I knew for awhile that this weekend was going to be full, that Friday was Halloween, that Sunday was the first event for Impact Guild, and then the very sad news that Saturday would be the memorial service for Riley, my friend Suzanne's son. It was chaos and sadness and beauty and celebration all mashed into a scant forty eight hours. I've hardly had the time to digest all that this weekend was to me, but want to hold on to a couple of moments...Forgive me the long post.
Halloween evening all three children went in separate directions. Gwendolyn, our oldest, went on her own with friends for the first time. Eloise and I joined up with two other families. Graham and Chloe waited til seven and went with Chloe's friend Henry.
Our neighborhood was like a pop up carnival. There was a house with 200 free hotdogs and full sized candy bars, a dead end converted into Cirque du Soleil, and the usual line around the block at Steve Jobs house. The streets, still wet from the afternoon rain, were jammed with masked strangers. It got dark early and Old Palo Alto could have been a scene out of a zombie movie. Walking around in it, it felt like the gears in my brain got completely jammed, like I had rocks between my ears. A good friend asked me a question, and I couldn't understand the words he said. He must have asked me the same thing in three different ways, and it just did not compute. It wasn't until the next morning when I woke up that I was able to parse the question. And then I was embarrassed, but relieved to have my normal brain back.
Green was Riley's favorite color, and we were asked to wear green to his Memorial Service. So we did. The service was held in the Multi purpose room of his elementary school, and the superintendent of schools presided. One of the first things he said, was "Don't tell the fire marshals how many of us are in here today."
One boy stood at the open mike. "The last time I saw Riley was at the sleepover party before his operation. At the party I lost my favorite sock, the $14 breast cancer awareness sock. Everyone had gotten up, but a few of us were sitting around still. Riley was one of them. It turned out he was sitting on my sock." This is what it is like for a sixth grade boy's mind to make sense of things that don't make sense at all, it is sweet, and relieving and obvious that it could be captured in a story about a lost sock.
Riley's aunt and grammy read an essay of Riley's, and all I could think of then was shit, we lost a great writer. He started his piece like this, "Have you ever been bored playing right field?" and then there was, "The most interesting thing in right field that day was the smell of dew on the grass..." and then, "in my brain I thought I should run, and then I realized I was already running." Sweet, brilliant, baseball loving Riley wrote a piece that would break Robert McKee's heart, adhering in a completely natural and intuitive way to the art and science of story. I am so mad/sad that I won't get the chance to read more from Riley.
And then there was Suzanne, his excellent mother, doing the worst work a mother could ever have to do. She arrived for him, for us, full of life and wonder. In a gorgeous green lace dress that hugged every curve and could not have been a better celebration of the word green. Her blonde hair tumbled long around her face and her face was worn and tired and she was so beautiful I can't even tell you. I blew her a kiss between crowds of people.
We all walked a lap around the track together as part of a child-friendly way to honor a lost friend. Suzanne walked surrounded by a protective klatch of women. She was in front and the women fanned around and behind her. The sun shown, and they walked together.
During the service we sang the song Brave, a kind of pop, upbeat song. It felt good to sing and have the music move through us. I turned to watch the community bobbing together, and there, in the front row of the people standing was Suzanne. She had her eyes closed and her palms open to heaven, and she wasn't just bobbing, but she was dancing, really dancing, and then I closed my eyes and swayed with Eloise on my lap and let the tears slide down my face.
Riley's grandad told a story of teaching Riley to keep his eye on the ball in baseball. And that phrase has stuck with me. Keep your eye on the ball--it means remember what's important.
I woke up early and practiced my speaking parts twice. That was what I had written on my to do list the night before and that's what I went ahead and did. It was good too, because when I was up there onstage in front of everyone I lost my cue cards and had to go from memory.
I felt nervous for most of the day until I had been in the event space setting up for an hour and then I wasn't nervous any more. It felt like I was a part of the room and everything was normal, like it was just another day.
My favorite memory is of hearing everyone chat with one another, the gentle roar of a room full of women talking, the rumble of something coming so alive. I could have stood there all day listening to that. It was like a waterfall of goodness into my heart. There were moments when I stayed still so that the sound could fill me completely.
And when it was all over I especially enjoyed watching Tara take in the banner that we all created together. And I tried to imagine what it must be like for her these days, unlocking so many people's inner doors and watching what happens when she does.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the event. It was wonderful to be together.