Something So Strong

I have never participated in a WordPress Daily Prompt before, but at this time of year, I am adrift on a sea of memories.  This prompt spoke to me.

On a warm summer day, against a stunning backdrop of shimmering red rocks, I spotted you sitting alone, listening to the music wafting through space.  It seemed my soul already knew you and raced to greet yours before my feet could carry me to your side.  Everything around me seemed to slow as our eyes met and introductions were made.  Deep within I knew ours was to be a lifelong friendship, even if you had yet to make this discovery.  I seldom left your side that day and quickly learned that on the surface we seemed to have little in common, mine a life revolving around finance, yours that of talented musician and artist.

No one could have guessed the depths our friendship would reach, something so strong drawing me back time and again to your beautiful melancholy smile. With each visit, familiarity gained momentum.  Vulnerability and timidity gave way to raw honesty as we explored our feelings, new discoveries about each other and ourselves unraveling.  A piece of my soul that had been lost once again had found its rightful place.

Yours was a life of great struggle Barb, a battle difficult to witness at times. However, even during some of your darker days, which brought forth tears of anger and frustration, I always felt a calm countenance within you, ready to face whatever life had yet in store for you.  Some of my most cherished memories will always be those rather prosaic tasks we shared that so many of us take for granted, exercises you coveted as your body began to turn against you. Greeting you in the morning and gently lifting you into your wheelchair, brushing your beautiful blond hair as you silently cried, seeking acceptance of the terrible affliction that had wracked your body, showering you as you struggled with the humiliation of feeling your dignity slip away, and sitting at your feet reading to you when you could no longer turn the pages on your own are intimate moments that have become encapsulated in my heart.

You left us much too soon Barb, long before any of us were ready.  There were stories still to be told and lessons for you to teach us, other lives for you to touch.  But you knew it was your time and with that same courage with which you faced your illness, you moved into the next life.

On this eve of your passing, I cannot believe three years have slipped by so swiftly.  The pain of your absence can still take my breath away.  But something so strong as your passion for life amidst your formidable trials has left me with the awareness that any obstacle can be overcome.

As I reflect upon our time together, a myriad of emotions swirl around, moments of profound joy, deep wells of sadness, contemplative stillness, and always the knowledge that we will meet again.  Until that time arrives ~ rest in peace my anam cara.

Beloved friend Barbara Burke
Beloved friend Barbara Burke

What is a Life?

Live for something.  Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name in kindness, love, and mercy, on the hearts of thousands you come in contact with year by year; you will never be forgotten. No, your name, your deeds, will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven.  ~Chalmers~

I originally posted this two years ago and, although I have tweaked it, I think it is still a good question to ask ourselves.

What is a life?  What gives it meaning?  The answer to this question will be as unique as each of us is, different for everyone.  This was the question posed to me by a dear friend a few years back who was dying from a rare genetic disorder, one that neurologically was stealing her body from her bit by bit, a disease that no doctor would diagnose until after her autopsy was performed.  During her darkest times she would question her value to society, to her family and friends, and to herself, a legitimate question coming from a gifted artist and musician who had slowly lost the use of her body.  For those of us blessed to have known her, what she gave each of us grew exponentially as her illness progressed.

Those whose journey it is to experience a chronic illness may have the most to offer, particularly in the depth and breath of the valuable lessons they can teach us.  My beloved friend Barbara  (my anam cara) suffered greatly before she passed not quite two years ago.  Through all her suffering she wore the face of courage well and taught those honored to be her family and friends such meaningful life lessons.  At times I wished I could just sit by her side with a tape recorder so I could remember everything she shared with me, every last word. Her concern for the rest of humanity, both people and animals, her beautiful artwork, done on the computer by using only her big toe when her hands betrayed her, and how in tune she was with nature were truly inspiring.  I pray that I could have that same grace if faced with her struggles.

For us, living the gypsy life and traveling gives our life meaning, experiencing the beauty of new places and different cultures, meeting people who have become friends, touching lives and having others touch ours, breathing in nature and soaking in her spectacular vistas and nurturing solitude.  For others, happiness is the stability of a home base, feeling more anchored in a community. Our differences enrich those around us.

One observation Terry and I made, both in Costa Rica and Mexico, is that many locals residents we spoke to are truly happy, even with so very little of a material or monetary sense.  Values certainly appear to be different in developing and third world countries, where basic needs are often times out of reach.  This certainly makes a life take on a whole new perspective and was a constant reminder to us that happiness and a truly remarkable life can be made without a lot of “stuff”.

When I look around me, to those who have so little, to those in physical and emotional pain, given the state of the world at present, my hope and prayer for all of us is that we can find the meaning in our present experiences and share what we have to offer with others.  I have come to realize that being of service to others in small ways brings me great joy and that just may be my calling in this life.

We all walk this same earth together; better that we not be alone in our journey but rather reach out and take another’s hand.  What a beautiful life this could offer.

Below is a slide of some photos taken during our journey through this life.  Enjoy!

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A Painful First

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.  ~ From a headstone in Ireland

Many anniversaries invoke warm, tender memories but for those who knew and loved Barbara Burke, this anniversary is anything but.  Today is the first anniversary of her passing and although I knew this day was drawing near,  I am in disbelief.  I cannot accept that you are gone, my dear friend, even one year later.  Sometimes my mind tricks me into believing that you are still sitting at your computer, creating vibrant works of art, all with your big toe.  But there is no one there to count down the days until my visit, as we always did.  Where are you now?

I walk along the beach and feel you in the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze on my skin, the power in the surf, the grace of the soaring birds overhead.  I see glimpses of your essence in others and wonder, is that you?  Are you trying to communicate with us?  Or is this what I do to comfort myself?

Some of the most intimate times we shared  is when I read to you.  The book “Anam Cara” by John O’Donahue was one of your favorites and the discussions we had after always touched me deeply.  It was beautiful; it was moving; it is so damn tough to finish without you here.  I can’t seem to pick it up and move on from where we ended.  How ironic it is that John O’Donahue, Irish poet, priest, and philosopher died suddenly at age 53, just as you.  Both of your voices were quieted much too soon.

An excerpt from his book “Benedictus”, a book of blessings written  shortly before his death, seems fitting at this time:

‘May there be some beautiful surprise
Waiting for you inside death
Something you never knew or felt,
Which with one simple touch
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken within the embrace
For which your soul was eternally made.

‘May your heart be speechless
At the sight of the truth
Of all your belief had hoped,
Your heart breathless
In the light and lightness
Where each and every thing
Is at last its true self
Within that serene belonging
That dwells beside us
On the other side
Of what we see.’

You always loved flowers, particularly your morning glories, which always remind me of my mother.  When you sensed your time was drawing near and you were struggling with knowing when to let go, you captured some of these beauties at the end of their season, hanging on a vine by a thread, and developed a Power Point presentation which became an analogy for your life, when to let go.  How our hearts ached and the tears flowed when we watched this.

Your grace and beauty live on through your artwork, music, photos, letters to family and friends and the countless memories we hold so dear.  The grief that you felt at your illness and impending death we too experience.  We will come to the acceptance as you did, although not very soon I fear.  You touched us all so deeply Barbara and for me, you will always be my anam cara, my soul friend.

A Holiday Message

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.  ~Dr Seuss

Well, it is that time of year again when the commercialism of the season besieges our senses.  My prayer for all of you is that you can take a little quiet time for yourselves and reflect upon your blessings.  It is so much easier it seems to look at what is wrong with our lives instead of everything we have to be grateful for.  So many of us are struggling with work, family, health, etc., etc., etc.

Loss is something that has weighed on me this year, as I lost my most precious friend Barbara, my anam cara (soul friend).  Although I feel the pain of her absence daily, I am determined to celebrate and give gratitude for the time I had with her and the profound impact she made on my life.  I feel blessed to have had a friend in my life whose energy, when I was near her, filled me up.  May we all have someone in our lives who blankets up with their love and may we do the same for others.

I came across this quote some time ago, and it seems fitting for all of us to reflect upon as we head into 2012:

Faith makes all things possible; hope makes all things work; love makes all things beautiful!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Barb’s Amazing Nutcracker Collection 

A Celebration of Life

Did I ever tell you you’re my hero? You’re everything, everything I wish I could be.
Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle, ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings. Fly, fly, fly high against the sky, so high I almost touch the sky. Thank you, thank you, thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.   ~Bette Midler~

On Tuesday, March 15th, my dear friend Barbara Burke, gifted artist and musician, passed away with her husband Peter by her side.  Hers was a long illness of 12+ years, but even so, her beautiful spirit always showed through the pain and suffering and she was able to create amazing works of art on her computer, with her big toe, until the very end .  She was a gift to us all, too soon gone.

I was one of the lucky ones to have had you in my life Barb, if even for a few short years, and my life will forever be enriched by your beauty and your grace.  You taught us all such precious lessons and your strength through all your suffering will carry us through.  You were a rare jewel that we were able to touch and marvel at, as you took care of all of us and made us better people for having known you.

You are soaring now with the eagles, unencumbered by your physical body and a wheelchair, with the wind in your hair.

Rest easy, my anam cara, until we meet again.

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