Today, I sit quietly at my desk, the fog rolling off the river and into the leyland cypresses that stand as sentinels at the far reaches of our lot, and I ponder who to write about, which woman to celebrate first in my Shine A Life series. The fog attempts to blot the sun this morning, but it still manages to glow from behind the wet, winding gauze. I know it will burn through soon and shine its warmth again. And I am struck by the parallels to one who has steadily been a warm and guiding soul in my life, and how she, too, is currently struggling in the gray, suffocating gauze of grief.
I have known her since I was six, or somewhere thereabouts. She has seen me at my best, and she’s seen me at my worst. She has known me from the sandy creek-beds and maypop fields of Mississippi to the concrete gutters and asphalt acres of Texas. And though we haven’t seen each other in years, she knows me now, through the blue and white posts and profiles of Facebook.
And those blue and white posts are what have me thinking about her today. Particularly the profile pic of her with her husband and their only son in his Air Force dress blues. Because this week, she lays that Air Force Academy graduate and pilot-hero son to rest.
I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I know his mother well. And his mother’s eyes are there in his portraits, along with her aquiline nose, and the way his smile lifts his cheeks (and everyone who catches it) in glowing and genuine warmth.
This woman, this beautiful mother of four, and grandmother of four, and mentor to me and thousands of others has unknowingly nudged her way into my heart and my blog today.
I remember when I first met Faye (for that is her name, and it means any number of things, from fairy to loyalty to believe — and she thoroughly embodies all three), she was working toward her PhD at Ole Miss: a tall glass of milk with coal-colored hair and chicory-root eyes. She amazed my six-year-old self because she studied novels in her graduate classes. I never knew you could study novels. Physics, yes. My dad and my uncles did that. But novels? Rooting around in prose like an archaeologist in soil – unearthing various and sundry truths and philosophies and polishing them up for the world to see? This was mind-altering stuff.
Plus, she and her roommate were the first women that I, as a youngster, had ever known who lived independently. This was equally mind-altering.
I remember their apartment building. It was at the top of a wicked-steep, small-town hill – perhaps the steepest in our little university town. Our nursery school, The Busy Bee, was at the bottom of that hill, and at the top — just outside the paved entrance to her apartment building — perched a blinking caution light.
Funny, I didn’t remember that blinking light until just now. And simply writing about it reminds me of perhaps the most famous light in all of literature: the mystical, green light of Gatsby fame, symbol of promise and potential and the great chase of gargantuan dreams.
But this light on Faye’s hill was a blinking yellow — a signal to slow down because there, at the apex of the hill was a blind drive. It served as a reminder to look out for others after that long, precipitous climb to the top.
To me, it is a symbolic reminder of how Faye has lived her life. After long, difficult climbs, she has reached so many celebratory pinnacles in her lifetime. She acquired that PhD. She’s been an educator. Now she’s a school board trustee. She’s also a regional director of United Way. But most importantly of all, she is a wife and mother and grandmother and mentor.
She is loved, and she is revered because people have been her life work — not titles, not accolades, not money, not prestige — not any of the things Gatsby pursued while chasing his elusive green light across the bay.
Faye has dedicated her life predominantly to children – her own, and her community’s. And I see myself as one of them. She will never understand the impact she had upon me as a six-year-old girl, nor as a sixteen-year-old, not even as one nearing sixty (ok, I’ve still got a few years till then, but you get the point…)
In this world made up of the fast and furious pursuit of things, it’s a rare thing to find a blinking yellow light. I will forever more think of them as Fairy lights, after my beautiful friend Faye. They symbolize wisdom and love — the two things of value in this green glass goblin world of greed. They will remind me to pause and always make room for others. Because when all else slips away under cover of fog and darkness, Wisdom and Love remain. And the greatest of these is Love.
This week is the hardest week that I hope Faye will ever have to endure. It will be a wickedly steep, achingly-hard climb for her. I can’t even imagine the pain, the cracking of all the what-ifs and why-Gods inside her chest. Her baby boy, one of her brightest, most perfect contributions to this world, has gone on to fly with the angels. And not a one of us knows what to say or do to help.
But I pray she feels all the hearts she has touched along the way as we send our sincerest outpourings of love and prayers from every corner of the world. I am confident in saying thousands are standing still with her in spirit during this, a mother’s darkest hour, as she celebrates the life of her beautiful boy, gone way too soon.
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