“White Hot” Rainy Morning Letters #720

A rainy fall morning and I am suspended between words and oil paints…

grace beyond grace

Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

When I least expect it the missing burns white hot just under my skin anLake Arrowhead snow 2d I fold myself in half, wrap my arms around my knees and wait for it like I’m a kid on a toboggan racing down an icy hill with fat trees in my path. Time slows into long, long moments when I know I’m going to get hurt, and badly.  And I do. But I steer into it now because the impact kindles my strength.

Like I’m Firewalking again, I feel your presence. In spirit, you watch and wait until I stand up and move on and I hear, “Hooyah, Babe!” when I need it most of all.

Silence does have a sound.

And there is no statute of limitations on missing.

I still want to curl into a ball and wail loudly and for…

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My Elegant Mess

The only time I actually cared about my age was when I was 16 and wanted to be 21 just so I could sing at a piano bar in an elegant dress. No kidding.  I accomplished that at 17 and it wasn’t all I dreamed it to be. Drunk people talk loudly, and Billy Holiday songs were not all the rage in the ’70’s. So I moved on to college and an all-girl band, fell madly in love with a Frogman and tripped through this fairly extraordinary life with the idea that a surprise should be behind every corner.

My husband dubbed me his Perfect Mess. I told him I was his Elegant Mess. Believe it or not, we discussed the terms for two days. I won. That was long before “hot mess” was vogue.

He thought my need to be surprised was silly… but I was never disappointed. Not once.

In fact, the year before Steve died he kidnapped me, blindfold and all and I ended up at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina on the back of horse for two days. The man had his ways…

My birth date each year becomes more precious because I gather these memories and use them to push me and guide me and look forward in a way I’ve never done before.

This year I’ve decided that I am all the ages I have ever been…

I wish this for all of you…

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This video was produced and directed by Sheri Bukowski, with Stephen Bukowski and Aaron Bukowski. Pure Love…. 

The Color of Courage

Perhaps all we can do is pray… to relieve the agony of the mothers and fathers around the world, from whose arms their child was taken. May Grace hold them and surround their broken hearts.

grace beyond grace

Excerpt from Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy: Lessons in Love

“Our faith itself is a potent force. When faith in love and its miraculous authority becomes a thought form that guides our thinking, it turns into an extraordinary power that transforms our lives.” ~Marianne Williamson

This is what it feels like to waREDtch someone I love fall out of the sky:  I tilt my head back, shield my eyes from sun glow, and watch tiny specks drop from a plane so high, I cannot actually see it in the cerulean blue sky.  I only hear a distant drone.  Big Red, our 120 pound Golden Retriever, begins to pace around my legs in a tight circle.  The behavior is so unusual for this markedly obedient dog that I sense something’s off, but I keep my eyes skyward, fascinated now by a long, colorful cloth spiraling up from…

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Autumn Again…

You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.

Autum at LZ-Grace

Grace arrives

a cool ribbon

of crisp air to embrace me

like you used to do…

So for a moment

I am still wrapped

In your love

A warm blanket

between dreams and the

real wooden floor

where my bare feet

step lightly at 3:00 in the morning

and on this path

I can tip-toe my way

to the cool breeze and

breathe you in

just enough air to return to this life radiant

with the light by which I serve.

I am like the autumn leaves now,

Falling again

As though we are all passionately

In Love

with sacred ground.

September 6, 2013 © Lynnette Bukowski

Sunrise With Grace

Delphinium_cv2We finally find her sitting in a cluster of delphiniums, eyes closed, smoking a cigarette. Wisps of her silver blue hair blend so beautifully with the flowers that the only way we know she’s in there and alive is by watching puffs of smoke spiral up through the lavender blue blooms.

The young man next to me leans forward and in a deep lyrical voice says, “The sun is nearly up and I brought apples. May I help you, Grace?”

A slight, wheezy sigh emanates with a puff of smoke, “Is that you, Shelly?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”  The man is a foot taller than my 5 foot 6 inches.  His stature is massive, but poised, as though he stands at attention, except for the apple he holds in each hand and the flush of color in his cheeks when his bearded face looks down at me and says, “Sheldon. The name is Sheldon. Will you hold these?”

I nod, take the apples from his hands and watch as he reaches into the blooms and effortlessly lifts one hundred pounds of Grace into his arms.

“I dropped my cig,” she says.

“Life’s a bitch,” he says.

She throws her head back and laughs while he carries her like a young lover down the walkway. I follow behind, apples in hand.  Gently, he places her in the middle of the bench and sits next to her. I sit on the opposite side and exchange a knowing smile with Sheldon. I’m not sure what we both know, but it feels to me in this moment as though we’ve known it for a long, long time.

We both know Grace.  She is saucy, short; 93 years old and befriends those of us who are brave enough to approach.

I was sitting on this exact bench thirty minutes earlier when the stranger, Sheldon, walked out of the dark and stood close enough for me to see he looked frightened. When he spoke his voice crumbled into panic, “I cannot find Grace. Will you help me?”    bench at beach

I had a moment with God, then.  O’dark-thirty, I am alone with no gun and no dogs and not afraid. Explain, please? It was not outside the realm of possibilities that I was seeing a man who was not there and talking to myself, but suddenly I knew exactly of whom he spoke.  Also, he had an apple in each hand. It was a woman, not a state of being he needed help finding.

While we searched, he told me that he sat with her every morning to watch the rise of dawn. He could not remember how many days or weeks or months now, but it had been awhile since he’d arrived back in CONUS. He says this as though I simply know what he’s talking about. I do, but I keep it to myself. He’s distracted, but methodical, looking under trees, behind fences, sweeping his hands through thick rhododendron bushes.  I ask, “Have you checked her house?” He stops and looks at me for a long moment, and then he shakes his head; continues the search. His voice ebbs and flows as he tells me that sometimes he stays awake all night just waiting to leave his empty house and make it here – to the bench. She is his saving Grace and he is the deliverer of treats. This morning: apples.

Grace squeals like a delighted child, “Here we go!” I am back in the present moment and cannot help but smile at her enthusiasm. Her feet do not reach the ground. She crosses one ankle over the other and swings her feet to and fro while the three of us sit and watch the sun rise and send bursts of light over the water.  She chomps down on her apple and talks with her mouth half full. “Shelly,” do you know my friend, Lynn? She’s a writer and building a place for you boys to find a little love when you’re home.”

sunrise beachSheldon leans forward on the bench to look over at me. One eyebrow is raised, but he touches the tip of his ball cap and says, “Nice to meet you, Ma’am.”

I open my mouth to respond, perhaps clarify her statement, but Grace interrupts, “Oh, don’t be so darn formal, Shelly,” She scolds, takes another bite of her apple and talks while she chews, “Shelly here – this young strapping Navy man – fancies killing himself. Damn fool if you ask me.”

I audibly catch my breath; hold it.

Sheldon leans forward, puts his face in his hands and mumbles, “Grace… I don’t think… ”

“Don’t you shush me, young man. I’ve had just about enough of this balderdash. I’m old. I hide in flowers to sneak cigs. I need to tell someone else about you …” she takes another huge bite of apple, chews for a moment and continues, “…because I’m not leaving this earth until you find your footing again. And I need help.” She takes her tiny hand and smacks it on his thigh. It sounds like a painful pop, but he does not flinch. “How many ways to kill yourself are we up to now…. ten, twelve?”

“Grace,” I begin… I hardly know what to say, but I see Sheldon lean further into his hands and I can feel his discomfort.

“And you be quiet too, young lady. Let me have my say.” She giggles, swings her legs, licks apple juice off her wrist and continues, “You never show up here without your dogs. Ever. Why today? I’ll tell you why today. I need some damn help. As if the hand of God delivered your pretty butt right to this bench. That’s right… I asked for you and not five minutes later I watched you walk by those delphiniums, head hanging, deep in thought.”

She turns from me and leans her body against Sheldon. “You are a dear young man and too full of life to give up. I don’t need you in Heaven. I’ve got plans… and they don’t include some young swashbuckler. I need some damn rest. Now… you tell Lynn right here about your panic attacks. Go ahead…”

“Grace, too hard… you’re being too flippant about something so difficult… “My words stumble out and catch on a sob. I have no idea where the tears came from or when they began. I wipe a sleeve across my face and look up to see Sheldon staring at me, tears rolling down into his beard.

The 93 year old sitting between us tosses her apple into the sand and with far more strength than I think possible, she grips my thigh with one hand and his with her other hand. “Look here, you two. There is no time left to talk about the weather and trip over words.”

Sheldon nods, resigned, and begins, “Other people imply that they know what it’s like to be like this… to be home from the hate …but not home at all, to go through a divorce…fuck me, I was barely married… ” He takes a long, deep breath, “Sorry…bout my language.”

“We’re not worried about your words. Say them all,” Grace says. She pats his leg, rubs her tiny hand on his arm. I swear she’s making clucking sounds to comfort him.  I am so taken in by his words that I cannot move. I let the tears drip down over my lips and watch as he physically rocks forward, then backward. A self-comforting move that comforts me.

“… Except maybe that other people are generally caught up in their own lives,” he continues, “They don’t see. My wife didn’t see what she did not want to see.  Gone. Left. I can’t make her stay or make her come back and I don’t think I want to. Not afraid… I’m not afraid of dying. I want back out there. I want to work. I don’t want to live, I want to go, work, do.  I’m afraid of living, not dying. Afraid of sleeping… when my heart starts to pound in my chest and my fingertips go numb and my mind starts this rapid movie and my vision blurs and there is not enough air. Never enough air and the entire space collapses into a single thought… all the thoughts swirl into a single thought and there is nothing else but that thing – as if I were seeing it through a gun barrel…”

“… and I’m tiresome. People cannot abide being around me. They think they ought to, and they try, but I know and they know that I’m tedious beyond belief. I’m irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and there is no reassurance good enough. And I’m scary as hell. Look at me. People don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and those who do… they’re still out there doing what I need to be doing and just so you know,” he glances at Grace, “they too have their own 12 ways of dying.”

He stops talking as suddenly as he started and stares at me. Dares me with his eyes to get up off the bench and run. I don’t. I stare back. I think I might get up, walk to him and hold him for whatever time it takes for his heart rate to ease, but that seems too bold in the moment. We’re strangers – emotionally glued together now by an incredible woman named Grace. I have nothing to say because every single word he said is true. It’s the truth. And the only thing I know to do – honestly do – is sit with the words and him and Grace and let the sun fully rise.

Grace claps her hands together and chuckles, “Good. Now I can die in peace.”

Her words break the spell. Sheldon turns his full body towards her and smiles, “Old woman, you better have your fine self right here on this bench tomorrow morning. I’m bringing cherries.” He leans a bit towards me and grins, “And you… if you’re brave enough to show back up, I’ll bring tissues. You have snot all over your face.”

And just like that we go from death and despair to laughter while Grace sets a meeting time for tomorrow. We exchange phone numbers and awkward smiles and then Grace hops off the bench like a teenager and says, “Bring me some cigs tomorrow morning. I think I’m all out.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, woman.” Sheldon laughs. He hugs me quickly, sincerely, and then takes Grace by the hand to walk her home.

I’ve been aware from time to time of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners are incredible and take my breath away with the beauty they store. Others seem too dark to wander through alone.  Perhaps that’s the point. We are none of us alone when another soul is willing to walk into the dark corner with us, hold our hand for a moment and turn on the light.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

Grace.againThere are so many reasons to be alive… Please seek out and find some Grace.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/1-800-273-8255 – Press 1

 

No Matter What…

grace beyond grace

girl on beach

The dogs and I came upon a young woman lying on the beach this morning.  Selah did a puppy bounce around her waiting to be adored, but the girl did not stir or move or react.  In the predawn she looked like a slight shadow, very young and curled around herself, but as I kneeled next to her I saw the distance in her wide open eyes. She stared out into the surf and might have been dead except for the intense shivering.

I took my sweatshirt off and put it over her and sat down in the sand.

In this beginning of the second half of my life I have learned to listen more to my intuition and my heart, than to my head.  So I did not dial 911 or yell for help. Lights were on in a few of the oceanfront houses, but it was just us…

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Sharing Strength

holding_hands-1418(The original Sharing Strength was published on August 6, 2012. I share it here today for those who have not read it… with the hope that all of us can join in prayer and support for the Families and Brothers of our Fallen) 

Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another.  (Prov. 27:17)

This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Five years ago the world lost 30 brave men and Bart, a Warrior Dog – all heroes – aboard Extortion 17 in Afghanistan. The families, friends and loved ones of the fallen are scattered across the country and globe and while it is impossible to reach each of them in person or by phone, entire communities have come together to raise funds, show support and share in the grief of loss.

There is such comfort in knowing we are never really alone.

It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.

On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego.  Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky.  I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive.  The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t.  For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud.  Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.

Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind.  The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited.  A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back.  He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.

I don’t remember the drive to the crash site.  I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with.  We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand.  We ran, or he did.  I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets.  A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.

My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds.  We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter.  She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit.  Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded.  He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.

I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing.  I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.

I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks.  The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks.  The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.

Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he couldn’t save her.”

Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales

Aboard Extortion 17 that day were 17 of my husband’s Brothers – U.S. Navy SEALs. It is this brotherhood of men and their families who sustain the families of the Fallen in any way they need. That support will last a lifetime. I know this because they sustain me today as the widow of a veteran Navy SEAL. Without a doubt, on August 6, 2011, my husband Steve and many of his Brothers welcomed all 30 – and Bart – into a brotherhood that lives on in Heaven as a Platoon of Warrior Angels. Grace meets us where we are.

“There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.”

inspirational_grieving_quote_for_healing_bumper_sticker-r24459e39097b4fc4b677e64cbe9904d2_v9wht_8byvr_512

Lynnette Bukowski ©2012

Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance author and artist and the Founder/Director of LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Warrior Retreat. (www.lz-grace.com)

In Loving Memory – Extortion 17 Commemorative Cuff

Fotor0917190327In Loving Memory – Extortion 17 Commemorative Cuff designed by LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat.

A limited number of these custom cuffs were made exclusively for LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat in loving memory of our 31 heroes killed in action on August 6, 2011.

To order, visit the donation page at www.lz-grace.com or email me at lynnette@lz-grace.com

Each cuff is made of quality bronze, silver and gold plate, molded in dies, touched by craftsman and may be ordered in Brass or Silver.  The cuffs are hand crafted; Size: 7” x 11/2”

The cost is: $135.00

100% of the proceeds will go to grow LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat, a place of respite and renewal for our newly transitioning Warriors.

A portion of donated funds may be set aside by LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat to benefit the children of our Fallen Warriors.

A 501(c)3 Application is on file with the IRS (February 2013)

Make a Promise – Pass it On

“We are not taught to be thinkers, but reflectors of our culture. Let’s teach our children to be thinkers.” ~Fresco

My friend, Brenda, showed up in my dreams last night seriously concerned about the state of the World and the disease of divisiveness infecting our youth.  I agreed with her but argued that I alone cannot change the world. Her response: Nonsense. She’s a force to be reckoned with, even in spirit. 

There is a tremendous call right now for adults across the globe to step up and teach the children that they do not need to continue the legacy of hate and division that today’s leaders perpetuate.

This is a story about a promise I made and my memory of Brenda and all she held dear. It seems especially important to share it again as one example of how each of us can start where we are and do what we can. The book I’ve chosen again this year for the “older” kids on my list is Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons in Peace from a Lifetime at War. Copies of the book can be purchased at all the normal places, but signed copies are available through http://www.powerfulpeace.net. Also visit http://www.sealofpeace.com and help us make a dent in the world toward Peace.

lovely bookTwelve hours before Brenda died she called to tell me she was in Heaven.

“You’re there now?” I asked, slightly distracted with scissors in one hand, tape in the other. I tucked the phone between my ear and shoulder thinking I’d continue to wrap Christmas presents while we bantered about the gorgeous male nurses who administered Chemotherapy in Colorado Springs Medical Center. The young men were a favorite subject for Brenda and the tales she weaved were hysterical.

A weak, throaty laugh echoed through the phone, “I do believe I am.”

The words, although breathless, hung in the air like a solemn, heavy mist. I dropped the wrapping paraphernalia, held the phone tight against my ear and walked outside to our deck. For just a moment, I tilted my head and looked into the cloudless aqua blue sky – a mirrored reflection of the water – expecting to see my dear friend waving. “Hey…” I began, stumbling over my thoughts, “everything okay today?”

“Picture this,” she began, “I’m tucked into an over-sized arm chair by a big picture window watching fat white snowflakes silently fall from the sky. Next to me is a fire blazing in a huge stone fireplace and I’m holding a steaming mug of that jasmine tea you sent me and…” she paused, took a short breath, “I’m surrounded by books and books and books.”

“Oh, it really is heaven, Bren,” I closed my eyes against the wheezy softness of her voice. Just last week her voice had been robust and full of laughter. The tropical paradise before me disappeared and I imagined I was right there with her.

“I’m choosing books for my kids,” she sighed, “well…the proprietor is choosing books; I’m just describing the children. I can’t seem to find my strength today. But I called… I called now because I need to ask you to promise…” The words faded between us.

Brenda’s kids were not actually her kids. Rather, they were her friends’ kids, at last count –18 in all — including mine, from ages 2 to 17. Each year at Christmas and on respective birthdays and graduations, each child would receive an age appropriate, award-winning book with Brenda’s personalized inscription. It was in my kitchen that she’d thought up this tradition. “Books,” she beamed, “are the doorways to the world!” I could picture her, eight years earlier, her smile lighting the room. Now, the enormity of her courage – laced with Chemo, fighting cancer, yet still concerned about her kids – it bruised my soul.

I cleared the sob from my throat, “Brenda, whatever favor you need, consider it done.”

“Lynn, I can’t tell you what the favor is just now. There are too many parts, but I’ll have Michael send it to you in an email.”

“Okay…” I could hear the whine in my voice and willed it away, “but how will I know what….”

“You’ll know,” she interrupted, a slip in comportment so foreign for Brenda that it stunned me.

A fear of imminent loss closed around me like a dark tunnel blocking the sun. I wanted to fight with her, chase the seriousness from her voice and words. Hadn’t we talked endless hours over the last eight months about her strength, her will to live, her young age of 60 and the importance, or lack thereof, of breasts? What about the pros and cons of shopping for new breasts and the fun she’d have interviewing men on the perfect size and shape? Our weekly phone conversations always included the future, her pending visit to our home on Sunset Beach in Oahu as soon as she had the strength to travel. I wanted to scream at her, “Buy the ticket now, Brenda!” but the words stuck in my throat.

“Hey beach broad… you there?” This was her new tag name for me and hearing the wheezy voice attempt humor made me laugh.

“I’m here. I’m here… just rolling over to tan the other side,” I choked out, “So… what are you reading?” This was always the absolute second question of every conversation.

“Reading?” she sighed audibly, “Everything I possibly can.” A long, silent pause filled the phone line and seemed to stop the breeze. “I have to go now,” she continued, breathless, with just a slight laugh that felt like a kiss against my ear, “I’m on someone else’s phone, and the angels are restless. Plus,” she coughed, “God invited me to dinner and I have to decide what I’m going to wear.”

“Funny. Sticking with the theme of the day, I see. I love you, Bren. Hey…I’ll call you tomorrow morning… see how that dinner date went.”

“Yeah,” she laughed, sweet, full, hearty; the sound of Brenda, “Love you too.”

beach-sunsetI held the phone close to my chest and let the dial tone drone into a maddening beep. Even then, I was reluctant to disconnect, to give in to the sense that I would never speak with my lovely friend again. Instead, I sat down on the steps with my memories.

On the day we met, I was busy corralling and cajoling four young children and a baby at a fast-food restaurant. Brenda was at the table next to us reading Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays. The fourth or fifth time I apologized for the noise level, Brenda got up from her table and sat down with us. She spoke very quietly until one by one; each child – even the baby – stopped chattering, and sat captivated as she recited a Hans Christian Anderson story.

Days later our home became her second home and she visited often at odd hours. We talked books, analyzed the work of the masters, laughed over love scenes. Her weakness was a good romance novel, but she grew serious when she talked about the importance of children knowing the magic of sitting still with a story and letting their imaginations soar. She loved all of our children, but paid special attention to our foster kids and spent endless hours engaging them in conversations about books or organizing special reading days where she would sit with them in a circle and read with all the gusto of a skilled actress. When those children left our home, Brenda made sure each of them had their very own book to take on their journeys.

We were unlikely friends, Brenda and I. I was a military wife, a young mother, a struggling author, full of creative energy and love and not much else. Brenda was nineteen years my senior, held a PhD in Philosophy and Education and Masters’ Degrees in Computer Technology, Theology and Mathematics. She was also the mother of a grown son and the widow of a Navy pilot who took his own life.

I was fascinated with Brenda, but I often felt inadequate as a friend. In quiet moments, usually over wine, I would allude to our differences. What did she see in me? The first time I broached the subject she waved her hand through the air and referred to her varied degrees as an addictive hobby. She was philosophical with the sorrow aspect, stating simply that our lives are pre-planned and this was her lot. “You teach me about being real and how to hurt and how to love. Everything else is pointless,” she announced. After that one speech, the subject was off limits. Then she stared at me, straight on, with serious, thoughtful eyes and asked me what book I was reading.

This was our glue then and now: books, words, and children.

I sat on the porch step until the orange ball of sun set and the ocean glittered into the night.

When the phone rang at 4:00 AM the next morning, Michael, Brenda’s son, apologized for the early hour and went on to explain that his mother insisted I be the first one he called. Through my tears, I told him how sorry I was and asked if he needed anything, but the conversation was blurry and surreal. Just before he hung up he said, “Check your email.”

This is what it said:
My dearest friend, the promise I asked of you has to do with the long document attached to this email. Here it is: please continue sending books to my kids. I’ve written a little something for each year, for each child, with all the pertinent birth date information and addresses, but please find more children to add each year. Everyone at age 18 or upon graduation from high school should receive Dr. Seuss’, “Oh! The Places You Will Go!” Thank you, forever.
P.S. my dinner date was heavenly. God says hi. All my love, Bren.

Most of the original kids are grown now, but I continue to keep my promise and send books to a growing special list of children each year.

In loving memory, pass it on. children-reading-1940

by Lynnette Bukowski
© 2000 (revised 2013)

#DancesInMud ~~ Rainy Morning Letters #1091

pink muddy toesIt is Sunday morning nearly three years after your death and I am standing at the kitchen window of a plantation house watching you climb a 100 foot pine tree to cut a branch that hangs over the parked truck in the driveway. You’ve had enough of the dripping sap, I suppose. I murmur through the glass, “I could move the truck…” and you hear me because you turn and look, purse your lips, raise one eyebrow and pierce me with those brilliant blue eyes.

This is your fastidious look and it makes me laugh. We both know that if I move the truck today, the branch will still hang over the driveway, the sap will still drip and I will inevitably forget and park the truck exactly there again. Point made, you climb higher.

The rain begins slowly; fine drops that make the moss on the live oaks stir. I sip my coffee so close to the window that the steam swirls onto the glass and fogs my vision. You are nearly there – at the offending branch – bolo knife dangling from your thigh. I’m sure in this moment that the same bolo knife is under my bed, but I let the thought come and go because the rain is falling in solid sheets now and I am worried about you so high up without ropes.

An impatient sigh floats down and you mouth the words, “Don’t be ridiculous, honey, I’m already dead.”  Perfect. Even in spirit you can piss me off faster than the nanosecond it takes me to blink.

I shout through the window, “Did you just call me ri-di-cu-lous?” My words echo around the empty kitchen. I bang my cup down on the sill; put my hands on my hips and say, “Fine.”  Your laughter booms like thunder. I know you are not with me anymore just as sure as I’m looking at you up in that tree. And I know it is absurd to indulge myself with an argument in a parallel universe, but most of all… I know I cannot bear to lose you again.

I start to shout for help from someone in the house – there are many of your brothers here now healing from war – but before I can make a sound, you appear on the ground under the window safe and strong and I hear you say, “Come here.”

Damn you, I cannot stay mad. I run through the kitchen, down the porch steps, into the mud barefoot and stop. Somewhere between reality and wherever here is I am certain that if you touch me I will die. Then the thought crawls into my brain that if you don’t touch me, I will die.  I stand perfectly still trying to name the thing that scares me. Ironically, it is not death.

You say, “Dance with me, funny girl.”  I cannot seem to move. We are so close I smell pine and salty sap and the memory of you and I begin to weep – three years’ worth of tears. This new divine patience you have is unnerving. In life, my tears made you restless and you had to save something immediately – the World, the children, me. Here, you are reverent and calm; an observer of this pain from a three year old wound as it leaks down my face. We both know this needs to heal completely now. But if I move too quickly, if I allow this to be real, the wound may reopen and I might forget my purpose and spend my days just here between Heaven and Earth where nobody can get to me and nobody can hurt me and nothing can make me cry. When you wrap me in those arms the pain crystallizes into one single thought: Oh my God where have you been?

You say, “Just here,” and move me slowly in the pouring rain to a song I cannot hear.

I want to tell you how hard death is, but that’s not really true, is it? It is not death the living wake up to everyday, but life. There is no celestial tenet that grants us immunity from the details just because you and your brothers slipped behind the veil of Heaven. Sap will still drip on trucks, the shower head breaks; the war on terror goes on.

But there are no words large enough.

I still have days when I think this is all too damn hard. The only true thing I know is that the part of me you left here, with your abundance of faith and my sliver of hope, still believes love can heal. We both know what love can do.

And the single thing it cannot do.

Without words I tell you every last detail about life since you left. When I am done and my mind is empty of all thoughts, you sigh deeply and say, “I know.”  I think you listen better this way. Really I do. It tickles me, this soft place where I do not have to explain myself, where my magic is safe, where for just this moment I do not have to be fighting strong.

My strength is not the same without you. I’ve forgotten when to lean and how to ask.

You say, “Do you remember this?” and I nod my head against you and let the memory of dancing in secret places float through my brain. We both remember different parts and I don’t know why I hear your thoughts or why you hear mine, but it reminds me of that day we said everything with our eyes, so I let it be. The rain pours down and the mud seeps between my toes and you hold me at arm’s length for this long and lovely moment and say, “Listen to me now. Lean into the hard babe, I’m proud of you.”

When I wake up my pillow is wet from rain, or maybe tears – I don’t know which – and I don’t care because what I really want is to be back in that space between Heaven and Earth.  I climb off the bed and enter the morning slowly walking from room to room with the sensation of stray wisps of one universe seeping through the open windows of another.

I make a coffee, ponder the mud on the hem of my nightgown and my pretty pink toes and turn the radio on. I miss your arms… and just as the thought comes, these lyrics fill the room: “We’re not broken, just bent… and we can learn to love again…”  You are choreographing my morning with this new beloved song, so recently shared by a friend.  The words remind me of you; poignant and beautiful. I hope it’s true for those of us left behind.

I am standing at my office window with the song pulling at my heart, coffee in one hand, keys in the other, when I hear the first crack, then another, and a large pine tree limb crashes to the ground just inches from the truck bumper. Your tenacity is limitless. I laugh so hard and for so long the tears come again.  pine-limb-redu

This time though, my spirit is full, my strength is renewed and this gift of your prophecy fills me with all the love I need to one day soon run a plantation house where I can help your living brothers heal.

Wait for me. I’ll meet you there on a rainy day… and we’ll dance in the mud.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

My most sincere thanks to my “rascal” friend for sharing this… my new favorite song. Apparently they listen to “Pink” in Heaven too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpQFFLBMEPI