The Revolving Door

Revolving doors can be a little tricky. Sometimes they are the only means of entering flashy corporate centers and elegant hotels. If you get caught staring at the scenery for too long you may miss your chance to get out of the glass cylinder. If you push too hard on the door in front of you, everyone else inside has to pick up their feet to avoid getting smashed. Its kind of like stepping onto a "down" escalator with your hands full - you have to time it perfectly. If not, it's dominoes all the way down. The more I travel the more I find myself dodging revolving doors and the contents they constantly spill onto the floor - people who are usually looking up at the ceiling or side to side, but hardly paying attention to what's right in front of them. Every once in a while a person comes out of the revolving door that you were supposed to meet. They aren't another obstacle to avoid, instead they're there to fulfill some purpose in your life. You see them for the first time and you swear you've recognized them from a distant memory. Somehow, in all of life's chaos you can find a dear friend who you feel like you've known forever. I've seen several close friends appear from and disappear into the revolving door, and I've taken a couple turns inside myself. Every time I come out I try to remember to watch out for what's in front of me, but many time's I'm caught looking right, left, up or back. Sometimes it's much easier to live in the past and try to ignore the ever encroaching and uncertain future.

Let's start with where I'm most comfortable: the past. I lived in the same house from the time I was two until I was 19-years-old. My parents still live there today. Being in one city for such a long time has allowed them to form deep, lasting relationships that span three decades. My mom did full-time day care for six children (ages 1-3) until I graduated from high school in 2001. When I was two a very special one-year-old came to our home to interview for a spot vacated by a recently "graduated" toddler. Her name was Naomi and her mom was Bonnie. After talking to my mom and watching the other children, Bonnie felt this would be a good place for her daughter. However, her husband had to give the final okay. When he came to see my house my dad happened to be there on a break from work. They realized they had known each other in elementary school and he gave Bonnie approval to bring Naomi to our home. My earliest memory is of Naomi sitting next to me on the couch. The quiet baby with chubby cheeks was looking at me with big brown eyes. During our first years together I just called her "Baby," not only because her first name was so difficult to say, but also because she was as bald as could be. When she graduated the program our moms decided to keep her on the roster and she continued coming to day care until she was 11. Their decision affected the rest of my life. Though I often terrorized Naomi when we were younger, we became best friends. To this day she is the kindest friend anyone could ask for. She was my constant during times of change as people slipped in and out of my life's revolving door.

Naomi was one grade younger than me and we went to different schools when I was in first grade. During the first week of school I met a girl named Lily. We were in the same class and one day she walked up to me on the playground and asked, "Do you want to be best friends?" I said yes. It was as simple as that. At school we were inseparable. We happened to attend the same church and our parents got to know each other a little bit. One night we had a sleepover and Lily told me she was adopted. I was very curious about the circumstances that led to her adoption but she politely informed me she didn't like to talk about it. A few years later we were attending a new school as fourth graders and Lily told me that if I met her in the library during lunch recess, she would tell me about how she was adopted. I agreed to do so and a few hours later I walked out to the playground and got swept away with the kids running for the handball court. I completely forgot about Lily. The next time I saw her she started crying and told me how I had hurt her feelings and how long she waited for me in the library. I couldn't believe I had been so stupid to forget. She told me I'd missed my chance and I regretted that day for a long, long time. A year later we were lining up outside our fifth grade classroom and I overheard one of the girls saying, "Oh Lily, I can't believe you're moving!" The words hit me like a ton of bricks. I'd never had a best friend move away. Her dad was being transferred to a city nearly three hours away and it was the worst feeling I could imagine. Lily and I had grown distant that year but I thought we would be able to reconcile in time to go to middle school together. I never got the chance to seal the rift that had formed between us. She moved a month later and left the revolving door turning in her wake.

I was beside myself when Lily moved away. Soon after her departure a new girl joined our class. She had moved from Chicago. Her name was Rosario and I wasted no time making her acquaintance. One day we were in the bathroom during recess and in the middle of our conversation I asked her if she wanted to be best friends. I think Lily must have had more tact but Rosario still agreed to my awkward proposal. The truth of it was there was a void in my heart and I was anxious to fill it. However, instead of taking the place left by Lily, a new part of my heart opened up. It was a curious sensation. Rosario, Naomi and I were able to bond together during those last years of pre-adolescence. After school the three of us would walk to Rosario's house. In her backyard we formed a secret society - The Wild Lupine Girls Club. We talked about the boys we liked and imagined adventure scenarios. We built a clubhouse in which we could only call each other my nicknames: Abe, Ro and Ouie. We were quite the trio but our bond changed when Rosario and I moved on to seventh grade and left Naomi at our elementary school. Ro and I were on our own in a whole new world: a large campus surrounded by walls scrawled with graffiti and chain link fences topped with barb wire. It was a place where your lunch money would disappear faster than a magic coin and cliques changed faster than my constantly fluctuating grades. We formed a new trio with my neighbor Enrique. Ro and Enrique's conversations in Spanish would blend with other students' chatter in various African and Asian dialects. This new place was a little scary, but facing it together made it a little easier. At the end of our first year Rosario told me terrible news. Her family was moving to a town 15 miles away. (You're probably thinking, "That's not so terrible," but keep in mind we didn't have drivers licenses or the internet. Our best chance at keeping in touch was on the phone and I'm horrible at talking on the phone.) She would be attending a new school in the fall. We wouldn't be able to experience eighth grade together, let alone our first year of high school. Again I was devastated. I didn't want her to slip through the door. We maintained contact as best we could. Our moms were great sports and often drove us to see each other. By the time we were free to drive to see each other, we had grown apart - something I'd sworn would never happen.

In high school I missed Rosario constantly, but Naomi and I were reunited when she entered ninth grade. Wherever Naomi was I felt at home. Bonnie had become a second mom to me and although the two of them had moved apartments a couple of times Bonnie always kept Naomi in my school district. I knew they'd never leave me and it brought me comfort every day. My high school years flew by and in 2001 it was time to move on to junior college. Again Naomi and I would be separated but I counted on it only being for one year. One of my friends from church was facing a similar situation. Kyla was a year older than her best friend and we were both headed to the JC to figure out majors and game plans for transferring to universities. That first year together allowed us to bond quickly as we were both missing the daily reassurance we'd had from our lifelong best friends. I thought I was too old to have another best friend but I was repeatedly proven wrong. Naomi was accepted to a university in Hawaii and despite our efforts to maintain contact over e-mail, our bond weakened. I felt guilty for growing so close to Kyla but I needed someone who was close by that I could share things with. I needed stability and a safety net. My time to leave home was quickly approaching and Kyla encouraged me to pursue my goals, even if it meant we'd be separated.

In 2003 it was finally time for me to leave home. I'd never thought the day would come when I'd leave a friend behind but I packed my things and walked through the revolving door. On the other side I was surrounded by new streets and faces. P-town was a young, happy college town bustling with excitement and social energy. I tried to assimilate but it was hard to ignore all of the things I was missing at home 800 miles away. I looked at my new surroundings as nothing more than a temporary home (after graduation I planned to promptly return to my hometown or move to a city within a comfortable driving distance). Two months after my arrival in P-town I turned 20 and celebrated with a few new friends as well as some old friends from my hometown. Kyla had moved to P-town that month and my mom sent her to my birthday party with a customized chocolate chip cake with Dream Whip frosting. I began to think this new life might be bearable. Kyla was a steadying force in months leading up to Christmas. She was willing to drive us around on days when the snow fell thick and the roads were covered in deep slush. One day we counted five accidents and seven wrecked cars on the main road. Kyla drove on fearlessly. There was just one little problem: she had a boyfriend. He was living in O-town and there was some ring shopping going on. You know, the kind of ring shopping that could only mean one thing: everything's going to change again. I tried to absorb every moment of free time with Kyla but on the morning we drove to the airport to fly home for Christmas I knew that time was almost up. They became engaged on December 30th. Kyla moved back to my hometown and was married at the end of my second semester of junior year. I had always heard that marriage spelled "doom" for friendships but she didn't allow that to happen to us.

Looking back it seems like everything moved a little faster after Kyla got married. I hurriedly finished my junior year and left on a mission to Brazil the following winter. Naomi was married a year later and I was so sad to miss her wedding. When I got back from my mission in 2006 Kyla was pregnant with her first child. Eight months later I called Naomi to tell her I got into graduate school and she had news too - she was having a baby boy. I thought it was curious that life had sped right on without me. How was it that my two closest friends were already married
and having babies? Was I on the right track? I tried to not let it occupy my mind. The summer of 2007 was a whirlwind and I withdrew from my graduate program with the strangest desire to stay in P-town and actually have fun instead of studying all the time. Now, three years later, I finally see this place as my home. I no longer pretend I'm just a visitor here. Kyla still lives in California with her husband and two daughters but Naomi, her husband, and son have moved to T-town, 45 minutes north of P-town. Although I don't see her nearly as much as I should (my fault), it is very comforting to know that she is so close. Bonnie also recently moved to T-town and again I feel like I have one more family member nearby. I had lost contact with Rosario for five years but she found me on Facebook a few months ago and seeing her name in my inbox was one of the happiest moments in recent memory. I'm just waiting for the day that Lily finds me on Facebook. I search for her every once in a while but I have no idea where she is or what she's doing.

Now we've made it to the part where I'm least comfortable: the future. I'm 26-years-old and I don't really know what to think about that. 27 is up next in October and I am pretty sure I don't care that I'm single. (I "care" but I don't "care," if you know what I mean.) It would be really nice to eventually "catch up" to my friends but I guess there really is no catching up. Time seems to get tangled and accelerated amongst life's constant changes... everyone is on a different escalator, elevator, or moving sidewalk and despite my best efforts many are still managing trips through the revolving door. Years seem to fly by and although I can see my closest friends in my mind's eye we are all in different parts of life's lobby - some going up, some going down, some backwards, some back around. One day I might get up to the same floor as them, but by then we may be incredibly different people. Dear friends continue to enter and leave the lobby. Some return and some do not. I watch them come and go and wait to find one who will never leave me. Until then, I have my eye on the shiny glass revolving door framed in polished metal with an ear attuned for the slightest prompt that I should take another trip outside of my comfort zone. I know timing is everything, and for now I perform the delicate balancing act of practicing patience and taking chances. As for today... I think it's time to jump on a "down" escalator with my hands full and see what happens!


To Have Loved and Lost

Last year my friend Karissa was teaching Sunday School. She's a very illustrative teacher and had a large and talkative class to handle. As usual, she did a great job catching our attention. She asked us to close our eyes and imagine the thing that was most precious to us. It could be a person, an object, a place, anything that came to mind. I thought of a person. Someone who had been very dear to me. Karissa asked us to hold out one of our hands in a fist and imagine keeping this person, place or thing safe in our grasp. Then she did something that made my heart twinge - she asked us to imagine opening our hand and letting it go. I can't remember what the rest of the lesson was about. Maybe I kept thinking about him. His smile, his laugh, the way he would look at me. I had tried to let him go several times but we always ended up together again. Our history was long and complicated and at that time I wasn't ready to let him go.

Last Sunday another friend of mine was teaching Sunday School. We were in the book of 1 Kings studying the life of Solomon. My understanding of the Old Testament is sketchy at best but I'd already been thinking about the story of Solomon for days. The teacher commented that Solomon's great wisdom is mentioned many times in this part of the Bible but the only solid example we have is of two mothers who approached him with one baby. Each is claimed to be the rightful mother by birth. Solomon asked for a sword to be brought forth and proposed a gruesome solution: simply divide the baby in half and allow each mother to take her share. The true mother was horrified at the prospect and said, "O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it," (1 Kings 3:26). The false mother had a very different take on the situation, "Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it," (1 Kings 3:26). She simply said, "If I can't have him, no one can." Solomon instantly knew that this woman was the one who accidentally smothered her own child the previous night as she slept. He granted the honest woman custody of the child, "She is the mother thereof." While the story is simple and only encompasses a few verses in a very dense book of scripture, it teaches one of the greatest wisdoms ever taught: If you really love something, you love it enough to let it go. Let it live. Let it be. If you really love someone you allow them to go their own way and make their own choices even if you're convinced you could do a better job taking care of them. This applies to parents who let their children leave the nest, romantic partners who allow one another to keep searching for the right person, and little children who understand that putting a dear family pet to sleep is sometimes the kindest thing you can do.

I don't know how many of you out there had cats or dogs but I'm sure many who have would agree that they add something special to a home. I grew up with my two older sisters' cats always hanging around. I absolutely loved them. They were long-haired outdoor cats. Heidi was slightly older than Taffy and one day we noticed her back legs were dragging a bit. I was in sixth grade but Heidi was already 16. I always dreaded losing one of these two cats and I knew the day was quickly approaching when my mom told me Heidi had been diagnosed with cancer. One morning I said goodbye to her in the garage before leaving for school. She was too weak to come off of the bookshelf she often slept in. I couldn't believe this was the last time I was going to see her alive, watch her stomach rise and fall with each breath, hear her purr or feel her wet little nose. I took a final look at those big green eyes longing for rest and walked back into the house. I knew holding onto Heidi for a few more days or weeks would have been wrong. It was my first lesson in love. I thought I had it pretty tough because I had to go to school that day but my mom had a much harder job: taking her to the vet. When I came home from school my dad was preparing to bury Heidi. My mom was beside herself. She said that taking Heidi in had been one of the hardest things she'd ever had to do. We thought of Taffy and wondered if my mom would have to make another trip to the vet that year. The thought of it was too much. I have often heard beautiful stories of elderly married couples who peacefully die within days of each other. Heidi and Taffy were best friends and one day Taffy simply settled into a comfortable nook by the porch and slipped away. I believe this was a tender mercy afforded to us by a God who loves all of his creations - yes, even cats!

I didn't date a lot in high school or college but I tried to convince myself that if I found love, I'd know what to do with it. In the middle of my senior year of college I met someone that caught my eye, inexplicably so. He wasn't really my type and we didn't have a ton in common but we became friends and had fun together. His girlfriend had just left on a mission and I knew he was really torn up about it. Months passed and as my graduation grew closer, so did our relationship. In the heat of summer things began to change quicker and I wondered if this was going to work out. I was due to move home to California for graduate school but I made a series of rash decisions in an attempt to show him I was serious about giving our relationship a chance. By the time everything was sorted out half of my belongings had been brought back to California by my very patient (and forgiving) parents. He agreed to do me a favor and drive with me to my hometown so I could collect my things. He had met my parents during graduation but this was his chance to see California and our family dynamic up close. Somewhere between the beaches and redwood forests we allowed ourselves to fall a little deeper and explore the possibilities of being together. By the end of that visit I was convinced we were going to get married and he had many encouraging words to lead me to believe so. Apparently, however, I missed the part where he became convinced our families just wouldn't mesh together and how, more importantly, I would never fit in with his mom's side of the family. Unfortunately for us neither one of us was mature or wise enough to sacrifice our "comfortable" time together in order to let the other go free. We kept returning to what we knew and what was easy. The relationship became cancerous but I held on to it. I couldn't let it go. I was convinced that with a little more time and a little more patience, things would get better. He would love me again. We'd get back to where we had been and then be able to grow together normally. I was completely wrong.

The months and years that followed that trip to California were a sloppy attempt at normal friendship. I tried make myself believe that I could keep the relationship casual but when you have already imagined exactly what it would be like to spend the rest of your life with someone, it's hard to imagine anyone else being right for you. It's even more difficult to imagine anyone else being right for them. You're the one they're supposed to be with, who's supposed to take care of them. The truth is that love, patience and time can't cure a relationship crippled with cancer. The only way to get healthy again is to cut it out completely. If it means never seeing the person again, so be it. What had begun as a time brilliant with hope and potential ended tarnished with regret on a dark night last summer. I had to face the fact the only way to make it out of the hole I had dug was to never see him again. It took me a long time and repeated listening of the song "Let it Be."

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be. Yeah
There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Luckily I received an answer confirming that I could give this boy up. I've been happier every day for the decision I made so many months ago. I could have tried to cripple him to the point where he'd be incapable of forming a lasting relationship, ("If I can't have him no one can,") but instead I chose to let him go his own way and let him find the one he is meant to be with. I have loved many things in my life and I've lost many of them. If you've loved, if you've lost, keep going. Keep growing. This is an essential part of life. These experiences and others have helped tune my ability to love. I'm not all the way there yet but I have made leaps and bounds thanks to examples in my family and the occasional heartbreak that is simply part of the young single adult life.


Grandma Campbell

As a kid I walked to elementary school with my best friend every day. Winter temperatures often plummeted below freezing but it only snowed once every five years or so. Instead of finding the satisfying layer of snow that we would dream of, Naomi and I were instead surrounded by sparkling frost-covered roofs, cars and lawns. Just looking around made my teeth chatter. We would get to school and carefully wipe down the monkey bars before braving the wet structure. If you asked me on any one of those morning I would tell you I'd prefer to be hot than cold. It was a decision I made early in my life and stuck to like glue. I think this preference comes from my dad's side of the family. My mom, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. I find that hilarious because her mom was the complete opposite of her. Grandma Campbell loved the sun and sought out climates hotter than even I could handle. Her sunny disposition, magnetic personality and adventurous nature blended in perfectly wherever she went.

When I was growing up Grandma lived a few hours south in an upscale south Bay Area town. I loved going down for family visits but the best thing was when she'd visit us after a long trip abroad. She'd pull up to our house and dig around in her trunk for a huge bag of souvenirs she'd bought for us. I oohed and aahed at every item, puzzling at their origins. I have no doubt that my grandma gave me the travel bug. She was a true wanderer and thanks to an incredible work ethic, impressive career and comfortable retirement she was able to travel anywhere she could dream of. It never seemed to bother her that she was alone - she just kept doing what she wanted. She was amazing.

In the fall of 1989 I was in Kindergarten. One day I came home from school and was playing in the kitchen with my sister and her best friend. They were pretending to dance all crazy to a song in the radio. Suddenly their movements became very convincing and we felt like the whole room was moving. Then we realized it was actually shaking. The walls felt like they could close in on us and the whole house groaned. The song on the radio was abruptly cut off and the people on the station were shouting that there was an earthquake in San Francisco. We realized what was happening and got under the kitchen table. After a few short minutes the quake ended and we went outside to check on my mom and the day care kids. Everyone was fine as was the house. My grandma, however, had a completely different experience in her Bay Area home. She had barely escaped serious injury when her tall, solid wood entertainment center came crashing down in her path and strewed shards of glass everywhere. Several items in her house were completely destroyed and we knew how lucky she had been to make it out of there physically intact. She had been so emotionally affected by the quake that she decided to promptly move. Next stop: Hurricane Central.

I remember being sad that Grandma was moving to Florida. My attitude changed when my parents explained that if we saved our money very carefully for the next four years, we may be able to afford a trip to visit Grandma and go to Disney World. We did just that and when I was ten I took my first plane ride. The trip was absolutely amazing. We spent the first week on the beaches near North Fort Myers. I had never seen anything like the fine white sand on the beaches. It was like walking on flour. Even better were the treasures hidden in the sand. My grandma spent a lot of time with me looking for shells. My favorite excursion was the time we all went to Shark Tooth Beach (at least that's what she called it) and dug for ancient blackish-gray shark teeth that were hundreds of years old. I bought a post card which identified the teeth of several species of local sharks and tried to match them with those I found. Grandma helped me and my mom grimaced as the plastic bags full of teeth and shells began to pile up in the trunk.

Everything with Grandma was an adventure. One of the funniest experiences of my life was the day we went to Venice Beach. My family had just gotten situated with our towels strategically placed on the white hot sand. We were pulling out sandwiches and Cheetos when we saw the most bizarre sight coming towards us: five women who appeared to be wearing itsy bitsy bikinis. My Grandma's jaw dropped (which is funny because she was wearing a bikini herself) and all of us wondered if one of the women was wearing any clothes at all. By the time they picked a place close to the water they had turned every head in sight. Everyone on the beach wanted to go in for a closer look, but my grandma had a secret weapon: incredibly reflective sunglasses that would prevent anyone from telling what she was looking at. She walked toward the water very calmly, dipped her feet in, turned to face the women, tried to suppress a look of shock, and quickly returned to our camp to report that the women were indeed wearing clothes and that every last one of them was wearing the tiniest thong bikinis imaginable. We laughed maniacally as men passed by the group of women and accidentally dropped things they were carrying, knocked down sandcastles, or fell into holes dug by children. It was the best entertainment we could ask for.

Over the next several years we were delighted when Grandma would come to visit us in California. I'll always remember her busily preparing Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's house. Her ability to multitask convinced me she must be some kind of magical sorceress. The kitchen was her realm, love was her spell and gravy was her potion. As I grew older we realized we had a lot in common. We were both into make-up, shiny objects, glittery clothing and flashy jewelry. We thoroughly enjoyed making crafts and performing in productions. I loved discovering our similarities and strove to connect with her on a more grown up level, the way I'd never gotten a chance to do with Grandma Cuca. I knew time was precious but I assumed time would be abundant. Grandma Campbell was young and vivacious. Even better, Grandma would soon be moving a little closer to home. She'd had her fill of the Florida hurricanes and was headed for her next place of residence: Sin City. Grandma found her livelihood by starring as an extra in various movies. I was very proud to know that she was making the most of her time in Vegas. Even better, she was a movie star!

Around the same time I was preparing to leave the country to serve a mission in Brazil. I knew that life would continue to go on without me while I was away for 18 months. There was no guarantee that everyone would still be there waiting for me upon my return. It was a risk I was willing to take but maybe that's because I was 21 and didn't know any better. When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro I was grateful to have experienced humidity in Florida or I may have just collapsed from shock. Halfway through my mission I was working in a mountainous region in a city originally founded by German and Swiss settlers. My part of the city was built into a mountainside and everywhere I went I was either climbing up (and wishing my pack would get lighter) or going down hills (and wishing my toes would stop smashing into the fronts of my shoes). Regardless of the physical demands I was very happy. I was surrounded by wonderful people and enjoyed my time there. One week I received an email from my mom saying that my grandma had decided to move to my hometown in the North Bay area. I was excited to know that for the first time in my life she'd be living only 15 minutes away.

One morning our doorbell rang very early. Sister Richey and I used the intercom to ask who was there and the voice identified himself as Elder Miles (he was the leader of the local missionary district - maybe a year younger than me). Sister Richey and I walked downstairs and wondered why on earth the elders would be at our house. When we opened the door and saw the look on their faces I knew something was wrong. Elder Jones looked at Elder Miles and Elder Miles looked right at me. I saw deep sympathy in his eyes. He told me I needed to call President Quatel immediately. We borrowed their telephone card and walked to the pay phone in a nearby parking lot. The city streets were very still in the early morning hours. The deafening silence was broken as I dialed each digit of that fateful call. President answered and I identified myself. He told me my parents had called to inform him that my grandmother had passed away. He said I could call my parents and talk to them for as long as I needed, I just had to walk to the branch president's house first. I indicated that I understood him and hung up the phone. As I stood looking at the three Americans surrounding me in this place so far from home I felt the first tears break the surface. I wanted to be home. I wanted to know what had happened to Grandma. She'd had diabetes for years but was controlling it with medication. I began to fear that she had died in some kind of accident. I couldn't bear the thought of her passing in pain and fear.

Two hours later Sister Richey and I were on our way to President Eleazar's house. We had been there many times before and I knew the route was arduous. Few roads were as steep and windy as the one that led to his house. I couldn't climb fast enough. Thoughts flew through my mind - memories of the Florida beaches, her California home, our holidays together - I was in complete disbelief that there would be no new memories. Up and up we went. The higher we climbed the farther my heart wandered from Brazil. I would have crawled on my hands and knees the entire way if it meant my mom wouldn't be at home crying and my family could be put back together. My grandma was the anchor of the family and without her we would wander like a ship in a storm with no bearing. Waves would crash over us, separate us, make us question what we believed. In the open water we'd find ourselves in darkness waiting for rescue from despair. Would we come out of it as an intact family or as individuals fractured by such an unfair loss of life?

We finally arrived at Eleazar's and I called home. I talked to my mom and with a broken voice she explained what had happened. Grandma had just finished moving to my hometown. My aunt stopped at her place to check on her. She saw that she was sleeping in her bed with an open book in her hand, holding perfectly still. Too still. Despite my aunt's efforts, my grandma never woke up. She had simply gone to bed and slipped out of this mortal existence. Peacefully, painlessly, fearlessly. It was an ideal passing. However, the timing was unbearable. Losing someone so unexpectedly shakes you and makes you question the foundation of everything you know. The safe and comfortable house I had built to protect my heart, mind and beliefs was trembling. The floor was rolling, the walls were moving in, the furniture was tipping over, and everywhere I looked there were paths of broken glass. I could only slide under the kitchen table, put my hands over my head and wait for it to be over, hoping that those left outside my walls would find safety and shelter. I was alone in Brazil to brave the quake, flee the aftershocks, and rebuild what had been damaged. I prayed that my family would be left unscathed.

I feel a tremendous amount of guilt that I couldn't be home to attend the funeral services. My parents sent me a copy of the funeral program, my dad's talk and the eulogy my uncle had given. I sat on my bed and read along. I sang the songs listed there and held my own memorial service out of sight from Sister Richey. I knew the coming years would be very different without my Grandma Campbell but I found a source of solace in the words of one of the hymns sung at her funeral:

The Lord is my Shepherd; no want shall I know.

I feed in green pastures; safefolded I rest.

He leadeth my soul where the still waters flow,

Restores me when wandering, redeems when oppressed,

Restores me when wandering, redeems when oppressed.

Years have passed since I lost my grandma. As the anniversary of her passing approaches I am drawn to thoughts of her. I always knew she had a wandering soul. Maybe she started her last great adventure a little sooner than the rest of us were ready for. I just hope with all my heart that wherever she is now she can feel the sun on her skin, hear waves breaking, walk miles of white sandy beaches and find new treasures in the sand. She's free of life's storms, bodily pain and mortal strife. I just hope she'll still visit home every once in a while.


Grandma Cuca

I am the youngest of my parent's four daughters. This means I get to tease my parents a lot for being old. I have always been quite content as the youngest child (I know what you're thinking: "spoiled rotten") but beside a few advanced privileges (getting my ears pierced and wearing make-up a little earlier than my sisters) I feel like I was treated the same as any other middle class girl in similar circumstances. The only downfall of being so young is that I've seen many of my father's relatives age and pass away. Some passed away when I was too young to remember, but one will never be far from my mind.

My Grandma Cuca lived in my hometown for as long as I could remember. She was in an apartment complex for elderly people on the other side of town. I loved going over there. My favorite memories were walking through the community garden and going to McDonald's on Mission Avenue to buy hotcakes. They were called pancakes everywhere else, but at "our" McDonald's you had to call them hotcakes or they wouldn't understand what you were asking for. I remember awkwardly cutting the spongy concoction with my clumsy hands. I tried to cut nine perfect tic-tac-toe slices just the way Mom would cut French toast on Saturday mornings but I could never get it quite right. My grandma would reach across the table and easily take control of the flimsy plastic utensils with her experienced and steady hands.

I remember one day I sat in her living room looking at her hands. I was probably six or seven-years-old. My eyes traced the curious lines and marks that her life had left there. She held up my hand next to hers and pointed out how they were shaped similarly (long and thin) even though mine was a fraction of the size of hers. Curiosity overcame me and I held her hand and traced the lines, bumps and bones with my finger. I lightly pressed down on one of the protruding purple veins, astonished at how stubbornly it would pop back up again. My grandma could have taken offense to this poking and prodding but she just sat quietly next to me, allowing me to explore her aged hands.

The best times with my grandma were the Friday nights when I could sleep over at her house by myself. The neatest thing was that she had a TV in her bedroom. It was the kind that you had to turn a knob to change the channel but I loved it. One night she had recently gotten a waterbed and I was very excited to sleep on it. I woke up the next morning with wet hair and we discovered it had sprung a small leak. We were vexed and laughed about it. She might have said something about not having to take a bath that day. As much as I strain to remember these precious days and nights with my grandma, they seem to stray further away. I can't grasp them. I can't remember specific words or conversations. I try with all my might to remember the sound of her voice the way it was before she got sick but so many years have passed that I'm not sure how I'll be able to hold on to what I have left.

Tonight as I tried to fall asleep images of her apartment kept popping into my mind. I tried to zoom in on the small things - the sofa with the high curved back that reminded me of a turtle shell, the emergency pull cord in the bathroom, the brown glass in the lamp that hung from the ceiling. They fade in and out of view. I keep going back to her hands. They are a solid memory, one I can still feel. I can still see them tossing dough back and forth, deftly flipping a tortilla on the pan without getting burned, cutting potatoes to fry them the way Mom refused to do at home. I can see her hand held out behind her waiting for me to catch up to her in the garden or on the grocery store aisle where I could occasionally pick out a toy. I never had an unpleasant moment with my grandma, and if I did the memory has been wiped clean with all the others.

Grandma Cuca was diagnosed with throat cancer when I was eight. The doctors were puzzled as to what could be the cause of her illness. The only thing we could deduce was exposure to second hand smoke though we'll never know if that was the cause. I quickly gained a basic understanding of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, and remission. Her battle went on for two years. There were good times and there were bad. When I was ten a new word entered my vocabulary: Hospice. It was what the doctors did for people who could no longer fight their illness. It meant we were going to set up a hospital bed in my sister's bedroom. That summer as I stayed home with my best friend, we would carefully watch for any movement from the bedroom in case she needed help walking. We would make sure all the toys were clear from the floor so Grandma couldn't trip on anything. My mom bought case after case of Ensure at Costco and eventually it became the only thing my grandma could consume. The raw skin and swelling under her bandages were a constant reminder that the cancer could one day block her throat. Time was running short and we stood and watched and cared over this gentle woman who had once done the same for us.

One day my mom came out of my grandma's room saying, "I think today is going to be the day." She told us that Grandma was pointing to a corner of the room and speaking to someone else in the room, someone my mom couldn't see. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what the person looked like. My mom said she thought it was my grandma's brother Danny. Danny must be wearing all white. He must be glowing, healthy and young, his face framed by thick dark hair. He has his hands out to her. He is speaking quietly yet she can hear every word. He is here to bring her home.

I knew with all my heart that we had a kind of angel in our house at that very moment. He would be there until it was over, and maybe they could stay a while longer, and then they'd be gone. Within a few hours my grandma had passed. This struggle had broken our hearts, but we knew she was free of pain and medication. No more radiation burns, no more chemo-induced nausea. The only problem was that we didn't have her.

Time is so often cut short. I felt so cheated to have lost my grandma when I was ten. It was the first time I wished I had been my sisters' ages so I could have known her for five, ten, thirteen more years. Some nights I wonder how I've made it so many years without talking to her. I cry, I try to remember, I sing, I do whatever I can to feel her by me again, even if it's on that leaky waterbed from so long ago. On nights like this I'm glad I have a place to store these memories of the woman who shaped my early years and gently molded me in her delicate hands.


The First

I suppose there is a first time for everything. Today I was reading about the internet in my Comms 101 textbook and I decided to create a blog and use it as a journal. I named the blog "Discovering Me" because the whole point is to figure out who I am, what I like and what I'm made of. If I don't write this stuff down I'll never remember it.

The true inspiration for this endeavor comes from a recent viewing of "Runaway Bride." The movie, starring Julia Roberts, came to theaters almost exactly 11 years ago. I was 15-years-old and joined the flock of summer moviegoers looking for a couple hours of diversion. It was an enjoyable day. I hadn't seen the movie since. This time round I was perturbed by it's sickly sweet and unrealistic romantic comedy format. More importantly, Julia Roberts' character left me feeling uneasy about people my age who don't know who they are, what they're doing or what they want. (Julia Roberts was 31 when the movie was released and I'm assuming her character was supposed to be in her mid to late twenties.) As is the case in so many chick flicks, an experienced and handsome man was required to steer the unknowingly ill-fated ingenue back to the path of bliss and happiness.

In the movie Richard Gere's character (Ike) unlocks the treasure chest of self discovery by prompting Maggie to find out how she likes her eggs. How she likes her eggs? Yes, that's what I said. On her journey to self discovery she manages to ditch her fourth fiancee, flee from Ike as he hopefully waits for her at the altar, and then magically decide she's going to be an industrial designer and run a successful business with NYC vendors. Okay, that seems like a bit of a jump. Can eggs really be the key? I know I like my eggs scrambled, or occasionally made into a 3-egg omelet (in which case I throw out the third yoke). Hard boiled eggs are great and deviled eggs are even better, but what does it mean?

Truth be told I don't know what I'm doing with my life. I have a degree and a great job, but I have no five year plan. Sometimes I'm afraid I don't know who I am. While I may have just touted an intolerable cliché, I think there's some value in admitting it. Maybe it is in part due to my easy upbringing. I grew up in a liberal state. My home life provided the perfect balance of structure and shelter. I enjoyed a wonderful college education divided between my hometown and a conservative Christian town a few states away. I have lived abroad, traveled expansively and have the means to go where I want and do what I want. In other words, my life to this point has been no trial by fire. Perhaps there is more dross than gold in my composition. Maybe the tough self-discovery experiences are still ahead of me. If that is the case, I plan to take in life one experience at a time and try to capture the most interesting happenings in upcoming blog entries. In the meantime I can enjoy chick flicks, eat eggs and dream of the day when I can say, "This is who I am and what I want to do." No Richard Gere necessary.