Writing Your Obituary

Courtesy Pexels

It seems an odd thing to think about when we are still alive and perhaps still young. Writing your obituary is a good idea though because if it is left to others to manage, they may write things that you would not have wanted to have written about you, or perhaps they would leave out things that were important to you.

It is a good way to remind yourself of all the things you have accomplished in your lifetime, and to remember people who others might not remember who were important to you in life. We don’t have to be thinking about dying, but we don’t really know what life has in store for us.

I often think of the story of Anne Frank, and how her story of her life in those last days was captured and has been an inspiration for so many people because it is the story of someone who lived a life with such meaning in just little everyday things. That is something I think it would be very difficult for another person, no matter how close they were to you, to capture your life the way you would have thought of it.

I think of my father, and I have not a photo or anything left of his life. He was not a role model for a father in some ways, but he did take care of us to ensure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothing always. He once got me a Ford Taunus, and I drove it out to White Sands Proving Grounds with him, and it went on the fritz out there. I could only drive the whole way back in 1st gear, not being able to shift at all. It seemed that drive was forever, and I never wanted to drive that car again. Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and I wonder how I might have written his obituary while he was still alive. I think the same for all of my relatives who are gone now, and those I particularly loved, and I so wish now I had captured their lives for my own children and their children and grandchildren.

Perhaps this is a good way to spend a bit of Father’s Day. If you can’t capture the life of your own father, perhaps you can capture your own growth from being a child to growing up and then becoming a father. I know someone will be glad someday to read about who you were as a human being and the things and people that were important to you in this life.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Dachau Holocaust Memorial

Before you mistakenly think that I am a Jew, I am not. I believe that we are all sacred on this earth, and we were put here for a purpose, so we all belong here – be you Chinese, Mexican, Black, Indian (East or West), Muslim, or any other race of people or culture, regardless of what God or spiritual belief you follow, regardless of your political beliefs, or any of those other things we associate with human beings. We are ALL sacred, and none of us would be here if we were not meant to be, along with all the types of creatures and growing plants, right down to the smallest grain of sand. Our greatest challenge today is to accept all the people in this world as being essential for the survival of the world and the universe. Together, we can accomplish so much, but as long as we keep considering that any particular group, any creatures, any plant or grain of sand, we will be continuing to tear down what was given to us as the greatest gift.

Holocaust Memorial

Let us not be separated by barbed wires, by men and women with guns, or other instruments of torture. Let us look to see the beauty in all the individuals and the creatures, the plants, and the smallest grains of sand, and work together to help this universe to continue to live. Every time we harm another human being, be it physical or with our words, we harm our own selves because we lose more of our souls until there is nothing left to show that we were once human. Take a moment out of your day to say a prayer for all of the humans, the creatures, the plants and the grains of sand and how thankful we all are that we have been given this beautiful diversity. Thank you one and all.

The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl by Anne Copeland

I loved for my Grandmother to read to me, even when I was a teenager.  I remember sitting next to her rocking chair and kneading her soft skin and telling her lovingly that it felt so good, like a turkey.  For some, that may have been a dreadful thing to tell a Grandmother, but mine understood that it was soothing for me.  She would always sit and tell me over and over the fairy tales I always requested.  Strangely, both of these stories seemed so dismal on the surface, but I always interpreted them differently. 

This is my conscious interpretation of the story.  It is true that it was likely in Victorian times in England.  It was Christmas eve, and it was very cold as citizens found their way around the area seeking last-minute gifts and special foods to celebrate.

The little match girl, a poor child who would represent reality in those times for a lot of children, was out in the street, poorly dressed for the cold.  She held up her matches, for she knew she dare not return home without selling them.  Her family did not have the good foods that others had to eat.  She perhaps had not eaten all day or even several days.  No one noticed the matches she held up in the cold.

Desperate to do something in this dismal time, she lit one of the matches.  As the long match glowed in the dark, it warmed her a tiny bit, and in that moment, she saw a vision of possibility.  She saw herself in a warm home with food and presents, and a beautiful Christmas tree lit with many colors.  The other children with her were all aglow with happiness that permeated the cold, dark sky.

The match did not last. With a sort of strange bit of hope, she lit another match.  Once again, her heart was filled with joy and happiness, if just for that moment. You know, it only takes a moment for a miracle.  If we can experience the joy of being alive in our minds and our souls, just for that moment, we experience the true miracle of life.

As the matches continued to be lit, finally culminating in the lighting of the remainder of the matches all at once, she was able to transcend that reality of her life.

We are sometimes faced with ugly realities in our lives, and we don’t  have to accept them as our forever reality.  We can see the best even in the worst of times, and know that life will change as it always does.  We are all sacred in this world, as is every plant, every animal, every grain of sand.  We are not alone.  We are part of the larger universe, and we would not be here if we were not meant to be.  If we are here but a moment, we can make it the most beautiful miracle of a moment ever. 

On Being Happy in Life

Virginia Woof Art Quilt in Progress by Anne Copeland

We are not going to have everything our way all the time.  We can choose to be happy in life regardless of any given circumstances.  Life is truly what we make of it.

Virginia Woolf was, by all appearances, someone who had everything going for her.  She had a husband who loved her, a circle of friends who were creative people and who thought for the most part as she did related to life philosophy.  Her books and writings were successful, and she had a beautiful home with everything a person could possibly want or need.

And yet, she ended her own life by her own choosing. She never looked at any alternatives for her own self. It is true that there was not mental health help in those times as there is now, but there were things she could have chosen to do. She drew a wall around her life, and chose not to allow anything in or out. 

No matter where we are in this life, we can always choose to accept the things we deal with as outside ourselves.  We might not be able to change these things, but we can choose the way we think about them.  We can always choose to love and accept ourselves as we are, and as we are not.

Unfinished

Unfinished Aung San Suu Kyi by Anne Copeland

      Thumbing through a newspaper one day, I was stuck by a photo of this truly incredible woman.  So petite and delicate in appearance, who would ever imagine that she is the national hero of the people of Myanmar, Burma, and that this woman almost single-handedly has led the people in her area toward a major resistance against the military regime that has so consistently prevented the people from gaining freedom and that has consistently brutalized and murdered the citizens in that country for so many years. 

     To read more of her story, go to:  http://burmacampaign.org.uk/about-burma/a-biography-of-aung-san-suu-kyi/. Like this art quilt above, this story is unfinished, but it is good to know that in these difficult times, someone is willing to sacrifice everything for her country and the people in it. 

     Women are rising up in this world in so many ways to fight for rights, and many like Aung San Suu Kyi have dedicated their lives to help others in their countries to be able to live fully without fear.  I would love to hear about your special women heroes in this life and what they have done. We need to make others aware that freedom is not free. Like the many male heroes who have given their lives to give this greatest of  gifts to all of us, we need to find ways to ensure that they are never forgotten.

An Angel Among Us

pexels-newborn baby 2

Photo Courtesy Pexels

When I first moved to Calimesa in Southern California, I noted that the Garden of Angels in Desert Lawn Cemetery was located in my city.  I had read about the cemetery in 1996 when a wonderful lady, Debi Faris, living in Yucaipa (next to Calimesa) heard a newscast about a newborn baby found dead in a duffle bag that had been tossed out on the San Pedro freeway.

Garden of Angels Cemetery at Desert Lawn in Calimesa

Faris explained how that newscast impacted her life. “He was placed, I assume by his mother, in a pink duffle bag with the word ‘lifesaver’ written on the outside of it. This little child would change the course of my life,” she said.

“When I heard the news report about that newborn baby in the duffel bag … it touched me so deeply that I could not turn and walk away. He was a human being, so innocent and vulnerable. It tore at my heart that his mother could not see the ‘gift’ she had been given.”

Thus Faris began her life-long quest to make sure there would be a place to bury these abandoned or murdered children and she made education of teens and young people her priorities.

Soon thereafter, she contacted Senator Jim Brulte to get the laws of child abandonment changed. The abandonment law passed after some time and in 2001 the Safe Surrender for Newborns law became part of her legacy.

“On August 26, 1996, we buried the first three children in the Garden of Angels. Two abandoned newborn baby boys and a little girl about the age of two, apparently murdered, who had been found floating in a river. I gave them their names, Matthew, Nathan and Dora. Their names all have the same meaning … a gift from God.” She said her dad made wooden crosses and sent them to her from Oregon.

The names were important she said because, “These children had a name now … they would not be just a Coroner’s number.”

There is even one adult buried in the Garden. Grandpa John’s stone cross sits on the edge of the garden amidst the forest of monuments dedicated to the tiny children.

In 2002, Faris had received a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office asking if she knew anyone or group who would take the body of an adult and give him a proper burial. “I said I didn’t and asked why,” she said.

The person on the other line proceeded to tell Faris they had a man who had died and as they were trying to find family to notify them of his death, they learned that as a baby, he had been found discarded in a trash can in July 1936.

The man, legally named John Doe Jr., had suffered brain damage, possibly from being thrown into the trash can and had apparently lived his life in institutions, she said.

“I told them I would take him,” she smiled. “Now he’s surrounded by all these children and he won’t ever be alone again.”

Forsale

Debi Faris in the Garden of Angels

I attended several of the funerals at the Garden of Angels since I lived in the general area then.  The first one I attended was for three babies, all in tiny caskets, and all wrapped in receiving blankets.  Two of the caskets were no bigger than large boxes that might contain boots.

Debi Faris would drive from Yucaipa, CA all the way to Los Angeles, where the bodies of babies would be kept, along with every other person who was unidentified and/or unclaimed, and all the bodies would be cremated as one might burn trash.  She would get the babies, clean their tiny bodies and wrap them in clean receiving blankets.  Then she would sit with the babies for a short time, rocking them in a sort of loving action that a mother would make.  And then she would bring them back to Calimesa, CA, to the Garden of Angels, and they would be put in their tiny caskets for the funerals.

The funerals I attended back around 2014 were beautiful ways to acknowledge a life that otherwise might have passed into the netherworld without their lives having been acknowledged.  All the babies are given a first and sometimes middle name.  They cannot get a last name because of legal issues, I imagine lest someone comes to claim any of them, which has never happened.  There is singing.  The song I heard was “I’ll Fly Away Home,” and it was truly touching.  I know I shed some tears.  When the little caskets are taken outside to the burial site, people stand over them and pray for them and white doves are released.  They circle higher and higher in the sky over the site, and eventually begin to fly back home.  At every holiday, the little graves are decorated with flowers and other gifts brought by different people who visit the cemetery.  The Garden of Angels is a special part of the cemetery all of its own right near the front of the mortuary.  There is a little pool nearby and birds and ducks come there frequently to visit the pond.  It is a beautiful ceremony, and though sad, I think the fact that the babies are honored instead of being thrown away in trash cans, dumped in rivers, left out in the desert, or otherwise thrown away as a life without any value other than perhaps a 20-minute sex act (if that).

I have always been so touched by what this one woman did, a woman who was not wealthy, and who sold her family car to have money to bury the first three babies, that I too decided to do something as well in their honor.  So I began collecting blue and white quilt blocks that various women have donated.  I will ultimately bind each block individually and put them together horizontally so that the quilt can continue to grow.  I had made a list of the babies and their names, and some people have chosen to embroider a child’s name on a block.  I think when someone is talking to the young people at the high schools, it is a good visual aid to help them understand the reality of the issue.

Prior to the passing of the Safe Surrender for Newborns law, it is estimated that there were some 500 babies abandoned and/or murdered outright.  Today as it stands, there are more than 100 babies in the cemetery. I have not been there lately so I am not sure of the exact number, but one baby is too many. For information on California’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law, go to babysafe.ca.gov.

Footnote:  Debi Faris, after working so hard on this issue, actually won the lottery and her payout out of $26,000,000,000 was $9,000,000,000.  She contributed some of it to the nonprofit organization that I believe now exists.