I couldn’t explain how a perfect stranger compelled me to reach out, except that Rose was one of those people whose light could bounce off anything like a mirror in the sun. It’s hard not to want to get close to light like that; it makes everything bright enough to see clearly where there was only darkness before. And Rose reminded me of things I had lost: most recently my nursing job. Thirty years ago, my friend, Lisa Rose.
I felt inexplicably drawn to send Rose a message on Facebook that Monday in June. She was asking all her friends to do random acts of kindness every day of June until her birthday, coming up on June 25th. She would have been 26.
I messaged Rosie telling her how much her story had inspired me and that I gone to nursing school at Emory where she was a patient after a double-lung transplant. I lamented about how I missed taking care of patients since my back injury, joking that for now I would have to be a nurse “for the soul”. I told her about my childhood friend, Lisa Rose who also had Cystic Fibrosis that had died when we were only 10.
But I didn’t tell her about all the prayers.
I didn’t remember there had been 30 years of them, most of them forgotten, whispered in pillows or muttered over sobs, taped up in boxes in the basement somewhere.
Rose being the bloom that she was, wrote me back promptly and couldn’t wait for me to send her stories of my random acts of kindness for her birthday. On the 8th of June, she wrote again saying she had been sick and adjusting to a new medication, but that she was feeling better every day. I had no way of knowing how sick she was or was about to get, I only felt some inexplicable pulling. I didn’t know at the time about the threads. I didn’t know about the strings.
Social media leaves behind a strange ghost of people giving you the illusion of some remaining lifeline by which you might reach them. On August 26th, over a month after she had died, I sent Rose another message:
I know that you are gone but I look for you all around me and look for signs that you are here. I hope you know how you changed my heart from 3000 miles away. I hope you know how bright your light was and how grateful I am that you shone it on me.
Was I crossing some sort of line and why was I even compelled to write her? I couldn’t explain why, and right or wrong it was too late because I had sent it anyway. Did it seem strange that I was sending messages to someone who had died, not to mention one whom I had never even met? Jen always says there are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met. Rose never felt like a stranger and there are stranger things, I suppose. For thirty years I had prayed that Lisa Rose could hear me. For thirty years I kept expecting a reply.
I remember babysitting when I was a teen and wondering how kids could listen to the same stories over and over again without getting bored. Then I grew up and had babes of my own and found comfort reading the same redundant phrases. Now we memorize our favorites like scriptures that tuck us in and away from the haunts of the world; Goodnight stars, goodnight air, good night noises everywhere.
But the ones I know verbatim are no longer in fashion for my budding little readers. Lately their favorite is The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. In the story, a mother soothes her twins who
are woken by a storm, telling them about “the invisible string”. She explains how all our hearts are tied together by a thread you cannot see, lulling the children right back to sleep despite the storm still raging outside. My kids are never so easily lulled but when they want to read “one more” they know I won’t say no to this one. I think it soothes me as much or more than it does the kids.
“Did you feel the string tugging on your heart while you were at the doctor today, Mama?” my daughter asked me at bedtime tonight.
I don’t know if it’s from binge watching Doc McStuffins or that she’s especially empathic, but she’s been extra sensitive and worried about me lately. The other day I found her crying and when I asked her why, she asked when my back would not be ” broken” anymore.
It isn’t the first time she has asked that question and along with her tears it’s hard not to let it undo me. As much as I try to shelter her from knowing how bad the pain is, her tears tell me she already knows. Kids somehow always do.
The hard truth is it’s been more difficult to hide my own tears as my pain has become increasingly confining. Harder to not let her see since nerve damage and scarring from three surgeries took my livelihood; since I let pain steal my joy and level the landscape of my life. And I don’t know how to answer when it won’t be “broken” anymore because the fact is it might be that it cannot be fixed.
Rosie had become my muse and I found it easier not to feel sorry for myself as I learned more about the way she had lived despite the limitations put on her by as horrific a disease as CF. Jen had saved me a card from Rosie’s memorial service and on bad days I found myself clutching it in my hand. One of those days was recently upon me and I searched the edges with my fingers, still clinging to the memory of Lisa, still muttering strings of a 10 year-old’s prayers:
Are you there, God?
It’s me, Marika.
I don’t know what to say anymore, Can anyone even still hear me?
It’s how I have often found myself praying — short bursts of one- way conversation, followed by silence that rings so loudly your own voice seems disembodied like it came from somewhere else. I think all this time all that I was praying to understand is how they lived when they knew they were dying.
I was so tired that night from the pain and occasional outbursts of child-like prayer, the last thing on my mind was watching the news. My sister insisted that we watch a piece Channel 5 had run about her friend, Bruce Rosen’s book. I watched, half- asleep, feigning interest not knowing I was about to be reduced to rubble by what popped up next on the screen.If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away was the title of the book, published by Almarosepublishing.com.
Nietzche wrote, “Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” If physicists are correct, string theory may explain how tiny imperceptible filaments are vibrating in 10 dimensions of space, resonating through time and everything we can and cannot see .I can’t pretend to understand why some messages make it through and others you listen 30 years for. It must be that only now am I still enough to hear the resonance of the strings.
Worried that I had destroyed the story, I almost scrapped this essay half way through the writing process. Rearranging, rewriting, over-editing, and over-thinking are usually a natural part of it, but my miracles were being mottled by my inefficient storytelling and what I thought would tie together easily was reading like a bunch of loose ends. My intention had only been to honor Lisa and Rose’s memory and to tell about how our threads all weaved together. I was trying to play dot to dot with the points of lights in my life, but I still couldn’t see it taking the shape of a constellation. But the strings, the strings, they pulled me right back in despite my doubts in my own postulations, despite no current unifying theory of everything.
Whenever I hit a snag in my writing, I have found there is magic in working with actual paper. Sometimes I print out whatever dribble I have, grab something to write with and a couple books for inspiration. Marking all over the paper has proven to unlock things when I have found myself lost or lacking direction; something about the smell of freshly sharpened pencils helps me remember the things children haven’t had time yet to forget.
When I pulled my draft off the printer, apparently one of my daughter’s doodles had made it into the paper tray and my feeble attempts at sewing all the pieces together printed atop her arbitrary artwork. You could call it all a crazy coincidence, but I can’t believe in those anymore. I don’t believe in strangers either. You might say that they’re just scribbles.
To me, they look like strings.
Dedicated to Rose Alma and Lisa Dawn Rose whose strings are forever tied to my heart.
Marika Rosenthal Delan is a scientist/nurse by trade and an artist/freedom fighter by birth who once choreographed her little brother and his friends in a rousing rendition of Divo’s Whip It as performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks when she was only 9.
Since being sidelined from nursing by her lower back she finds her zen in music, her children, and getting lost in words of all kinds. She works with her husband, Peter, finding that service is joy, through their non-profit, Tree of Life United Ministries.
Her essays have appeared on Jennifer Pastiloff’s The Manifest-Station, as well as Elephant Journal and The Huffington Post. You can find her blogging at www.bestillandstillmoving.com where she practices the art of being still while still moving, even if stillness means getting a move on at 4 am. Luckily she has found, that even at such a dark hour, someone will always leave the light on for you.