Sunday, February 28, 2010

28 and 2.28.82

For my son on his 28th birthday.

I celebrate you. Twenty eight times, I celebrate you. My manchild, a constant roil in my belly, kicking my ribs blue. You were never easy. More hours to push you into the world than your sister before you, more push, more hiss, more cuss, more roar and rail, more spit and holler, more of me for more of you, twenty eight times calling your name into the world.

More nights awake, falling asleep twenty eight times with you warm in my arms, a milk dud, a cuddle bunch, a dream come true. A vine wrapped around my shin, a sweet lump on my lap, a face like honey, oh honey chile, you were my heart twenty eight times over and turned inside out.

Stubborn little man, afraid of nothing. How do you control a bit of shadow in the night who has no fear? Only losing you, Mama, you said, only fear you had, little man sitting on the steps in the dark and refusing to come in. Refusing to stay away. Twenty eight times I ran after you into that night and twenty eight times I brought you back. Sullen and sodden with disappointment at such a place, this world, your turn to twenty eight times spit and holler, hiss and cuss, roar like a lion cub staking his claim.

Oh, my manchild, the things you would do. Twenty eight times a mama prays for you. Grow sweet, grow strong, grow safe and good. May no harm ever come to you. Twenty eight prayers within that many minutes, and start all over again. Chant you into a safe place, your name a mantra, by force of heart protect you, protect you, protect you.

You have a warrior's heart. Tried and true, tried hard and harder and still holding true, no jellied spine but hardened steel, hammered twenty eight times and the sparks turned fire, turned gold, turned stars that sheer the corners of the night in flight. Soft gold, that heart, soft silk, soft touch. Twenty eight years of walking ropes, and testing hearts, and testing muscle, and testing the resistance of soft, will it hold, it does, it does. Twenty eight times it holds you, and twenty eight times more, it will.

Twenty eight dreams I wish you, twenty eight candles to light the way. Twenty eight times eighty two, you hold your mama's head on your great, strong shoulder. As I once held your head against mine. Do you know how much my heart beats for you? Do you know how many dreams I'd trade in for you? Twenty eight stars I would pull from the heavens, twenty eight moons. To light your way, to keep you safe, to mark that golden path into your future, and to dream it true.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Mother's Prize

by Zinta Aistars

Once upon a time, long ago: Lorena and Markus in Lake Michigan as children...

"This is different, Mama. He's really special. He's good to me."

A warm glow spreads like melted butter through my heart. That's really all I need to know. When my daughter tells me new love has found her, I watch and listen for the clues, and all flags flying are a sunshine yellow, signifying gold.

They've known each other for some time, because the paths they've walked seem to be in many important aspects parallel - the switched gears to dating is relatively new. They've both known the rough going in their pasts that teaches valuable lessons to those who are willing to learn. Neither of these two, from all I can tell, are into denial. I listen carefully to what she tells me, the little, shimmering pieces of sunshine, but I hear through and between these bright breadcrumbs the stories of people who have learned how to be accountable, who have embraced change and so grown to become better and wiser and kinder people. A solid place from where to begin. But there is really only one thing to which my ear and heart are attuned. And there, she says it, and I breathe deep and smile.

"He's good to me."

There really is no other rule to follow when it comes to love. Granted, love may not yet be the proper word to use here. Love is what comes, gently, once that first blush of romance has stopped clouding our eyes with a misty and rosy glow. Love is what comes when you have had that first spat, fought clean, then realize you care even when you both get ugly. Love is when you care enough to put things right again, or even better than they were before. Love comes with time. With revelation. With truth exposed, all masks gone, a heart beating out in the open with every scar and vulnerable soft spot offered and received as a gift of self. Love is the utmost vulnerability, and that is its tender beauty.

In romance, we play nice. We turn our best side to the camera. In love, we stand face to face, naked, exposed as who we really are and only for that one to see in such utmost nakedness. We love not in spite of each other's faults, but indeed, because of them, the faults and the qualities combined to make us who we are, because of our fully experienced humanity.

"He is kind."

I nod, although she can't see me on the other end of this phone line. I close my eyes as I listen, feeling the heat of tears beneath my eyelids. Yes, I remember. My heart remembers what it means to love, and to be loved. My heart has been blessed with the giving and the receiving of this gift. I have loved even when I have not been loved back. Yet no purer love have I known than what is in my heart for this young woman, my daughter, and for her brother, my son. For I would trade all love in my life for there to be a true love in theirs.

All religions and all spiritual beliefs seem to hold one basic rule in common. We are to love - others as ourselves. What more need be said? The wonderful trick of love is that we cannot have it when we put ourselves first. We are loved when we treat others well. Nothing drives love out the door faster than selfishness. Even when I loved a man who had somewhere along his life path lost all ability to love, all ability to care for another before putting his own pleasure and wants first, I realize now, looking back: I should have walked much earlier than I did. The least selfish thing I could have done, the most loving, I understand now, was to let a man addicted to his pursuits of false pleasure hit his own bottom. The toughest yet often most valuable love of all is to sometimes step back and not try to save our beloved from the fall he is so determined to take. 

Love is that one gift we can get only when we give it away. The purity in love comes from giving love without expectation or requirement of repayment in kind. We give it because it brings us pleasure to see the light come up in our beloved's eyes. We are good. We are kind. To that other, because suddenly, we realize: for ourselves, there is no greater pleasure.

When I hear the happiness in my little girl's voice, all I can think about is that I am happy in her happiness. If I die tomorrow, all I need to know is that my children are loved. Nothing more. I am at peace. Even as I have watched the light come back into my son's life. He, too, loved and lost, and now it comes to him again, a fragile thing slowly, slowly gathering strength. There's a new name on his lips, and when he speaks of how he wants to help her get through a rough patch, what he might do to smooth her path and clear the stones out from the road before her ... I know something good is happening in his life, too.

"Is she good to you?" I ask and watch his face closely. He's not a talker. I watch the corners of his mouth for that slight lift. I watch his long fisted hands uncurl into open palms. I watch for the tension to seep away from his strong shoulders, his chest rise with even breath. I watch the slow blink of his eyes, contemplating, seeing back in his mind's eye. I watch his face lift, as if he has tired of so long looking at the floor.

"Yes. She is kind."

I nod. I feel that heat of tears in my eyes again, and I head for the kitchen to put together a good meal, his favorite, before he goes out again into that welcome night. It's what we mothers do, feed our babes, no matter at what age, as my mother takes pleasure in preparing a nourishing meal for me.

"I'd like to meet her," I tell him, setting a plate before him.

"Mmmm," he hums, digging in. "Sure. Okay. Would you cook for her, too?"

"My pleasure."

My daughter calls then, inviting us all to Chicago to meet her beau this Easter. Again I say, "My pleasure."

And it is.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Back in Time: A Bounty of Sweet Hearts

by Zinta Aistars

Z looking out on the Baltic Sea in Ventspils, Latvia, 1993

I stood at the scanner in Walgreen's and scanned photo after photo, taking them from a large envelope, scanning, setting them aside in a neat pile. The clerk at the counter finally could not withstand the itch of his curiosity.

"Scanning a lot of photos there," he took a couple steps in my direction, rubber necking.

"Yes, I am."

He sighed, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I kept scanning.

"Old photos?" he craned his neck again.

"Some, very. Some, not so very."

He went back to the counter, pushed some displays around, then wandered back over again.

"Still at it, eh?"


"Ah," he cheered up, spotting a series of photos with long white veils and flowers and many smiles. "Wedding photos! You're scanning wedding photos. Something for your husband on Valentine's Day maybe?"

I suppressed a grin. Poor thing. "Oh no," I said. "We've been divorced a long time now."

"Oh," he forgot himself and leaned across my shoulder. No more wedding photos. These were photos from my life on the Baltic Sea. "Yeah, I see. New guy, huh?"

I bit my lip, my mouth twitching, and said, "Not so new. My second husband."

"Ah." He stepped back for a moment to consider this. Didn't explain the first set of scans. His eyebrows crumpled with thought.

"All's well that end's well," he tries.

"Actually, yes." I scan the next set of photos. "I send him excerpts of my novel-in-progress and he writes to me about how the snowflakes fall on the cobblestones of the streets where he lives."

He's leaning over my shoulder again. "Another?"

"Another. Memories of a trip to Mexico, when I was sure I would never laugh again. But then I did."

He nods, fast, hard, relieved. "Oh, good."

I scan photos of my two children, long ago photos of sweet baby faces, pink-cheeked and full of anticipation for a life rich with adventure. Here's one of two of them holding hands, lined up in a row with their great-grandmother, all three of them posing obediantly and with great tolerance for the camera.

I linger over the photos of my children, such a short time ago, surely, that they were small sparks of light in my arms, at my knees, in my lap, against my shoulder. Now grown, older than I am in many of these long ago photos.

On a picnic near our Kentucky home

The clerk is back, drawn by his nose, by now feeling utterly comfortable leaning into the computer screen, badgering me with questions. I tell him stories of another lifetime, of several other lifetimes, and speak of myself as if she were another woman. She was.

"You talk about yourself as if you were someone else then," he notes.

"I was. And so was the world around me. We are in constant flux. We must grow or stagnate," I muse.

"That's pretty cool, man. Like, deep."

I try not to roll my eyes. He is certainly still in his first lifetime. I keep scanning, and the photos collect on the computer screen to be transferred to discs. I will sleep better tonight, I know, once the photos are stored in various online sites where they can never be lost, never be torn, never wear thin. In my son's recent purge of the crawlspace beneath my house of a dozen or more old boxes, nearly tossing out slides from my daughter's birth, I did toss and turn a bit that night ... what else might have been lost forever? I made no inventory of those boxes before they went into the dumpster. But I feel better now, scanning a chosen few that I want to know will last, as much as anything does. These are the few I truly treasure. Reminders of moments in time that changed me forever, that I carry with me in the fiber of my being, as part of who I am.

I forget about the clerk with his nose hanging over my shoulder until he heaves a deep sigh, again.

"Yeah, loved and lost," he says, nodding his head sagely. "Hard to find that one that's forever."

"I've lost only once," I say, putting another photo into the scanner and watching the ribbon of light pass over it.

"But ... how do you figure?"

"I can't claim to have had a smooth and easy life," I offer him. "It's been pretty rough going at times. But oh, it has been one great adventure. They were wonderful men. Each in their own way. Love truly and you love forever. When hurt heals and anger cools and disappointment wanes, you can look back and see that part of your life as a whole, and know that it was a very fine thing."



"So what's the one lost?"

"The one I loved but who never loved me back. I believed once that love and patience and kindness can transform any man's heart, but I'm afraid that is not always true. There are other drives even more fierce, and some hearts, well, some hearts just don't seem capable of love."

"Wow, that's too bad. Sorry."

I shrugged. "Don't be. Regrets are wasted energy. I have none when it comes to the love I have given."

"Cute kids."

I felt the smile spread across my face in instantaneous reflex.

"My son," I say. "He's a grown man now, older than I am in some of these photos."

"And my daughter. The greatest love of all," I tell him. "And like none other. It is the purest love I've known, as a mother, and it is the love that has taught me the most. It is the love where you give of yourself and ask nothing back. Only their happiness, their wellbeing, and in that, you have everything."

"I look at them," I say, "and I know that all the roads I've chosen, no matter how rough at times, were worth taking. I look at them and I see parts of myself, and parts of their father, and I know, I would do it all over again, the very same road, the very same price to pay. For them."

"Yeah...." he draws out, thinking, thinking. "I don't have any yet. I guess I will someday."

For the first time, I turn away from the scanner and face the Walgreen's clerk full on. "Do."

"The world, I don't know," he shakes his head. "Sad place. Scary place sometimes."

"Yes. But we have to live in hope. Life is hope."

"Maybe you're right."

"Okay, I'm done."

He blinks at me, snapped out of his reverie.

"With the photos. You'll wave your magic wand and bring me golden discs?"

"Oh! Yeah! Right, the CDs."

He bustles off to another computer and presses buttons until a drawer opens and produces several CDs that now contain my photos. He rings me up on the register and I pay him.

"Hey," he calls after me when I turn to leave. "Think you'll ever love again?"

I smile at him. Such a fresh, young face. Such puppy eagerness. I am touched by his need for reassurance, his need to know, and his need to hope for happy endings.

"You know," I say, "I think I will. You saw their faces. They were good men. They loved me well, and they left me with wonderful memories. Why let one loss spoil the fun?"

"That's great, man, that's really great. I hope you find that great love!"

"All love, given true and with an open heart, is great. Happy Valentine's Day."

He wasn't listening any more. I could see him eyeing the candy aisle, where the red heart boxes of chocolates were spilling over, filled with sweet promise and tidbits of hope. Sure, why not. Somewhere, some open heart is waiting.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Serendipity: The Universe Serenely Dipping

by Zinta Aistars

Frankly, I’m not sure what I believe. Firmly believing anything, in fact, strikes me as a tad arrogant. What do I know? Well, a little of this and a smidgen of that. More than some. But a person of conviction I am not, at least not in most great philosophical debates—what is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Why am I here? Is there a purpose to all this tomfoolery? Got me.

The older I get, perhaps I get wiser, too. And as I am considering the size and shape of wisdom, it seems to me that being wise is more defined by asking smart questions than it is about stating hard and fast convictions.

Life is cyclical. Very young children pepper adults with a constant stream of questions. Why this? Why that? How come? Because why? Now that I am getting on past midlife, I am finding myself returning to that childlike wisdom. It is those middle years that seem most frightening to me, when youth become just old enough to think they have all the answers and think the elderly have nothing to offer but graying shades of absent minds and drool—to the middling years when we avoid asking questions because we are too busy or too tired for the fight. Just easier that way: following tradition, doing what we do because everyone else is doing it, marching along to the band even if we know it’s all a sham.

For some reason, I’ve never stopped asking questions, and now that I really am older (and more than a little absent-minded), I speak more in questions than in statements. I have no problem saying, I don’t know. I consider it something of a badge of honor to admit to mistakes and to open doors to greater knowledge by admitting a lack of understanding.

So, is there a God? Is there purpose to life? What about destiny? Is there reason to this chaos?

I don’t know.

Lately, however, it seems that there have been more than a few odd little “happenings” in my life. Nudges. Let’s just say, by the Universe. That big outer something, out there beyond the limits of our human understanding, that, methinks, sometimes just seems to have a great old time having fun with us. Dropping things into our lap. Sticking a foot out onto our path to trip us up …. Just so we can lie nose in the grass for a while and check out those kewl ants. You know?

For those who have been reading my blogs for a while, you already know that I am in a phase of renovation, even a renaissance. I have been writing about “my house, my self” as I demolish one structure to rebuild another. It’s a pretty dramatic thing to do, and the metaphor is far more than a metaphor. I cannot explain it, but doing one of these things seems to have a domino effect on other areas of my life. Push this, that falls. It is as if life is a tunnel of mirrors, and I’m not always sure if I am looking at the real thing or the mirror image or if there is anything to life other than reflection.

Follow me?

Me, neither.

All that lead in, you see, is to a moment last night when I was sitting at my new dining room table, swinging my legs like a big kid from the new bar-height chair, pondering a stream of words I had just tapped onto my laptop keyboard. My novel is coming along like crackers. You would almost think it was easy to write. Go figure. All this time, it hasn’t been. A trillion times three drafts have gone up in smoke (I love setting fire to lousy manuscripts; I am a manuscript arsonist) or been tossed into random wastebaskets and bins (less satisfying but still good).

Not until I tore the guts out of my house and gave it an entirely new look did the words come free. See the connect ion? I don’t. But I’m loving it. The words flow. And the more the words flow, the more poison flows out of me. I am writing—as a literary friend recently encouraged me to do—dangerously. I don’t care about protecting the guilty. I don’t care whose toes I stomp on. I don’t care if I am standing nekkid on the stage, and I don’t care how stoopid I look, draped in the very thin disguise of narrator.

This is not about the renewed ease of writing dangerously, however. (Hang on, I’m getting to my point here soon.) I have cleaned up my literary act even as I have cleaned up my house even as I have cleaned up my personal relationships. Dominoes. Mirrors. Chamber of echoes.

Now enters my son.

A friend and my son have both been working in the crawlspace all afternoon and evening. The crawlspace is the underbelly of my house, that dark and dingy space of fusty air and boogie men and unexplained shadows and random scritchy scratchy noises and who knows what evil spirits. It is also where I stowed boxes and boxes of stuff when I first moved here, substantially more than a decade ago. That’s a long time not to unpack boxes.

The crawlspace (with its gravel floor) is also, I have long suspected, the extended litter box for my cats and even my dog. Yes, I’ve seen him sneaking out of there lately when he thinks I don’t see him. Not in the mood to scratch at the door, he ducks down in there, following the cats’ lead, and dumps his lazy protest. Nasty. Bad pup. Bad kitties. But no one is listening to me when I am out of the house and at work for perhaps some twelve hours of the day. Bad Mommy.

Still. In the name of attacking my house, my old house, in its reformation into Home, a nice Home, my mood for gutting and cleaning and emptying and discarding continues. I don’t even want to think about it. Don’t even want to see it. Just get rid of it.

Such were my instructions to my two fellas as I heard them stomping away beneath the house, huffing and puffing and bringing the junk out. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to touch it, I don’t want to consider it. Just burn, baby, burn.

“Mom,” my son called up at one late point in the evening. “We’re about to make a dumpster run. Lot of stuff here. Sure you don’t want to check it over before we get rid of it?”


Sometime later, still swinging my legs, still tapping on the keyboard, I hear my son return. He comes in and upstairs and over to me. He holds out a blue plastic box. One corner is broken off, but the box is otherwise intact and inside it are slides. Do people even know what slides are anymore? Pre-digital cameras took slides, framed in little pieces of cardboard, and I take one out of the box and hold it up to the light.

Oh. My. Yow.

I look at my son, wide-eyed. “Everything from the crawlspace gone?”




“So where did this come from?”

“Fell out of the last box as we pushed it over into the dumpster.”

“And you brought it back home.”

“Thought you might want it.”

I took another slide out and held it up to the light. Another, and another. They date back to a day nearly 30 years ago. These are photographs of my daughter’s birth. Some are too explicit for most eyes but my own. The crowning. The moment of my daughter’s face first seeing the light of day. The moment when her round baby belly, cord attached, emerged. The moment her legs are free and kicking for all life. The moment my husband lay her across my belly, preparing to cut the cord.

I sat there a moment longer. I had stopped swinging my legs.

“All in the dumpster you say.”


I nodded.

“Hey, you want to see the crawlspace?”

I nodded.

The underbelly of my house hadn’t looked this clean and empty since the day I moved in. A lifetime ago. Several lifetimes ago. Most of those boxes, I’m pretty sure, contained clothes, old and less favored books I no longer had the space to shelve, and some unnamed miscellany. My previous life was one, after all, of much greater abundance of stuff, when houses in which I lived were much larger structures and cleaned by a weekly cleaning service, and bookshelves abounded in far greater rooms than mine here, today. Many of the books had been damaged by too many moves. Weathered, bent, flooded, mildewed, ripped. Why bother looking through any of it anymore?

Watching me watch the lit-up emptiness of the crawlspace, my son said: “Really. It was all junk.”

I was still clutching the blue plastic box of slides in my hand. I nodded.

Just fell out of the last box. Just fell out. Landed at my son’s feet. The one little bit of all that junk that had immeasurable value. I decide not to ask any questions about what else might have been in those boxes.

The underbelly of my house is clean. The shadows have dispersed. The boogie men have boogied on to haunt other underbellies of other bleak houses. All that matters I have with me now. My days are filled with renewed joy of watching my children grow into their astounding lives. My evenings are filled with the renewed joy of pursuing my art that now once again is pursuing me, biting at my heels, nibbling at me with delicious unrest, nagging to be told, written down, brought into the clean and open light.

I would love to know who or what caused this one little blue box to fall back out of the dumpster. I would be curious to understand why so many other similar things seem to be happening in my life lately. Requests, for instance, to do things I haven’t done in a long time, letting the demons of the past decade stop me, frozen in fear, irrational as they might be. Requests to give more author’s readings again, for instance. Opportunities like little blue boxes falling from the heavens, invitations, nudgings, benevolent accidents, beckoning challenges. Somebody, or something, is having a bit of fun with me.

I slept well last night, even as I dreamed of dumpsters full of blue boxes. It could be I have lost some treasured memorabilia along the way of this bumpy ride. Many things are lost and ruined when you change addresses more than 30 times, sometimes more than once a year. If I have lost the blue boxes, I have the sources of those memories. The people worth keeping in my life. The few books I may yet reread.

The chance to ask more questions, and wonder, and toss blue boxes right back up into the sky.

Monday, February 01, 2010

I Believe in the Power of Giggle

by Zinta Aistars

For Helen

When I heard the dark news that my friend ... I'll call her Helen ... had been diagnosed with advanced cancer, stage 4, my heart sank. No. Nothing else, just .... no. I can't accept this. She is too young; we are of similar years. She is too vital, too bright, too full of life. But buck up, I thought next. This isn't about me and my feelings, slunk into a pit as they are. This is about my friend. I need to let her know my thoughts and prayers are with her, even if my faith is shaky.

I slipped out of the office over my lunch hour to go see her. I work for a health care organization. She was just down the street for her chemo treatment. One of the best places around, I knew this from the inside out. At least this, that she was in good hands. I walked down the street in the chill winter air, my face tingling from the frosty breeze. I was greeted at the door by another staff member who asked how she might help me. I told her my friend was here for a chemo treatment, and she walked me to the elevator, directed me to the third floor.

The last time I'd been through some of these rooms was during open house; the building was quite new, and still as impressive to me as the first day I'd seen it. But the people coming through then were smiling, cheering, ready to pop champagne corks at such a fine new facility. Today, every room I passed was filled with gray faces, quiet people, people leaning in close to each other to whisper comforting words, or simply staring into space, contemplating each their own prognosis.

I had no idea what to expect. I knew next to nothing about this particular kind of cancer. And it had been a while since I'd seen my friend. Our lives had been moving steadily in different directions. I was pointed in the right direction by yet another nurse, and then, there she was. Helen was seated in what looked like a lounge chair, a couple of IV bags dripping clear liquid into her. Family members were close to her, either side, as if to protect her.

She saw me. She smiled. It was fully Helen's bright smile, the same, like sunshine, and she stood up to hug me.

"This sucks!" I said with utmost eloquence, slumping into the chair beside her.

She grinned. "Yeah. Sucks."

Like a curious child with no manners, I asked too many questions. I wanted to understand. I wanted to share a little tiny corner of her experience by understanding. She explained, told me the process, talked of kind-hearted doctors who struggled to give her the bleak diagnosis. She pointed to the places in her body where this inexplicable nastiness had made its appearance. Here, here, here, here ... she pointed eight times.

She talked about the importance of faith. Of family support. Of the warmth of friends and the kindness of strangers. She spoke of the small comforts in her life. She spoke of plans. She spoke of hope.

I listened and realized what was happening here: Helen was cheering me up. I came here unhappy, and she was making me feel lighter again. Her eyes were big and bright, as always. Her cheeks were pink. Her enthusiasm was keen as we turned to other topics, talking of  politics and current campaigns. I'd always respected her sharp and keen insights, and I was soon rattling on to her about watching the State of the Union address the other night, asked her thoughts on health care reform, on the job market.

Her chemo drip was done, and she was up out of her chair like a shot. It was time to go, and we hugged again, talked about having dinner to catch up, perhaps in the spring? Yes. We had unfinished business, conversations started but not done.

On my way out, just before I slipped out the door, I nearly crashed into Sister Sue. She was our hospital angel. A four-time cancer survivor herself, she now worked here, an elderly woman with an indomitable spirit and unbeatable faith, giving hope to those without. I put my hand on her arm.


She stopped, her pretty face framed in gray curls turned in instant attention.

"Are you by chance here to see Helen?" I asked.

Sister's mouth suddenly turned into an O. "Helen! Oh my! I'd nearly forgotten!" Then she looked at me again, even more intently. "God must have put you in my path just now. I knew I had to stop here to see someone, but I had forgotten ... and I would have gone home tonight, remembered later, and felt just horrible ... yes, God put you here. Show me to her?"

I led Sister back to the chemo rooms, where Helen was pulling on her coat. Sister enfolded Helen in her warm arms and the two women fell into instant chatter, as if old friends, already sharing a bond of a battle waged and won.

I slipped quietly away. I walked back to my office, thinking about the two of them. Sister had beaten this disease four times. Four times. I flushed. I hadn't been any comfort at all to Helen. I was just stoopid with wonder at this inexplicable ... thing ... that was happening to her. I was sure I had said and done everything wrong. It made no sense to me, this senselessness. What would I do facing such a prognosis? Give up? Shake my fist at the heavens? Scream bloody murder? Sit quietly, falling into a deep silence? Fight?

God put you in my path, Sister had said. I figured God was too busy to notice my whereabouts, place me anywhere, let alone in some strategic place. But maybe? For if I was better at talking politics than hope, Sister was hope embodied. Wherever she went, she left a shiny and golden and gleaming trail of it. Her hugs alone were medicine.

What do I know? I came here to cheer Helen, but Helen cheered me. Simply by being Helen. Those big, bright eyes I well remember, that smile, that girlish giggle. Suddenly I knew it: Helen was going to be all right. One must fight, yes, but one must also let go, let God, and God knew what He was doing. He put us into each others' paths to stumble strategically, He put one lost soul into the way of one found so that another might know comfort. All like an intricate dance by a master choreographer.

Believe or not, it mattered little. I believe in hope. I believe in the winning of wars. I believe in girlish giggles. I believe in the power of a faith that holds a heart steady and strong. I believe in my own stoopidity when it comes to matters bigger than I. I believe I don't know. That I will never know. How these things work. But I am marking a date on my calendar in late spring: dinner with Helen.