the red couch

flying down the interstate
one goal in mind
home
mile after mile
and then unexpectedly
we see
a red couch
abandoned, in the emergency lane

cushions awry
broken slats

someone will walk into the house
and feel incomplete
like something is lost, missing
for their red couch is no longer there
waiting for them
to continue with their stories intertwined–
the couch filled with tears
and laughter and movie nights
and evenings spent reading together
by the fire,
hardly noticed
until it was gone

some will be angry
others wondering why
some blaming, some crying
some simply sitting where it used to be
wishing somehow they could bring it back

and so that is how it is
today
with you gone
and your stories with you–
how will we go on,
walking into the room
or the gathering
or taking the photograph
with one less smile?

like the couch
we are lost and broken
without you here

this journey
with all its pain and goodbyes
and finding joy in the hardest of days
laughter in the midst of the tears

it’s baffling
it’s all so baffling

much like a red couch
abandoned
on the trip back home

Red_sofa

By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/190007) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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.

img_1620

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.

img_1621

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.

img_1624

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.

img_1629

…..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.

img_1640

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.

 

seeking solace without reservation

there are days when the world seems
to be rushing toward that handbasket,
clamoring for a spot to climb in and go

it is on those days that I feel myself
swept up in the mad dash towards a place
I’d rather not be

but I can’t stop it,
all the throngs of people
pushing, shoving, shouting
and then

my friend reaches out her hand
across the crowd of people

“let’s leave this chaos
and all of this madness
and sheer meanness, let’s just go,
here, take my hand”

and so I do

and she smiles

“I’ve got you”

and she does

and together we find a place
away from the mayhem,
where we can breathe
and the flowers grow up to our elbows

we dance and spin around, falling to the ground,
cushioned by the pinks and reds and purples and yellows,
dizzy with relief

to have found another
in the splendor
away from the shadows and shouting

another who feels
and cries
and laughs over stories
about strangers on doorsteps
and children who are growing up

and finally,
I can rest
and then together we turn to let go
of what has been

and we hold tight to the light we were given
and each other
and, elbowing flowers gently as we make our way,
we go and find others
who
are being
swept up
in all the madness

and walk them home

San_Carlos_wildflowers,_2010

Sunset and spring wildflowers — on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, near Peridot, in Gila County, Arizona. By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA (Arizona Sunset Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

img_1526

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.)

playing make believe

when I was little
you sat down and played with me
in the midst of all the grownup stuff
you stepped away into my world
and we played
all the things
we were adventurers
royalty
bandits
horses
chefs
store clerks
teachers
and what I imagined
you made into reality
with a nod of your head
and your willingness to join in the story

and now
as you see things
and tell me of them
does the fact I can’t see them
make them any less real?
and so I join in
with you now
as your story is winding down
just as you did at the beginning of mine
and we play together
just as we once did
looking for the keys
to the Penguin
so we can get out of here

Keys

By Dirk Kohlmann (094 Uploaded by Anne-Sophie Ofrim), via Wikimedia Commons

The Ninth Day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas…..

img_1202

There are nine words that tell the story of the past week, of the past year.  In saying farewell to 2015, I think back over the goodbyes of the year and my heart breaks again.  I much prefer the hello’s and the hugs and and the coffeehouse chats and the long conversations and laughter late into the night.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my story can be told in nine words:

“There you are!”

“I hate to see you go.”

Wishing you all the hello’s and hugs and “There you are”s for the coming year.

Love to all.

over

it’s over, they said
nothing more that can be done
they tried their best
and so did we
but it just couldn’t be helped, they say

that one word I couldn’t wrap
my brain around
the one word that was to change my life
for always
over

in a fit of frenzied fury
I took everything that had been
and all the dreams of what could have,
should have been
and threw them out
GONE
nothing left to remind me
of it all
except the gaping hole in my heart
and the tear stained cheeks
and swollen eyes staring back at
me
in the mirror

how many times have I looked back
as I closed the door
for the last time
of a place
filled with memories,
turned the key in the lock,
and walked away
over

how many times have I tossed an acorn
or a flower
or a single leaf
into an open grave
and whispered “thank you”
before turning and walking away
over

how many times have I said goodbye
to ones I came to love
because our paths diverged
in the woods
our journeys separated us
and time took us apart
over

I look back at the bin of memories
and the dreams not known
and realize in my haste to let it all go
so nothing could pain me anymore
I also tossed in something that I fear
I might never
get back

hope

IMG_0689

Share the Stories, Say Their Names

Today I sat in a church that holds memories of important days for me and added one more.  I sat there, saying goodbye to a man who taught me Physical Science in college.  And so much more.

It was a privilege sitting with others who love and miss him, listening to the one who was closest to him share his stories–some from as far back as 51 years and others as recent as four days ago, when this wonderful man took his last breath and the room was filled with peace.

As the stories were told, I was mesmerized.  I love listening to stories.  Maybe some folks were antsy, wondering how much longer, but all I could think of was More.  Please tell me one more.

Afterward I did get to hear more.  As people gathered around the tables heavy laden with foods, savory and sweet, they shared their memories.  Laughter and tears flowed freely.  Hugs were given again and again.  Old friends were reunited, and new friends were introduced.  The sun was shining, and the promised rain never came.

Only a gentle breeze that offered refreshment and relief from the afternoon heat.

Tonight I’m thinking about those stories, and how people from many different parts of this one man’s life came together to honor, remember, share, and listen.  There were people he’d taught, people he’d mentored, ones he’d worked with, others who worked for him, folks he worshipped alongside of, people who shared his love of camellias or music or books or good food…..

So many different people.  Gathered there in one place because of their love for this one very special person.

A beautiful thing to see and be in the midst of.

It was an added gift that I saw folks whom I love and have not seen in a long time.  I got to visit with women who were basically “rock stars” in my mind–they were prominent on my college campus when I was there.  I got to introduce them to my own Wesleyanne, and it warmed my soul to see her wrapped up in their stories from another time of the campus she loves so much.

I visited with a high school friend, and we laughed and laughed, and I know now why women go to the bathroom together.  It’s good to have a posse, y’all–no matter how many years go by between seeing each other.  My daughter looked at my friend’s daughter and could not believe how old they are both getting.  Yeah, that’s where life takes you, my girl.  Down a path that moves so quickly you are constantly surprised at how everything and everyone is changing.  It can be dizzying at times.

One of my favorite moments came when a family I’ve known for over thirty years came in and sat behind me in the church.  It was good to see their smiling faces.  I leaned over to my girl and whispered, “I babysat him once upon a time.”  Her eyes grew big as she took in the thirty-something year old man behind her.  “Wow,” she mouthed back.

His sweet Mama whom I remember from library events and school things–she’s dotted all through my childhood memories–leaned in to hug me.  “I love your blog,” she said.

Y’all.  That meant so much to me, yes.  To know that someone out there is reading these stories I share–and then her kind words.  Yes.  Thank you.  (I am humbled and honored when I discover that someone spends his/her time reading something I have written.)

But what meant the most to me was what she said next.  And she said it again in the hallway outside the bathroom in the parish hall.

“When I read them, I can see your Mama.  And I can hear her,” she said, smiling her beautiful smile.  “And your Daddy too.”

She knew my Mama–living in a small town, folks know just about everybody, but they volunteered together and well, she remembers.

And THAT meant everything to me.  She said their names, and she remembered.  I want to hold on to that moment for a long, long time.  In that moment, it was almost like I hadn’t completely lost them.

Today was about listening to stories.  And sharing them.  But most of all, today reminded me to speak the names of those whom we love who are no longer walking alongside us.  There is power in saying their names, in sharing their stories.  In that moment, we can bring their memory and stories to life and begin to heal the hearts of those who are hurting from the pain of missing the ones they love.  No matter how long it has been.

Whose story can you share today?  Who needs you to speak the name of one they love?  Whose story will you sit and listen to today?

Those stories, y’all.  They matter.  Some days, they’re all we have.

Love to all.

To Me, Age 22

A tearful and joy-filled day of remembering someone who loved life.  Loved cooking.  Loved people.  Loved his family.

And loved my sisterfriend.

As I sat there watching the slide show of pictures of him throughout his life, including the wedding pictures–the wedding I had the joy of being a part of, in the same building where I sat today with the tears flowing–

I found myself face to face with my 22-year-old self.

I saw her and my sisterfriend, sitting side by side in the little office with the cinderblock and wood top desk.  I saw them working together to get the job done, but also they laughed.  And they listened to music.

And they talked.

And in those moments between payroll and accounts payable and making signs and calculating timecards,

a friendship was born.

As I looked at my much younger self, I wanted to whisper–

That one sitting right there?  The one you just met and are getting to know?  The one who is funny and vivacious and kind and smart and is putting up with you right now at this very minute?

She is your sisterfriend.  She is going to continue putting up with you.

One day, you will be able to say, “I’ve known her for over half my life.”

One day, you will hug each other and hold on tight and whether the tears are yours or hers, whether it’s her sadness or yours, it won’t matter.

Because you will share the journey.

You will be there to laugh over the crazy things people do, the choices they make.

You will be there to stand up for each other, to say, “hey, this girl right here–you’d better treat her right.  Or else.”

You will be there to stand off to the side and bring comfort merely because you are there.

There will be periods of time, years maybe even, when you won’t hear from each other,

but when it all boils down to it,

when things get hard or wonderful or life finds you in need,

that one, she will be there for you.  Just as you better be for her.

Life doesn’t always deal you a friend like that one.

The one with the bat.

The one with the smile and laugh.  The one with the stories.

The one who will carry your stories with her to the grave.

The one who will let you into her family, who will share love with you just as she does.

Hey!  You!  The 22-year-old me who thinks she’s got it all together, who thinks life is rolling along pretty well–engaged, new job, college degree…..

Yeah, you do have it pretty good

but not because of any of those things.

It’s because of that girl right there.

Your sisterfriend.

And all of the women like her.

Who stand strong and love their friends fiercely.

Yes, girl, you have it good.  Now reach over and hug that girl next to you.  Both so young, both have so much wonderful adventures and heartache in front of you.  And it will be okay.  Not because it won’t hurt, not because you will get over it, but because you have a friend to share the journey with.

And to sit in the dark with you when the lights go out.

Because, my sweet self, they will go out.

No, don’t worry about a flashlight.  That’s only temporary.

Grab your sisterfriends.  That’s what light eternal is made of.

Friends.

 

Wishing you all a friend who will spend the next twenty-four plus years putting up with you.  (And a small warning, once you offer to use your bat “as necessary,” there are some folks who are hard to get rid of after that.)

 

Love to all.  Especially my sisterfriends.

 

the window

The view from Daddy's window at Blackberry Flats.  Cardinals love those those hedges.

Looking back on the day

that we stood by Daddy’s bedside

and let him go,

I see in my mind’s eye and realize with some

surprise

that the curtains on the window were open.

Daddy spent many hours

sitting in his chair

by that window

watching the cardinals

living in the arbor vitae,

the flying back and forth and building homes

amongst the branches, their red wings

in beautiful contrast with the somber news to come–

all before the chair was moved

to make way for the

hospital bed

and the story changed

forever.

Before

he would sit there

in his chair next to the window

listening and telling stories and

doling out what wisdoms he had to share.

He watched his favorite shows, old movies, and sports

but his favorite view

was looking out

that window.

So it is only fitting that the curtains

were open and

he left

in the light,

not tucked away in the dark

behind a closed curtain

like a secret

we were afraid to tell.

He left in the light,

surrounded by love,

taking our hearts with him.

And after he left,

at the same time he left work

to head Home all those years,

the sun began to set,

shrouding us in darkness

for the day,

preparing us for the shadowed journey

without him

in the years to come.