Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2015

She is here.

My beautiful sister-in-law Phyllis passed on Monday.what are you looking at owl

We’d been fortunate to have been with her just a week earlier. She was weak but radiant, laughing and fighting with the most intense courage I have ever seen. We found reasons to giggle and cry together. I felt so close to her.
I still feel her close to me. I still feel her love.

She is here.

On Tuesday morning, I’m in my usual ritual, walking outside to pick up the newspapers, cat strolling with me. A sudden flurry of wings nearby and a massive creature lands above me.

It’s our owl. It’s only the second time the owl has shown himself, although we regularly hear him outside our window. I sat on the front porch and we watched each other for several minutes until something beckoned him to float away on great silent wings.

A bit later, I’m at my desk on a call. I have a window in front of my desk, usually an uneventful view — a bit of brick wall, vines, juniper trees. A small movement in the vines and I see a mother cardinal, carefully feeding a young hatchling. Cardinals, I know, are often thought to be a representation of loved ones who have passed. It’s a nice thought, but even nicer to see that this cardinal is a mother gently tending her young.


Later still, I stroll the garden as I love to do. I take note of the progress — bunnies continue to feast on my scaviola and sweet potato vines, but sun coleus are competing for showiest colors while canna lilies stretch skyward.  And then a surprising new bloom — a white iris. In late August.

A tiny bit beyond, and another surprise. My trumpet vine, with its exuberant green growth, has at last produced a bud.

I felt love in every one of these moments. Every one made me think of her. She is here. She is loved.


I know, this sounds deranged, goofy.  There is nothing so out of the ordinary of any of these things.

The owl lives here too, why shouldn’t I see him occasionally? And while most cardinals have young in spring and early summer, an August hatch is not unheard of. I know that some irises will re-bloom (they are described as remontant);  I know that trumpet vines can take years to mature to bloom — mine just finally reached its time.

But does it matter either way?

I see love in these small things, and I feel love with each one — for Phyllis, for my dear friend Nancy, for those around me, for the universe. And it is real.

Posted by: Nancy | August 2, 2015

Summer Zen Moment

IMG_2357The afternoon appointment was cancelled and rescheduled. An open spot appeared on my mid-week calendar.

Summer in full glory, beckoning. I closed the computer and left the smartphone on my desk to go outside into the back yard. I wanted a new full focus, if even for a few minutes, unpolluted by my guilt and undisturbed by my devices — I know I should be working; I could be researching, planning, targeting, analyzing, being productive.

Outside won.

I sat, stretched, and didn’t move, impersonating my favorite tree in the back yard. It is serene and stable, unmoving yet barely swaying, like the act of breathing. I am calm. Watchful.

Reward comes in a first small jump of action, a blur of movement from an invisible spot on the trunk to a branch. Then another, and another. Suddenly attuned, I saw the tree was alive with small finches flitting methodically from cone to cone, tiny beaks reaching into cones crevasses.

I’d already noted the common mourning dove sitting on a lone branch. But I had not seen the others. I sharpened my focus and saw what I was missing — a tree full of life.

There was a small flicker, a black and white spotted downy woodpecker with tiny red hat, bobbing up the trunk. I saw it disturb a butterfly that had been invisible and motionless until it softly fluttered away. A screeching blue jay whirled through and left in a harrumph. I watched a grey squirrel nearly camouflaged as it stretched lazily on a branch. A raft of finches and sparrows flew a chirpy and choppy circuit from feeder to birdbath to various hiding spots in bushes and branches.

IMG_2361Unmoving, focused, there is even more. I become aware of the melody of cicadas, the changing pitch, the rise and fall no longer just a background hum. The wind is gentle, caressing the leaves each in its own way — the bristles of needles bounce, the willow sways, the pin oak leaves shimmy and the walnut branches slide vertically creating a shadow mosaic below. A chipmunk with racing stripes zips by.

I’m entranced and can’t stop watching the tree. Another mourning dove arrives and pesters the first, attempting to mount. The chase is on, they jump from branch to branch until first dove moves to another tree, outside my gaze.

Suddenly a flurry. A big muscular sharp-shinned hawk zooms from nowhere to the pin oak to the pine, pauses for just a moment then takes off, soon is soaring and wheeling in the endless blue above. Calm returns, it feels like the smaller birds have sighed in relief as they resume their patterns.

A tiny burst of energy appears, little more than a punctuation mark in a poem. It is a ruby-throated hummingbird, a sharp needle beak on a teardrop body zigging between the bristles. Until it stops. It rests. I hold my breath, and time stands still for a moment.

Posted by: Nancy | July 15, 2015

Why I Love New York

Spent a week in NYC recently, came home with a string of pearls — lovely, charming, fun momentary encounters:

Azi on the plane: Azi is 18 months old, traveling with his father. He was quite possibly the most well-behaved child I’ve ever seen on a plane, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to him from Kansas City to LaGuardia on a full flight.

Azi has chocolate brown eyes and the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. He had a great smile, and that look of wonder in his face. I got to hold him for about 40 minutes, giving his dad a little break.

He giggled when I cooed in his ear. He squirmed and laughed, squeezed my hand, played peek-a-boo and methodically shredded a couple of pages from the in-flight magazine. I just purred with delight. The flight went by entirely too fast.

Taxi man at sunset: We settled into a cab, small conversation with the driver, who wasn’t entirely chatty. Until suddenly he exclaims: “It’s sunset!” He’s grinning and looking around, relieved.

He explains: This is Ramadan; I have been fasting all day. Just now, it is sunset and I can now eat. We ask what he will eat, how will he celebrate. Watermelon comes first, he says.

How sweet that watermelon will taste! We wish him a happy Ramadan when we leave.

On the streets: I always make a point to visit Patience and Fortitude; this time was no exception. I love the library for its beauty and sturdy adherence to honor the value of books, learning, knowledge.

IMG_2306Not just within the granite walls. On the front patio, there’s a lesson underway in fly fishing. Yes! Earnest students are practicing throwing their lines, trying to get the snap just right, watching the arc of the line before it hits the pavement.

After a while, their instructors place cardboard fishes on the ground, adding to the challenge. I imagine the fish swimming in the dappled sunlight under the great plane trees.

Behind the library, in Bryant Park there are juggling lessons underway, open to all. The instructors warm up, some in teams, tossing pins back and forth.

IMG_2311The students share a look of extreme concentration while around them, the park buzzes with activity — friends having picnics, young lovers kissing (and passerbys snaking photos of them), the carousel spinning IMG_2314with Edith Piaf music, chess matches, runners, dog walkers, and on and on. A glorious pageant unfolding on a beautiful morning.

I felt like the entire population of people that I encountered were insiders, like they were all sharing some amusement. They were friendly, none of the old stereotype of mean and impatient New Yorkers. They were quick to laugh, a trait I love and share, and as a result, I had a lot of smiles with strangers.

Sure, some of it might have been spawned by corporate policy encouraged by hotels and restaurants, but it worked. These were human-to-human encounters, and while they were brief and of little matter, they were real.

Like the solemn young Greek bartender named Lazarus, who told us that he is serious about his craft of service. He proved it with his attention to detail; in conversation, with his thoughtful comments. A rare smile felt like a reward.

Like the doorman on the day we were leaving — he asks how was our stay, and then interrupts us, a careful look. Hey! he says, I recognize you. You were here last year!

I confirm that we had been here last year, but he’s already convinced. I remember you, he says, because you guys make such a great couple. With that, we’re on our way. I admit that we wondered if it was a gimmick, but it made us feel good and it was a nice experience. It worked.

New York, New York — what a wonderful town.

Posted by: Nancy | July 4, 2015

Powerful words

Not once, but twice, in the same day — June 26, 2015.eulogy

Remarkable in their source and reach. Both from branches of government, both achieving a level of eloquence and a depth of passion that we rarely hear.

Both provide brilliant examples of expression, persuasion, and ultimately, humanity. Both gave me a feeling of being a witness to history, both brought me to tears.

Powerful words always touch the emotion. As a communicator, I learn from the powerful words of others. These two examples hold spots in history and will long be examined and reviewed for the source of their power.

Some of my favorite passages from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision authorizing same-sex marriage:

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

“The nature of injustice is that we may not see it in our own times.”

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

And some of my favorite passages from President Obama’s eulogy for the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney:

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.”

“For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.”

“Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too.”

“He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.”

See the video at The New York Times.

Posted by: Nancy | May 23, 2015

Falcon spying

Thanks to a video cam feed of a nesting box on the 14th floor of a nearby office tower, I have become a spy in the home of a falcon family. falcon feeding sideview

Surveillance has not entirely taken over my life, but I do check in on the family in between tasks, a bit of a treat or reward after completing a task.

I am intensely curious and filled with anticipation when I click over to the site. I’m often startled when immediately the adult falcon sharply turns to the camera. Her gaze is direct and piercing.

Can she see me? 

Of course not; but then again, is there a falcon sense of knowing when it is being watched, even through an electronic device? Could this be part of the falcon umwelt?

I will confess to being a bit obsessed with understanding other umwelts. For example, I found this beautiful description of a goshawk umwelt in the wonderful book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: IMG_2033

“The world she lives in is not mine. Life is faster for her; time runs slower. Her eyes can follow the wingbeats of a bee as easily as ours follow the wingbeats of a bird. What is she seeing? I wonder, and my brain does backflips trying to imagine it, because I can’t. I have three different receptor-sensitivities in my eyes: red, green and blue. Hawks, like other birds, have four. This hawk can see colours I cannot, right into the ultraviolet spectrum. She can see polarised light, too, watch thermals of warm air rise, roil, and spill into clouds, and trace, too, the magnetic lines of force that stretch across the earth. The light falling into her deep black pupils is registered with such frightening precisions that she can see with fierce clarity things I can’t possibly resolve from the generalised blur. The claws on the toes of the housemartins overhead. The veins on the wings of the white butterfly hunting its wavering course over the mustards at the end of the garden. I’m standing there, my sorry human eyes overwhelmed by light and detail, while the hawk watches everything with the greedy intensity of child filling in a colouring book, scribbling joyously, blocking in colour, making the pages its own.”

Macdonald brilliantly explains the challenge of trying to understand what another creature experiences — seeing things humans cannot, comprehending the world in ways we cannot.

So I imagine that my falcon family, or at least the adults, can sense when they are being seen and not just that they are being videoed and streamed into the worldwide web. If she can sense me, perhaps she can also sense my admiration and goodwill — love — for her and the family.

I have watched the chicks —called eyas — from hatching, tiny white fluffs kept warm under her. Grooming, feeding; and now, the fledglings beginning to stretch and flap with more control and confidence, starting their own preening. (I loved reading Wikipedia’s explanation of that word eyas — from the mistaken division of old French en niais meaning of nestling, from Latin nidus for nest.)

I check in on them during storms, relaxing to see a parent standing guard through thunder, lighting and fierce winds. I’m anxious during feeding — are all four getting enough? I am calmed and contented afterwards when I see the four nestled together in deep sleep with their bellies full.

I gasp when they bumble toward the edge of the nest, fearing for their safety when a parent is not in the box. I see them changing, day by day growing stronger, more defined as falcons. Someday soon — likely within two weeks, according to other watchers — I hope to see how they will learn to fly. I will be watching for the day when the young falcons sense me in the month old falcon

Meanwhile, I continue to work with awe and fascination on understanding the umwelt of these amazing creatures through the experiences of others close to them, like Helen McDonald and Mongolia’s Kazakhs with their golden eagles, and through my own limited spying. (You can join me here.)

(Left: Falcon at one month old, just banded.) 

Posted by: Nancy | May 7, 2015

Seeking and Telling the Truth

I got to shake hands with Jack and Suzy Welch last week. It was part of an event in Kansas City that gave the two of them a chance to share their perspectives on a number of business topics while promoting their new book, The Real-Life MBA.

Jack Welch is best knjack welchown as the former chairman and CEO of General Electric; he was once named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine for his innovative management techniques and GE’s epic revenue growth. His current passion is to change the model for business education — he is operating the Jack Welch Management Institute, an accredited online MBA with 900 students.

He and Suzy gave lively responses to questions posed by my friend Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books. Jack spoke in a scruffy, cracking voice, often chuckling, and speeding up as he got excited. He’s frequently described as passionate, competitive, fiery — and all that was apparent in his comments.

I took notes during the talk and later realized that nearly all of Jack and Suzy’s key messages come down to seeking and telling the truth:

On employees: Do you know what your boss thinks of you? Most don’t, and as a result, employees will agonize over a head fake from the boss. One day the employee thinks “He likes me, I’m OK in my job,” and the next day, after the boss scowls, it’s “He hates me, what am I doing wrong?”

Welch says its the responsibility of the boss — and the moral obligation — to be truthful with employees. You have no right to call yourself a manager if your employees are wondering where they stand with you.

Characteristics of a leader: Welch says the best leaders think of themselves as the Chief Meaning Officer, the guy who talks relentlessly about meaning, giving the employees something bigger than themselves.

He ranted a little about the budgeting process in most corporations, “a conjure” that’s mostly meaningless and leads to bad behaviors — lowering expectations so that it will be easier to exceed them.

He calls for transparency and candor, in part because everyone already knows most of what’s happening behind the scenes anyway. Just drop the spin, give truth only. IMG_2018

On speed: Create an atmosphere of truth and trust, he said, and that will lead to speed. “In today’s world, speed is everything. Everything is exponentially faster and if you’re carrying baggage you’re not going to win.”

I haven’t finished the book, but I can tell you it reads like he talks: directly, openly, with real-life stories that everyone can recognize from dysfunctional organizations or situations poisoned by bad behaviors. I’m giving it two thumbs up its emphasis placing TRUTH at the center of its guidance on how to succeed in the business world.

Thanks to Country Club Bank and Rainy Day Books for the event and the opportunity to participate. 

Here’s a recent Linked In interview with Jack Welch, covering similar topics as in his recent Kansas City presentation.

Posted by: Nancy | April 9, 2015

A more colorful world

Ever since David Eagleman made me aware of my umwelt, I wanted to expand it.

“Umwelt” is one of those strange and appealing words that sounds slightly unsavory, a bit dangerous. It describes the surrounding world, or as Dr. Eagleman explains it, the bubble of the world that each of us is capable of sensing.

Our umwelts vary. bloodhoundFor example, humans and animals have different experiences of the world. He notes that bloodhounds have a superior sense of smell; the bloodhound umwelt is much richer in its olfactory experience than the human umwelt.  The bloodhounds might feel sorry for us with our inferior sense of smell; but as humans, we don’t know what we are missing. It’s not an absence we notice.

In the same way, Eagleman explains, humans can only perceive a small fragment of the energy spectrum. We can see a rainbow of colors, but we don’t perceive ultraviolet light or x-rays or other wavelengths. We don’t even know what all is out there because we don’t have senses to detect it. Our umwelt is limited to what we can experience; we don’t miss these other experiences because we don’t even know that they are there.

But maybe not for long.

Eagleman and others are now experimenting with ways to expand our senses. The work is fascinating and a bit mind-blowing, pulling on new monitoring devices, data feeds, and wearable sensor technology. Eagleman’s work involves using wearable sensors as a new interface — electromagnetic sensors on human skin. The skin feels the impulse and relays the sense — data — to the brain, which learns how to process it.

An unrelated study in Japan, researchers gave blind rats a neuroprosthesis that fed geomagnetic data into the rats’ brains. Within three days, the blind rats were able to navigate mazes as well as normal sighted rats. “We were surprised that rats can comprehend a new sense that had never been experienced or ‘explained by anybody’ and can learn to use it in behavioral tasks within only two to three days,” the researcher said.

expanded umweltEagleman postulates that interfaces could take vast data feeds — like from the cockpit of jet or from a systems operations center. One could learn to discern abnormalities and detect issues that arise from the patterns in the data flow. It could be that you hear the data, or you feel it on your skin, or you taste it… you sense the health of the operation.

Bring it on! I want to try this. What are the other colors? What are the other feelings? What are the other dimensions? Will this lead us to understanding the spiritual world better? Will we experience the multitude of parallel worlds postulated in string theory? What are the other experiences that are just waiting for us?

Sadly, like the human who can’t conceive of the richness of the bloodhound’s olfactory senses, I can’t imagine what I’m missing.

Sum cover

Thanks to TEDxKC for the simulcast from Vancouver. I first encountered Eagleman through his book, Sum, Forty Tales from the Afterlives

More on Eagleman at his website:

More of his discussion of the Umwelt in an earlier piece on The Edge

Posted by: Nancy | March 26, 2015

Fitting In, Standing Out, Breaking Chains

For women in business, there is a continual dilemma: How can one fit in well enough to be accepted, yet stand out enough to be uniquely valued?

We haven’t cracked the code yet:

  • Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit Closeup of rusty but durable forged together chain linksagainst Silicon Valley’s Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers unveils some of the inner workings of a highly respected venture capital firm. There’s an uncomfortable familiarity in the riveting testimony about the divergent perspectives of Pao’s performance and attitude. She had positive evaluations, yet she also was described as aggressive (when she wasn’t being meek), uncollaborative and unlikable.
  • From a Time Magazine excerpt on Lean In: Research shows that “success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” Author Sheryl Sandberg continues: “When a woman excels at her job, both men and women will comment that she is accomplishing a lot but is ‘not as well liked by her peers.’ She is probably also ‘too aggressive,’ ‘not a team player,’ ‘a bit political’; she ‘can’t be trusted’ or is ‘difficult.’ Those are all things that have been said about me and almost every senior woman I know.”
  • And, closer to home, the real dollars-and-cents impact of this is visible in the Women’s Foundation’s compelling research showing that women continue to earn significantly less money than men for the same positions. On average in the state of Missouri, women earn 71 cents for every dollar men earn.

If one of us is chained, none of us are free.

How are we to deal with fitting in, standing out, and being likable? It may be easier to figure out how to fit in and stand out than to solve for likability.

Fitting in: For example, to fit in, one strategy is to start by wearing the same uniforms as the rest of the team at the table. In most cases, it’s men in dark suits at the table. So wear a dark suit.


Betsey Solberg of Fleishman-Hilliard made this point at a recent gathering of the Kansas City chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. She was wearing a black suit with a bright scarf (see photo), and noted she has about 14 others in her closet, that dark suits are about all that she wears. This isn’t blind conformity or denying a personal style; it  signals professionalism and removing yourself from being the topic of the conversation.

Or not. There’s an alternate viewpoint, most recently articulated in The New York Times, describing the decidedly “girlie” attire of Michelle Obama as a rejection of the Merkelization of women’s political dress. It may be time for an opposition to the dark suit strategy, also known as “bore them into talking about business.” I love the conclusion by columnist Vanessa Friedman:

How do you erase a stereotype? You confront it, and force others to confront their own preconceptions about it, and then you own it. And in doing so you denude it of its power.”

Standing out: So enough about fitting in; how about standing out? All of us want to be a part of the team, but also to stand out apart from the rest of the team. My choices for standing out call for demonstrating service and intellect, and building trust.

Service is an old-fashioned and little-used word at work, but I think it needs some additional attention. Service can be leadership; it is an attitude and it always is honorable. One who focuses on serving others — the team, customers, mission —will always be more valuable than the one who’s working her own agenda.

Another way to stand out is intellectually. Be smart, knowledgeable, and have the data to back up your insights. And there’s no replacement for trust, in any setting: Always stay true to your word; be the one who can be counted on to help solve problems.

Likability: But solving for likability? I’d rather remove it from the equation. You can’t make people love you.

It helps me to remember that the only thing I can control is myself. Focus outward: Start with basic human respect for others and work on ways to help others (service). And then hold yourself — and others — accountable for fairness in how we treat each other. Apply fairness to men and women, all positions, incomes, ages, races, religions, preferences, capabilities, etc. Remove likability from the equation — you don’t have to like someone to treat them with respect, with fairness.

If one of us is chained, none of us are free.

Posted by: Nancy | February 20, 2015

On Stories and Experiences

The poet is a young man, what is called a “millennial” these days. He walks onto a sparse stage, alone, carrying a backpack. He begins hesitantly, awaiting the inspiration of the muses to guide him.AnIliad

At first, it’s a little awkward for us around him. What is he doing? He appears self-conscious before all of us, we who sit and judge.

He persists and slowly his presence and manner feels less contrived. He overcomes his vulnerability; or maybe we accept his vulnerability and generate compassion toward him. We listen, and he becomes passionate about the telling of his story — one of the oldest in the world.

It’s a vivid modernist retelling of The Iliad that has me musing about the power of stories.

I think stories are like evidence of quantum theory. When you listen to a story, your brain acts as though it is experiencing the story firsthand. The words and voice stimulate neurological behavior identical to the actual experience. An action in one dimension creates a reaction in another, a connection somehow, across time and space.

Our brains behave like participants, rather than spectators, during stories. The words we read or the voices we hear become neurological impulses and trigger chemical reactions — we feel the story in emotions. That’s why we remember stories better than lectures, that’s why scientists say that humans are wired to tell stories.

Stories are the way inside the mind, and also, in business, the currency of marketing. Social media flourishes because it feeds storytelling of the most personal kind, and we can’t resist. We are vulnerable to stories, we say they touch our hearts, but truly, they invade and infect our brains.

Back to the performance: The poet was telling essentially the same story that survived as an oral tradition for hundreds of years — perhaps thousands — before it was ever written down.  It is a story so important that it had to be shared and kept alive; people dedicated their lives to telling this story. And now, this young man joins their ranks. Brilliantly.

I’m grateful that this tradition persists. I’m grateful for the performers like the poet, and for storytellers in general, whether in book, prose, song, video, or today’s interactive digital media. Ones and zeros, voices in the dark — as long as we are telling stories, we are figuring out how to make sense of our world. We are showing that we are human, and there is hope for us to learn new stories.

I’m in.


  • National Geographic review of “Why Homer Matters”;
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall (Mariner Books)
  • Art Credit: Blacktop Creative, reproduced from the program of An Iliad, which was performed at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Jan. 23-Feb. 15, 2015
Posted by: Nancy | February 12, 2015

“When Great Trees Fall”

I have been thinking of my family lately. In my mind’s eye, younger sister is at the center and she is represented as the tree. The rest of the family, my three brothers and I, are in a circle around the tree.

I have written of my sister before. She has Down Syndrome, and at 51, she has had many remarkable adventures and experiences: success as an artist, competing as an athlete in Special Olympics, a 25-year career with a public library, international travel, a love of dining out and trying new foods, the companionship of many friends. And from most who know her, a constant love.IMG_1818

The role of the siblings around her has changed over time. When she was very young, we provided nurturing and guidance and room to grow.  Later, we celebrated her successes and delighted in her joy. And now, as she is declining, we stand to support and cherish her.

We who make up the circle have grown closer together by her presence. She is the center, the focal point of the family, our reason for connection. We have also become better, stronger people because of her. She taught us patience and tolerance, how to laugh and take risks, how to really know joy.

These days, after her latest setback (a result of seizures and diminished brain capacity), we gather around her even more tightly and tenderly.

We struggle with her struggles, but I —we— will not mourn what is lost.

We will celebrate what exists in her still — the essence of her beautiful spirit. I see her earliest mannerisms, they way she brings her hands together and twinkles her fingers in joy. She laughs and giggles. She still tells herself stories, making sense of her world as best she can. She still is attracted to art and wants to create, she tries to establish her process. She still loves all those around her.

Her core is unchanged. We know she will lose more of her physical and mental abilities. We know that ultimately we will lose her physical presence. But I now realize that I do not need to feel less loved. All her love, her essence, does not change.

Back to the tree — the image came when a friend recently reminded me of Maya Angelou’s poem When Great Trees Fall. (The poem appears in her fifth volume, I Shall Not Be Moved.)

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,
dependent upon their nurture,
now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.

We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

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