Monday, September 28, 2009

Smith College Class of 1994 Memorial Service

My dearest classmates,

I'm having trouble posting to the Smith94 blog at Graychase.com. While I work to resolve the issue, I'll post here in the hope that you will still find it...What follows is the post I've been trying to get up at the class blog.

We Remember, Class of '94 Memorial Service (2009)

On Friday, May 22nd, 2009, after our Groove is in the Heart Yoga class, members of the class of '94 gathered in a clearing by the pond on the other side of the crew house. We were joined by the parents of Laura Swymer-Clancy '94, who brought four daughters to Smith and have lost two of them far too early.

This is what I read:
"In Memoriam"


Four years ago, I attended the wedding of a dear Smith friend in Mystic, CT. Despite some of us not having seen each other in several years, and despite the many different paths our lives have taken, the Smithies at the wedding embraced one another with jubilation, appreciation, and great affection. We were as familiar to one another then as we were on the last day we sat down together for Sunday Brunch in Cushing House more than a decade earlier.

During the outdoor reception at the Mystic Seaport, I stepped away from the dance floor for a moment and I watched my friends dancing as the sun set into the water behind them. The sky was filled with brilliant swaths of color, the last vestiges of day embraced by the first dark arms of night. In that moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, there was a pause for celebration, a great joining together of colors, a hello and a goodbye all in one. The sky, like the bride and the groom, and my glorious friends dancing beneath it, was gaining something and losing something both.

I wanted to be in that moment forever, but since that was impossible, I reached for a pen so I could write down what I saw.

A few days later, I found the note I’d written on a napkin crumpled at the bottom of my purse. And all it said was this: “Describing my love for these women is like trying to draw the sun with nothing but a crayon.”Even eleven years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words failed to capture the light that dances between us when we come together in any room. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I believe, is the Smith Experience.


We are here today, exactly 15 years after we graduated, to honor that unique connection, the inimitable togetherness that a Smith education affords, and to mark the loss of seven of our classmates:

  • Kimberly Tyler, who passed away 2/11/1991.

  • Linda Miller, who passed away 10/15/1995.

  • Judith Grubbs, who passed away 11/20/2000.

  • Carol Boyer, who passed away 4/17/2001.

  • Laura Swymer-Clancy, who passed away 10/21/2001.

  • Deirdre Flaherty, who passed away 8/12/2004.

  • Jennifer DelVecchio Gustafson, who passed away 8/1/2007.

[At this point, I was overcome with emotion. I gestured for the Reverend Alyssa May ('94) to join me, and she was kind enough--and composed enough--to help me invite the group to offer a moment of silence to these women we have lost.]



After our moment of silence, Lesley Reidy, who was very close with both Laura and Jen, read a poem--Snow Geese by Mary Oliver--and shared some of her memories. She also described some of the ways in which she still actively feels the sweet presence of her good friends in her days, and the ways in which she shares that love and warmth with her children.

Laura's mother, who brought along photos of her daughters, also read a moving poem. And both of Laura's parents shared their appreciation at being able to experience our remembrance of their wonderful daughter. Other friends and classmates shared their grief at losing friends and their gratitude for having known them.

And then I led us into our offering:

Earlier today, I came to this clearing, I said a blessing, and planted seven lilies-of-the-valley, one for each member of our class who has passed away. Lily-of-the-valley is also known as Ladder to Heaven and Our Lady’s Tears. It is said to have magical properties and is used to improve the memory and the mind. When placed in a room, these flowers are supposed to cheer the heart and lift the spirits of anyone present.

It is my hope that these lilies-of-the-valley will grow and thrive in this clearing. So that we can return year after year to this quiet spot and witness their bloom and remember how we were when we were young here and what a special thing we have become a part of.I have filled this watering can with water from Paradise Pond. I invite you now to join me in offering a drink to these lilies we have planted, in recognition of the life that this water gives, and as a symbol of our connection to Smith and t o Smithies, whether they can be here today in body or only in spirit.

As those gathered came up one by one, to offer water to our lilies, I read our benediction:

In this moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, let us pause for celebration, a hello and a goodbye all in one. Even fifteen years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words fail to capture the light that dances between us when we come together. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I suppose, is the Smith Experience.


After the benediction, I thanked everyone for coming. There were hugs and tears and, I think a great deal of joy at our connection--followed up, most appropriately, by music and a meal at our class dinner.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to Tom, Excerpt

beloved,

...perhaps I am a few years behind you in a parallel cycle? having cast
off the burdens of an address and stowed essentials in a storage unit,
I am living now in an RV, with cat and boy. in Maine. on the same land
I first lived on with my parents in the early 70s. i stood at the end
of this driveway and waited for the bus to kindergarten. I walked in
these blueberry fields and thought I was Sal. I lost my favorite kite
in this sky to this wind. and at the age of five I ran away from home
and sought my fortune down this steep and dangerous road (resentfully
returned by my mother's best friend's teenage son, Johnny, who found
me in the woods--and killed himself a few years ago).

i write you a long e-mail because I cannot help it. It feels good. I
know you haven't time to respond, barely time to read, but I expect
you won't mind if I pour some thoughts into your glass anyway.

with loving love and some curiosity about what happens next. and many
good wishes for burning man, and the hope that you will not stay away
so long this time, i am yours,

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Calvin Graychase: One Year Later

One year ago today, I lost my sweet Calvin, my Little Bug, my guy. It still hurts too much to spend time dwelling on it today, but I do want to share a couple of things.

First, I want to say publicly that without my friend Dan, I wouldn't have made it through all the assorted and sundry traumas of last spring and summer, most especially Calvin's death.

Second, while I ache every day for Calvin and I still miss him so profoundly, it hurts less now than it did a year ago. Time heals, if you let it.

I have learned that grief is best when not contained. As horrible as it is, holding it back is like forcing poison to stay in your gut when really, the best thing to do is to get through the awful vomiting part so you can begin to recover. Grief isn't meant to stay still or to stay inside. When the floods of grief came, I let them take me. I sobbed until I drooled and coughed and collapsed on the floor. My body was literally wracked with grief, contorted and thrashing. I cramped, I caved, I cried.

But, by doing this, the torrent of grief passed through. I did not fight it.

Each time it comes--now in smaller waves, rather than full out floods--I let it wash through. I feel it, open to its flow, and then it passes. I don't fight it, dam it, try to surf on top of it, or pretend it isn't there. I open my arms and close my eyes and let it splash me in the face and take me wherever it will go. It is awful and it is necessary. It makes things better in the end.

The big flood came just after he died, and it did its work. Just as flood plains are the most fertile soil for growing, so became my heart after the worst of grief had passed.

Since Calvin left, I have found love, both in my work life and in my romantic life--and also in my internal life. I can see now that I was loved in a constant, unbreakable fashion since the moment I became me--in other words, always. I saw one day in yoga that there is a thin, immutable thread connecting me from the moment I was created to this moment today, and that it will continue on, as long as I am being. This is true for all of us. And it does not come from our parents or our friends or other humans--or even cats. It is a fact of our existence that we are infinitely loved, that we are all entitled to this love and given it freely, constantly, no matter what. It is permanent, irrevocable, and unconditional. It is Love, the love that is Ever, the love that is Life, the Love that connects all living things.

I have this comfort now, always. It was something that my mother tried to tell me once, but I wasn't ready yet to understand. But, since losing Calvin, I have found this: I used to suffer greatly because I believed I wasn't loved and couldn't ever be lovable. There was so much evidence to support this fact--it was overwhelming. But now I know that no matter what the other humans do, no matter who can see me and who can't, no matter who comes and who goes, no matter who hurts me or abandons me or leaves me alone, I am still loved and worth loving.

And, just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, my love begets love. Since learning that I am infinitely loved and lovable, I have found work that sustains me. Work that I look forward to doing every day. Work that enables me to reap the rewards that come with prosperity--peace of mind, enjoyment, safety, the ability to give to the causes and people I care for, power and agency, and more.

I have found a partner, a loving companion (who, by the way does not like being called a "partner,") who does so many of the things I always wished someone would do. He gives me a place to return to, a chest to rest my weary head upon. We laugh. We do crosswords. We love.

We have spent nearly 24 hours a day together for six months and only grown happier and more interested and content. We struggle and we learn and we grow and we keep getting better. I bring to this relationship a more honest me, a more compassionate me, because when we know we are loved we can be more generous, both with ourselves and with others. And he loves me for my authenticity. He comes with me as I flow and grow and I love him for this.

It is, for me, a dream come true. I have good company, affection, and laughter. When I have a migraine, he sees it on my face before I think to tell him, and he brings me an ice pack and a glass of water and some Tylenol. He says, "What do you need?" and he means it. When I am hungry and sick, he cooks. I like taking care of him, too. We are partners, whether he likes the word or not. :-)

As for the more literal garden in my life, Calvin's memorial garden is flourishing. The tulips I planted for him in the fall came up this spring--the first ones to bloom in the whole Valley, I think, and they were gorgeous and long-lasting and tall. And today, just as the anniversary of his passing arrives, the first roses are blooming on the bush I planted for him, a gift from my friend Becky.

There are dozens of violets with heart-shaped leaves and very special lilies, which I splurged on in his memory. They all survived the winter and they will bloom later this summer and fill the air with the sweetest scent I know. His lilac tree is in its infancy, but growing up nice and strong. The lupine--my favorite wild flower--are thriving. I planted them from seed just after Calvin died and they have sprung up tiny, but everywhere. The one I planted from a starter has grown tremendously and flowered out in ten giant stems. The peonies, the mums, the lillies of the valley, the daisies, the day lilies--all of it, everything made it. Everything is living and growing. I am fighting back the invasive weeds and relishing every single green and lovely day with these flowers planted in his name.

I even stuck some lettuce in his garden this spring. If it does well, I'll have a little Calvin Memorial Salad later on this summer. It seems the soil here is just as fertile as the metaphorical plains I found inside myself after the floods had come on through.

Eventually, we will have to leave here--this place does not make us happy and I cannot manage a life here for much longer. I'm struggling with the idea of leaving Calvin's garden behind. But, for now, at least, I am committed to making it as beautiful and perpetual as possible, just like my love for little Cal.

On the day that I had to take him in and let him go, I prayed for the strength to fulfill the promise I made to him, to end the seizures and the suffering that day and let him pass out of his sick body and go on. It felt an impossible task as he lay curled up and resting, purring. I needed to be more brave and more strong than I ever thought possible.

When I prayed, I got an instant response. It was the word, "Beauty." It hovered in the air above me all the while that I was gathering up my courage. It enabled me to change my clothes and gather up my beautiful Calvin in my arms. I focused on that word, that feeling during the ride to the vet...and it was what I saw and felt while I held him as they stopped his heart. It was Beauty that enabled me to carry his body home, which felt so different without him in it, and lay him to rest.

His garden is about preserving and honoring and continuing to see and feel Beauty. Last year I was too injured to maintain it, but this year, despite my continually aching knee, I can bend and walk and stand enough to be there a little bit every day. And that's kind of what life is about, I suppose. We are all hobbled and limited by various injuries to our bodies and our souls, we have all suffered losses so great they threatened to shut us down, but if we can find a way to tend to our gardens, to find a few moments to really care for and nourish or at least take a moment to recognize Beauty in our days, then perhaps we are doing okay.

Because I have to leave Calvin and his garden behind eventually, I love it as much as I can while I have it. I love it consistently, ferociously, fully; I love it even when I can't lay hands on it; I love it even though it's work; I love it even though it is flawed. I spend as much time as I can looking at it, so that when it is gone, I will always remember how it looked and felt and smelled, how it grew and changed and became more and more beautiful each day. In other words, I love it just like I loved Calvin.

I am making a memorial donation in Calvin's name to the Helping Paws fund at Northampton Veterinary Clinic. If you would like to join me--or offer something in the name of a companion animal that you have loved--you can send them a check made out to the clinic. Write Helping Paws fund in the memo field, and Calvin's (or another animal's) name.

With love and roses,

Naomi

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Count the Votes in Michigan and Florida

I wrote this letter today to the DNC. On May 31st, they will meet to decide about Michigan and Florida. If you want those votes to be counted and those delegates to be seated, please take the time to contact the DNC today. Feel free to use any or all of the text below from my correspondence.

One way to contact them is through this form at Hillary Clinton's Web site. You do not have to be a Hillary supporter to use this form to tell the DNC what you think.

Yours in support of democracy,

Naomi

>>Dear Mr. Dean:

While I understand that the DNC intended to take a hard line with Florida and Michigan when it set the punishment for moving up their primaries/caucuses, and that the democratic leadership in those states undertook the decision to move elections knowing full well what the punishment was, it is clear that some action must now be taken to include the voters in those states.

It was too harsh a punishment, devised naively and unfairly, in my opinion, and a remedy must be sought--something fair and reasonable.

What is paramount is this: the voters in Michigan and Florida must be heard. It was not their decision to move the primaries, but rather that of their party leaders. We must not penalize the citizens for the mistakes of their party.

Further, because the race for the Democratic nominee is so close, so hard-fought, it is vital that every state be counted. The entire country should be allowed to choose its nominee.

I know that both candidates consented to run knowing that Florida and Michigan would not be counted, but what choice did they have?

And, of course, we cannot ignore the vital importance of considering two states, which can swing the final outcome in the general election in November. Democratic Floridians, in particular, have been injured profoundly by elections-based mistakes and misdeeds in the past. It is vitally important that we make right by them this time around.

Please, count the votes and seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan at the convention.

Sincerely yours,

Naomi Graychase
Easthampton, MA>>

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Truth About Love: "At the Lake"

djm,

we said and felt and did and saw so much on Friday. at this point, re-visiting it feels like too much, so I will say very little, but wanted to share with you a positive thing.

i went to puffer's pond yesterday, a beautiful spot in amherst. i brought a picnic and books and spent the afternoon reading on my blanket or floating on my little inflatable raft. i'm struggling. everything is difficult, but i breathed, i lived, i did my day.

i only went in the water once. when i stepped in, this old woman--like maybe she was 70?--came right over to me. it was some effort for her to walk, but she made that effort so as to get to me. it was as though...as though i was the right place for her. like the way i was looking for coffee on our drive home and spotted a dunkin' donuts and said, "oh, there's one!"

i had that feeling. like she was looking for something she needed and when she spotted me she said, "oh, there's one!" Like an information desk, or a map in a subway station, or a gas station when you're lost--or a kind soul when you need some helping.

i was a little taken aback when she talked to me because i was feeling so raw in the world already. i'd gone through a lot the night and day before, obviously. so i missed the first thing she said. and my first instinct was to avoid her. but then i thought maybe she needed my help and that maybe i ought to not be selfish. like maybe i might need to offer to help her get out of the water or something. i felt i should rise to the occasion.

so i looked up and into her eyes, and i was filled with warm loving. it's this warm thing that channels through me sometimes. deep compassion. the kind that knows no bounds and comes up from the earth and connects me to the heavens so that i am like a channel for goodness, traveling through from sky to earth, earth to sky. it is a great feeling of connectedness. it happens also sometimes when I pray and when i think about my niece and my nephew. i smiled. and engaged with her.

"something bit me," she said. "i think it was a moose fly." she showed me her wrist where a shocking amount of swelling was taking place, it was like a squishy blue golf ball had formed under her tissue-thin flesh just at the point where one would take her pulse.

"you need a poultish," I said--sometimes I still struggle with "s"s. (did i ever tell you about all the speech therapy I did as a kid?). she knew I meant "poultice," and i helped her to dig up some of the cool, wet mud on the shore. she placed it over her wrist, and held it there while she stood ankle deep in the water, leaning against the railways ties that formed a small wall at the edge of the water, and told me more about the bite.

i told her that ice and ibuprofen should help. and possibly a benadryl since it looked like she was having an allergic reaction. but i said if she'd been stung by a hornet, rather than bitten by a fly, then the poultice would really help to draw out the poison. i told her if it was a hornet, it would also itch very much in the coming days. i showed her where i had spotted a hornet's nest nearby when i was getting in the water. there were hornets crawling all over someone's towel and sandals.

"those are my things! " she said. "that's where i got bitten."

"I think you were stung," I said. "keep the poultice on it, put some ice on it, and take a benadryl and an advil if you like. it'll take a few days to feel better."

it's hard to explain the love and kindness i felt for her. and she was wonderful. i enjoyed talking with her and being there with her.

i offered her some advil, but she declined and said she'd go home instead.

i wished her luck and started to move away into the water, and she looked up at me and said, "are you a nurse?"

"No..." I said. I thought perhaps I ought to offer something more than that, some explanation for my knowledge or my reason for helping. But, I didn't really feel like explaining. So, I just left it at that. And I smiled.

i kind of wish i'd asked her why she picked me to talk to about her sting...there were so many people there, of all ages, mothers with children, men and women, all sorts of people. but she came straight over to me. and it was the right choice for both of us.

these things happen to me a lot. i generally don't tell anyone, unless there's a great anecdote associated, like the day I helped stop traffic for the ducks (did i tell you about that?) or the day i had diarrhea AND was late for my flight AND had locked the keys in the rental car AND the car rental woman had set her pants on fire AND I'd gotten in an accident with the rental car and totally stripped one of the side mirrors off the car AND I had Calvin and Norman with me and then the woman in the bathroom at SFO asked me to "help her find her hole." (which, I stopped and did, of course. the hole turned out to be a post-surgical drain in her back. eww.)

aside from those kinds of stories, there's something private and sort of spiritual about these moments. i feel connected to the right easy flow of the universe when i am called to love in this way. it's sort of like why people must give money anonymously. they give for the giving, not for the credit. i think it's why babies fall asleep in my arms. when i am near children, i often channel this calm, loving flow, that feels so good and soothing to them (and to me).

i share this with you now because i want to make a greater effort to focus on and verbalize the positive experiences in my days. and also because while it was happening, i was aware of you, and felt a connection to you in the moment. i think you wish for me a life that is full of that feeling--of love and loving, of smiling and goodness and inner calm. so i wanted you to know that, despite everything else, for a few minutes at the lake, i had that. and i appreciated it and loved it and returned to it now when i remembered and shared it with you.

i'm still struggling. there is lots more to say. but for now, let's leave it at this.

and, of course, another "thank you."

with love and appreciation and a fervent hope that your saturday work went quickly,

naomi

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