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I was headed to the stands to find my seat for finals when a mom stopped me. She noticed my shirt with the name of our club on the front. Her family was moving to Washington metro area and they were looking for a swim team. Her kid, like mine, was a serious swimmer—having worked hard to make it to this National Age Group Champ meet. She had noticed our team. She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching?”

This is a special meet. Not only is it Max’s first national level competition, but, it is his last meet as a “junior” level swimmer. When this one last race is over, he will transition from his current coaches to a senior level coach. This is his last dance with them.

Max has worked with these 2 men for almost 4 years. He has spent thousands of grinding hours (many of them before 8am) doing endless laps while they stood over the lane with a watch, countless minutes standing together after a race with a clipboard between them. Max and I did the math one night coming home from practice—With 6 multi-hour practices a week, and a year round meet schedule, over the last 4 years he has spent more waking hours with these men than any other adult except me.

Over the last 4 years they have guided him as an athlete, helping him make huge strides in his stroke, stamina and mental game. He transitioned from a kid who liked to swim into a serious athlete. But something else happened. Because in the years between 10 and 14 Max also transitioned from a little boy into a young man. And when you are making that kind of transition the people you spend time with matter.

Stepping back and reflecting on Max’s time with his swim team, and the man he is becoming it occurs to me that Max learned something more than butterfly and backstroke from his coaches. He has learned the building blocks of character and strength. He has learned something about becoming a man.

Show up. Day in. Day out. Ready to work—and usually 15-20 minutes early. Max learned that men show up when they are tired. They show up when they are bored. They show up even if they have a better offer. They show up at 4:45 am, 6am, right after a long hard day of school. They even show up on holidays. Men show up.
Set goals. Hard goals. Reach for the sky goals. Impossible goals. Then break down those goals and chip away at them.
Fail. Sometimes epically. Of course not on purpose but accept it will happen. Failure is a part of reaching for the goals. But failure is never the end of the story. There is always a lesson to be drawn, and another race. Each time you get up on the blocks is a time to try again. Even if you never hit the mark, something good (and even unexpected) emerges along the way.
Be flexible. When something isn’t working, get feedback. Ask for advice. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Make tweaks. Try something new. Don’t give up. Figure it out.
Endure. Whether it is through a long hard set, a meet when every race falls apart, a month long slump or a personal hardship that rips the heart right out, strong people keep going, keep reaching for the wall. Breath by breath, day by day. If you can persist, eventually it all works itself out—often for the best.
Love what you do. It’s all an adventure –enjoy the whole ride. Get excited. Be passionate. Have fun. Be a little silly. Celebrate your successes. And when all else fails laugh.
Believe. Trust that everyone you work with will rise the occasion and met their goals. Remind them gently (and sometimes not so gently) when they have stopped working hard, but as long as they are working, trust the process.

She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching? Coaching matters.”

I looked over at my son. He was talking to his coach, getting ready to warm up. I saw how poised and confident he seemed and I knew that it was in part thanks to the example set by these men. “Yes,” I said. “It really does. It matters more than you could possibly know.”

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    The leaves believe such letting go is love
    Such love is faith
    Such faith is grace
    Such grace is god
    I agree with the leaves
    –Lucille Clifton

It is All Souls Day/el Dia de los Muertos/the Day of the Dead. My Mexican in-laws taught me a lot about this holiday the year I married. Juan and I spent a month in Oaxaca and for many years would travel there this time. I was blown away by the beauty of the holiday and the sweet relief of coming together as a community to grieve those we miss and to laugh and celebrate their lives. We built altars (called “ofrendas”) piled high with flowers, favorite foods and pictures, decorated graves, danced and sang, laughed and cried and held each other remembering with the same sweet sorrow the old folks who had died years ago and the little baby who had died just earlier that year. That was the year I learned that letting go does not mean forgetting. I learned that in fact, remembrance was the only way to let go.

It’s raining as I write this. The kind of cold howling windy rain that rattles the windows. There is no longer any doubt that we moving from the bright days of summer, through the awe-inspiring golden fall into the quiet dark days of winter. While I welcome the gifts of this quiet time of year (I love to wrap up in blankets with my book in front of the fire) if we are honest we see that his transition requires a lot of letting go.

You can see it outside in nature, the trees are letting go of their leaves. Birds are letting go of their homes and flying south, perennials are dying back. Outside so much of the natural world is dying or leaving or retreating. With less light the animals are less active. Everything is slowing down and getting down to the bare essentials. The light is quickly disappearing. I can understand why so many traditional cultures choose this time to collectively grieve and to practice letting go.

We modern humans are not so practiced with letting go and in fact, we resist it. At the day to day level, we resist letting go of activity and the hum of daylight and summer. We use electric light to keep going as though we have eternal sunshine. We also struggle with the bigger losses. When facing death, divorce, the loss of a job, or even the loss of the way we had hoped things would turn out, we often feel pressured to move on with it, to “get over it” and get back to the business of being happy and/or productive. Its as though we have no space for our grief as though it can’t exist side by side with the movement of life.

When you think about it though, its crazy because even the happiest and most joyous transitions in life involve some loss. My recent graduation from school has been exciting & wonderful. And yet graduating meant separating myself from a community that I love deeply and value greatly How many new parents grieve the loss of their old freedom and spontaneity(and sleep) in silence and shame because the world expects them to be nothing but overjoyed with their new lot in life.?

We grieve because something precious, something we valued has passed or transformed. Its as natural as breathing. Grief can exist side by side with joy, but too often, we barely give it its due, so anxious we are to move on and just feel the joy.

So afraid of being swallowed up with sadness we stuff it down. Sometimes it stays buried but sometimes the grief is so big and we have no way to navigate it. It overwhelms us and we feel stuck and drowning in a wave that never breaks over us.

What happens to grief that is unprocessed? It gets stuck in our body and creates illness. The Chinese medical classics tell us that unresolved grief is one of the major causes of disease. It damages the Lungs and sinks or consumes our qi. It impacts other parts of our system too—creating blockages and taxing our ability to make energy. Sometimes we can be caught in a cycle of low-grade funkiness, and exhaustion or life loses its zest and everything feels flat.

So many traditional cultures understand that we need practices to help move our grief. We too can adopt some of those practices to help us more smoothly navigate life.

In the face of losses, big and small we can:

    Give ourselves the space and permission to feel what we feel. We need to treat ourselves kindly and gently. I used to think that cultures that required mourning family members to wear black for a year were repressive. Then I learned the color was not meant to isolate but to help signal to the community that a little extra kindness was required. Wearing black said, “I’m working through a loss and need a little space.” No questions asked, no explanations needed. Just be kind—not for a day or 10 days but for a year or for however long is needed. Can we give ourselves the space and permission to work through our losses without predetermined timelines and expectations that “I should be over this by now”

    Acknowledge the value of that which we lost and discover the pieces that we can hold onto—the “gems”. I was mired in grief after my divorce. In an effort to help me, my friends and family reminded me often that “I was better off without him” and tried to help me forget him. And despite their good intentions, from that mindset, no matter how much I tried to move on, I was stuck in anger and sadness. Then I found a new practice to help me move through the grief. For weeks every night I made lists of everything I valued about Juan and what our marriage had given me. Some of those things were gone, but others stayed with me—my amazing son, my new appreciation of spicy food, my love of Mexican art, an exploration of the Divine Feminine,, my home. Finding the gems allowed me to acknowledge what my heart knew—something precious (our partnership) had passed–and then to see that not all was gone. Through remembrance, I was able to focus on that which remained with me–permanently mine.

    Create rituals of remembrance. As one of my teachers says, working through grief is not a “one walk dog”. We often feel the sting of a loss – especially the loss of a loved one for years—maybe even a lifetime. Creating regular (daily, monthly or yearly) spaces to acknowledge this reality gives us the space we need to keep going. This is one of the many things I love about the Day of the Dead holiday—the regularity of it. It comes every year and we have things we do every year—ritual and rhythm help life to keep moving.

    Practice letting go in small ways. When I was really struggling with the end of school, I helped myself by cleaning out closets. No joke. The energy of letting go of clothes and other stuff I didn’t need, and the process of discovering what was of value in my closets helped me with the bigger task of discovering what I could retain from my school experiences even as I was letting go of my regular school routine and weekly community.

      Working with our emotions such as grief, anger, sadness and fear can help us keep flowing and healthy, even in the face of hard times. Wishing you much coziness on this windy chilly day. Feliz Dia de los Muertos! May you find joy and comfort in remembrance of all you love!

Rainy heart

Christmas morning found me in my pajamas, cooking pancakes and bacon and brewing a pot of coffee while Max and Juan played the boy’s new video game downstairs. It could have been a scene from the movie I used to play over and over again in my mind during the early months of our separation, the movie entitled, “If Only It Could Work Out”. So funny that we ended up here even though we haven’t really ended up anywhere near what I thought “here” would look like. Two separate homes. Custody agreement and child support.

Its been almost 7 years since we separated. Max doesn’t remember what it was like to live with his dad and sometimes he cries that he just wants to know what its like to have both parents in one house. I know that feeling of wishing my family to be whole too–that sense that THIS is not how its supposed to be. That sense that families are SUPPOSED to be together in one house or that parents are SUPPOSED to work it out for the sake of the children or that we are SUPPOSED to be rewarded for hard work with “happy ever after”. I once held onto those old stories too.

And yet, if life has taught me anything these past seven years it is that there is no “supposed to”. There is simply life, marching on, throwing curve balls and opportunities to learn new ways of being. There is no happily ever after but if we can let go of the SUPPOSED TO there are plenty opportunities to be happy right now.

The definition of our family is constantly shifting. Truth be told, every definition is really simply a story, made up, self constructed. We are just three people, two adults and one wise, funny, brilliant and gorgeous child doing our best to make it through life peacefully. Connected to one another in a thousand different ways that matter. (Disconnected in some other important ways too!) Juan and I are both profoundly awake to the fact that whatever we did to one another in marriage and divorce, the best thing we ever did bring this amazing child into this world. We have found a way to let the rest go so we can both bathe in that sweetness. We have found a way to dance a new dance so we can both be with our son and witness his glory on this most magnificent morning.

We have done Christmas lots of ways, but recently have found a way to a shared Christmas morning. Of being together the three of us around a tree because there is no where else any of us wants to be right at that moment than together. Next year it could be different.

I called the boys to the table and served up the breakfast on the Christmas plates that someone had given us a few years after our wedding. Its lovely to have this ritual now, this simple way of celebrating life, despite what it threw us.

Next year may bring new challenges to navigate, new rituals, new dances. Truth it, despite every tradition faithfully executed, its always new. Each of us is always showing up new and that means new dances every time. And so while this Christmas morning was pure sweetness, I simply breathe and let go of any attachment to the fact that this is the way it is supposed to be.

After all there is no way it is supposed to be. There is only just the way that it is. There are ten thousand ways to be a family–joyously, painfully, brokenly, messily, lovingly a family. Every one of them is perfect.

Every glorious one.

I don’t have a picture of him.

It was a simple enough assignment. Gather old photos of him for a collage at the restaurant, ones of him laughing, cracking a joke, the fishing rod in hand heading out to the boat, calling out over his shoulder, sitting on the dock with a cigar and a neat glass of tequila, watching the sun coming down, coming in with the kids, standing at the grill, loading the truck, playing light sabers with the little one. I looked through all the hundreds of photos I took over years of vacations together and there wasn’t even one. Not one of us watching the TV show about haunted New England lighthouses together. Not one of him bringing in the boat. Not one of him untangling a rod.

The only photos I have of him are in my mind, my memory. The moments when we were together we not the ones we photograph–they were the simple everyday moments, like when you pour a drink or flip a burger, or break open a lobster. Now I wish I had marked all those moments as spectacular–worthy of capturing on film for posterity. They were ordinary in the most extraordinary of ways. I wish I had photographed every one so that I could make a thousand collages, line the halls with them, one after another. See how he lived! He lived.

I think that even though I know that saving his image, freezing it on paper, would not have saved him from cancer.

My cousin Larry died a week ago after a short, intense and courageous fight. He was 43. He taught Max to fish and use a pocket knife. He fixed things that got broken and loved his daughter fiercely. He made me feel like a rock star whenever I made my guacamole. The way he gobbled up my guacamole healed thousands of tiny holes in my heart.

I don’t have a picture of him, but if I did, I can’t imagine that it would capture the brightness of his spirit, his gentle ferocity, his wry and quiet sense of humor. And knowing this, I know, I have everything I need.

In gratitude for having known him, I bow my head and lift one small glass of high end tequila poured neat and settle in to the crook of the couch and smile wryly. This is how he will live. This is how we all keep living.

John's daffodils
The daffodils that Max and I planted with John are now in full bloom

Six months ago, by the light of the bright moon, my friend John and I dug in earth and planted a daffodil with a wish wrapped around it. He had come to the house, after hours of writing his law school essays. He was frustrated and blocked, momentarily out touch in with his own amazing potential–the big dream of his life loomed huge, a mountain insurmountable. So he came to take a break and I dragged him out to plant daffodils.

Max and I wrote our wishes for John on pieces of paper and he too played along. We went outside and planted them, and then having declared what we hoped for him we all gave them over to the earth and recognized that like the daffodils–they too would bloom in time. I told him that now that the Earth was holding those big dreams he could let go of the “biggness” and focus on what was immediately in front of him. I think he thought me a bit crazy (as he often does when I drag him out to do these things) but he listens to me because I cook him dinner and tell him I am old enough to be his mother.

We watched the Caps game and cleaned the house. We stayed up late talking and even spent some time trying to break open the stickiness he was feeling around his essays. Somehow the weight of that essay–the need for it to be amazing as though it was a magic key that would unlock his dreams (or forever keep them hidden away)– made it so big. But I told him if he could just let go of all the meaning he was putting on the essay and write he would have no trouble. He is a gifted writer.

The next morning after Max’s hockey game John went home to write one of the best essays in the history of law school applications. I am sure it would have happened anyway but some how letting go of the big huge massive vision of the change we wanted, trusting it to the Earth or to God or to whoever makes sense to trust, made it easier to take the immediate steps. Its a lesson I keep forgetting but remember frequently with joy.

This weekend I have a heart both heavy and full. Yesterday, 6 months to the day when John planted his daffodil, he left the city where we became friends and headed out to begin his new life at his first choice law school, a top ranked school which not only accepted him with open arms but offered him cash as well. I am so incredibly proud of him for all the tiny steps and big leaps he took to walk the path toward his dream and I miss him because he was in every way a daily inspiration.

For so long now I have been overwhelmed by a very big dream myself, a dream of becoming a healer. On a good day it feels still just out of reach and on a bad day I can think that I am bat-shit crazy. To even get to the place where I thought I might be able to do this has required so much transformation and change and release of fear. All fall, I planted hundreds of daffodils myself, each one of them a prayer that I asked Mother Earth to hold. The flowers are blooming now and for me well its time to get cracking.

All spring, I have been consumed by hundreds of small steps that may just open up the path for me. Truth is I have been walking it already but now after months of slow wandering, it feels as though I am sprinting down it at lightning speed. There are thousands of tiny (but huge!) things that need to be done to pull me a long and I run the risk of getting paralyzed by each of them. We are renting our basement and I need to find the right tenant, line up the contractors to do work on the house (so said tenant can come in). Line up my financing, apply for scholarships, restructure my current paid work, figure out new ways to plug the gap between what I will be making part-time and our current expenses. And yes, I am doing all this while trying to keep our life humming along. To quote a dear friend of mine, I feel like I am balancing a refrigerator on my head. I could at any moment just give up and let the whole thing come crashing down, declaring that it is too damn hard.

But instead I keep remembering what I told John that chilly October night. Give the big dream over to the Earth and let her hold it and just do what is in front of you–right now. Don’t give it too much importance. Just walk, tiny step by tiny step and trust that if you do that, one day, that dream will blossom.

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Every Wednesday night, more or less, for the past few years have been guitar night–when Jeff comes over and when we pour wine and laugh and talk hockey and politics and and play our guitars. We often start with a lesson and then we play some together just for kicks–the songs I love to sing. And then as the night grows old (and I grow sleepy) my friend plays for me as I curl up on the couch and delight in homemade music. Sometimes I sing, and every now and then I dance, but mostly I just listen.

Witnessing a song being born can make my breath catch and cracks me open. “Play me something new” I always insist. When we first met, Jeff played me old standards, but I quickly demanded to hear his originals–the ones he rarely played out. Now, if I am lucky I will hear a song that he wrote just that morning. Tender or wistful songs that offer me a glimpse into a part of my friend’s heart I hadn’t yet known.

When I got my camera, I knew that I wanted to take pictures of my favorite people’s hands, going the things I love to see them do. Yet, I was shy taking out my camera to capture his hands as he played for me that night. I who write or do my art in the safety of solitude, I was confronted with the rawness and vulnerability of creating in front of someone else. Suddenly, in the simple act of raising the camera to my eye, I understood the level of courage it takes to share a new song and in that moment almost drowned in gratitude for what happens in my living room each Wednesday night.

Hangin' at the Grill
Max at the diner with his team

This Sunday, like every Sunday, Max will have a hockey game.

When he started with this team in October he knew not one kid. Most of the kids were at least one year older and two grades ahead in school. They came from all over our very large county–and the team ranged from kids who were farm kids to kids like Max who consider themselves city kids. Many of the kids knew each other from years of playing hockey together but this was Max’s first year on an official team.

He felt the outsider in every way, searching desperately for one kid–just one–he could eventually call friend. The first few practices he felt so lonely and out of place. Me too. While I am a pretty social gal, I carried a lot of angst around hanging out with the people who were not my people–you know, the artsy, lefty types from my neck of the woods, the ones I call my tribe. If I am honest, the other parts of the county make me a bit…well…nervous. What would we have in common, I thought?

Yet here we are in January and Max is in love with his team. Here we are in January and I am looking forward to the time I spend with those parents, the ones I thought were so different from me. Here we are in January and when we walk through the doors of the Iceplex, it feels a little like coming home.

Max and I we spend countless hours at the rink. Each week it seems that practice stretched longer and longer as the boys grab a snack at the grill and head to the arcade, drinking in each other’s company in the easy way that boys can.

And we parents too, are silently coming together, drawn together like ships in a tiny harbor. His coach recently pointed out that we log 4 hours a week together in a very small space between practices, games, and dressing and undressing the boys. We pick up each other’s hats and move each others things, manipulating our way around small spaces. Many of those hours are in the wee morning and many more in that frantic post-work time slot when we (or at least I am) at our most vulnerable parenting place when misplaced sticks or left behind equipment can send even the most patient of parents into a fit. And then there are the hours we spend lingering, in the grill, in the arcade, observing the growing bond between the boys, each of us feeling our hearts swell a bit as we see them make something out of nothing. To be honest, many days we may speak very little to one another. But that seems to matter not a bit. I sink into their presence like a warm bath. Without knowing anything they have become familiar to me, the smell of an old church, holy and ancient.

Max was smashed in the face at this last game. An opposing player hit him in the face with his stick and knocked him to the ice. As he lay on the ground, sobbing and indignant, 12 players dropped to a knee and waited as though they were one, connected by an unspoken code of team. And in the stands, 12 hearts stopped beating until he rose up and skated to the bench with his coach, connected we were by our common experience of loving these boys and worrying about the crash of body against boards, every time any of one of them goes tumbling. As I wandered to the bench to check, 12 hands reached out to touch my shoulder. “I know” each hand seemed to whisper.

This is how tribe is built. Not through grand visions and plans and mission statements but through the simple act of going about life together, side by side. Breathing in each others presence, as simple as that. Doing the chores, no matter our moods or state of wakefulness. Tying skates and distributing juice boxes, with kindness and an awareness that every boy, every parent, is needed to make this thing go, each one of us, no matter who we are outside the rink, there matters. Organizing equipment and running clocks with the simple kindness that comes from simply accepting, “Oh–there you are.” No story, just you. And that awareness, that acceptance–that my friends is love.

I have felt so lucky to have found my chosen family here in my neighborhood, the ones I call my tribe. The families we camp with and dine with, the ones who I love so deeply and profoundly, who know me so well, with whom my heart cracks open. The ones who share my political views and parenting values and don’t mind my beat up broken down car, who look past my mess and old furniture and clutter to see my spacious heart. The ones whose homes I retire to when all feels lost, or maybe just the electricity is off. Each one of them feels handpicked and special and deliberately inserted into my life. To have found them feels like a miracle, an impossible surprise of utter goodness.

And yet, I am beginning to see that this gift is not a requirement for tribe to really bloom. Our connectedness is a given. Its our separation that is the illusion. Home is any place where we are side by side pulling our weight. We only need to look up and see the person next to us, doing what we are doing to realize our shared humanity, to feel in the company of strangers, completely at home.

Jamie's 20th Dinner

Dear Jenni-

It’s been one year since you died. I can’t believe we are here again, on this day. I can’t really fathom that the world has already circled round the sun to arrive at this place again, the point where you disappeared. I can’t believe that the sun has risen 365 mornings and set 365 nights and you weren’t here to witness it. I still hear your voice as though it was yesterday that we last spoke. Its though you never left.

And yet, my friend there are moments over the last year when I miss you so deeply. Moments when I think there is no one else in the world who would understand. Moments where I realize that the note I want to send you would float forever in cyberspace silent and unanswered, waiting. The absence of you becomes a sob I feel catching in the back of my throat, a breath that is wobbly and ragged.

But mostly, dear girl, I feel your presence in the magic that unfolds each day. You are in the crescent of the moon while I garden. You are the warmth in the sun that shone on the pool while I screamed my head off for Max and his friends. You are of the innervoice that can soothe my battered heart. You are floating on the wind that blows in old friends for sweet reunions and dear friends for birthday surprises. When Jena and I wrapped our arms around each other in Boston, completely surprised we were in the same place, we laughed and said, this was Jenni’s doing, your present for me. You brought so many of us together and you keep doing it. You were in that salty breeze that blew off the Harbor, the pulse that pushed me to play my guitar in front of people, the voice that encouraged me to to hold firm so often this year.

The teachers tell me that nothing is ever lost, it is only transformed. And I know the sweetness that was your friendship is flowing in new ways. Your love is in the hand that guides me.

Some days I realize that I have habits that I formed because I promised you I would. Like when I tell people that I love them, even if its scary and even if they don’t love me back. When I throw my arms around a friend I find on a metro platform, or kiss a friend I find when the elevator doors open at work, I do it because you taught me that I have only this now to love. You are in those moments of deep joy, smiling at the surprise of people who had no idea they were so adored. When I push past my fear to be honest, I know I am riding on what I learned from you. When I am a storm and anger flows, I remember you giving me permission to be fierce.

I am transformed because of our brief time on earth together.

And in that way I know you are not gone, never gone, never ever gone.

I love you
Meg

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When I was young, just 25 or 26, a flimsy bit of a thing, fresh and new, her desk was next to mine. I could whisper over the insubstantial divider to her when I needed her and she was there. Her gray curly hair pulled up in concentration, she would look at me over the glasses perched just so on her nose, the glasses that hung round her neck and pressed against my heart when she hugged me, and she would laugh or sigh or just listen.

Her voice is like a warm soup to me, a hot steaming mug of tea with honey, exactly what is needed to soothe my broken optimism, my raw and new frustrations. She judges nothing, has heard it all and always always answers my frailty and mistakes with love. We walk our lunch hour away, circling the streets of power, lost in conversation that tumbles like a fast moving river over stones, in her fluent English, in her native Spanish, back and forth, like birdsong. I tell her things I uncover from my heart and she looks at me in amazement…”Que chevre” she says, slow and drawn out and deep inside for the first time I know I am. When we are together I know that I am precious, beloved. I call her my second mama. I drink wine at her home and cook with her, sing revolutionary songs and build circles of sisters.

I buy a house down the street and around the corner from hers. But before we have a chance to be neighbors she rents that house. Heads out on an amazing adventure in organizing that takes her and her husband all over the Western hemisphere. Organizing in South America, Central America, caring for her old ones, welcoming granddaughters. She sends a beautiful handwoven tablecloth for my wedding. She pops by one Christmas to hold my fat baby. But then in the crush of life, she fades away An occasional email, a phone conversation from far away, the everyday and in the moment takes hold of my attention. I let her go without even realizing it. I lose her.

I walk by her house on the way into town and I wonder where she is. “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” I sing under my breath as I smile in the direction of the threshold that once promised comfort and silliness. I smile as I think of her, her missions, her work, her goodness touching the far corners of the globe. I think of all the young women who will stitch themselves back together in the circle of her arms. I think they are lucky.

And then, suddenly, she is there. In her yard. After more than 10 years and three continents, moving boxes back home. And suddenly she is there walking through the door to come to dinner, kissing the fat babies who have grown into lean kids. Suddenly she is there, her warm smile as radiant as the Puerto Rican sun that birthed her. “OK girls…tell me…” she says and I wonder how we cover 10 years over dinner. But when you speak the language of a heart, just a few words are all that is necessary, stories can be told with knowing looks and a sentence, data transmits almost instantaenously and we are, in a heartbeat, caught up and giggle as though that long pause had never transpired, as though she had held my hand (and I hers) through the journeys of the last 12 years.

Her hands are like butterflies that flit about as we laugh and tell stories, thrilling me when the land for a moment on my hand, my shoulder, my face. She has come home. And so have I.

Every once in awhile over the last few years here I mentioned my housemate Odette. I spoke about her soothing voice and how she sang in the kitchen in her native African language. I spoke about how she and Max love each other. I spoke of her wisdom, her sambusa and mandazi I spoke about how my heart broke when she moved out and into a home of her own. But I never told her story here. Her story is hers and hers alone. She was and is simply a sister, as truly family as if she was born my twin and I didn’t feel the need to say more.

So unless you follow Jen Lemen, you might not know that Odette is also a mom. She has been separated from her girls for 4 years. They have been kept apart by two continents, unthinkable bureaucracy, illness and a host of circumstances worth of Kafka. But love and miracles and faith pay off and next week, when the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano finally clears (or a plane that will fly from Africa via a route not impeded by silica can be located) they will land in the US and begin their life as American teenagers, Silver Spring style.

Two years ago we threw a party to raise money to help the girls get here. That money has been spent many times over on this journey, through illness and relocation and schools and tutors and extreme measures that needed to be taken to against all odds get their visas. Jen Lemen is now raising money to pay for the tickets to bring them home. If you are so inclined and can give even $1 or $5 your kindness will go a long way.