Life's Marvels: Unexpected Moments

I am happy to say that I celebrated my 40th birthday two days ago.  I awaited it eagerly and when I awoke that morning, I exclaimed, "I made it! I made it to 40!" I never thought it would mean as much as it did, but it does, just as each morning is a celebration of life and a blessed celebration all its own.

I don't know what to expect anymore. Each day is different and sometimes, the most magical of things come to pass without any warning. Had a day like this recently and I was reminded by it the night of my birthday when CJ (the individual I talk about below) texted me to wish me a Happy Birthday. I was taken aback by that text for reasons that are too long to explain here.

But what I would like to explain today is how CJ entered my life two weeks ago. One of my best friends, an animation editor who works in Burbank, CA, asked me recently if I'd be willing to help a friend of his with a grant.

Why did he reach out to me with this request? Well, for starters, he knows me. He's known me since our teenage years. He knows that I've used my writing abilities over the last fifteen years to write a net sum of $500,000 worth of grants for various schools and projects. This  money has been used to create two playground structures, numerous murals, reading/writing programs, intervention programs, technology, and reading nooks/gardens. I thrive when serving others.

My response?

"Anything for you, my dear! Introduce us digitally and we'll see what comes of it."

One thing led to another, he passed on my e-mail, she e-mailed, and we scheduled a phone conference soon after. CJ, or so I will call her, seemed enthusiastic over the phone. We chatted about my grant writing experience and her desire to obtain an animation finishing grant.

I needed to know more, I said. "Why exactly do you need a grant? What is the project you are working on?"

Her response, "When I was at USC, I started working on a short animation film for my thesis that I didn't quite finish and I need to. It's become more than just an assignmnet."

"What is it about exactly? Why the desire to finish?" I asked.

Her response lit a flame in my heart, "Well, in October of 2012, I visited Poet Laureate Donald Hall in New Hampshire to talk to him about his poem, "A Letter in Autumn," which explores his life after his wife (Jane Kenyon) passed of cancer. His mind was clouded with memories of their past as he struggled to live in the present and well..."

She had me at "cancer."

I wondered if she knew, whether my BFF had told her about the seven months of hell that I'd just endured, of the fear that my husband would walk the same path Donald Hall did, while carrying our two sons on his shoulders.  As she spoke, I grabbed my laptop and googled the name. I discovered that the Librarian of Congress had appointed Donald Hall as the 14th Poet Laureate in 2006. I discovered that both he and his wife were poets and that he was 81 years old. I  found the poem CJ had mentioned and started to read it while CJ spoke of all of Donald's accomplishments.
I tried to hold a conversation, while blinking back tears as I read the following words...

Letter in Autumn

Poem: "Letter in Autumn" by Donald Hall, from Without. © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.

Letter in Autumn

This first October of your death
I sit in my blue chair
looking out at late afternoon's
western light suffusing
its goldenrod yellow over
the barn's unpainted boards—
here where I sat each fall
watching you pull your summer's
garden up.

I cleaned out your Saab
to sell it. The dozen tapes
I mailed to Caroline.
I collected hairpins and hair ties.
In the Hill's Balsam tin
Where you kept silver for tolls
I found your collection
of slips from fortune cookies:

As I slept last night:
You leap from our compartment
in an underground railroad yard
and I follow; behind us the train
clatters and sways; I turn
and turn again to see you tugging
at a gold bugle welded
to a freight car; then you vanish
into the pitchy clanking dark.

Here I sit in my blue chair
not exactly watching Seattle
beat Denver in the Kingdome.
Last autumn above Pill Hill
we looked from the eleventh floor
down at Puget Sound,
at Seattle's skyline,
and at the Kingdome scaffolded
for repair. From your armature
of tubes, you asked, "Perkins,
am I going to live?"

     When you died
in April, baseball took up
its cadences again
under the indoor ballpark's
patched and recovered ceiling.
You would have admired
the Mariners, still hanging on
in October, like blue asters
surviving frost.

when I start to cry,
I wave it off: "I just
did that." When Andrew
wearing a dark suit and necktie
telephones from his desk,
he cannot keep from crying.
When Philippa weeps,
Allison at seven announces,
"The river is flowing."
Gus no longer searches for you,
but when Alice or Joyce comes calling
he dances and sings. He brings us
one of your white slippers
from the bedroom.

     I cannot discard
your jeans or lotions or T-shirts.
I cannot disturb your tumbles
of scarves and floppy hats.
Lost unfinished things remain
on your desk, in your purse
or Shaker basket. Under a cushion
I discover your silver thimble.
Today when the telephone rang
I thought it was you.

At night when I go to bed
Gus drowses on the floor beside me.
I sleep where we lived and died
in the painted Victorian bed
under the tiny lights
you strung on the headboard
when you brought me home
from the hospital four years ago.
The lights still burned last April
early on a Saturday morning
while you died.

     At your grave
I find tribute: chrysanthemums,
cosmos, a pumpkin, and a poem
by a woman who "never knew you"
who asks, "Can you hear me Jane?"
there is an apple and a heart—
shaped pebble.

     Looking south
from your stone, I gaze at the file
of eight enormous sugar maples
that rage and flare in dark noon,
the air grainy with mist
like the rain of Seattle's winter.
The trees go on burning
Without ravage of loss or disorder.
I wish you were that birch
rising from the clump behind you,
and I the gray oak alongside.

When I was done, I stopped her, "CJ, did you know that I had cancer?"


"I will do everything in my power to help you with this. I can read over the grant and polish it up, I can check out the grant guidelines and give you pointers, I can... well, um, I can do whatever you need to make this happen."

I think she was taken a bit aback, by my revelation. Like lepercy, people don't just walk around telling others that they've just battled cancer for months.  But I have no shame and wear my crown proudly.

Her excitement in turn inspired me to continue on this path I've been asked to walk, to help others, to share both pain and laughter, to inspire others to fight their own battles.

I can't help but marvel at how extraordinary this life is, bringing CJ and me together, two different people, from different walks of life, with a common cause-sharing the stories surrounding this silent killer and giving it a voice.  I'm proud to say CJ has found a grant to write that would transform her dream into a reality and I am honored and humbled to walk this path with her. If you would like more information about her project, you can check out her progress via the following blog.

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Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

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