It was cold and beautiful on Alameda Beach the day after Christmas, that hushed, in-between time of year when everyone seems to be pausing to take a breath and a look around. Sunset was spreading pink and blue and purple and orange to the west. Darker clouds scudding, beach grass blowing, the twinkling lights of San Francisco in the distance. Bundled-up people in ones and twos and threes congregated by the bird sanctuary and embraced each other through scarves and puffy coats. You could see a flash of Carla's bright hair and brighter smile in the wheelchair as she waited with her father and her son for everyone to arrive. Amazingly, she didn't seem cold at all.
One of the things that has happened in this last year since her diagnosis has been the birth of a community. It is made up of the smaller communities that already existed around her before; her moms' group, her artist friends; her College of Marin people; her family. Now we've all overlapped and become friends with each other.
There was a lot of hugging and kissing, and then Carla moved to a regular chair, and four strong men carried her, Jewish-wedding style, down onto the sand where she could sit and watch the water. We gathered in a shivering circle around her, each person holding a votive candle, while Carla told us we had been the rays of light in the darkness for her over the last year, and the setting sun shot its last rays of gold over the glistening sand and tide pools and driftwood.
Carla's beloved brother Jason was with us long-distance via cell phone, and her dad spoke and then Maclen gave the most eloquent tribute any son has ever given his mother. Carla has reprinted it on her blog at www.carlamuses.blogspot.com if anyone wants to read it. I don't know how he got this breadth of vision and wisdom so young, except that he's had to develop it, but thank God he has.
Then we each took a smooth river rock from a bag and went down to water's edge where Carla's father Jack demonstrated the proper skipping technique. It was the best combination of emotional and playful, in a gorgeous natural setting and with the diverse crowd that's closest to Carla (well, there are other people close to Carla's heart who couldn't be there in flesh but were certainly present in spirit) that could be. How odd and fitting and heartbreaking and crazy that we were "celebrating" this year of her diagnosis, a time when we've all been stretched and pummelled by fate. How good to look out at the big ocean and lift up our eyes to the gorgeous ever-changing panoply of the sky.
And then we went out to eat Chinese food around a big steaming table.
This is how it's been all year--from the sublime to the ordinary. Lisa said to me, "This has been the best and the worst year of my life." The best because she married her beloved and their relationship deepens and sweetens daily, and the worst because of Carla's health. The same is true for me--I got engaged to the best, most mischievous, fiercely loving, creative, honest man I ever met, my play got produced, I became a woman warrior through IMPACT and so many other blessings, on and on and on--and I'm losing the friend in my life who always gets it, (who always gets me,) who can hold tragedy in one hand and comedy in the other and not flinch, who is hilarious, compassionate, clear-eyed, generous, and always a few steps ahead.
She gave me my birthday presents--a T-shirt which reads DESTRUCTOGRRL and another one which states "MY spirit animal is a dust bunny." Perfect.