Turn and face the world. David Bowie’s brilliant talent aside, this is something we choose to do or not to do every day. Every moment, in fact. I’ve had so many big changes in my life, living in different cities, married to different men, raising two very different daughters, careers, becoming an aunt who loves and participates in her nieces and nephews lives. All of these things have shaped me, like those ripples that change the surface, but never leave the stream, I’m still me.
Of course, I’m a bit more faceted than I once was. I often recognize the old ego and focus on appearances, which was so prevalent in my younger self, in others. When they are young people, it always makes me smile. I have no patience, however, for grown ups who continue to live their lives that way. That false presentation of self is despicable to me. Yes, your life is about you, but as you mature, if you don’t realize that life is also about your sharing it with others, then you have missed out. You are as one dimensional as a glossy photo, and worth no more. What we want, what fills us truly and makes us rich, are each of those cuts on the raw diamond, that harsh raking and splitting of a substance that seemed too hard and solid to ever alter, followed by the buffing, until the shine and sparkle come through. Those changes, those trials, are the very thing that makes me prismatic, that take ordinary light and turns it to rainbows when viewed through my eyes and heart. My life, without my family, my daughters, my charity, and my acknowledgment of the worth of others, would be dull and opaque. Even with all the drama. (And with three brilliant siblings and eight remarkable cousins, believe me, I know drama!)
My recent changes? I have one magnificent daughter who turned twenty-one. When I went up to visit her, she took me to dinner at the nicest restaurant in her college town and paid the check. It was weird. But I was so proud. Just as proud that one of my ‘other’ daughters, (my name for friends of my daughters who I love and care for with cutting depth) was the chef. I was amazed, and so proud that the lovely table blurred before my eyes as tears of happiness for her overwhelmed me.
And at the same time, my youngest daughter got a car. Wow. Suddenly, I find myself getting up to make her lunch, and then sending her off to school. All of a sudden, I’m not as necessary. All at once, I have time that I didn’t have before. And…while that’s great, I miss it. It’s a loss. It’s a change, and it’s all worth it.
Because if it weren’t for loving someone more than myself, if it weren’t for learning to sometimes put others first, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I feel really sorry for the women I meet who are jealous of the attention their husband might give to their step-children, sorry for fathers or mothers who spent all their time promoting themselves, sorry for people that never visit their aging parents and just sit and talk, even if they’re bored, I’m sorry that they missed the point. To love someone that much is not a sacrifice, it is a gift.
Realizing the truth of that is the only way I’ve survived working with a charity where the kids sometimes don’t make it. It’s worth having known these amazing kids, these short-lived butterflies, these wildflowers, who shine out all too briefly, but brilliantly in our world. The gift of perspective they give us is beyond my power of words. It is the gift of choice—will I enter this drama? will I stress about money? will I feel victimized if someone says untrue things about me? No. It isn’t important. The other greatest gift I have received from these relationships is the elation of a cancer in remission, or the nameless void of death. I can and will cry for each of them, feeling that grief or that joy deeply is part of my base, my foundation, it keeps me honest and true to myself. It reminds me why I am here.
I’ve been asked to write a memorial service for City of Hope, which they have every year, for all the children we’ve lost. About two hundred families attend. There is a tree and every family puts their child’s name on the tree, then there is a small presentation, and that’s my part, then a non-denominational ‘service.’ The doctor in charge has asked me to make a twenty minute ‘show’ out of “The Little Prince.” This will include a staged show with a few actors, a narrator, and, of course, I will include the laughing stars. He asked if I would narrate it, and the truth is…I can’t.
I am wired to feel things very strongly. I cannot see damage or cruelty and look away. No trip to the mall will make me forget the unkind words of an abusive parent. There is no way I can narrate the story of “The Little Prince” to that group and still be able to speak. And they deserve someone who can get through it, they will have sorrow enough of their own. These people, every one, are special, their lives have been touched by a unique person who has left them. I honor them all, and while I share their grief, it does not belong to me.
A gathering of angels. That’s what it is. And I will be lucky enough to stand beneath those stars, to share in that stream of humanity connected by empathy. That is why my writing, and my life, have changed for the better, because I have turned to face those changes. And the fact that my daughters have stood here with me, so many times, has made them the exceptional diamonds that they are.
Yes, the stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels are laughing at me.
And I am content.
Shari, March 22nd, 2015.