Not Forgotten

July 11, 2018

Not Forgotten

Me, in my backyard, lost deep in thought in some imaginary world…

“Where’s Robyn?” my mom asked, sounding a little frantic. I looked around for my sister. A while earlier, she had asked me to watch her as she did some yard work. Robyn and I were playing in the sandbox. Except now it was just me playing in the sandbox, lost deep in thought in some imaginary world, as usual. I looked up at my mom with a mixture of fear and guilt. Because I had lost track of her. I was 4 years old.

As my Mom’s eyes filled with fear and confusion we both heard a loud squeal. Her eyes widened in terror and she went tearing around to the front of the house, screaming. I looked down at the sand creation I was building and quietly set down my tools. I felt a pain in my stomach like a stone as I realized what a horrible sister I was. Slowly, I crept around to the front of the house, going around the opposite side than my mom had travelled. As I rounded the corner I could see Mom carrying my 2 year old sister in her arms. There was a huge truck stopped in front of our house and I came to realize that Robyn had been crawling across the street, completely unattended by her big sister, when this tractor trailer rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill in front of our house. It was going full speed when the driver hit the brakes because of the baby crawling across the street. My mom had arrived just as he was picking Robyn up and carrying her toward our house.

I stood, unnoticed, off to the side of the house, in the middle of the driveway. I watched as my mom gratefully carried Robyn into the house to tend to her and nurse her own guilt and fear. And I remember just standing in that spot staring at the ground for a long time. I didn’t cry. Or run to my mother. I just stood there. Realizing I had nearly caused my sister’s death. Rooted to the ground with guilt and shame and embarrassment, unable to move. I was hoping no one noticed me there, and I understood that I didn’t deserve comforting. My pain was self-inflicted and my mom and my sister were the ones who really needed tending to at that moment.

But also, I felt forgotten.

I think everyone has a baseline fear that drives and informs their life. Most likely it is shaped by some childhood experience or trauma. It might be the fear of being alone, or the fear of being rejected. My son’s baseline fear is not being believed. He experienced a terrible trauma as a child when he lived in an orphanage in India, and when he told the orphanage director about it, she didn’t believe him. Of all the traumas he has suffered, that is the one that affects everything he does: not being believed. He is honest to a fault and will turn on you with violence if you accuse him of lying.

My baseline fear is being forgotten. I only recently realized how much this fear paralyzes me.  One of the things I have loved most about being Rahul’s mom is our closeness. We share everything and have been through so much together. We have a really deep bond that has been created through trials and fighting and a lot of hard work and love. Our attachment to one another is well earned. And because of his special emotional needs, we have spent more time together than most families. Last winter, as Rahul and I were talking about what it will be like for him when he goes to college next year, I suddenly realized what it will be like for me when he goes to college next year. I realized that although he will most likely live at home for the first few years of college, everything is going to change. For the past 10 years I have completely built my life around him. I created my business based on his school schedule and special needs. I sacrificed nearly all of my social life to spend most of the time when I’m not working caring for his needs. I sleep half the amount I used to before I adopted him because he has trouble sleeping and because of the demands of my work. I have no money because his special needs drained all of my savings and investments when he was younger, and I’ve spent the last 8 years digging myself out of that financial hole.

Well, all of that is about to change for me. Which seems like it should be a good thing! I will be able to choose a different work scenario, where I can earn more money and receive benefits. I will sleep more! I will be able to socialize like I used to. But all I can think of is this sinking feeling of being forgotten. I picture this vague, depressing scenario where I’m home alone with my cat and everyone has forgotten about me and moved on with their exciting lives. (My beloved dog Baby Fish Mouth is very old and I anticipate that he won’t be around much longer than Rahul’s high school career.) And that no matter how much I push myself into my friends’ lives and continue to care for my my son’s needs, I won’t be woven into the fabric of anyone’s day anymore. I won’t be the first person anyone sees every morning and the last person anyone sees every night. I don’t fear being alone, I’ve always been comfortable being by myself. But I’m terrified that I will be alone because I’ve been forgotten.

I try to explain this fear to my friends and I realize it doesn’t make any sense. I have friends that are closer than family and will never leave me. My friend Libby started crying when I told her about this fear, because she would never forget me and has proven over and over how much she is willing to do to be there for me when I am in need. I recently went though something really heartbreaking and my friends came swooping in from all over the place to take care of me. Calling me from far away night after night to talk and pray for hours. Traveling long distances and leaving their families behind to come take me out to dinner or go on a picnic to get me out of the house and keep me talking. It was extraordinary and I felt very loved and taken care of. But with all of this proof of love and devotion, I’m still terrified.

It’s irrational, but the feeling I fear is the same one I felt when my sister was almost killed. I fear that other peoples’ needs are going to always be more important than mine. I fear that because I am so fiercely independent people will assume I can always take care of myself. I fear that because I’m not usually the one in the middle of dramatic situations, because I’m not particularly needy or a squeaky wheel, people will assume I don’t need their attention. I fear that because the things I need are simple and quiet: a hug every once in a while, a text or an invitation to let me know I’m on your mind, a visit for no other reason than to spend time together–that people will forget that these things make me feel loved and seen and valuable.

I’ve been avoiding all the things I should be doing to prepare Rahul for his college career. I can’t seem to get motivated to research scholarships or set up school appointments or make travel plans to visit schools. And the time has come. We have a lot to do this summer and I can’t delay any longer. Time marches on and I don’t want him to miss out.

So I am resolving to face my fear and to push through it. I am traveling back in time to visit that little girl standing in her driveway, scared and ashamed, and giving her a big hug. I’m looking her in the eyes and telling her it’s OK and that I see her pain. I’m reminding her that her family loves and cherishes her and that no one blames her for what happened. I’m walking her into the house to find her mother and ask for the comfort and reassurance that she needs and will surely be freely given.

And I’m convincing her that she is not forgotten.

 

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I love the rain. When I was a very little girl I used to go out on our sunporch and lie on an old couch when it would rain. I would lie there all by myself and look out the windows at the muted sky and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the leaves on all the trees surrounding our house and on the roof and windows of our sunporch. It made me feel safe and surrounded by God.

As a teenager, I would sit at my bedroom window when it rained and look out over the farmland that stretched out past our house and breathe in the scent of rain on the fields–an earthy, sweet, mineral aroma that would fill me with calm and peace.

When I moved to NYC for college I loved it so much I stayed through the summers every year. And I quickly learned that summer storms in NYC are something to behold! They sweep in dramatically, darkening the sky with eggplant colored clouds and dump billions of giant raindrops all over the city. I always think God is trying to scrub the streets clean. People run for cover (because umbrellas are useless) and stand under awnings and scaffoldings forever, waiting for the rain to pass. One summer I got a job as the receptionist for a production company in Soho. And one day when I went out for lunch, a summer storm rolled in. I laughed at all the people hiding from the rain, and they rolled their eyes at me as I marched around the streets, turning my face up to the sky to get the maximum amount of wet. When I went back to work I had to sit at my desk dripping and shivering in the air conditioning, clutching a mug of hot water for warmth for the rest of the day while everyone who came in the office felt sorry for me for “getting caught” in the rain. Only after the 4th or 5th time that happened did they realize I was deliberately getting drenched. I got a stern talking to by my boss and *tried* not to do it again.

Spring rains are beautiful too. Light and misty, they soften and quiet the atmosphere. My apartment is on the ground floor of my building and has big windows that look out on a little garden. One of my favorite memories from Rahul’s early days with me was a string of rainy Saturdays we spent playing games sitting on the couch. The rain fell softly outside, hitting the leaves surrounding our building and I remember feeling really nourished. Like the rain was nourishing the ground and everything growing out if it, I felt like God was nourishing me with this amazing child, who was normally so frenetic, now sitting calmly with me playing games, listening to the rain.

It’s Spring now, and lately Rahul and I have been having these deep late-night talks about God. He is so wise and his life experiences have been so different than mine that his perspective on difficult and mysterious spiritual topics is really illuminating. He has answered a lot of the questions for himself that most people spend their whole lives wondering about and won’t flinch or hesitate if you ask him why God allows painful things to happen to us, or why some people seem to have an easier life than others. These are topics he has wrestled with in his own faith journey and has resolved with confidence. We sit together at night, often while he is giving me a foot rub or I am giving him a facial. (You have your Family Movie Nights, we have Family Spa Nights–don’t judge!) And I ask him my deep questions.

“Why is my friend, who has experienced heartbreaking and devastating loss, one of the most cheerful and grateful people I’ve ever met?” “Because when you hit the bottom of the well you can either choose to stay there and live in grief and darkness for the rest of your life or you can look up and choose to live your life grateful for every day. It’s God’s way of showing that He is in charge–by taking something devastating and transforming it into something life-affirming and hopeful.”

“Why does Jesus teach us that we only we need a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain?” “Because God already did all the work for us to be close to Him and He wanted to make it easy for us to have faith that our prayers are powerful. It’s an illustration that reminds us how little we need to do.”

Lately it feels like the battle of my life to just believe that God will give me what I’m asking for in prayer. Rahul reminded me how “easy” faith can be. Just by looking at the man he is now affirms my faith. I’ve seen him change so dramatically over the years in lots of ways, including his faith in God. He did not believe that God existed for most of his childhood. I never tried to force my beliefs on him, but by being around me all the time he did absorb a little bit of my faith. Mostly he argued with me about it. But sometimes he attempted to imitate what he saw in me. When I was sharing with him my struggle to believe that God would answer my prayer he reminded me of an experience that he had when he was little that I had forgotten about.

We were driving to Brooklyn for some neuro-psych testing he was having done and it was a long drive. It was raining and I told him one of my favorite stories in the Bible about rain. Elijah was a prophet in Israel during a particularly Godless time. He prayed earnestly that it would stop raining and lo and behold, it stopped raining and there was a drought. Then after a few years he prayed again and the heavens opened up, it rained and the drought was over. There were various reasons Elijah did this, but one was to teach us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Rahul loved the idea that a man could control the rain and he quietly tried it out as we were driving. He would silently pray that it would rain and moments later I’d be turning on the windshield wipers. Then he’d pray it would stop and off they would go. Over and over he did this until we arrived in Brooklyn and he announced to me that he had just controlled the rain all the way there! This experience was formative for his faith as he began to understand that God hears us when we pray and loves to answer even our weird rain-based requests if it will help us believe in Him. When he reminded me of it the other day it really moved me. Here was Rahul’s mustard seed of faith that moved his mountain of doubt and anger and disbelief and created this super-deep, spiritual, faithful man.

It’s supposed to rain the rest of the week, and I’m going to try to let every raindrop that hits me on the head remind me how easy faith can be.

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Rahul running his heart out in the rain

 

Signs of Spring

March 23, 2018

When I was a child, my mother would send me outside at the end of winter to look for signs of spring. She would give me a notebook and a pencil and I’d roam around our property looking for any hint that there was a new season on its way, then report back to her. I grew up outside of Buffalo, so winters were especially harsh. I can remember when I was about 5 years old we had a season of blizzards so intense that schools were closed for weeks and we measured the snowfall against our swing set in the backyard until the snow nearly covered it. Maybe it was that year that my mom first had the idea to get me looking for spring.

Inevitably, the first signs I always noticed were the purple crocuses that would pop up while the last of snow was still on the ground. They grew around my favorite tree–the one that held our tire swing, another wooden swing and our tree house. Of course, it might snow a few more times after they popped up, but they always seemed to persist. And they always came back the next year.

The thing I most enjoyed about early spring were the streams all around our house that would fill with melted snow and bubble with clear, fresh water. I can remember spending hours dragging sticks through the streams, just watching the water flow. Behind our house was a large field and behind that were the woods. There was a waterfall deep in the woods that ran down to a big stream that then ran off into all the little streams I would play in. Every Easter afternoon our family would hike all the way back through the woods to that waterfall, climb up to the top, then march around our neighbor’s property as if we owned it.

Spring is nice. But I can’t say that I love one season more than another. I feel like each one has its beauty and each one brings with it echoes and anniversaries of wonderful and also painful memories. So I don’t usually look forward to spring any more than the other seasons. And this year in particular, I have been resistant to its charms. Winter has been especially wonderful, and I haven’t wanted to see it end. It has been a season of calm and renewal and hope and beauty, and I wish all of that would continue. I fear that with spring’s arrival winter’s joys will disappear.

But despite the nor’easter we got hit with this week, spring has officially arrived and there’s nothing I can do to stop it! And I’m already beginning to fall prey to its charms. The light is so clear and bright! There is a smell of freshness in the air. There is a feeling of coming to life all around me, like nature is quivering with excitement and about to burst open.

And I have to wonder. Maybe all the peace and calm I experienced over the winter was simply preparation to a great blooming that is coming in spring! In a few days I know I will start seeing the bright green of new buds on the trees. The ground will thaw and soak up all the melting snow. We will shed our heavy coats and our socks (always the first to go for New Yorkers–we love to show off a good pedicure) and hopefully a few pounds. Many of us will start sneezing and itching and losing our voices. (I’ve been taking allergy medicine for weeks already.) The baby birds and squirrels and skunks and (please God, NO!) mice will emerge as the world springs to life all around me. And then the flowering trees will burst to fullness and hang heavy with colorful, fragrant blossoms.

And maybe then I will join them, and all the peace and joy I’ve cultivated over the winter will blossom into fullness and blessings and happiness…

I don’t know. But I’m already looking for the signs.

 

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Purple crocuses at my parents’ house

 

 

 

Dear Rahul, my beautiful 17 year old boy,

I see you standing on the verge of entering that amazing world of romance and dating and heartbreak and true love.

And I want to offer you some advice. Some insights to arm you against disappointment and some guidance to get you on your way.

I sometimes think I am really under qualified to teach you about this, since I never married. But you often remind me that I can tell you what its like on the other side of the relationship–the woman’s side. And conveniently, you like girls. And I’m a girl. So there’s that. And believe it or not, I’ve actually had lots of experiences with love that should help you out.

So here are my words of wisdom.

  1. Don’t kiss a lot of frogs, but do date a lot of princesses. Some people think  that you have to endure lots of sucky dates with disappointing potential love interests in order to find that true “princess” who is a million times better than anyone else. I don’t agree. I think when you approach dating as a way to build friendships and encourage each girl you spend time with, you will more easily see your way to finding a true companion. You are spiritual and God-centered. Date girls who are likewise. You will connect with them on a deep spiritual level, and even it you are not attracted to one another, you will have made each other’s lives richer for having spent time together.
  2. Notice how they make you feel about yourself. You will probably be interested in many women over the next few years. You will think they’re sweet and cute and beautiful and they will occupy your thoughts and you’ll feel like you’re going crazy. That is how it is to fall in love. But before you’re in too deep, take note of how you feel about yourself when you’re with her. Not how you feel–how you feel about yourself. If she doesn’t make you feel like you can be a better man, that you are capable of so much more because she believes in you, that you are the most wonderful, strong, gorgeous man when she is looking at you, she is not for you. Period. It’s the easiest litmus test, and if you can’t see it clearly, I guarantee the people around you will see it. Ask them. Women have the power to build up or tear down a man with their words, and if she is playing games or manipulating you it will be obvious by how you feel about yourself.
  3. Notice if they seem to want to change you. If she doesn’t love you for who you are right now, she doesn’t really love you. Some people really love a project, and they fall in love with the idea of you instead of the actual you. And you’ll be able to tell, because she will always be a little bit dissatisfied with your clothes, or your choices, or your timing, or the flavor of gum you chew (true story…). And even if you try to change these things she will find something else to pick at.
  4. Don’t forget the “friend” in girlfriend. I know I tell you this all the time, but its true. If you want a girlfriend (which you often say you do) the best way you can prepare for that is to be a really great friend. Nurture all your relationships, and really try to be the best friend you can be to all your buddies, classmates and long-time pals. Because all the romantic gestures in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t know how to be really great friends with your girlfriend.
  5. Speaking of romantic gestures, make them sincere. Now, this could be just me, but I think most women prefer small, spontaneous, romantic moments more than grand fanfares. When I look back over my life and think of the most romantic, meaningful moments, the ones that stand out are so sweet and small they are almost hard to describe. For instance, once I was talking to this man that I loved and the wind blew my hair in my face and it stuck to my lipgloss. And he just reached up and gently pulled my hair free, all the while giving me this look…The world stopped. These are the moments we love.
  6. Give gifts that show her that you know her. A woman who loves you will be so encouraged by any gift you give her, but you really want to show her that you understand her. This is very important to women–we want to know that you see us. For some reason, there was a period in my life when every guy that was interested in me gave me a teddy bear. I remember one day, opening up my closet and looking at this whole shelf of teddy bears and thinking, “Who is out there telling men that I like teddy bears?” You know me. Do I seem like I would like teddy bears? No. And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the fact that these amazing men were going to the trouble of buying me a sweet gift, it’s that the gift just made me realize how much they didn’t know me. And that can be discouraging. It’s not hard to find out what a woman likes. Just ask her!
  7. Chase her… When you find a woman who you are really crazy about, let her know. And we like action, not just words. Send her a letter, get to know her friends, surprise her at her job or her class, write her a card, send her encouraging texts just to tell her she’s special and you’re thinking about her. There was this boy I loved many years ago, who would run down the street after me in the winter, having forgotten his coat, just to walk me to the train. Still, when I wonder if someone loves me, I think, “But would he chase me down the street just to walk with me for a few more minutes?” If the answer is no, I realize it’s not love.
  8. …but don’t stalk her. Not everyone you fall in love with will love you back, I’m very sorry to say. And if you are getting a firm “no” from her, that she is not interested in you, you need to let it go. Of course there’s always the chance that she might come around, but that will be more likely to happen if you can move on and give her some space. It is a really horrible feeling to be the object of someone’s obsession. It is not flattering. It’s guilt-inducing at best, and terrifying at its worst. For instance, when you’ve already told a co-worker repeatedly that you are not interested in him and he proceeds to fill your locker with flowers and buy you candy and gives you a painting–of yourself–that he painted…this is cause for great alarm and fear, not for a change of heart. And every moment you spend on a woman who does not and will not love you, is a moment you are taking away from the one who will.
  9. Don’t be afraid of a mess. Because love is really, really messy. You will be floating on air one moment, and curled up in a ball on the floor the next, only to be followed by more elation, then another crushing blow. I think falling in love feels like floating on a small raft in the ocean. It’s a thrilling ride, as the waves pull you out to sea, and you sometimes feel like you are about to be sucked under the water, then just at the right moment, you find complete tranquility and calm and bliss. There are so many highs and lows–life and emotion are heightened unlike anything else. You will feel completely powerless over it and terrified of it. And you will also feel like you can’t live without it. You will be walking down the street by yourself and suddenly burst out laughing when you think of something funny she said. And certain songs will make you weep with the exquisite pain of your heart opening up to her. You will be confused and seriously wonder if you are going crazy. Your knees will buckle when you think about holding her in your arms. You will think of her when you’re brushing your teeth and when you’re taking a test and when you’re riding in the car and you will eventually say (accidentally) out loud, “Get out of my head, woman!” You will feel like she is tying you up in knots and also that she can help you become anything you want to be. You will feel strong and confident and happy.

I can’t wait. You deserve to live life to the full and to be loved completely. You will be amazing. And I will be proud.

Love, Mom

 

Attached

March 8, 2018

I recently shared this story with my church and while I was preparing it, got a lot of great feedback and editing from Rahul. Basically, we wrote it together…

 

When I adopted my son Rahul, 10 years ago, he was 7 1/2 and living in an orphanage in India. Imagine how strange it was for him to suddenly be in a family! I had to help him to trust me and bond with me and I worked hard to create ways for him to attach to me.

One of the first things I noticed was that when I would try to pick him up to carry him, he didn’t know how to be held. His arms and legs just hung limp. He didn’t ever learn how to mold his body around an adult because he hadn’t been carried around when he was young. I couldn’t overwhelm him with bear hugs and snuggling–for a child who had rarely been touched, that would be too much. So I created games to help him get used to physical closeness. He loved to play Hide and Seek and our ritual was that he would always find his way to “home base”, then I would run over to him, swing him around and tickle him. It was always so great to hear him laugh the way a kid should be laughing. We would play that game for hours and hours. We would have pillow fights and I would swing him back and forth like he was a bell and when he wanted to look at something on the computer I would sit him on my lap, so we could look together.

I also created attachment through food. In an orphanage you don’t get to choose when or what you eat, so Rahul didn’t understand the feeling of hunger. I would put food all over the house so he never would need to panic that he couldn’t eat. And when it came time for meals, I would always prepare his food, and even if we were at someone else’s house, I would serve it to him, so he would learn that he could rely on me to take care of his needs.

One of my favorite moments from our first few days together was when we were at the airport in India, killing time while we waited for our flight to NYC. My Dad and my best friend were with us and when we adults saw a candy counter we walked over to buy some snacks. I turned to Rahul and asked him what he wanted. He looked at me like he had never been asked what he wanted before. Then he pointed to a pack of gum. Then he asked if he could have two! It was the best feeling to be able to give this child something he wanted and to see the look on his face when he got it! It is one of the joys of parenting to give your children gifts. In our early days, I would take him shopping a lot because I hadn’t bought him many clothes or toys before he came. And as we ran around the store he would point to things and I would just throw them in the cart! I wanted to let him know that I thought he was special and that he was worthy of receiving gifts and getting what he wanted. And that being in a family is good, happy thing.

When we would walk anywhere together I noticed that he hadn’t learned to walk with other people as a group. He had no sense that we were a unit and that to stay safe, he would need to walk in step with me and keep an eye on where I was leading him. So my Dad made up a game for him where he would point to a car parked further down the road and have Rahul run  to that car and wait for us. He would get so excited to run ahead and he would always wait, so that led to lots of other games where he and I would run up different sets of stairs and wait at the top for each other, or he would run through the circular driveways (on the sidewalk) all over our neighborhood and wait for me at the end. Mostly, I would just talk with him as we walked, so he had to keep his eye on me and stay within earshot.

Bedtime was hard. You can imagine how lonely and scary bedtime might be in an orphanage, and this is often a really tricky time of day for kids who have spent time in one. So we created lots of rituals around bedtime that made it fun and safe. My favorite one was our reading ritual. I would make him a snack and go sit on the couch and start reading while he was still bouncing around the house. After a chapter or two I would have him come sit on the couch with me. And he still had so much excess energy that he would sit and kick his arms and legs and roll all over the place for a few more chapters. Then I would sit closer to him and put my hand on his head or his foot or his shoulder, and I would slow my reading down while he started to settle down. And eventually he would fall asleep and I would carry him up to his loft bed. There were many nights that I would be reading for 4 hours or more!

These experiences taught me so much about how God loves me. We are all God’s adopted children!We don’t always know how to take in what He is trying to do for us. He is my parent, and whether I know it or not, He’ll always be trying to love me more than I could ever love Him.

Like I had to be careful to not overwhelm Rahul, God is careful not to overwhelm or overload us. He has given me friends to help me carry my load and He uses our relationships with each other to express His love for us.

Like I had to teach Rahul how to rely on me to provide for him, God quenches my thirst and nourishes me with His word.

Like I love to give Rahul gifts, I’m learning that God loves to give me good gifts. And He gives them just because he loves me and wants me to be happy being a part of His family!

Like I taught Rahul to walk with me, God has provided a way, through Jesus, to talk to Him directly, so He and I can walk together wherever I go.

My savior has stooped down to make me great2, He longs to gather me in His arms3, He makes me lie down in green pastures.4

Isaiah 40:11 says, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Being Rahul’s mom has taught me that is who my Father is.

 

Leaving Rahul’s orphanage together, hand and hand…

 

 

  1. Ephesians 1:5
  2. Psalm 18:35
  3. Mathew 23:37
  4. Psalm 23:2

Inside

February 28, 2018

10 years ago I was waiting for the call that would tell me it was time to book a flight to India and bring home my son.  I was homeless, having recently sold my apartment in Washington Heights, but not yet able to close on my new one in Riverdale.  So my dog and I surfed couches for a few weeks, while all my belongings sat in storage. I had spent just over a year on the process to adopt Rahul–paperwork and bureaucratic tedium I’ve tried to forget. Panicked phone calls, angry county clerks, hundreds of dollars spent at FedEx, checklists of documents, folders of papers, lost fingerprints, invasive questions I had to answer (“Why are you single?”), scores of documents I had to triple notarize…

My new apartment was proving to be difficult to close on and I had weeks of work to do in it before it would be comfortable for Rahul. So I was very anxious to get the keys in my hands. All year I had somehow been able to handle the extra work the adoption process threw my way, but the challenges and obstacles became more insane as the time drew near to go get Rahul.

I flooded my apartment, for example. The apartment I would soon be selling. And in doing so I also damaged all four apartments below me. That was fun.

Then there was the day my friend Paul died. He was leaving behind one of my closest friends and their 3 children–it was a huge loss. And after attending to his family I got a call from my dad that my mom, who had just had knee-replacement surgery, now had a dangerous blood clot in her lung. I was in her hospital room the next morning when she woke up and as the first doctor of the day mumbled his prognosis to her, both of my phones started ringing off the hook. I asked Doogie Houser to translate his speech (and to please enunciate) and once I felt assured that my mom was stable I set off in search of a quiet corridor to attend to my phone calls. It was my adoption counselor who had been urgently trying to reach me, and when I listened to her messages my heart dropped to the floor.  There was a problem with the adoption and she needed to speak to me immediately. I sat in shock, imagining what was assuredly the end of my adoption of Rahul. I called out a desperate prayer to God to comfort me in my horror, to be with me in the loneliness of this situation–alone in a bleak hospital corridor, my mother hanging in the balance between health and ruin, my friend left alone to raise her children, my world in chaos. I held my breath as I called her back, bracing for impact. Of course, I needn’t have panicked. It was only a manner of some additional paperwork, however urgent, that could be easily remedied.

My tooth broke and after the fifth time my dentist yanked off the replacement in disgust I started having panic attacks.

I found a buyer for my apartment, only to have his mortgage rejected because my building didn’t carry enough insurance.

I should have been able to close on my new apartment, but the seller’s lawyer misfiled some paperwork, delaying the process by months.

And so on and so on.

So here I was, in February 2008, in Longbranch, NJ, at my best friend’s parents’ house, completely broken. I was spending the weekend there in hopes that sometime within the next week I would finally be able to get into my new apartment. In total despair, I had stopped eating and had gotten to the point where I could barely get out of bed. I was a mess, stuck in the crazy limbo between Singleness and Motherhood and couldn’t settle down. For me, when life is chaos or my mind is restless, I need to walk; it helps me move through my emotions and clear my head. So since I was on the Jersey Shore I decided to go for a walk by the ocean. I took my music and my earbuds and as I hit the boardwalk a song came on that I had heard before, but had never really listened to. Inside by Sting.

As it began, I stopped in my tracks. The sound completely expressed the maddening chaotic whirlwind going on inside my head, and the lyrics completely expressed the excruciating process of opening myself up to love this other little human so completely. I realized that God was breaking me down completely so He could rebuild me as a Mother. Like a phoenix from the ashes or a clay vessel smashed and refashioned. I was feeling the complete destruction of Love.

Inside, the doors are sealed to love, inside, my heart is sleeping.

That was the story of my life. A childhood spent hiding my emotions deep inside, an adulthood spent falling in love over and over again, only to have my heart broken each time. I had gotten to the point where I was so depressed and shut down that I needed help. I found a therapist and had been devoting myself to sifting through all the broken parts of myself and learning how to feel again. In fact, that process led me to adoption.

Inside, my head’s a box of stars I never dared to open. Inside, the wounded hide their scars…

Outside, the rain keeps falling. Outside, the drums are calling. Outside, the flood won’t wait. Outside, they’re hammering down the gate.

The struggle between Inside and Outside, the struggle to give myself over to Love and all of the destruction it would cause was very real to me.

Love is the child of an endless war. Love is an open wound still raw. Love is a shameless banner unfurled. Love’s an explosion. Love is a fire at the end of the world.

People often want to know why I chose to adopt a child, and the answer can really be boiled down to feeling called to love a child who otherwise would not have a future. I felt incredibly blessed–spoiled even–and it was beginning to feel selfish holding all of my blessings for myself. I wanted to connect with someone and change their life, and I was willing to give up everything to do it.

On that day at the Jersey Shore I didn’t know all that I would be called to give up and endure to be Rahul’s Mother, but I was feeling the weight of change and sacrifice in my body and I was beginning to understand that loving another person the way I would love Rahul can be raw and shameless and explosive.

Love is an angry scar, a violation, a mutilation, capitulation, love is annihilation.

I walked back and forth on the boardwalk for what seemed like hours, listening to that song over and over. And I’ve listened to it over and over for 10 years, because it reminds me of the great cost of Love. And the great reward of giving yourself over to it.

I climb this tower inside my head, a spiral stair above my bed. I dream the stairs don’t ask me why.

I throw myself into the sky…

 

 

Me and Rahul on the same beach on the Jersey Shore, a few months after my walk with Sting.

 

 

 

 

 

He Was Such a Good Sport

September 25, 2017

One day, several years ago, I opened the door to my apartment and there, perched on the top of my ladder-back dining chair was a bird. He was very still, just staring at me. Neither my cat nor my dog had attacked him or eaten him, and in fact they seemed very calm, as through this little guy was a natural part of our menagerie. My immediate thought was that someone must have broken into our apartment or smashed a window, enabling him to fly in. I felt like I was in a dream as I quietly walked around my apartment inspecting the windows. They were all in tact, closed and locked. The cat and dog followed me around the apartment as I tried to solve the puzzle. I have an air conditioning vent in the wall with tiny slats in it and I concluded that is how he must have gotten in. I was struck with an unusual blend of feelings: wonder, awe, compassion, fear. I searched for a meaning to this encounter. Did this bird have a message? Was it a sign? I felt he had come expressly to visit me. I set about releasing him from the confines of our apartment by climbing up on the window sill to open the top of the window for him. I spoke to him and pointed to the window and he flew right out, leaving me bewildered and ecstatic.

I have thought of this strange encounter several times this week, because my cat died. And the overwhelming sorrow I have felt at his loss has stunned me. I have been so profoundly changed because of relationships with my animals and I am only beginning to realize the role they have played in my life.

After 9/11, I began to long for a dog. That day was life-changing for everyone and I noticed that many of my friends reached towards marriage or having children in the aftermath. I think we all were reaching out for a tangible connection to this world. Career ambitions began to take a back seat to building relationships and creating families. As for me, I wanted a dog.

It took me about two years before my life was arranged to accommodate a pet, but I brought my dog Baby Fish Mouth home in August of 2003. I was immediately changed. Where I had once been insensitive and unfeeling, I was suddenly expressive and compassionate. My heart just melted and I began to see the world around me in a new way. A few years later I adopted my son and of course that change was even more profound. Becoming a mom changed me. Like a phoenix, I was destroyed and reborn as a Mother. And I loved it so much that I wanted to “mother” everyone. Jesus once ended a passionate sermon with, “O Jerusalem…how often I have loved to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” That is how I felt about everyone I saw. I longed to adopt more children and fantasized about having a large family of ten.

Then about two years after I brought Rahul home, my apartment became infested with mice. I battled them with every weapon I could think of, but to no avail. (I guess I didn’t have much compassion for them!)  I thought about borrowing a friend’s cat–a tactic that has brought great success at mouse elimination in the past. (I’ve heard that the scent of a cat in a home can keep mice away). Then I was struck by a new idea: I needed my own cat! I had never had much affinity for cats, but suddenly I wanted one badly. I wanted one who would keep the mice out of my home, who would be a playmate for Rahul and a companion for my dog. I wanted another creature to nurture and to love. Within days, Rahul and I set out for the ASPCA.

I was concerned about Rahul’s reaction to being in basically an orphanage for animals (since he spent some time in an orphanage himself) and tried to prepare him for the experience.  I didn’t want him to fall in love with every cat we saw, only to have to let it go. When we arrived we had to fill out reams of paperwork and I answered their questions as carefully as I could in order to streamline our process. However, the volunteer assigned to show us the cats didn’t read any of what I wrote and ended up showing us literally every adult cat in the whole joint. Rahul fell in love over and over and after being rejected as a match for every cat,  Rahul was in tears and we stormed out. On our way out the door, as I was hurling insults at their procedures they said, “Why don’t you try the kitten room?” Well, it was too late to try again that day, but I came back by myself the next day and introduced myself to every kitten they had. The volunteer and I opened each cage, one at a time, and if the kitten hissed or cowered, I knew it wouldn’t be a good fit. There were a few that allowed the volunteer to pick them up, but they wouldn’t let me hold them. Then there was a beautiful 5 month old black cat that had only recently arrived at the ASPCA. Well, he just bounded out of the cage when we opened it. We both exclaimed that here was a cat that should do well around a child and a dog! I picked him up and he purred, so I knew there was just one final test. I grabbed a toy that looked like a mouse and threw it on the ground. The cat bounded out of my arms and chased it around the room. Sold! I took him home that day.

Rahul named him Sport, and I always thought that was such a fitting name because he was such a good sport. I have never seen another mouse in my home since the day he arrived. He got along with Baby Fish Mouth and was never any trouble. I spent a few nights up with him when he first arrived, training him to sleep at night rather than bounding around the house. And after those first few nights of cuddling with him and coaxing him to snuggle with me we developed a close bond and he would find his way to my bed every night to snuggle up in an elbow or knee crevice. He was very independent and never needed too much from us. He scratched up some furniture and hissed at Rahul about once a day, but he brought us a lot of joy and comfort.

Then this past Spring he got sick. At first I thought he had a virus or food poisoning because he couldn’t hold any food down and he would hide in corners of closets. Once when I found him in my bedroom closet, he turned his face to the light and it was covered in mucus. His eyes and nose had been running and he had vomit on his chin. My heart just broke. When I took him to the vet he too thought it was a virus, so gave him some treatments and he seemed to get better. But soon enough he was sick again. More vet visits revealed kidney disease, but the treatments that should have alleviated his symptoms never really worked. Over the months that he was ill, Sport and I grew even closer. He became more still, more affectionate, more responsive to my voice and my attention. I spent the summer grieving with several friends through very difficult circumstances. The death of a parent, the death of a child, surgery, a custody battle. There were several days when every client I saw would cry over a loss or a struggle. My toilet broke. My stove broke. My father collapsed and had heart problems that led to him receiving a pacemaker. And all the while my cat was fading away. I sunk into depression and the drone of pain that lay beneath all the other pains emanated  from not being able to heal my cat. He lost weight until he was half his normal size. He would alternately become ravenously hungry then lose his appetite. By the end of the summer my vet concluded that he had intestinal cancer. I knew by that point that he was going to die, so it wasn’t a shock. We changed tactics with treatment and just flooded his body with aggressive medicines in an attempt to improve his quality of life for whatever time he had left. I learned to administer subcutaneous fluids and liquid medicines. My days became timed around all the treatments he needed, and he improved. I knew it was temporary, but I was so grateful that his last few weeks were comfortable.

I came home on the afternoon of my birthday and when I saw Sport I knew he was at the end. He hadn’t eaten in a few days and had begun to lose the ability to walk. He was curled up on a bed I had made him at the back of my closet and wasn’t very responsive. So I made myself a bed next to him and snuggled in for a few hours. When I reached my hand over to pet his head, he turned over and rested his head on my hand and reached out his paw to rest on my arm. He knew I was going to be with him on this journey. Later that night I picked him up and put him on my bed and lay next to him, keeping vigil through the night as he faded away.  He moved around a little throughout the night and in the morning he was still breathing so I lay face to face with him for a while. Then with the last of his strength, he flipped himself over so his whole body, from the tip of his head to the end of his tail was pressed up against me. My tears fell on his head while I whispered my goodbyes to him and soon he was gone.

I have thought of that bird who visited our apartment as I grieve for the loss of my dear Sport because I am realizing that I have had many strange and profound encounters with animals over the past few years. A praying mantis landed on my head in a hotel and allowed me to release it back into the wild. A baby skunk was waiting for me outside my door recently with a yogurt container stuck on his head that he allowed me remove (without spraying me) so he could go back to his home. And Sport allowed me to accompany him on his transition out of this world. It was one of the most profound things I have ever experienced. Animals are incredible beings. Many religions see animals at embodiments of their gods, spiritual guides, sacred. I have regarded my pets as angels, entering my life to comfort me, teach me and accompany me. I see the animals around me as reminders to tune into the world around me. Not to rush past God’s creation, but to see it, hear it, experience it fully. With openness of heart comes enormous joy, but also profound pain. It is easier to live with a closed heart, in numb observation of the world around us, but it is not better.

Thank you, kitty, for teaching me this. You were such a good Sport.

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