Below is a lengthier explanation of "us" in a blog that I wrote three years ago . . . this will be the third year I've posted it, and I'm okay with that. It seems like a perfect way to kick off July. I'm early this year, but something tells me that you'll be hearing more from me this month. You can probably count on it. I'm okay with that, too.
The Middle of July (2012)
Today is July 15th. The middle of July. My husband and I casually noted this fact in an exchange last night while sitting quietly by our carefully crafted backyard fire on a balmy evening beneath the vivid glow of a bright quarter moon. Tomorrow is July 15th. It's the Middle of July. Fireflies blinked in magical cadence all around us. It was, by anybody's standards, a perfect mid-summer moment, pristine and peaceful, a backdrop for silent introspection. But the thoughts that passed between us in this small, seemingly mundane discovery of what tomorrow is evoked a noisy myriad of emotion and memory that will forever and powerfully connect us, and by extension, our daughters, and our sons-in-law, and our grandchildren. . . anybody who ever belongs to us. . .
Because, you see, as irrelevant and as random as the middle of July seems to other people, we have come to expect that things happen to us in the middle of July. Life-changing Before and After things. Tragic and Triumphant. Earthshattering and Elating. Sweet and Serendipitous. The very essense of Life and Death have played out on our proverbial doorstep as we are blinking in the sunlight of the Dog Days of summer. There have been things to shout from the mountaintops and things so deeply personal and painful that we'll hold onto them until it's time to tell our stories.
Among some of the defining moments of of our lives are the following. . . Our youngest daughter, Kelsey Brooke, was diagnosed with Leukemia on July 15th, 1991. . . Our oldest daughter, Brittany Leigh, met her husband, Jeremy, on July 13th at a Christian summer camp when they were both 13 years old and they married eight years later on July 15th . . . One winter in between, my lifelong optimism was suddenly shattered when I unexpectedly plunged into a deep and sustaining depression that didn't let up until the following year on a mid-summer afternoon as I was drifting on a jet-ski in the Gulf of Mexico and was just as suddenly engulfed in a pod of very happy and very playful dolphins who invaded my space so thoroughly that each one seemed to commune with me eyeball to eyeball. I was so moved by the experience that I immediately began to heal . . . A summer day that followed brought the news that my brother's son, just a few months older than our youngest daughter, had succumbed to some secret, unbearable pain that caused him to end his own life at eighteen years old. Just before recieving the phone call, my husband and I had been snorkeling off the coast of Florida, enraptured by the sight of brightly colored marine life casting shadows just below us as the sun reflected watery patterns and prisms of light over our heads. My memories of that day will be forever marked by flashes of sunlight, a miasma of colorful shadows, and profound anguish. It was July 17th . . . On July 9th, 2009, our first daughter gave birth to her first daughter, and the exquisite joy that we all felt was replaced by confusion and helplessness as in the weeks and months that followed, our Brittany sank deeper and deeper into the throes of post-partum depression until at her lowest point, she questioned her ability to be a mother . . . Three years later, on a mid-July afternoon, her beautiful and brave demonstration of resilience was recognized nationally when a talk show host out of Chicago called to say she had been following her poignant and prolific blog on the subject of post-partum depression, and she was invited to be a featured guest on the show. The same afternoon that I listened from my Detroit office as my oldest daughter encouraged women all over the world in a phone interview from Colorado that aired from Chicago, I was also waiting for my youngest daughter to come home. She was boarding a plane from Malaysia that very day, coming home from a year long missions trip that had spanned three continents and eleven countries. It was the end of July, but we had made it through the middle.
These are things that, of course, happen to other people and other families, connecting them in space and time, every single day, all around us, all year long. . . but strangely enough, we are blessed and cursed. . . and blessed. . . over and over. . . in the middle of July. We have come to expect it. Not with any trepidation or even any sense of superstition. It is just simply who we are. So much so that a few years ago my husband felt compelled to own our story by getting a tattoo of a calendar page of July 15th stamped on his right arm. Below it is the famous Dickens caption: It was the best of times, It was the worst of times. So much so that a few years ago, I felt compelled to tell our story by beginning my first novel entitled The Middle of July. It opens with occurence of a mystically true and terrible storm that I witnessed when I was 14 years old that that is an apt analogy of what happens in the collision of powerful forces - good and bad - that shape our lives. It happened on July 15th, 1980.
Our quiet introspection by the fire last night marked our return from visiting Brittany and Jeremy in Colorado. We celebrated Mackenzie's fourth birthday while we were there, and held our three week old grandson, Levi, for the very first time. Brittany and I made plans for Kelsey's bridal shower and her wedding this fall to our new son, Kyle Miller. This day, in particular, marks a season of grace and blessings and celebration for our family. But whatever tomorrow brings, or next July, or the next, we recognize the gift of life and healing and hope. And we will always celebrate the Middle of July, honoring it as time that represents the story of our lives. Happy Anniversary to Brittany and Jeremy. Happy We're So Glad You're Alive Day to Kelsey Brooke. Happy Birthday to our darling granddaughter. Welcome to the world, Levi Kyler. Happy We Made It Through All the Darkness in Between Day. Happy Tomorrow for whatever God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy and grace, chooses to bless our family with. Happy Middle of July.
Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms. ~ Paulo Koehlo from Manuscript Found in Accra
Middle of July Prologue
In the late evening hours of July 15th, and into the mid-morning hours of July 16th, 1980, the cool, lingering breezes of a late spring in the Midwest United States finally, and quite suddenly conceded to the extreme temperatures and humidity typical of that month, creating a rare and terrible storm over the Great Lakes region. It was not a storm that twisted and writhed, turning in on itself, creating a sinister subterfuge of eerie silence before its coming; rather, it boldly stretched into a wide arc and roared noisily across eastern Wisconsin and northeast Illinois, moved forth to embrace the coming darkness over the blue-black waters of Lake Michigan, and gained strength as it reached the shores of Western Michigan. It eclipsed the breaking blue dawn of high summer, and startled people from their rural slumber into dazed confusion in the unnatural darkness, and then just as suddenly sent them scrambling and stumbling wildly for cover as it rolled over their roofs like a freight train and rained down flashes of sinister, blinding light. With the phenomenal strength and forward movement of a glacier, it bore into the rural lands, creating moraines of ancient tree branches and twisted metal from junk cars and the scarlet wood of antique barns. And then, owing to the capricious nature of storms, it shifted from its straight easterly direction and, picking up speed, bore down on the southeastern corner of the state, as if it had made a decision. By the time it reached the Detroit Metropolitan area, where it demonstrated its full fury before suddenly abating, its wind speeds had reached 150 miles per hour. Along its two hundred mile journey, places in the wide expanse of its underbelly spontaneously mutated, and sent spinning the occasional cyclone cell, so that the storm itself could not be definitively named. Some said an inland hurricane. Some said a tornado. Those who were lucky enough or brave enough to witness the breadth of it called it a tornado on its side. Most people had never heard the term derecho, and would only begin to hear echoes of the meteorological term on television and radio news broadcasts in the late aftermath of the disaster, as power that had been lost to the affected areas was gradually restored. But even before the speculation about exactly what the storm was, and long after people even stopped remembering what they didn’t know about it, one defining characteristic endured. The sky turned green. Decades later, this was the anomaly that would be recalled. Children that had turned parents and parents that had turned grandparents sitting together under the cover of porch overhangs watching evening storms roll in would turn to each other and remark, “Hey, do you remember that strange storm in the eighties?” and someone would inevitably counter, “You mean the one when the sky turned green?” Crowds of patrons in grocery stores and hardware stores and banks united in their delay behind plate glass windows giving view to the torrential rains that stood between them and their vehicles would, when able to overcome their typical Midwest reticence, fill the polite, empty silence with talk of storms long past and inevitably, someone would ask, “Does anyone remember that storm when the sky turned green?” And while those who did remember must harbor secret thoughts from strangers about the details of their lives behind closed doors on that fateful morning, it made them feel human just to remember being part of a world that recognized the absurdity of a glowing pea-green sky that had turned in a minute from a summer morning cerulean blue.
As rare and unusual as the actual storm was, however, the effects of its power proved to be even more of an enigma. In metropolitan areas roofs were blown off buildings, railroad cars were overturned, and anchored ships on the Detroit River were washed ashore or set adrift. Highways and neighborhood streets alike were temporarily shut down or impassable for the trees and abandoned vehicles that littered them. Tens of thousands of people suffered the ensuing and enduring summer heat without the benefit of power or even running water for nearly two weeks after in some cases. The estimated accumulation of monetary damage from straight line winds exceeded any tornado or hurricane on record anywhere in the United States for nearly a century before. The landscape was changed in subtle and irrevocable ways. But contrary to the nature of any of the previous calamities of its magnitude, the mid July monster of 1980 was not responsible for one single human fatality. Against all odds, everyone survived to tell their stories.
For the Family I created ~
All of these lines upon my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true that I was made for you.
Brandi Carlisle - The Story
Some people are like tornadoes, tearing through the landscape of other peoples’ lives, inflicting damage, blithely and indiscriminately, cutting a swath of destruction with hardly a backward glance. Other people are like willows, bending in the gales, but refusing to break, even against malevolent forces of the worst kind – people who are supposed to love. Fallon Grace Ridge, whose name was a mistake that nobody seemed to notice, was a willow in a world of tornadoes. Or, that is how she began . . .