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THEIR THREADS CONTINUE

A year later the tiny rows of thread are still being sewn,
connecting Micki and her husband with their friends

Read Part 1 of this story

We were in Los Angeles only for three days. And our time was booked. We were obligated for every moment, save three hours in the middle of Wednesday afternoon. We chose to spend our freedom on an excursion to the Los Angeles Museum of Art near the tar pits on Wilshire and pastrami at Canter’s on Fairfax.

Canter’s first. We split a tower of hot pastrami piled between two crisp-crusted slices of fresh Jewish rye bread and a fizzy Dr. Brown’s root beer. When the woman walked by, I thought she was a character actress. I pointed her out to my husband, and he said, “It’s number 12.”

She had just settled in a large booth with her husband. Our eyes met and her face crumbled. We all stood and found our way toward each other through the booths and busboy carts. We could not believe, we were amazed, how could this be, what does it mean?

It had not been a year since we had found each other unraveling knotted yarn in the Cedars-Sinai waiting room. We had laughed with her family and told stories and let that yarn knit our lives together. Sharing her loss sealed us.

We had gone to the funeral, and she and I emailed for a while. There were invitations. Then life distracted us. This was the first time we had been in Los Angeles since the death of her father. This was the first time she had been in Canter’s since that day. Her mother was meeting her there. We stayed to hug her.

Micki Esken-Meland - San Francisco

DOROTHY'S COMPASSION

The weekend of my mother-in-law's dying, we came to the Alzheimer's facility where she was being cared for and found her in pain. Because it was a Saturday night, there was only a skeleton, inexperienced staff. And there was confusion regarding her pain medication. My husband Gary stood by his mother's bedside holding her hand while the staff figured out what to do.

At that tense moment one of the other residents shuffled into the room. Dorothy had been a high-powered business executive. She was wont to wander about the halls, and over the past few months while visiting his mother, Gary had gotten used to Dorothy.

She would bound into the room and accost him, "Have you gotten that taken care of yet?"

"Yes, Dorothy," he would routinely reply. "I got that done."

Dorothy's speech was often incomprehensible: "We butterfly dinner because the butterfly didn't have any." After a while we realized that she had developed a strategy of coping with Alzheimer's toll on her vocabulary by slipping the word "butterfly" into whatever hole appeared.

This night, my mother-in-law's groans perturbed Dorothy. "She's not feeling very well," Gary explained. "The nurse will be back in a minute to help her."

All at once, Dorothy's manner changed. She seemed to stand straighter, calmer. Lucidly she said, "Is that your mother?"

"Yes," Gary replied.

At that, with great tenderness, Dorothy patted his arm.

Compassion--that shared sense of our common experience of suffering and connection--was, after all, stronger than the unforgiving, gauzy grip of Alzheimer's. Whatever else the disease had taken from Dorothy, that warm essence remained.

Betsy

HE LIED ABOUT NEARLY EVERYTHING

Hallie left her big city life -- security, comfort, friends, family, job, apartment -- to follow her dream of interning on an organic farm. Some people said she was crazy and predicted she'd return home very soon. We can only imagine how much courage it took for her to make that leap. When her plane landed in Oregon, everything she owned was in a few pieces of luggage. And then she stepped into a nightmare. It was a lie. There was no farm; no internship waited for her.

The grower, Joe, I was supposed to work for picked me up at the Eugene bus stop in his rattling 1970 Ford pickup. He herded his collie into the middle of the cab, turned to me and said, "Honey, I've sold the farm." I was devastated. I had phoned him from New York two days ago to confirm my arrival, and he'd told me that I'd be digging irrigation ditches and planting peppers in no time. After two weeks of sleeping on his daughter's floor in Eugene, I found a new place to work -- at least for a couple of weeks until he bought another farm (which was supposedly in the works).

Keith and Sloan agreed to house and feed me for two weeks, sight unseen. Within a day, the three of us were in perfect sync. Joe stopped by after the first week, and I was disappointed to see him. As we walked through the patches of patty-pan squash, Swiss chard and rows of beans, I realized nothing had changed. I dreaded having to spend a full year working for this man. Joe left with the promise of returning at the same time next week to take me to the new farm. In the meantime, Keith and Sloan taught me step-by-step about growing food organically, working with nature and taking care of one's self and the planet.

I started, sadly, packing my things on the day of my anticipated departure. Keith said to me, "Don't pack anything. If he comes, he can wait. If not, why unpack?"

The long and the short of it is that Joe never came back. He left me there without a word. I made a phone call to a family member and found out for certain: He had lied about nearly everything. Keith and Sloan poured me a big glass of wine.

These people took me into their home and into their lives without a moment's hesitation, having never had live-in help before. They extended their entire beings to me like a gentle hand guiding me from the darkness. They truly saved me. I didn't have any friends or family nearby, and the thought of accepting defeat, turning around and going back to New York was just nauseating to me. Their kindness, compassion, patience, curiosity and ability to educate bring me to tears every time I drive through the hills on the way to visit them now.

Keith and Sloan didn't have to do what they did. In the end it turned out that we really helped each other. By having another person on staff for a couple of months, Keith was able to repair the house and get it ready for the winter. They also expanded production at the farm. I've never been part of such a symbiotic system in my life, and the feeling of inclusion and profound connection gives me faith in all of us. Sometimes I feel like a mutt they adopted from the pound: She'll never run away because she knows she's been saved. Other times I just wonder what on earth I did to be that lucky and how will I repay the favor?

This has shaped my life profoundly and charted a whole other course in my consciousness. Driving through Washington the other day and gazing at the evergreens, I realized that I have in fact followed my joy, my peace and my sense of obligation to humanity, and I was incredibly glad.

Hallie - Still Traveling

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