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. All adults – not just parents – must protect and save our children. 

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 The Water Keeper, a brilliant and moving novel by Charles Martin about grace and redemption for achingly real characters pulled into the dark and dangerous world of modern-day slavery. Trafficking.

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
© 2021 All Rights as Revised

Sharing Strength

Many of us have never lived through such uncertain times as we are living right now, but as I listen to my 95 year old Mother tell stories of the life during the Great Depression and World War II, it occurs to me that this tenuous time will also one day be history. We’ll tell our grandchildren about the pandemic of 2020 and how, though uncertain of the unknown, we held fast to our faith and pulled together as families and neighbors and communities to help one another. 

I wrote this years ago, but the lesson is timeless. 

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 and fear as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my parent, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

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 had just turned 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

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.” ~L. Bukowski

Lynnette Bukowski ©2012 All Rights Reserved

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

My Side of Heaven

Even in my dreams you take my hand and lead me to places where words tumble from a secret place.

You decorate and dazzle me with brilliant color and velvet texture. Falling leaves I can feel under my bare feet.

I am standing in the middle of my favorite Autumn and you know this.

“They don’t crinkle,” I say, and you ease me down until we’re lying next to each other in a blanket of color.

You gather bunches and crush them gently in the air. I smile at the crisp, cool sound and watch you carefully as you roll sideways, balance on your arm, and smile down at me,

“Tell me where you’ve been, love.”

I think of all the lost roads, and empty eyes,

of the long flights and dark corners,

and lonely rooms,

of all the change and turns into

places where things fall away, and fall apart,

and the hallways where coming undone and being uncovered

break hearts and shatter dreams

 of all the paths I’ve taken to live in faith

 how I’ve been lost in the heavy work and sorrow,

and witness

to all the pain

and to the healing that comes with surrender,

and I wonder about forgiveness, for they know not what they do

and how to give away

The joy you fill me with each day

on my side of Heaven,

and you hear this even though I don’t speak a word until I say,

“I’ve been letting go of heavy things

and I’ve been healing

spirits here and there.

Sometimes my own, sometimes another.

and tending to souls, and listening to hearts,

I can hear unspoken fears

and I address my own

and I’ve finally begun to exhale, and to breath in, and I’m learning

how to let go of so many heavy things.

But mostly…

I’ve been on my way here.

 

 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2019

Love Never Fails

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.

#LoveNeverFails #BelieveInLove

L.J. Bukowski, All Rights Reserved © 2018

Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 2Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 3Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 1

Let Go of the Reins

dream-board-1

Actual Dream Board – 2013

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.

I just had to let go of the reins.

 

Lynnette Bukowski ©2016 – All Rights Reserved

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

sheri-dream-board-photo

Helpless

Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

“You have the power to heal yourself, and you need to know that.  We think so often that we are helpless, but we’re not. We always have the power of our minds. Use your power.” ~Hay

I close my eyes at the exact moment the wheels of the plane leave the runway and let the tremendous roar and rush of power hold me against the seat. One long moment of intense anticipation that feels like us. I like it here, suspended and helpless.

It feels like our last Sunday morning.

From my place on the bed, I narrow my focus and let the bathroom doorway frame you like an object d’art. I watch you shave, content with my coffee and imagination; a story waiting to find its way to the journal on my lap.

I ask, “What does a person feel right before they surrender?”

You angle your head, pull the razor up one side of your cheek, rinse the blade and speak to the mirror, “Helpless.”

“Yes, but what does helpless feel like?”

“Wouldn’t know. Never been.”

I wait for you to finish your morning ritual before I slip off the bed, enter your kingdom and prove you wrong.

Research for a story I may never finish.

Over breakfast that morning we discussed in finite detail the difference between submitting to a lovely helplessness and feeling brutally helpless and while I try to recall our exact words, this memory leaps into another:

I’m hanging from the top edge of four-story scaffolding with hands slick from spattered paint; frozen with fear. You yell up at me, amused, “You climbed up there like a sexy cat. What’s the problem?” When I don’t answer and can’t catch my breath, your voice drops an octave, “Don’t look, just feel… hand grip, find your footing… that’s it…” I make it one story down before I slip and grab wildly and cry out. My heart beats so rapidly I think it’s moving the steel frame, but the vibration is you climbing up behind me, covering me, “Put your hand here, now here, I’ve got you, footing, again…” and your voice changes – striking and intense – Always consider your options, Lynn… you are never helpless.

View from a plane Right now I am strapped to a seat in a passenger jet with a hundred other souls and what remains of your beautiful body rests on my lap in a wooden box. I cannot fly the plane and I cannot bring you back. Screw my options. If I die in a plane crash, you damn well better be there to greet me and if I don’t die, I’ll continue to long for the day. Of course just thinking such a thought makes me feel badly about killing all the other passengers and my flash of anger deflates into a prayer for you and God to keep us safe.

I wonder now if you sit next to Jesus, boss saints around and discuss options.

I loved flying with you. Always in the aisle seat, you sat like you were ready to pounce. I was content to watch people and whisper their lives in your ear. “The man across the aisle at the window seat clutching his hat. There’s a photo taped inside. It’s a child. He’s rigid with fear; hates his job, hates flying, but the photo anchors him. Loves his family, though, so he’ll keep doing both…” You elbow me gently; flip through the pages of your magazine. I lean closer and whisper, “The young woman three seats up, fidgeting, in the too short dress and the well-worn heels? She’s eyeing the man on the aisle across from her. Watch… she’ll bump his shoulder with her hip when she stands; smile shyly. He’ll get up and follow her.

“Shush…” you say. But when the woman stands and pretends to lose her balance, you close your magazine and watch. And when the man follows moments later, you turn to me with exaggerated scorn and say, “You scare me…”

I know.

My intuition was our secret.

When the lights blink on and the chatter begins and the world levels out, I am disappointed beyond reason.

Living constantly requires my attendance.

I always choose a window seat now. I still see stories in people, but there’s no one to tell, so I turn my head away. Perhaps when we lose the one person our secret is safe with, the secret dies too.

“Are you okay?”

The shoulders of the man next to me are too wide to fit properly in the seat. He smells of Clive Christian, has dark thoughtful eyes, and looks remarkably like an older version of Jeff, which astounds me.

I try not to stare, but the resemblance is uncanny. I manage to answer, “Yes, thank you…” while my mind slips to a last memory of young Jeff.

His eyes crystalize with pain, his hands tremble against my forearms; his voice pleads with me, “I… goddammit, I don’t know what to do. Please…”

You lean against the hospital wall a few feet away with folded arms and tired eyes. The twenty-hour fight with Command to bring this young man back to the island from training is over; the battle won, but you still stand sentry.

I had no idea what to say or do, so I say the first words that come to me, “You love each other through this. That’s what you do.” He nodded tersely and slowly released his grip on my arms. Just before he entered the room to be with his laboring wife and their soon to be still-born infant, he turned to me and said, “God help me.”

I say, “He will.” I think, Brutally helpless.

I am still in this thought when the man leans in. I flinch. He attempts to move away, but there is only so much room.

I have this thing now about physical boundaries. I don’t like people getting too close to me. I know it’s hurtful – even to complete strangers – but I think death does this to the living. Touch is too loud and sounds are too fast and I cannot seem to find my bearings.

“You’re crying,” he says.

“Am I?” I reach up and touch my face, genuinely surprised to find moisture.

Slowly, he holds out an offering – a folded white handkerchief in the palm of his hand. I find this charming and old fashioned, but I make no attempt to take it. “Please…” he says.

I take the handkerchief and touch it to my cheeks. I know he wants to engage me in conversation; I can feel it. His energy is gentle and I could easily offer so many simple reasons for tears, but I am suspended between a memory of our last and lovely Sunday morning and a young man’s broken soul. Both are far too intimate to share, so I whisper, “Thank you…” and lower my gaze.

With both hands I grip the plain wooden box on my lap so tightly my knuckles turn Wooden box 1 BWwhite and looking at them oddly reminds me of Crystal’s delicate hands clutching the sides of the hospital gurney.

“Relax your grip, honey, you’re safe.” I whisper.

“But I’m falling off the edge of the world…” she says.

I’m staring at my own hands when I realize I’ve placed the man’s wet handkerchief against the box under my naked fingers; a barrier between you and me. I know it’s a ridiculous notion, I know it’s a box, I know these are ashes. In some closet in my mind, though, I’ve put a stranger between us and it is as real to me as your death. He watches as I brush the handkerchief quickly onto my knee. The act feels rude and unkind, but I don’t have the breath to apologize. I need to close my eyes; concentrate through the rising panic and as I do, I notice – perhaps for the first time – how excruciatingly painful it is to have a broken heart.

I’m falling off the edge of the world.

Softly, he says, “I used to be afraid of flying.”

I shake my head no, stare out the window, and grip the box so firmly my hands shake.

I’m not sure why or what I’m holding on to so tightly, but I sense it’s a last and final thread and when it breaks, I need to be ready for impact.

Going numb is a practiced skill. It began the morning after you left and I welcome it now like a new friend. I named it grief and asked it to stay around and come in full force when I need it. I’ve decided I need to stay clear of undiluted joy and sorrow, so numb is my easy. Besides, I don’t think grief is sadness. Sadness has a shelf life; grief endures.

“Precious cargo?” he asks.

“My husband,” I answer. My tone is monochrome, as though you’re waiting for me in First Class. Numb is my easy.

There is an awkward moment of silence before he says, “I’m so terribly sorry.”

I don’t know how or if I respond because my memory is jolted back to Tripler Medical Center and Crystal lying perfectly still on a sterile hospital gurney that seems too short for her tall frame. She is seven months pregnant and looks impossibly young. The infant she carries is no longer living, but the doctors must induce labor and she must give birth. To a dead child. It is an impossibly cruel ending to a precious gift.

She is on her back staring at the blemished square tiles of the ceiling and each time she blinks into the florescent light, silent tears leak down the sides of her face. Any words of comfort I have do not leave my lips. They are flat and empty against the enormity of such anguish.  She has held this devastating truth for twenty-four hours waiting for her husband to arrive and with every third breath she turns her head to find me and whispers, “I’m so terribly sorry.”

She is sorry she called on us in the middle of the night. She is sorry we’ve never met before. She is sorry she walked so far three days ago. She is sorry she cried herself to sleep. She is sorry she fought with Jeff on the phone the other night. She is sorry she cannot make friends easily with other wives. She is sorry for staying so long in the sun, wanting to work, leaving the bathroom a mess. She is sorry for crying; for being so weak and helpless.

Dear God, I pray, give me soothing words… No words come. Instead, I turn the light off, place a cool washcloth on her forehead and hold my hand against her cheek to catch her tears. It is the only comfort I can give.

There is a long while when the only sounds in the room are hospital monitors and room ventilation; lonely clicks and rushes of air that seem flippant and vulgar.

When she sighs heavily the sound echoes around the room. I hold my breath.

“Do you believe in Jesus?” she asks.

“I do.”

“Is He here?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Holding your baby,” I say, and I am blinded by my own silent tears.

A moment later the hospital room door cracks open and a sliver of light shines over your head as you motion me out to the hallway to meet Jeff.

I still see the light when I open my eyes. The flight attendant’s voice instructing us to prepare for landing seems far away, but I let the practiced words lull me back to the present. I ask the kind man next to me for his address so I can launder and mail his handkerchief back to him.

“Keep it please,” he says, “Perhaps we’ll meet again in our travels.” He looks at me thoughtfully for a long moment, hands me a business card and adds, “I am so sorry and I hope I’m not being too forward, but if you ever need anything, call me. Please consider that an option.”

You know me so well. Of course I need to be reminded of mortality, but not too harshly and with frequent breaks for frivolous distraction. So you send vivid memories that make me believe you must be holding that child in Heaven and plant complete strangers to carry your messages.

I am never helpless.

I nod at the man and attempt a smile. I cannot speak because I have no language for what really happens between you and me now. I can only be a faithful witness.

Hug from behind 2 BWWhen the plane lands, the roar of the engines engulfs me, much like one of your hugs; from behind, as though you’ve taken a quick break from eternity while I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes or sitting at my desk drowning in words. You must know I want that hug… with your lips pressed against my temple to let me know I am safe.

Kiss me now, please. Then you can get back to your Heaven.

*****

Lynnette Bukowski ©2015  August.  All rights reserved.

In Loving Memory – Extortion 17 Commemorative Cuff

In Loving Memory – Extortion 17 Commemorative Cuff designed by LZ-Grace.

April 2 2015 Extortion 17 Cuff

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

To ORDER, please visit the donation page at www.lz-grace.com 

Direct link: https://secure.qgiv.com/for/lzgll/

Each cuff is hand crafted and made of quality silver and gold plate.

Size: 7” x 11/2”

Cost: $145.00

100% of the proceeds will help to grow LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace), a place of respite and renewal for our Special Operation Warriors (from all branches) returning from combat.

LZ-Grace is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation. All donations are tax deductible.

In Loving Memory of Those Who Are Forever Present in Our Lives

Honor, Live and Never Forget

Landing zone flagTo our First Responders across this great land, the many souls who have died as innocent civilians and brave Warriors since September 11, 2001, the families and friends who to this day miss and love, and to our living Warriors who continue daily to keep America safe,

LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat honors you today and each day.

We will Never Forget.

My heartfelt gratitude and special thanks to:

Our local Fire and Rescue Captain and Firemen;

John “Jack” Dye, NREMT-B, EMT Scott, and Maria Rataiczak for honoring us with your presence;

Loretta Morrison on bagpipes and the beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace;

Diane Van Campen for organizing and proving nourishment to all;

Sherry Van Campen, Toni Donlinar, Kristine Mynes, and Aaron Bukowski  for working so hard to prepare LZ-Grace for this solemn and beautiful day;

to an unnamed and loved individual for wisdom, magic and guidance;

and to Nancy Watters, for filming, editing and producing a brilliant video on a moment’s notice.

Rainy Morning Letters – Moon Dance in Baguio (revisited)

It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all. ~William Jones

Late at night we gossip about small events and the largeness of life. The darkness softens and I am nearly asleep when I remember one last thing I want to tell you. You know this about me. How my thoughts swirl and settle until they are ready for my voice. My final sigh, just before words, is always your cue to reach for me and hush me with a kiss.

“Tell me tomorrow,” you say.

Just before dawn you pull me around you and love me awake and whisper, Tell me now, and of course I can’t remember what I was going to say… seven long years ago.

I burrow under the guilt and try so hard to remember my one final thought and that one final day. The way the corners of your mouth turned up waiting to hear my thoughts, the way your beard scratched my skin, the way you moved in just the right way so I fit like a perfect puzzle piece against you and where that beautiful thought takes me is back to the beginning.

WhiteFeather LBJ MoondanceI’m on stage looking into lights so bright they blind me. I wait for the thrill to kick in, the adrenaline rush, and the wave that fills my lungs and lets my voice rise. I’m edgy tonight and the lyrics I need feel trapped in my throat. The bass vibrates through my bones as the opening bars to Van Morrison’s Moondance backdrops the club owner’s introduction. I hear, “Welcome Whitefeather…” and the drum brush strokes soften the bass and the piano chords kick in and it’s time to let go.  I grip the microphone with both hands, breathe deeply and sing, Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…. And there you are front and center – blue eyes blazing – with the stars up above in your eyes… I stare at you and sing with my eyes open and you seem to wait for the lyrics, You know the night’s magic, seems to whisper… and hush… before you ask me to dance.

In the middle of my song.

Because you already knew I’d say yes.

The audience thought it was part of the show, the band thought it was kick-ass, and you… well, you were always the master of calculated risk. You still are. You step into my space and back into Heaven as though you’re simply leaving for work.

I hope I can fully learn how to live in both worlds.

In this world the dawn pulls at me and I lie very still and wonder aloud, “Don’t you think that two souls connected must take turns being alive? You know, like pearl divers do. Whoever is on the surface must count the air time left so the one below can dive freely.”

I so often feel the tug on the line these days. Are you counting my breaths?

When the dogs coax me awake, I get up and wander through the house toward the scent of brewing coffee and in the dark, I trip over a pile of photographs waiting to be packed. I flip the light on and the two photos I find under my bare foot make me know without doubt you are still very much alive – somewhere – calling the shots. One is of me, posing for a band shot and the other is a distant shot of your antics on the way to our platoon honeymoon in Baguio.

I have no idea who said, I take nothing for granted now. A photograph is as precious as the moment it became a detail, but they are lovely words and poignantly true. I place the photos on the table, pour coffee and take the dogs out into the dawn.

Somehow, through your magic, I look over and you are dangling off the top of a giant Lion’s head carved into rock on the way to Baguio in the Philippines. You grip a piece of the carved mane with one hand, reach out to me with your other hand and say, “Don’t close your eyes.”

I close my eyes and wonder how I let you talk me into this.  Steve Baguio

While the platoon yells encouragement from twenty feet below, I worry about how I look in these jeans and, of course, falling to my death, and I shout at all of them to close their eyes and get back on the bus. Of course they ignore me and stay where they are; ready to catch both of us if we fall.

I reach across to you and hold on with both hands.

Lynn Baguio

 

I find a foothold and then another and you lower me slowly into the waiting arms of your Brothers. You follow me down and when you reach for me a cheer goes up. Your grin and their antics let me know what kind of honeymoon I’m in for and you whisper just to me, Never be afraid to live on the edge, babe, I’ve got you.

I wonder now if you knew then I would never be tied in and to do this alone I’d have to live on faith and grip life with both hands.

In this dawn, the weight of you gone is so heavy. Grace is the only hold I can find.

Inside, I leave the lights off and sit cross-legged in the center of the floor surrounded by half-packed boxes. I try to imagine how I will make sure with this final move that your tenderness and presence of strength is gently moved and firmly planted at Grace. What size box do I use for living dreams and night whispers and favorite songs?

Steve LZGRACEI touch one photo and then another and God says, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved. And I begin to understand that I am the container, my heart is the wrapping, and nothing will fade if I keep all of this within me.

There is nothing left to do but keep dancing. And by dancing I mean living. And by living I mean step by tiny step. I know this much is true now: we do not become all of who we are until we’re forced into it. Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure,” which suits me these days, but I believe he meant it as a strength that rises up when we’re faced with a larger than life challenge.

This is mine: taking your impromptu visits, our memories and our dream and using them all to step into my future.

I’ve got this with both hands and enough of you in me and around me to love whatever gets in my way until it ceases to be an obstacle.

What a marvelous night for a Moondance… 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

June 2017 update: It has been three years since I woke in the wee hours from this dream and each day that followed has been a whirlwind of miracles, generous hearts, and tremendous hands-on help from family and Steve’s “Brothers”.  I’ve met brilliant new life long friends and united with old friends who, as I do, care deeply about our Warriors finding a bit of peace in the midst of 16 years of war.  Through God’s Grace, since March 2015, 383 souls have graced this land. Never doubt  that miracles are real. With Steve’s spirit urging me on, I will continue to grow and hold dear, this sacred place of rest and renewal.

To learn more about LZ-Grace, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com. Thank you for your prayers. 

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One Red Maple (by Sheri Bukowski)

Red MapleYears ago my parents moved to the country and bought a little farm. 17 acres…trails…ponds…horses… grass.
It was a place of respite, a place my father found peace during and after 32 years of military service. He went to work remodeling, building, designing and mowing, all with the dream in mind of having his Brothers (his team guys) and their families come WHENEVER they wanted simply to rest from the world. When he went to plant the beds in front of the house he decided he wanted a huge red maple but there were none anywhere. My parents drove hours and hours looking for a nursery for this ONE baby red maple to grow in the front yard.

When he died- leaving piles of wood, flooring, his brand new jumping horse and a thousand little dreams unfinished – my mom and I would look at that tree and laugh. “At least he got to plant the damn tree.”

Nearly four years have gone by and the vision to build a retreat for our Brothers in service grew in my mother’s heart. And it grew and it grew, and things started to happen. We found a property further south and looked at it- it was gorgeous and out front was a statue of St. Francis. The plantation wasn’t available yet but we knew St. Francis was a sign. He was once a warrior who devoted his life to the service of his brothers. Who found rest and Peace, and God … outdoors, in nature, protecting every living thing.

Two years went by and with the statistic of 24 Veteran suicides a day, we were feeling the weight of this need. When we LEAST expected it, we happened upon a property that fit EVERY SINGLE NEED we had for this vision. It had been reduced from $2.1 Million to $995,000. Already it looked promising and as we toured the 35 acres of gorgeous oak, pine, ornamental pear trees, standing at the end of the line, as if leading an army, was this one red maple tree. About the size my dad’s tree would have been if he were alive. The only one in sight. The only one in over 38 acres around us and we knew.
We just knew.
From that point every single corner we turned was another sign – even a woodworking room with lumber ready for rebuilding- as if he picked up the pile from our old house and dropped it off at the new place just so we felt at home.

Oh yes, and there in the back of the property, hidden in clover, looking at the muck of our back bay, a small statue of St. Francis looked on, minus an arm and with a gape in his core. It was a grotesque coincidence, that our dream was to help veterans regroup and regain life after 13 years at war and here was this man, a veteran warrior, with a hole in his heart, just needing a hand. St Francis

I started to weep.

We simply could not afford this on our own. We called family, our friends called friends and long story short – between an amazing guy in Beverly Hills, a Brother Frogman and world renowned star,  and a few other divinely set-up people, within DAYS our offer was on the table and ACCEPTED.

Within hours we had $100,000 for our deposit and the contract was signed but there was one more condition – we come up with $90,000 more to put down not because they were trying to deter us but simply because of regulations. So – here we are – 10 days from closing and we are in need of oh you know, just an extra 100K.

We believe this is supposed to happen and we have no idea how. It’s brought a community of people together already which I believe is a miracle in itself, but we need more. So friends, please pray. Please share with those who have a heart for our Veterans, and for this dream. Please give if that’s what you can do. And if you have insight, vision, thoughts, ideas, let us know! It’s just the beginning and we need all the chutzpah we can get.

#LZGrace #OneRedMaple #Wehealtheliving

Please donate here: http://www.gofundme.com/91nmbk

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Sheri L. Bukowski © All rights reserved