To Every Thing There is a Season

As a youth, I was part of a peer counseling program that traveled the state of Arizona with skits directed at students and educators regarding social issues facing teens. While it was some time ago, many of the issues are still current. From it I learned a lot about myself and made dear friends who are still close to this day. One such friend is an artist named Kyle. On a trip to the four corners area of Northern Arizona, our group stayed overnight in Chinle. This is Navajo nation. We had wrapped up at the schools where we presented skits and discussions on drinking, teen pregnancy, suicide and other topics.  The school nurse opened her home to us. It was a small home typical of most on the reservation. The nurse was a mystical woman with long flowing gray waves that framed her face before cascading down her back. Kyle was fascinated with her crochet work and photography. While the others spread out on the living room couch and in the guest room, Kyle and I decided to camp outside. I say camp lightly because we were only armed with a sole sleeping bag. It was large enough for two, but it was the week before Thanksgiving in the high deserts of Northern Arizona. It was COLD! With our youthful stubbornness we cast aside the weather and lay under the stars. After naming all the stars and constellations we could remember, which weren’t many, we talked the night away…sharing our teenage dreams and life thoughts. We talked about our families, our problems and friends, only silencing ourselves when we heard packs of wild dogs running. They sounded much nearer than I’m sure they were. Kyle was the first boy I believed when he told me I was beautiful because he wanted nothing from me but offered friendship.

The next morning we warmed our hands with coffee and our bellies with freshly baked pumpkin bread smothered in butter. We visited an outdoor market where the nurse bought yarn. I found the raw log stall with all of the colorful yarns quite lovely and ran my fingers along the dangling varieties. From there the group drove to Canyon de Chelly. At the time, I had not yet even seen the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as a nature lover, I was excited. On the drive I was listening to a cassette tape of Tuck and Patti. I love her silky jazz vocals and his fingerpicked rhythms. The cassette needed to be flipped. I turned to the side of the van where the cassette player sat under the window. It was then that I saw a view that literally took my breath away. Warm drops graced my cheeks as I continued to stare through the window of the moving van. What seemed like several minutes was only seconds before the van rolled to a stop and I could pull the door open to be free in the fresh air and beauty of this marvelous landscape. I ran to the edge and stood in complete awe of what my eyes were taking in. Tears still coming down, I tilted my head back and inhaled. Kyle took a great photo of me standing at the edge, 15 years old- jeans tucked into slouching boots wearing a borrowed over-sized leather jacket. What the picture doesn’t show are my hands covering my mouth in awe as I stood in silence intently searching through every detail of the canyon with her high red walls, ancient Native American dwellings and hieroglyphics. It was in those moments of gazing into the canyon that I made a life altering decision; a decision that would not only change me, but my entire family.

Reluctantly it was time to leave. We tumbled into the rented minivan for the five-hour ride home to Phoenix. Turning towards the back window to get one final look, I saw the most incredible sight I have yet to see since. At the top of a cliff, with all the colors of an Arizona sunset just starting to form was a lone white horse. He was wild and this was his land. He ran to the edge and stood majestically surveying the land beneath. In that moment I felt a calmness all through my body as if the horse was a sign from an old Navajo spirit sent to tell me that everything would be alright. ❤

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A New Life

Neena was shivering from both pain and fear. She had never been away from home before; never without her mother. Yet here, some 12000 km from the woman who held her hand and wiped her tears for 20 years, she was. Due to the war in her country, she arrived to Houston just one week before. As she lay in the hospital bed, nurses poking and prodding in areas where she had rarely been touched, I held her hand and spoke to her about what would happen next and what the doctor would ask of her. Once the Pitocin has been administered, the waves of pain came upon her quickly, her body convulsing and crying out against the frame of the small birthing bed. She cried. She wanted her husband. She wanted her mother. When the time was right, the Anesthesiologist came in and helped her into position to receive the epidural. At sight of the needle, Neena refused the dose. With some cajoling and a lot of comforting after another contraction took over her body, she gave in and leaned against her pillow in an upright position. According to the nurse, she was ready. They would be back soon with the doctor. The epidural calmed Neena and I encouraged her to close her eyes and try to relax then went to the waiting room to speak to her husband. He only a kid himself, had a look of nausea and uneasiness that made me a little nervous. I couldn’t watch over him and be there for his bride. He sipped some juice and listened as I gave him an update. Neena was doing fine. She was resting and not in as much pain but she was scared and needed him. In his country the men do not stand bedside as their wives squeezed out bundles of joy wrapped in fluid and mucus. He shook his head defiantly. It wasn’t going to happen. His friends would laugh at him. I convinced him to come in and visit Neena to at least wish her well.

Within a few minutes of arriving in the room, the doctor came in and confirmed that Neena was in fact ready to begin. She was more worried about her husband seeing the wonders of the female body than pushing the baby out. He was a bit trapped and couldn’t really leave unless the doctor stepped aside so I asked him to just stay at the head of the bed and hold her hand. Just then Neena squeezed his hand causing his face to wince. As I held her hand and told her good job and that she was doing great, her young husband lay his hand on her forehead. There it was! The tenderness she needed in that moment caused her to smile and they looked so full of hope.

Quicker than I expected, their new little baby girl had welcomed the world with a loud cry and was laid on mommy’s stomach for her to marvel. Neena looked away in uncertainty. She hadn’t gone through proper prenatal care and had not been given books by adoring friends, colleagues and neighbors. She didn’t know what to expect while she was expecting. The baby- wrinkled, bloody, bright red from exhaustion looked foreign to her inexperienced eyes. Neena looked at me asking what was wrong with her baby. I told her she was perfect and a beautiful baby girl. The nurses took baby J away and brought her back looking much more like her young mother expected. As Neena cradled the sweet pink baby with a wave of black hair, she kissed the scrunched-up tiny forehead much like I’m sure her mother had done to her the first time she was cradled. ❤

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The Sweet Scent of Giving

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The Gardenia flower is a flowering bush within the coffee family. The evergreen plants can grow into trees as high as six feet in the right environment. Their leaves grow in a particular windmill pattern. In the center of the sails, is a fragrant bloom with sensitive petals. Gardenias are my most favorite flower. Their leather like leaves yielding to delicate petals. The scent of a tree in bloom fills the area beckoning admirers.

Gardenia trees surround a property in East Texas where generations of our family are laid to rest. The dense humidity of the South make it an ideal climate. Many years ago, my great granddaddy had the fortune and good sense to purchase a section of land within the Rosevine Cemetary. This is where he and great grandma lay overseeing uncles, great aunts, a few cousins, my father and most recently, my little sister.

On this day two years ago, my sister was murdered. After several months of questions, sadness, frustration and even fear, we learned the identity of the person who took Deborah from us. It is a twisted, confusing tale of a middle aged man, a complete stranger to my sister, who offered her a ride that ended in multiple gunshots to the back of her head on the side of a country road in Palestine, TX.

Before learning the details and knowing who took her life, our family made a decision. While not all agreed, our mother, my older sister and myself chose not to seek the death penalty. It isn’t something you ever truly think about. Sure, the debate comes up at election time. However when your child or sister has been taken and her life stolen while she is on her knees in the dirt, you are forced to truly think about the value of a life. Although the killer may not have a conscience, we do. In faith and in our hearts, we could not wish for another’s life to end. What would then separate us from him?

As we later learned, similar to the Tell Tale Heart, the killer- Bobby Franks, began to grow insane at the thought of his crime coming to light. He spun an odd story, complete with pretend characters to alleviate some of his guilt. Ultimately he killed himself taking his secrets with him. We will never know why he took the life of our sister and what happened in those final moments. This- not knowing- is difficult to process but I have accepted it. The Sheriff’s offices of both Anderson and Smith counties along with the Texas Rangers were relentless in their efforts to solve the murder. Although they feel justice will never truly be served, they were diligent. They continued the case even after the killer committed suicide and did not rest until the grand jury agreed with their findings. There is not any doubt about the who in this case. The why will never be known.

Upon learning of my sister’s death, I fell to my knees, crying out. That emotion once again fills my heart as I type. A rush of thoughts and what ifs, profound sadness, confusion and anger. Then I made a choice.

The only way I know to fill the spaces of sadness and despair from losing my sister is to give. Give of myself. Give love. She had many demons and I will not allow that darkness to continue its triumph over our family. Some may laugh or take this thought lightly; the thought of doing good works. I’ve been called a do-gooder (as if that’s a bad thing) or goodie-goodie. Laugh if you will but know this. These actions are with a strong desire to fight against hate, to combat evil. You cannot see and experience what my sisters and I have and not be changed. The choice on how it will change is within each of us. So today, I will give. I will punch Evil in the face and kick Hate’s ugly teeth in. They will not win, not over me or my family. Each time I give, I release a little more of the loss felt from having my sister taken from us.

It comforts me to know that Deborah is laid to rest, surrounded by family and by Gardenias with their pure, perfumed petals. In the Summer, with their sweet scent filling the air around her grave, I will inhale…holding my breath just to keep that sweetness inside a little longer. ❤