This is a story of encouragement and dreams alive and gratitude, but I need to take you down into the dirty with me before we climb back out and see the light.
I woke up this morning with three hours of sleep and money on my mind. When I’m overwhelmed, I pray first and then get to work on details. But the details today turned into another day of figuring out just how I’m going to stretch the checking account to pay property taxes due in a few weeks. This is always where my frustration starts to build.
I don’t know if every other non-profit in this city receives a break on property taxes, but we don’t. I do know there is an application process in place which goes before the city council and is rarely denied. I applied for a partial exemption from property taxes three years ago and my application was tossed. Not denied,simply tossed out and not heard before the council because one city council member doesn’t like me or what I do. I know this to be true because she rudely dismissed me and my vision for LZ-Grace in front of my daughter and mother across a meeting table, and a few months later had my application for property tax partial exemption removed from the city council agenda moments before I was to present my case. Apparently, I can house and feed farm-workers who help farm the land, but welcoming, feeding and nurturing combat SOF warriors as they decompress from war and trauma on ARP farmland was out of line. And don’t get me wrong, I don’ object to paying taxes. I object to unfairness and hidden agendas. I did have my say in front of council in 2015, but to no avail. Attorneys I reached out to afterward told me to keep my head down, my mouth shut and pay. And not to bother appealing the “toss out” or request tax exemption again because the city’s attorneys and Henley will break me.
Fair enough, except I’m me and a Frogman’s widow and that’s not how I get broken.
Most importantly, God didn’t see it quite the way the attorneys did and so each and every six months when I have to scramble to come up with nearly $7K now, I do. And we farm. Horses and hops and hope and organic vegetables that we harvest and eat. We farm and we play and we rest and we pray and we discover healing and we speak life into loss and we love. On ARP farmland.
I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m a little bitter about entrenched politicians and their attitudes. I’m working on it.
I did take a moment to thank God for the generous souls who have donated funds, stood fast in prayer and supplied grants to ensure that we continue to grow and serve. The dream is real because the entire family stepped up, the community around us put on their work boots, an Architect, Scouts and Dominion VA Power folks, Veterans and Active Duty, Firefighters, Police Officers, Deputy Sheriff’s, Realtors and neighbors surrounded us with help and dedication and grace. Amen.
Then I climbed back down into my pity pot and sloshed around, cried, worried, paid more attention to interruptions then details, got snappy with the dogs, irritated with my healing broken leg and ended up chucking all my work aside to mindlessly scroll through Facebook.
This is where He finds me.
Memories with photos and write ups from four years ago today. On November 16, 2014, 253 people joined me and my family for the Dedication and Blessing of LZ-Grace. The Patriot Guard arrived with American Flags in all their glory, esteemed speakers flew in from across the country and neighboring states to speak. Music played. The choir sang. The Warriors Fire-Pit, built by an Eagle Scout and his Troop, was lit for the first time. Prayers were said. Brothers reunited. On that day, five months after we moved in, most of the buildings were still in disrepair, the barn was empty, the fences were falling down, the weeds were out of control, and I had no earthly idea how I was going to pay for all that needed to be done and take care of our warriors, but none of that mattered because we all gathered for a most extraordinary day of hope and vision and life spoken into this sacred land.
As of today, November 16, 2018 – exactly four years from the Dedication and Blessing and 3.5 years since we opened our doors – we have welcomed 3,063 souls to the healing peace of LZ-Grace (1,098 individuals on site, 98 individuals remotely and 1,876 families and groups).
It was hard, hard work and painful lessons, but we ended most days with joy. Frustration and bitterness have no place in these blessings.
Perhaps someday I’ll return to the city, new application in hand and be granted relief, but for today, I’ll stand in gratitude for the blessings that we’ve been given and let God work out the details with politicians who can dislike me and strong arm me, but have no say so over peace and grace and precious souls who come here – to the farm – as visitors and leave as beloved family.
Like a child being gently disciplined, I am reminded this morning that while paying the bills on time and keeping track of numbers is necessary, it is not my most important concern. My job is to be a good steward of and nurture the most fundamental part of our mission: peace and renewal for an individual’s body,mind, soul and spirit. To be a witness to these changes in individuals, up close and in myriad ways, is miraculous. Each person we meet here and talk to remotely brings an experience that encourages and teaches. We are still at war,but for a time – at a home away from home – on a farm – a life is saved, a marriage strengthens, a family blossoms, a career stays on course or a supported transition takes flight.
Miraculous is the only solid form of measurement we need.
And this note on the fridge. Because the dream is real…and I love you.
This is God’s Vision. Human hands can not shut it down.
Each and every year we were married – no matter where he was in the world – Steve sent me roses on HIS birthday.
The odd tradition began after our first year of marriage. He was away on a “work trip” and after a particularly ugly over-the-phone argument, I received two dozen roses with a card: “I’m such a jerk and I’m sorry, but you managed to love me for another 365! so Happy Birthday to me. I pray you love me forever. I will you.”
On July 24, 2010, a month and three days after his death, I received two dozen roses with a lovely note professing his forever love and thanking me yet again for loving him another 365. I thought it was just a cruel twist… something he arranged weeks before, and the florist, not knowing he died on June 21, followed through with delivery.
But each and every year since his death I continue to receive two dozen roses, on or near his birthday, and always with a note full of words germane to what I’m struggling with or going through at the time.
I woke this morning as I do every morning – missing Steve. I wished him a happy earth birthday and blessed his constant presence around me. Sadly, I thought, this will be the year the flowers stop because the SEAL Brother I believed responsible for keeping Steve’s birthday flowers coming (even though Brian adamantly denied it when I asked three years ago), passed away after a long struggle with cancer in early June of this year.
Somehow though, the miracle of Roses from Heaven continues. On this day, with roads flooded and unrelenting rain in Virginia Beach – July 24, 2018 – Steve’s birthday and 123 days after I broke my leg so badly that surgery required plates and rods and pins to put me back together, two dozen beautiful roses were delivered with a timely and loving and encouraging note. I mention my injury because ~ Heaven Knows ~ I am just now humbly, ungracefully, learning how to walk again – step by painful step.
And yes, I love him forever on earth and in Heaven and with each step by every new difficult step. My body is temporarily broken, but I am renewed each year with faith and strength beyond my wildest dreams.
Most of my slightly ‘off’ ideas start with a spark of intrigue and/or rebellion, wander around trails in my head, pause for rest, pause for prayer, and then take off like I’m driving a Maserati down The Stelvio pass in Italy.
This particular idea took hold one morning after I opened and read eleven different ‘Christmas Letters’ from friends and family near and far. Well before the social media craze, I always looked forward to these letters (and still do), but this year – 1987 – I noticed a pattern: Everyone wrote about the ‘perfect’ and left out the ‘real’. Eleven times that morning I read about another year of blissfully perfect marriage, and how they magically afforded a new house above their pay grade in a perfect neighborhood where all their perfect children were enrolled in perfect schools making perfect grades in three different languages and were perfect stars of the spare-time sport, club or troop the perfect parents drove them to in the brand new perfect car?
And there I sat with a cup of lukewarm coffee at a kitchen table dotted with sticky something and bread crumbs swirled into a rather artistic pattern by a 7-year old. His version of “wiping down the table after dinner” chore. Here was my pause. How could I not smile? And I was grateful for the moments of joy in our adorable-as-hell (artistically cleaned) rental home on Orange Avenue in Coronado, which we could barely afford, and which may or may not have been as a result of the brand-new Raleigh Tour de’ France worthy bicycle for Steve to ride to work, because… priorities.
Clearly, we lived in an alternate universe: Sort of broke, artistically clean and mostly happy. We had a lot of ‘real’ going on. I’ll even admit here that my sweatshirt was on inside-out and my feet were frozen, but finding a warm pair of socks meant opening the dryer, which would wake up the dog and then the kids and my perfect writing moment would be lost. Sticky elbows and cold feet it was, as I raced my pen across paper.
And so, the annual Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer was born.
I rhymed our ‘real’ (and my opinions) for 22 years, from 1987 to January 2010. I stopped writing it the year Steve died, but I can still see him grinning as he read every word and pretended to be annoyed with my candor.
I tripped across my last poem a few days ago and decided to share our last ‘real’ to honor the memory of a man who made everything seem perfect in an imperfect world.
Merry Christmas to all and May Your New Year Delight You Daily….
HAPPY YEAR! (2010)
Four days after Christmas and all ‘round the house, ALL our creatures are crazy, yes, even the mouse,
Well, we don’t have a mouse, but I swear if we did, he’d be out chasing barn cats or in line to be fed.
The horses are neighing, one dog’s set on “bark”, thank God I have coffee and I can type in the dark,
At four in the morning, should the world not be calm? Welcome to Un-Ranch where it often goes wrong.
Hope your Merry’s still on and your Season’s still Bright, ‘round the world and in North Carolina,
No surprise here, I’m tardy again… c’est la vie… so Happy New Year from our little Norlina,
Go pour a cognac and take off your boots…’tis the time for the Zoo’s twisted cheer,
Of course if you’re saving up for massive tax hikes, I’ll understand if you just pop open a beer.
After twenty-plus houses in thirty-three years, it’s slightly shocking that we’re still on
But the “Money Pit” here is beginning to blossom, we’re no longer in the pack-transfer mode.
I think five years is planted, or at least digging in, the Zoo’s nearly from “around here” these days,
In this small country town full of big hearted folks, who don’t seem to mind much our strange ways.
The Terrorist and I (I meant Veteran, oh my) have grown quite fond of this wide open space,
I’m lobbying right now for a Ted Nugent bunker, a water board and a few cans of mace.
Oh my gosh, I’m just joking – or maybe I’m not – but either way I’ll be perfectly clear,
If the “O” and his gang keep maligning our Troops, it’s the moms and wives they should fear.
We rarely give in and we never give up and if we rallied they’d get down on their knees,
And that “apology tour” would be to all Troops, who still stand up for this Land of the Free.
Really, you thought I’d skip politics this year? au contraire! Soap Box up and I’m full of glee,
Stewart! the war on terror is at our collective front doors, I think we’re stuck with that bastard ennui.
Still, I’m encouraged because by this time next year, they’ll run out of U.S. dollars to spend,
Hand-outs will stop and folks will stand up and we’ll take a look around DC’s land of pretend.
My liberal friends think I’m just being mean, but I’m really up for that Change and that Hope
Case in point, I hope to fire both sides of the Senate and House, and exChange Mr. Ivy-League bloke.
I’m calling up farmers, blue collar, small business, retired military who still employ common sense,
No Dems or Repubs, just real people, like us, who know the difference between a Trillion and Cents.
For those who are new to my seasonal cheer, I live out loud and don’t edit my views, A short pause to disclose – my opinions are not necessarily those – shared by the entire Zoo.
Good thing Steve retired from gov contracts this year, now he works for himself and I don’t.
Turns out I’m a bit challenged with simple directions, well… it’s not that I can’t, I just won’t.
What difference does it make if I’m off by an inch, or I like to read while I hold up the wood?
Apparently a lot, ‘cause I’ve been fired on the spot, more times than I’ll admit or probably should.
Still, I nearly perfected my tractor driving skills, but that went south when I got stuck in the muck,
And though Steve was real peachy about getting me out, I concede that my tractor skills suck.
Between bugging dear Aaron on how he feels day to day, and following drill husband around,
They both cried, “Get lost!” so I applied for a job, and now I work for a Law Firm in town.
And don’t tell a soul, but the “hold-this-up gal” finds her respite when she drives off
and work starts,
Steve cleans and he shops and renovates all day long, and that damn tractor can sit where it’s parked.
For fun we ride horses, Big Ozzie and Zeus and let me tell you I’ve learned a lesson this time,
As in life, here’s a hint, keep your butt in the saddle, straight and balanced, it will work out just fine.
I still write late at night or by dawn’s early light and if I’m lucky, I’ll read a book from page one,
Our lively life is chockfull but sublime, and I can prove it with a semi-happy husband and son.
Speaking of Aaron, he’s doing quite well, takes life by moments and that’s the mystery of Grace,
He’s not much for schedules, or sleeping, or crowds, but at the end of the day finds his place.
Indeed he’s been gifted with an eye for the “lens”, taking photos that he posts on the web,
And this Spring he looks forward to a School for the Arts, we might just be talking “celeb”.
He still loves Euro Soccer and gaming ‘til dawn, and if we’re lucky we see him each night,
My best part of each day is coming home to hear him say, “Hey Mom, I was thinking, I might…”
Without really knowing, he teaches us forward — without fear, or “why me” or fuss,
“Grace meets us wherever we are, but does not ever leave us where it found us.” LaMott
Our Sheri girl’s here, she flew in Christmas Eve, for ten days she’ll be home with the Zoo,
Cross Country from Redding, California that is, raving hair and her dad’s eyes of blue.
The gal is so busy working three jobs at once, we normally chat late at night using “Skype”,
But it’s some kind of fun when we write on the run, even better that we can sleep while we type.
Have you heard about Transformational Development Agency (TDA) or Dr. Ayoade Alakija, CEO?
You will now – ‘cause Sheri’s her EA this year – and they’re both tootin’ smart, don’t you know.
Check them out (http://www.tdaafrica.com) and all that they do, it’s extraordinary, real life-changing stuff,
In addition, she’s Admin for Bethel’s Healing Room, as though changing the world ain’t enough.
Croatia, Iowa, San Fran and L.A., the travel bug must be passed on in genes,
But the stories she’ll tell, to her babies one day, will be full of delight and great scenes!
In between trips she works behind cameras and crew, filming concerts or great speaking minds,
I pity the poor fellow who asks her out on a date, because quite frankly she doesn’t have time!
Ipak mi kurzirati svjetski dan na pronaći ljepota , mi morati prijenos sa nas ili mi nađi prema ne.
Charlottesville’s still home for Stephen and Shawna, although life’s changing at a pace beyond fast,
They sold their spec house on a wing and a prayer, in the midst of the real estate crash.
Some call it luck, but it was undeniably skill, and perseverance can beat odds any day,
Between school and two jobs and Kavella, the cute, they still manage to fit time in to play.
The future holds all kinds of new and unknown and believe me these two like to go,
Soon they’ll be surfing big waves in Hawaii, or boarding slopes in the deep Oregon snow.
Whatever they dream, I know they can do, it’s an extra blessing bestowed to our crew,
I pray 2010 is an easier year, full of favor and life dreams anew.
Don’t fall off your chair, I finally finished my book, I’m now in “edits” per the agent from hell (joking…Jae),
If my brain stays intact and those red marks turn black, I just might have a novel to sell!
Eight years, more or less, I’ve been birthing this thing, full of mystery, suspense and intrigue,
Don’t worry a bit, I’ve changed your names and events, it’s all hidden in elaborate word weave.
It’s all fiction, I swear, as does the “team” — the asylum of nuts in my mind,
Perhaps this time next year, if I’m not blacklisted or jailed, I’ll wrap it and send it out signed!
There you have it, my friends, the news of the Zoo… a few opinions thrown in on the sly,
If you need us, just call, we’ll be digging our bunker, so leave a message or just drop on by.
The sun’s coming up and the horses’ a-light, racing shadows across open land,
The pond reflects hints, such a glimmering sight, a few birds chirp to warm up their band.
Trees welcome the wind and dance to a tune I can hear if I just take the time…
And as much as I jest, heaven knows we are blessed, with these moments of life in ’09.
May this New Year Delight You daily.
With Love and Prayers for our troops and their families around the world.
Happy New Year
from the Bukowski Zoo
Norlina, NC 27563
To my politically sensitive, Liberal Friends :
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. On behalf of my greedy, capitalistic country, I apologize for all real or perceived injustices on any country and take full blame for foreign domestic problems in said countries. To do my part to save the planet, I will show solidarity with you and join your efforts for improving the atmosphere, saving water and saving trees by the following actions: holding my breath one minute each hour, refraining from bathing and eliminating all toilet paper usage.
To all the rest:
A belated Merry Christmas and a just in time Happy New Year
I began once again to dream about the future at 10:02 pm on a Friday night eleven months and 26 days after Steve died. I only know this because at the exact moment I entered the dark barn on our North Carolina farm that evening, a full moon reached in and illuminated only the hands on an old kitchen clock and the rusty nail it hung on.
Restless and angry at God, my intention was to pack boxes in the loft and organize every square inch of life for my children because I was not willing to live through another night. I no longer had time for time, but I did have whiskey, sleeping pills and a spotless house. Our kids were grown, strong and smart. Our dogs and horses and barn cats would love them through this. My papers were in order, our bills were paid off, Steve’s life insurance was in the bank and the only way I was going to see Steve again was to find him where he was. I’d work out the whole mortal sin thing with God once we were face to face and I’d had my say.
There are no words large enough to describe the arrogance and insanity of a grieving heart.
But that damn clock. The precise time hovered over me like a necessary memory I could not quite reach. The woman once known as Lynn would have paused, noticed, waited patiently for the message, or the memory. But I could not find that woman. Frustrated and empty, I stood on the dirt floor of a dark barn until Pretty Girl, our paint mare, sauntered up behind me and rested her big head on my shoulder. I nudged her away. She nickered, nosed her halter off its hook, dropped it on the ground at my feet and stared at me with big eyes.
Two years earlier I was bucked off a Palomino and broke four ribs. In half. I had not climbed onto a horse’s back since. She knew and I knew it, but her energy both softened and emboldened me. I slipped on her halter, made a loose rein from the lead rope and used the barn wall to climb up onto her bare back and fold myself around her.
We walked all seventeen acres of the farm that night, around the ponds, through the trees, past the solid fencing I helped Steve build. I don’t know the exact time I let go of the rains, but it was then that my heart beat wildly with memories, my hands rested on my thighs, my body gave in to the movement and all the feelings and dreams of the woman known as Lynn returned to my mind and my soul.
I still do not know why God waits until we’re on the edge. I do know his timing is impeccable and it is not my imagination that this beautiful horse, who came to us the year before with the name of “Teacher”, would pause at precise moments, stand perfectly still to let me cry, catch my breath and begin again to dream.
When my mother was a child she used to escape to her “rock in the sky” and dream. Usually about words. And if you’ve ever read her writing (www.gracebeyondgrace.com) you would understand how God poured His giant Yes all over that dream.
Fast forward a few decades and God is still pouring out His YES all over her dreams. These pics are part of her “Dream Board” she did maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Before we found this farm. Before we knew how things would go. Almost every picture on this has come true. We pulled out this dream board and realized how precise some of the photos were – from statues serving as “signs” to the pool surrounded by trees. We knew horses would be involved but certainly didn’t know we’d have a horse farm. Even the veg garden looks like this – wild and full. Most incredibly, there’s a photo (not shown) of some interior guest rooms that weren’t designed by us but incidentally ended up looking EXACTLY like the magazine cut out.
All this to say. DREAM. Dream with God. Make it plain on tablets. Poster boards will do. 🙂
And one more thing, guys, there’s a picture of zebras on this poster. Don’t ask why but the way things are going I’m pretty sure there’s a Zebra in our future. Just sayin’. ~Sheri Bukowski
“Close both eyes see with the other one. Then we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments our ceaseless withholding our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened and we find ourselves quite unexpectedly in a new expansive location in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.” ~Boyle
I’m sitting on the edge of the tub in my Mom’s perfect bathroom fighting the impulse to find a tube of red lipstick and write “Two and a half Thanksgivings” across the mirror like an “SOS” signal. I think if I use bold block letters you’ll see the reflection from Heaven and save me.
I hear my name echo through the house, “Lynn! Lynn-ey! Lynnette!”
“I’ll be out in a moment,” I say. My voice is gentle. No indication that I can hardly breathe through this ambush of emotion.
Mom is 87 this year. A still beautiful German woman who on the inside is full of love and vulnerabilities, but the persona she presents to the world is one of kind sternness. I still get a kick out of this. There are rules we follow and those rules cannot be broken: Stay on schedule, work hard, put your lipstick on and keep a happy face, do not talk about troubles and when something awful happens, get over it and move on.
The truth is I’ve moved on beautifully, with the exception of family gatherings and holidays, when I am reminded that I engage in conversations about everything with everyone. Worse yet, I write about it. I barely remember makeup, never mind lipstick, make up my own schedule as I go and maintain my position as the baby of the family by challenging every single family rule.
It matters not that I am a grown woman, the mother of grown children, blessed with the wisdom of years and the imagination of a child. In this house, I am separated by a generation – the “happy accident” – and the rebel girl who was lucky enough to marry the Navy SEAL who kept me somewhat tame.
Since you’ve been gone, all bets are off.
I feel your presence next to me, your arm folding around my waist, your lips on my forehead. You whisper, “You’ve got this, babe. I’m right here.”
I glance at the clean mirror and feel slightly relieved that I did not make a mess I’ll have to clean up because, clearly, you can hear my thoughts.
On the other side of the door – out there – amid dueling older sisters, quirky nieces and nephews, a proper Beverly Hills Auntie and diverse guests, I am about listening and love, and I am truly grateful for the characters in my life.
In here I am looking for a rabbit hole to go down into and compose myself. I do not want to break the rules and disappoint my sweet Mom by announcing aloud that I cannot bear one more whispered conversation about my moving on, or the nonchalant way a neighbor tells me about the single man who lives next to so-and-so who would be happy to take me on. I laugh at this. Am I a project now? They say it with true love, backtrack into compliments and segue into stories of Thanksgivings past and your perfect turkey.
I smiled when my niece told the story of our Thanksgiving on Sunset Beach in Oahu, about the tables we set up in the driveway so that twenty of your Team brothers could come and share a meal. We did bonfires on the beach and breakfast the next morning. It’s a great story and a great memory until she adds, “Mom was always jealous of you and Steve’s perfect Thanksgivings. Not so much anymore, though.”
The entire room took a collective breath and became perfectly quiet as though something sacred had fallen off a shelf and shattered. All eyes were on me. I imagined they were waiting for me to break too.
This was your holiday. They know it, I know it, and it will never be the same now that you’re gone.
My aunt adjusted her cashmere sweater, clutched her pearls and broke the uncomfortable silence with, “You know darling Lynn, perhaps you should go on a singles cruise to the Italian Riviera. You are still lovely and I’m sure someone will have you.”
I may have said, “Perhaps…” aloud just before I excused myself to powder my nose.
I have a distinct memory of being in Gaeta and hearing my Italian friends talk about their newly widowed friend like she was past tense. “She’ll get fat now and walk around with sad eyes. It’s such a shame.”
“Why would you say such a thing?” I asked.
“Because this is truth,” they answered, “a widow carries her sorrow and we cannot be with her anymore and risk that death infects our men and we lose them too.”
In Italy, I thought this was a ridiculous and damaging superstition and I told you so.
Here, on the edge of the tub, I imagine my “sorrow” as though it’s mercury. I want it to slide off of me down into the tub and down the drain so I can leave this room and reenter the crowd of characters with a grateful heart.
I lean into your energy, let it fill me with courage, and reach for your hand. “Come with me,” I say.
I feel your lips against my neck. You say, “You are whole again, full of light, wisdom, sincere discernment and divine love. Let them be who they are because you know who you are.”
I believe you.
But when my sister’s voice reaches under the door, “Lynn, Lynn-ey, Lynnette…Wait until you see the perfect turkey. It might be better than Steve’s!”
I get up, put on my lipstick and write on my heart… I miss you. Come back. Find me.
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….
We 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?”
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.”
Sheldon 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.
It 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 cannotstay 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.
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.
Written by Lynnette Bukowski’s daughter, Sheri Bukowski
My dad died three years ago today. Unexpectedly. He went missing on a bike ride and hours later, my mother was visited by two young Deputies who didn’t quite know what to do. So they handed her a sticky note with my dad’s name on it. Steve S. Bukowski, D.O.A. He’d collapsed from a massive coronary. It was the day after Father’s Day, the 21st; though the date now is sort of just a number. I didn’t get to talk to him on Father’s Day. He was taking a nap when I called, so I said I’d call again tomorrow. He didn’t pick up. He didn’t arrive to get my little brother, which were the scariest moments. Because if you knew my dad, you knew that he would crawl to you on broken hands and feet, over glass, blind, and somehow make it. Somehow let you know you’re okay, he’s okay, everything’s going to be okay. Things weren’t okay. Things pretty much sucked after that. By the Grace of God our family had people near or around us able to catch us as we one by one collapsed in shock. Literally, and figuratively.
I don’t know why I went into this long story. It wasn’t intentional. I guess I just sat down to say a little something in his memory and this is what came out. I guess I just saw this photo and started laughing. It’s more appropriate for me to drink champagne and dance on a tables, but God-forbid sit around and be sad. Cry a little, sure. Let the memory sink in and hurt a little, fine. Because I’m not some impermeable emotionless rock. But if he was standing in front of me right now he’d sure as hell not let me sit and feel sorry for myself.
My dad had a low tolerance for feeling sorry for anything. There was a sort of running joke in our family that if you were sick, you got 24 hours of sympathy and then you needed to get the “F” over it. There were other things to do. Not that he wasn’t compassionate, God knows he was, one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met. But he saw tragic and sorrow different than most of us do. So I’m dead, he would probably say. Alright fine. He would hug me and let me cry for a little bit. He would probably hand me some tissues, wipe the hair out of my eyes and kiss me on the forehead like he always did.
But the second my tears crossed the line into excuses, his eyes would have turned into blue fire and he’d be yelling at me. “Get your ass up! Get the Fuck over it and do something. Clean your room for God’s sake. There are worse things to cry about. There are babies who don’t have parents, there are children who don’t have food in their cupboards. There are grown ups who need families, make some dinner. There’s a little kid down the street who’s been dreaming of an Xbox. Go buy him one. Make him smile. There’s a little girl who’s never been on a pony. Do something about it.”
I can still see his crystal blue eyes turning into fire and I can hear his voice. “Do whatever you can to make sure they have what they need. And when they have what they need, do whatever you can to make their dreams come true. At the very least I did that for you, because I sure as hell didn’t raise you to sit around and cry.”