On her mother’s last day (though no one knew it was her last day), Terry got some help and pushed her mother’s bed out a door and into a garden. Her mother lived through a decade of dementia and had been actively dying for 2 1/2 weeks with Terry by her side. It was a beautiful early spring day and a comfortable breeze ruffled through the new blooms. A robin sang for them. A bee buzzed around her mother’s head for a long time. Terry thinks it was her dead brother, Jimmy. Betty died outside in the spring garden air that afternoon.
I don’t believe in a God that manipulates us like marionettes. I do believe God offers us situations and opportunities that can move us in one direction or another and that our choices have consequences, both immediate and long-term.
I like the idea of life as a tapestry. These words are from “Tapestry,” a Carole King song you can easily find on youtube:
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
On the back side of a tapestry, strings of many colors go every-which-way, knots sit in unexpected places, blank places look bare, strings overlap, and some just hang loose. On the front side, a beautiful picture emerges.
I was assigned a project, maybe in 6th or 7th grade, to learn about two professions. I picked teaching and foreign service. I researched foreign service requirements and options like working in an embassy or for the State Dept in DC. The work fascinated me, but I remember no encouragement at school or at home for such an ambition.
I expected to be a teacher most of my life. I enjoyed school and good grades had value in my family. My parents both taught after college. I never really knew I had other choices. What did other girls who became attorneys or ministers or scientists hear that I did not?
I started taking French in 7th grade and took it all through high school and even took a French literature class (in French) in college. It came easily for me. I loved the sound of it and all I learned about French culture and way of life.
My college choices came down to UNC and Duke. UNC=Special Education. Duke=French. I was the oldest of 3 kids close together in age. Our college costs would overlap for years. I chose UNC, a state school with much lower tuition. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and found a husband.
In the mid-1970′s, in my 20′s, I taught at the Tammy Lynn Center, a private residential and educational facility for the mentally handicapped in Raleigh, NC. Terry’s brother, Jimmy, who she thinks came to their mother as a bee as she was dying, lived at the Center while I was there and attended the school during the day. Terry’s parents were among the founders of Tammy Lynn Center and I remember talking with them. We discovered this surprising connection during a get-to-know-each-other lunch a few years ago.
After our children left home, my husband and I took my dream trip–a week in Paris. Though I hadn’t spoken French for over 20 years, much came back to me. I bought a necklace from a woman who spoke no English using my memory and my French-English dictionary. I was fearless! I fell in love with everything French. I think I was French in another life. I went back with my daughters a year later.
I am grateful for each day I have. Since a cancer diagnosis 9 years ago followed quickly by remission, I danced at both my daughter’s weddings, am blessed with 3 grandchildren nearby and am still happily married to the husband I found at Carolina, though I call him “the-retired-man-I-live-with” now. I even went back to Paris–alone!
I love and treasure the life I live these days. My daughters like to spend time with us and willingly share their children with us. I volunteer at church and with a non-profit that serves those touched by HIV/AIDS. I’ve been sober for almost 27 years. I have friends from all parts of this community where we have deep roots. My tapestry is knotty and messy on the back. The front is beautiful.
But sometimes I wonder…what if I’d taken another path? Why did no one encourage me to take a different piece of string for my tapestry? What would it have looked like?