidents of adventure, of limousines, of DNA. And as Mama Bears and Lionesses, we are met again and again with our helplessness to help our children as they go through their trajectories of pain, loss. I can deal with me.
And again the message would appear that over and over again we have to comprehend the impermanence of our world (I hear our Buddhist monks friends have this down). Live now, live now, live now and now. If we ignore it, it socks us in the gut again and again. Despite my greatest efforts to internalize this, I live in constant fear of the other shoe falling for my children. How many fucking shoes can there be? Apparently an Imelda Marcos closet full.
Resilience and Cellular Level Support
And yet we get up every day in this new and different trajectory. And people meet us with love and support, they wrap their arms and their hearts around us. Occasionally there is a break in the fog and a landscape comes into view. As I have said many times in this blog in one way or another, I am blown away by the love I have received and continue to receive as I wander through this new life. It feels cellular, granular, foundational, so good, so reassuring in a world that feels so awry in so many ways. Daily, I ponder the disconnect between this granular experience on a day-to-day basis in my life and where the break occurs in all of this that allows our world to spin toward disaster. How does this incredible love and goodness dissipate as it flows up the societal chain? Where does it go? I am only one of many thousands, millions of people who have people reaching out with love. How is it that foundation doesn’t strengthen the overall structure of our world? How can we make it be so?
Focus on the Cessna and the Good Guy Pilots
So, with these alternately dark and light thoughts, I turn my focus to part of that cellular network that bouys my life right now. PALS: Patient Airlift Services. This is a northeast based volunteer organization of pilots who love to fly donating their time and airplanes to transport people with various illnesses (say IBC) to their distant appointments.
Last Sunday my sister in law and good friend Dee and I met Mike the Pilot at Heritage Aviation in Burlington. After a huge rainstorm passed thru, he and his friend Nick, along for the ride, brought us out to that teeny weeny plane you see pictured here. We climbed inside (Dee saying: so that storm that just passed through, going south and east? aren’t we going to catch up to it? Mike replying: yeah, but we’ll find a way through. Dee: you mean like a worm hole?) and off we went. Mike is an incredible pilot, completely knowledgable, calm, and instructive as we flew through clouds and rain on instruments only. We all had earphones on, so Dee and I could hear BTV talking to our flight saying things like “You are coming up on 2 extreme cells in about 5 miles” whereupon we’d tap Mike on the shoulder questioningly and he’d turn fully around in his seat and explain why that wasn’t a problem (Mike, shouldn’t you be looking at your instruments?)
Then we arrive at Logan and because we are a compassion flight (compassion flight 623 for that matter), they clear the decks to allow us to land; this little mosquito of a plane parting the red sea of super jets as it were. Amazing. And, we find out that not only is Mike donating his time and the plane rental, but the fuel as well! And he wouldn’t accept a donation toward that. So, if any of you are interested in acrobatic flying, he has a business called Upside Down Vermont! The man can fly (and he plays for the Fairfax town band, all brass but Tuba is his instrument of choice, of course).
And then there is this…
My good friend Rebecca’s wonderful husband Matthew is doing the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 192 mile bike ride across Mass (hence Pan-Mass) to raise money for Dana Farber and cancer research. And… drum roll… he’s doing it in my honor as well as in honor of his aunt who died of cancer way too early. If you are so inclined, please support his efforts here and read about his goals and reasons for participating. Thank you Matthew. I am truly touched and privileged to be honored in this way.
And so we come to Indra’s Net
A long time ago when I was a working Hospice Nurse, I attended a conference in NYC (in the World Trade Center for that matter) on the Art of Dying. During that conference, one of the presenters talked of Indra’s Net, here explained by Wikipedia:
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.”
This is how I picture Heaven; with Becca, Amanda, Mom, Grandpa Bill, Grandpa Bob, Cash, Mickey, Taliesin, and all the others we have lost inside those jewels, reflecting and radiating love and peace. And that will have to do for now. And it does.