July 27, 2014
I just finished Julie Anderson Love's book, "Disrupted: On Fighting Death & Keeping Faith".
Julie is a sweet mother of Claire, who was in the Stapleton Ballet Nutcracker with my son, Blake, several years in a row. During Nutcracker Season, parents press their noses up against the large window on Greenfield Ave. at the end of dance practices, listening to Tchaikovsky in the dark as we await our agile angels. Sometimes, this is the only time we talk to other parents and get a glimpse at the joy our children have while dancing before the big production the first weekend of each December. I can't remember how I first spoke to Julie, but I do remember that she had to tell me she was hard of hearing at least once. From then on, I went into my careful attention mode, making sure I was looking at her while speaking and extra loud. I always loved seeing Julie at those pick up times and thought that she was a wonderful person- maybe someone I could become friends with if I wasn't so busy with my twin boys.
Several years passed, and I got a phone call. At first I thought it was a prank caller or maybe a very young and mentally challenged woman. The voice was super sweet, but the words were spoken almost like baby talk and I agreed to help this woman, site unseen, care for her pets while she was away on vacation because Lisa, another friend who I trust and love, had referred me to this family to help pet sit.
As I continued talking to Julie on the phone, we exchanged emails... This is when I realized it was Claire's mom, Julie Love, from the ballet school. "Oh, Julie! I know who you are! You are Claire's mom!" I said with enthusiasm into the phone. I hoped she understood me. I was happy to know it was Julie and even more excited to help her with her needs. I love pet sitting and here was a nice way to help someone I admired.
I can't recall how I had learned about Julie having survived from a brain tumor that caused her hearing loss. I know someone told me about her book she wrote, and then I had looked it up online. I planned on reading it and even mentioned it to my friend Peggy, who writes a blog about successful women (and the chocolate that they love!). I thought it would be a remarkable interview, to write about this incredible survivor; someone right in our own community who had lived through so much trauma and took the time to write about it in a book. I know, I know... your immediate thought is "Why would I want to read about something so awful?" Well, the book is not awful, nor is the story. Julie is a remarkable person with a passion for writing and it comes out in this book. I did not want to put it down, and I felt so much like I was right there with her in so many ways.
I think Peggy has taken a hiatus from interviews on her blog, being a busy mom of three children, two of them teenagers. Life with teens sweeps you into many, emotional teaching moments. It is not that you don't have time to work or be as good as you were before, but you some how find your self wanting to share what time you can with these young adults who you can't imagine making the right decisions and going to College in just six years. Time compresses the instant they are preteens and they don't always want mom to be near them, yet mom wants to share with them before they are completely on their own. We seem busier and perhaps more frazzled and drained as we focus all our energy on helping these young people grow up and find the things they love to do. We let go some of our friends, our jobs, our blogs and even our passions to put our hearts into the kids' needs. Their passions suddenly become our passions. My son loves theater, but I was always a shy kid, afraid of public speaking. Go figure... He turned me into someone more passionate about both theater and ballet.... and ballet is how I first met Julie.
So, as a busy mom, I was happy to have a phone call from Julie, offering me a simple job with animals, taking care of their family pets for a few days. What wonderful pets they were!
"Monkey" the cat, grey and white with green eyes, was so loving, and always purring and rubbing up against my legs. I tripped on him a couple times! He really likes to stay close to you. A new and tiny bunny they had was unbelievably cute and soft. Long, golden hair around his face and neck, and just the sweetest face ever. I found myself wanting to photograph all the animals.
The beta fish was a stunning royal blue, the color of painted doors in Greece, sparkling by the water in the sun, next to stark white buildings. He was alone in his bowl and I felt a bit sad for each of these creatures. The fish in such a confined space, and the mouse, also alone in his cage with just a wheel and a tiny house he liked to hide in. Mouse would only come out when I put down a bowl of fresh food, and eat only the sunflower seeds. He'd dig through the other grains and pull out the large, gem shaped seed in Victory! Occasionally, mouse would show off on the wheel, looking out at me every time. It was remarkable to meet each of these creatures on their own level and find what they enjoyed during my short stay.
Monkey was easy- food, pets and getting to venture in and out the door while I was there.
The bunny seemed to enjoy the outdoor pen, getting to "jump" or test out his powerful, rear limbs that could not be tested in the small, indoor cage. He seemed the most curious, checking out a watering can, peeking inside, nibbling an old broom and running around the pen, several times, as if scared by his own shadow. When I went into the pen, the bunny would come close to my legs, just like Monkey, the cat. Perhaps I provided some sense of comfort and security. Amazing how in just a day or two, these two animals could realize they needed me and that I was comforting to them. How on earth anyone gets along with out this unconditional love from a pet is any one's guess; it is truly a gift. Pets are truly a gift.
The unspoken love from an animal is probably one of the best comforts to the sick, sad and injured. I imagine Julie must adore those sweet animals and relate to them in more ways than most. having hearing loss and feeling more alone and different might be what our pets feel too. They want our love but must communicate in very different ways. They can't always do everything the rest of us do. They can't understand everything we say, yet they need and rely on us none-the-less. They still love us. They come running when we enter the house. They wag a tail against the floor when we enter a room They get more excited in their cage as we approach, curious about our presence, our voices, our actions, what foods we are eating or toys we might have. They do a lot of waiting. They have a ton of patience, and they don't speak to us with words, which we somehow perceive as "kindness".
You have to wonder if they really are thinking about us or not... but instinct tells us they care about their people more than we can imagine. It is a truly amazing bond, which I am deeply thankful for. I hope Julie receives as much joy and love from these animals as I had in just a few days with them.
When Julie, Greg and Claire returned from their trip, Claire was on crutches. She had broken her leg at summer camp and seemed upset the night I saw her. I told Claire how wonderful her animals were. I was sorry she'd broken her leg and hoped she would learn to appreciate her limbs after this trauma. I think in life, many times, we really do not appreciate what we have until we lose it. In that way, any injury is a gift, because it forces us to appreciate our health. Injury makes us seek health in the future, and for most of us, avoid things that are dangerous or beyond our physical abilities.
But what about when we have an injury that keeps us from returning to a normal life? In Julie's book, "Disrupted", Julie reveals the gradual loss of most of her hearing from chemical treatments to kill a rare brain tumor she had when she was only 30 years old. She shares how she slowly lost a job, precious sounds and moments with family and friends she used to share easily. How at first, her mother seemed concerned and learned to sign, but then got lazy about it. Many things were very frustrating and Julie was not capable of participating in life the way she had known it before.
Yet, "Disrupted" is a remarkable book; it is not a tale of "woe is me", but a sharing of a journey to conquer this tumor in the right way for Julie, and to save her brain so she could share with us in one of the most beautiful, human ways possible- to write. To write down this story and share it is Julie's gift to all of us for we not only learn to understand the pain and frustrations of the hearing impaired and the cancer patient, but we see them through the eyes of a well educated theologian and preacher. Julie's gift of understanding what our faith in God means is profound and yet simply told. It is human and a remarkable testament to the power of believing in ourselves, doctors, the other humans in our lives, an "letting go to God". In this way, Buddhism and believing in God come together in the moment. We choose to pray to God in the very moment we need help most. We pray. We meditate. We give in to the present. We yield to the present. In this basic practice, two religions collide. Christianity and Buddhism join together to let us focus on a moment in time and our power of believing to help heal or focus on that present moment.
Raised Catholic, but having attended dharma talks and meditations at Spirit Rock in Marin County, I attest to the power of group prayer and a preacher or spiritual educator being able to soothe us and help us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Prayer and meditation are truly quite similar when you think about it. Believing in both ways helps humans to deal with their lives, deaths, and all that we feel inside, each moment. We are fortunate to feel so deeply and be able to share our feelings with others. We are also fortunate to have our solitude; our ability to think on our own, alone and free. Is this not what really unites us all, our ability to think, "alone"? Our brain's unique ideas?
In this way, Julie Love's decision to "save her brain" regardless of the knowledge of potential hearing loss, and live to write and share her thoughts makes her more alive and special to me than many survivors. It is a gift to us that she has been able to live and write and be herself. She has a beautiful daughter now, Claire. Kind, smart, funny and loving. It is an uplifting story that I am so delighted to have become a small part of in my community. Julie is currently a Reverend and parish associate at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo.
I look forward to Julie's second book as she is a writer! Like her daughter, Julie is funny, deep, silly and smart. I loved her book. I plan to gift it to family and friends this year. Thank you for your gift, Julie! Maybe I will have to write my own story down. You are so encouraging.