Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of Bridges and Water

I can’t honestly remember the moment it happened. And it's not just because that moment happened more than 20 years ago. Nor because I’m almost 40. I’m unsure of it, because I’m not sure it was a single moment at all…but a series of moments. But suddenly we were there.

Melody and I were friends.

This is what I do remember… I was worried about moving from Wyoming after my sophomore year. We were traveling 1600 miles away from everything I had ever known. As a teenager I was especially worried about finding the right type of people to hang out with. And I remember what my dad told me; be the person you want to be and you will attract people who want to be that way too.

It was what I hoped for. It was what I prayed for. And it came from the most unexpected source. A Baptist minister’s daughter. I didn’t really see that one coming at all.

C.S. Lewis once said that friendship was born when one person said to another “What? You too? I thought I was the only one!”
That kind of sums our friendship creating moments up I think. We were peculiar for kids our age. Although our backgrounds were different, we both came from strict and religious families. We had similar restrictions, and similar goals. We liked similar things. We were both in choir, and we both played piano. But our closeness just kind of evolved. And we did it by building on similarities and agreeing to disagree on the things we didn’t have in common. And somehow it was always okay. Melody is central to most of the clearest “brain snapshots” I keep from those last 2 years of high school… driving in her orange Pinto, too many cups of coffee and Frisbee in the choir room, pancakes with peanut butter and chocolate syrup and chocolate chips, Homecoming cookies, Friendly’s after football games. It’s all there in my brain. And so is she.

After graduation our lives took divergent paths. Often far away from one another. But somehow, that didn’t matter. And God somehow saw fit to bring us closer in proximity to one another when we most needed it.
There have been so many good things; marriages, babies, educational milestones, and hundreds of tiny celebrations (“The bathroom is finished!” “I finally figured out how to make that cake.”).
And there have been moments of sorrow; She was there when I got married the first time. And she was there when my marriage disintegrated and I was left broken and lost. I cried with her when she was feeling a little friendless and forgotten in her new surroundings. She flew me to Chattanooga to see her a few months after my husband died so we could spend some time together. And there were many things that mattered in the moment but matter little now; boyfriends, breakups, car accidents and little frustrations about everything from potty training to stain removal.

We talked once about the benefit of old friends. You don’t have explain the water under the bridge. Chances are they were swimming in it with you before it even got to the bridge. And sometimes when things are hardest, as much as people around you want to help, it’s nice not to have to explain the water. It’s way less exhausting.

This visit was all about the bridges. And it was nice to just let the water flow underneath us without a thought. I had been feeling I needed to plan a trip to Tennessee, but that seemed silly so I ignored the naggings in my head.
And then there was a call in February where suddenly that gut feeling made more sense in a new context. My healthy, wonderful friend had cancer. T-cell lymphoma to be exact. Now as far as anyone understands, it’s completely controllable. But there have been less than 40 cases ever treated in our age group. Most of the people who get this are old men. So some of it is unknown. There is so little to know, except for what is real and possible right now. At first I offered to come and be there to help with her family, before we knew what the treatment options were or how that was going to really look. The good news was that ultimately the treatment came in the form of a chemo-based gel. It wasn’t really going to be debilitating like radiation might be. But we decided I should come anyway.

“I don’t think I’ll need you physically by then, but I think we might need each other mentally.”

When we met at the baggage claim in Atlanta, we threw our arms around each other and tears filled our eyes. She was right. It was the right kind of medicine.
The next few days passed both slowly and quickly. We didn’t do much outside of the house… a few fun and wonderful and memorable field trips were planned and carried out. But the treatment makes her tired. Her body and mind are fighting this terrible battle, and sometimes Melody is the loser no matter which side is winning. And I know she was sad. She wasn’t herself. She wanted to be doing more. But I hope, I truly hope that she knows, that I wasn’t there to do. I was there to simply be. And because of that, every moment…even (and perhaps most especially) the moments when we were sitting in our PJ’s on the couch watching some sappy chick flick, mattered immensely.

But the days did pass. And the moment for me to go back to my family arrived. We stood on the curb for a moment as we said goodbye. We hugged, tears on our cheeks. “I love you my friend,” She whispered. “I love you too” was my quiet reply.

Life happens. Pain is real. We both knew that. We had both seen it. In our own lives and in each other’s lives.

But that moment of love was just as real as the pain. And far more powerful. 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Past Perfect

"Every man is quotation from all of his ancestors"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

This past week was spring break for my kids. Since I wasn't able to be home with them during the week, and we weren't able to go anywhere for a break...instead we did little things throughout the week in the evenings after I got home.

Wednesday was without a doubt my favorite field trip. It all transpired kind of by accident. I called my Grandma Thacker and asked if she would join us for dinner. I thought we could go and see the graves of some of our ancestors; Baxters who are buried in the cemetery here in Pleasant Grove. As I thought about my plans early that morning, I remembered that there was a pioneer museum located not far from our home. On a whim, I looked up the information online and found the contact number. I knew it was last minute, and apologized as such, but asked if we could arrange for a tour that evening...just for our family. I told the woman on the phone (whose name was Ruth) that some of my family had been raised and buried in Pleasant Grove and gave the last name. I quickly found out she was also related to Baxters. She was excited to meet us that night at the museum...the oldest standing schoolhouse in Utah.

It was such a great experience! We discovered so many great things about the men, women and their families who first settled our new home town. It was amazing to know that some of them were our own ancestors. It was wonderful to see how things used to be; pictures of the old tabernacle and beautiful stained glass windows salvaged from the building before it was demolished; pictures of a sleighing party on the old Main and Center Streets; and a photo of a bed and breakfast style hotel that was operated by my great, great, great grandfather and his family. There were 3 log cabins, one of them the original first cabin built up by the mouth of the canyon where Battle Creek pours out into the valley. And of course dozens and dozens of stories.

This is the original school room. Notice the rounded ceiling. It was built that way on purpose, since the building was also used as social hall of sorts where plays were put on and musical concerts conducted.

Another relative, Sandy, show Maryn and Ashlyn how the pump organ works. Maryn pumped and Sandy took Ashlyn's hands and showed her how to play chopsticks.

The second school room, and all of the people we spent the evening with; Maryn, Conner, Ashlyn, Paul, Ruth, Sandy and Grandma Thacker.

My grandmothers grandparents; John Kelly Baxter and Elizabeth Morton Baxter. Grandma told us that John was killed walking home from church one evening well before Grandma was born. 

And some graves of the Mortons. I loved how our shadows were cast over seemed like an appropriate thought somehow...a linking of past and present.