Sunday, September 26, 2010

A String of Beads


you will recognize moments in your life when one memory of an event neatly lies upon another in the future. I know what you are thinking... shouldn't that say one moment in the present neatly lies upon a moment in the past? No. The reason is that even as an event is taking place, something inside of you snaps to attention and recognizes something about what is occurring here is significant. These are the moments in your life where the string of beads you are subconsciously collecting make a sudden turn and overlap. Tonight Peter Knowles is on my mind. Specifically, I am thinking about a conversation we had some seven years ago when he was home in Naples having just arrived back from Africa. He was smiling, brilliantly beaming, that red hankerchief knotted at his throat. His white hair was longer than usual and his already dark tanned skin was even darker from the African sun. Always animated, that day he was levitating. As usual, I was struggling to hear his words beyond his beautiful accent. With Peter, I had to FOCUS. He was talking about one of our favorite topics. Sliding back into Naples after having returned from the Third World. It's one hell of a bumpy slide. He was talking about his truck in Africa. How he had to run along side it making various manuevers to get it started. He is actively making these efforts to start the truck here on my store's sales floor minus the truck, and we are gathering some stares from my other clients. I am giggling with this man I love so dearly. Then, all of a sudden, he looks at me hard and says, "Kristin, I despise my car here in Naples. I cannot stand to look at it. What it means. Kristin, I miss my battered truck. I miss Africa." Now, I happen to know he drives a black Mercedes. I understand him immediately. We just stand there looking at one another until I ask the obvious question of when his next flight back home to Africa is. It is six months in the future. I feel that old familiar silent prayer being offered up to God... "Please, just let him live that long. To see his beloved Africa again." It is like he knows my heart and he smiles. With that, he hugs me, and is off. I have strung another bead on my figuritive necklace. That day, I smile at the bumper sticker on my new Land Rover that says in black and white letters, "You are not what you own." And I know it to be true.
Fast forward seven years later to just a few days ago. My beloved friend Peter has passed away. At this moment he is not even in my mind's radar. Jason and I are sitting in a dealership with two squirming children trying our best to go over a final document of financing. It is somewhere in this moment I realize that I do not really care about this car... I can take it or leave it. I think this is because I now drive a minivan that we paid less for in total than even one payment on the Rover. I like this van, and in this moment, I am shocked by this reality. I do not worry about this van, the spilled drinks, the dirt tracked both in and out by the children. Something odd happens as Jason looks at me, and we both look at our cheerful new salesperson friend and kindly thank him for his time as we GET UP AND WALK OUT saying we'll think about it. We drive off in our van with both kids probably wondering what the heck THAT was all about. The beads have now overlapped on my necklace.
That necklace figuritively rests around the mirror of our new ten year old four wheel drive that sits out front in our driveway. I'd give anything to know where Peter's truck is bouncing along in Africa right about now.

Peter Knowles was a man who had a soul brighter than anyone I have ever met. His work with small communities at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro was beautiful- teaching families to farm and providing safe water sources. One of the bad things about moving away from an area is that you never know when that last hug will be your last. Such was the case with Peter. I hugged him in the spring of 2007 and said a little prayer for his safe return to Kili, and he was gone six months later. My heart is heavy with the news and he is sorely missed. I will always remember his excitement at the Naples Drum Circle- I think it made his heart feel closer to Africa when he was home in Naples

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day Seven

It is the seventh day of Hell in Haiti.
I cannot get my head around it, what has happened to these people, less than 700 miles off the coast of Miami. My heart understands it completely. It is heavy, like a lead weight. My head tries to recall what Haiti was like before the Earthquake- colorful, expressive, happy- despite so much pain and suffering. Eighty percent of it's people were in poverty as of last Monday. Tuesday saw to it that the other twenty percent are not far behind. I remember their beautiful language of Creole being spoken on the streets of Naples, a place I called home for many years. The stories of their families being supported back in Haiti, where only one in three people are lucky enough to have a regular job. Naples was the promised land- a place where someone could send money home to care for so many. But you saw it in their eyes, they longed to go home. Despite the hardships, the sickness, the lack in so many areas. My heart today knows that Haiti has just fallen off the last rung of the ladder they were trying to climb out of poverty on. Poverty is horrible, and I do not know this personally. But what I do know is that things are much more bearable when you have the love of your family and friends. Haiti's family and friends lie dead in the streets. Those that miraculously survived the quake may not survive the infection of the wounds. Unless we can get it together as a World, this second round of death is coming full steam ahead. They know this. You can see it in their eyes. I went to bed Tuesday night looking at my children fall asleep peacefully. I thought about what our family has been through- what we are going through. None of it holds a candle to what the people of Haiti are going through. What the families of trapped tourists are going through. Their children, their loved ones are either alive in a living nightmare, dead or dying right before their eyes, or the worst of worst scenarios- trapped. Seven days. Trapped. Is anyone coming for me? Will I live? Where are my loved ones? I have had a very difficult time sleeping since Tuesday. I find myself at home in the comforts of my family... and then I realize the reality for so many... this very moment... in Haiti. It seems there are not enough prayers, not enough tears, not anything any one can do. I wish I could take a shovel to Haiti to help dig more people out of their horrible prisons. I would be yet another mouth to feed. The truth is I would be a wreck. I would be the young doctor I saw on the news today so torn apart he couldn't speak. I wouldn't survive it. What can I do? What I can maybe do is be there for others. Communication has been so hard for people waiting to hear news. Seven Days. Can you imagine? Your daughters, sons, husbands, wives- buried seven days in a Third World Country? I cannot. We sort out all the information we can in spare moments throughout the day. Monitor sites like Twitter, news reports, personal web pages, missing person lists, millions of posts. We try to give Hope. Hope that their loved one will be found. When I feel like I just cannot have any more hope, I walk away for a few hours. They cannot. They wait. For a picture, a phone call, anything that will tell them what they so badly need to hear. They are coming home to you. We try to give Hope, and yet we know. Day Seven. So many are not coming home. I pray for a miracle, another one just like the one we had Saturday night, just like the ones still happening in other areas of Haiti. People are surviving against all the odds. Haitians are singing hymns in the streets because they have not lost their faith that God will see them through. I pray that as these families that I am now enter twined with hear the news from all the Days ahead, that they do not lose their faith in God. The horrible irony about all of these tourists in Haiti is that they went there to help make a better life for all Haitians. They were there with pure hearts. They saw no race, no religion, no blame. They wanted to help. The words of some people behind a microphone, keyboard, or camera have stung this week. Haiti, this is my message to you... God did not fail you. We did. The World failed you because we did not do enough to help you up the ladder and out of poverty. The students of Lynn University recognized this. Compassion International recognized this. Countless others recognized this. That is why their people are trapped with yours. Life for most Americans go on unfazed. "What's got you down?" some people have asked. Apathy. Apathy is what's got me down. There is far too much of it. Before the Earthquake devastated Haiti Amy Wilentz said this in the September 2009 issue of Conde Nast Traveler,
"Haiti is not a place you just visit, as Columbus would surely have told you (he shipwrecked there in 1492) It's not a stream into which you just dip a toe. Here, you dive in headlong. It drives you crazy- with love, with anxiety, with desire. You fall into its arms as if it's been waiting forever to receive you. It hasn't. And as with any great unrequited love, Haiti's indifference only makes you crazier for the place."
Haiti, this is my wish for you. That you once again become colorful, expressive, and happy- despite all of your pain and suffering.
Note: Original painting by Roger Francois.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Having Nathaniel Part 3

It was early, about seven am, and I was expecting Daddy and the Minister around nine. Ordering breakfast seemed so trivial that morning but I knew that I had to eat something. It just seemed so unimportant. I found myself lying there in that hospital bed and though emotionally I felt a wreck, physically I felt fine. I had had enough of hospital beds. So I wheeled breakfast over to the window next to a chair. A few bites were all I could manage. All the time you were still lying in your blanket in my lap. Pushing breakfast aside, I then turned the chair around to look out of the window. It looked chilly- November chilly. Grey. Rainy. The clock was moving forward and there was nothing I could do to stop it. After the Baptism I would walk out of the hospital and never see or hold you again, at least not in this lifetime. And I was crushed by this. How could I just leave you there? How on Earth was I going to do this? I stood up and leaned against the window sill. I moved your blanket just a bit so that your face was exposed to what little light there was under the clouds. I asked for help. All of my Grandparents are gone from this Earth. All four. Not one lived to meet my children whom I know would have given them so much joy. I looked out and thought about all the things I had talked about with this little body here in my arms over the last hours. Promises I had made. One was that I would do my best not to live in sorrow. That I would Mother Wren and Dane in a spirit that also honored Nathaniel. That they would know they have a brother in Heaven. That when things got bad, and I was feeling sad, that I would look for him in the Sun and in the Moon. That I would know, in my heart, that he was with my Grandparents, looking down on us. Nathaniel's face was literally a glow. It happened quickly, the clouds had parted, the sun shown in the window upon us, and then disappeared once again. I stood there as if transfixed. Nearly two hours had passed because just a few seconds later the Minister walked in , and then Daddy. And then the nurse who had been there with me most of the previous day. We stood hand in hand after I laid you in your little bassinet as the Minister read the story of the First Baptism. We all cried. I had placed a picture of Wren and Dane together at your feet. I had wanted them to be there too. The Minister told the story of how Jesus had told all of the people at the Baptism that children were some of the most important people of God. He asked them to recognize this and I thought to myself how my children mean the absolute world to me. The nurse knew my difficulty and asked if we were ready. The three of us walked you down to the little room where your pictures had been taken and the nurse showed me where to place the bassinet. I saw the two faces of my living children in the photograph at your feet and kissed your sweet little face one last time. Wren and Dane's picture traveled with you on your journey and that picture is part of your ashes. Hardly a day goes by that I do not lay a hand on your box just to feel you near. I feel your spirit in everything I do with Wren and Dane. It's as if Wren can read my mind when she says "Let's draw Nathaniel a picture." And, of course, I say "Yes, Wren, let's."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Having Nathaniel Part 2

We had been told you were a girl- but I saw right away that you held a were, in fact, a little boy. You had such a serene peace about you. Your face looked as if you were simply asleep. Tiny little hands, fingers, feet, and toes were so perfectly formed. You were perfectly proportioned. When the doctor and I looked to the umbilical cord we knew immediately what had happened. One of the three vessels was formed incorrectly. It had about a half dozen areas that narrowed so thin- my heart ached when I realized you had suffered from a lack of both oxygen and nutrition. When you were so small, it had not been deadly. But as my beautiful little boy grew, this section could not keep up. I pray that you never knew what was lacking. I can only hope that you fell asleep warm inside my belly. It pains me in an indescribable way that your precious light could go out and I did not know that it had happened. We cut your umbilical cord and wrapped you in a little blanket. I wanted to hold you as soon as possible. Daddy cried. I cried. The doctor and nurses cried. You were so beautiful- and it was just so difficult to understand. As I gazed at your tiny face, I could instantly see both Wren and Dane in your features- but especially Dane. You had Daddy's brow line and Dane's nose. Your arms and legs were so long and your feet were already so big. I would spend the next twelve hours memorizing everything about you. The nurses gave you a bath and they were so sweet and handled you with such care. They covered you in baby lotion before wrapping you in your blanket once again, and then Daddy and I spent a few hours just being with you. We named you Nathaniel Devon Smith, after both your Daddy and Grampy. We also decided that we would Baptise you in the morning, and made the decision to be able to bring your ashes home with us. I wanted you to be with us always. Daddy looked so tired and there was no place for him to get comfortable. I thought too, that since Wren was spending the night with her friends, it might do Daddy some good to go home and snuggle down with Dane. It seemed like the only thing that could be of any comfort to him then was your sister and brother. And the only thing I wanted to do until morning was hold you and gaze at you. So sometime around midnight Daddy went home. I reluctantly gave you over to the nurses so that we could make prints of your little hands and feet. I also wanted pictures of you as I am so afraid that my memory may fade in years to come. I took a hot shower, cried some more, and went down the hall in search of you. Cries of another baby helped to lift my spirit as I went down the hall. Though I know it to be impossible, I never want another person to experience this kind of grief. As I approached the room where you were I heard a sweet little voice. Your nurse was talking to you, telling you what she was doing, and saying such sweet things that only you and God could hear. I was so deeply touched by this that it is difficult to put into words. But it gave to me the knowledge that your little life also touched more than just ours- you were special to this other person too. I will be grateful to her till my last breath. I stayed with the two of you until she was finished. She then placed you in a little wicker bassinet and allowed me to take you back to our room. It was now very late and as I lay down to spend the one and only night we were given your little hands were somehow placed right under your head as if you were sleeping. I turned your face to mine on the pillow and reluctantly shut off the light. But the light from the moon and stars still showed your features and again I felt a sweep of gratitude. Your little body and bundle of blankets was so small, and your entire being nestled that night in the crook of my arm. I breathed in that scent that only a new baby has and prayed to God to help me fix it in my memory. Every few hours I woke up and talked to you or sang you a lullaby. I would unwrap a small area of the blanket and hold your hand or outline your tiny face. I was still so amazed by the peace about your face. I slept well and soundly with you in my arms and will cherish those hours with you as long as I live. Dawn broke to a gray rainy but beautiful morning- because this was the morning of your Baptism.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Having Nathaniel

I have a difficult story to tell. But it is one that I feel very strongly needs to be shared with others. It is a story that is going to lay bare very grieving wounds for me, and for those who read it who share in our sorrow. It will also open wounds in those who have experienced something similar. My hope is that Nathaniel's story can help heal both our wounds and perhaps begin a path of healing for those who still carry deep grief within them from the loss of a child. This is part one of our journey.


I am so very grateful for the courage I was given to make the choice that Monday in November to bring you forth naturally. I desperately want to know what happened to you, and needed to see your beautiful little face and hold you in my arms. I was afraid- so afraid I would not be up to being strong and facing my grief for your loss. I needn't have worried. From the moment I went into labor and delivery, I knew it should be this way and no other. Most importantly, I was selfish. I wanted more than anything else to have stolen moments with you that we could only have in this way. I was so aware of the fact that I was caught between two worlds. Your life had gone out within my body perhaps weeks ago. Though I knew your soul could no longer be found within my body, your body was my Earthly connection to you. When they found my cervix to be en tact I was again happy to have been granted a few more precious hours to carry you within my womb. Daddy and I rested with you knowing the long emotional hours that lay ahead of us. I placed my hands over my belly most of those hours just trying to memorize and feel your presence. I knew only too quickly the time would come for us to be separated and I just wasn't ready for you to leave me physically. Being pregnant with two small children in our house isn't the same as being pregnant with your first- or even second. Time flies much too quickly and it is difficult to be aware of every detail- and in a lot of ways, I resented, or more accurately lamented, this truth. In so many ways, I knew you would be my last time to carry a baby and I so wanted to relish every moment. The reality is that you struggle to get through the day- but you do because you know that incomprehensible prize of joy is waiting at the end. All the while you worry that you are taking too much on, you remember to eat healthy, and you cradle your belly at those precious times of rest when you can be alone with your thoughts of the new little person growing inside of you. You worry about the economy, the state of the world, the state of your house- and then you realize all you have to do is love and care for this little one, and that, my son, is so easy.

When the doctor gave me the medicine to start my contractions I was so sad. I was still so excited to see you but this was happening in a way that I had never imagined it ever would and I was struggling with that truth. As I was trying to come to terms with your leaving my body four months too soon, I was well aware of the next phase of my grief and that was having to give your precious little body away. I prayed for some time to calmly sit with you inside me before my contractions began and we were so graciously given that time. It gave me the courage to shun the epidural. I wanted to experience this birth to the fullest I possibly could- even the pain. When I recognized the contractions, I began to summon up the strength to do the most difficult thing I have ever done. Whatever time has been stolen from our future, I wanted to have these hours with you- in the only way that was given to us. When the pain began to get really hard to handle, they gave me something that took off the edge. By some miracle, it wore off before the last three or four violent contractions. A short time of peace then occurred and one of intense clarity. My waters ran forth, and I felt your little body drop into position. And then, there you were.

Monday, January 4, 2010


There must be days that Susy Smith does not relish opening her mail- electronic, paper, or otherwise. I imagine that being an editor is a difficult job and one that requires complete focus and precision. After following Susy at Country Living in Britain for some years now, I would say she does very very well in her career. She mentioned in her November letter that she receives quite a few harsh comments about the fashion pages which are presented every month in some form or another. They have been tweaking these presentations for years now, trying to make them "relevant". Susy states quite matter of fact that these are the reader's words, not hers. I find this quandary the magazine is in all together fascinating. For one, that a reader would take the time to complain about some of the most beautiful shots in the pages of the magazine- but more so that the minds of many are so closed. The fashion pages have always been absent from this side of the pond's sister publication and this has always puzzled me. The Americas have some of the most incredible lines of outdoor provisions in the world. Outdoor living is so dramatically woven into the lives of the British that it's difficult to understand the reason for the disdain of the fashion pages. Susy goes on to say that the companies whose wares they put into print have nothing but high praise to say once the issue hits the news stands. This I find not surprising in the least. We humans are a strange lot. The many forms of media which we assail ourselves with each day is daunting. But the Country Living reader is truly a lifestyle personality. That same reader who scoffed at the clothing pages may find themselves in the market for new riding boots a few days later. If they just so happen to purchase the pair of $400 boots pictured in this months issue, that fact may have very well been lost on them. It wasn't, however, lost on the company that produced them. You never know where inspiration will come from. If you are an artist, writer, or designer you are aware of this, and your left brain soaks in everything you see, smell, and touch quite well. Even more amazing is that the end result of your creation may not resemble the original inspiration at all- at least to other people. None the less, something moved and stirred in you the urge to create. Taken in this context very little in the world is "irrelevant". In the words of some very talented designer friends of mine who create warmth and beauty in the form of handmade clothing, "We are all knit together". Just remember this the next time you are looking upon something that seems irrelevant.
Note: If you care to exercise your subconscious shopper the boots above can be had at