Flying North AA4650. With RTP.

It’s one of those moments in life when you remember exactly where you were, what you were doing, and how you felt.

In the old pre-smartphone days, it was the 3 am phone call, with the ring shattering the silence.  You fumble in darkness trying to find the handset praying…please, please, please, let it be a wrong number, and not something worse.

Today, it’s all about texting. And it was a text.

Yesterday morning.  11:00 a.m. Nashville, TN.  The first day of a 4-day conference in a large ballroom at the J.W. Marriott. The lights in the room were dimmed, the spots beamed down on the speaker on stage.

My iPhone screen lights up, flashing an iMessage notification.

“Please call me. Now. Important.” [Read more…]

Lightly Child, Lightly.

“Still, a great deal of light falls on everything.”

~ Vincent van Gogh, in his “Letter to Theo van Gogh, The Hague, c. 10 October 1882

 


Notes:

  • Painting: Sunflowers, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh.  Quote via bradplumer
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Miracle. All of it.

Hello, welcome.

My name is Julie Yip-Williams. I am grateful and deeply honored that you are here. This story begins at the ending. Which means that if you are here, then I am not. But it’s okay.

My life was good and my life was complete. It came to so much more than I ever thought possible, or than my very humble beginnings would have given me the right to expect. I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an immigrant, a cancer patient, a lawyer, and now a writer. I tried to live always with good intentions and a good heart, although I am sure I have hurt people along the way. I tried my best to live a full, rewarding life, to deal with the inevitable trials with grace, and to emerge with my sense of humor and love for life intact. That’s all. Even though I am dying in my early forties, and leaving my precious children behind, I am happy.

My life was not easy. That I survived infancy was something of a miracle, that I made it to America, also a miracle. Being born poor and blind in Vietnam on the losing side of a bloody civil war should have defined my life and sealed my fate. Those things marked me, but they did not stop me. Dying has taught me a great deal about living—about facing hard truths consciously, about embracing the suffering as well as the joy. Wrapping my arms around the hard parts was perhaps the great liberating experience of my life.

Directly or indirectly, we all experience the hard parts. The events that we hear about on the news or from friends, those tragedies ending in death that happen to other people in other places, which make us sad but also relieved and grateful as we think, There but for the grace of God…—destructive hurricanes and earthquakes, violent shootings and explosions, car accidents, and of course, insidious illnesses. These things shake us to the core because they remind us of our mortality, of how impotent we truly are in the face of unseen forces that would cause the earth to tremble or cells to mutate and send a body into full rebellion against itself.

I set out here to write about my experience of that, both the life lived and the trials endured—neither comprehensively, you understand, but enough to fully show you the distance I traveled and the world in which I made my life. And what began as a chronicle of an early and imminent death became—if I may be very presumptuous—something far more meaningful: an exhortation to you, the living.

Live while you’re living, friends.

From the beginning of the miracle, to the unwinding of the miracle.

Julie Yip-Williams, February 2018

~ Julie Yip-Williams, “Prologue” from The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After (Random House, February 5, 2019)


Notes:

Flying Over I-40 South. With Bird Calls.


It’s been 9 months, and we receive a piercing reminder of the only certainties in life: Death and Taxes. Tucked way at the back of the mailbox, sits a single, slight envelope – a bill for the license fee for Zeke’s tags. He’s gone damn it. He’s gone.

Dog tags. Metal to metal, nothing rubbing, nothing jingling. Just nothing.  Inert, they lay in an extra coin jar in the mud room, on top of dirty pennies, dimes, nickels and a few silver quarters. His weathered, leather leash, without him on the end of it, has been stored, way away.  Loose Change. Bone to Bone. Dust to dust. Nothing.

Melancholia saddles up and storms in.

I pull up the covers, and shiver.

It’s Spring. Low humidity. Soft intermittent rains. And nights sleeping with open windows.

With no bird dog leaning in…with no bird dog head nestling, warming my feet, there’s no longer a need to keep windows closed. No need for closed windows to block bird calls, those bird calls which triggered his wiring, which set off that nose, those whiskers, that twitching against the thigh as he adjusts his head to get a better look and better sniff; those same bird calls which would launch this Man’s Best Friend on high alert, jacking up his pulse rate and his innate need to run, to find and to flush. You ain’t running here no more. This Man’s leaning in on himself and falling over.

The window is wide open. A bird call interrupts the dark and the silence. 3:43 am.

Does she sleep? Or like a dolphin, does half her brain shut down, so the other half can monitor predators? How does she wake each morning with a Solo and always between 3:40 am to 3:55 am? Is she singing? Talking? To whom? To Me? About what? Does she sleep in trees? In her nest? Warming her eggs? Singing to her babies as any Mother would? Rock-a-bye baby, On the tree top, When the wind blows, The cradle will rock. When the bough breaks

By 4:10 am, she has wound up the entire neighborhood, and we’ve moved from solo to choir.  Bird song lifts the gates, the silvery light of dawn shimmering – the tide sweeps away the heaviness: Lightly Child, Lightly.  And here it comes: playing in the head on a loop…“Ain’t no passing craze.  It means no worries. For the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata!”

The bird song reaches a crescendo, percussion, drums, guitars, horns, nature’s perfect harmony dragging my soul – Up, Up, Up.

Circle of Life Brother.

Circle of Life.



Inspired by:

The grief of the failed nest echoes in an entirely different register, but it is still a grief. In Tennessee it’s common for cardinals to nest twice in a season, hatching between two and five eggs each time, but few of their young will survive. The world is not large enough to contain so many cardinals, and predators must eat, too, and feed their young. It should not trouble me to know the sharp-eyed crow will feed its babies with hatchlings it steals from the cardinals, but I have watched day after day as the careful redbird constructed a sturdy nest in the laurel, and I have calculated how many days and nights she has sat upon those eggs, how many trips she has made to the nest to feed the babies, how many times she has sheltered them through a downpour. Day after day after day.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “Springtime’s Not-So-Peaceable Kingdom”, The New York Times · June 3, 2017

14 Years Old

manchester, Barra,scotland,terrorist,hearse,

The hearse carrying the coffin of Eilidh MacLeod is driven across Traigh Mhor beach at Barra, Scotland, airport after it arrived by chartered plane. Ms. MacLeod, 14 years old, was among the 22 people who died in the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on May 22, which also left more than 100 injured. (Andrew Milligan / Photos of the Day, June 3-4, 2017, wsj.com)

Voilà, I’m home now

October 28: Bringing maman’s body from Paris to Urt…The undertaker meets a “colleague” there…I walk a few steps…on one side of the square…bare ground, the smell of rain, the sticks. And yet, something like a savor of life (because of the sweet smell of the rain), the very first discharge, like a momentary palpitation.

October 29: How strange: her voice, which I knew so well, and which is said to be the very texture of memory (“ the dear inflection . . .”), I no longer hear. Like a localized deafness.

October 30: At Urt: sad, gentle, deep (relaxed).

November 1: Indeterminacy of the senses: one could just as well say that I have no feelings or that I’m given over to a sort of external, feminine (“ superficial”) emotivity, contrary to the serious image of “true” grief—or else that I’m deeply hopeless, struggling to hide it, not to darken everything around me, but at certain moments not able to stand it any longer and “collapsing.” [Read more…]

Wow, I am sorry

Death comes with raising cattle: coyotes, blizzards and the inevitable trip to the slaughterhouse and dinner plate. But after 30 years of ranching, Mark and Mary Kaltenbach were not ready for what met them after a wildfire charred their land and more than one million acres of rain-starved range this month.

Dozens of their Angus cows lay dead on the blackened ground, hooves jutting in the air. Others staggered around like broken toys, unable to see or breathe, their black fur and dark eyes burned, plastic identification tags melted to their ears. Young calves lay dying.

Ranching families across this countryside are now facing an existential threat to a way of life that has sustained them since homesteading days: years of cleanup and crippling losses after wind-driven wildfires across Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle killed seven people and devoured homes, miles of fences and as much as 80 percent of some families’ cattle herds.

But for many, the first job after the fire passed was loading a rifle.

“You think you’re done,” he said, “and the next day you got to go shoot more.”

For decades and generations, ranching has defined people’s days. Mr. Kaltenbach would wake up at 4:30 a.m. without an alarm clock…“It’s our life,” Mrs. Kaltenbach, 57, said. “We lost our routine.”

“We did what had to be done,” Mr. Kaltenbach, 69, said. “They’re gentle. They know us. We know them. You just thought, ‘Wow, I am sorry.’”

~ Jack Healy, Burying Their Cattle, Ranchers Call Wildfires ‘Our Hurricane Katerina’


Notes:

the experience altered him

bird-in-hand

The musician became a bird lover at the aviary. He tells a story of holding a dying finch one day and feeling overwhelmed by its tiny heartbeat. He had never studied a bird so closely before, never observed its delicate and immaculate plumage, and the experience altered him.

~ Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation 

 


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.

turtle-nesting

They come, lumbering, from the many ponds. They dare the dangers of path, dogs, the highway, the accumulating heat that their bodies cannot regulate, or the equally stunning, always possible cold. Take one, then. She has reached the edge of the road, now she slogs up the impossible hill. When she slides back she rests for a while, then trundles forward again. Emerging wet from the glittering caves of the pond, she travels in a coat of glass and dust. Where the sand clings thickly the mosquitoes, that hover about her like a gray veil, are frustrated. Not about her eyes, though, for as she blinks the sand falls; so at her tough, old face-skin those winged needles hang until their bodies fill, like tiny vials, with her bright blood. Each of the turtles is a female, and gravid, and is looking for a place to dig her nest. […]

I saw the tracks immediately— they swirled back and forth across the shuffled sand of the path. They seemed the design of indecision, but I am not sure. In three places a little digging had taken place. A false nest? A foot giving a swipe or two of practice motion? A false visual clue for the predator to come? I leashed my two dogs and looked searchingly until I saw her, at one side of the path, motionless and sand-spattered. Already she was in the nest— or, more likely, leaving it. For she will dig through the sand until she all but vanishes— sometimes until there is nothing visible but the top of her head. Then, when the nesting is done, she thrusts the front part of her body upward so that she is positioned almost vertically, like a big pie pan on edge. Beneath her, as she heaves upward, the sand falls into the cavity of the nest, upon the heaped, round eggs. She sees me, and does not move. The eyes, though they throw small light, are deeply alive and watchful. If she had to die in this hour and for this enterprise, she would, without hesitation. She would slide from life into death, still with that pin of light in each uncordial eye, intense and as loyal to the pumping of breath as anything in this world.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Sister Turtle” in Upstream: Selected Essays (2016)

 


Notes:

  • Photo: Brent Fleming, Nesting Sea Turtle
  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

So fresh, so fleeting

dew-light-green

Dew evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting.

~ Issa, 1763 – 1828, on the death of his child

 


Notes:

%d bloggers like this: