Monday, December 15, 2014


Utah Lake, December 2014

I started reading The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo, a novel about a man searching for his path on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, on the way to my cousin Peter's memorial service early this fall. I set it aside after that, then finished it on my way home from my Uncle Chuck's memorial service a couple of weeks ago.

For many years, I believe I was searching for ways to disconnect. I found caring can be too painful. Living on autopilot seemed like a good way to numb the pain. The problem with skimming the surface, though, is that it sucked the soul out of everything. And life stretched endlessly on before me.

So I started searching for ways to connect. To be real. To dive beneath the surface. To care. It's hard, but living on autopilot was worse.


I drove out to Utah Lake a few days ago. It had recently been unusually calm, a good destination to make a pilgrimage to reflect.

Bright and early this morning, I'm going to have my very first surgery. I'm getting my gallbladder removed. It's totally routine, but not for me. I have every confidence that it will all go smoothly, but, you know, things can happen.

So I want to put here that I've had more success lately figuring out my path.

And though I'm sure I'm going to come through my morphine haze just fine, I thought I'd make a few requests. I have a feeling they'll still be valid when I die a nutty old woman.

Take some of my ashes to a place I loved. Take some of my ashes to a place I've never been but would have loved if I had. And at my memorial service, please sing "For the Beauty of the Earth," joyfully, like it's meant to be sung.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sailing Away

Once again, I'm remembering a loved one. My wonderful Uncle Chuck (aka Charles, Jr., aka Charlie and aka my mom's brother) passed away earlier today, peacefully in his sleep after a long and difficult struggle. I thought I'd share excerpts of my last letter to him here.

Dear Uncle Chuck,

Since you are one of my favorite uncles, I want to be sure you know a few things. Especially the fact that you are one of my favorite uncles.

Throughout the years, I've been shaped by the way you have embraced life and the way you have embraced the people you love. Always Pratt Island would come alive when you showed up, so full of humor and light. 

Uncle Chuck, cousin Tracey, cousin Sandy, and sister Linda

I loved the way you openly adored your daughters. It seemed like such a simple and true thing for you.

Uncle Chuck and his three beautiful daughters

I loved that you and Sigrid and Lani were able to come to our wedding even though it was almost all the way across the country, and things were a little rough in 1990, and we had given exceptionally short notice as we were only engaged for eight weeks. That wedding weekend, and especially our reception at Sundance, would not have been the same without you. It meant so much to me that you were there! I still remember your gift shop discoveries and how you reveled in the idea of a partying at such a beautiful mountain ski resort. You confirmed we had chosen just the right spot to celebrate our major milestone.

I loved that you went out of your way on your big western adventure to see me and Roger and our new baby Jack. We still have the silver rattle you brought him, and we still hold the most awesome memory of you dropping your pants in our front room to show us the magnet contraption that was helping you cope with your sore knee on the long drive!

I loved that you pulled strings to get Jack out sailing on Long Island Sound when we were in town a few summers ago. A picture of Jack jumping off Friendship has been the banner photo on my Facebook page for years now, and I think I'm going to keep it that way for a long time. What a treat to be able to introduce Jack to such an important part of my childhood!

Thanks for being my wonderful uncle. Damn it, I really wish I was there to give you a big hug in person.  

All of the love in the world from one of your favorite nieces :). 


Friday, October 17, 2014

At 95

I went to a presentation at noon today by an old friend, author Julie Berry. She has a fun new novel out, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (see entertaining trailer below).

After the presentation was over, I noticed Judge Monroe and Shirley Paxman, both 95 years old, sitting near the front. I've known them for years! Not only did they often come to events at our bookshop, Judge Paxman was one of my college professors.

I had to go over and talk to them. We walked out of the auditorium together, they with their walking sticks, me with my delight at seeing them still so curious and engaged with the community.

After reminding Judge Paxman that I had taken a course in criminal justice from him more than 30 years ago (he was in his 60s then!), I told him how pivotal taking that class had been for me. I had been thinking I'd like to go into the field to help people caught up in the criminal justice system to work their way out.

But taking that class made me realize just how naive I was. "I'd have believed anything they told me," I said. And then I happily reported to him that after many years of pursuing other goals, I was now working at the county jail, helping people caught up in the criminal justice system to work their way out.

I am less naive now. Imagine how wide open my eyes will be if I make it to 95. Especially if I stay as curious and engaged as the Paxmans have.

Also, I'm curious if anyone in Julie's new book ends up in jail. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Making a Statement

This morning I woke up to two pieces of news:

(1) The US Supreme Court has held up multiple lower court rulings that struck down state laws against same-sex marriage.

And (2) a good hearted young man--whom I first met when he was a TA in our high school library the year I worked there, who came out as a gay man a few years ago, and who suffered debilitating depression--took his own life a few nights ago.

Here is my vote and my prayer: that we can ALL figure out a way forward in love, not fear. In our society, we talk so much about freedom, including freedom of conscience, and our right to pursue our individual journeys through life. Let's mean it all around.

Because that statement is deliberately ambiguous (I truly do mean all), I also feel a need to be clear about a couple of things in case anyone wonders where I personally stand:

(1) A dozen years ago, I voted against the Utah constitutional amendment that was at issue in one of the cases that went to the Supreme Court. I would vote against it again today. I am celebrating today's decision.

And (2) I am ever hopeful that the increased funding for research and coverage for mental health care mandated by the ACA will make a huge difference for many individuals and families, and ultimately for society as a whole - I meet far too many people, for example, who end up being funneled through the criminal justice system because we haven't yet figured out a better way. We need to for the sake of our humanity.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Last Chapter

Peter with Ally and Ajax on Fearless, Lake Geneva 2014

I learned yesterday that my cousin Peter passed away. Second cousin, technically, but his mother Jean was like an aunt to me. No one knows, yet, exactly what happened. Some hikers found him sitting beside a trail near Telluride, his pack still on his back. Likely it was peaceful for him. Maybe he didn't even know what was happening. It is comforting to think he was doing something he loved in a place he loved.

I'm always interested in learning what goes on in people's heads. Understanding what moves them, how they perceive the world. Peter, though, especially intrigued me. I saw him nearly every summer at the lake, but he was a mystery. He was ten years older than me and ran with the elusive pack of cousins that were the first in our generation. I was in the tag along group, hoping, maybe, to get a chance to water ski when everyone else was through or to get invited for late night swims.

The summer I turned 12, I started spending more time at his family's cottage when Jean's best friend's daughters started coming to the lake. We stayed up late at night playing Spades and Trivial Pursuit. Peter would never give up trying to answer the trivia questions, even if it took him half an hour to comb his brain. Somehow, the answer would always be in there! Mostly, though, he was off playing tennis or golf, and I was not part of that circle. His college years stretched into decades as he pursued graduate studies in anything that caught his interest. He traveled the world. He was a voracious reader.

So I knew about him, but I didn't really know him. I wish I'd tried harder. Instead I filled in the gaps with my imagination.

When we were all grown up, I'd sometimes be invited to his cottage for dinner. He'd sit at the head of the table while people buzzed around him, getting the meal set out or cleaning up afterward. He seemed oblivious to the activity. Was it what he expected of everyone? Or did he just let things happen? Other times, he'd track down Ally, a friend's daughter who was like his own, at our cottage to let her know he'd made her grilled cheese or hot dogs for lunch. As much as he loved surrounding himself with people, he also liked to disappear. He was notorious for being difficult to track down.

A few years ago, I caught him alone and asked him about a trek he'd taken in northern India around the time his mother died. We talked about spiritual journeys and how intangible they are, and we bonded over our mutual rejection of dogmatism. I was left hungry for more. What were his questions? Did he ever find answers? Was he driven by restlessness or curiosity? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

This summer I watched Peter as we listened to another cousin's son play the trumpet with a jazz quintet. We were in an old clubhouse that probably hadn't changed much in our lifetime. It felt timeless. I tried to read him, but couldn't really. He looked serious. Sad? Or was he just reveling in the music? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

It struck me in that moment that he seemed to move through life as though he were a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Later he told me when I asked what he remembered about my Grandpa Stuart, who died when I was six and Peter was 16.  Someone else I wish I'd known. "I admired him," he said and described him as soft spoken, intellectual, and curious about the world. He credited Grandpa's extensive slide shows for sparking his interest in traveling to far flung places.

I thought I'd have time to find out more about what was in Peter's head. Next summer, or the next. But the last chapter of his novel has ended, and as far as I know all the words I wanted to read died with him.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Feat #22: Over the Interstate and Through the West Fields

Please forgive me. I am still on a honeymoon with my new bike.

Sometimes on Sundays, I head to work at the jail to meet with inmates who have jobs they go to during the rest of the week. Today I decided to ride my bike there. It's only about 12 miles round trip.

A bit of a Sabbath meditation.

Except for about a third of the way there when I realized I'd forgotten my ID badge (Roger rescued me by bringing it). And then about two thirds of the way there when I bounced over some railroad tracks and my chain came off and jammed between the sprocket and the guard (a nice couple in a pickup truck stopped to help and gave me a few napkins to get the grease off my hands).

There isn't a bike rack near the entrance, so I improvised. I know a bike locked up to sign post can be stolen. But I also know the place is monitored by a surveillance system. And it's full of people with authority to make an arrest. I figured I'd risk it.

My bike and I both made it home. We're a good match. I think we'll be very happy together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On a Roll

Today's bicycling adventure involved checking on the progress of the new reservoir Springville city is building near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon (beach! swimming! next summer! a mile from my house!). I decided to take the long way around through Mapleton, enjoying our unseasonably low 70-ish degree weather.