An Angel Among Us

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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.

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How to Create an Outdoor Living Art Gallery

Annes Garden 23Annes Garden 20Annie's Art Fence in backAnnes Garden 16An ordinary garden can easily become an outdoor art gallery, and there are many ways to do it.  You can paint your art, or have the neighborhood children paint it on your fence, or have some of your best friends have an art party where you all paint parts of the overall art project that you agree on.

It is just this simple, and as for cost, thrift stores are great places to find unknown artists works of arts.  Don’t hesitate to look at art from trash finds.  You may find some of the best art you can imagine.  And don’t worry about it being outside; my art has been though rain, snow, sunshine, and it was still standing when I moved. Also, this whole fence was recycled from Craigslist.org in my area.  The fellows that brought it to me installed it for me and did part of the painting of the wood.  I did the rest later on.Annes GardenAnnes Garden 5

The more art and the more variety you provide, the better it will be.  So here is my former outdoor art gallery.

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Five Roses and How They Grew (or Not)

rose-blossom-bloom-red-rose-87469Photo courtesy Pixels.

I have five rose bushes in pots in my yard. It is interesting to watch the way they grow (or dont). These were rescue rose bushes – I got them in one of those very cheap waytoolateforbarerootroses sales and they were literally bare root – no sawdust or other wrapping to protect them.  It looked as though the grower simply plowed up their fields, threw the survivors into a box and brought them to the storeI looked carefully through all the ones that were available and picked the ones that had some signs of growing or trying to grow.

Watching the five rose bushes grow is a good analogy for life and how people choose to live itOf the five rose bushesdespite great care and lovewatering and fertilizerone of them didnt even try to make it and died within daysIt just plain gave upfor it had plenty of greenand it could have chosen to growbut for whatever reasonsit didnt even give it a tryI took it back and the store let me pick out another oneso againI brought the new one home and gave it the same treatment.

This one didnt look THAT promising – it had two spindly little greenishwhite twisted branches coming outbut somehow I felt good about itI wasnt wrong either because it took in all the waterthe fertilizerand everything it could get and it put out the largest leaves and healthy redgreen leavesand lots of them tooIt was really pumping to grow with everything it hasThe leaves and stems quickly reached up as if to catch every drop of available sunThis rose bush is not only was going to make itit was going to outpace all the other ones as if in a race to be the biggest and strongest.

One of the rose bushes had green on the trunks and it looked healthybut it is as though it hasnt made up its mind whether to grow or notIt just sat there with its green trunk but it hadnt even tried to put out any branches or leavesIt almost felt as though it was waiting for someone else to do its work.

Still another of the rose bushes was greenand it sort of sat there for awhileand then finally decided to growIt took a longer timemalingering day by dayseeming a little hopeful as it held onto its green for a long timebut then it finally just gave up without any little fight to survive.

The fourth rose bush tried toobut it was a such a timid little thingIt too had the greenish white branchesand it it put out little sweet leavesbut kept them close to the trunk as if needing to protect them from everythingIt grew slowlyas if not quite sure of each step it took like a baby that tries to take its first steps but has to hold onto the wall for security, not knowing how to trust its own self to make it .

The fifth rose was taller than the rest in its trunkbut it just put out one spindly branch and it had leavesbut only a couple and it grew so slowly that I often forgot to look at it to see how it is doing because my eyes were drawn to the most robust of all of them and how truly hard that one was trying.

I always think about these roses when I think about the challenges I hear that people are having in their lives and the ways they handle themI think about the ways they chose or chose not to go on and live fully no matter what the circumstances.

Like that robust rose bush with its huge leaves reaching out to grab everything it could to live fullyit was a trash rose to start out with as all of these werebut it was determined to go forward and it will make it in life and to be a rose that would cause people to admire it for trying so hardEven if this rose didnt get regular watering and fertilizer and a lot of good sunI have this feeling that it would be the kind of rose that would grow between cracks in pavementIt really wants to live and nothing will stop it as long as there is even just a little trunk and roots leftWhat kind of rose bush would you be in this life?