I notice and delight at the way Life organizes things and sprinkles order in the midst of chaos.
I often think that from the ground level, the place where we live, brush our teeth and do our tender human clumsiness, everything can look so random and senseless - kind of like a beautiful, mad tapestry of textures and colors that don’t speak the same language.
And yet, from up above, from where the ego mostly naps and we are gifted with an eye for synchronicity, meanings and miracles, all the colors suddenly harmonize and waltz with each other; a perfect Mandala emerges and it all makes so much sense.
I love noticing these bits of harmony.
A few years ago, all at the same time, two of my clients’ last name were that of a vegetable. I kid you not. There was a lovely Pickle and a feisty Bean. Then there was the week where I had meetings with a Mike, a Michael and a Michel, all in the same day.
No big deal, no real reason to write pages about it nor see more meaning into it. But for me this sort of thing always brings delight and some sense of peace.
Which brings me to this last summer, the summer of My Two Julias.
Julia #1 came to me as I arrived at a Retreat I was attending with my Global Kindness Team in the hills of San Francisco.
She was to be our vegan chef for the weekend and the moment I saw her, I fell in love with her energy. To be fair, I had been warned that it could happen. Julia is beautiful, strong, tender, opinionated and the complete boss of her kitchen, where she prepared meal after meal of beauty, bounty and nutrition. For three days, I made sure to be up early enough, pen and paper in hand, to learn about the wizardry she was spinning in that kitchen. I took notes on sauces, salad dressings, vegan lasagna and more. Also, I got to know her a little better.
Julia Butterfly Hill, as some of you may know her, had climbed Luna, a 180-feet 1500 year old redwood tree - and stayed up there for two years. She went up in December 1997 and came down in December 1999. That’s a whole lot of winter and for some reason, as soon as I heard about it, my mind decided to calculate how many menstrual cycles that was. Plenty.
Julia said: “If who we are being is a stand for what we care about, then sing it from the tree tops, sing it from the church tops, sing it from the roof tops.” Then also: “People always tell me: Man, you inspire me, you inspire me so much. And my answer to that is: Great, what are you being inspired you to DO? I put them on the damn spot.?” I loved that. That challenge, that invitation. It inspired me.
That night, out on the town for a late bite with my team, we met some people and talked, and shared a bit about our work with The Pollination Project. As we parted, one lady thanked us and told us that she had been very inspired by us. I knew it was a prompt, a pop quizz. I knew it was time to use my new tool. And I was tired. Three days with people had my inner introvert longing for silence. I just could not do it. But no so for my friend Liz who took one look at me, smiled and then sweetly-but-with-no-room-for-escape turned to the woman and said: “Oh that is so wonderful, thank you. Tell me, WHAT did we inspire you to do?”
I squirmed a bit.
And then, there it was. The woman looked at us and said that we had inspired her to go home and truly see her daughter. Not with her mom-eyes and the leftover argument they had had earlier. But with the eyes of love. To truly see her. She looked at us and said: “I am going home right now and I am doing this. You have inspired me.” Right there and then. I am pretty sure that had Liz not asked her, she may not have made that commitment, certainly not out loud. Wow.
Thank you Julia, for challenging us, for giving us a chance to grow. And for your vegan lasagna recipe.
Julia #2 showed up in my life less than two months later.
My mom’s health was declining rapidly and knowing she could no longer live alone, she decided one day that “she would accept to move in with my sister,” and walked out of the beach side apartment she had loved, her oxygen tank in tow. Being the woman I have always known, she also took it upon herself to make an appointment with hospice to interview them personally. On a sunny, heartbreaking day in August, exactly the same day my dad had died many years before (see what I mean? The Mandala) I paced back and forth down the length of my small backyard, phone on speaker mode, while my sister, my mom and I held an interview with a hospice nurse. Three of them in one room in Florida, me up here feeling very many miles away. We took turns asking questions and when the woman left, we had ourselves a little Lavigne Women Meeting during which it was decided that it was not time for hospice. Pragmatic, efficient. That’s us.
Two days later, it became obvious that it was also no longer time to leave my mom alone while my sister went to work.
I made calls trying to discover options. I came up empty of anything that did not involve a potentially long waiting list. It was time for magic.
Magic came in the form of Julia. The grandmother of one of my sister’s students, Julia was as close to an angel as I have seen in the flesh. She immediately started coming over daily and after her first visit, my mom declared that she loved her - and that Julia made the best asparagus she had ever tasted. If you knew my mom, you would know that this meant no small thing. The first few days, the two women chatted, exchanged life stories, became friends. One had immigrated from France and one from Poland. Both strikingly beautiful in their own way. As the days passed, Julia’s role as a caretaker quickly began to emerge more and more. Not formally trained, she rose to whatever the days brought. With love and with grace, wearing subtly elegant clothing and smiling. When I met Julia, my mom was no longer talking a whole lot yet her mind remained as sharp as ours, if not more.
Somewhat paralyzed by a dog who threatened to bite me (and eventually did) and the years of tentativeness around a complicated relationship, I watched Julia love my mom the way I wished I could. A tender hand through her hair, a kiss on her forehead, a difficult trip to the bathroom. I believe that no one could have taken her place, in these last few days. She stayed right by her side, keeping a close eye even when hospice stepped in, at the very last minute.
One of the last words to pass my mom’s lips, on that Friday morning when she finally accepted to let go, was Julia’s name. When Julia arrived, an hour after my mom had left her body, she kneeled next to her and held her hand for a long, long time, stroking her hair.
In these very short and very long days, Julia became part of my heart family forever, whether we ever see one another again or not.
I am deeply grateful to the perfect Mandala that we get to create together.
And for the many ways that we can care for and inspire one another.
And because I need practice asking this: If my words inspired you, please tell me what it is that you are being inspired to you.
Today, I invite you to surrender to the seeming chaos, and to contemplate that maybe, maybe, we are just all weaving the most perfect Mandala, together.
Wishing you a lovely, lovely rest of the day.
I am walking through the lobby of a fancy-ish South Florida hotel, a small white and brown chihuahua on a leash, pulling me towards the front door and into the humid heat of the morning.
I look like a tourist, a woman vacationing in the sun for a while, wearing flowing dark purple pants and a bright top, her fashionable pup along for the ride.
We step outside and I try to guide him to a patch of tropical grass. He lifts his leg and I am surprised at how small he is. I guess I have not seen a tiny male dog pee before. I stare.
We walk around a bit more. We look like we belong together. We look like we have done this hundreds of time before.
A closer look would show that I have slept in my clothes - for the second night in a row. After crossing the country in a plane for the second time in three days.
A keen observer may also guess that Taco and I have never been on a walk together before.
Actually, Taco has bit me three times since I have known him, the last bite occurring just a few days ago as I was getting too close to his mom. Who happened to be my mom. Who happened to be dying. I was furious and I almost made my way to the airport that very night. Instead I stayed and remained terrified.
The day before our hotel lobby crossing, in the thick moments after we both lost our mom, as my sister, nephew and I sang her to her new Home while Taco remained curled up in the small of her back, I told him that he and I had to be friends. There was no way around it.
His grief breaks what’s left of my heart.
So I walk him. I feed him chicken breast from under the table of the fancy-ish hotel’s restaurant, the refuge my sister found for us that first day, that last day, as we drove around in a daze. I sleep next to him in the big white bed.
We don’t know.
We don’t know whose heart is cracked, whose dog belongs to whom and we don’t know when it’s time to look someone in the eye and declare that the biting time is over, no matter how terrified we might be.
I believe many Gifts will show up in the days and years to come, as I learn to walk the world without the careful, complicated and paramount contract of being my mom’s daughter.
I intend to be a good steward to all of them.
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