What Life Is Really About

Sunday, March 8, 2015
Zoë is sick today. It's 11:30 a.m. and she's still sleeping.  Daddy and Peter are at church and I have been using my time working on a VERY exciting project that involves my blog. Getting this project going means reading through every single blog post I've ever written and copying and pasting a lot of the material. It has been an intense and wonderful experience for me. 

In doing so, I ran across a link to this beautiful story that my sister wrote, but that I never published on my blog. I do so now, with the hopes that you'll take time to read it. It has me in tears while also feeling so much peace. 

Spring is coming. Hope is returning. Flowers are peeking up through the ground and I'm reminded so clearly what life is truly about. 

Thank you, Amy, for writing this so beautifully almost 7 years ago. I love you. (scroll down to read her story)

Dear Lucy,

Wednesday was the day after your funeral. We'd been up late on Tuesday, after the beautiful service, watching videos of you. I tried to sleep that night, but I kept seeing you bouncing in that Johnny Jumper, eyes full of light, curls wrapping around your little head as you twisted and squealed. I kept hearing Molly, your mommy's, voice during those videos. Any mother knows the voice. It is the voice that can only come from a mother's mouth. The voice is gentle, but delighted--seeing something in her child that only she can see. No matter how much you love someone else's child, even your sister's child, your voice will never sound like that. In the end, I suppose, it is the voice of wonder and admiration, both at your child, and at yourself for creating her. 

After that sleepless night I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to shower and get to the airport. I struggled with my feelings; pained that I had to leave your mom in her time of greatest need and elated that I would be reunited with Jack, who I hadn't seen in almost 10 days. I also had another feeling, the unmistakable symptoms of the flu. As Chad, myself, your uncle Nathan and his fiancee Marie loaded ourselves in the car in the darkness of the early morning, the birds in the mountains of Park City where your mom and dad live were already singing. It took one last look at their front porch, lovingly decorated with pink and purple bows and full to the brim with flowers of every kind, and we pulled away. 

Because Nana and I had to fly to Utah so unexpectedly after hearing about your accident, we flew standby, thanks to the generosity of a friend of Nana's. That meant I was flying standby on the way home to Michigan as well. I had great luck on the first leg. I got from Salt Lake to Phoenix on the first flight and I had an entire row to myself. I stretched out and slept, holding off my flu symptoms for the time being. I knew the next flight to Detroit was booked, but I prayed and prayed and prayed that I could get on. My flu was now in full swing, this flight would put me in Detroit within minutes of Chad's arrival, and it would give me time to try to sleep for the first time in three nights. My heart soared when the amplified voice of the U.S. Air desk agent called my name, the last of the standby passengers she called, and gave me a boarding pass. Sure, it was a middle seat, but I didn't care if they had put me in the bathroom, I had a seat! As soon as I'd settled in and called my mother-in-law who been watching Jack to tell her the good news, a flight attendant came toward me, looking straight in my eyes. "I"m sorry," she said. "We are going to have to ask you to leave the plane. Someone with a ticket but without a seat assignment arrived late." I started crying immediately. I tried to leave the plane, but people were still boarding, so I had to go to the back of the plane and wait for everyone to get on. I broke down. The flight attendants tried to console me with Diet Pepsi, but I was beyond consolation. 

I finally left the plane, my entire body aching to hold Jack, and my heart aching even more thinking of your mom's longing to hold you again. I felt sorry for myself, I'll admit it. I sat in a chair as the boarding area cleared, pulling myself together, but just barely. I saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair, alone, near the now closed boarding door. As I got up to make my way to the gate for the next flight to Detroit, I heard this woman in the wheelchair ask an airline employee if there was something to eat nearby. The employee, who was just getting off duty, basically dismissed her, explaining, "There may be something down this way, I'm not sure." I hesitated, I admit it. I think at another time in my life, before I felt weighed down with what I considered my own burdens, I would not have hesitated. I would have simply asked her what I could do to help. In fact, I distinctly remember helping a woman in airport once when I was flying alone as a minor. But that part of me, the part on a constant lookout for how to help others, even, or especially, strangers, has been buried. Your death, and the subsequent outpouring of love (which seems an inadequate word for what I saw and heard), unearthed this feeling again. I went to this woman, Joyce, introduced myself, and asked her if I could go and get her something to eat. She was thrilled and my heart soared seeing her response. 

Returning with her meal, we conversed briefly about hoping to get on the next flight to Detroit. I left to take a nap and saw her again as I approached the new departure gate. I lifted my crossed fingers in a "I hope we both get on this flight" signal. We sat in stunned silence as a seemingly unending crowd boarded the flight. Not a single standby passenger was called. Now there was time for a real conversation--the next flight to Detroit wasn't scheduled to leave for over six hours. She told me what she would be missing if she didn't make this flight: a commemoration of the death of her son 13 years ago who died at age 13. He was born with spina bifidia, along with a host of other physical and mental disabilities. She spent 13 years of her life in the hospital caring for him. She was so excited to share all the details with me about his funeral 13 years ago--how doctors who had cared for him flew in from around the world, how many tears and laughs were shared, all the bouquets of balloons that decorated the church. He knew death was coming, so he had it all planned out, right down to what he would wear. He told his mom that he would "go out with a bang." She realized when he died, just after midnight, that it was Memorial Day and that many guns would be fired that day in honor of those who died. She said she laughed right out loud sitting there next to him. People thought she was crazy, but she found so much joy and comfort in that thought. And if she didn't make this flight she would miss this celebration of his life and commemoration of his passing! We talked more. She told me about what she called "a few other struggles" she'd had: two strokes, caring for her mother with cancer who was still alive, her husband leaving her recently with no warning but a text message, her sister being murdered and leaving Joyce to raise her three children, and more. I just listened and listened. There wasn't a note of self-pity in her voice, just an explanation of what her life had been like. At some point we stopped talking and I just looked at her and said, "Your life has been so full of grief. I hope you've had some joy." With no hesitation, none whatsoever, she replied, "Oh, Amy. I've had much more joy that I've had grief." She must find joy in every day, in every breath, in every tree, in every person's eyes to tip the scales to the side of happiness after having so many struggles, but it was apparent that this was exactly what she did. She took a few phone calls from her family in Detroit, desperate to know when she would arrive, and she told them about "the nice lady named Amy from Ann Arbor who is taking care of me." 

I visited the airline desk a couple of times during this six plus hours and I knew that I was much higher on the standby list than Joyce was. This final flight of the day, set to arrive at 1:30 a.m. Detroit time, was her only hope to be a part of this celebration. I made up my mind, though it wasn't easy, that I would give up my seat for her if it came to that. I was still sick, still tired, still full of strange mix of sorrow and happiness, but I felt so peaceful about it. When the flight began to board, they called my name. I told them that I would wait to board until I knew Joyce's status. I waited and waited. I didn't want to stay the night in Phoenix, don't get me wrong, but I knew that it was what I was suppose to do. What your accident had taught me. What the Lord would do. At the last minute they called her name and we yelled out in joy! We walked on the plane together (well, technically, I pushed her on the plane). I talked the flight attendant into upgrading her to first class since there was an empty seat there (the only one on the plane) and otherwise she'd have to hobble herself all the way to the back row without the help of her wheelchair. 

Thank you, Lucy. My life is changed because of you. It isn't this experience that is necessarily important, but the change in me that it represents. I have so far to go, but I'll get there. Thank you again, Lucy. I love you. 

Aunt Amy

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