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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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.

 

Summoning Forth the Boogeyman

 

Boobalala

The Boogeyman is something I think most of us can relate to.  At some point in our childlife, something bit us in the bum, or some other crazy thing like that, and we would get up and start looking under our beds, in the closet, and any other potential place where the Boogeyman might be hiding before we could go to sleep.  Oh, the fear, the tingling, creepy fear.  And yet, night after night, we would go through this ritual before drifting off to sleep.  Was he there?  (Notice that the Boogeyman was always a “he” whether you were a girl or a boy.) And if he was there, what on earth would help us to protect ourselves, or to make him go away? In the end result, it wasn’t about any of this.  It was just about making sure he wasn’t there.  There were probably as many, if not more, nights when we didn’t think about the Boogeyman.  We would climb into our beds, pull the covers up, and drift off to sleep without a worry in the world.

Perhaps the Boogeyman was our way of empowering ourselves over things which we had little or no control.  We were the ones who summoned the Boogeyman, and we were the ones who assured ourselves that he was not going to hurt us. And each time we grew more confident until one day we went to sleep, knowing that the boogeyman was not going to ever hurt us.

Interestingly, in our adult lives, although we had stopped summoning our Boogeymen, instead we began to summon forth our inner demons.  Little by little we called for the Boogeymen to view our accomplishments in life, our creativity, telling us how lame or how otherwise terrible it was. We subject ourselves to endless fears and insecurities about what we so until I honestly think a visit from the Boogeyman would be a welcome relief.

We no longer put our Boogeymen to bed, but keep them out so that we can summon them any time of the day or night. They no longer have to hide under our beds or in our closets. They can appear in full daylight and their power over us is more terrifying than any Boogeyman we ever envisioned. The boogieman was all alone. We could dispatch him pretty quickly and go to sleep feeling as though everything was right in the world. But the demons summon more and more friends until we are absolutely overwhelmed, and there is absolutely no dismissing them. They are fearful even when we are very familiar with them.

Is it any wonder we get depressed when the boogieman no longer is confined to just beneath the bed and in the closet, but fills our everywhere and with not just one, but many demons? And the worst thing is that the demons are difficult to fight because they are so shapeless and nameless. “:He who shall not be named . . .” comes to mind directly from the Harry Potter stories.

Lombada Zombie Man

Try to remember how you put your boogieman away eventually because you outgrew him. You no longer needed him to empower you. Perhaps the demons are there too so that we can empower ourselves once again as adults who are creative and productive. We really know how to do it. Sometimes we just have to remember. And we have to be willing, like Harry Potter and his friends, to do battle with them. As my friend Spencer used to always say to me, “Good night, sleep tight. Wake up bright in the morning light and do what’s right with all your might.” Sometimes we might not have a lot of might to fight with, but we need to remember most of all not to give up in the presence of the demons. They may seem more powerful than we are, but we have something they don’t on our sides, and that is our enduring faith that something we are doing is right, and something they are doing is very, very wrong. They will never be as powerful as us because they cannot be named, and we have been named. Without a name, you are nothing but a shapeless form without meaning, so whatever meaning those demons have is meaning we are choosing to give them.

For those of you who are fighting your inner demons, I hope that you will not only begin to see the demons for what they are, but to realize that you can dismiss them just as you called them forth. You might even want to make some art of all the demons that haunt your creativity as I have done with mine. Sometimes giving them an actual persona can show you just how silly they really are and when you hang them where you can see them, you can deal with them more easily.

The little demons on this page are Boobalala and Zombie Lombada Man, some of my own little artsy demons. Boobalala was made by painting part of my anatomy and then pressing it to cloth in one of those primitive women’s ceremonial experiments artists sometimes do.  He is actually the last remnant of another piece I created.

Time, the Delightful Thief

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Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Time, the delightful thief

Steals from all without relief.

Whether we be great or small

Time has no respect at all.

Where today windswept trees reach up to pray

A moment’s breath brings a new day.

And so the centuries come and go,

And immortality hopes and dreams

Are far too slow.

So time, the delightful thief will come again,

We won’t know where, and can’t see when.