ANGELS IN ODD PLACES

Yesterday I met the family who may have saved my son’s life.

The daughter heard the car crash late that night. She roused her mother. They ran outside in their pajamas to his car.

Everyone who saw the car said the same thing. They all thought no one could have survived that crash.

The woman and her daughter sat with him while the dad called 911.

The mom stayed with son til the police and ambulance came. She couldn’t reach him–he was too entangled in the dashboard. The car was so badly crushed, he couldn’t move.

It was cold that night, in the teens. She gave him her coat to staunch the bleeding from his head wounds. She kept talking to him, trying to keep him from passing out or falling asleep. He was obviously in shock, and suffering from a concussion.

The first police officer on the scene waited with him til the ambulance came. “He was gentle and supportive,” the mom said.

If the daughter had not heard the crash, my son could have lain there for hours before someone found him. No one else heard it–all the other houses in the area remained dark and silent.

I know he is a man, all grown up, with a deep voice, a scowl for his out-of-it parents, with a job and an apartment, a whole life we know so little about.

In my mind’s eye, I still see that small child, solemn one moment, giggling with laughter and joy the next. In his purple snowsuit, wearing the purple hat I knit for him, pulling his beloved wagon and carrying his stuffed dog.

I asked him if he remembered her. He said no. He’s too embarrassed to meet her. Someday, he may feel differently.

In the following weeks, the mom and daughter gathered up the detritus from the crash–broken mirrors, pieces of metal–that the clean-up crew overlooked. They didn’t want anyone else to be injured by sharp glass and metal. They also found some CDs, some computer games, a hacky-sack or two. They gathered these in a box, and called our home a few days ago to let us know we could pick them up.

“We’re in the big house right across the street from where it happened,” she said on the phone. “You can’t miss us.”

My husband had been to the site, taking pictures of the skid marks, the road, later the car at the tow garage. I hadn’t been to the site. It was hard to look at that deep drop-off from the road, the gash in the tree, the scrape on the telephone pole.

I remembered the photos my husband had taken of the car. I remember not being able to take my eyes off those images. They were horrible.

The mom and dad came to the door to greet us. I thanked her. It was nothing, she said. She simply did what anybody would have done–taken care of a stranger, a young man in need.

She’d been in a bad accident once. She’d fallen asleep on her way home, and woke up to confusion and pain. But she was not as fortunate. No one heard her car crash. She’d made her way, slowly and painfully, to a nearby house. They wouldn’t let her in. They made her wait in the driveway while they phoned the police. She remembers how that felt–in the dark, in the cold, in pain, waiting. She said she couldn’t let that happen to someone else.

I was thinking, so it’s NOT what anyone else would have done.

I took them some of my jewelry as a small token of gratitude. I told her how grateful we were, that she had been kind to my son. We hugged, and went back home.

I had a chance to meet the police officer, too, at the emergency room. He was gentle and kind. We met again at the police station a few weeks later. He did his job, but without the need to heap further humiliation on top of my son. I shook his hand. I told him it had been a very difficult night, and he had made it a little easier with his kindness.

It was nothing, he said.

It was everything, I said.

I thought of the police lieutenant in Ann Arbor, the one who listened to me when I called asking for help, for guidance when we found out our daughter’s fiance was a potentially dangerous person. She couldn’t offer much as a police officer, she said. But as a mother, she had a lot to give.

We spoke to her many times over the next few weeks. In our trips out to Michigan to be with our daughter, we got to meet her. A wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful woman, she was one of countless remarkable souls who were with us in our hour(s) of need.

Her email address said “Angela”, and as I got up to leave after our visit, I called her that.

She laughed. “It’s ‘Angela’ here in the department,” she said.

“But my real name is Angel.”

Of course it is, I thought.

Of course it is.

WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO Part Deux

A visitor read my essay on being a hero. But, she asked, between babies and butterflies, cleaning and cooking, finding time for her partner and every else in life, how the heck do you find time to paint??

For Crystal: I feel your pain, and I remember those days. It ain’t easy, and I never said it was.

You are absolutely right. Those days when our children are young are so fleeting. It seemed endless at the time, but when I look back, I am amazed those tiny children are now young adults. As someone said, “The days are long, the years are swift.”

I chose to help them find butterflies, too! In fact, I did, over and over again. Time spent with your children is never wasted time. Even today, I hardly ever miss a chance to hang with my daughter, or spend some time with my son. When my husband says, “Do you wanna go for a walk?”, I rarely say no.

I get pretty lax about my work time in the studio, too. A friend in need, a bouncy dog on a beautiful sunshine-filled day, the giant dust bunnies under the table (oh, heck, I’ll be honest, all over the house) and there sits my latest project, taking a back seat to “something more important”.

But not for long.

It’s not about how much time you can spend in your studio. It’s about spending SOME time there. If all you can carve out is an hour every other week, then that time should be sacred.

It’s not about waiting til you have MORE time. That never comes. We all have our stuff. If it’s not our kids, then it’s a full-time job, or a more-than-full-time job, one that sucks up our evening and weekend hours, too. Or its other family issues–aging parents, a loved one with cancer. A flooded basement, a surprise visit from the in-laws, a party to prepare for. To quote Gilda Radner it’s always something. It’s recognizing the teensiest bit of time you can give yourself is precious.

It’s not about giving your all to one or the other. It’s about giving something to both. A wise woman once told me, “A woman CAN have it all. Just not always at the same time.”

And there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution. Even when you find something that works, it can change in an instant.

I was very fortunate. I had a husband who fully supported my desire and worked with me to make it happen. A partner who recognizes your right to have space, and time for yourself, is a true lifelong partner. (You’d do the same for him/her, right?)

The first thing I needed was a place, a space, no matter how small, for my own. For MY projects, for MY supplies. Where I could shut the door when I left it, and know everything would be ready to go whenever I returned. No matter when that was.

We talked about how we could make that happen. The solutions changed with each child’s milestones, with our income, with our growing awareness that both of us needed this.

I used attic space behind a bedroom for a studio, working an hour or two the two or three mornings a week my daughter was in preschool. That handful of hours felt like a bit of heaven.

When my son was born, eventually he needed that room. I rented a small studio outside our home. (It was a very cheap studio!)

As they grew older and spent more time in school, or with their friends, or on their own activities, that was my chance to work more regularly.

Finally, we moved to a larger house, and the old attached barn became my studio.

Having a circle of supportive friends, who truly see you as an artist, and who remind you of that when you can’t remember, can be a life-saver. They hold your vision for you until you can carve out a little time for yourself. You’d do that for them….right?

My point was, if you would make that effort for your child, for your partner, for your friend…why wouldn’t you do it for yourself? Just a little.

And even when things get too crazy, don’t just don’t drop your dream and walk away from it forever. The hole in your heart, and your spirit, will remind you of your loss every single day.

That is not a good message to send to your kids.

Try to find a way to keep even a little of that dream visible in your life.

And never give up trying to find your own way to make that happen.

WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO

We all need a hero.

And we can all BE a hero.

Although I love that Tina Turner song from the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I have to disagree…

We do need another hero. Lots of ’em.

I’m often asked how I got started making my art, and I’ll share it here.

I was the typical “class artist” throughout grade school, drawing at every opportunity. (Mostly horses, come to think of it.) Then drawing for other kids (“Draw a dog for me!” “Can you draw a mouse?”) Then cartoons for the school newspaper (and writing a funny column, come to think of it).

I couldn’t wait to go to college, so I could learn to be an artist. (Our school’s art programs constantly fell victim to budget cuts, so I had very little access to making “real” art.) That didn’t happen, for a lot of reasons, none of them very good in hindsight.

And so I left my art as a young person. Mostly because I believed so many MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS.

I backed away from it later because when I stayed home with my children, it was so very very hard to make time for anything beyond trying to be a good wife and a good mother. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever introduced yourself as “(your child’s name here)’s mom”. I still introduce myself to some people as “Doug’s mom” and “Robin’s mom”.)

There was barely time to knit a hat or finish a project before I had to clear the table for lunch, or dinner, let alone take on any serious or involved ventures.

I actually got to the point where I decided to simply focus on good wife/good mom, and wait til there was more time/money/opportunity to do differently.

I thought it was the right thing to do. There was some relief in “letting go” of that dream.

But something in me was sad, too. I pushed it down and tried to forget about it.

Shortly after that, as I watched my darlin’ three-year-old daughter at play, I found myself daydreaming about her…

What would her life be like? It seemed to spread before us like a tiny brook, growing into a mighty river.

What kind of person would she be? I hoped she’d be the same person she was now: Quiet but deep-thinking; shy but fierce in her beliefs; talented in so many ways; loving yet independent; quirky, different, her own person, comfortable in her own skin.

What kind of work would she do? There were so many possibilities.

Who would she love? Would she marry, too? I hoped she’d find someone who would respect her strengths and encourage her dreams. I hoped she’d find a loving partner who would let her shine, who would let her simply be herself.

And then an epiphany whacked me right over the head. Three big questions tumbled into my brain. In big glowing capital letters.

1) Did my mother want that for me when I was young?
(I still don’t know the answer to that one. I was the oldest of seven, there may not have been time to spend daydreaming!)

2) How could I want that for my daughter, and not want that for myself?

3) How will my daughter know what that looks like–to be all she can be–if I didn’t model that for her?

I knew I had to be a hero for my daughter. And for me.

I knew I had to be authentic for my daughter. And for me.

That was the day I knew I had to be an artist. Or die.

That was the day I knew it didn’t even matter if I would be a good artist. I just had to do it.

It’s a perfect inspirational story for parents. These are powerful questions for breaking through the barriers we erect between ourselves and our dreams. It’s amazing to see the look of shocked enlightenment on the face of something who “gets it”:

“What am I teaching my kid??”

Are you actually teaching them to NOT live their dream? (Because you’re not?)

Are you showing them they shouldn’t try if they think they might fail? (Beause you’re afraid to?)

Are you telling them that someone else’s needs always outweigh their own? (Because that’s what you always do?)

Ow. Ow. OW!!

If you don’t have kids of your own, maybe this would be helpful:

“Someone–somewhere–is looking to you to be a hero.”

Maybe someone we care about deeply. Maybe not.

Sometimes it’s easier to be brave for someone else we care about, braver than we would normally choose for ourselves. Hopefully, as we grow older/wiser/more evolved, we choose to follow our power because that’s the right thing to do. (See the Martha Graham quote here.

But til then, altruism can be a force for good that’s also good for us.

Be someone’s hero. Be your own hero.