Friday, January 29, 2010

and as for 2010, i'll let you know

january 29, 2006

january 29, 2007

january 29, 2008

january 29, 2009

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

seen in my closet

yes, that's a very skinny, wiry monkey...wearing pirate boxers.

and in case you were hadn't figured it out, he's the one being strong; i'm the one being calm (ish) and grateful.

(i don't doubt that my mother-in-law has some photos resembling this one of sam. i'll stash these away in case a future wife [mercy!] needs some warning of what to expect...that is, after all, sam's chin-up bar from which he's hanging. where do you think he got the idea?)

Saturday, January 23, 2010


"i think it's because there's electricity under the ground and the static from my hair is attracted to the electricity," is luke's explanation for why a helium balloon, when rubbed on your head, will stick to the carpet instead of rising to the ceiling.

"i already got rid of all my food and now i'm working on getting rid of the germs," says luke, in explanation for hours and hours of dry heaves during a recent bout with a stomach flu.

we chuckle when our kids use what information they have to explain things they observe and come up with such creative--however implausable--explanations. but don't we do the same thing?

"God gives you only as much as you can handle," followed by the implied, if not verbalized, "so you must be very strong and able to handle more than most people."

"God is teaching you something/refining you/using you to teach something."

"one day you'll look back at this and laugh."

"it's for the best/better off this way."

of course, my own experience of losing a child colors my collection of the explanations i have been offered, but we all do it to each other in the face of all sorts of inexplicable griefs, be it death or divorce or miscarriage or job loss or any number of other terrible things we face. we all do it.

because, just like luke who takes what little information he has about static electricity and helium and the way he knows them to behave, we too take what little we know and try to make sense of what we observe. in my case, many well-intentioned people who know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and who knew that sam and i would survive caring for and losing eliza put two and two together and concluded that eliza was given to us because we were somehow more equipped to deal with her life and death than would be another family.

pardon me, but that's crap. (and hear me say this, please, if you have ever made this comment to me or to anyone else: the well-meant intention was heard and received as love. absolutely, unquestionably. thank you for loving me enough and being brave enough to want to say something, and thank you for the compliment implied in your gesture.)

but just as luke's dry heaves had very little to do with his stomach trying to rid itself of germs, so were eliza's life and death not some cosmic consequence proportional to the strength of my family. God knows better than that. which is not to say that God doesn't use stories like eliza's to teach people things, and no one more than her family. and of course, you may someday look back and laugh at a terrible situation with a friend. maybe it is for the best that you lost your job or had to move out of your house. but i refuse to believe in what one friend calls "eliza the concept," that is, that eliza was an object lesson sent to our family so that we and a whole bunch of other people could learn some stuff. bull-loney (everybody loves raymond, anyone?). it's just not true.

eliza was a person with a purpose, yes. but that purpose is so much more than we can cobble together from our feeble understanding of a few things we observe. can you neatly summarize the purpose of your healthy child? i can no more tell you the reason for luke than i can for eliza. can i tell you some lessons i've learned from him? sure. is God using very specific parts of his little personality to refine me as i parent him? of course. did i reach the "one day" when i could look back at his nearly-life-ending 30-minute-nap phase and laugh? sure (although some days it still makes me shudder six years later, i must confess). but none of those things, nor the summary of those things, is the reason for luke.

but what to do? we're wired to search for reasons. indeed, God gave us the very brains that are made for such questions, such searches for purpose. some of us like to think--myself among them--that the answer is just to store up all these questions for that someday when we get to heaven and can rattle of the list of why-why-whys and get all our answers. what a relief it will be to finally know it all! but isn't that the trap that adam and eve fell into, too, when the serpent promised them they would be like God if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? didn't they want all the answers just like God had? (oh, how frustrating! what questions did they even have in their perfect prelapsarian world? fools!) as for me, when i covet all the answers and want to rush to get to God so i can tick off my whole list of whys, i'm reminded of c.s. lewis's answer, which i much prefer: in the great divorce (yup, still hung up on it, so i still think you should go read it if you haven't!), when one character (referred to as the "big ghost") arrives on the cusp of heaven and is met by an already-resident who was once upon a time a murderer, the cusp-dweller is up in arms and ultimately refuses to go, determined as he is for heaven to be a place where justice is finally served.

"What I'd like to understand," said the Ghost, "is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years."
"That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it."
"No need to bother about it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"No, not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began."
"Personally," said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, "personally, I'd have thought you and I to be the other way round. That's my personal opinion. [...] I'm asking for nothing but my rights. [...] I got to have my rights, same as you, see?"
"Oh, no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better. Never fear."

something far better. i find myself hoping that, rather than the answers to all my feeble human questions, when i get into the presence of God, i'll get something far better, something that erases the fact that my questions ever even existed, something that erases the fact that eliza ever suffered, that relationships ever failed, that people ever hurt each other, that expectations were never met, that people died or lost or left or failed. all of which misses the mark, of course, of solving the problem of all the questions that still rattle around in my head today...but to imagine something better than answers? i can at least rest on that.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

of birthdays and buds

it's the buds i remember most of all.

eliza's due date was february 14. valentine's day, day of her long-deceased great-grandmother's (helen valentine sherlock crowley, she was named) birth in 1918. an easy due date to remember, day of love and all that. sam and i have never had big valentine's day plans--actually, it's tradition that we eat subs and rent a movie--so that would have been a nice twist to add to an otherwise boring-ish hallmark holiday.

but eliza arrived more than two weeks early, on january 29, 2006, just a matter of hours after my baby shower had ended. which was fine with me, hater-of-pregnancy that i am. her birth was dramatic and mundane in many of the same ways most births are. and then her story began.

(here, were i a thorough blogger, i would retell some of eliza's story. were this a book, again, the story. but being a lazy blogger, and knowing full well that if you're reading this, you already know eliza's story, i won't take the time. and if you don't know the story, well, stop right now and head over here: don't forget to come back, though.)

i remember thinking in those early days, as eliza lay naked in her hospital bed, clothed only with wires and tubes and gauze and tape and a little bitty diaper, comatose and shielded from all stimulation of sound, light, or touch, that at least she'd be home by her valentine's due date, in time to wear the sweet baby heart socks and onesies awaiting her. but days turned into weeks, ten to be exact, and she just managed to wear her st. patrick's day hat over the e.e.g. leads on her head for a minute, just for a photo. it was palm sunday--april 9 that year, nearly easter--before she actually came home.

which, where we live, is full-blown spring. my born-in-midwinter baby didn't make it home until spring.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. --t.s. eliot, The Waste Land

during the ten weeks eliza spent in the intensive care nursery at the hospital, i walked daily--sometimes many times daily--between the parking garage and the hospital. that sidewalk to hell is lined with trees of some flowering-cherry-or-apple sort (botanist or arborist, i am not, which you'll know if you've ever seen my yard). i will never forget the day, perhaps right around eliza's valentine's due date, that i noticed the buds on those flowering trees. could the trees already be budding? but she was just born, and in the winter! i reassured myself that she'd be home in time for a family photo under the flowering tree in our yard when it was in full bloom.

and full bloom came and went, as i daily walked past those painfully beautiful trees. full bloom came and went, and the blooms even began falling to the ground as the trees leafed out. and my born-in-winter baby still hadn't seen daylight. even as hope and spring bloomed around her, she continued to not bloom. and i feared--we all did--that she might never see daylight at all.

though she never did see it, blind as she was, of course eliza did experience spring outside the windowless world that was her home for those interminable blooming weeks; if you know her story, you know that she who would never experience her first birthday on the cusp of spring did in fact experience two and very nearly three birthdays.

and now it's january four years later, and we've just had an early taste of spring in the form of three glorious days of sunshine and sixty-degree weather. as i expressed my sadness that winter wasn't in fact over yet and bound to reassert itself one more time before it was gone for good (what a spolied southerner i've become to complain of winter not being over in january!), my friend agreed, concerned that her daffodils would be fooled into blooming, only to freeze when it got cold again.

and the thought of things blooming in january, the thought of the promise of spring blooming and wilting its way past again brought those budding trees lining that sidewalk to hell right back to me. and along with it came the dread that they'll bloom again. they'll bloom again without her. and i'll walk past them--or others like them, at least--without her, take family pictures without her valentine's socks, her st. patrick's day hat, her easter dress.

i'll notice--and remember, and dread--the buds most of all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

the lyrics that got me thinking today

"there's a certain kind of pain that can numb you.
there's a type of freedom that can tie you down.
sometimes the unexplained can define you,
and sometimes, silence is the only sound." --nickel creek, "hanging by a thread"

(i know, i know: get a new band. but it's they're oh-so-good, and i just can't get enough.)

hope for haiti

if you're looking for a reliable way to provide financial help for the disaster relief effort in haiti, please consider supporting this fundraiser being organized by my mother and my sister.

Swim-a-Thon to Benefit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief for Haiti

Saturday, January 30th, 2010
Onondaga Community College Pool, Syracuse, NY

Run and Sponsored by Patricia Berman, Mary Defuria, and Meredith Ellis

In 2004, we swam to benefit the American Red Cross after the tsunami. In 2005, we did it again to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This time, we are coming together to raise money to benefit the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Please consider joining us or sponsoring a swimmer! In 40 seconds, a country was devastated. In 40 minutes, we can make a difference!

When: Saturday, January 30th, from 11:30-1:30
Where: Onondaga Community College Pool
How: Join us to swim for 40 minutes, or sponsor a swimmer today!

To sponsor: We are asking for you to sponsor by the minute for a forty minute swim for a swimmer of your choice. If you decide to donate, please make your check out to the American Red Cross, memo line Haiti. All donations must be collected by the time of the swim and will be handed over to a Red Cross representative at the event. Please use the donation slip [contact Daniele at shdbjackson at yahoo dot com for the donation slip] with your check or cash and give to the swimmer you are sponsoring or mail to Patricia Berman, Department of Health and Physical Education, Onondaga Community College, 4585 West Seneca Tpke, Syracuse, N.Y. 13215, no later than Wednesday, January 27th.

The American Red Cross assures us that at least 91 cents of every dollar will go directly to Haiti for disaster relief.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

still chewing on this one

(i occasionally get into these crazy reading modes. book consuming modes is more like it. which is where i've been lately. so please pardon the glut of other people's words.)

"Every now and then we enter the presence of the numinous and deduce for an instant how we're formed, in what detail the force that infuses every petal might specifically run through us, wishing only to lure us into our full potential. Usually, the closest we get is when we love, or when some beloved beams back, which can galvanize you like steel and make resilient what had heretofore only been soft flesh." --from Lit by Mary Karr

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

in the army...or anywhere else

please pardon me: i'm having a moment.

when did this happen, exactly? this. i'm pretty sure i had some ambitions, some dreams once upon a time. i'm pretty sure i bought into the be all that you can be song. (i mean, not the army part, though i did have an army recruiter hard on me for years in high school and even after i went to college.)

but it's weeks like these that make me wonder, is this all i can be? really? because i'm pretty sure my current occupations weren't on the list of possibilities way-back-then.

  • laundress, housekeeper? (nope, and clearly not my "calling," either, as i'm an undeniable failure at both...and really, mostly okay with that)
  • chauffeur, carpool mama? (not so much, as i'd much rather drive too fast belting out loud, "inappropriate" music in my little red toyota celica than sing along to "the vitamin alphabet" in my minivan)
  • miss manners, teacher-of-one-whom-i-must-teach-nearly-everything? (unh-uh. teaching was way never on my list.)
  • chef, planner-of-meals, coupon cutter, hostess-with-the-mostess? (nah, i'll never live up to my mom's standard on this one and find it discouraging to try.)
  • nurse, pediatrician, neurologist, gastroenterologist, respiratory therapist? (um, no. no way, no how.)
  • form-er of a little spirit, prayer instructor, Bible story reciter? (nope, don't think so.)
  • getting my courtroom fix watching "law and order"? getting out of bed in the morning excited most of all to login to facebook and see whose kids are sick or who had a baby, to check my email to see if that playdate is on (pleaseohplease)? leaving my (measly) mark on the world volunteering in children's ministry at my church? (nope. those weren't my aspirations.)

(if you're currently composing in your head some encouraging comment to leave at the end of this post--mom, this is addressed to you--please don't. just keep reading. this is decidedly not a plea for pity or compliments, i promise.)

but as i was taking care of poor luke who had the stomach flu this week, as i was having my own little pity party as i lay on his floor all night, bucket in hand, waiting to catch the next round and, ultimately, waiting to fall victim myself, i realized that God's vision for me to be all that i can be is bigger than mine. when luke whimpered, "mama, i wish you could do something to make it stop. if you were an antibody, you could. but you're just a human," i realized that i'm a decent science-teacher-of-one. when luke asked why i wasn't taking care of sam when he was similarly stricken, i realized that my mediocre nursing skills were making an impression on his sweet spirit. when my friend with whom we carpool lamented how difficult her week has been without my help in driving her son home from school, stuck home with my sick boy as i have been, i realized that my seemingly-endless minivan time does make an impact in a small but significant way. when luke's teacher told me today how happy everyone was to have him back as he was missed specifically by the students for his encouraging comments daily for the calendar person, i realized that i'm not a total failure in the manners category.

(as a housekeeper and laundress? well, sam cleaned the bathrooms, stricken as he already had been and as-yet unscathed as i was...and the washer broke from all the bedding wash. oh well. and the Bible-story-teaching thing? well, luke keeps me on my toes...and fills me in when i fall behind.)

anyhow, i realized (again) this week that i am certainly not all that i thought i might be. surely, if you had asked me years ago what i'd have accomplished by the time i was in my thirties, the list would have been much more impressive than is my current resume. would the extent of my writing be the few paragraphs i can cram into this space while luke whiles away his hour of rest time? certainly not. would my work as an editor fit neatly into eight hours a week and concern mostly things that no one who cares about punctuation or word choice or consistency or all rest of it will ever read? absolutely not. would my yard look like a plastic toy graveyard, my bathroom like it ought to be condemned by the health department, my laundry closet like a fire hazard that no repairman could ever think of entering? i hope not.

so it's a good thing resumes don't matter when you're in the business of forming people. and in that department, i'll just keep being all i can be and trusting that it's enough.

Monday, January 11, 2010

you down with o.p.w.?

(other people's words, of course. what did you think? but i'm sorry about that song stuck in your head now.)

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entaglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." --CS Lewis, The Four Loves

"The result [of catastrophic loss] was love. We learned to love more deeply. That was especially, though not exclusively, true for me. I hesitated at first to risk loving again. There was a protective reflex in me that made me want to turn my back on everyone, even my own family. My experience taught me that loss reduces people to a state of almost total brokenness and vulnerability. I did not simply feel raw pain; I was raw pain. Consequently, I usually found myself on the receiving end of love and friendship. Eventually, I had to decide, however, to become a contributing member of the community once again, not only willing to receive but also to give love. [...] If loss increases our capacity for love, then an increased capacity for love will only make us feel greater sorrow when suffering strikes again. There is no simple solution to this dilemma. Choosing to withdraw from people and to protect the self diminishes the soul; choosing to love again even more deeply than before ensures that we will suffer again, for the choice to love requires the courage to grieve." --Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

have i mentioned how much i love books?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

leafing through

i just this morning finished a book i loved loved loved. i can't stop thinking about it and telling people how great it is. i'll no doubt blog about it soon enough. (the book is a grace disguised by jerry sittser. but that's not really what this post is about.)

as i read the book, i found myself noting pages that contained bits i loved. i couldn't be bothered to slow down enough to copy down the passages, which is problematic, since the book is borrowed and i'll return it to its owner soon. oh, that i had slowed down in reading so many books whose delightful passages i've needed to return! i found myself wanting to absorb this book somehow; i don't want to copy down these bits that touch me so deeply, such that i have to return to some journal to read them again, but i want them to be in me. if only i had a better memory like some people i know who simply contain so many wonderful lines from wonderful books, i found myself thinking.

and then i started thinking of all those books i have loved and lost for not having absorbed them somehow, for not having slowed down to write down--me? not slow down to write?--the things i loved of them. and i realized i love a lot of books.

in fact, i think i can probably count on one hand the books i have read that i haven't loved.

which is not because all the books i read are one kind of book that is the kind i happen to particularly love. i love this book that i finished this morning because its exploration of "how the soul grows through loss," as the subtitle reads, is so familiar and so encouraging. i love a murder mystery or a legal thriller because of a compelling story, like a movie (and if you know me, you know i don't like movies) in my head for my time on the beach or the plane. i love a memoir of a life lived elsewhere in else-times for the stretch it gives my mind to experience someone else's experience from here in my little, little world. i love a something-or-other, whatever it is about, made of beautiful words and sentences and paragraphs simply for the beauty of it, like a painting (and if you know me, you know i'm really not into art). i love a children's book for the delight of the author in it, for the delight of a child in it. i love a play--to read that is (though if you know me, you know that one semester upon a time i lived a dream life in london filled with live theater, too)--for the imagination it takes to make it happen, as it were, in its sparsity on the page. i love a short story for that sparsity, too, for the amazing gift of the author contained in an itty bitty little story.

as i said, i've barely ever met a book i didn't love.


i don't write in books. ever. i don't turn down corners or break bindings. i love a new book, all crisp and fresh and not yet crinkled or spilled on or finger-smudged. i want it to stay that way to share with others, too, unspoiled by my reading. i have no place leaving my mark on someone else's thoughts, i don't think. yes, i want a book to be just fresh from the author, unspoiled by others' thoughts or thumbings, and i want to give the gift of such books to others, too, even if i have already read them myself. i want a book to seem just fresh from the author when i pass it on to you, without my thoughts or thumbings intruding on your conversation with the author.

(no, i don't think i'll ever own a kindle or a nook. i don't think so. i like my books with pages, thankyouverymuch.)


it takes some chutzpah to write a book. (and no, i can't define that for you. neither can i define schmatta or meshugina or farblondzet or fachadick, but i'll continue to use them...and yes, i did have to look up the spelling of those last few. and no, they're not pronounced like they look, at least not in my family).


chutzpah, as i was saying. people have told me often enough these past few years that i should write a book, and heaven knows i've wanted to since i was a kid. it has even been prophesied of me that i will "birth" a book (i kid you not, and i care not, either, what you think of prophecy: i'm known to be a doubter in general, but not when it comes to this person, who hears from God, i have no doubt, and whom i trust implicitly). and i've got the itch. but it takes chutzpah to even say that here, for just the handful of you who read this thing--ha!--and who are all probably among those who have told me i should write a book anyhow. even to say to you i'd like to do this takes more chutzpah than i have suspected i could muster.

but there. i've said it. i've got words in me, and i like them. i like to write them down, and i like to share them. i want other people's books' words in me, no doubt, but i'm also learning something about the words of my own that i have in me.

thumb and think away.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

regarding reality and becoming Real

(this blogpost has a soundtrack, of course, and an accompanying text, too. there's a link below to the former; the latter is no doubt on a shelf somewhere in your house. feel free to indulge in these accompaniments or not.)

you dream of colors that have never been made; you imagine songs that have never been played, says a line from a favorite nickel creek song, "this side." i've often hoped that describes something like what eliza experienced in her time here, never having seen the colors that have been made, never having been able to enjoy the songs that have been played. a dear friend who knew eliza well, both in a personal way and a medical way, once described her as living halfway here and halfway Beyond here. that even as she was conscious and really here, she was also not completely conscious and Real here.

after eliza died, another dear friend with similar knowledge of eliza gave luke a copy of the velveteen rabbit, by margery williams. i hadn't read the story in a long time, since i was a child probably. before i read it to luke, i read it myself and wept.

'What is REAL?' asked the Rabbit one day.
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are real you don't mind being hurt[...]It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

i like to imagine that eliza was undergoing the process of becoming Real--the process that, no doubt, we all have to go through--in a more transparent and quick way than the rest of us. even as we loved her well, she was clearly becoming shabby and worn out, even from day one. but she was loved well, "not just to play with, but REALLY," which i don't suggest affected her ability to become Real, but which i hope did affect her experience of the process: it hurt her sometimes, no doubt, but i hope now that she is Real she doesn't mind--or even remember--having been hurt.

one day you'll see her and you'll know what i mean. take her or leave her she will still be the same.[...] but nothing's the same, as you'll see when she's gone.

And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself: 'Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!'

and so i live in daily anticipation of seeing eliza with all her spots covered over and understanding, as she no doubt does, what Real really is.

it's foreign on this side.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Right now all I can taste are bitter tears
And right now all I can see are clouds of sorrow
But from the other side of all this pain
Is that you I hear, laughing loud and calling out to me?

Saying "See, it's everything you said that it would be,
And even better than you would believe.
And I'm counting down the days until you're here with me,
And finally, you'll see."

But right now, all I can say is "Lord, how long
Before you come and take away this aching?"
This night of weeping seems to have no end.
But when the morning light breaks through,
We'll open up our eyes and we will see

It's everything that He said that it would be
And even better than we would believe
And he's counting down the days 'til He says "Come with me."
And finally he'll wipe every tear from our eyes
And make everything new, just like he promised
Wait and see, just wait and see.

--from "See," by Steven Curtis Chapman (on the album Beauty Will Rise; oh, how I am loving this album!)