Message in the Sky


I rise above on metal wings.

Rise above this broken earth
Fractured and shattered. 
The craft moves upward

Away from anger, pain and protest 

Grief, and forgetting, my mother’s disease.
Pulled into the greys of heaven

clouds and mist and vapor.
Behind it trails the dawn

The beginning of a new day

The gradual warming of earth’s tent

From greys to pinks to orange.
We soar along horizon’s line

Away from dawn, westward

from here the daunting now appears 

Insignificant, small.

        

Land recedes, gives way to gulf waters

The blue of waters reflect the blue of skies above

A layer of mist hovering between 
Above the blue

As if a heavenly artist took one stroke

One brush of his hand 

A message

half a heart

In vapor, in white on a blue canvas sea.


What message does this half a heart bear?

Unfinished?

Incomplete?

Or is the remnant of a broken heart? Half empty from grief and pain and sorrow?
The half heart remains floating above the gulf waters.  A message in the sky.

The remaining journey attempts to answer that question.

Half hearted?

Or broken hearted?

He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God.  Issac Newton


On this journey across the country I see the remnants, the attempts for us to be like God, constructing our own universe, power, the windmills the towns laid out in perfect grids, the farmland, from the sky, perfect circles. The network of connection of roads and highways sometimes singular across a vast nothing, sometimes a puzzle of roadways. All connectors. All looking for connection. The towers reaching to the sky to send signals. The skyscrapers stair stepping upward.  


Beyond the cities and towns, a single peak, snow capped, tapping heaven, then sloping down into a valley that breaks out into a river, then a canyon, then a desert. This vastness that is this land. The land our forefathers traversed at first by foot or horseback centuries ago. The land our forefathers traversed in search of a new life and new horizon. This country of promise.

My father came to this country, decades ago, standing on the deck of a freighter. He earned his entrance into America fighting on foreign soil, a soldier in the Philippine Scouts during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March. He survived the Korean War.
As he approached the port of entry spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge, he spoke to his young daughter, my sister, of the promise of this land, of the promise of America. “We will have a good life here in America,” he said to her as they crossed underneath the great orange arches.
My plane lands a few hours south of where my father first entered this country, Monterey Bay, where a Filipino taxi driver takes me to my hotel. He is from the same area in the Philippines as my father. He speaks his language. He has been in this country 17 years. He speaks proudly of his daughter, who is going to college. He has my father’s dream, that his children get a degree. He has my father’s name. Jessie.
I see my father’s face in the ones of those who work here at the hotel. My father, who was a laborer after his 24 years of service as a sergeant in the US Army. My father who could could only dream of staying at a seaside resort. My father who labored so his children could dream.
Over the waters the next morning, perhaps one hundred miles south of the port my father first entered this country over sixty years ago a rainbow reaches from end to end. Not just one, but two. A double rainbow over the grey blue pacific waters.

Promise. The rainbow.
These days it can mean so many things

But originally the bow

Was set in the clouds as a promise

That God would never flood the earth again

Despite our turning away.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come.  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Genesis 9:13 

A sign of promise.
A sign of hope.

My father crossed the sea to enter this land just miles from the span of this rainbow.  He came here to hope.  He came here to fulfill promise.
My promise now to him is to care for his widow

The woman he brought here years ago torn from her homeland and mother and family

To start a new life in the land of promise.

I will care for her

And the memories she can no longer recall

Of a life, a home, a car, a family started here in this country.
I will care for my father’s grandchildren
The ones who now live the life he only dreamed of

Who carry degrees from universities and live in cities and towers from coast to coast.

Who  pursue education and the hope of helping others in a world that greatly needs help.

And as my mother fades she too will join him.

And they will live in the legacy of their children and grandchildren

Who live out the promise they began 

Perhaps broken

But not half hearted.

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A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City

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I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”

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The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.

 

This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.

 

6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

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Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.

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A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.

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Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.

  

On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”

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The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”

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“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

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The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.

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Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.

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Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

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The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.

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I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

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Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.

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Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.

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The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.

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As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

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Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

The Piano Man

The corridor is full of busy people grabbing a bite to eat on the way to their next destination. Everything is fast….burgers, fries, chicken, smoothies, things made to be consumed and taken in quickly. Falling over the movement of rushing and bustling are the sounds of a piano. A man sits at a Yamaha baby grand at Varzano’s pizza bar in the Atlanta airport, consuming only his music, absorbed only in notes swirling in his mind, not the rushing world around him. These sounds are slow and savory. Jazz. Where every note counts and the music is meant to be chewed on and digested. One note at a time, one beat at a time, slow and simmering,  takes shape as a rendition of Eleanor Rigby.

  
All the lonely people consume their fast food as jets take off in the background and rollerbags and strollers and backpacks clog the aisles and tables are full of people looking at their screens and not at each other.

  
Still the man at the piano plays each note the way is meant to be, each one intentional. Though he has sheafs of sheet music stacked on the edge of the piano, every single note rises from his soul and lands on a key, insignificant alone but captivating as part of a whole. He plays John Legend’s “All of Me” and all of him moves from head swaying to toes tapping on the vinyl floor. He moves from current pop to classic Frank Sinatra, his own twist on “Strangers in the Night”. And here in this busy place strangers in the night exchanging glances of coming and going and making connections the piano man makes lost connections of the soul in Terminal A of Hartsfield Airport. As the world rushes past as his beat goes on. Behind his head that bobs to the music Delta jets rumble off into the air. He smiles to himself, as if he knows, as if he hides a secret that, yes all around you people are in other places, but I am present, taking this moment to share these notes with you.

  

  
These notes connect to all in the crowded room to the babies on hips to the white haired couple at the window to the young hipsters in the corner and the family behind him. In a world of disconnect this music connects.
The rest rush to the next place, checking iPhones, checking data, checking clocks to get to a gate, stuff a meal in, throw away garbage, grab baggage and move on to make a connection. 

  
But in this hidden corner amidst a world of hustle and bustle and getting to the next place, he is here, in the moment. Jazz includes only what is right here, right now, as what is swirling in your head becomes real.
Materializing, as fingers touch the keys, a song. One that consumes your heart and soul and brings joy that transcends all generations. One that causes busy people to pause and clap their hands at its close. One that moves passers by to take a video on their smartphone and slip a tip into the jar on the end of the piano.

  
I move to piano’s edge to thank this man.
“How long have you been playing,” I ask him, “since you were three?”
He chuckles in agreement, then smiles and nods.
“You must have been, since it you play with your entire being.”

“Thank you for playing here,” I tell him. “Thank you for brightening my day.”
“And thank you for brightening mine,” he says.

mom’s gift

Rites of passage.  This weekend was full of them.

My third son off to his senior prom.

My baby, my daughter gets her driver’s license.

My second son skypes for a while to take a break from studying for finals at college.

And my oldest gives me this gift, a gift that makes every heartache, every tear, every sleepless night worth the cost of being a mom.

This gift, this video that records moments of motherhood, is meant to honor my mother, his grandmother.

But this gift honors every mom I know…every mom who wonders if her little acts of love are noticed.   They are.

Please enjoy this gift, moms, and remember every little act of love are treasures  not only to us, but to our children, even when they are grown.

20140428-105247.jpg http://vimeo.com/m/94843369

double exposure

This has been a season of extremes, ones recorded in front and behind the lens of a camera. These extremes were precipitated by two questions, by two calls I had always wanted to answer but never had the courage to follow through. A contest. A writing workshop. I gathered up the courage to formulate two answers. I prepared two responses that would change my life.

The first question loomed at me from the pages of MORE magazine in a contest I had been wanting to enter for ten years but never did. This year I abandoned the fear and answered. So in this question, “What makes me beautiful, more now than ever?” I search for the truth of what beauty means to me. I write words, words that reflect the complexity and beauty in this season of my 50 something life:

The joys of motherhood, raising four beautiful children
The commitment to caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s living in my home
The pain and joy and moments entwined in both
Pain and sorrow, joy and laughter meshed together to create something beautiful, birthing something new out of parts that have been crushed.

I press send.

And that transmission begins a transformation. Transformation, initiated through words. 300 to be exact. 300 words about beauty, joy, grief, pain mixed with the healing of painting, boxing, writing to release all going on inside.

Sharing these words lands me in a studio for MORE. Exposing my life in a few vulnerable words now brings me exposed before the lens of a camera.

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The photographer, Ari, encourages me out of me my nervousness. Before this moment, standing open before the camera, there was a lot of anticipation and excitement and preparation in the studio: meeting the editors and publisher of MORE, choosing and trying on designer clothes off the rack, sitting in front of the vanity, having perfect shades of makeup and nails applied, taming my wild mane with the stylist. I laugh when I ask Mark, the stylist, “What look are you going for?” He answers, “Tina Turner.” Perfect. Her look, her strength, her killer legs. Let’s go for it. Let’s go rolling on this river.

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It was easy to present this look, but a little harder to project it. Slowly Ari coaxes life out of me, brought to life in a Valentino lace dress that I absolutely love and Steve Madden heels. Tousled hair, wind machines, polished make up and nails complete the metamorphosis. Uncomfortable at first I listen to the music playing, slowly relax. As I relax, I’m able to look straight into the lens of the camera.

That’s when I feel most myself. Looking right into the camera, praying the lens would reveal what is inside me, not only my beautiful transformed self that is giddy with the thrill of flaunting designer clothes, stumbling in stilettos, having my hair blown out and shaped in big rollers and makeup and nails flawlessly done. I’m in awe of the process of becoming outwardly beautiful, not only for me, but for the other three contest winners. I am aware from their smiles and their eyes that their beauty comes from within before we even exchange words. I’m moved by their stories, also brought here by words of beauty and pain and perseverance. I’m moved by the fast bond we share in sharing this dream experience together.

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So I keep looking, looking, looking into the eye of the lens hoping it will reveal
the innermost me, altered by joy and sorrow, made stronger by both. Yet this outward transformation sparks a self-assured, more confident me, confident to stand tall in these 4-inch heels and truly, fully smile from the renewal I feel inside.

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After all the excitement of the shoot, another photographer, Matt, takes a shot of me in my robe, in the background, waiting. “You look so wistful and pensive. What are you thinking about?” he asks.

“I’m trying to hold on to this moment,” I say.

He smiles.

A snapshot of a moment I will preserve.

Three months later, another snapshot. This time, on the other side of a camera lens. I stand 5000 miles away from the studio in Brooklyn on the shore of Katmai National Park in Alaska.

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I am here because of my answer to the second call; another transmission of carefully chosen words has secured me a spot in a wilderness writing workshop near Kodiak. Two commercial jets, a prop plane, a bush plane, a 25 ft skiff, and a 4 seat float plane have transported me to a remote tide flat where a river meets the Shelikof Strait off the Alaskan coast.  I am wearing three day old jeans, three-day-old hair, no makeup, and hip wading boots. Behind the lens of a camera, I am observing life as it unfolds in the wild, watching Alaskan brown bears in their in their natural habitat, no platform or fence between us.

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A mother bear and cub are near each other. Resting, then cajoling with each other. The guide says the cub is three; he’s surprised he’s still there. By three they are usually on their own, kicked out. Why do they kick them out I ask. So they can continue mating.

I laugh at that ritual, considering the lengths it takes to mate with my husband of 32 years with teenagers and my mother in my home. Maybe I should kick them all out.

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For two hours we watch the bears in their habitat. Beautiful, powerful, just going about their everyday business, wandering up and down the stream searching for food… a salmon dance. They eye movement in the stream, then rush over and crush the movement with their heavy paws, Playfully they grasp the salmon in those same life crushing paws and chomp it in their mouth, wild salmon ritually swimming upstream from the ocean, pushing against the current, traveling miles and miles to lay their eggs then die.

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There is evidence of death everywhere here in this wilderness. But as I stand only 30 feet from this brown bear I am not afraid. I am only a bystander of this life behind the lens. Though only steps away from its powerful jaws I continue to watch. As I step across the soft silt sand of the riverbed, I look down at my feet. Even on the ground there is evidence of this cycle of life and death. There perfectly curled in the sand is the entire skeleton of a salmon. It reminds me of an old Indian carving or etching, the kind that fascinated me as a young girl growing up in the northwest. The Indians faced life and death and recorded it all in beautiful etchings…imprints of their daily life.

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Here in my hip wader boots I record imprints of this life, preserving this experience, firing 600 photos in an attempt to capture the perfect shot of a bear in the wild. Even professional photographers have travelled for miles and for days to this very remote area to document a bear in the wild. A group of them are 100 feet in front us in camouflage, with tripods and huge 200 mm lenses. One sets his tripod on the bank. A bear plods by, only a few feet from the camera, close enough to send the pricey equipment into the water. Still and silent, we remain observers. The moment passes uneventfully. We exhale. Certainly the photographer is triumphant in capturing his images.

I laugh at the extremes we will go to capture the perfect moment… the beauty, the fierceness of a brown bear staring you in the face, when he cares nothing about you, only the salmon he wants for a snack.

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Shivering in the dampness we continue to observe. Now the float plane is 500 yards away. Our guide must use his inflatable kayak to paddle out to the plane and coast it back to our position on the bank. The tide is quickly coming in.

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We climb into the float plane shivering and damp, exhilarated at what we had just witnessed. We scroll through what we have just captured through our lenses, thrilled at the moments of beauty we have recorded of life raw, in the the wild.

Another day we take a walk along Seven Mile beach, again recording snapshots of raw beauty in the wilderness…the shapes and forms and colors of the rocks and driftwood, the rainbows across the bay, the bear tracks in the sand, the family of seals bobbing their heads above the surf, observing us on the shore.

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photo (36)At the end of the beach there lay a skeleton. 60 feet of bones, laying perfectly curled on the sand. At the moment we arrive the sun breaks through the clouds, shedding a different light on its curves, its reflection in the puddled water, still graceful and majestic.

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A skeleton on the beach
A fin whale
The second largest whale in the ocean
Washed up on the shore intact

Flesh has rotted
Exposed bones resting on the shore in motion
Baleen that once sucked in its sustenance for life
Now scattered in chunks, in pieces on the ground

Vertebrae long and graceful winding on the ground
A silent keyboard once carried the sounds of the massive body echoing through the ocean

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The skeleton, the shell of who I once was
Worn down
Exposed over time and stress
And fighting the prolonging of life
Now emerges with a new song.
A new voice.

Beauty is formed from exposure to the elements of time, vulnerability, conditions we may or may not choose, as we adapt and move on, improvising and overcoming.

Exposure. Double exposure.
Both exhilarating. Both life changing. One manicured, made up, hair dolled up, blow dried, tousled by fans, dressed in Valentino and 4-inch heels. The other nails grimy, three- day-old hair blowing in the Alaskan wind, dressed in rain gear and hip waders.

Exposure unearths us beautiful, before and behind a lens, as we record the moments of life. Exposure renders us strong and powerful when we gather the courage to answer a call.

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discovery

photo-1I scour the rocky beach with my young friend Micah. Through his eyes I’m discovering all the wonders of this remote bay in Kodiak. A simple request to see the bay has evolved into a scavenger hunt along cliffs and boulders. As I scamper over barnacled rocks in my slippers, I’m transported into Micah’s playground of tide pools, tiny hermit crabs, even a sea urchin. Jagged rocks loom large like sentinels over these beach treasures. But the treasure that most catches my eye glints slightly beneath the puzzle of smooth , black, flat beach rocks perfect for skipping in the ocean.

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“What is that?” I ask Micah as he chooses the perfect stone to throw into the water. He stoops down to look at the tiny blue treasure. “Sea glass” He picks it out, cups it in his hand and hands it to me.

“Blue is the best color. That’s the most rare on this beach. That’s my favorite. “I examine the tiny sapphire jewel in my hand. The color is deep. The edges round and smooth.

“That’s a good piece. I know a perfect place where we can go and find some more. Come on!”

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Over kelp bulbs, seaweed, rocks we scramble until Micah and ruddy cheeked 5year- old Stuey lead me to the promised land. “Look at this one,” says Stuey . In his chubby little palm lays a perfect piece of aqua sea glass.

“Oh, that’s beautiful. Can I have that piece?” I ask.

His little blond head ponders for a moment. He shakes it back and forth.

“No,” he says. “I like this piece.” He scrambles off to find some more.

A little miffed I crouch down to seek out my own. I discover a large blue piece to examine. I love the color. “What about this one?” I offer.

Micah comes over to inspect. “No,” he says, “the edges are too jagged. It’s not ready yet.”

Stuey returns, clenched fist uncurling to reveal a large brown piece.”I like this one.” Micah examines. ” No Stuey. Not that one. It’s too sharp. You’ll cut yourself.”

“No I won’t,” he protests, clutching the jagged piece in the flesh of his palm even harder. “Look. I’m not hurt!”

And as I watch that cherub faced boy tight fisted clench that shard I realize

I am that broken piece,

Shattered from the impact of watching my mother decline.

Like sea glass worn away over time

Broken pieces of the woman she once was

Her memory, cognition, awareness are diminished

By this disease called Alzheimer’s.

The brain eroded by plaques,

Minerals eating away her mind

As sea salt eats away glass

Rendering it transparent

Frosted, cloudy.

While I still broken, fragmented, attempting to to grasp understanding of this disease,

Its process like salt burns my wounded heart,

I still have sharp edges, cutting words, distorted from lack of sleep, anxiety of the unknown,

Guilt divided between duty to my children and husband and duty to her.

I too held on too tightly

Squeezing the broken pieces of my life too hard

Thinking it was noble, beautiful to hold on to the pain and let uncertainty and fear and guilt grip me

as I watch this disease wear down my mother.

Yet she like sea glass

Continues to shine

Luminous beauty beneath lost memories,

Spirit glowing under frosted edges,

Edges smooth and gentle

A treasure to be found.

sea glass

 

 

My friend told me the story of sea glass:That true sea glass has rounded edges

And pieces like bottle tops and bottoms are most rare

As are the colors blue and aqua.

And in a piece of true sea glass

The original color remains the same

Only gilded by the coat from the sea.

A myth about sea glass Is to return the broken pieces not yet polished

Back to the sea as you make a wish.

So I will throw this broken fragment back to the sea

And not wish for a cure

Or a miracle or her memory back.

Instead I will find treasure in her gently worn life

Her smoothed edges

Her luminous spirit

And clutch it to my heart.