Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Yesterday I wrote about my new project, the Open Heart Letters. I have been inspired to do this project, in large part, by the loss of my dear friend Kim, a woman with whom I had this in common--she wore her heart on her sleeve, too. She died in December--young, ravaged by disease, and leaving an amazing family.
Any wise person would insist that our society needs to learn how to accept death as a part of life. I think of Kim, and her grace and honesty as her own death approached, and I understand this now in a way that I did not before. While I am in great health now, I know also that I am here on loan, and by the same grace she was. What Kim taught me, in the way she lived before she was sick, and the way she remained herself afterwards, was to embrace and to be and to love. To cherish those many, many connections that make us feel life all the more deeply. And writing these letters is a way for me to express that in some way.
I think it's only appropriate that my first open heart letter is to Kim. I was fortunate that I could actually send her a similar letter before she died--selfishly, I needed her to know how much I cared. I share this letter with you now, with love and gratitude for having known her:
It seems to me that it’s the little things that make a friendship. Let me tell you about some of my memories of you and us. From the smallest to the most prominent, I have lots of important memories about our friendship:
From the moment I met you, I knew you were a kindred spirit. One of the first times we spent together was just after D. started teaching. It a late spring evening and you and your family came to see us. You were still living over an hour away, and I remember that by the end of the night I was wishing very much that you lived closer—(I eventually got my wish!!)
That night was especially beautiful—the dusk was mid-summer long, and the trees were throwing plum-colored shadows all over the yard and the pool. We lit some lanterns with candles and hung them around our back porch, and we all sat out on our deck—you had your feet in our pool.
Later, after dinner, we were in the screen porch, and I vividly remember little B. listening to us tell stories about ourselves as we got to know each other better. Her eyes drooped, and soon she was asleep on your lap. And you were so lovely—the candlelight lit up your face, and you glowed. I remember many times we spent at our pool as the years went on, but that first night is strongest in my memory.
A few years later, we were thrilled to learn you were moving to our town, and we were so happy! After that, we spent more time together, including one visit on Thanksgiving. Our screen porch was a closed-in room by then, and you were our first Thanksgiving guests to eat with us there. I felt so pleased that you had been able to join us. The kids were so excited that night they had a hard time eating!
Speaking of eating—I must tell you again how I much I love your cooking!! You have a real talent in the kitchen, and I will admit that at least one of my favorite things to cook is a down-right ripoff of something you served us at your home: Moroccan-style chicken with figs, olives, cumin, etc. Oh my. That was one of the best meals. Thank you for sharing that recipe!
I have another ridiculous confession: I think of you every time I fold clothes. Really. Do you remember all of those lovely clothes of B’s you gave me for Ada? We have been loving those clothes for years now. Ada has been “on the small side” forever, and so she was able to wear some of those outfits for two years (or three! Amazing!). Now Esme is starting to wear them, too. It was so generous of you to give those to us. But here is the funny thing: When you packed them so carefully, you folded them in a way that was new to me: arms across each other, then fold, and fold again. Each shirt looked like a neat little hug. Inspired! Here I had been folding wrong for years--lumping my clothes into folds that wouldn’t stay, and they would sort of slump and shrug themselves out of the closet shelves into heaps. So I copied your way, and now the clothes stay put. So silly. But every single time I fold my clothes I think of you. I’ve been wanting to tell you that ridiculous thing for years, and now there it is.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how much we have loved the many gifts you’ve given us over the years. Almost every afternoon, Ada and Esme still wear the fairy wings you gave Ada many years ago. For Ada’s Christening, you gave her a beautiful book about the twelve gifts of birth—it’s one of my favorites. And all of the cards and notes you’ve sent me—it has meant so much to me. I don’t know if it’s always the case that one’s handwriting corresponds with the sound of one’s voice, but with you, it is undeniable. Your voice is sweet and distinctive, and your handwriting matches it perfectly. I swear I hear you talking when I read it!
When we had to move away, I was sad to leave all of our friends behind, and you were such a source of comfort to me. First, D helped us move a U-Haul truck of stuff up north. (Do you remember that crazy time? Our guys spent 8 hours driving to our rental house, 2 hours trying to get a key from the rental agent, and then 1 hour unloading the entire contents of the truck into the house itself. It was a wonder they made the plane to come home!) What a blessing his help was. And yours—A. was so little at the time, and B., and I was so grateful that you and D. could sacrifice that time to help us. Then when we moved, I was really lonely. Sometimes when you move, people fall out of your life—you probably know how this can happen. It’s hard to keep relationships going, and it’s a testament to you, Kim, that so many people stay in touch with you—you have lived so many places, and collected wonderful friendships everywhere along the way!
Anyway, when I moved, only a few people still called or wrote, and you were one of them. The conversations I’ve had with you over the years have been so honest and understanding—I’ve always been able to open my heart to you without fear of judgment, and it’s a true treasure. After I moved, I was so cheered by our phone conversations or your notes; they would stay in my mind for days. Thank you so much for being there for me.
I know I’ve said it so many times, but I wish I were there for you now. I would love to cook for you and D and the kids. I would take the kids to the park. I would hug you, and listen to you, and make you silly little things. I would try to pretend that this would all go away, and I would cry with you when it was clear it would not.
You are so strong, as is D. You are walking a path now that we will all walk one day, and you have taught me so very much about Grace and strength. I know you’ve had the gamut of emotions over the past year and a half, and I’m guessing that riding that emotional rollercoaster might sometimes rival the physical pain.
Your honesty and wry humor are a potent and uncommon combination, and I know you attract wonderful people to your circle—D. being the primary example, of course!—but also all of your friends who I’ve learned about since your illness.
I hope you can feel the strength and love and well-wishes we all try to send to you every day. The waves of love from here are strong and constant, and will continue to be no matter what. You really do always have my heart, my dear friend. I love you.
Kim left us on December 9, 2008. I think of her every day, with love and admiration.
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