Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let Olive be Olive....

I still remember the first time I saw the movie "Little Miss Sunshine," a treat for myself during the time I was living in CT while Matt and the kids were still in MA. I went on the recommendation of my new friend and colleague, Penny. (I lived with Penny during the week, returning home on weekends; the generous offer of this arrangement still astounds me.)

I was fretting about Kyra--about my sense that the world might not always welcome her as we welcome her. I feared (and sometimes still fear) that the world might not be ready to appreciate a girl who would rather play pirates than princess, shops in the "boy" department of every store we enter, and is bound and determined to move through the world as who she is....not who the world would have her to be. In truth, I don't know whether I more feared the world's rejection of her, or the painful possibility that she might mold herself increasingly to receive the world's acceptance.

Anyway, Penny listened patiently to my fretting and then said, "You just have to see this movie. There is this scene where everyone is trying to talk this child's mother out of letting her daughter perform in a way they expect will embarrass the child. She insists that she will not squelch her daughter's desire to go through with the performance. She insists that they all must 'let Olive be Olive'. You'll just have to let Kyra be Kyra." And so I went, and became as enthralled with Olive and her family as I am with my own girl. It remains one of the most cathartic movies I have ever seen.

I haven't thought about the movie in quite some time, but it came back to me this week with the astonishing and terribly sad news that Penny died last Saturday. There's a great deal of mystery involved, and I'm reluctant to subject her story to the scrutiny that can come from sharing too publicly. The simple facts are these: Penny was sick with cancer and she chose not to treat her illness or to share news of it with anyone in her life. All of us who knew and appreciated her are now forced to contend with the challenge of "letting Penny be Penny" when she has made a choice that cannot be undone and that so grieves all of us. But since she always had the wisdom to encourage me to give the people I love the space to live out their choices, I am working to honor her and her choices. Is there pain in this? Absolutely. But is there truth? Yes indeed.

I was thinking about Penny tonight, as I have been since last Monday when I heard the news, and I was reflecting on the healing passage of time. We visited today with my mother's sister. She is so like my memories of who my mother was; it is pure joy to be with her. She passed to me a gift that has been intended for me for more than thirty years--and one I had entirely forgotten! She gave to me my grandmother's garnet ring, purchased when she was dying, with the intention that it would go next to her daughter, my aunt, and one day, to me. She thought it was time, and wanted to share it while she was alive to see my joy in having it. There aren't words for me to smoothly and beautifully link this ring and the hopes and dreams placed in it all those years ago with how I am feeling about Penny, but the energy of both these experiences mingles within me tonight.

In this spirit of the give and the take of life, I came upon a poem/song I began while we were in FL in April. I wrote it after watching Kyra stare down an angry sea--or better yet, after watching Kyra nearly beat down an angry sea with her fists! I was filled with the "beyond words" sense of the give and take of the life she will live, and this is what poured out. Rough, yes, but also something true!

She stands before me on the shore
Arms raised in a show of muscle.
Fists clenched with might, smile of delight
Inviting the full roar

Of a power and love contained within,
A cycle far beyond us.
Sensing here in this wash of water
A never-ending promise

Oh, the world is an ocean full of waves
That some days knock you down
But if you find deep within you that girl at the sea,
You'll land on solid ground.

As I watch you grow in pleasure and pain
There are days I long to hold you
Safe once more in this mother's arms
A child so small and new.

But even then you were growing toward
This voice that calls you home.
The hands and feet knit together in me
Bound for days of sand and foam.

Oh, the world is an ocean full of waves
That some days knock you down
But if you find deep within you that girl at the sea,
You'll land on solid ground.

Rest in peace, Penny. We miss you on this shore....