This first winter back in the mid-Atlantic is gray and as my personal light continues to sputter, I’m second-guessing that word of the year.
I’ve gone through my photos and put sunshine where I can — on my phone, on my walls. And I’ve searched out words that will coax me through one more day of gray and coax the inner light to shine a little brighter
I know the light is banked right now because I can’t move the way I want. My walks outside are currently curtailed because of a bit of knee surgery next week. Right now my gait is uneven and I can feel my whole body list to the left to compensate for the right knee pain, so walks are a matter of getting from here to there instead of moving for the sake of moving.
I miss giving over to a familiar route on a regular basis, when muscles loosen as I settle into stride and pace and then finally my thoughts loosen too. Not being able to find my best route in this new place keeps me from feeling settled in.
I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story doesn’t show. Andrew Wyeth
Winter walks have that quiet anticipation. When I read that I remembered two walks last year. On the first, I admired the lacy branches of trees arching over the Neuse River. I loved how stark and still they were against the sullen sky.
On a sunny Saturday in June I decided to find that tree again. The other walkers/runners/cyclists and a trio of young brothers on skates were a little puzzled by the woman looking up and muttering to herself, but I was determined. When I found the tree, I was ridiculously thrilled that I’d won my personal game of Concentration.
How? Well, that winter walked etched the bones of the tree into my memory. All (ha!) I had to do was find the bare, broken branch on the left and follow the trunk to that smaller arch that bore the fanciful lace of branches. And while the June photo shows the full story, I keep going back to January.
I prefer winter walks as it’s much easier to dress comfortably when it’s cold. I prefer solitary paths with interesting, spare stories like the spindly black branches against a gray sky. A good portion of this winter will be done by the time I get the all clear to get back to my pace and stride so I’ll have to find that structure of this new place a little faster, but with just a little more light on my side.
Sometimes you have to tell stories about other people. In the Catholic Church, January 1 is The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. My story is about Mary, Mother of Courtney.
Six years ago, I attended the Romance Writers of America conference in San Francisco. During one of the down times, I sat with a group of friends in the lobby of the hotel, laughing, sharing, cross-chatting — the basics of friendship among women. I don’t know what I said or did, but suddenly my friend Anne Marie stared at me hard. Then she turned to another pal and said, “You know who Laura reminds me of? Mary Lenaburg!”
To which the other friend nodded emphatically and said, “Yes!!!” They listed all the things about this Mary that they thought we had in common — we tended to take care of people, we had kids around the same age, we had the maps of Ireland on our faces. On and on they went, praising the virtues of this Mythical Mary. It seemed she was a member of their local Washington DC chapter, while I lived in Arizona and only saw this group annually.
Anne Marie introduced Mary to me at a huge party that Friday night. (I think Miss Mary came into the introduction cold, while I was fully prepped about her.)
And from the moment we said hello, I knew my friends were right. Being Mary and Laura, we found ourselves at the table where everyone threw bags and shoes on the way to the dance floor, and stayed there to make sure nothing went astray. And as the party swirled around us, we found connections on many levels — we each had two kids with boys first; we were both part of large Catholic families, we’d done our share of moving and setting up new homes, we both knew the all the words to the songs in High School Musical. The sobering connection was we both had intimate knowledge of children with chronic illnesses and what that adds to your list of parenting.
At the time, I didn’t know how different were the levels of those chronic illnesses. Both of my children had episodes with theirs, requiring hospital time, surgery, ongoing medications, but through the ups and downs they went to school, played sports, lived their lives. Mary’s Courtney was a miraculous special needs child who wasn’t going to break out of her wheelchair and dance along with High School Musical — but she sure as heck was going to hum along.
And this is what we shared, Mary and I: we knew what it was to partner with a spouse and be a vanguard for our children in front of doctors, nurses, teachers and everyone else who had an opinion of how things could be done “better.” And while we were at it, we tried to create a normal routine for the child who was healthy at that time.
Since we first met in 2008, I think Mary and I have spent time with each other in person probably fewer than 10 times. But she’s been a daily presence in my life through Facebook and this blog and Instagram. No matter where she’s been at in terms of Courtney, I knew Mary would chime in with a postive word or thanks for giving her something to ponder. And I’d wonder where she’d make the time to say a word.
She lives her faith boldly for all to see. Mary is a not a prayer warrior, she’s a Prayer Amazon Queen. Her prayers, her faith, her honesty in that faith are what draw people to her and to her blog Passionate Perseverance. Courtney has been the center of that blog but Mary shares her thoughts on fashion, baking, sewing and for some reason, threw a video of her doing a cartwheel in there. For all to see.
Because Mary, she is not a hider. She’s a dig down and show the world the true ups and downs of parenting such a special young woman. She’s shared when her faith has hit rock bottom and it was all she could do to hang on, she’s shared the miracles that have abounded in their lives, she’s blogged without caffeine, running on fumes. Mary has shared without shadow, throwing light on corners of her life. It’s amazing and humbling to read her words.
This fall, she opened the window into a home preparing for a child entering her last days of life. Her honesty in her sorrow at letting Courtney go even as she knew that Courtney’s body could no longer bear the burdens of the flesh was sobering,yet uplifting. The week before Christmas, as the end drew nearer, social media was bombarded with #candlesforcourtney as people from all over the world, stranger and friend alike, winged prayers for a calm, quiet passing for Courtney. And strength for the family she would leave behind.
Mary ended 2014 with Courtney’s funeral. She would be the first to say the bravest one was Courtney, but I think that bravery was only possible because Courtney’s mama (father and brother too) fought for her every single day. And she’ll also be the first to say that a post like this isn’t necessary, but I think it’s important to honor people who bring a clarity into your life — for a moment, for years — however long that clarity is necessary.
When she’s ready, I know Mary will return to blogging and she’ll be as open about the new shape of her family’s life as she was with Life with Courtney. I fully expect to be humbled and uplifted all over again.