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Archive for July, 2011

She longs for adventure, my younger child.  She yearned for a chance to do something really different, to go somewhere she had never been, to help others, to explore at least a little piece of the world.  Money is tight:  I’m still seeking a full time job, eighteen months after my last one ended.  We – like so many – have had to cut back, do without or with less, and hope like crazy that the economy and our fortunes will improve.  So such explorations didn’t seem a likely bet this summer.

But our exploring child wouldn’t let go of the dream.  She worked like crazy at her job (at the fabulous Rancatore’s Ice Cream), she asked her grandparents for exploring money.  And an anonymous donor appeared to give Abby a grant to travel to parts yet unseen, showing her (and us) what the kindness of friends, if not strangers, is about.  It was enough to make it all possible.

So today, we put Abby on a plane for the Jazz City, headed for two weeks – in the hottest part of the summer in that very steamy part of the country — to work on Hurricane Katrina restoration with the St. Bernard Project, and then to work on Gulf Coast oil spill recovery in an estuary.  She’ll meet other teens, learn about the amazing culture that makes New Orleans such a remarkable stew of music, the Mardi Gras Indians, creole language, fabulous cajun food.  She’ll sweat and get dirty, meet people whose lives are very different from her own, and – we dearly hope – grow in ways that she, and we, didn’t expect.

We took her to the airport this morning to begin the journey.  She was nervous, but she was pumped.  We were unsettled and already missing her.  Yet we know it’s the right thing, coming at the right time.  The right way to enter her final year of high school, the right way to learn more about the America she lives in.  She’ll always be our baby, but as she disappeared into the security line at the airport this morning and then emerged in the distance, waving goodbye, we realized she’s launched on the first of what we hope will be many, many adventures that help her expand her view of herself and her world.

The kindness off friends and family made this adventure possible – and all our hearts are deeply grateful.

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Much has been written over the last few days about the “Harry Potter generation”: those children — now teens or young adults — who grew up with J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels as part of their lives, and who now face the wrench of discovering what life will be like without the continuing adventures of Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and the rest of the Hogwarts gang.

My daughter, Abigail, is 17 and she is one of these children.  Tonight she will go to the 12:01 AM screening of the last part of the Harry Potter saga, dressed as Hermione Granger, just as she did many years ago, for Halloween.  Then, Abby’s Hermione appeared as a young witch, complete with Hogwarts patch on her robe, custom-made broom and wand in hand.  Today, our Hermione will wear the dark skirt, Oxford shirt, grey cable-knit sweater, knee socks, and Hogwarts scarf that we have seen the teen Hogwarts pupils wear in the movie.  She’ll be accompanied by one friend dressed as Dolores Umbridge (a vision in pink, no doubt) and another portraying Harry Potter.  Snape may also make an appearance, I’m told.

What Ben and I are painfully aware of is that this is the beginning of the end of days.  Days of having a teenager living in the house, a child in public school, a dependent who we are charged with watching over.  A week ago, we marked the official beginning of ‘the year of lasts,’ as Ben calls it:  Abby’s last summer on Star Island as a member of a children’s program group.  She’ll be back to Star, gods willing, but it will be as a young adult, an employee, a woman with her own family – a child no more.

It’s the last summer before college, the last summer of free-and-easy, and, yes, the last opening of a Harry Potter movie. Abby decided to re-read the entire Rowling series before she saw this last film;  she is home as I write, finishing the final chapter of the final book.  It has been marked by laughter and many tears, as beloved characters meet their fate. These characters are her friends, her muses, and she will not say goodbye to them easily.

Years ago, Ben and I started reading Abby these books as bed time stories.  At first, she didn’t want to hear them.  She had somehow decided that they were math textbooks, and refused each time we tried to lure her into the books.  But we were eventually able to convince her that these were uncommon stories… about a magical wizard and his friends, about minotaurs and house-elves… and she, and we, succumbed to the magic.  We took summer trips to Canada listening to Jim Dale tell the stories; we queued up in line at bookstores or pre-ordered new books online so that they would arrive on the legal publication release date. Ben created a wand-making business, Preston and Wickes Wands of Distinction, which sold beautifully made, hand-crafted exotic wood wands to wizards and muggles alike.  We went to sleep dreaming of visiting Diagon Alley, we yearned to try chocolate frogs.

Now, Abby has mourned the end of the book and the series.  And, we all know, it’s not just because the story’s over.  It’s a piece of her life, and ours, too.  These kids may be known by demographers as “The Harry Potter Generation,” and they should be, for this amazing set of stories has shaped their years and their viewpoints, made them dream and believe and wonder in wondrous ways.

Abby as Hermione - Halloween, 2002

Ben and I can’t bring ourselves to run to the movie theatre right away to see the last film.  We want to string it out a little.   Probably, because we want to string out our younger daughter’s childhood a bit, too.

Oh, I will miss these books.  And I will miss that little girl I’ve loved for so long,  too.

Abby as Hermione, July 14, 2011

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In 1993, the Christmas card design Ben created showed a Celtic knotted circle of life.  At one end of it was a baby, and at the other end, an old man.  It was a traditional design in that the circle, the Celtic knot, the image of the old year giving rise to the new, are all elements that existed long before funny hats and the ball drop at Times Square started being the image folks have of the end of one year and the beginning of another.

For us, the card symbolized the birth — on October 5, 1993 — of our daughter Abigail, and the death — on November 1, 1993 — of my father, Oscar.  These two huge events, one so fondly longed for and the other so dreaded, marked the turning of our year, the turning of the wheel.  Buddhists follow a wheel of life, and this metaphor for the constant change we experience is powerful for me.

In recent weeks I have been moved, over and over, by the turning of the wheel.  In May, a marvelous friend died of bile duct cancer at the age of 73.  The death, not a surprise, still knocked the wind out of our sails as we realized that one of the wise voices of our life — a person Ben and I regarded as a true Elder Statesman – had been silenced.

In June, we prepared for the wedding of our niece, Bethany.  Bethany — a woman who knows what she wants, and who had been planning her wedding, in some senses, since she was four — married a wonderful young man, Mitch, on Cape Cod, with her grandparents, family, and friends looking on.  It was a lovely weekend of celebration, complete with the presence of the bride’s 91- and 93-year-old grandparents.  And yet, at the same time, we recognized and felt the intense pain and sorrow other dear friends were experiencing, as they grappled with the terrible and sudden death of their 28-year-old daughter…a young woman with everything in life ahead of her, robbed of it in the instant it took for a car accident to mortally injure her.  Then another friend, a man who had fought bravely against a disease he acquired in New York as the attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred, lost his battle with a crippling illness, at the age of 49.

One of the songs we sing in our faith says, “We laugh, we cry, we live, we die, we dance, we sing our songs.  We need to feel there’s something here to which we can belong.  …But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own.”  As the wheel of life turns, I find myself seeking, yearning, for the connections that can be made with friends and loved ones.  I need my family — biological or intentional — to help me understand how such terrible things can happen to very good people, and to help me hold on to a belief that there is still a force that is good and loving in the world.

And so, once again, I will go to Star Island, the place of solace, refuge, inspiration, and hope that has carried me on its breezes and waves since I was a baby.  I will sit on the rocks, lie in the grass, doze in a rocking chair, talk with old friends, and — I dearly hope — find the way back toward brightness and promise that the world still has to offer.

I will joined there by other such seekers, including those who have suffered such losses and experienced such joys.  I will climb the path to the stone chapel, built in 1800, lit by candle light, and look out toward the White Island Light that casts its steadfast beam across the water.  I’ll hold babies who are just beginning their lives, full of innocence and wonder.  I will re-connect with those I trust and respect and love.

I know that the wheel turns, always…may it turn, in the coming days, toward healing for us all.

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