I am thinking of Cassidy. It's been almost 9 months since Jimmy died, and time continues to wash over all of us in the steady waves of minutes and hours. Cassidy and I directed a play together this fall for an elementary school, with a cast of 40 kids. We practiced 6-8 hours a week with a 60 page script, sometimes yelling at the kids for messing around, and sometimes admiring them for their talent and hard work. It was a lot of work (it is every year I do this) and there were so many days that I wished I had never agreed to run this project. But always, in the back of my mind, I was thankful for the stolen moments I had with Cass.
She hasn't lived here in a long time, you know. She went to college at Biola in L.A., then moved to Seattle for a job in a domestic violence shelter, then married Jimmy and headed off to New York City. She attended Columbia's graduate program of Social Work while Jimmy attended Columbia's medical school (a couple of geniuses, really). Until Jimmy died. Then she packed up every bit of their lives together and came home to be safe here for awhile. And I have to admit, I've been so glad to have her back in our state, in our city, and in our homes. It's as though by keeping her close, we could all monitor her grief, keep tabs on her heart and soul in this season of desperate change and sadness. There's no good way to do any of this, of course. It's all a mess. Her very best friend, her new husband, the man she's loved since she was a kid in high school, is gone now. I remember this summer she told me, "It's been six months since I spoke to Jimmy, and it hit me today that I will never talk to him again." That thought struck a deeper chord with me any other part of this whole damn mess- the idea that she couldn't even TALK to him. Tell him a story. Laugh together. Cry. From here on out it's just...nothing.
And that's a lot to try and take in.
Last weekend the kids finally performed our show, "Charlotte's Web," on stage. Our months of hard work came to fruition in the form of song, dance, barn animals, spider webs, laughter, and a very moving death scene from the talented 7 year old girl who played Charlotte. I write the script for these shows every year, and this year I debated between "Alice in Wonderland" and "Charlotte's Web." Alice would have been fun, and crazy- but it was missing something. And the further we got into this process, the more I understood why I'd been so drawn to E.B. White's story instead. This has been a year of loss. Like a filter over a picture or a screen over a window, Jimmy's death has altered every reality we once knew to be true. We are young, and we are smart, and the world is a miracle: but we will die. We will all die. And at the end of our play, Charlotte has to die. Wilbur loses his very best friend, and he weeps with the tragedy of never speaking to her again. But he manages to save her sac of eggs, her 514 baby spiders, and that sac becomes his woven ball of hope. I loved the way our actress who played Wilbur portrayed this scene. She is an incredible 8 year old girl named Sami who managed to make me cry every time she was pulled away from Charlotte, crying out for the dear friend she would never see again.
We dedicated this year's play to Jimmy. Here's what the program looked like:
This production of Charlotte’s Web is lovingly dedicated to
Jimmy Watts, Cassidy’s late husband.
You were a true friend to every person you met,
and we will always, always, miss you.
In the words of Charlotte, “What a beautiful life.”
But right now, I'd like to dedicate this entire season of life to Cassidy. I have watched in awe as she gets out of bed every single day and decides to keep living. There is no right way to get through the disaster of loss. We all must find our own way out, digging out of the mud one spoonful at a time; somedays up to our elbows in the dirt, some days resting in the dark of the underground pain. Being so close to Cassidy all fall, in the dark months following her husband's death, has taught me how to bear through pain with grace. She is not afraid to cry when the day calls for tears. She is willing to share in the grief of others, though it seems to me there can't be any room for that in her hurting heart. She is a light. She always has been. There is something different about her now, of course. Something irrepairable has torn in her, and she will always feel the tight pull of that scar inside of her. But every day; every hour; she keeps going. She sees her friends. She loves other people's kids and babies. She laughs when things are funny and listens closely when they are not. She digs and digs and digs, but the dirt under her fingernails has not marred the light in her spirit. She is doing the work, and she is simply the most wonderful person I know.
You know how Clara would never let us rock her to sleep? That green glider in her nursery has gone virtually unused these last 15 months; until this week. Our little girl is suddenly in a 'Mama' phase, never wanting me out of her sight and –best of all– willing to rest her head on my shoulder and let me rock her to sleep. I have been in that rocking chair every night this week at bedtime, whispering Christmas carols through the dark and treasuring the stolen moments with my daughter. And every night, as Clara’s little hands clutch my hair and her sweet breath warms my neck, I think how grateful I am for this stolen time with Cassidy. In the worst of circumstances, in the hardest and ugliest season any of us have ever experienced, I got to direct a play with her. We spent many hours together in a freezing cold gym, teaching kids how to act, making plans and singing songs, appreciating the excruciating process from auditions to opening night. Together.
And Cass, I just wanted to tell you that I sobbed the whole way home after our last performance. Not with joy that the play was finally over, or with pride at how well it turned out; I cried and cried because you are leaving for New York. You are going back to school, without Jimmy, to figure out where the rest of your life is headed. And as much as I know you need to be there, I wish I could steal a few more minutes together. I wish I could hold you in that stupid green glider and sing across the dark to you, and make sure you are ok every night before bed. But I know it's time for you to go. I know that.
You are a light.
You are a light.
And you are willing to dig.
And God has used you to change me. He used this stolen time with you to help me understand that through the depths of agony, He is faithful. You have shown me what a heart full of wisdom and grace looks like, and I have tucked away this treasured time together with all the rubies and diamonds of my very best days.
You are a light. I know you will continue to shine through the darkness.
And I am so, so proud of you.
And I am so, so proud of you.
I love you.