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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More of Who Will I Be Today

lady in funky clothes like Anne

I am not a fashion maven.  I do not care for new clothes.  New clothes are tabula raza; they have no life story, and for me, that is the most important thing I look for in life.  Everything has a story, and if it doesn’t I will make one, but how can you make a story from something that is brand new and has not lived anywhere except on a clothes rack.

I have always loved thrift stores, garage sales, and swap meets of all kinds. There is such a sense of adventure, and what I like especially is that when you go to these types of places, all racial, all political, religious or spiritual or cultural differences seem to disappear.  Everyone seems to blend into a wonderful mixture that looks like the clothes in this photo; there is a little of everything.  And people sit down at the tables to eat their preferred foods – sometimes things from their own cultures, and sometimes people are just plain adventuresome with what they eat.  But the key thing is that they all sit together at the tables, talking often in their native languages, and people doing their best to communicate with others who don’t speak the languages, everyone laughing at the antics of children, or pointing excitedly to a booth that might have extra good items.

And there we all are.  One could not paint a more beautiful and sacred photo I believe.  there is such a great feeling at the end of our time at these magical events.  People are quick to show you their “treasures,” be they the find of heirloom tomatoes, or perhaps a new variety of plant, or a huge watermelon that is going to bring a treat to a big family and friends.

I often use my background in archaeology/anthropology to do a study of a thrift store if I go into a new area, and I can tell so much about the people who live in the area by their “living” artifacts with the stories I mentioned.  I can tell if they are primarily seniors who live in the area, business people, or if they are a poor area or an ultra-wealthy one, and I can tell about the children too by the clothes, as well as the cultures represented.  And the books and other living artifacts are great clues too.  This is such a fun way to spend time discovering history’s mysteries!

I will never be “old” as long as I can find things to have fun with such as these things.  I will always be a hippy sort of person in the way I love to think of other people and our society as a whole.  The way I choose to dress is sort of a statement about all of that, and I am glad to be who I am because, as the photo says, I have never been this age before, and in one second, I will never be this age again.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Will I Be Today?

Annies Who Will I be today quilt

Art Quilt by Anne Copeland

I know you cannot see the whole quilt, and I would like you to be able to do that. This was made some years ago as an exchange quilt.  We each send a package of fabrics we want to have in our quilt, and the other person does the same.  A middle person handles all the fabrics, sending them to different people, and the quilt we make for this unknown person will be returned to them when we are done and all the pieces have been collected by that middle person.

We all have a dual nature, and we generally take on one or the other each day.  Just as we have day and night, cold and warm, floods and droughts, love and hate, success and failure, so we can choose to be one personality or the other.

I always love this quote from the book, Advice from a Failure, by Jo Coudert.  “Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never leave nor lose. To the question of your life, you are the only answer. To the problems of your life, you are the only solution.”

 

A Day in the Life of a Child

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Courtesy of Pexels.

The life of a child is magical.  It is almost unbelievable that something that starts with an egg and a sperm can grow into something so complex and full of so much potential. They are sacred.

I have worked with children for more than 15 years as a substitute paraeducator, instructional aide, and teacher in various California districts. These days have been some of the best days of my life. Every time I get a new child or a classroom full of children I feel as though life is giving me the best gifts a person can receive.  My children have been all ages of special needs – physically, developmentally or emotionally challenged, or a combination of any of those things.  But I use the word “challenged” instead of disabled because disabled suggest that a person is unable to do things, which is far from true, even in the most severe cases. With consistent assistance, the children CAN learn at some level.

In one of my classrooms as a paraeducator, I served as a one-on-one for a little boy who was autistic and nonverbal, and he had braces on his ankles and feet.  He also had to have special liquid frequently to help with his digestion. Although he had these challenges, he was generally cheerful and seemed to have a good sense of his own abilities.  The only area that was a challenge was when the children went outside for their exercise.

The braces made it difficult for him to walk very fast at all, and running seemed out of the question when the aides would play a sort of baseball with a big rubber ball and “bases” leading to the home plate.  They would throw the ball and the children would run from base to base, trying to get a home run.  The little boy I had charge of seemed to see this as a time to “watch” as the other children ran.  When his turn came up, he would stand watching, but not try to move forward.  This day I took his hand, held it tight, and encouraged him to keep going.  We managed to get through all the bases, and at last made a home run.  We had two more turns, and each time I held his hand tightly, encouraging him all the way.

Soon we were sitting in the grass resting as the game was over.  I turned to him and told him “Wow!  We made three home runs!”  Suddenly he grabbed me around the neck with both arms and began to hug me until we both fell over.  I knew it meant he was so happy because he sensed his victory.

I will never forget that day.  As he got into the car and his dad began to drive him home, he reached out with both arms and threw kisses at me.  I will always have a smile in my heart when I think of that child.

 

The Life of a Pencil

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Photo courtesy Pexels.

I learned this little really interesting lesson many years ago from my amazing friend, Spencer Heath MacCallum.

Every time you purchase a pencil, do you know how many people you are employing?  Start with the wood of the pencil. There have to be loggers who cut the wood, and then truckers who haul it to some factory.  Then there are the factory workers who form the wood for the pencil into its familiar shape.

Then there are those who paint the outsides of the pencils, and those who imprint it with the type of lead (the size, and perhaps the brand name, etc.).  Then there is the little metal piece that holds the rubber eraser.  OK, it is some kind of metal that (likely tin) that has to be mined and then processed, perhaps through many processes to make that holder.  Then it too goes via trucks or perhaps trains to a factory where it is shaped and formed into the piece that will hold the eraser onto the pencil.  And then there is the machinery that performs all those magical tasks, and the people who run those machines.  And of course there is the rubber.

It is growing in the forests in some country where it then is gathered as a liquid, and again, it is processed, and then dyed, as I think rubber in its natural state would not be pink (or other contemporary eraser colors), and it is formed and shaped into those little erasers.  Then there is the lead, and again, lead must be mined, carried to trucks or trains (as are all of these parts) where it is then taken to be processed for formed into the lead that becomes the innermost part of the pencil.

And then all of this must be assembled. Now a great part of the process might be to do these things automatically via machines, but then someone had to make the machines, and someone had to maintain them, and someone else has to run them.  And of course there are the quality control people.  And then the packaging people.  And then the people who take the orders and know where the pencils will go.  And then the pencils are loaded onto trucks and delivered to the places.  Of course, people have to build these trucks and they have to be maintained, and they have to have gas and oil.

Once delivered, the stocking people have to note them into the inventory, and then they get put onto the shelves, where the sales people might just help you to find them, and even if not, you will take them to the cash register to pay for them, so this is the end step that I can think of in the life of the pencil.

Doesn’t this make you feel good to know how many people you are helping to keep employed every time you buy that simple little pencil?  All of this for less than $1.00.