Christmas Eve Light and Love

Twenty-two years ago Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, just like this year.  My baby girl was three months and three days old, and she was being baptized at the morning church service.

Christmas Eves at our church then were quite full.  The church couldn’t be decorated until after service on the fourth Sunday of Advent, which Christmas Eve was that year.  After church, folks ran home, changed clothes, and then came back to decorate or “green the church.”  Another quick trip home and then we were back for a Wassail party (not a fan myself) and Covered Dish Supper.  Caroling was after, and then midnight service began at 11:30.  A beautiful day filled with joy and being together.

Together.

During the morning service, the two dear friends we had asked to be Auburn’s godparents stood up next to us and promised to love her and help teach her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, caring from apathy.  Auburn’s godfather wasn’t yet married to the woman who had come with him that morning, but I know she must have promised all of those things too, sitting in the pew, watching as these bonds were formed.

I know this because that day she also became Auburn’s godmother.  In every sense of the word.

Over the years she has written notes of encouragement, given hugs of comfort, listened to my girl (and me), and laughed alongside us–often helping us to find the humor in situations.  She loved with a passion that one isn’t always lucky enough to come across.  Bless her, as my sister Mess Cat says, “She was larger than life.”

This past week, this dear soul left this world, ending her fight with cancer.  Amidst people who knew and loved her, her husband, and her son, we said goodbye on Thursday, gathered around the tent as the cold wind whipped around us.  Her husband got up and shared through his tears the joy and love she gave them all these years.  It was a time of celebrating and remembering one who loved and was loved with great adoration.

Last weekend my friend sat and told me and Auburn how when he first met his wife, she had said, moving things out of the seat next to her, “You just come sit right here beside me,” with her lovely Southern drawl.  Bless her, that’s who she has always been–welcoming, comforting, hospitable, and seemingly on the verge of a joy-filled laugh at any given time.

Today, as my littles have the wiggles and giggles and excitement abounds, I remember my friend–this dear woman who never missed an opportunity to make me, Auburn, or anyone else feel welcome and important.  I remember her standing by her husband twenty-two years ago today, holding my baby girl, and smiling with all her heart with joy.  It was a precious day.  I am thankful she was there.

As I am thankful she has been there for so much of our journey.

My heart is mindful of the ones who knew and loved her best–her husband, her son, her sister, her mother–and I know that in great contrast to the holiday music, bright lights, light-hearted movies, and cheerful greetings everywhere we go, they are bathed in the darkness of grief and pain and loss.  I am mindful of others who will spend this holiday missing someone they hold dear, for whom Christmas does not evoke visions of sugarplums dancing.

And I remember my sweet friend’s words, “Come sit here right beside me.”  If you are bathed in darkness just now, I hope that you will hear these words from someone.  I’m here, as are many others who have walked the path you are on, and we understand the darkness.  Come sit by us.

Or perhaps you are like my friend and could welcome someone who needs to hear those words.  They are indeed words that can change a life.

Wishing you all much love and light in the darkness, as the world celebrates glad tidings of Joy and Good News.  As I remember the baby from 22 years ago whom I held close as I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” walking across the churchyard in the dark, I give thanks for 22 years of wonderful memories.  Time passes way too quickly, so may you all find time to make merry memories to recall and enjoy in the years to come.

Love to all.

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Car Trouble

“You got a car, you got car trouble.”

I think it was my Papa who first said that.  But I heard my Daddy say it many, many times over the years.  Usually followed by that sigh of his.  And the acceptance of the inevitable.

And it’s the truth, isn’t it?  Eventually, something will go wrong.  And it’s rarely when you’ve planned for it ahead of time.

This afternoon, following an appointment, the littles and I went to the big craft store to pick up some gift bags and other small things for holiday festivity’ing.  We left in good spirits and headed out into the misting rain and a nip in the air that hadn’t been quite as chilling when we walked into the store.  We got to the vehicle, unlocked it, loaded up, and were ready to head out.  Only the vehicle wasn’t.  I turned the key.  All kinds of blinking lights on the dash and distressing sounds and then…..nothing.

Well, that’s new.

Actually, it was new to this vehicle. But not new to me.

My Daddy knew his way around a vehicle.  He had to, considering we never owned a brand new vehicle.  He could usually diagnose and often fix what ailed a vehicle.  And when he couldn’t he knew a good mechanic whom he trusted.  “I’m bringing it over, so I reckon you can make your next payment on your car,” he’d tell the mechanic.  It usually was something significant if Daddy took it to the mechanic.

In that moment of realizing we were stranded, I became a sixteen year old girl again.  Needing my Daddy to come fix things.  Everything.

And the feeling of missing him was so overwhelming.

Not just for fixing my vehicle, but for fixing me.  He knew how to calm me down.

I used to joke that when things went awry, I did what all good southern girls do, I called my Daddy.  This grief of not being able to do so was not a six year old grief–suddenly it was raw and new.  All over again.

Unable to fix it myself or call my Daddy, I did the next best thing.  I called the Fella, who did what needed to be done to get to us as soon as possible.

Which he did.  But being he was finishing up work and we were all the way across town, it took a little bit.

I took the littles back in the store so we wouldn’t be sitting in a cold vehicle.  We window shopped and then went back to the vehicle when he texted that he’d be there in a few minutes.

Two things went wrong.  First, it hadn’t occurred to me until we were walking out in the parking lot that I have electric locks.  ELECTRIC.  Battery needed.  UGH.  Also I have one of these weird keys now that isn’t really a key so no way it’s going to unlock a door the old-fashioned way.  I looked it over and over as the cold set in and I started shivering, again regretting that I hadn’t gone back in the house when we’d set out and gotten a jacket.  I saw a little piece that could slide from one side to the other.  I figured it was the key (pun intended) to solving my problem, but none of us could figure out how to free the key that I was certain was hidden inside.  I even texted my law student, who is studying for first semester finals (all the good thoughts needed, by the way), who assured me that yes, sliding that thing would reveal the key.  Ummm, okay, sure.  But no.

That was when our Fella pulled up.  Before I could tell him that the slide thingy wasn’t working, he had a key revealed and was unlocking my door.  Okay then.

The rest of the story is long and wears me out thinking about it again–two different jumpstarts, a stalled vehicle in the middle of the road, Leroy bringing tools from his house (which was closer) so he and the Fella could install a new battery, having the alternator checked and cleared, and two hours later…..I was on my way home in my vehicle.

The littles had stayed in the truck with their Daddy, so I had the rare moment of driving by myself.  I belted out music from Cooter’s program that I had enjoyed so much, and I sang, and then a sad one came on, and I realized I was finally just then defrosting, and I bawled at a stop light because Daddy and…..I just miss him.

It was beginning to get dark as we finally headed back home.  Not even 6 pm.  (Whoever’s idea this getting dark early is, you are off my birthday list!) It wasn’t dark dark, but the light was dimming.  I knew my vehicle was running–I was driving it for goodness’ sake, but I had this fear that my headlights weren’t on.  It wasn’t dark enough for me to tell if they were yet, but I knew they needed to be on so others could see me.

Good gravy.  So much to worry over in this life, isn’t there?

It occurred to me as I searched for signs that my lights were on (besides the light on my dash indicating such–it’s been telling me my brake is on for the past several months–sorry–NOT) that this is how it is when things take a turn we weren’t expecting.  When things start to go south, we don’t know, we can’t see that our own light is there.  That we are still shining out for others to see.  We doubt that we are doing any good.  Sometimes it takes pure darkness setting in before we realize that our lights are indeed still shining.

And by then we’re so tired from worrying over it all.

Friends, your lights are shining.  I see them.  If you doubt it, come sit by me, and I’ll hold your hand and tell you stories about the laughter and joy and light that was and will be again.  And I’ll tell you how your light has blessed me.  Encouraged me.  How your light has been what I focused on through the tears, as I cried through the grief and sadness and pain.

Your light is a gift to this world.  And even when you can’t see it, the rest of us can.

May it shine forevermore.

But if your battery ever needs recharging I wish for you to have someone–a Daddy, a Fella, a friend, a sister, a Leroy,  a stranger–there to help bring it back to its beautiful brilliance.

Shine on, friends, it won’t be long and the days will be lighter and brighter again.

Love to all.

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By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon (Route 52 Snow Storm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A Star in the Dark

This past May was a time of celebrating, remembering, and just a few tears–happy tears. My oldest graduated from my alma mater and now hers, Wesleyan College.  The graduating seniors voted for two parents to speak at the Baccalaureate service.  It was a great honor to be one of the two chosen.  As I told the seniors that night, the only thing better than being a Wesleyanne has been being a Wesleyanne’s mama.  

Tomorrow my oldest starts her newest journey–the first day of classes in law school.  My sisters at Wesleyan also begin the new school year, so I thought I’d share my dreams for them that I first shared on May 12th.  I wish them all the best–my daughter, my sisters, and all those beautiful young people starting a new year of learning.  I hope they all will remember the beauty of their light, freely share it, and often remind others of their beautiful light.  

We need each other y’all.  Now more than ever.  Love to all.  

 

Hello to all of our friends and family here tonight, and an especially warm welcome to my sisters in the Class of 2017. Thank you for the honor of being here to share with you this evening.
I’m going to start with a line from a song you’ve maybe heard a few times during your time at Wesleyan—
“…..a star in the dark is thy glorious past…..”

You. All of you. Did you know? From the moment you took your first breath, your light has been shining. This world is better and brighter because you are here. Each and every one of you.

I recently saw something on Facebook that one of your sisters shared. It had a picture of two pink sparkly eggs just like these, and it said,
“me vs. you bc we both cuties who don’t tear other women down.”
Yes. That. Each and every one of you is a pink sparkly egg, and your light is important.

Don’t let anyone let you feel like it isn’t either—whether you are graduating with a 4.0 or 2.7. Whether you’ve garnered many awards during your time at Wesleyan or none, whether you know exactly where you will be on Monday or in August or if you have no idea what is ahead for you—your light is still beautiful. As is yours and yours and yours. And it is so very needed. The most precious thing about light is that it doesn’t diminish when shared with others. And when we stand together, it shines even brighter. That’s what it means to be a Wesleyanne. That’s what the sisterhood is about. And it doesn’t end either, y’all. My sisters from the classes of 1987-1993 have continued to be a strong presence in my life, even more so in the past few years. We had a saying back when I was here, “Sisters in spirit stay sisters forever.” And after all these years, I’m adding another line, “Sisters in spirit stay stronger together.”

As you go forth from tonight and tomorrow, I want you to take three things with you.

Your light. Share it. Use it to shine in the darkest places, and become a safe place for others. And if you find yourself needing a safe place, look to your sisters. Even those you may not have met yet. Find me. Love on each other and lift each other up like the pink sparkly eggs you all are.

I want you to take with you gratitude. My first birthday after my Daddy died in 2011 was the last one I’d have with my Mama. And she gave me this gratitude journal. I didn’t get it. I was still very much grieving and I knew she wasn’t in the best of health. A gratitude journal? Really? It was while she was sick in the hospital that I found myself getting it—grasping a bit of this gratitude thing. I began to notice little things—a cup of coffee at just the right time, the gentle nature of a caring nurse, my phone that I could use to research things—things and people to be grateful for. And it was because of the light of those around me that I could see it. My friend Ashley, the Baddest Mother Ever, and a sister of yours as well, often uses the hashtag #saythankyouhere.  So number two, my sisters, is gratitude. Practice it often. Say thank you as much as you can. Let folks know when you appreciate them.

This past week I found myself out with my Auburn, my daughter who is my sister, just the two of us, and we were laughing our way through the Walmart. At one point, when we were giving each other a hard time, like we do, I said to her, “I don’t know why you do me like that, I’ve always been good to you.” She laughed and said, “Well, there was that one time…..”

Y’all, there will always be that one time. Or two or three. This is not a world of absolutes. Success is not a run of no failures or mistakes. There will always be that one time. Or two or ten. (I did pretty good in college but there was that one time…..we do not talk about Calculus II…..ahem) But neither is anything or anyone all bad. Someone might be grating on your last nerve, but as time passes, I’m betting you will wind up saying, “Well, except for that one time…..” Look for those times, okay? Look for every opportunity to find that one time when their light shines, even just a little.

I wish you all the best. I know most of you are probably ready to go. I was not. I had no clue what I was going to be doing, and life is turning out okay. (Well, there was that one time…..) As you finish packing up and saying goodbyes and heading out on your next adventure, remember to take your light and refuel it with laughter, good friends, and all the things that tan your soul. Offer grace every chance you can and offer the comfort and compassion to others that you learned here from each other. And finally, remind folks all around you that they too are pink sparkly eggs. And y’all—look in the mirror and tell her too. She might really need to hear that.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants. On the shoulders of the ones who stood at that same marker you just gathered around and the ones before who attended school there. You saw many of them Alumnae Weekend—all of us crazy old ladies. You are standing on the shoulders of your professors and the staff who supported, challenged, and encouraged you the past few years. Look around you—you are standing on the shoulders of the ones here—friends and family who love and cherish you—your biggest cheerleaders. And you are standing on the shoulders of the ones who aren’t here—the Caps and Maemaes and Papas and Ollies and Denises and Rev. Hurdles and grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers. Their light shines on through you.

My sisters, a star in the dark is your glorious past. But now you are all blazing comets, leaving a brilliant, beautiful trail behind you. Soar on and leave love and laughter and pink sparkles in your wake. Best wishes and happy everyday!

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the bird who knew no time

It was 1 a.m. and the dark house was filled with the quiet of the hour.

Only I moved in the house from one room to the next until I sat on the edge of my bed, the side closest to the window my own.

I squinted in the darkened room to see if there was much moonlight outside, and that is when it startled me.

Eerily piercing the darkness, the silence, as though it were noon and not the wee hours of the night, a bird’s melodic offering.

Again and again, over and over, he sang.  No one else joined in, with me as his only audience.

And I wondered why.

Was he practicing for the luring of his love on the morrow?

Was he seeking solace for some sadness he’d suffered earlier in the day?

Was he pontificating about things only he seemed to understand in a language that far too few bother to learn anymore?

Was he cheerily telling the young ones asleep hours ago of stories from his youth?

Was he from out of town and jet lagging like so many when arriving to a new place?

Was he without vision and the darkness could not pierce his spirit?

Did he sense me there on the other side of the bricks, sitting all alone and lonely in the darkness?

I’ll never be quite sure why he sang, but I listened to his offering, unable to sleep.  I wanted to hear his story, to hold it in my hands.  I wanted to know why he had to sing despite everything conventional saying he should not.

Thank you for piercing the darkness with your song and opening my eyes to the light, sweet one.  Your song reminded me of brighter days and evenings lit by lightning bugs.  Your song soared among the clouds and landed on my heart.

Sleep well, little friend.  Until we meet again.

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The Most Precious Part of the Goodbyes

Tonight we said goodbye to a place that we hold dear, Bare Bulb Coffee.  I wasn’t sure if I could or would be able to be there as the lights were turned out for the last time, but as the time grew closer, I knew I couldn’t be anywhere else.

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Driving up to the shop one last time. Sunsets can be so beautiful…..

A few of us who have shared many cups of coffee and moments together in that space gathered tonight to play games, sit and talk, have coffee.  We ordered some pizza and hung out–making precious memories that I hope all of these people I love will carry with them for a long time.  There were friends there whom I was with last night, and there were friends whom I haven’t seen in far too long.

It was an unofficial Bare Bulb reunion of sorts, and it was good.

What I will remember most are the laughter and the stories.  And how folks whom we hadn’t known as long were brought around the table with open arms just like those we’ve known for years.  I’ll remember that strangers were invited to share in the pizza and the celebration and the light.  One more time.

I’ll remember the smiles on the faces and the gentle strumming of a guitar.  The children on the stage, playing games and eating pizza and coloring signs as tributes to this place where they grew up.  I’ll remember ordering my large decaf, no room for anything one. last. time.  The smell of the coffee.  The sound of the beans grinding.  The glittery tiles on the coffee table, the cool feel of the tile on the big table where the group gathered for one more round of Apples to Apples.

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The thing I’ve noticed is that when we are saying goodbye to someone we love, there is one thing that is always a part of those moments.

The stories.

And tonight was no different.  I heard all the stories being shared, and it made my heart glad.

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Tonight I’m most thankful for the ones who have gathered there over the years and those who gathered tonight.  Thank you for filling this sacred space with laughter and all the stories that we can hold close and use to fuel the flame given to us by this special place.  That we sent her out with laughter and fun and friends who have become family is a gift I will always be grateful for.

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…..and there was. For ALL.

May we honor what Bare Bulb Coffee was and what she taught us by letting our light shine–even in the darkest of times.  Together.

Love–and light–to all.

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From the first moment my feet stood in this place to the last time tonight, this place has always been a sanctuary for me. Holding me close and allowing me space and grace to do what my heart and soul needed to do. Thank you, friends, for sharing the journey.

 

Little Bits of Green

This afternoon between piano recital and our time at Evening Prayer, I took Miss Sophie for her afternoon constitutional.  We went a little further than we normally do, as there were a lot of children playing near our house, and Miss Sophie is, well, easily distracted from the task at hand.

In the quiet as she sniffed all the things, I took the time to look around and appreciate the fact that I wasn’t freezing standing there.  The blue of the sky was classically beautiful, and the sun shone brightly.  But it was when I looked down that I saw something that surprised me.

Georgia or not, it’s still winter here.  We’ve had a few days that have me crocheting warmer colors on my temperature blanket, but lately we’ve been back into the “my toes are cold and want to go home” kind of weather.  There are hardly any trees other than evergreens with leaves on them, my bulbs aren’t growing yet, and the grass is brown–and dead.

But as I stood there looking and thinking while Miss Sophie did her dog thing, I noticed that the grass wasn’t all brown.

I saw bits–if ever so few and tiny–of green.

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Wow.

It really surprised me.  I stood there, chiding myself, Well, what did you think, Tara?  That the brown grass just one day, blade by blade, would turn green and spring would officially be here?

I suppose not, but I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much attention to the process.  It’s just been brown and dead and then one day, the grass is green, it’s warm, and my flip flops are back where they belong.

On my feet.

But today I realized something.  In the midst of that brown and dying grass, well below what the eye can detect, there is life.  The green is there.  Waiting.  Even when we don’t see it.  Waiting for the right situation, and the right season.

And then I heard my Mama: Ecclesiastes 3.  (her favorite)  To everything there is a season.

The new life is there.  And one day, when the time and season is right, it will choke out all of that death, and all around us there will be rebirth and life and growth.

One day…..

what has been in the works all along will be apparent and shine through the brown grass and darkness.

Wishing you all a glimpse of green grass today and everyday.

Love to all.

Be the Light

When I was in grad school and had a class called “Spirituality and Family Therapy,” my mind was blown.  So many good books, so many great thinkers and powerful conversations.  One of the ideas I was introduced to was “soul of place.”

I think I had always known about it and felt it, but this was the first time having words put to the idea.

The Soul.  Of place.

I knew this when I said goodbye to my Granny’s farm.  It was even more real the first time I returned years later, to walk around and see the shadows of the stories of the past.  The day I locked the door to my Great Aunt’s house, the one she lived in my entire life, where so much laughter and games of Go Fish echoed in the air, just before signing the papers to sell it to a new family…..I felt the soul of place in every fiber of my being.  Each and every time I set foot at Blackberry Flats, I breathe a little easier. The air is richer and it fills my soul.  The pasture where I learned to ride and the little building where I curled up on top of the hay with my cats and a book are all still there.  The tree that I sat under while still in college has spread its branches just as our family tree has.

Memories.  Light.  Love.  All the stories.

This has happened one other time for me.  It actually happened the first time I walked through the doors.

About five and a half years ago, I walked into a coffee shop that I had heard about long before it had become a reality.  It was a non-profit venture by a group of churches in the Presbytery—churches and church people who realized that not everyone feels safe or comfortable in a church building.  They were looking for a different way to “do church,” to be a community.

And they found it.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the lightbulb etched into the cement floor.

Light.

And that was the second thing I noticed.  How the room glowed.  How it was lit up with more than just the energy from the bulbs overhead.  It was bright with a beautiful spirit.  A calming spirit of peace.

And my soul sighed.  Home.

My family and I have spent countless hours in that little coffee shop in Kathleen situated alongside the GW Boutique, Stevi B’s, and the movie theater.  For coffee, for conversations, for book groups, for art classes.  It’s where I learned to knit and to pray out loud.  It’s where people see the best in others and listen with their whole hearts.  It’s the place I last sat with my dear sisterfriend before she left this world, where we shared our hearts and stories over soup and salad.  It’s where I learned to love pimento cheese and was actually captured on film sharing how good it was, “It’s toasted!” This little coffee shop saw me transition from lattes to black coffee, and my friends the baristas made the very best of both.  This coffee shop is where I sat for hours, set up to sell Beads for Life just a week after my Daddy passed.  It was a sanctuary, and it held my heart gently.  In those hours, in that light, I made my first tiny steps toward healing.  Something I’m still working on.

Grief is an odd duck, isn’t it?  It’s not like this information is new to me.  I know that, and each and every time I’m thrown back on the wheel, I realize it anew.  This whole experience, since we got the word at the end of November that our precious coffee shop was hurting and might have to close, I’ve felt the sting of a terminal diagnosis all over again.  The hope that maybe, just maybe, something or someone can change all of this, the ups and downs and ups and downs and finally, the overwhelming realization, that no, there really is nothing more that can be done…..

yeah, I’ve done this a few times already.

And while it’s a place—yes, just a few square feet that we are losing, not a person—I still grieve.  I grieve for the soul of Bare Bulb Coffee.  I grieve because my littles have begged to sell lemonade or cupcakes or pictures they make to save the coffee shop they love.  I grieve because my oldest has found peace and comfort within the shop walls on more than one occasion when her world was falling apart.  Her love of playing music has been reignited sitting there on Sunday afternoons, or out on the patio in nice weather, just strumming and talking and doing life.  I grieve for all of the experiences my children will not have because the doors are closing.  It was our safe place, a place where we all felt “home,” and that’s not something that is easily found just anywhere.

Next Monday night the door will be locked for the last time, the last cup of coffee poured, the last smile shared as change is given, the last story told over the tables, the last hand held sitting on the couch in the corner.  The last backpack to fight hunger will have been packed, and the last book purchased for the literacy program that is a part of the mission of Bare Bulb Coffee.  These things might continue elsewhere, but it will not be the same.

I’m not sure if I will be there when the door is locked for the last time.  I’ve thought about it.  I have a week to decide.  I’m not sure if I can handle being present for one more passing.  It is precious and hard and beautiful and brutal and all of these things, and I treasure those moments in my heart.  But I know that the hardest moment will be when the Open sign is unplugged, and the lights are turned out.

That is when our work will truly begin.  For those of us who have loved her, who have found solace in her soul and light, we will have to become the light.  To welcome all as she did.  To offer a cup of water to the thirsty, just as she did.  To sit with those who cry, to celebrate with those who are joyful.  It will be up to us to light up the darkness and to show others the hope in the brokenness.  It is important for us to continue to do all of these things…..together…..or she will have been here in vain.

Tonight I’m thankful for the dreamers, for the ones who took a spark and created a bright light for our community, for the world.  It was so much more than a coffeeshop, so much more than its tagline—“hot coffee, cool mission.”  It’s where I grew up, where I asked hard questions and wrestled with them with folks who thought differently and who challenged me to do so as well.  It’s where I said so many hellos and a few heartbreaking goodbyes, this place where strangers became friends, and friends became family.  I am thankful for all of them, and my life is richer for this place, for her soul, and for the community she leaves behind.

Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, and all of your beautiful people.  Thank you for the ones we knew and loved and for the ones who taught us what being different was like.  Thank you for the books and the stories and the hugs and the tangled knots and the hands that helped each other with knitting and painting and life.  Thank you for being open to all of us, no matter what we looked like or what stories we carried in our hearts.

Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, for the Light.

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My last painting at Bare Bulb Coffee, and her task for all of us she leaves behind. (The class was taught by Terri Siegel, a talented artist friend–one of many gifts the Bulb has given me.)