Reaching out for Robin


This is the story that almost wasn’t.

How could I possibly write about Robin? Whatever could I say that someone else hadn’t already said in a better, wiser, more enduring way? Not much, I decided. Not much at all.

Then she gave me a talking to.

“Open your heart to everybody you know and those you don’t,” she told me.

Well actually, she gave us all a talking to. We were gathered at the Church of the Good Shepherd to celebrate Robin’s life when, there she was, filling the video screen in the fellowship hall, giving us her parting wishes in that soft, no-nonsense tone we all knew so well. Say what you need to say. Reserve judgement. Spread kindness and joy. Accept. Cherish. Smiling straight into the camera, she let us see that, although cancer had weakened and withered her body, her face still radiated inner life. “There are so many messages!” she said. But she managed to share the ones closest to her heart, segueing into a slide show compiled by two of her best friends. Vivid glimpses of how she laughed and loved, how she lived her own philosophy, rolled across the screen. Casual snapshots merged into Zen moments. Friends and family members grew older with Robin, surrounding her in sickness and good health, and then returned back to childhood together. Seasons came and went, a perpetual backdrop of woods and water in all the places she called home. Let It Be and Oh Very Young played as memories faded in and out in perfect randomness.

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans
Denim blue fading up to the sky.
And though you want him to last forever
You know he never will
You know he never will
And the patches make the goodbye harder still.

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind.
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you?
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven?
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
You know you never will
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.

Watching through tears, I felt myself growing young again along with Robin, too. I remembered how cool those Cat Stevens lyrics were the first time I heard them as a teenager, the fringe on my suede jacket swaying as I danced a little hippie dance. The tune was magical, I thought, the words soothing and sort of vague—like a nursery rhyme. I was going to last forever, of course, everyone was. So I just kept singing along, smiling and swaying to the music.

Not anymore. As Robin’s legacy flashed before me, the words were suddenly all too real, as close to me as the other mourners I was shoulder-to-shoulder with in the fellowship hall. Oh very young what will you leave us this time? Softly singing along with Robin’s and my not-so-very-young friends, I wondered if they were unsure of their final answer, too.

“I know I’m not there, but it doesn’t matter ’cause I’m here, wherever here is,” Robin chuckled into the camera, leaving us with one final wish. “Just be kind and, most of all, spread the love. That’s my message: Spread the love and the joy.” One more time, her photos spanned from blonde, robust Robin, to bald but still beaming Robin, ending with Robin in a group “selfie” surrounded by friends in her hospice bed, her face shining from the center of theirs as they all drew close and focused upward for one last portrait.

“I want that,” I said silently. Not the that of cancer and chemo, God willing, but the circling of friends, the guts to thumb my nose at death while, at the same time, the grace to face its inevitability with a smile. I want to start taking all the candid snapshots of my day-to-day life very seriously. In each moment—whether I choose to be floating on the lake, lining up for a wedding, getting goofy with my girls, posing next to something I first saw in a guide book, or standing around partying with a red Solo cup—I want to be there, front and center. And from that vantage point, I want to reach out more, to do what Robin hoped, to spread myself beyond my comfortable corner in the woods.

“OK, Robin, I’ll give it my best shot,” I promised. First and foremost, that meant writing, sitting down at my laptop to meld her story with my own, translating her wishes into words I’d be proud to share with our neighborhood—around the lakes, into town, and out to the far reaches of my worldwide web signal atop Bald Mountain. But after a few days of staring at my blank “new post” page about Robin, it didn’t feel right. It felt inadequate and hollow—different than the self-doubt tinged with the promise of redemption I’ve come to know as my creative process. Was I a good enough friend? Did I get to know Robin too late, or just in time? My fingers stayed idle and, except for Cat Stevens singing as Robin’s kaleidoscope of pictures played over and over, my mind was blank. Then it hit me. A picture of me writing, crouched over my laptop in my own little world, would not even show my face! And while writing is my reflexive way of reaching out—how I most often do my spreading, my opening up and sharing, and all those vital ing things Robin asked of me—it’s not engaging material for my own someday slideshow. I needed to back away from my desk, start using my typing fingers for picking up the phone more often and my words for conversation. To truly honor Robin’s friendship and give her life meaning within the context of mine, I needed to get out there, drop in on people, initiate instead of just participate, be the best girlfriend material I could be. Heck, maybe I even needed to go shopping—the old fashioned, offline kind that usually involves walking around with other women, consulting on clothes, going for coffee!

I didn’t have to wait long to put my thoughts into practice. Another thing Robin really wanted was for her childhood friends from the coast to come up and meet her Rangeley friends. They planned a girls’ weekend this summer, and vowed to be here even if Robin “couldn’t make it till then.” She couldn’t, but they all gathered as promised, and I joined them for an afternoon of shopping and plenty of good ol’ girl talk focusing on Robin. The reminiscing resumed a few days later when I asked another mutual acquaintance to meet me in town for lunch. I sensed we might have more in common than just Rangeley and Robin, and I was right. We now have the start of a new friendship.

When I finally did get back to my laptop to write, I was just getting in the flow when…WHAM…a thumping against my office window screen made me jump out of my chair. Looking out, I saw a bird, bobbing around on the lawn, getting its bearings after getting my attention. It was a robin. “Nice one, Robin,” I said. And as I watched it fly to a nearby tree and then on to each shed roof on its way to join another bird up the driveway, I didn’t have to wonder if I’d received a sign from Spirit or if I was silly to take its symbolism literally. I knew. Robin is no longer on this earth, but she’s dancin’ close by, helping me, helping us all, spread joy.

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5 Responses to Reaching out for Robin

  1. Kathy Kneebone (Frank's cousin) says:

    Beautiful.

    Like

  2. Tami Wentworth says:

    That is as beautiful as it possibly could be. I haven’t met you, but since we both loved Robin, take symbolism seriously, and enjoy the life of Rangeley….then I can see you and I share the same good taste! haha….she was a dear friend who I had so much in common with from the minute I met her over a campfire discussing art. We bored the crowd we were in, and eventually everyone drifted off leaving us talking about what paints we use, what we paint, and art work projects. By the end of the night, we were punchdrunk on our new friendship…ok , maybe Budweiser too…. we were bitten alive by bugs, and freezing. As the fire burned out, my new friend Robin and I hugged like we had known each other together. Somehow this magical event didn’t involve one cell phone selfie, one foursquare post, or one ding because somebody was messaging us with any small talk. I miss the days of simplicity and events that are private. I will think of Robin all day today, thanks to reading this. She was a doll and so special. Best of luck on your blog, I love the layout, it is gorgeous , and you’re writing drew me in…..

    Like

  3. Susan F says:

    Beautiful. I just lost a very good friend to metastatic breast cancer in April. She beaten it so many times we felt like she’d be here forever, though we knew in our heads she wouldn’t. We had many heart to hearts on our long drives to Albany for her treatments. She was the bravest woman I’ve ever known. Not once did I ever see her cry, tho she admitted she did in the shower when no one could hear her. I was glad I wasn’t working so I could be with her, help her, change her PICC dressings, give her IV fluids when she couldn’t keep anything down, etc. The last time we went to Albany she was having a rough time keeping anything down from the chemo and we stopped for gas and she went in the store to get something to drink. She surprised me by getting a Red’s Apple Ale but she savored every drop and kept it down. On the drive home she was telling me she didn’t want a funeral and people being sad and crying. She wanted a big party and everyone being happy and celebrating her life. She ended up getting pneumonia and that combined with CA that had gone to her lungs in 3 days she was suddenly gone. I’m happy it wasn’t a long, drawn out painful death as it very well could have been. Her best friend is also a nurse and she was there with morphine from Hospice helping her ease her way out. There’s really something beautiful about your best friend being the one to help you go. A couple weeks after, we had a huge party, a lot of laughs, some tears and at the end of the afternoon a beautiful rainbow appeared and we knew she was with us.❤️

    Like

  4. thewaiting2016 says:

    Robin was the first woman in my life that gave me honesty. True to herself and the world around her. You never had to ask, you knew the words that came from her were honest. She taught me that. I hold on to that. I think of Robin often. She was a wonderful one of a kind Lady. A beautiful soul, a great friend. My words do not do her justice. She was loved, and she was love.

    Like

  5. Susan Garrity says:

    Just as meaningful to me today, as it was when I first read it. Beautiful, Joy!

    Like

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