Out of the Darkness: into Andi’s Light

Leta remembered.

When I arrived in Kankakee today, she led me to a shady area by a tree and gave me a small plastic bag with a white envelope bearing my name.

Enclosed was a little flyer explaining the significance of our team shirt designs, and thanking us for participating in memory of her daughter, Amanda Blank.

The colors were black and red– as Andi would have loved. On the front they said, “;ust breathe,” — the first symbol of course a semicolon standing in for a “j”, in tribute to Project Semicolon. On the back it said Team Andi, the number 15, and a graphic of a beanie hat– one of Andi’s favorite accessories. Her older sister, Danyell, designed them.

Though a morose reason to gather, I loved being included. And I thought we had the best shirts!  We came together for an Out of the Darkness walk, which raises awareness for suicide prevention. Registration was free.

Andi has  been gone over two years– since April 8, 2014. A beautiful spark of life for 24 years. To me she was like a zany little sister, since we had a 10-year age gap. Her Gemini mind was so bedazzling.

I was invited last year also, but not ready. Even so, Leta had sent me the beanie with a sewn-on patch that she had made for everyone. Sadly, it never made it in the mail. But she had an extra, and it was included in my little bag as well. That small gesture of unexpected kindness fit right into my heart.

As if I needed another reason to cry! Just walking up to event, I had already started bawling.  It was overwhelming seeing so many people gathered for a cause usually stuffed down and ignored– hugging, laughing, wearing bright colors.

I also got to see my friends Georgia and Jen, who I had met at Andi’s funeral. I had added them on facebook and we’d kept in touch. I just attended Georgia’s big Greek wedding  recently! But Jen and had our first chance to really talk beyond facebook discussion, which I cherished.

I got to behold four-year-old Maddie,  daughter of Danyell and Andi’s  niece – and witness what a calm, good mother Danyell is to her daughter. Maddie had a little baby buggy and walked the whole way with us (it seemed!) I saw the joy whenever Leta held her grand-daughter.

Jen put her arm around me as I cried– I felt so vulnerable. But also relieved– the catharsis was amazing. My Aunt Rosie just died this weekend of natural causes– she was 88. I hadn’t seen her in three years– since just before her husband, my Uncle Jim, had died.

She was a true country woman, who lived on the same farm for 64 years in Zenda, KS.

I was hoping to be traveling home to Kansas today to be with our family, but it just wasn’t possible. Flights were too expensive last-minute and I’ve never driven that far alone and wasn’t up to a 13-hour trek. My Dad had just visited Kansas and returned a few weeks ago, and he’s 74. He wasn’t up to it either.

I was crying for Amanda, but also for my Aunt Rosie.

I was crying for the wonder of receiving such an enormous blessing in being there today.

“It feels good to cry,” I had told Jen.

“It feels good to cry with people who understand why you’re crying,” she said.

Somehow three miles truly passed effortlessly.

But on the way, there were activities. My favorite was a rainbow chalk bucket.

Jen wrote her name– “Andi.” Georgia and I took a picture by it.

We traded stories, but also just talked nonchalantly.

We took a big group picture once we reached the end to turn around.

Afterward we went to Monical’s Pizza together– again, Leta’s treat.

And I met and talked with man who had been in the cemetery, seen Amanda’s picture graveside, and wondered how someone so pretty could have ended up there. He Googled her and found my blog about her — commented and introduced himself.

His name is Richard, and he was walking with his twin brother. They are about the same age as Leta and now the three of them hang out! The Internet, man. Whoa.

At pizza after, I sat next to Georgia and her husband, Mike. We ordered a pitcher of plain ice tea, no sugar.

And I had to laugh– because my Aunt Rosie was famous for her Kansas sun tea!! I felt like she was telling me she knows I love her– that she was there with us.

 

Bucktown 5K: Pom-poms, Trust and No Glances Behind

Truth is, I don’t like running. Yet it remains the only form of exercise I can tolerate. I avoid it as much as possible but keep signing up for races.

So I must be a runner, deep-down in my gut.

My friend Lisa and I drove up together, parked, took a bus, and arrived in plenty of time. I loved the race swag– a light blue, white and red hoodie with the Chicago flag logo. Mine is just the right size but it was too hot to race in, though I wore it on the way.

I’m struggling.  My friends are able to increase their mileage and continually improve their times. I think I’ve done one race where I ran it all, but otherwise I need to walk at times–  and lately I’m walking father intervals, for longer.

My problems are that I’m unable to commit to a running routine and when my body complains during a run, I’m not able to sustain myself without slowing down to walk at some point. They are signing up for longer races. I’m still stuck doing 5K’s, though I did manage an 8K this spring!

Routine has been a blessing in other areas of my life. I have a feeling it would center me, if I can just find some way to make it happen with running. I’m working on a regular bedtime, weekends included. I know, that sounds so juvenile! But it’s working. I’m not a morning person but am convinced with repetition I can adjust.

How do I jump that mental hurdle? Ignore my sore feet, the pain in my right knee that chronically flares up though I have no official injury? I want to break through!

I refuse to give up, to settle for this. I know I have it in me.

This morning I decided to trust my friend Lisa when she suggested we leave by 6 a.m., park her car away from the crowds on a safe street, and take a bus to the race. I’ve never done that prior, but this was also my first neighborhood race– and she lived in the city years ago. She knows where the parking is bad and what times to avoid, and so I agreed. And it worked! Riding a bus was even a little extra component of fun. We took selfies at the bus stop. It was great to not have to hoof it all the way to the car!

It felt good to trust someone else’s plan.

And today, I truly felt special in this race. I owe it to the cheerleaders/pom squad, whatever title they choose! They were right by the starting line– in uniform and shaking metallic blue and red pom-poms!!

I’m just a woman who pays to race. Who’s not “good” at it yet but still showing up. And being in this neighborhood race today, I felt this enormous gratitude.

I didn’t look back even once– I never stopped moving. My knee was okay! It was such a liberty to not feel any compulsion to check how many people were behind me. I was mindful, focused on where I was going– not who might pass me up or my placement in the number of other racers.

I got OUT of my ego, with that little victory.

And then there were the children– mostly toddlers and four and five-year-olds, standing curbside with their tiny fists opened, leaning in and hoping one of us would choose THEM  as we passed by!

That made me feel like a super-hero! Knowing that some little person was thinking *I was cool because I was one of the people running in that crowd. As we passed through all the beautiful homes in Bucktown, people gathered on their balconies, front stoops, sidewalks  and corners to encourage us. Yelling, holding up signs, dancing, saying ” Great job!!”

Also, how many people in neighborhood envied US– the people who volunteered to challenge ourselves? The crazy people who refuse to quit running?? I’m guessing a lot.

Just when I was feeling sorry for myself about my foot pain, God showed me something humbling: a woman runner sitting curbside, fixing her leg prosthesis. Her t-shirt said “Chicago Blade Runners,” as did the t-shirts of two other women who were not disabled but seemed to be there in support. I’ve now learned it’s a running club for amputees and disabled athletes.

That woman would probably give anything to feel pain again in both feet. Imagine the grief of losing a limb– and not just any limb, but a leg. But that doesn’t stop her.  If that woman’s not making excuses, neither should I!

And when I came to that finish line, I felt myself start to tear up again– two of three times. Again, I wanted to let go and cry with relief, with JOY– but couldn’t. I kept control.

One day, my dream is to run so hard and so fast, that when I cross that finish line I burst into tears without abandon. I will be so proud of myself.

Honestly, I’m proud of myself now. And right now, little tears are escaping me.

Because writing about this is hard– but I’m doing it. I’m admitting to myself– and all of you– that running scares me. That I feel stuck and disappointed in my progress. And that I’m lucky to be surrounded by other runners who inspire me and invite me to race with them, who wait patiently for me to finish after them.

I have two strong legs, two knees, two feet. I can condition them to do better, and I will.

Making the Hard Choices

I spent most of last year juggling too many social commitments, and this fall I’m making needed adjustments.

I loved being in gospel choir at my parish, but told my choir director this week that I need to drop out. Today I went to Mass for the first time in two months, when our parish priest left. I’ve delayed meeting the new pastor. Today, people were so happy to see me and I was surprised that they all asked if I was singing again with choir. They seemed disappointed. I didn’t have time to explain in these quick conversations, but felt touched just the same.

Our rehearsals are fun, but I need to focus on establishing a sleep routine for myself. I’ve been struggling in the mornings and need to go to bed and wake up earlier.

Our energy encompasses all that we do and feel. I’ve made sacrifices in order to be of service and help others, but I was putting my own needs last.

I’ve made some wonderful strides this year, but still tried too hard to please others.

In just over two months, I’ll be 36! This year is about my future, my happiness.

Already, I feel a change.

My first allegiance needs to be my own health before I commit to anything else.

I need to run more. I’ve planned on four 5k’s between September and October and already signed up for one. I’m so excited!!

On my last run I set my goal higher and I achieved it! I am ready to push myself.

I went to a wedding Friday and ended up sitting next to the mother of a friend, who asked why I haven’t been blogging– she’s on a my subscriber list! Again, I was touched that she noticed. She told me something incredible– that she had attended an Ani DiFranco concert this year and had printed out a few blogs I’d written about her daughter, who had taken her own life. Ani had been one of her heroes, and my friend’s mother included my blogs, in which I’d also mentioned Ani since my friend was such a fan and it was impossible to write about her without mentioning her heroine. She delivered it to someone selling merchandise, and Ani replied to her! She showed me a picture on her phone of the letter. The letter didn’t mention my blogs, but she must have read them.

When I started this little blog I never imagined someone famous would read my words. Let alone an artist as amazing as Ani!

And one of the things Ani said was that it helped her to know that through her music, she had been able to be there for my friend in some tough moments.

You never know how your words or even just a small thing you do can impact someone’s life in a positive way. Just because it doesn’t feel significant to you at the time does not mean your actions aren’t important to someone else.

And thus, I’m blogging today.

 

Flickering Lanterns and Pride: A Memorial to Orlando

By Amee Bohrer

Twice, my flame flickered out tonight.

I was attending a local memorial service in honor of the Orlando massacre victims in Minooka, IL. A small town just outside of Joliet, where I live. I saw on Facebook a friend was attending and drove out there myself, wanting to gather with others in solidarity.

There were people gathered and three posters on a wooden table if anyone wanted to sign and write a message of hope and encouragement. I signed a couple– it felt good.

I saw a baseball cap that made me laugh: it said, “Make America Gay Again,” a navy and yellow parody hat of the red and white “Make America Great Again” caps touted by the Trump campaign and his supporters.

“I like your hat!” I told the young woman wearing it with pride, “Where’d you get it?”

“The Human Rights Campaign website,” she said with a smile.

The last speaker was the most powerful: Beric J. Wessely, a man with a Master of Social Work from University of St. Francis in Joliet who has accomplished much in the academic world for the LGBT community and in the business world as well. But he was brave enough to be vulnerable and admit that despite being an out gay man for years, he still must remain vigilant about how others around him seem to react to his presence, especially if he has a date.

He called for ACTIVE allies who speak up and fight for gun control and acceptance of the LGBT community. He challenged us to do more than post on social media or engage in moments of silence. He invited us to join the crusade toward not just equality, but basic safety for the LGBT community. He recounted how far we have come in terms of legal gay rights, and yet, how far we must continue to go. He ended on a message of hope: tonight, with us, he felt safe.

To conclude after three powerful speakers, a man said a beautiful prayer about how all those who died or were wounded that night at Pulse had grown up and learned to ride bikes. They had danced, they had been loved, and now mourned– they mattered.

It was windy, getting dark.

The lanterns were simply constructed:a wooden base, four wooden cylinders that fit into the corners of the square, a circle indented into the base where a tea light fit, and green tissue paper wrapped around to shelter the tea lights. But as I noticed, there were gaps between the paper and the base. The wind was getting through, increasingly stronger.

Two women alternated reading the list of names, those lives lost forever and those wounded still healing– some of which may not make it. We stood holding our lanterns.

After, between them they set alight a larger paper lantern, propelled into the sky by several candles.

All of stood in silence, watching it fly away.

It was the best moment of the night– something positive to remind us it’ll get better. Together, we can be the rainbow of allies and hope for this cause we all support: love.

Just simply, love.

Many of our candles flickered out, but that larger paper lantern never faltered. It floated away swiftly- free. Like the souls lost who must now be at rest, whether you believe in Heaven or not. I do.

Watching until it was just a glimmer and finally, nothing– I smiled.

Tonight we stood witness, we listened, we shared our outrage, sadness, and hope.

We dared to overcome hate.

From Illinois, we opened our hearts and mourned WITH Orlando.

My Father’s Smile

My father has a wonderful quality: faith.

Recently I received an unexpected bill and was feeling frustrated. Just when I thought I was getting ahead! I aired my frustrations to him, and he quietly smiled.

Just seeing that relaxed me.

He reminded me that there will always be unexpected expenses in adulthood. It’s not something to despair over– just a part of life to accept and tackle. He’s confident that I will manage and overcome these situations as they arise, so I’m beginning to believe it.

It used to be that I wanted a partner who would embody those qualities in him.

But now, I am delightfully surprised to see them appearing in myself.

I rarely panic these days– even when I have just reason to be overly emotional. When I do, I get over it much quicker.

His gentle strength emanates. I’ve become a calmer woman.

Someone my friends rely on.

And today I’m relying on myself, more and more.

Yet I always know his advice is a phone call or a hug away– if I do need him.

He’s taught me that though I may fall, he’s not far away. He will always encourage me to get up and keep going. He will always smile at me.

When my belief falters, his bolsters.

When I Let Go

Last Friday, I came home from work to find a passive-aggressive note.

Taped to my door from another tenant in my building, un-signed.

I had to ask around to find out who penned it. When did, I knocked on the person’s door– which was left unanswered.

To clear my head, I went for a run. By the end, I had sweated out my  resentment.

I was no longer even mad!

All week, I saw that tenant coming and going– but always when I was going somewhere. It wasn’t worth being late or putting myself in a bad mood to confront it.

So I just accepted it, and let it go.

I realized that I had no obligation to react at all.

I was friendly, but did not engage beyond a brief greeting an a wave.

Today, I returned home from work very tired after a challenging day.

I sat down to finish Season Three of “Orange is the New Black,” my current obsession. Chapman is getting more evil by the episode!

Less than 45 minutes later, there was a knock at my door.

“Who’s there?” I queried. The tenant answered their name.

I took a quick minute first, then opened the door.

And they were carrying a peace offering: dinner. Covered in foil to keep it warm.

More specifically– mac n’ cheese, beans, a hot dog and chicken.

I smiled. I thanked them.

“Are you going to stop leaving me notes now, unsigned?”

They nodded, smiled, backed away toward their own apartment.

“Enjoy,” they said.

“If you’re upset, just come and talk to me,” I said. “I’m sorry. We good?”

Another head nod. A smile.

We said goodbye.

Peace had snuck up on me.

And the mac n’ cheese was brilliant.

 

Goodbye, Superstition

I’ve always kept my left finger unadorned.

As if that finger were sacred– to be saved for the future.

But today I decided otherwise.

Because that finger belongs to me– rather and some imagined future spouse. It struck me as not just hopelessly patriarchal, but silly, to continue waiting.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone’s future wife or future mother. I’ve always kept “The Big Picture” in mind, and that has largely governed my actions. It’s kept me  responsible and practical.

But today I define myself alone– without any other influence.

I am not a woman who considers parts of herself verboten unless claimed by a relationship. It may seem trivial, but I find it empowering.

I’m no longer passive.

I put a ring on it myself! It’s just cute costume jewelry, but I chose it.

And now when I look at my right hand ring finger, I smile.

I chose myself over superstition.

And I feel a new security in that choice.