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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: May, 2008


it is what we do on days like this.

we worry, yes. we scramble eggs. we pack lunches, thick with steak. we check on bedroom lights late into the night. make sure they’re off, and tousled heads are sleeping. we drive. deliver children to the schoolhouse door. and all day long, we keep an eye on clocks.

short of picking up a pencil, and rambling on with no idea whatsoever just what it is we’re trying to convince, to whomever is the teacher who dropped the year-end exam onto our quaking desk, we really haven’t many worldly options.

and so, we surrender.

we employ the mothertongue as ancient as any known. since first birth (and i mean at the dawn of time), i’d wager, there’ve been mothers who turn their words, their breaths, their whispered vespers over to on high.

we pray.

we fill in blanks with words that wash out from deep inside of us, and over us, and far into beyond.

we pray for hours if we have to, keeping on with all the rest we do. not letting on that deep inside there is prayer at work.

we drop to knees. we sprinkle holy water, head and chest and shoulders. we turn to east. we genuflect. we lay down and stretch our arms as high as we can reach. we venerate. we call on saints, and ones we love who are no longer, but might well come to the holy blessed rescue.

oh, yes.

i’ve seen heavy-hearted mothers, on their knees, crawl up great stone church steps, and down a long, long aisle that ripped their flesh but not their spirit, dead-set they were on laying down their knotted bundled prayers at the foot of a bare and marbled altar.

i’ve heard mothers ululate, sending untamed sounds to a place that understands, even if we’ve no idea just where that someplace is.

we pray, us mothers all, in many creeds and faiths and dialects, but always in one united tongue: we pray for our children.

we pray for what they need. we pray for what’s beyond our reach, but so help us, we’ll provide–if prayer can make it be.

there is an alchemy to prayer. a mysticism that cannot be explained. it is holy pleading raised to the nth power.

motherprayer needn’t be explained. we needn’t pass a test. we can pray that children make it ’cross the stage without tripping on their laces. and we can pray — just watch — that the blood test comes back clear.

this ordinary thursday i was pulled, like lunar moth to lamplight, into the great stone church i always pass. only, this morning, my footsteps fell into the dim-lit chamber, empty at that early hour. only dawn’s light poured through stained-glass windows, washed the floor in many-colored jigsaw puzzle. but that’s not why i came.

i came, because deep inside my ever-catholic heart, i knew i’d find a tall wax column, one with wick poking from the top. for all the quarters in my pocket, and all the ardor in my soul, it was mine to spark with light. and let burn through all the day, and into night.

it is motherprayer kindled. it is bathing, i am certain, the boy i love with all there is that i can’t solely muster.

i scrambled eggs. i nestled steak between the onion bun. i squeezed his hand. and kissed him on the head.

and then i watched him lope into the classroom, where three last exams stack up like hurdles, the only thing between one long hard year and summer.

i knew, as i watched him go, that he wasn’t all alone. i could see a bright light shining. incandescence lit his way.

never mind that its flame was back at church, miles and miles away.

that candle wraps him, shields him. that candle gives him might, of the sort he needs today.

i know. i lit it with a motherprayer. and motherprayer is infinite and lasts forever.

motherprayer picks up, where earthly mother cannot reach.

motherprayer is wholly holy. and Holiness has ears, i’ve learned, for all that’s spilled in never-ending prayer of mother.

even if She whispers not her sure reply, i always know the Holy Answers echo back to me, and mine.

that’s how it is with motherprayer. and that is why, on days like this, i pray with all my motherheart.

prayer is many things. it is words. it is wordless. it is surging from the soul. it is, sometimes, practicing God’s presence. it is invoking all the angels and powers most supreme. no one religion holds a lock on prayer. it is hardwired into who we are. mothers surely aren’t the only ones who pray, it’s simply that our prayer–coming from a naked place that knows so wholly those who once leaned on us for breath and beating heart–is absolute and unbreakable. what motherprayer have you prayed? who motherprayed for you?

worm rescue

the rains pelted hard all morning. ruined any notion of lobbing balls out back, or sliding into home. canoeing, maybe, from home to first, but no knees-first, belly-flopper onto base. not without a periscope and flippers.

when it slowed, at last, came more like the dribble from a cranky faucet that won’t quite shut off, the two of us–one of whom had been pouting at the soggy windowsill–decided it was the perfect interlude for the age-old constitutional: the walk, just after rain.

in fact, i told the little one, as we slid our arms into the yellow rubber sleeves of our water-fighting armor, as the little one insisted he make the duck umbrella burp and stretch out her wiry ribs, this was a made-to-order meteorological moment for a pair of sidewalk crusaders.

it’s nouns like that, i tell you, that perk up a little boy’s ears. he looked right at me with that umbrella already doubling as a sword. crusaders, i could hear his little brain gears crunching in dismay, what does she know about crusades?

“it’s worm rescue weather,” i told him, stepping out the door and over the rivulet running east along the stoop. “this is when the worms come out, thinking they’ll just grab a little gulp of rain. but then, sometimes, the rains dry up and the poor worms are stranded, right there on all the sidewalks.”

i leapt right in, waited not for him to play along. or even sign a waiver of intent.

“here wormy, wormy, wormy,” i called, scanning here and there for a waylaid invertebrate, a worm who’d lost his way, a worm, by golly, who’d had far too much to drink, and could not slither home. or just gave in to wormly je-ne-sais-quoi. ennui, perhaps. of the earthworm ilk. up and called it quits in the middle of a concrete wasteland.

the little one–too young to drop me by the hand and sprint, too old to merely play along–interrupted.

“hey, mom, i don’t think that’s gonna work,” he said. “i think that just works for a cat or a dog. but then you have to say their name, the cat’s name or the dog’s name. doggy, doggy doesn’t work. and wormy wormy doesn’t either.”


he had a point, but i had little option. no worms i knew had names. or not that i’d been told. so i kept my eyes to the task. scanned all the way to the corner. but didn’t see a worm. only a stick, that i thought–from far away–might have wiggled once or twice, but upon close inspection, didn’t.

it was then, faced with sidewalk north or east, that i asked: “which way has the most worm potential?”

to which he answered, proud with logic: “why would i know that? i’m not a worm.”

have you noticed that kids these days have surrendered their imaginations? ah, but then, he came through with plain old common sense, imagination’s reliable–if not inventive–relation.

“anyways, mom, can i tell you something?” he asked, not slowing for an answer. “there’s a robin. so, bingo, there must be worms somewhere.”

crouching down, the boy who claimed no insight into worm brainworks, began talking to a peachy-breasted bird: “robin, find a worm for us.”

on command, the bird bobbed down its head, and came up with squirmy object, as requested. the robin, though, failed to cough it up, instead feasting on its over-sodden insides.

it took three more blocks of worm patrol before, at last, we found a spineless wonder stranded on the walk.

it had inches to go before it made it back to dirt and grass where it stood a chance of escaping errant tricycles, or big flat soles that paid no mind to where they landed.

as i knelt down to teach the tender art of lifting on a stick, and plopping on the grass, my trusty sidekick kicked in, all right.

“oh, worm,” he started in, “just to tell you, you’re disgusting.” and then to robin on a limb: “oh, robin, here’s a worm.”

it is slow teaching, this curriculum of tenderness toward all things living, and even those that aren’t.

as long as they’ve been watching, the boys i call my own have known their mama to be some sort of creepy-crawler ferry. on a mission from God, perhaps, to let no winged thing, or multi-limbed one either, suffer crushing fate, or die in wad of toilet paper.

why, heck, they tell their friends, she carries ants and flies, and even bumblebees, out of doors, to set them free. in the dead of winter, egad, she lets them loose down in the cellar where it’s warm enough for a cold-blooded critter.

and now, in turn, i watch the older one do the same.

the little one, though, is waffling. on the fence about these here creatures from the deep and darkside.

but there’s hope, i sense.

stay with me here, as we leave the world of bugs and travel to a new car showroom.

just the other night, we found a wee sedan, a shiny black one, to replace the only one my little one had ever known.

when the man in shiny pin-striped suit spelled out the deal, said in no uncertain terms we had to turn in the old and not-so-shiny auto, the little one broke into tears that would not stop.

half an hour later, the tears still poured. not even lemonade and kisses squelched the flow. not even big screen tv, with baseball nearly big as life, squawking in the little room where they make you dawdle while they write up all the zeroes.

his face all red and splotchy, the worm-resistor whispered in my ear: “can i go give the car a kiss goodbye?”

and so, by the hand i took the boy i’m teaching to be full of heart. we walked into the greasy place marked, service. where they stripped the trusty car of its old plates, and emptied out its trunk, with nowhere near the honor, by the way, that it deserved.

my little one leaned on the hood, blessed the car with tender kiss, then stretched his arms as far as he could reach around the grill. he laid his cheek onto the hood. and squeezed with all his might.

he might not have mastered the fat and squirmy earthworm, but he showed the other night, there’s quite a heart inside that little chest.

next time it rains, we’ll try again to beat the robins, and rescue stranded nameless creatures who have no legs to get them where they’re headed.

who taught you tenderness? in what form did the lessons come?
oh, by the way, forgive the squirmy photo up above. oops. hope it didn’t make you spit your coffee out. if only i’d had a camera at the car shop. but in my mind, it’s a picture i will never ever forget. the boy who ached to leave his first, best car.

breakfast of champions

the little one was shlurping up the last bit of waffle a la jam, running way behind this morn, when he called out, “excuse me, can i have my sports section?”

he didn’t seem to mind the strawberry dribble running down his cheek. but he did mind when i–the one charged with shushing him out the door and down the sidewalk, somehow sweeping to the schoolhouse door before the whistle blew–did not oblige.

demurred, in fact, with a simple, and emphatic, “no, sweetheart, we’re late.”

still gulping, he protested: “but you can’t interrupt my morning schedule.”

oh. so sorry. hadn’t realized, sir, that what we had here was a routine, a way of being, a moment on which the day depended.

of course i’d noticed that, morning after morning for the last few days, while the rice chex soak up milk, you, my slugger sweet, soak up RBIs and ERAs and all those alphabet equations that long ago and always have escaped me.

but i had not heard the sound of cement drying, and this becoming what it’s been for ages long before you and who knows how long into the beyond: the rite of little boys and sometimes girls obsessed with all things round and flying through the air, cracking off of wooden sticks and diving through the dirt.

you have joined the ranks, my little reader, of those whose day begins with the shaking out and creasing of the pages where all the world’s a horserace or a ballgame or a wobbly putt rolling toward what might be a rodent hole but, in fact, was put there for the purpose of men and women wearing god-awful-colored pants and shoes with little nails jutting out from underneath the toes.

you, too, now scour the front page, search for what you call the headline, the score of last night’s game. and then, you bore inside. you up and rise off your stool or chair, you dive head-first into the somethings you call “the standings.” you report, out loud, all sorts of names and numbers. and by then i’ve lost you, i am sad to say.

just this morning, as i combed the house for keys, ran back for one last swallow of caffeine, you were broadcasting in spanish, no less, spitting out the scores–“quatro to uno,” you barked–for those who cared not to know in english.

quite impressive, little boy. you who months ago could have cared no less for all those scribbles on the page. you who thought you’d never read a number or decipher all the letters crowded there together, a herd masquerading as a word.

in a world where newspapers are whirling at the center of a storm, where few and fewer see the economic sense of printing news on paper and plopping it on your doorstep–such service, and such fear, will we go the way of the milkman and the knife sharpener, those door-to-door deliverers of goods and service, long lost–someone needs to understand the power of the third section from the front. the one marked plainly, sports.

it is from here that whole lives of depending on the news are born, are launched, are set in motion.

i have watched it time and time again. my brothers, four, my own boys, first one, and now the other.

it is reading, yes. but it is so much more. it is learning how in this dog-race world you measure up. it is boiling down the game of running bases to charts and graphs and teeny-tiny type. it is drama on the field–and life–condensed to bare-bone stats.

it is the way a boy with spoon in soggy flakes first reaches out beyond his little world, into that of world beyond.

what’s on the screen at night, becomes his in the morning, there in black-on-white, just beside his cheerios and wheaties, his waffles and his raisin toast.

it is the breakfast of champions, with a splash of milk. and orange juice on the side. hold the pulp, please. pass the syrup.

i find it wholly charming to watch as little boy begins to sift through all the chaos of the world, and claim as his the simple practice of nose-diving deep into the sports page.

at least you get no grass stains sliding into home.

do you make sense of your world through daily rituals? how and when did you learn to order your day through the religious practice of some sense-making routine? do you too have your breath taken away watching little children grow, take on the ways of grownups all too soon?


her teeny-tiny trumpets now have fallen to the ground, a carpet down below of brown-skinned souvenirs of what was.

her perfume, too, is lost. dissipated. lost to world beyond. the world of car exhaust and dryer fumes, lawn mower smoke and bacon burning on the griddle. the world of spring parading on.

lily-of-the-valley’s up next, the beauty queen whose reign is on the rise, demanding our attention as she sticks up and out her tender neck, heavy with those nodding bells that lure you to your knees so you can get a whiff.

she, my sweet viburnum, is just barely hanging on. my fragrant friend, on her final exhalations, and then she’s gone.

i thought it worth returning one more time. to pay heed to the notion that sometimes, oftentimes, we lose what left us dizzy. besotted. utterly and simply with head up in the clouds.

it–the thing that had us swooning, considering a cartwheel–is but an interlude. precious. sacred. it’s here and then it’s merely memory.

and it is the evanescence, the here-then-gone, that yanks our hearts, and stirs us, whispers in our ear: bless this moment, it is fleeting, always. like the tide, it washes in, trickles up the sand, and spills again, returning to the sea, the lake, the deep beyond.

but you knew that already. and so did i.

somehow, though, pausing, bowing as she passes, seems the thing to do. she is beauty fading, waning, drifting to the earth below in perfume-petaled snowflakes.

left behind, up where once she preened, she is little more than one last trumpet and a clutch of stubby little necks, each with head cut off, not unlike a clump of grapes denuded of its succulence. naked, as my mother calls the plucked-off concord stems, can’t abide them, cleans the mess with scissors, reprimands those who dare to leave behind a skeleton of what had been the clump of grapes.

so it is with viburnum on the distal end.

it is time then to genuflect, to drop our heads and thank the hardy bush, the one that asks for no attention, makes no demands all year. except for that single week or two when she is joy ascending, bursting, beckoning all who wander by within an acre of her puff-puff-puffing tailpipes, spewing ’round-the-clock, top-secret nose-bewitching formula.

she reminds, as she fades from foreground to unnoticed backdrop, that we all, all of us, have our shining moments, and then for 50 other weeks of every year we simply breathe and reach for sunshine, and swallow rain, because without it we’d be parched.

and she signals, too, this passing thought: even when we appear as ordinary as a bush with plain old leaves, we have, somewhere deep inside, what it takes to be a momentary, holy, neck-craning, oh-my-goodness-did-you-see-that-smell-that-sense-that source of radiance.

most of the time, day in and day out, we are not so much something to write home about. we are ordinary. waking. chewing. making beds. chasing after dreams. hauling out the trash.

but in any given moment–depending on what’s asked of us, how deeply we dig down into the luminescence that dwells inside–we, like sweet viburnum early in the month of may, can become holy transcendence.

we can exude a sweetness, and all that’s truly wholly fine. step out from our ordinariness and remind the world: even a plain old bush, when given half a chance, can assume a stance of unabating beauty.

and when she fades, she is radiant still. it’s only that she cloaks it beneath her humble plumage.

come her turn again, she’ll show the world of what she’s made.

and that, it seems, is why she’s more than earned her post just beyond my kitchen window. she never fails to wow me, even in her faded, lasting wisdom.

once again, the gospel of the garden.

fading. coming and going. rise and fall. these are the universal themes of life, and surely of the seasons. ecclesiastes, i believe, spells it out. and year after year, the lesson is repeated and repeated. what lessons does the springtime bring to you? who are your teachers in the world abloom around you?

lucy’s story: what you didn’t yet read

there is more. there is always, always more.

sometimes, when i am writing a story for the newspaper, it actually hurts to leave out whole chunks of what i’ve gathered. a hundred thousand times i’ve cut and cried, leaning mightily on the words of one mr. hemingway: “a story’s only as good as what you leave on the cutting room floor.” it’s a line we whisper to ourselves as we wave goodbye to bits and threads we love, but cannot use. only so much you can squeeze onto those blank white pages, before they wrap the next day’s fish. or, in the case of my mother, line her birdcage.

lucy’s story, the one i told on mother’s day, is one of those ones that would have left me aching, feeling unfinished, if not for this holy sacred place where there is always room to finish every story.

my job, as storyteller, is to propel the reader through the piece, to condense, refine, suggest, spell out, depending on the day and space.

my preference, as storyteller, is to meander. to take my time, peek in corners, poke beneath the covers. listen. really, really closely. let whole thoughts unspool, and not just cut and grab.

i understand, of course, that readers mostly want to get to the point, and then move on to tidy up the kitchen table, get the kiddies out the door, pick up the dry cleaning. be done with it.

but this place here, this table with so many chairs, is wholly discretionary. you take it, or you leave it. this is whipped cream and maraschino cherries. you don’t have to pick just one, eenie-meenie-minie-moe.

so curl up, rest your chin on your palms, and your elbows on the table’s edge.

there is more to tell you about blessed lucy, and her mama rosa, the two i introduced you to just yesterday, or if you picked up a chicago tribune, you might have met them back on mother’s day.

for you just joining us, lucy graduated saturday with a degree in bioengineering from the university of illinois at chicago. she’s been in a wheelchair since she was 9. she found out when she was four that she had a rare degenerative disease, spinal muscular atrophy, which has left her arms and legs rag-doll limp, unable even to turn the pages in a heavy book, sometimes too tired to lift a peanut-butter sandwich to her lips.

her mama, rosa, has been the arms and legs that lucy cannot use. for six years. all through college.

she has opened doors, laid out books and papers, cut up lucy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. at night, she rolls her, side-to-side, three times before the dawn.

i condensed all of this in the story. but what i didn’t get to spell out were some of the everyday obstacles that would have felled a lesser duo.

for instance, lucy and her mama–who is not fluent in english–rode the CTA’s blue line train every day to campus, a one-hour ride if all unfolded as it should have. but, often, it did not.

sometimes, the elevator in the train station near campus wouldn’t work, so lucy and her mama would have to re-board the next incoming train, take it on downtown, where they would transfer to another line, and take that train back out to campus, to a station that didn’t require an elevator.

or, sometimes, when it rained, lucy would worry that the rain would muck up the battery that operates her wheelchair, which would loosen the cable to her joystick, and she’d be stuck–with a 420-pound wheelchair that her mother couldn’t push if she wanted to.

just last week, riding in for her very last exam, a two-hour grueler in her hardest class, lucy spilled a bit of gatorade from the bottle she was sipping during the ride. the sticky liquid got into the battery of her wheelchair, and when they got to campus, to take the exam, the wheelchair wouldn’t work. they had to turn around, go home, get the back-up chair, and start the trip again.

“good thing i hadn’t gotten around to giving away the old chair,” she said matter-of-factly. good thing, too, she added, she’d originally set out for campus four hours before the exam.

earlier in the semester, the only elevator in the building where she took her hardest class was broken for a week. she had to miss a whole week’s lectures, relying on the notes that someone else took for her, never quite totally grasping every concept in a class called Pattern Recognition, which has something to do with understanding how an automated machine–say, an MRI–analyzes data to make a diagnosis.

for a woman who takes half an hour just to write one page of painstakingly-looped letters and words and sentences, she said there was nothing she could do but watch closely as her lab partners precisely measured out chemicals–in fractions of a milliliter, sometimes–with the glass pipettes that are so essential and so taken for granted in every science lab.

same thing, she said, when it came to intricate wiring that had to be tracked and secured for circuit panels in a bio-instrumentation lab. she watched, and absorbed without the tactile learning that comes from fingering each wire, screw and micro-tool.

but what sticks with me as much as the heartache over how hard her road was, and how she not once complained, is what lucy had to say about her unshakable faith, once lost, now found. and a friend whose light still illuminates her way.

“when i was little i was real religious,” said lucy, sitting in a study room in the engineering building at UIC last week. “when i stopped walking, i became an atheist at the age of nine.

“i was depressed from nine to 15. ‘why did i have to be born with a disability?’ i kept thinking.

“but then i thought about how would the world be different if everyone was perfect? would everybody be super vain? they would never think of helping anybody else. what if? when i finally accepted my disability, it felt like a lot of bricks had been lifted off me.”

lucy, who is 24 now, says she wouldn’t change one thing in her life. “i’m not blind, i can hear, i can speak, i can use my mind. i think i finally just got tired of being depressed. i thought, ‘i’m never gonna walk, why be sad about it?’ being sad about it, isn’t going to change it.”

it was a college religion class, one on catholicism, actually, that really opened her heart, she says. the class was assigned to read one of the writings of Pope John Paul II, who suffered from parkinson’s disease. the writing, an encyclical titled, “The Gospel of Life,” she says, revolutionized her thinking about her own disabilities.

“i used to feel like a disability was a punishment. after reading the pope, i realized it’s another beautiful form of life.”

reading the pope’s words, she said, “kind of helped me bring my faith back in God.”

her mother, rosa, never lost it. even though she says her deepest desire is to see lucy stand and walk.

“you know why i think God is very good,” rosa asks. “lucy cannot walk; my other daughter can. what i can’t see in one, i see in the other.” it is the same, she says, with her two sons, one of whom is in a wheelchair (and a freshman at the university of illinois at urbana-champaign), and one of whom is not.

this, from a mother who must speak up for her daughter in the cafeteria line, because lucy’s disease won’t allow her to speak much louder than an amplified whisper. she can’t bark out a request for the baked ziti that is her very favorite lunch.

the one thing that lucy still misses, she says, is her privacy.

“before i’d hide notes all over my room. after i stopped walking, i couldn’t keep anything hidden. everybody always had to know everything.”

lucy says she learned patience from her best friend, giovanna, whom she met when she was eight, and who died when she was 13, from SMA, the same disease that lucy has.

“she taught me to have patience. i didn’t want people to help me, i wanted to do everything for myself. when i first met her i could walk. to all of a sudden be in a wheelchair…”

it was practically unbearable, lucy says. giovanna, she adds, “taught me determination.”

giovanna was full of grace, as lucy tells it. and giovanna, i think, bequeathed her grace to lucy.

and that is most of what i wanted to tell you about two fine souls who rolled into my life last week, and now will never leave.

one of them, a woman who finds justice in the divine equation that has two of her four children in wheelchairs, motoring around college campuses, refusing to rein in their dreams, now inspiring far beyond the boundaries of their colleges.

the other, a woman who sees the wisdom–and the beauty–in a world where our imperfections compel us to reach beyond our limits, to be each others’ arms and legs and hopes and dreams.

those are the lessons i learned at work this week.

it is no wonder why i call this storytelling business not just a job but a holy sacred calling. how blessed i am.

how blessed, lucy and rosa trevino, not trapped at all by a life in a 420-pound chair on wheels. but rather, teaching as they roll, inspiring as we lope behind, trying to catch their holy shining wisdom.

bless you if you stayed to read this story. it was long, i know. but it feels so deeply essential. your thoughts….

the photo above is one i took at lucy’s graduation. months ago, she ordered that certificate of gratitude for her mother, just for graduation day. because the print is small, i’ll spell it out: “thank you for all your love and support. i would not be where i am today if it wasn’t for you. i feel so grateful to have you in my life. today is my day, but i dedicate it to you.”
and then she signed it, lucy trevino. it took minutes to push the pen through those 11 proud but simple letters.
the lilac chiffon you see behind the certificate, and the sturdy hands, those belong to rosa, who was beaming all day saturday, mexican mother’s day.

lucy’s story

i promised, and i always try to keep a promise. i told you i would have something beautiful and wonderful for you to read, to start your week, to tuck in your heart. to give you wings, in the hours and the minutes when you feel empty, out of gas and maybe even hope.

a week ago this morning, i dialed the number to a woman whose name i’d just learned was lucy trevino. a soft, clear voice answered. i told her who i was and why i was calling. she nearly squeaked: “i can’t believe this. i can’t believe you would think of writing my story.”

i thought, all right. thought all week, and can’t stop thinking. every once in a rare while, i get to tell a story that i can’t help but think might change some lives, might plant a holy seed, where one is needed. you never know when you cast a sacred pebble in the waters, just how wide and far that rippled ring will flow.

sometimes, i make a wish, or maybe really it’s a prayer, as i stand at the water’s edge, about to make my toss. whispering, blessing each and every word and sentence, praying that the story finds its way to where it deeply does belong.

i prayed wholly and mightily on this one. lucy trevino and her mama, rosa, are magnificent beyond words. they are humble, shy, but fierce when it comes to not being teetered off the narrow path to their undying dream.

as promised, i share with you a story i believe in with all my heart. it’s a bit longer than we usually meander here, but i want you to always have a place to find it, when you need a little oomph toward your own dreams.

from the chicago tribune….

Lucy’s mom was there

By Barbara Mahany | Tribune reporter
May 11, 2008

Lucy Trevino’s mother cuts peanut-butter-on-whole-wheat into bite-size squares, unscrews a strawberry-kiwi juice and holds the bottle to her daughter’s lips so Lucy can get through lunch and make it back to class.

 She riffles through Lucy’s lavender backpack to find the lab report for BioE 494, bioengineering-based physiology. When the cell phone rings, she holds it to her daughter’s ear. She zips her coat. Unfolds a tissue, puts it to her mouth, trying to be discrete, so Lucy can ditch a wad of gum.

And before all this, she has slipped her into jeans, tied her shoes, smeared toothpaste on her toothbrush and combed her thick black hair into a perfect ponytail.

Lucy Trevino’s mother was right behind her firstborn daughter all through college—sometimes trying to shove through mounds of snow, or maneuver up an icy ramp if her motorized wheelchair balked. When they got stuck, her mother pulled out her cell phone to call maintenance and ask if someone could please come clear the walks.

Over the last six years, Rosa Trevino also became fluent in the CTA’s Blue Line and Pink Line, as the mother and daughter made their way five days a week from home, a red-brick two-flat in Cicero, to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Lucy Trevino graduated Saturday from UIC with a degree in bioengineering, and the dean stopped the commencement of the Class of 2008 to tell of the Trevinos’ triumph. He barely made it, he said, without breaking into tears.

For the six years it took to get through one of the most rigorous programs in the College of Engineering, it was Rosa—a tad shy and always thinking two steps ahead—who got her daughter to every class, lab and study session. She knew which text and notebook to lay on Lucy’s desk. And she turned the pages when a heavy book tired Lucy’s hands.

For two or three hours, as Lucy absorbed lectures in calculus or thermodynamics or circuit analysis, Rosa sat not far away, just in case Lucy needed a sip of water or began choking.

Lucy, who is 24, was told she had a rare genetic degenerative disease, spinal muscular atrophy, when she was 4. SMA is a progressive disease that withers the muscles that control the arms, legs and lungs, and can make breathing a struggle.

Lucy’s type of SMA usually takes away your ability to walk by the time you’re in your teens—she began using a wheelchair at age 9—but unlike some other types, doesn’t necessarily affect life span.

Lucy, who is the oldest of four, has a younger brother, Hugo, who has the same disease. He, too, uses a wheelchair; he’s a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying architecture.

Parental dedication

“Lucy’s story is about the sacrifices our mothers make for all of us,” said Pete Nelson, interim dean of UIC’s engineering college. Trevino’s teachers, he said, “were pounding down my door” to ask for some recognition for this mother-daughter feat of unconditional devotion.

At UIC, where nearly a third of the students are the first in a family to go to college, Nelson said it’s not uncommon to hear tales of parents working two or three jobs, sending money from overseas and just plain struggling so their kids can get what parents weren’t afforded.

“But this is sort of the pinnacle in terms of the amount of dedication,” Nelson said. “This is what makes this business worthwhile.”

One of the professors pounding on Nelson’s door was Michael Cho, who teaches mostly graduate courses in cell and tissue engineering, but who has gotten to know—and has been amazed by—the ubiquitous mother-daughter duo, so often spotted wending their way up a ramp, on or off an elevator, or tucked away studying in some secluded corner.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is this can’t be anything else but a mother’s love,” Cho said. “It goes beyond commitment. It is sacrificial love. And I am just overwhelmed. It’s not just one month or one semester. It’s every day for the last four years that I can think of.”

In fact, it’s six years, because Lucy had to take time off when she got really sick her junior year; she suddenly couldn’t lift her arms and was quickly losing memory.

It took months before a sleep test showed she stopped breathing 30 times an hour when she was asleep. She now sleeps with a machine that helps her breathe, and, within a week of using it, she said, she regained her memory, if not her arm strength.

“Ever since I was little, I loved science,” said Lucy, who shares her mother’s deep cocoa-colored eyes and rolls around campus in a purple wheelchair with back wheels that sparkle, like fireworks, with tiny neon bits. “Because I went to doctors a lot and had a lot of medical exams, I would always wonder, ‘How do those devices work?’ ”

In her senior year at Morton West High School in Berwyn, Trevino learned from a counselor about a summer camp in bioengineering at UIC, so she signed up, and found her life’s work.

She once dreamed of working to find a cure for her own disease, but decided “it would be too stressful if I couldn’t find it.”

The first one in her family to ever go to college, Lucy Trevino said she was “too afraid” to venture down to the U. of I. in Urbana-Champaign, where there’s a whole dorm for students with disabilities, and the nation’s oldest college-level disabilities-services program provides trained personal assistants, physical therapy, even wheelchair repairs.

“I didn’t know if I should risk going all the way down there,” she said.

Sticking closer to home seemed like a better plan. But because UIC doesn’t have a personal-assistants program, she was stuck trying to find someone who could help her in a thousand little ways and be there whenever she needed.

“In college, you have such a crazy schedule. You stay after to study with other students. You need to talk to a professor. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, how am I going to find someone who’s going to put up with all of that?’

“My mom was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go with you.’

“And then it was getting closer to the start of the first semester, and I still hadn’t found anybody. She said, ‘How would you feel if I went with you?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, would you?’ ”

Because Rosa Trevino, who is 47 and moved from Mexico when she was 17, had two children with special needs, she had long since become a stay-at-home mom, giving up a series of baby-sitting jobs. Rosa’s husband, Hugo, retired last year after 32 years as a CTA bus driver. Rosa herself had never even been to high school.

On the day back in 1987 when doctors said her little girl would “someday need a wheelchair,” Rosa recalled, crying at the memory, she promised herself she would do “everything I can.”

Mother keeps busy

Even if that meant sitting through more than 2,100 hours of 51 classes, countless study sessions and hourlong train rides, back and forth, each day. Most often, Lucy said with a laugh, her mother spends time cutting recipes and coupons, because she gets bored with all the bioengineering in a language she doesn’t fully understand.

At first, Lucy admitted, going to college with her mother wasn’t exactly without its bumps.

“I had never spent so much time together with my mom. We would sometimes get on each other’s nerves,” she said, chuckling. “But then we got to know each other really well. We’re like best friends. Now I tell her everything. Before I wouldn’t tell her everything that happens when you have a disability. People who aren’t in a wheelchair can’t understand. But now, since we do everything together, she knows.”

Semester after semester, year after year, Lucy and her mother found a way. She passed 400-level exams. She wrote up labs that took her twice the time of everyone else, simply because the pushing of a pen on paper is so hard for her.

Once, a civil engineering professor noticed that because of Lucy’s wheelchair, she couldn’t write on her desk. He challenged her to design a lightweight writing table. Then he went and built it. She got an A.

Mostly, the Trevinos relied on each other, and on unflagging faith.

“One time, I think in the night, almost for an hour, I cried to on high, ‘Why me? Why me?’ ” Rosa said. “I heard a voice, ‘Why not me?’ ”

For those who watched their unswerving perseverance, the simple fact that the Trevinos never stumbled inscribed a lasting honor on Lucy’s college transcript.

“One time last year,” Lucy said, “a student told me she’d felt like ditching class, staying home. But then she looks and says, ‘There’s Lucy, she’s always here. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just lazy.’

“Wow, I didn’t even think that anyone noticed me.”

In the very end, on a Mother’s Day weekend in the red-carpeted UIC Pavilion, as Nelson saluted a student and a mother who had taught them all a lasting lesson, a sea of Lucy’s blue-gowned classmates rose and nearly drowned out the dean with a thunderous two-minute ovation. Chances are Lucy and Rosa Trevino finally understood how very much a whole college noticed.

your thoughts, my blessed friends? if you can even muster words…. next meander: lucy’s backstory, what i didn’t get to say in the paper…

no reason ’cept she’s beautiful…

no reason cept she's beautiful

i guess maybe you’ll think you need to call the doctor. dial up some prescription for that poor lady who cannot haul herself in from out beneath the smelly bush.

oh, my, the neighbors soon will whisper. why, i saw her there, just the other night, they’ll say. all curled up and sleeping. didn’t seem to mind the rain. she lay there, drip, drip, drip. till morning. when she stirred, and stretched and, dang, she took another picture, that lady did. seems she’s up and lost her mind over that there vi-bur-num.

fear not, friends. it’s just that, well, i couldn’t very well tuck that lovely rain-laced beauty queen away in some old box with mothballs to keep it from crumbling. i had to lay it out, so you could see. sort of like when folks invite you in for coffee, then make sure to leave all the baby books right there on the cushions of the couch, and you can’t help but flip the pages and coo the mandatory ooohs, and ahhhs.

the other thing is simply this: it’s the very end of a long, long week, and looking at that picture (although here it looks a little fuzzy, which it did not before it landed here. oh, well…) is sort of like putting on your old holey jammies, the ones you would not wear out the house. the ones you would race to change, even before the fire fighters got there, if you’d had to call and beg their services.

it’s just a friday night, is all, and rather than curling up with ice cream and a trashy novel, i thought, oh, heck, why not wander over to the table. put out some new fresh flowers. pretty things up for the weekend.

this is, of course, that day we mamas wait for, yessirree. that day when we do the shopping, make the quiche, invite the friends, and call it mother’s day brunch. oh, wait. it’s not like that at your house? hmm. well, it is at mine.

mostly, i’m unwinding from a week that stretched my heart from here to there, and back again. my computer went kerpluey. which was not so very fun. no, not at all.

and, then, i stumbled upon a story so sweet and so delicious, i am still trying to get the drippy stains off of my chest. actually, they might be dried-up tears, because i’m not like those hard-boiled, tough-skinned news chicks on tv. oh no. i don’t pretend that it’s just a story, and i am there to scribble notes.


i fall hard sometimes. really really hard.

thing is, i realized this week that, for me, writing stories is the most fervent prayer i pray. it is wholly sacred, i tell you, to sit and listen as some fine someone unfurls her story. and i, collecting words like rosary beads, just snatch and string each one. bead after bead, story after story. until the tale is told.

when i’m in the gather mode, scooping up so many beads, i do ask a million questions. once, someone laughed and called me a human vacuum cleaner. hmm.

well, i do tend to ask for a few thousand teeny-tiny details. and, then, because i can’t help myself, i whip up my newsgirl lasso and swing it first in little circles once or twice, then i cast it out, wide and sweeping. often, this is where the things that someones say humble me to tears. if you listen long enough, you can’t help but hear some mighty wisdom.

other times i tiptoe on the ledge, inching close as i can inch to just short of that place where the teller of the story, would say, oh no. that i cannot, will not, tell.

when it’s over, when the last story is spilled, and folks are starting to yawn, i gather all my beads, sweep them up and stuff them in my satchel.

then, back home, i sit down before the magic keys and close my eyes, and pray to God to be that holy pencil, i so often refer to.

what i pray for, is that the pulsing beauty of the everyday psalm–as the brilliant chicago photographer, john white, once referred to the capturing of the uncommonly common street story–oozes through the words that just come spilling out, and fill the page.

then i send it off and wait. i have this little picture in my head. i imagine some sort of gold dust, from the spirit of the story’s essence, rubbing off, onto the fingers and the heart of every someone who takes the time to sit and pick up that day’s news, and, then, just happens to bumble on the one i stitched my heart in, and reads along, to the very end.

i imagine, this mother’s day especially, a whole city glowing gold, as, one-by-one, a story’s read and passed along. i imagine a whole city shining.

or at least that’s what i pray. and why i think the work i do each day is really nothing more than the finest prayer i ever learned to pray.

and that’s what i’m thinking about this lovely evening. lying here, beneath that raindrop-christened bush, where all is beautiful these smelly days and nights.

oh, and besides, the nice computer man told me to fool around here and see if he’d chased out all the critters that were gunking up the gears. so let me just push this one little button here, and see….

promise, soon as i can i will share with you the story that has me at once so giddy, and so very tired, this late late friday night.

it’s sunday now. the computer went kerpluey again. but i think we’ve now done the proper voodoo. at least i hope so. tomorrow morn, when all is quiet, and i am fully breathing once again, i will post the lucy story, and share with you the lovely bits that had to fall to the cutting room floor. ol’ dear mr. hemingway once said, a story is only as good as what’s left on the cutting room floor. and that fine maxim has been the novacaine to get me through plenty a painful cutting session. ouch. it always hurts. but this here blog, i now realize is a fine remedy, a way to still get to tell some of the pieces of the story that i think you’ll love. lucy trevino and her mama, rosa, are my heroes of this day. a more amazing love story i’ve not heard in a long long while….check out the tribune’s website today, or come back tomorrow, and i’ll have the story here….


at last, i couldn’t leave her there outside my window. no longer could i resist her fine allure, the unrelenting airwaves, the ones she sent my way, through windows cracked for air, and that little tiny space where the door jamb’s never snugly fit and, in the winter, lets in refrigerated winds.

ever since my spicy viburnum bravely boldly bared her inner workings, i’ve been underneath her spell. i wake and breathe her in. i dilly-dally not too far away, pretending i am plucking sticks or stones, when really i am only getting drunk. on her sweet perfume, and the way she coyly cocks her head.

this morning, i admit, i was overcome. basically went bonkers.

if temptation were a teeter-totter, and resisting took a careful balance, well, then, i sank. smack hard, i fell. and off i tumbled. gave in completely to the whims of spring.

what knocked me down was this: suddenly i realized the equation here was wholly out of balance. out the door, and down two steps, all was swirling. a soup of spicy honey notes, lolling through the open sky and down my breathing tubes.

but just inside, where i cook and burn things right and left, all i could mostly smell was blackened broccoli from the night before.

so i did the only thing i could. i balanced out the smells. i reached beneath the sink, grabbed my felco no. 2’s, the pruning tool of choice, and i went and clipped not one, not two, but three. ouch, and ouch, and ouch.

i winced, but couldn’t help myself. and that blessed bush didn’t even whimper. just openly surrendered the fruits of all her labors. i think she understood that to be brought inside is a worthy sacrifice.

crowning glories are what they are, those soft pink petals the color of an oyster’s inner sanctum, and now they fill my house.

so help me, as i sit and type, two whole rooms away, and down a hall and steps besides, i could close my eyes and think she’s just beneath my nose, perfuming every molecule, invigorating all my typing.

is she not a beauty queen, preening there upon my window sill? i can barely stand how beautiful she is.

in fact, i can’t stand to leave her where she is, alone upon the sill. so now i’ve taken to making like a bridesmaid, carrying her, in her little vase, wherever it is i traipse.

it’s quite a fine design. she sits there sipping waters; i go about my whole day’s business. so far, she’s only made it up and down the stairs and ’round the house. but any minute now i must trek outside, down the block, and over to the school where my little boy is learning. do you think i might get funny looks?

oh, well, who cares. there are those who’ll understand. and those who don’t, oh, well.

i’m sure as sure can be, that, come nightfall, when at last the day’s staccato quiets down, and her soothing comes in mighty handy, i’ll carry her to bed with me. i’ll tuck her in, right beside my pillow, and whisper my good nights.
while i dream of sweet and soft and spicy stories, she’ll keep watch and fill the midnight and the dawn with the dwindling notes of her complete surrender.

this is the end of my sweet viburnum’s story. i might check in on the day she fades away. but for now her story’s over. bless you who read along. and may you too be touched by the miracles of spring, who offer up their essence for our most essential joy. if we only pay attention.


sometimes, silence is the most eloquent salutation.

and so, this heady morning, when the fireworks are kerpow-pow-powing in the tangles of my sweet viburnum…

and the clouds of unrelenting fine perfume are puff-puff-puffing overtime, yanking by the nostrils even otherwise distracted passersby–the dogwalkers, the kids plugged into pods of every decibel, the phalanxes of exer-chicks, the ones who strut in stretchy black, clocking mile after mile…

(i have seen them, yessiree, lift their noses, sniff, and turn their heads, straining to spy the chimney such deliciousness is coming from, as if i’d been baking sugar buns, and the evidence, invisible but un-missable, was wafting to the sidewalk)…

i leave you, then, this morning with little more than the best my bush can offer: a quiet moment’s contemplation, and a simple prayer.

that the full-tilt of this spring’s unfolding has somehow seeped inside your soul, your lungs, your step, your heart. that you, like me, are tingling with the aliveness of the holy, noisy world that comes but once a year. the birds who can’t stop warbling, trilling, yodeling their scales. and blooms who’ve put out every oomph they had.

oh, that we could cup this throbbing, pulsing hour and tuck it in our pocket for when we need reminder. that what was slow in coming, looking doubtful, was really only in the offing. gathering all its force, so it could come like rushing wind and water.

we’re awash right now in sacred promise kept. and tipsy from the knowing that faith came through again.

what’s this, you ask, why all the fuss over something merely blooming? well, it’s only that we’re practicing the art of paying attention. fine season to begin, again, the months when all the world is making such a ruckus, and you can hardly be alive if you’re not struck by something wholly lovely, and rather full of grace. tomorrow likely closes this week of watching one viburnum open up to life…..

if you’re only now checking in, the whole journey, up till today, is in the five days’ meanders leading up to this one….peek in, in any order. heck, depending how you click, you could play a game and make the spring open up and close, go back and forth, or sideways. or simply follow them in order……the way the spicy viburnum mostly did…

caught in the act…

she took my breath away this morning, just a half-breath maybe, as if i’d caught her in the boudoir slipping off her tonsil-colored robe. in broad daylight.

as if the curtains were peeled back, and she didn’t give a hoot, really, who stood and watched. she was slipping off the outer garb, the cloak that held her tight, and she was easing into something, well, a little lighter, looser, flimsy. a little shoulders-back, stretch-your-arms, stick-out-your-unveiled-bosom. come close. come take a whiff.

oh, that spicy girl, she’s getting brazen now. altogether dancing with the rhythm of the earth as she picks up the vernal syncopation. chill winds, be damned. we’re going with sunlight here. if cold fronts and pressure zones scramble with the mercury, push it down, only to snap back and let it soar, well, then the blossoms on my blessed bush could not be lesser bothered.

she’s mid-act now. the crescendo in the offing. you can feel it, smell it, sense it. she’s hitting stride. the days of cowering, petals clasped, revealing nothing of her inner beauty, those hours now are past.

she is lost in time and space. whirling. stripping. nudging all her sisters. come, come. join me in this dance. bend back your inner petals, arch your throat, and open wide.

it’s as if we’ve captured that rare frame of utter courage. when what was kerneled, furled, and clenched, is, suddenly, finally, breaking open.

how fine a thing to catch. to witness. to behold.

the life force pulsing forward, inspiring us to do the same.

how often, in the human dance of life, have you caught the moment of unloosing? when someone you love–or you yourself, even–at last, shrug off the tethers, the ropes, that held them–you, maybe–so wholly bound?

i’ve seen it, marveled, gasped.

there was the chilly, breezy sunday just a year ago, when my firstborn, without preamble, got back up on a bike. he’d last been on, the day he broke his neck. and i am telling you, that remounting, months later, was a wobbly one. but as he rode away, pedaling into the wind, my heart was beating double-time, so proud of his un-trumpeted courage.

just this winter past, i watched my little one take on page after page, in book after book, when all the alphabet seemed so scrambled, and made so little sense. he told me one night as i buttoned his pajamas, how all the kids had called him “stupid.” but then he climbed in bed, grabbed his flashlight from the secret place he kept it, underneath his pillow, and tried and tried again. and then, one day, at last, the sentences, they came. he reads now, all the time, hours and hours on end. no end in sight.

i have seen it, yes, in myself, in the simple slathering of almond butter on a slice of bread. in chewing, swallowing, 30 years of fear. in the picking up of fingers, typing on an alphabet of keys, telling stories that had reason to be told.

oh, yes, i’ve witnessed holy courage. the transcendence that comes when the shackles all are finally stripped away.

every time, it takes my breath. holds it very still. saturates me, through and through, with the dawning, knowing, that within us, each and every one, there is the seed of something truly sacred.

it is the essence of our glory, the whole sense of our creation, and we come to know it only if we muster all the strength and courage to step boldly into light and bare our deepest inner truth.

just as that tender beauty up above, whose brave disrobing i took in this very morning, as she went about her business, becoming something rare and bold and holy, just beyond my kitchen door.

have you caught courage in the act? watched someone’s inner beauty finally unfold in sunlight? how has it inspired you?