Yesterday one of my daughter’s oldest friends, her original childhood best buddy Shana, died after six days in a coma. Like Teal she collapsed with a cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness. And like us, her family also had to make the agonizing decision to remove her from life support.
At such times, one has to wonder what’s at play – is there some grand design to such things? Why would two girls not even yet 24 years old be taken only months apart? And why would two who were once so close die in such similar but completely unrelated deaths?
And what is it about the invisible links we all share, the permanent, on-going connections that bob and weave between us all? For not only were Shana and Teal dear friends, so were their brothers. And her mother has been one of my own closest friends for nearly 30 years.
Together Laurie and I were once gadabout girls in Big Advertising in New York who knew how to live on Happy Hour hors d’oeuvres for days at a time. And like our daughters we both dreamt of being discovered some day – making it big in the calling of our dreams.
But none of that matters so much now.
When Shana and Teal were little, they were the kind of friends who ran towards each other down Greenwich Village side streets, eagerly screaming each other’s names in their eight-year-old enthusiasm.
Once they were both in a professional play together in which Shana played the daughter and Teal her understudy. And for years ever after they laughed about how Teal left the prop teddy bear on stage in her one big performance, so it sat there prominently all through the next scene.
Once they were both Uno-playing card sharks who went to Spice Girls movies together, and always managed to talk some parent into candy after. And then Teal moved to the country and Shana stayed in the city. The world beckoned and they followed, the strands of their dreams trailing behind them, weaving them together invisibly for the rest of life.
Because that is what happens to best friends. They drift apart but something always brings them back together.
No matter what passes between them in life, best friends always have a resonant tuning with each other. It’s the result of all those hours and hours of shared Barbie dress ups, or lovelorn conversations, or whatever their special magic is.
Some best friends stay forever – and some grow up and move on. And yet, the resonant tuning remains. It is this way with all of our significant relationships.
We have soul links to all sorts of people that we can only guess at – yet there they are, as invincible as the steel ropes pulling the cable cars up Powell Street.
Which is why you and a dear friend can pick up twenty years later as if not a day had passed. And why Laurie and I have been fated to travel this incredible road together – of loving our girls more than life itself … and then having to sit by their hospital beds as they slowly slipped away.
This is the nature of our destiny. It is something we create with each person we touch. For our destiny is nothing more than the interweaving of lessons between lives.
Laurie teaches me as I teach Laurie – and our children teach us both. As do our mothers, fathers, employees, bosses, teachers, lovers, and even the guy who flips us the bird in rush hour traffic. These people all around us are our everyday Christ figures – those in whom we see ourselves reflected. And so moment-by-moment, we have the opportunity to grow.
For me, I am learning a whole new level of compassion and humility from this experience. For destiny is not to be messed with, basically. It is a mysterious force unto itself that is not even to be understood or fully comprehended. Doing so is insignificant.
Instead, destiny is to be accepted, and worked with, and felt into … and ultimately surrendered to. That is all any of us can ever do in our limited mortal coils.
What a privilege it was to know Shana, a beautiful spark of talent and sweetness. And to know her in her gorgeous whirl with Teal, the two of them dancing through childhood with unfettered glee. I can still see them walking down the street, hand in hand, and I am grateful.
That memory alone is enough to last a lifetime.
Once upon a time … long ago … you and I trusted people. We were childlike with that trust and full of the wonder and awe at all the world could bring. We believed in magic and expected the people around us – specifically the big ones – to be magical as well.
And then it turned out they were only human. And sometimes not even very nice humans. That’s about when our trust got replaced with despair.
In this brand new, ripped-wide-open, cleaned out life I am now living since Teal’s death, I notice my lack of trust and my infinite despair. It can be a wonderful place to curl up in and suck my thumb.
Because even though I know it’s the right thing to do, it’s hard to trust God.
And yet that essential trust is the one precious thing I have. I dare say that’s true for all of us.
I write this from the rented room in a house that is a far cry from the big, rambling house that I once lived in with my husband on Lake Champlain.
And my days now are spent lying in state, contemplating life in between tears — a far cry from the busy, successful days I knew as a business coach. I gave up that work as well shortly before Teal’s death.
Even my big bed … empty now except for me … has unaccustomed space. I’m substantially alone with no desire to change that for the first time in my adult life.
So in all of this emptiness, I am being forced to trust in God like I never have before. And perhaps this is true for all of us right now.
Because no one out there is going to ‘save us’ any more than the Tooth Fairy will be making deposits in our Roth-IRA’s. Were I to meet Mr. or Ms. Right tomorrow, that still wouldn’t save me from my emptiness.
Nor would it save you.
Only one thing can save any of us from the black pit of our despair … and that is our faith in something far more infinite, more gracious, and far more forgiving than any of us.
That grace is our ticket back home – the way to surrender to the infinite vaguaries of life. For God can take Teal, a soul so pure, simple and deeply compassionate, yes. But God can also send me, her mother, this message from her voice teacher when she was at Berklee College of Music.
It’s a message I only just found recently, nearly four months after her death.
“Teal was one of those students you always looked forward to seeing walk into your office–not just because of her musical gifts and professional attitude, but because she had that knack of lifting other people’s spirits wherever she went. I remember thinking, in the middle of many a lesson with Teal: ‘What a sweetheart.’
“Teal was strongly into the blues. Though my impression of Teal was of a sunny, positive-minded person, she connected with blues through her compassion for other people’s struggles. And this was what gave her blues interpretations such passionate authenticity … Teal brought a powerful sense of joy to her music, and her greatest pleasure was sharing that joy with others. She sang with heart, soul, spirit, and total commitment.”
I am not meant to wallow in pain for the rest of my life, any more than you are … whatever your struggles may be. Instead we are all meant to live like Teal did.
With grace, courage and infinite appreciation and compassion for the person next to us, whether they be our teacher, our guide, or the stranger on the bus.
This is Teal’s greatest message to me that I am living now as a result of her life, and her death: It’s safe to trust God. It always has been and it always will be.
And so the miracle of life goes on.
(To see Teal sing the blues, go to http://www.myspace.com/tealbarns )