A "Book Of Life"
My life in years, written in 2004-2005, revisited in 2017:

Forty Three
November 10 2001 - January 14, 2002

I began my 43rd year feeling well gifted and well fed. The troubles of the past seemed far away.

November 11, 2001

I, did, of course, receive beautiful cards from Laura and Julia.

The image on Julia's card

Laura's card featured a translucent cover over a photo of a snuggly couple, surrounded by daisies and flourishes.

All I need
are your arms
around me
when I fall asleep,
your smile
when I awake,
and the
of having
your love
in my life
till I run out
of days on this earth.

Inside, Laura drew a cartoon image of herself, with weepy eyes, full of love, for ''I Keep crying for joy!''

I couldn't ask for better presents!

After Thanksgiving, however, the joy soon turned to great concern:

November 27, 2001

It's COLD by desert standards, 27 degrees (-2C) as measured by our porch thermometer at 6:30am. The heater is quite busy this morning. It is the season for it, and so I can't complain. Not about THAT, anyway.

I have complaints today, though, about another matter. I've mentioned before, the huge, nasty stinky polluter Casa Grande has acquired this year. After Laura and I dropped Julia off at work, we drove near the big stinky polluter, and found they are really spewing the garbage out today. The air reeks, and our eyes itch. It's really bothering Laura, with her emphysema damaged lungs, however.

the artist's sketch

the reality:
Up to 3, 697 tons of pollutants PER DAY!

They took a break over the Thanksgiving weekend, and the air was noticeably cleaner. But they're back at it. I discovered the spew doesn't come from the smokestacks, but from a cluster of about sixteen emitters closer to the ground.

''Just steam,'' Julia said. I don't think so.

What's really bad is that Casa Grande is slated to get two more of these behemoths, one in 2004 and one in 2009. In the name of progress and profits, they've just put the death knell on this town. I'd be very surprised if we're still here by 2009. I can't even imagine how bad it will be then.

Would it have been better had we'd stayed in Tucson? But when we moved here in 1996, we had no idea this would happen. The air was wonderful here. It ain't no more.

I don't know what else to add to today's depressing entry. It seems there should be something more. I feel glum, looking out and seeing the rise of smoke like that. Maybe I'll just end it here. There might be cheerier news tomorrow.

There was cheerier news. Laura and I took a sojourn to Yuma on my days off, and we discovered in the less tainted environment that ''she felt fine!''. She rode a bicycle, ''SIX MILES'' and ''emerged energized, even smiling, and though out of breath, not frantically gasping.''

Laura on the trail

''The only question is, what are we going to do with this knowledge?''

You can't imagine the speed with which we moved and were out of Casa Grande. Even now, my mind boggles to think of it. Laura went on ahead of us, going with the big moving van and the strong muscled movers of the furniture. It remained to Julia and I to finish up. By December 21, 2001, three weeks after our initial visit to Yuma, Julia and I had packed the Chevy with the last of all the items we could cram into it, and made the last trek from Casa Grande to Yuma.

Before we did, we took a couple last pictures:

''Bringing Julia 'home' from her last day at work, a brilliant sunset greeted us. It seemed a fitting end to our days in Casa Grande, and Julia encouraged me to grab the camera.''

Tabletop mountains in distance

A goodbye wave . . .

Oh, it was a difficult day, that last day in Casa Grande!

December 23, 2001

''Ah, but what to select for those boxes? That was the question. Sleep shy as I was, my mind boggled. I developed an extreme form of stuttering when conferring with Julia. It was like trying to force an older, slower computer to do what a newer, more high powered computer does. At one point, I just broke down and bawled, while Julia held me . . .''

. . . ''Julia, not much of a mind for packing, never having done it in her life, turned her energies to washing bedding. No good bringing dirty items to a new house, indeed. In between loads of wash, having assembled bills from the various utilities, I had Julia call them for shut off.

Next, I packed the remaining bathroom items, tossing out the few items past the expiration date. Meanwhile, Julia was sent to the bank to acquire our items from the safety deposit box. All this time, making decisions, I am stuttering, stuttering, stuttering, words coming out like I'm a stranger to the English language, sentence structure odd even.

I normally do not stutter. But apparently, this trait that my Dad had shows up in times of stress. In all our many previous moves, I've leaned on Laura and looked to her for guidance. THIS time, I had to use my own judgement. . . .''

But we made it, and the most important items made it with us as well.

By Christmas day, I declared, ''More and more, we like what we see in this new town of ours.''

Decent theaters, bookstores, lots of restaurants, fabric stores, good doctors, all manner of things we used to travel 50 or more miles to get were all easily available. The next question was, would JOBS be easily available as well?

I was rather upset that I was getting the run around from the Yuma branch of the convenience stores. However, I'd had a dream, which I did not even record at the time, for I did not want to jinx a possibility. That dream proved a prophetic clue. It's hard to remember now, without a written record, but basically, my old boss from my sewing shop many years ago in Joliet showed up in it, and told me how all her sewing customers missed my good sewing.

When I next saw an ad in the paper for a seamstress, I cautiously but hopefully went there. Nervous I was, for the sewing machine was quite a bit faster than the ones I'd been used to in the past. But my sample zipper and sleeve emblem were sewn correctly and the manager was pleased. However, once I got the job, I still did not even mention in my journal what it was I was doing, for I did not want to jinx it!

Yes, it would seem I am quite the superstitious person at times.

Wide open and spacious view of the Colorado River
(with a bit of Laura's hair!)

Mid January, things were looking good. One day, Julia wanted the computer, so Laura and I went out to Old Town, found a arts and crafts fair in progress, and once again rejoiced at the signs of life in our new town. We stopped at the movie theater and took a chance on a movie we'd not heard of, simply because we liked the actor who starred in it.

A Beautiful Mind moved us deeply. When we discovered that the story of a brilliant, but troubled man who was saved by his wife's love was based on a real man, we cried even more.

January 14, 2002

. . . Her love gives him the strength to fight his inner demons. He preserveres.

He is shown, years later, winning the Nobel prize for his economic theory he'd hastily come up with to save his behind in college. In his speech, he credits the saving power of love, far greater than the power of mathematics and logic.

I am crying, for I have known the power of such love. Earlier, I was crying, as his wife took his hand. How much more poignant, it was, for I was gripping Laura's hand tightly. We hadn't had their problems, but we'd faced enough crises of our own, and love had led us through all of them. . . .

. . . Laura was crying, too, and afterwards, she re-assured me of the redemptive aspects of my love for her. ''I wouldn't be here now, I wouldn't be who I am, I would have never made it without you,'' she reassured me, as we gazed into each other's eyes, both overflowing with tears.

We were having our private moment, as the throngs of people walked past us, exiting the theater. I had no idea if the movie had moved them as much as it did us. I didn't care. We knew our own reality, and the rest didn't matter.

Forty Three
January 15, 2002 - April 13, 2002

The end of January, we were seeking diversion from sad stories, both nonfictional and fictional, and found it by escaping into Old Town for a Lettuce festival. Later, Julia too sick to go, just Laura and I went to a quilt show.

how very mandala-like, perhaps it inspired me?

More diversion via computer games, and then we discovered the Universalist Unitarians in February. A title from a book one of them read from inspired much thought, ''Freethinking Mystics With Hands''.

February 10, 2002

Ah, the Thinking is important, but then the Action must follow it. The mysticism is not to be confused with the 'magical thinking' which Laura hates so, the 'wave a magic wand', and all is magically solved, without any concrete effort on the person's part sort of wishfulness. Indeed, that sort of thinking has only caused ruination. But perhaps even this definition does not fit me, as found in the dictionary for 'mysticism': ''The belief that knowledge of divine truth or the soul's union with the divine is attainable by spiritual insight or ecstatic contemplation WITHOUT THE MEDIUM OF THE SENSES OR REASON''. No reason at all? That could get you into trouble. Have the intuitive ecstatic contemplation, but don't throw out the REASON, for sanity's sake! . . .

. . . While hunting quotes about 'mysticism' in (The Great Quotations), a book we have, I found one by Albert Schweitzer about spirituality which rather MORE fits what I'd thought was mysticism:

''Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins to devote himself to his life with reverance in order to raise it to its true value. To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will-to-live.''

I don't know as any of this man's other quotes would be those I can so readily agree with, so often the writers have a spotty record, but this one resonates true.

A poem I wrote which had Laura utter mid recitation, ''STOP, I don't want to hear ANY more!'' was the impetus for further debate:

February 12, 2002

''So, Joan, what's so good about mysticism?'' Laura has me cornered. There is no escape, no side-stepping, no changing the subject. I cannot offer any perfumed words. Besides they are all ''trite wordings, lazy fall back to phrases and terms usurped by others and forever thus corrupted'' anyway. So that wouldn't do. Stripped of all vain pretensions, I can only answer with the first thing that comes to my mind: ''I like the feel-good high!

I do not know what Laura will make of that unvarnished admission. Surprised, I am, when she replies, ''That is valid.'' Perhaps the bare honesty took her off guard. She then added, ''Just so you know the methods used to obtain it are all myths . . .'' Not sure of ALL the methods, myself, I remain quiet . . .

Laura LOVED debate! But she was also the most fierce defender of my writing: ''Greatness,'' she says, ''lurks in some of them.''

Ah, that dream again, and so soon tickled again!

February 17, 2002

''Keep True to the Dreams of your youth'', my fortune cookie advised me. What were/are the dreams of my youth, and am I pointed there? It's good food for thought. Surely dreams have always seduced me, with the whisper whisper of their passions. Ah, 'greatness' in this or that, some such plum to feast on, DREAM about . . .

. . . such RICH food that, and yet what keeps it from being 'fatty' for the soul? All the work it will take to bring about such a thing, IF such a thing should happen. Or what else am I doing on a Sunday afternoon?

February 25, 2002

Marking the milestone of fifteen years together

Of course I hoped there would be more years together, but I had my worries:

March 18, 2002

Yesterday was not such a good day. Laura had had a bad night, with much coughing and panic attacks. Not being able to breathe well, she sometimes panics. The panic reaction further robs her breath, making a vicious circle. Sleep isn't possible, then. If she is able to have a decent night's sleep, her day is much better. But with little sleep, the panic continued in the day. She tried to distract herself by playing computer games . . .

Later, she felt better, and we resolved to enjoy whatever time we still had together:

March 26, 2002

. . . The three of us took a break tonight at Monarch's Rest, a lovely restaurant with an English theme. Pieces of Olde England, such as pottery, advertising signs, and so forth decorate the walls and beams of this happy place. They have a brewary there, and Julia especially likes the brews, though Laura and I enjoy taking a few sips. And the food is good. We shared a lemon-lime cheesecake tonight, though Laura only took one taste, and Julia and I split the rest. It was luscious, and afterwards I was amused at the pattern of our forks on the plate:

triskelion of forks
Triad yum!

On April 1, 2002, we dined again at that restaurant, and I made note of experiencing my very first 'Hot Flash'.

Affirming things magical, I then began a new intent with my mandalas, using their creation as creating a spell:

I thought of sending healing energy to Laura's Mother when I did this peaceful mandala.

Julia and Laura on the path at Smucker's Park April 13, 2002

Forty Three
April 14 2002 - August 13, 2002

I wrote this poem after we watched Lord of the Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring a second time.

Like Fabled Heroes

To what now shall the visions be?  
Am I ready for the task?
I have heard the breath,
cool like the wind,
but gentle.
Your visions have inspired me,
all you seekers after magic.
Still in a work of fable -
yet to the hero's heart
truth and honor
burn with a passion.
Am I ready for the task?
Shall I be heroic,
like fabled heroes,
for whatever awaits me?
This, the call of the writer
heard in this ear
that is mine.
Yet another telling,
each with its truth.
Still, to the light I lean.
Quiet, may the days follow,
or if with loud rumbling -
take the hero's heart
to the trembling.
It will inspire.
I have in my hand
this gem.
I hold it to the light,
the light shines through it -
casting rainbow patterns
as it passes
to fall on mortal surfaces.
May my eye be clear,
may my ear be keen,
may my hands be ready.
I await my task.

JAL, 4 - 14 - 02

I was beginning to get a sense of magical things, and next wondered what would await me. I had an intuition about what lie ahead for me:

Quiet, may the days follow,
or if with loud rumbling -
take the hero's heart
to the trembling...

I hoped our days would be quiet and happy. But I deeply sensed Laura would not be here long. So I hoped to take 'the hero's heart' to my trembling. I addressed what I knew would not be long in happening and said to 'the fates':

May my eye be clear,
may my ear be keen,
may my hands be ready.
I await my task.

As ever, more wonderings about immortality absorbed my thoughts, ''does some essential spark go on?'' I did not give in entirely to skepticism, but allowed ''just the smallest hope for more.

May brought a trip to San Diego. The navigation was difficult, but Laura did admirably. We were to meet a friend, but she never showed. Still, we had a good time none the less. The change of scenery was refreshing. I was fascinated with the intertwining branches of this tree on a San Diego city corner, as was Laura.

She posed within its arms, hugged BY a tree!

In June, I paused for more deep thought:

June 13, 2002

I tried to find the source of the quote ''Travel slowly, all you can ever come to is yourself,'' yesterday. The nearest match came up in a very early journal entry of mine (1996), surprisingly.

I'd added the cautionary words ''And one's self is best met slowly'', however. What had I meant by that, over five years ago?

There's been an gradual evolution in my mindset since over five years ago. It almost seems that I was hinting at more than just enjoying a leisurely meeting. Certainly, this whole process of sitting down with myself, letting words come to me as they will, is a form of 'meeting oneself slowly'. I need slowness, because I process best slowly. Had I meant that in 1996, though?

Or was I still exhibiting timidity at what I might find, deep within the recesses of my mind, and did I need 'slowness' to slow the shock factor? I'm still not sure.

Sharing the progress of my thoughts today with Laura, she asked ''What was the shock?'' I answered ''That I might find something in myself I was afraid of?'', still wondering. ''DID you find something in yourself you were afraid of? ''she questioned.

Have I? Or will I, yet? I feel as though I'm on the brink of some new understanding in my life, something I might not have been able to handle when younger. It's so close to the surface, I want so badly to know what it is . . .

Two years later, I know that I indeed WAS 'on the brink' of new understandings.

Why am I next sharing a picture of a character I played in a game? I will soon tell.

June 23, 2002

Kaaldar, my Dark Elf enchanter!
(and level 14 already)

The above blue beauty is my current favorite. Oh, he's a b-a-a-a-d boy, he is, and he loves seducing the fairer Elves. His seductions work, and he lives a very happy life.

I should write down some of his adventures. They might make a good story, and not just the sort of thing that later climaxes in, um, climaxes, um. Blush.

I DID write down Kaalder's adventures, constructing first an outline. It was a love story in sixteen short chapters between Dark Elf Kaalder and High Elf Chloe. My imagination was coming alive. I identified with the "Dark Elf", for in going through the years of my life, I indeed have been a sort of 'Dark Elf' aka "Black Sheep".

But I return to July, 2002. We were pleased with a visit by Laura's son Anton and child Samantha. It did Laura so much good to see her grandchild, as well as share time with her son. We all felt relieved the child is healthy, strong and smart.

In my next journal entry, I exuberantly declared:

July 27, 2002

. . . as I read 'Wuthering Heights', how I identified with Heathcliff. His love would not choose him, the dark sheep, dark elf, outsider. I feared I would not find love, the kind of love in which your beloved looks at you, and to them, you are beautiful.

But I did find that love, for mind, separate from body, could write letters. And I did, and someone became attracted to that mind. That Laura found its beauty shining through my hither to inadequate frame has became my life's greatest blessing.

Fragile, though, in our early years, for I believed no one else could. But then Julia did, and there were two. Gradually I learned others could genuinely like me.

And soon I lost most of that old fear. But oh, the ''Somebody's talking, I thought I heard my name'' fear, how it had nagged at me. ''They're talking about me. I am a thing to pity.'' And shame would come. And shame would come for the shame, settling itself into me, like a heavy chill.

But then gradually, I could think, ''What IF they don't like me? What's the worst that could happen? So they don't like me. What if they think me too strange, too nervous, too this, too that?'' And finally, the liberating thought, ''What the hell if they do?'' I may not be beautiful to them, but that does not mean I don't have my own beauty. And then, comes a feeling of wild liberation. I can be raging me. I can be quiet me. I can be . . . Whatever I am . . . I can be me.

And not have to worry about someone else's judgments. Let it be, let it go, I am free and loose with this freedom. I can love me, simply, quietly, and happily. I can, and the joy of that I declare to the heavens. I love me. I can say it now. Not shyly, and in whispers, but with a happy smile. I breathe large this new liberation, and smile.

I read this entry in whole to Laura, who was greatly gladdened to hear I'd broken loose of some of the things which had inhibited me. I will not forget, she faced me, looked me full in my eyes with all the love she possessed, and declared firmly, ''You ARE beautiful!'' I, smiling, not in hesistency, looked deep into those blue eyes and agreed, ''Yes, I am beautiful!''

The next day . . .

The next day, like scripted story in which the student has learned the lesson, and so now the teacher goes . . .

The next day, my teacher and lover went on a bicycle ride and never came home!

It was the thing I'd feared for so many years:

February 7, 2000
No Stopping The Fall

If it were not the first time letting go,
you could release the tight clench.

But it is,
And all the hard fist balled up
is matching my tight heart.
All I can do is squeeze tighter.
Can a world fall back on itself like that?
Black holes are made this way.
Here, behold this black hole that is me.
I have fallen back in on myself,
and there is no stopping the fall.

JAL, 2-6- 00

Has the muse from the future 'fallen back' into the past? This is typical of what I pull out from her these days. It's the only possible interpretation I can find of this. A future me is grieving over losing Laura. I've lost family members and friends, which is hard enough. Still, that's nothing like losing a soulmate. It's the only thing that explains my last creepy poem result.

Yet, I'd given myself the mandate to face this thing with a hero's heart. I brought to the situation all the strength I could muster. As all the signals turned bad, for instance, the cold sweats that would not go away, I asked the doctors for the truth and my fears were confirmed. They asked Laura's wishes, and I told them, no, she would not want to be kept artificially alive.

As I'd learned not so long ago, from when Laura told her Mother that SHE needed to let Glen go, so I knew now what I must do. I assured Laura she would always be our warrior, that I knew truly how hard and bravely she had fought all those years and that ''''Stay if you want, you know we want you to stay, but if you want to go, I understand that, too.'' I made sure she knew that I knew she was no less the hero if she had to go.

Some part of her heard me. She hung on just long enough until her brother got to the hospital and then Laura's spirit left her body.

It is not how you think it is, the grieving process. You cry when you least expect, and when you expect it, you are puzzled to find yourself strangely dry. Thus it was, during those few days after Laura's death, I did not cry much. I performed each necessary thing in a numb state of mind.

It was a couple of weeks later that the first real outburst came:

August 12, 2002

It was as I was driving down the long curving road that leads away from my workplace that tears began to flow. I felt lonely in that hot car. I remembered Laura's happy smile as she'd wait for me to enter the car. How excited she would be to see me! We'd discuss events of the day, and then we'd follow with plans for the evening. If we weren't going to eat, or to meet with friends, we had Everquest plans. Laura would tell me the progress Sanomy had made in obtaining an item or cash for our dynamic duo, Kaaldar and Spelldoc. Always, there was such zest greeting me after the trials of the day.

And now, there was only the lonely hot car, with its impersonal radio voices. I burst into tears, ''I keep expecting you to come home from that bike ride!'' Great heaving, loud tears, I didn't care if passerbys saw me. If I couldn't have my Laura, at least I could have my tears. Some comfort, that.

And yet, not all was desolate. I still had my Julia. The next day, we would be celebrating eight years together, thanks to Laura's foresight. It was a good day to join with friends and have the memorial that they so thoughtfully helped us prepare.

I was finding then old poems of mine which were comforting.

August 17, 2002

While readying the pages of the Memorial, I was hunting for a particular journal entry to which I wanted to link. As I scrolled and scanned the old pages, I came across a poem I'd written June 23, 2001, To Light The Way. Its hopeful words brought tears to my eyes . . .
. . . 
Where were you at the beginning of hope?  
Were you standing on the bridge?
Were you waiting for a sign?
You were waiting,
holding a reminder
that things are not always lost.
Clutching it tight,
you smile.
Hope is not always lost.
What is in your hands
is a good and true reminder . . .

Yes, there it is, another 'Charlie' image, among the very, very first, created in June 2001. There I am, crossing 'rough waters'. Those scribbled words are forming the turbulence in the waters.

As I went through old writings, and assembled various people's remembrances for the online memorial, I was indeed 'holding a reminder'.

August 19, 2002

Laura, the morning of her heart attack, had plans to make revisions to her autobiography, for she'd copied the files into a new folder, and told me of it. She hadn't got a chance to do any more than correct some bad email addresses, yet I know there was more she intended.

What had she planned? Would she speak of our seven months here in Yuma? Would she end it on a happier note than she'd left it, still in grieving over the loss of Shayna? Such questions tore at me. I could not ask her now.

But then, a sentence began in my mind. ''Would this be how Laura's saga ends? Still in pining for a love of seven months, only 'mostly recovered', as Laura left you with, before her end. But is this how she meant to end the book?''

I got up, and followed the trail of that thought, and I believe I've brought a sense of closure to Laura's book. I read it to Julia, and she was also moved. She helped me with a few minor corrections, and I sent it webward.

Later, that evening, while sitting with Julia and talking, sipping a glass of milk, a deep sense of peace came over me. It was as though I could feel Laura's spirit crying, ''Thank you, thank you for finishing what I could not!'' I could almost feel her teary eyed embrace, her deep pride in me. I cried, as I answered her back, tears in my own eyes, ''Yes, Laura, I know, I know,'' and I embraced HER from beyond . . .

. . . but there isn't supposed to be any 'beyond', the skeptics say. Whether a figment of my imagination, based on how well I know Laura, or whether some essence of her soul remains, I felt her last night. I do not need to know the particulars, for this is indeed, how she would have responded, if she could respond.

Yes, there are times of healing, blessed balm to an aching soul. It repeats in cyclical fashion:

August 31, 2002

. . . It's the one month anniversary of her death.

Am I not allowed to grieve? At work Thursday morning, I was again feeling morose. No one had ever prepared me, the emotions of mourning are not all lofty tears of missing the loved one. Some times we experience the vilest and bizarrest emotions. Wednesday, it was a deeply self pitying seething ennui. Thursday, it was more subtle, but it was definitely noticeable. Muy malcontento, I was. At this point, a customer came in wearing a T-shirt with the message ''Art Heals''. The front of the shirt spoke of an art program to help hurting children. And the back simply had a softly rainbow hued heart, with the slogan ''Art Heals''.

Upon seeing those words, my tears rushed to the surface in an upheavel, and I went to the bathroom quickly. ''Do I not have the right to grieve?'' I cried, and sobbed. ''It's only been a month. Just you wait, C__________, until YOUR husband dies! It's not like losing a brother, just you wait. And you will find out, someday. Maybe THEN you'll understand!'' I cried. ''Art Heals? Oh, I need some healing now,'' and I cried some more. ''To be a great artist, you must suffer,'' the words of my art teacher, Sharlene Kassiday, came back to haunt. ''Shall I then be great, will this pain make me great?'' I inquired of the fates. Hard to say, but art does, indeed, heal. I have come to these pages so many times, and the art of it works its magic, and I am renewed somehow for my time here . . .

Art heals and the wisdom of a loving partner and friend, as well. Julia's words brought comfort to me:

September 7, 2002

Julia was very talkative last night. As she grew calmer, she grew philosophical. However, as the night waxed on, I grew sleepy. She was telling me something important, but I drowsed right through it.

I awoke to find a note on the computer desk:

I Wrote It Down

A thought - important to consider! Everything that you know of Laura is still contained within you, within your memory. this is surely not all that Laura was, but rather all that you have experienced of her over all those years, including what she revealed of her own memories of the events before you were together . . .

Every thought, every gesture, every expression . . . is there. So a great deal of who she was remains with us, living as part of us. Actually we were changed greatly in the process of knowing her, yes?? Don't be surprised to meet her in the dreams of night or visions of idle moments in the day. We're never wholly alone for that, no small consolation and she would be glad that we think of her often.

I scanned it, and obtained a large handwriting sample. Before I totally drifted off to slumber, I remember Julia speaking of the soul being possibly like a computer program and the body like the computer on which it ran, and why couldn't the 'program' be sent to another 'computer'?

Who knows, it might just be that way!

I was finding hope in all sorts of places:

September 10, 2002

. . .  I found an old photo of Laura from February 2000. We'd gone to the gem and mineral show at the Tucson Convention Center. I was on the floor below, where all the tables of vendors were laid out in neat paths. Laura was up above, looking through the wall of windows, observing the busy scene below:

And now, when I look at it, it's as though this picture could be metaphor for 'Laura up above, looking at us down below'.

Hope was with me and I was beginning to sense my strength again:

Radiant Jewel

What sweet liberation
sings to me?
I dance on a path new.
Strength in the sinews?
Perhaps I shall find.
all I ever will know
is waiting for me,
waiting for me to give it clarity.
I shall be present to this moment.
Grace will come to me.
Tall, I will find myself.
Think that no more I am a child,
glad to know my woman's power.
After all these years
I can claim it.
Radiant jewel,
I shall wear it always.
What sweet liberation!

JAL, 9 - 20 - 2002

The next entry included ''Remembered Kisses'':

one such digitally preserved kiss!

Me then mixes with me then, and I remember those impassioned kisses, demanding lips. I still cry my tears. I am forgetting what I'm supposed to be doing with this Book Of Life. I'm supposed to be remembering what I felt THEN:

September 21, 2002

. . .  It's the way the man sings ''Hold me now'' that gets to me. I remember in the last months, my scared Laura, begging ''Hold me now'', for she felt 'six feet from the edge' and down to her 'last breath'. I remember making love to my scared Laura, and the trembling feeling of wishing myself more adequate to the task. I always wished I could transcend more, with greater passion, though she was always grateful for my efforts. Still, they make precious memories.

What I wouldn't give to have one more clumsy time with her! But, yes, I am glad for what I did have.

And now back to 2002:

September 26, 2002

Before I headed off to work, I took some time to see if the Muse had anything to say:

You in the softness
embrace easy voice.
Hard truths require courage.
What would make our souls lean,
better able to fight?
But you are always wanting rest.
Easy voice could give way
to rich harmonies,
layered depths of mystery.
But you are always wanting rest.
Surely, the truth is calling.
Are your bags packed?
Are you at the intersection?
Surely, the truth is calling.

My thoughts, as I finished penning the above were ''I am curious about those 'layered depths of mystery'.''

At work, while the hands were busy, my mind was busy pondering what the poem meant by 'easy voice'. It reminded me of something Laura once said to me when giving me advice about my writing and creativity in general. She felt I leaned too close to 'safe' subjects. After various attempts with Google, I have found the exact words she said, back in 1997:

''Laura seemed surprised at this recollection [of a fiercely strong woman]. She said that I have never challenged the ideal of the meek and soft woman in any of my web-writings. I have not bridged controversy. I have made nice showings of our life, but have not said anything challenging. Laura said there are countless New Age "feel good" web sites on the net, as abundant as dandelions and as short-lived, their fluff dispersing into nothingness and forgotten. Only the challenging endures, she avowed. I ponder her comments this morning with wonder.''

Since 1997, I think my writing has become somewhat toothier. Was it ever in danger of being 'fluffy bunny' meek? I don't know. But, still, the desire 'not to offend' so much that it hampers our message is no good. 'Easy voice' is 'safe subjects' that wouldn't 'offend' anyone.

Also, just to open our own eyes and examine these 'hard truths' takes courage in and of itself. We don't know where these mysteries might lead us. It could be dangerous. We might have all our old preconceptions blown away. And yet the thought of the freedom, letting loose of old crutch-thoughts, is exhilarating. I want to let loose of the 'soft', 'easy' and 'safe'. I'll dare. I'm curious.

Visioning soft bunnies being swatted on their butts and sent flying, I let the most non-fluffy images come to me: skeletons and skulls and nasty scary things of death. And then an inspiration: why not make a mandala using just such frightening imagery!

So, this evening, I did!

Click on Thumbnail to see full size version.

Oh, yes, I was beginning to discover my "dark" side:

While You Can

Have you any idea
just how it starts?
Flash of light,
lightening quick,
stirring flesh?
Thrill quickening limb,
pacing heart,
pacing breath,
breathless revelation,
like a shock,
panting revelation.
Close not the tomb upon me!
Not while I still see.
Close not the tomb upon me!
Say to those who wish
to annihilate the flesh,
Forever damned is your world,
You are dead already,
skeletons of life.
I want to feel all I can feel,
I want to drink all I can drink
of this cup.
Tell me not of your self-sacrifice.
What will it do you,
to have forsaken
that which is the best of you?
Lay claim to that love,
wear it proudly.
You are not dead,
do not try to be.
If the bones and ashes could speak,
they'd say:
Love while you can,
Lust while you can,
Know every passion while you can.
Death will come soon enough,
with its dark nevermores.
what bright
lightening crack illuminations
can still remain!

JAL, 10 - 14 - 02

Thoughts of death, and then more death, as a friend of ours died in November:

November 5, 2002

The TV is blaring too loudly. Buffy's small adventures pale to the background, when Julia started reading an e-mail to me. I can't quite focus on it, it doesn't seem real. It just doesn't.

But then I checked my e-mail again, and I got the same message:

''Please forgive the generic email here, but dear Richard passed away tonight. About 4:30 or 5pm. He looked like he died in his sleep, or peacefully.

I found him about 6pm and have been with the police, detective and others since.

He finished the last payment of his cremation policy this month, he even said he 'could die now' and I told him 'Just because you have it paid for doesn't mean you can die, you can't do that'. So . . .''

He'd just posted to our little list that he and Serena had also voted, and how he was looking forward to ''Not having any more political campaign ads for at least another year. :)''. That was at 1:30. And then at 4:30, he's dying. No more political ads ever, now.

Yup. I was going to write an all happy entry about how Julia finally has a new job. I was gonna tomorrow morning. But instead . . .

. . . four thirty this evening was when I was crying with Julia, crying great tears of relief over her new job, thinking finally, something RIGHT is happening, feeling such relief over our financial situation, and while I'm there hugging and crying with Julia, RICHARD IS DYING????

I'm nearly speechless.

November 6, 2002

. . . Serena said to me in a letter, ''I am remembering this morning some conversations all of us had out on the porch of the Azalea house - those when Richard and Laura would be comparing heart conditions and each so determined that theirs was worse and they would go first - well, they went within months of each other . . .''

Months, it was. Also, each of them knew their own peculiar conditions very well, as what each of them thought would do them in, did 'do them in'. Richard's heart did just 'stop pumping'. At least it was a peaceful way to go. Laura's, I'm sure, despite the sedative, had some pain to it.

Truth, it's been said, is stranger than fiction. But both can be magical at times:

November 9, 2002

. . . I read the words of Armand, an immortal created by a mortal. How finely Anne Rice weaves the tapestry of her words! So thoroughly she puts me under a spell. He, through the centuries, knew heaven and hell. And there be mortals, too, with that span of knowledge, all compact, though not necessarily neat.

Who do we know that could tell us? We listen for hints in the wind. Any truth might come now. We are prepared for any. Or at least I am, as best I might . . .

~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~

next section, year 44
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© Joan Ann Lansberry