For those who are unable to visit the memorial in Minneapolis that has sprung up at the intersection where George Floyd was killed, I visited this morning and took some photographs. Amidst the sadness, outrage, and prayers, there was also an outpouring of community kindness.
Many friends and family have reached out to my spouse and me to see how Minneapolis is doing right now, so I took a drive through some of our city neighborhoods this morning with my camera. Click the image below to see the photo story.
“…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Remembering my friend Elizabeth today on what would have been her 56th birthday. That makes eight birthdays since she has been gone.
The photographs in the header of this page are from a trip we took in 1982 to Fripp Island, South Carolina. We went out at sunset to take some glamour shots, I guess. My memory is vague. It was after we’d graduated from high school. Before we’d started college. Before we had any idea what our lives would be like in the future. Before we had even started thinking of a future beyond the four years of college.
In the photo at the bottom of the page, the top bracelet is a now-vintage wrist band from the 2007 Komen 60-mile 3-Day Walk that Elizabeth and I did together to celebrate her 5th year cancer-free from what would turn out to be only her first cancer. The bracelet is nearly white, faded from its original pink, after months of sun on my wrist as I trained for the walk and then for the actual 60 miles of the event itself in humid, 90 to 100 degree Boston summer heat.
The middle bracelet is one my daughter had made for me with Elizabeth’s own handwriting etched into the metal. Sometime in the late 1980s, Elizabeth had signed a letter to me with a very uncharacteristic closing: “Always, always with you, Elizabeth.” She had never used this signature before, and she never did again. Finding this letter shortly before her memorial service, I was comforted by her closing, as if she had somehow sent a message across time to reassure me of her presence even now. Speaking at her memorial service, I borrowed words from a song by Cheryl Wheeler: “We’re just bereft, not deserted.” Elizabeth left those of us who loved her with so much of herself.
The bottom bracelet is vibrant pink, a take-away from an event last year to raise money and awareness for a cure for breast cancer in Elizabeth’s memory. Each August since her death, a team of bike riders composed of family and friends has taken to the roads around Boston in the Pan-Mass Challenge to raise funds for the endowment in her name at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The initial “Team Elizabeth” was three riders, each of whom was contemporary in age with Elizabeth or older. These days, the team has grown to as many 21 cyclists, all from the generation of Elizabeth’s two sons. The twenty-something-year-olds have made the ride and the cause their own, now calling themselves “Team E,” for short. This passing of the torch is the most fitting and beautiful evidence of Elizabeth’s continuing spirit in the world that I can imagine.
This year, the Pan-Mass Challenge will be virtual, shifting plans like so many other events have done, so that participants and communities are kept safe in the Covid-19 pandemic. In this unprecedented time, many are grieving new losses that the pandemic has caused. There are also those who have lost loved ones from causes other than Covid, and none are able to gather to mourn and remember. A sense of collective grief seems to be swirling around us all.
Grief has been a mighty teacher for me in the last eight years, and while I cannot say that I am grateful for the opportunity to walk through this grief, I can say that I am grateful every day for the continuing love and presence I feel from Elizabeth through my memories of our 31 years of earthly time together. I recently heard someone say that “grief is just love with no place to go.” It is a touching sentiment that can feel very true to me in moments of sadness. Yet, I wonder if there is a flip-side to it, as well. Love always has someplace to go, doesn’t it? Maybe grief just reminds us that when we are ready, we can choose where and how to send the love that is underneath to someone else who needs it.
This quote, one of Elizabeth’s favorites, was read at her memorial service. I take it as my marching orders from her when I need little guidance on what to do with my grief and how to use the love that is underneath it.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson*
*Recently, I learned that a very similar version of these words was published earlier than Emerson’s by Bessie E. Stanley of Springfield, Illinois—a literary mystery uncovered that Elizabeth would have loved. I have kept Emerson as the cited source because it is his final wording that I used.
Once upon a time, a pair of swallows decided to build a nest in our garage. We never thought the eggs they laid would hatch; the odds were stacked against them. They had chosen to build their nest atop the metal box mounted on the ceiling that housed our automatic garage door opener. Every time we opened or closed our garage door, it must have felt like an earth tremor in that little nest. Yet, they hung in there.
The Mama and Papa would diligently take turns sitting on their eggs. We watched them come and go, trading places, never leaving the nest unattended. As they persisted, we became invested in their story. We were rooting for them.
When we realized the eggs had hatched, we stopped parking our car in the garage stall beneath which their nest sat. We pulled up lawn chairs on those summer days and sat with our gazes firmly fixed on the baby birds as they began to hop to the edge of the nest and then retreat back down into the cozy confines of the only home they had ever known. We held our breaths each time any one of them came close to taking the leap.
In the end, we never got to witness the fall from the nest, but we did see the little fellows once they were safely on the ground. The Mama (I always assumed it was the mother :) would call to them repeatedly, insistently, until they hopped their way outside to join her.
I watched the swallow learn to fly
Caught between the earth and sky
But just as we all live and die
The swallow had to try
I listened to the mother call
Beckon her child to fall
No leap of faith is small
But the will to survive is in us all
Just breathe the sky
With open eyes
I heard the baby’s crying song
As the mother coaxed her along
We all need a call to urge us on
But it’s our own voice that makes us strong
I saw the baby tumble down
Leave the next without a sound
Sometimes the way to higher ground
Means risking comforts that we’ve found
Just breathe the sky
With open eyes
The empty nest sat alone
A familiar place outgrown
In the space between the foreign and the known
The silence tells a story of its own
Just breathe the sky
With open eyes
Credits: Music and lyrics by Lucy Mathews Heegaard. Vocals and ukulele by Lucy. Harmony vocals by Jeff Tuttle. Synth pad by Barbara McAfee. Recorded at Wild Sound Studio, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Engineered and mixed by Matthew Zimmerman. Mastered by Steve Kaul.
A souvenir apron from New York City in 1964 becomes an enduring love note from my grandmother.
November 19, 1964. My grandmother—on her first and only trip to New York City from Alabama where she lived her entire life— bought this apron on the day I was born.
After waiting a week for my birth, never venturing far so that she and my grandfather would be ready to take care of my sister while my parents went to the hospital, my grandmother nor my mother saw any signs that my arrival was imminent. With a return train to Alabama booked for the next day, my grandmother and grandfather went out to sightsee.
I would like to think that they made it to all the sights and attractions shown on the apron. I wish I knew exactly where she bought it, but the sheer fabric, the muted yellow color, and the pink accents make it clear to me why she chose it. It looks like so many of the delicate, feminine things she cherished during her lifetime.
Near the end of the day, while my grandparents were still out, my mother went into labor. Not more than a few hours after I was born, my grandmother and grandfather arrived at the hospital to meet me.
The fold lines on the apron are indelibly creased into the fabric, and there are no signs of use to indicate that my grandmother ever wore it. I take that to mean it was a treasure to her that she wanted to keep in pristine condition for me so that I would have an artifact of the day I was born. More importantly, I believe she kept it this way so I would always have evidence that she was there.
Given that I like to focus on positive, hopeful, nurturing messages and stories, I never thought I would write a post with the title I have given this one. But the truth is, everything is not always rosy. And not everything turns out the way you wish it would.
Part travelogue, part insider tips on the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and part confessional, this is a chronicle of my experience trying to get somewhere without success yesterday. Thunderstorms and flooding in the Atlanta area led to over 3,000 flight cancellations that began the day of the storm and rippled into the next several days, impacting flights across the country. I never made it farther than a few hundred yards from my gate and the airplane never traveled faster than I can walk on a slow day, yet luckily there were still some silver linings.
Since I created this piece on Adobe’s Spark platform, which is becoming one of my favorite tools for quickly journaling an idea or telling a story, you have to click one the image above (or HERE) to read the 12 things I learned.
Honored that my friend Barbara McAfee agreed to help me with this greeting card project a few years ago. Her interpretation of the message of my song, “Where the Angels Live,” in this spoken word meditation (shared below) was a beautiful addition to the project and a gracious contribution on her part. She also helped me record the musical tracks for each of the three cards in the series, adding piano and harmonies that lifted my melodies and lyrics to their fullest. Deeply touched that she felt moved to write about our collaborative endeavor in this post.
The photo above is from Glendalough, “Valley of the Two Lakes,” in Ireland where a sixth century monk named Kevin, Coemhghein in his native tongue, made his home. In this place, the legend of Kevin’s love for nature and animals was born— a legend that Irish poet Seamus Heaney borrowed over a thousand years later to craft a reflection on doing the right thing.
Why is it that the phrase “doing the right thing” often conjures thoughts of obligation, burden, or hardship, as if doing the right thing is always a huge undertaking and always synonymous with forgoing one’s own needs for the sake of others? Without a doubt, there are times that it is. The stories of heroic sacrifice are the ones that make headlines and go viral in social media.
But a few years ago, when I heard Irish poet Seamus Heaney introduce his poem “St. Kevin and The Blackbird,” I was touched by his description of the story as “a little meditation” on “doing the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing.” Read More
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” ― William Shakespeare
For the last decade, if not longer, I have lit a candle every morning while I sit and sip my coffee to start my day. My family, very familiar with this habit of mine, thoughtfully chooses nice candles as gifts for me because they know I won’t splurge on the fancy ones for myself. Diligently conserving them so that they last as long as possible, I’ve always been careful not to let them burn too long each morning.
But all that changed on Christmas of last year, all because of my sister. Her gift to me was light, an abundance of it. Two big boxes were filled with individually wrapped presents, all for me. Each present was labeled, one for every month of the year. The accompanying note was titled “The Light in Lucy’s House.” Read More
“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” — Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Composer Frank Ticheli has said that his hope for “An American Elegy” is that it might serve as “one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Ticheli was commissioned to write the orchestral piece to remember those who died in the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999, and to honor the lives of those who survived.
One of my dearest friends, about whom I’ve written often, heard the music played by her son’s school orchestra and was moved beyond words by the power of it, the poetic strength coupled with such vulnerable emotional resonance. She tucked away the title just like she tucked away other other things that moved and inspired her, quotes from Emerson and St. Augustine among them. After she died from metastatic breast cancer, Ticheli’s piece was played at the beginning of her memorial service, an instruction she had left behind for her family. Whenever I hear the opening bars, the music never fails to take my breath for a moment, in goosebumps and tears, just like it did the first time I heard it at her service. Read More
I’ve always loved letters, saving them like rare currency. When the volumes of them in my basement grew too big after decades of stashing them in boxes, I sifted through and parted with some that no longer had meaning, often written by people I could no longer remember. However, I found that even with these letters, I couldn’t simply throw them away. After all, at one point in my life, they felt important enough to keep. So, I made a bonfire and lay them in the flames one by one.
What remained after my de-cluttering was a collection that was still quite large, but now held only letters from close family and friends whose notes to me through the years serve collectively as an ad hoc archive of my life. Perhaps that’s why I love letters so much: they are a private vehicle for exchanging our most precious stories. Read More