In this World of Ordinary People

A couple of ordinary people, Anne and Richard

In this world of ordinary people, extra-ordinary people, I am glad there is you. I wish each and every one of you extra-ordinary people the very best life has to offer for the New Year and all the Years to follow. Some of you may think yourselves ordinary, but in my life, you are miracles, and you are sacred. Thank you for the many gifts you have brought into my life.

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A Time of Quiet Contemplation and Thankfulness

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As we continue a season of holidays, I want to wish you the very best life has to offer, no matter what set of holidays you choose to celebrate. I wish you peace, joy, and an appreciation of the sacred in this world.

This is a time of renewal, and a time of quiet contemplation about the world that we have been given in which to have the experience of being an important part of the universe with its many different dimensions.  As the world seems to sleep, new life is forming quietly in so many different places and going unnoticed until it bursts forth in all its glory when spring awakens.

 

 

Thank You Forever . . .

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You were there for me, and you didn’t even know my name.  You fought for me, and millions like me whom you never got to meet. And you fought for your wives, your children, and your grandchildren, and this country of ours.  You came back, alive but wounded, or you came back in a casket.  You did your best to preserve our country and our freedom.  You were terrified at times, and sick from seeing all the dead and dying and the wounded, but you kept fighting.  Thank you forever.  Thank you for all the children growing up in a free country, and for all those who don’t even realize how great was your sacrifice.  I don’t know your names either, but I know that you did the best anyone could have done for any of us.  And I thank you one and all.  I wish you could hear me say it.  I wish I could shake all of your hands, or perhaps make a quilt for you and your families, who still cry when they remember what you were willing to give.

I cry when I remember my little brother, barely a man at 18, and how he came back 100% disabled from a war we should not have perhaps fought.  His sacrifices, like yours, gave me the heart to forever on work with those with physical and other challenges.  It gave me the heart that when I see you missing a limb or more than one, or suffering from PTSD to want to hug and comfort you and to say that I will never forget one of you. I grew up in a military family and every male member fought in one of the wars through time; some never made it back home.

This day is coming to an end, but your day will be forever remembered in the hearts of many of us.  And again, I want to say to all of you, thank you forever.

 

Of Tears and Smiles of Joy

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Although I am normally of a cheerful spirit and am always trying to provide inspiration for others, today is a truly difficult day.

I have been working with physically/developmentally/emotionally challenged children and adults perhaps since the 1970’s when my younger brother came home from Vietnam, 100% disabled with a TBI, a spinal injury, and permanent PTSD.  It gave me the heart for this work and I have done it ever since.

It has been a good journey, and I am glad that sometimes in the face of tragedy, we are led to do things to help our communities and to help others who are going through challenges.

Yesterday morning very early, I got a call from one of my best friends who helped me to create and run our tiny, but successful nonprofit for some 15 years, providing exposure and professional development for physically challenged artists. Barbara Williamson is a paraplegic lady I met more than 15 years ago when she was looking for help to become a professional with her own business selling her fiber arts work.  It was natural that we came together to do the work we did with virtually no money for all these years.

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Barbara Williamson, “Buddha’s Garden,”

one of three pieces left because they are in an exhibit in another town

Barbara was shot point blank by a felon when she was in her mid 20’s; the bullet missing her heart by one inch, and leaving her permanently physically challenged.  She was approximately four months pregnant at the time, and miraculously, the baby was born early, but survived, so today she is a mother and grandmother.  All these years, Barbara has been a productive fiber artist, a writer, and she has contributed so many things for her community and for others in need.

The phone call was short; she, her caregiver, and her dog had to evacuate their town.  There was a huge fire coming up the mountain in the valley below her home.  As we tried to hear the news throughout the day yesterday and today, we heard that the hospital has been destroyed (all patients evacuated) two blocks from her home and the fire is blazing through the entire town.  My friend is presumably safe for they got out early, but all of her artwork and her sewing machine and everything else had to be left behind.  This is some 15+ years of art quilts that have been in many exhibits including international ones, and which we were preparing to sell on a website we were creating for her.

But they were more than just that.  They were the reason she has survived cancer, a burst artery, a stroke, and any number of other physical challenges through these many years.  There are tears in my eyes, but there is joy in my heart, for what is taken from us today will live on in our memories over the many years.  Perhaps I have impacted her life in a positive way, but she has brought so much more to mine.

 

 

Want to Play?

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  George Bernard Shaw – Dramatist (1856 – 1950)

I was thinking about how much fun I have had when I allow myself to play freely as this child is doing.  The freedom to explore the world we don’t see everyday, sometimes when it is right in front of us, is a wonderful thing.

I remember when I was turning 65, how I decided to put on some African music I had and begin to dance to it naked in my own home.  And then I got the idea to paint my breasts and make prints from them onto cloth.  I had no idea what these simple parts of my own body look like from a different perspective and it just seemed a fun way to play.  There is nothing strange or silly (well, silly I can live with) about it.  It was playing, and discovering, and it was immensely a fun way to celebrate.  In the end, the two prints I made – one white and one multi-color, ended up becoming quilts that looked nothing at all like breasts.

I once saw the installations of art by a famous artist who did basically the same thing with parts of his body he said he never saw before.  It was amazing, for he had manipulated the images that he got, and nothing was even recognizable as whatever it was originally, but it was immense fun to think about someone to be unafraid to play and to discover whatever there was to find.

It isn’t just the human body with which people are afraid to play and discover.  It is things we all take for granted.  The cracks in sidewalks, the marks on trees, the forms of all sorts of things out in nature, and perhaps a million other things that we really don’t know at all except from a distance.  It isn’t just about playing with toys or playing games that we played as children.  It’s about getting to know the world we live in, up close and personal.  Have you played lately?

 

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.

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.