Good Hands

While walking on a treadmill at a gym in January 2015, Julie Jo Jamison Jones (J⁴) lost the feeling in her foot. Two days later, after symptoms persisted, she checked herself into Barrows Neurological Institute.

J⁴ called me from the hospital, “ come here now.”

J⁴ had a brain tumor, and according to the neurologists, the tumor metastasized from cancer in her lung. The diagnosis – stage IV lung cancer.

The following April, my daughter and I set out on a long-anticipated 5-week trip to South America to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation. I felt terrible leaving J⁴ who I’d promised to be by her side during cancer treatment.

My daughter and I contemplated how we could include  J⁴ in our travels.  I asked my mother if she had any ideas.

Two days before our departure, at 11 PM, my mother called with an idea. 

Years before, my mother had purchased colorful wooden angels from an artist at a Chautauqua art fair.  My mother suggested we contact the artist and see if we could order the angels for our trip.

I phoned the artist, Cheryl, owner of Louise’s Daughter.

Last minute, but it was worth a try.

Cheryl answered my call from the other side of the country while she grocery shopped.  I asked if I could purchase 60 angels and if the angels could arrive by the following evening. Unable to guarantee, Cheryl assured me she’d try.

The next night, on the eve of our departure, the angels arrived.

And what’s followed, has been miraculous. 

The angels, now known as J⁴ Angels, are spreading across the world. Handcrafted by Louise’s Daughter, the J⁴ Angels arrive at our hands via a FedEx package, and as life happens, find their way into the hands of warm-hearted, supportive, and deserving people.

Together, we’ve become a choir – 

A choir of angels sent out into our world one person at a time, lifting each other to a higher ground and rejoicing with gratitude for all that’s good.

When a J⁴ Angel makes it into your hands, please know that someone somewhere sees the Light in you. You are a beacon of hope.

In the name of eternal friendship, you, too, are a messenger in our growing circle of kindness and support.

Hopefully, your J⁴ Angel will remind you to rejoice –

For you are in Good Hands and good company!

 

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Words Not Weapons

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After hearing of the terrorist attack in Barcelona, I contacted my German friend, Margrit.

Thirty-six years ago in 1981, my mother and father met Margrit’s parents at a wine festival in Margrit’s hometown, Deidesheim, Germany.  Our two sets of parents shared the ages of their children, and they discovered they had two girls approximately the same age, Margrit and me. Our parents exchanged addresses, and Margrit and I became pen pals.

Our letters tied us together. Even after the tech revolution, we continued to write. Margrit and I’ve adjusted our writing. We still both prefer a handwritten letter, and I could pick Margrit’s beautiful script out of a line-up for sure!  Our letters aren’t as frequent, but with the tech revolution, we’re able to follow each other on Facebook and share photos via messenger. Margrit and I’ve celebrated world events, like the downfall of the Berlin Wall, and we’ve denounced horrors, like the despicable acts of 9.11.

Inspiring this blog entry is Margrit’s and my time on Las Ramblas, celebrating our 25th friendship anniversary in June 2009. Margrit and I walked side-by-side down the peaceful Boulevard, enjoying the summer evening. We people-watched, listened to street musicians and chose a place to stop for a ‘tres bier Grazie.’ 

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We had our photo taken with a Las Ramblas street performer, a larger-than-life gargoyle, who while the camera clicked, leaned in for a kiss, whispering Catalan into my ear. Margrit and I laughed about the gargoyle’s forwardness, and in the years to come, the photo reminded Margrit and me of our harmless, fun-loving encounter with the Gargoyle on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

The photo’s taken during a time when peacefulness accompanied most traveling Westerners.  A time when terrorists weren’t walking into crowded tourist areas with bombs strapped to their backs. A time when people rented cars to get to a destination not to kill people. A time when we guarded our wallets against pickpocketers but didn’t fear for our lives when having coffee or tea in a city square.

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On Thursday, August 17th, the day of terror on Las Ramblas,  I contacted Margrit on WhatsApp. I sent her the news headliner and referenced our 2009 photo:

our moment with the gargoyle is on my mind😩😢

And three days later – quicker than a letter traveling over the Atlantic but slower than pressing send on a social media message or an international texting app – I received Margrit’s response.

Happiness and tragedy are so close together 🙁

A van didn’t bloodily extinguish our lives on Las Ramblas when we were there.  Instead, we had a trustworthy interaction with a gargoyle.  To us, Las Ramblas is a place of inside-jokes and laughter, and now I can’t help but cringe thinking about what Las Ramblas elicits in those who suffered pain, personal loss, and unbearable heartache because of a heinous, despicable crime.

Friends, this isn’t only Barcelona’s terror, this is our world’s worst nightmare unfolding in front of our eyes – the disregard for human life and the desensitization toward violence are crippling our world.

Let’s stop the madness!

*******

Tragically,

Monsters exist

But thankfully, so do pen pals –

To who and what are you paying attention?  Good or evil?

A pen pal uses words not weapons to write a life story.

The world should take a page out of a pen pal’s book.

Remember the adage, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me?’

My hope is within my lifetime, words connect us again, not ill-willed reactions, violent acts or deliberate tragedy.

One can hope and plot our comeback –

One kind word at a time.

 

 

May you find your peace again, Barcelona!

 

 

 

Firebird

“I come from a beautiful country far away. I am the Firebird, and I bring you the blessing of heat. The rays you see shining about my tail are tongues of flame.”

– Firebird

The Native American Story of the Firebird

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Antelope Canyon, Navajo Tribal Park, Page, Arizona

Rojo Fuego

“Let’s, together, make a birthday dinner for my mom.” – Phillip

Phil did the lobster tails and salad. We did the green beans, Julie’s Potato Pie and dessert, salted caramel milkshakes.

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boiled at fire-hot temperatures and now the color of fire-hot red

J⁴’s birthday, July 27th, fell less than a week after her video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), July 21st, and she was still struggling with recovery – the fatigue, as she described, is “unlike anything I’ve ever felt – like I was hit by a Mack Truck.”

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By candlelight, J⁴ and we sat at her “Daddy’s table,” in the dining room, celebrating her birthday.  I sat next to her.  On her arm, she had a tender spot where her surgery’s IV had bruised her. During dinner, she rested her hand on my forearm, mentioning how soft my sweatshirt’s fabric felt.

After dinner, we hugged to say goodbye, and J⁴ a pulled away, saying, “I love your sweatshirt – it feels so cozy and nice.”

Without a second-thought, I pulled my sweatshirt over my head and put it over hers –

“here, it’s yours.”

Home from dinner, I got online and bought a matching sweatshirt to replace the one I’d given to J⁴.

The next morning, I received a text,

Thank you for your sweater. Now I can say that you gave me the shirt off your back. 💕 ❤

Three months before, in May, J⁴ was diagnosed with malignant pleural effusion, a complication from the lung cancer. Her doctors had mentioned, “3 months,” and that night after she heard those words, we were together at a charity event.  It was the first time, during all her months of “whacking moles,” that I’d seen her mad.

“I’m not done.

If you’re going to tell me I have only 3 months,

then I want to go to the beach.”

Honoring J⁴’s wishes, Cal, her loving husband and primary caregiver, booked a week-long house rental in Santa Barbara, California, Aug 2nd – August 9th.

So on the heels of her birthday dinner, we had reached the 3 month mark and were headed to the beach, Santa Barbara, to the rental home that we now endearingly call, The Palace.

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The Palace

Cal & J⁴ flew, and I drove J4’s fire-hot BMW X5. During the drive, a road trip that normally J⁴ and I’d have taken together, I had waves of thoughts – what music would we’ve have listened to had we been together, what inside jokes would’ve come from our long distance time side by side and how fast would we’ve been clocked getting to SB?  Cal’s and her entrusted care of her car and the understanding that such a drive would’ve been so rough on J⁴ helped me see the good in my solo journey.

After a 7+ hour drive, I arrived at The Palace around 8 PM and was greeted by Cal at the front door –

“She’s been getting sick since 6 PM and she wants to see you.”

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I followed Cal into The Palace’s foyer, climbed the wooden, iron-railed staircase, and tip-toed across the glossy wooden floor to the Master Suite. Inside the suite, dimly lit by the remaining day’s light, J⁴ reclined in an upholstered chair with her feet propped on an ottoman.  Her head rested on the top of the chair’s cushion and she held a goose-down comforter to her neck.  With her eyes barely opened and her cheeks fire-hot red, she took my hands and said,

“I’m so glad that you’re here with me – I’m so sick. I guess I’m not in the best shape to start my party.”

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We left J⁴ alone to rest and to drink her Pedialyte. By 11 PM, she was regaining her strength and the nausea had subsided. She even rallied, eating some of the chocolate chip cookies that she’d baked, with her limited energy, for her week-long party before leaving for Santa Barbara.

Blaming the violent stomach sickness on food poisoning from possibly her shrimp lunch the day before, J⁴ felt much better in the morning.

Wearing our matching sweatshirts, we did a mini-outing to celebrate J⁴’s overnight recovery and to lift her spirits . We went to lunch at Montecito Cafe, with her youngest son and his wife, and then checked out a close-by clothing boutique.  The shop owner noticed our matching sweatshirts and asked what had brought us to Santa Barbara.

J⁴ gave her the short version of what had brought us to town – stage 4 lung cancer and a desire to be at the beach with “my family and my friend, who is my family.”

Moved to tears by J⁴’s story, the shop owner told J⁴ about her best friend who’s been living with advanced lung cancer for 9 years, don’t ever give up hope! J⁴ began to cry – I did, too. I purchased a Love Heals dog tag necklace, and the shop owner insisted that J⁴ pick out a dog tag necklace, compliments of her and the store.

We wore our Love Heal tags and our matching sweatshirts all week. Solidarity, it’s what we do.

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While J⁴ took a nap Monday afternoon, I went out on my own to photograph the Mission Santa Barbara. The mission has a self-guided tour, with directional signs and chained walkways leading visitors through the grounds.  I’d completed the walking tour and had arrived back at the starting point, adjacent to the mission’s center courtyard.  At the beginning of the tour, I’d admired some waterlilies floating in a water fountain in the courtyard’s garden, but the courtyard was closed and off-limits to visitors. I imagined J⁴ napping at The Palace but awaking to coax me – climb over the iron chains, unlock the gate, and  ignore the signs, Courtyard Closed for Maintenance.  She’s ornery like that – (if this were her blog, she’d argue that I’m the ornery one.)

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I behaved, exiting the mission through the gift shop and headed toward the parking lot. I noticed some chalk drawings on the pavement. Sidetracked, I wandered around the exterior of the mission.

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On the mission’s front lawn, there was another fountain with waterlilies – another chance to photograph waterlilies don’t ever give up hope! And even better, these waterlilies, outside the confines of the mission’s interior, were fire-hot red – the same color as our matching sweatshirts!

I’m reminded of the childhood game, Hot & Cold.

To play the game:  

Select one household item for hiding. Player 1 closes his eyes while Player 2 hides the item somewhere in the room. Once the item is properly hidden, Player 2 searches for it slowly and deliberately while Player 1 assists with verbal clues. If Player 2 is not at all close to the item as he searches, Player 1 says, “You’re cold,” but as he gets closer to the hidden item, Player 1 responds, “Getting warmer…” When Player 2 is very close to the item, Player 1 says, “You’re hot!” The verbal temperature indicators aid in finding the item.

When we were young, my sister and I played the game, and when Player 2 was right on top of the hidden item, we’d say, “you’re fire hot.”

At times, when I’ve wondered, where are we headed? Are we getting warmer, getting colder, hot, or fire-hot? I listen for the verbal cues and always seem to get them. I’ve found assurance that we’re close – fire-hot close – always adding warmth to each other’s lives, like those birthday centerpiece candles on Daddy’s table.

We have a friendwhoismyfamilyship that’s willing to give the shirts off our backs –

anytime and anywhere.

We’ve got each other covered –

it’s what we’ve built, it’s what we do.

We’re not going anywhere without the other.

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“Rojo Fuego,”

the fire-hot name of our matching sweatshirts.

 

 

Half-Staff

When the sun and the Stars and Stripes align,

Light miraculously lifts the somberness of a flag at

half-staff .

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Half-Staff

I took this image of our flag at half-staff with my iPhone at a car dealership on a busy Phoenix street.  A car salesman approached me as I kneeled down to take the photo in the overhead, bright noonday light.  After proudly disclosing he is a photographer, the car salesman recommended I return at sunset, since the setting sunlight looks so good on the flag. I thanked him for allowing me on his dealership’s lot, while clicking the button on my phone’s screen. He continued with his instructions, advising the best angle to shoot the shot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s telling “half [his] staff” about the female on the car lot taking a photo in the worst light imaginable.

When we’re led by Light, we’re usually blinded by it,  believing certain Light only happens once, so we’ve only got one shot – and it’s our own.