Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

The thing that had to be written…

This is the post that has to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.

For 2 years, I have barely written anything here. I have started many posts, and they linger in my drafts folder. I visit them regularly, add a few sentences, tinker with the words. Some of those posts, I think, are very good, or will be very good, with a little more tinkering. Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are sad. But before you can read any of them, I have to write this one. Some of you have reached out, asking where I have gone, if I am writing elsewhere…

The answer is simple and infinitely complex: 2 years ago, for 2 reasons, I lost my voice, here.

This is why:

1: I wrote about That Kid, which went viral in (what I have since learned is) the purest, most genuine way of going viral. I had no promotion strategy, no plan, no intention. I wrote a thing, and millions of people read it. Millions. Many, multiple millions. If we include the translations, probably tens of millions. Amazing, yes. A thrill-ride, exciting, amazing, often terrifying. I am terribly, terribly proud of that post, and I stand behind my message. But also: it stripped away my quasi-anonymity while also opening the door to deeply disturbing comments, hate mail, threats. How do you (I) follow that? How do I go back to silly throw-away posts about my dog? How do I live up to the expectation that created?

2: Three weeks after That Kid, just as things were settling down, The Most Terrible Thing happened. For this, it is no longer the finding of these words, but rather the saying of them, that paralyzes me: My friend was murdered. That changed everything. Every. Thing. Loss changes everything. Grief changes everything. Murder changes loss and grief in ways I never wanted to know. There were times when I wrote hard and true and raw, in the deep of night, about what murder does to grief, to love, to the mind and the heart and the spirit. Those words, though, did not, do not, belong here (yet?) because they do not only belong to me, but also to people I love very much, and never, NEVER, do I want my healing to cause them pain. And my friend’s life matters so very very much more than her death.

These 2 things, coming one after the other, not equal or related, but somehow, inextricably connected, have left me so, so, different. I am still who I was, in many ways. I love my dog and my house (I have a new house! One that belongs to ME!), my family and friends, my books, my city, my work, but also…

I am more tender-hearted, more empathetic, more sensitive. I cry more easily, at my own pain and the pain of others.

I am both more and less patient, tolerant, generous.

I am more fearful and also more confident.

My view of the world is clearer and also more infinitely complicated.

I am more connected to, and grateful for, my job and school community, but also more able to put my work in context as one part of my life and world.

I am quieter and more vocal.

I am so much more grateful for the good in my life, the comforts and friends and resources and opportunities, and also so excruciatingly aware of the fragility of it all.

I am different. My voice is different. The things I want to write about are different, and so is the way I want to write. I might disappoint you. I might delight you.

I WANT to write again, but this is the post that had to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.

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You might stay, or you might leave.

I hope you’ll stay.

Happy New Year

 

 

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One year later.

One year, today, since the most terrible thing.

A year ago, a year seemed like a long time – long enough for things to look different, long enough to “get used to” the fact of her absence. And, on the one hand, it is a long time: I don’t cry every single day any more, and very rarely at school. The fact of her death no longer feels quite so much like a pistol-whip every time it crosses my brain.

In the last 2 weeks, as we have approached this terrible anniversary, I have felt myself regressing, and only in doing so did I realise how physical my intense grief was. Yesterday afternoon, as I felt the minutes tick by, bringing me closer to December 1st, I swear I could feel my eyes drawing back into my head, feel my smile unhook at the edges, my skin start to hurt where my clothes touched.

By feeling it all come back, I realise how bad it was. And yet…

Over and over again, I have learned the power of powerlessness. Over and over again, I have had to admit to frailty, to fear, to loneliness. I have had to say “I can’t. “I won’t.” “I need help.” “I’m scared.” And over and over again, I have found the most strength in the moments I have admitted weakness, the most relief in the moments I have admitted pain.

I am less scared now, than I was a year, even six months, ago. I walk my dog in my neighbourhood after dark. I sleep with the window open again.

I have social anxiety that I did not have, before. I still struggle with small-talk, afraid that I will somehow stumble into the conversational landmine that is Lauren’s death.

I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that surrounds me, from the people who love me best and also from total strangers.  I still, once in a while, have a flash of someone who called, sent a note, a card, a text, a prayer in those dark days of last December and January, when I was so deep in the hole of grief that I could not respond to everyone. My gratitude defies words.

A year ago, I was terrified that this would break us, that we would discover that Lauren was the glue that held us all together, and that without her, we would melt apart. I am proud that we are still holding on to one another, that we have burrowed into one another instead of spiralling away. At each milestone, we have reached out to one another, holding hands and hearts across miles and months.

More than all of this, though, I have come to categorically reject the rhetoric of glass-half-full-look-on-the-bright-side-there-is-a-reason-for-everything optimistic fatalism. Sometimes, there simply is no bright side. Sometimes, there simply is no reason. For me, the strangest hopefulness  has come from embracing that. Because, if a good thing does not outweigh and erase the terrible thing, then the reverse is also true – no terrible thing can outweigh or erase a good thing. Hot chocolate, with whipped cream and sprinkles, delivered to my office by a kind colleague, does not erase an unexpected dark, teary, lonely moment in the middle of a school day. But the dark moment also does not erase the hot chocolate, or the kindness. Appreciating, treasuring my friendship with Lauren does not erase the violent tragedy of her death, but nor does her death erase the magic of our friendship. 

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We cannot measure good and evil against one another and see which one wins. This is not a zero-sum game. Both simply are. Good and evil. Light and dark. Sun and shadow. Friendship and loss.

And so, what I choose to cling to most is the reality, the evidence, of Lauren being my friend.  At her memorial service, Becky and I held hands and eulogized our friend, remembering the magic, the belly-aching laughter, the miracle of the friendship-turned-family we had all built. I return often to the words I wrote and read on that day, reciting some of them like prayers when I miss her the most. While you can read the whole text here, the parts I return to most are this:

When you consider all of this, it is nothing short of a miracle that not only did we tolerate one another, but that we continued, day after day, and year after year, to LIKE one another, to enjoy one another’s company, to laugh together until our bellies ached and tears dripped from our faces, and also to turn to one another in our darkest and saddest moments.

and then, the very end:

And so, our dear friend Lauren, our missing piece: Our story is still going. This is not a chapter we ever expected or wanted, but all of our shared stories will go on: our friendship with one another; our love for your daughter, our stewardship of Coppercreek. We will miss you with every beat of our broken hearts. We know that you will let us be sad for now, and we promise not to be sad forever. We will learn the things we need to learn, and we will take care of each other along the way.  Someday soon, we will laugh until the tears drip from our faces, and when we do, we will raise a glass to you.

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My heart is still broken, but my glass is raised. My story is still going.


 

Earlier today, I wrote a post for the camp blog, about how we can live Lauren’s legacy of light and love. You can read it, here. 

 

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A cold and broken Hallelujah…

So. It’s been a while, since I’ve been here. I feel like I’ve missed a hundred things: posts I always re-share at this time of year, 2 entire weekends of Latte & Links, some musings on the holiday season. Your comments have gone unmoderated, and I have e-mails from literally dozens of you, asking to share THAT kid….

And now here we are. As of 11:30 Friday morning, school is over for the holidays. I am home, on my couch, gazing at my tree lights, Freddy rolling around at my feet, as I try to figure out how to write this, how to account for my absence, how to ask you for your patience and kindness and prayers….

I made this site as a place to tell my stories. I didn’t want it to be a sad place, but I always wanted it to be a TRUE place, an honest place. I made it as a place to put my words when they press too hard on the inside of my heart to remain there one minute longer.

My story right now is rough and ragged, both a whimper and a howl. For 20 days I have relied on the words of others because my own words were both too many and too few, too enormous and too weightless, to make sense. But the words are starting to come back,  and I guess the only way to say it is to say it.

On the afternoon of December 1st, my mentor, sister, role model, and best friend – Lauren Lindskog Allen – was killed, suddenly and unexpectedly. Lauren was the director of Coppercreek Camp, my most favourite place on earth, my own sacred ground. She was my family.

On December 2nd, I got the phone call telling me what had happened.

On December 3rd, I cleared my calendar and inbox for the next 2 weeks. I bought a plane ticket, arranged boarding for Freddy, put a roaming plan on my phone, filled a suitcase with jeans and yoga pants and t-shirts and sweaters.

On December 4th, I got on a plane, then another plane, then a car, then another car, until I was home at Coppercreek Camp, surrounded by my camp family.

I stayed there for 10 days, living in Lauren’s house with her family: her daughter and daughter’s best friend; her sweetheart; her dogs.

On December 11, I celebrated my birthday with my camp family: steak and wine and cake, through a blur of tears.

On December 13th, we celebrated Lauren’s life in the jam-packed local high school gym.

On December 14th, I returned home.

On December 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, I went to school and went through the motions of doing my job. And now it is Christmas break, and I am here, trying to tell you this thing. This most awful thing.

This is the bare-bones description of things. This does not scratch the surface of the feelings, the relationships, the depth of the love, the infinite complications, the tangled layers of grief and fear and anger. It does not capture the exhaustion, the frailty, the helplessness, the darkness or the infinitesimally tiny pinpoints of light that have pulled me, pulled us* through each moment.

It simply tells you where I’ve been.

And maybe it tells you where I am, and where I will be. My stories, for a while, may not be the stories you came here for.

But they are my stories. Our* stories. And they need to be told.

I hope you will listen.**

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You can read more about Lauren (and the benefit fund that has been created in her name) here, on the Coppercreek Camp blog

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Many of you have reached out to me over other social media in the last few weeks, and I am so grateful for your love, prayers, and support. You are among the pinpoints of light that have helped to break up some terribly dark days.

*The true heart of this is that this is not only my story, but the story of a group of people I chose (and who chose me) as FAMILY, so long ago that I sometimes forget it has not been forever. I do not write on behalf of them, but as one of them. This loss is both personal and collective, both mine AND ours.

**The comments on this post are open, for now, but I ask you to please refrain from anything along the lines of “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not ready for there to be a reason for this. I’m not sure I will ever be.

 

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Take me home, country roads

Many of you know that I worked at Coppercreek Camp for 12 summers (some of which lasted as long as 6 months), and that I continue to go back as often as I can, to visit my favourite people in my favourite place. Coppercreek is now run by my dear friends Lauren Allen and Becky & Craig Hogland, but it was founded and built (literally) by Lauren’s parents: Lynne Evarts and John Lindskog.  For the last several  years of his life, John was known to our camp community as “Papa John.” He was one of the greatest men I have ever known. Today is the 9th anniversary of Papa’s death, and I miss him every day. I’ve written, and am sharing, this piece with the permission of his daughter, Lauren — one of my best friends. It is also posted on the Coppercreek Camp blog

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There are relationships that happen in grand swoops of time, that build over cups of coffee and glasses of wine and slow meals and travels and adventures.

There are relationships that go from zero to sixty – total strangers to dearest friends, in a matter of one long walk, one summer job, one shared dorm room.

My relationship with Papa was one of moments, tiny, shiny round globes of time that snuck up on me, so that I didn’t even know how much I loved him until, in the blink of an eye, I did.

He wasn’t always “Papa.” At first, he was “John.” Then, when I was less afraid of him, he was “Johnny” (and sometimes, behind his back, he was “Johnny-boy”). And then he was “Papa” to the two little girls who ran all over camp. And then, suddenly, he was “Papa John” to all of us, introducing himself that way to the whole camp, every Opening Night. Papa John. Papa.Dad-c

Now that he is gone, I keep those moments like a little boy keeps a pocket full of marbles, running my fingers through them over and over, picking out my favourites, treasuring them all.

Papa picking me up at the airport when I didn’t know him well yet, wasn’t sure how to greet him. A hard, short, surprising hug. “Babe, we sure have missed you. Welcome home.”

Home. Babe. A warm glow around those words. Home. Babe.

Meetings, often brusquely demanded by him, to pore over transportation lists and logistics. Who needs to leave when, in which vehicle, stand where, at which terminal. I didn’t always understand what he needed, but knew it was the ritual of the thing that mattered, the conversation itself a sign that he believed in my competence.

Closing days with early morning flights. The chill grey dawn, where Papa was the driver and I woke tired campers, loading them into his truck with sleep still in their eyes. The first year of this: Papa pacing, worrying gruffly that I would forget, sleep too late. The next summer: Papa calm in the kitchen on those mornings, making his coffee. “I never should have doubted you, babe. I put that kettle on for you.” A nod toward the stove, where the kettle was just starting to whistle for the tea I drank every morning. When did Papa take the time to notice my tea?

groupfair-017The years I stayed after the campers had left, to help with special events and rental groups, I would often wander down to the pool in the afternoons, to read until the slanting sunlight grew too hot, and then to float in the turquoise water, look up at the sky, feel myself in the centre of a perfect orb of blueness. Many days, Papa would show up, swim a few laps, sit with me and chat about the weather, the trees, the history of this place that he built. He never stayed long, standing up abruptly after a few minutes. “Well, Babe, I’ll get out of your hair, let you have your quiet.”

As fall crept up, Papa would pull out his road atlas, to talk about my long drive home, through 4 states and 2 provinces. It seemed to me he knew every highway, freeway, and dirt road that led out of that valley. He liked the long, isolated side roads for himself, but steered me towards better populated routes.unnamed

Papa left us the way he loved us: quickly, almost gruffly. True to everything about him, his house was in order, both literally and figuratively. He left no mess, literal or figurative, for his loved ones to clean up. When more than a hundred of us gathered to say goodbye to him, the air was filled with music and laughter, the tight hugs of those who share a history beyond words. Writing his obituary was one of the greatest honours of my life.

When Papa died, I phoned my own dad, in tears. “Daddy…. Papa died.” “Oh, darlin. I’m so sorry. I know you loved him. And he loved you, so much.”

Papa built the place I love best in the world. He was father to one of the best friends, and strongest women, I’ve ever known. For those 2 things, alone, I would have loved him with my whole heart.

But having him love ME…

That is the roundest, shiniest marble of all, the one I pull out when things get dark, running the pad of my thumb over its blue-ness.

Papa loved me.

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The Coppercreek Camp Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in memory of Papa and Lynne, the camp founders. Today would be a GREAT day to make a donation, right here.

 

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Because of ballet…

(This is my day 4 post for the #kinderchat post-a-day challenge. The question: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?)

Ballet was always my thing.

I started when I was 2. (Yes, for real. I was verbal enough, and coordinated enough, that the neighbourhood dance teacher agreed to take me in her 3-year-old class even though THEY DID NOT MAKE BALLET SHOES SMALL ENOUGH FOR ME. Could you die? I could die from the cuteness of that.), got 4 years under my belt, set it aside (ballet, that is, not my metaphorical belt) for a few years, returned when I was nine, stuck with it until I was 17, when a chronic injury, combined with a big role in the school play, drew me away.

I took other kinds of dance because they were “good for me” jazz and modern and character. I tolerated them at best. They seemed fluffy and weird and flashy, sometimes ugly. The teachers for these classes seemed… fluffy. Too smiley, too perky, far too concerned with whether I was having fun. I wasn’t looking for fun. I didn’t want fun. I wanted to be GOOD. I wanted to do it RIGHT.

Ballet was (is) precise. There is an exactly right way for every part of your body to be, literally right down to your pinky fingers. It is right, or it is wrong.

Ballet is black leotard pink tights pink slippers hair in a bun no wispies. Dig the bobby pins into your scalp if you must. A ratty sweater for warm up. Only for warmup. And your teacher will make you take it off before you leave the  barre.

Ballet is gel in your hair and sweat between your shoulder blades and blood inside your pointe shoes.  An entire secret language that is French, but not…

Épaulé effacé croisé.

Pas de bourrée. Pas de chat. Pas de cheval. Pas de deux.

Plié tendu glissé frappé développé penché.

Ballet is thumb on top of the barre, never under. Turn toward the barre, never away. Right side first, then left, always always always. Finish the exercise close your feet, lower your arm, turn your head to the centre.

Warm up, barre, stretches, centre, across the floor, réverence, and limp home.

Leg higher, shoulder lower, eyes up, hip down, heel front, knee back. Hold hold hold. don’t. breathe.

Think about your line from your fingers down your arm across your shoulder to your back through your hip to the leg the foot the toes that must go on forever.

Turn out from your hip. Lift from your stomach. Speak from your eyes. Pull up pull up pull up through your ears, NOT through your chest.

Do all of this at once. To music. On time. And make it look easy.

 

Yeah. I wanted to be a ballerina.

I still do.

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photo (cc) by gabrielsaldana

 

 

 

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