Today I placed two rocks
At the top of the hoodoos
One for Ann
Whose funeral was today
One for Deb
Who left us a few years back
In my birthday week
One for Deb
Harsh, cutting, even cruel
She died too, too young
She died alone
One for Ann
Tender, funny, wildly generous
She died too soon
She died adored
I'm not very good with heights. Bob and I were recently given tickets to a concert and our seats were high above the stage and main floor crowd. It took everything in me to settle into my seat and just chill with the music because at that great elevation I felt, continually, as though I was falling forward. Tipping over.
The hoodoos were a stretch, for sure! But I'd chosen my stones at the bottom of the trail and was determined to place them at the top of the trail. I couldn't get to Ann's funeral ~ we were too far away and a I found out too late ~ so I wanted to acknowledge her passing in my own way.
Ann has known me from my childhood and has been a steady force of humor, determination, giving, and Christ-likeness in my life; in the lives of hundreds of others. I can remember watching her in church and being so drawn to her beauty (she had gray hair as long as I can remember, always cut in the same style, always framing the same peaceful expression).
Deb I knew for only a short time. She was Ann's opposite in every way! Her difficult life, her sexuality, alcoholism and acerbic wit all factored, hard, into our every encounter ~ where Ann was surrounded by life and goodness, Deb was saturated in darkness, meanness.
Both taught me. Both impacted me forever.
As I placed a rock for Ann that day (every muscle in my body taut with fear, my lips snapping instructions to my family not to touch me for fear that the slightest contact would send me flailing into the rocky crevice), I considered how impactful she was in building my foundation in the Christian culture. Where other women were the source of much criticism and cutting, her influence was always one of wry kidding and practicality.
Our church was prone to following faith healers and "deliverance" ministers. Prophets were beating a path to our door, it seemed, all with a "word" about how special we were ~ how set apart and "anointed." Ann was always outside that craziness.
I was not. I was pulled into back rooms with "words" and exhortations. I was one of the chosen. A leader. A special one.
In my youth, I did little to argue the counsel and direction I was given. But I did watch Ann. She didn't weep and holler with the crowd. She didn't submit herself to the "hot seat" (The chair. The chair in the middle of the crowd wherein you sat if you wanted to receive from God at the hands of the church.). She didn't subscribe to any of the madness, but she didn't denounce it either. She simply lived outside of it, faithfully serving and loving and living her sweet relationship with Jesus. I wanted to be like her when I grew up.
Her rock sits, precariously balanced atop a natural wonder, as an acknowledgement of that. That rock is my farewell on this side of heaven. I know that I will see her again.
I learned from Deb, too. In the course of my relationship with Deb I began filling the role of "pastoral care pastor" at a small community church. The role was a joke ~ but it cost me my heart and my soul. Deb was part of that journey, largely because it made no sense to her. It was outside of any reality she could comprehend. I had community. I had so many people to care about and who cared about me. That was baffling to her. The religiosity it came wrapped up in made her scoff and say, "Don't think about that! It's not real. Let me tell you about my life..."
Deb should not have died alone. I should have been there. I say that without guilt. Without shame. With sorrow. I knew that she knew she was dieing. She never said it, but she expressed that knowledge in a thousand painful ways. I don't know why I didn't think it would happen as soon as it did. In retrospect, I don't know why we, who talked about absolutely every detail of her life, could not talk about her pending death.
I still have the email I sent her two days after she had passed. She would have been dead in her apartment when it found it's way to her inbox, "Hey Hon. 'Haven't heard from you for too long ~ I know. You probably just want some space, but I'm getting worried. Just drop a line to let me know you're okay?" I was always concerned that she would take her own life. Always.
Deb's life was marked by abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and heartbreak. She held nothing back in the years that we connected. She made me laugh ~ a lot. Her dark and quirky humor told it's own story of survival and put my silly roles and struggles into stark perspective.
I think that, over time, I will place many rocks for her. An ongoing apology for leaving her alone. A constant reaching out for reassurance that she is at peace now, where life offered her none. A repeated acknowledgement that there are so many ways to move through this world and that every heart carries it's own story.
Two rocks. With them I thank these two women for giving to me, teaching me, modeling womanhood for me. With them I say goodbye, for now.