Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mercy in Mayhem

I don't know what to title this story; it's still pretty new and hasn't yet reached its conclusion. I think there is still more lessons to learn, but I think I'll try to share this story and see what comes out in the end.

My daughter had a partial nephrectomy a few weeks ago. At the time of diagnosis, she was the mother of two boys, one of them recently weaned. She felt a lump on her side when she lay down; had felt it while pregnant with her youngest and thought that it was just something that got displaced. But it was still there a year after the baby and so she went to her doctor to have it checked out. It was her kidney and it had a growth. So off to a urologist she went. He ordered a CT scan and asked if she was pregnant; she didn't know for sure so he told her to take a pregnancy test before going in for the scan. The pregnancy test was positive. An unexpected third child was coming. First was the shock that she would be a mother again so soon and then the worry about the tumor. What now?

Since a CT scan was out of the question, an MRI without contrast was the next best thing but she was told that she couldn't do it until she was in the 2nd trimester which caused more wait and worry. The test result was indeed a tumor, not a cyst. With a complication of a pregnancy, she was sent to UCSF where the doctor told her she would be fine. It was in the best place if you had to have one of these and could easily be removed surgically. But she would have to wait until after the baby was born unless it started to grow rapidly. The bad news was that it was likely malignant.

So the tumor has been removed and she is recovering, needing the help of all her family with her brood of three children under the age of 5. It's been a stressful time mentally and physically; her body shows the effects of having part of a kidney removed; paleness, pain, weakness but getting stronger by the day.

During all this, I thought back to the story I heard growing up that before I was born my father had kidney surgery and almost lost his life in the 1930s. Then, there were no antibiotics. There was no laparoscopic procedure to minimize the scar tissue that would form from the huge incision of open surgery.... and he also had a general blood infection that raged through his body. This infection alone was a death sentence in the 1930s.

He had been working in the back yard of a home they just moved into, clearing the overgrown weeds. Ever the gardener, he wanted to plant his fruits, vegetables and gladiolas. He came back in with chigger bites on his legs. He said someone told him that motor oil would take care of the itching and he tried it. He believed that was how the infection started. From there, cysts formed on his kidney. They did the surgery anyway. Instead of using drain tubes like they do now after surgery, they packed the wound with dressing. His fever raged; he was in pain and every time they tried to change the packing in his wound, he would hemorrhage. His weight dropped to under 100 pounds. He was delirious but insisted that no one give him morphine except his wife. Mom was a nurse, and a mother with an infant. She faithfully dropped my sister off with a sitter and went to the hospital to give Dad his pain meds. She said there was no more muscle to inject into. Instead, she pulled up loose skin from his skeleton and injected the drug which left an obvious lump. Then she quietly went out of his room and wept.

My father said that when he was lucid and the doctors made their rounds, they spoke about his case openly in his presence; about how he was going to die; there was nothing else they could do. I'm sure he thought so too...that is until he said he woke up one morning and for the first time in a very long time his head was clear. The sun was shining and he could hear the birds singing. Something told him the doctors were wrong; he was going to live. Dad described in detail what he remembered about getting himself out of bed, extremely weak, hanging onto the furniture in the room, walking along holding himself up against the walls until he got to a phone. He called my mother and told her he wanted to come home. Whenever Dad made up his mind on something, there was no turning back. I can also imagine that he thought the doctors were fools and the only way he was going to recover was to go home.  He always hated hospitals with a vengeance.  The only time I remember him stepping into one was when Mom had a massive heart attack and was dying.  Mom said, "You know if they don't release you, they won't take you back." He said he understood.

So Mom called an ambulance to pick him up and bring him home. She thought he wanted to come home to die. After she got him into bed, he asked for something to eat, so she brought him some soup. That was the start of his recovery; a recovery that had doctors from all over shaking their heads that he pulled through. They would come to his house to check up on him and marvel to see him in his back yard planting his garden. He was their miracle patient.

I guess what I am seeing from all that we have experienced with Erin's surgery is that sometimes there is mercy in mayhem. I look at factors in my daughter's favor and thank God. I read that these tumors are usually not detected unless they do a scan for something else or when there are symptoms. But by then it's usually too late. The fact that she was thin enough and self aware enough to feel it. And also that she was concerned enough to get it checked out. There is the factor that getting a tumor in someone so young as she is rare. Then there is the factor of where the tumor grew on her kidney, and the factor that they got it out in time. She won't have the huge scar that would have circled around half of her waist since the doctor did it laparoscopicly. My father's scar was so sensitive all his life that he couldn't wear any garment with elastic.

I told her that her grandfather's blood runs in her veins. I like to think that his presence, perseverance and courage was with her the whole time. But I also marvel at the miracle and its ripple into the future. Without my dad's survival, my daughter and I wouldn't exist. He wasn't supposed to be able to father any more children, yet he did years later.  My survival is a small miracle in that my Mother got a second opinion when the first OB doctor diagnosed her with a uterine tumor and recommended a hysterectomy.  Perhaps there is something specific for us to accomplish while we are here. Maybe mine was to bring this wonderful woman into the world that I call  my daughter.  Whatever God has in store further down the road for us, I can't wait to find out how it turns out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Manhattan Project: Dad's tale

This Memorial Day, I remember my dad. That's him kneeling on the far right.

He entered the Army Air Force younger than he was supposed to. He lied about his age. As I mentioned in another post, he left home very young, hitch hiked around for awhile, then enlisted as a private, being discharged before the big crash on Wall Street.

He told stories about his enlistment, like the doctor who gave him his physical was a man whom he knew. His family had given the good doctor a puppy who he named Cuff after my dad's family. This doctor advised my dad to bide his time to enlist until he got the unit he wanted which Dad did and was rewarded by getting into the photo squadron.

He was one of the "Great Generation" who survived the Great Depression, and though he didn't actually fight during WWII, he played a role in the Manhattan Project. Just a few years prior to his death, Dad told me the rest of the story about this photo. This wasn't just a pheasant hunting trip in California with his buddies. He told me that each of these men came to California from the multiple bases that were developing the atomic bomb to meet up with my dad. Each man came with a piece of the bomb where they put it together and loaded it onto a Liberty ship in Oakland. He said that ship sailed and rendezovoused with another ship somewhere out in the Pacific where the bomb was transferred to be delivered to the Enola Gay.

I knew that he had some part in the Manhattan Project. My mother told me how much she hated it because they had to live on base and the whole family was tightly controlled who they could fraternize with; their coming and going on and off base monitored and sometimes were followed. From what I gather, I believe Dad was a procurement officer. He heald the rank of Captain then, having received a field commission. He told stories about how he would need materials or parts for the base and he got it, sometimes commandeering items from other bases. He had top secret clearance and pretty much anything he wanted, he got. He was also trained to arm and disarm the atomic bomb. This made him a valuable asset but even though they tried to get him to come back after his discharge, he had enough of the cloak and dager.

I asked him how he felt once that thing hit Nagasaki. He gave me his usual Gallic shrug and said, "Hell, we knew that thing was going to be big, but we couldn't have imagined what it would really do. We realized that we had let the genie out of the bottle."

I guess you could say he really found out after the war ended when he was sent to old world Japan among the US occupation troups. He was just a New Jersey farm boy emersed into a very ancient culture. Fortunately, he had enough sense to learn their culture even if he didn't really understand it. He told of a very sad order by the high command to search and destroy all samurai swords. The soul of the samurai families were considered to be in the sword and so perhaps in this action, it broke the back of any attempt to resist the occupation. No one knew what to expect of the Japanese population as the US troups came into their country. Broken, the swords were dumped out into the ocean to rust, these beautiful relics that represented generations of history.

During Dad's free time, he would often visit a little mountain village where they raised silk worms and produced silk fabric. Dad would buy silk and send it home to my mother who made clothing for herself and my sister with it. I know Dad would be very interested in the whole process and likely asked many questions. Shortly before Dad was to ship out and go home, a temple monk in the village invited Dad to attend a ceremony. During this rite, a monk presented him with a samurai that had been hidden in the temple. It was beautiful even though the jewels that encrusted the handle had been removed. Dad carefully wrapped it and placed it in the center of his duffle bag for the journey home. I have seen this sword on several occasions when Dad would take it out and tell me about the little temple and the people he got to know.

Years later, he pulled it out again from it's protective wrapping to show a Japanese co-worker. Dad asked him if he could translate the etching that was on the blade. It turned out to be poetry. Later that year, this same co-worker put Dad in touch with a delegation of men who were in the US looking for samuari swords that made it out of Japan. As Dad promised the monks, he gave the sword to them to send it home. We never knew what became of the sword after that, but I imagine that it is sitting in its holder under glass in a museum, or maybe even better, was returned to the temple in the hill village.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Family Americana: Genealogy 101

Lillian Kearny Cuff
Both my grandmothers were already dead by the time I was born and I missed having them as a child. I used to imagine what grandmothers would be like; warm, loving women who would smile patient smiles and laugh at my antics. This is a story about my ongoing search for my paternal grandmother, Lillian; the years of searching through online records, the frustration that came with failure, reuniting of seldom or never seen cousins and the value of the tenacious expertise of a genealogist.

Lillian Kearny was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1882. I had no idea who her parents were; neither did my father. He left home at the tender age of 16, tired of bickering among his siblings and spiteful enough to brave going out into the world with little experience to know what to expect. He didn't return to New Jersey until well after he had married and had my older sister. But the things my father did tell me were stories about growing up in a house filled with ten brothers and sisters, stories about school, learning how to shoot a rifle, the Morris Canal that ran in front of their home, trapping, wanting to be a "mountain man" and his love of being by himself in some make-shift "fort" he built out in the woods. His father, Nicholas, was a tacker in a tannery, paid by the piece. Sometimes they had to tighten their belts when income was low and my father often brought home meat of the animals he trapped to put in the dinner pot as well as making some extra money for himself by selling the pelts. But the one thing he and his siblings were proud of was the story Lillian told them about the genealogical relationship to Major General Philip Kearny and his prominent family. My father was named after the General. But no one really knew how this relationship worked out nor had anyone confirmed that the claim was true. After all, I reasoned, if Lillian was from such a wealthy family, she would have never been allowed to marry such a poor Nicholas. Someone mentioned that she was estranged from her family, but no one could tell me why.

As my father grew older and I grew more curious, I started asking questions. Who were Lillian's parents? If she was a direct descendant of the General, then she would have to be a daughter of the General's only son. His well documented family tree didn't have a Lillian. The more I read about the General and his family, the more doubt I had that the story was true. So if it wasn't true, who was Lillian? What is her story?

After my father left home, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army Air Force. Six of his siblings eventually followed, enlisting during WWII and after the war, all but one brother settled in various parts of the United States. We cousins, and there are quite a few, rarely saw one another; some I've never met. Somewhere out there someone must know something more, I thought. I found that my Texas cousin, Kathy was also looking for Lillian and from her, I got copies of the research her mother had done. She sent me copies of the death certificates of Lillian and Nicholas. The information on Lillian's death certificate was supplied by my Uncle George. He gave Roe as her father's name, but her mother's name was unknown. Roe wasn't in the General's tree, so now I knew that if she was indeed related, it wasn't directly. My sister gave me the phone number to an older cousin who had also looked for Lillian. She told me that she believed that Lillian's mother was Annie, but didn't know her maiden name. She also knew the name Roe, but thought that it might have been Annie's maiden name. She also had Annie's bible and in it was a notation that Lillian had written at her mother's death; some of it faded in an old style penmanship and difficult to be sure of the date. She graciously mailed the bible to me.

I sent a check and request to the Newark record archives to get Lillian's birth certificate. They sent me back the check; there was no record. Apparently, there had been a fire years ago and her birth record must have been destroyed. I searched database without luck and learned that another fire destroyed the 1890 census, which would have shown her as a child and the names of her parents. I found only one Roe V Kearney in an 1870 US Census, but he would have been old enough to be her grandfather. Besides, his wife was Elizabeth and they had a bunch of kids, none of them Lillian. Annie didn't show up either. I was stuck. My cousin Kathy and I kicked around the idea of going to New Jersey to see what we could find there. But I was very new to genealogy, had never been to New Jersey and I lacked the confidence that I had any idea where to start once I got there.

Eventually, through, I saw a page, "Hire an Expert." I figured that if I went to New Jersey I could very well just end up spinning my wheels. Maybe if I hired someone who was in New Jersey, knew how and where to search, I might find out more. I put out my project for a bid and Sheree Puccio bit. She knew of the Perth Amboy Kearnys well and it was her home town. Perfect! I gave her what I had. After years of searching off and on, putting it aside after getting frustrated from not getting anywhere, I was more than ready to give it to someone who had far more access than what I had.

Sheree went at it. With her knowledge about the New Jersey Kearney lines, where most of them settled, the families they married into, the kind of things families did in the 19th century, she began going down different avenues. But each one of them was a dead end. "Don't worry, I'll find her!" she'd write. Months went by, I didn't spend as much time on Ancestry because I thought I had exhausted all the data they had. But one day I went back and the search engine popped up an 1895 New Jersey Census that listed Roe Kearney, Annie, Lillian and Edna! This census didn't give ages, but I knew this was my family. Was this the Roe V Kearney who was married to Elizabeth? Could Roe have remarried? Running dates, all of Roe V Kearney's children with Elizabeth would have been adults. Maybe Roe was a widower.

I sent the information to Sheree. Everything started to make sense. Sheree found Roe and Annie's death certificates, dates and where Roe and his siblings are buried. She found Roe's parents which is leading us to New York to find the rest of the family. She found Annie's maiden name and her parent's names. Finally, the barrier was broken and a new light shone in not only to reveal some answers but that there is more to the story. Like why did Annie, the same age as Roe's daughters marry him? Was she destitute? Is there a love story there? I can see why Lillian would have been estranged from her half brothers and sisters; they likely wouldn't have recognized her as family. But what is Annie's story? Annie died when Lillian was a young teenager. What was Lillian's relationship like with Roe after Annie died? What happened to her sister, Edna? And where is this supposed connection to the General? We're still searching. And I think there will be quite a story to tell. Stay tuned.

I think what I have learned through all this is to write down things for future generations. Put names on pictures, record family stories and make as much of it as public as you feel comfortable with. I have already found extra hints through other people on who have made their information public. I have contacted them and we've exchanged information, shared documents and shared a common link in our heritage we would never have known otherwise. It feels good.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dreams and Dreaming

Damn! It’s so rude to be awakened in the middle of a fine dream just for the purpose of having to pee. I tried to ignore the urgent twinges in my bladder until my beautiful and fabulous characters faded away from me. If only I could place a bookmark in my head and fall quickly back to sleep and see how it ends, or punch a TiVo button to record the rest of it. This was so much better than the book I fell asleep with. Crap! Even if I could go back to sleep, which I rarely can do these days, my mind tends to flip channels and move on to another subject that is usually not very much fun. And sadly as I sat here trying to recall such a wonderful story, it had left me too.

I wish I had more dreams like that one, whatever it was about. I know I was enjoying it and had some regret that I had to leave in the middle of it. But while I'm thinking about dreams, I'm reminded that I've had some that were so profound, I remember them to this day.

One dream I had was on the eve of my 16th birthday. Sweet 16 is supposed to be a milestone in a young girl's life, so I was really happy to finely get there. In this dream, it was my birthday and I came out of my room to the voice of my father. He had that special twinkle in his eye that said he was up to something as he told me to go look outside. I stepped out into bright sunshine and parked on a carpet of lush, emerald green grass in the corral next to the house was a very small, compact helicopter. "Try it out," he said. You'll get the hang of it. I strapped myself in the little chair and flipped a switch. The blades above me began to rotate. My chair was not enclosed and I felt the wind in my face, though it wasn't strong. I took hold of the stick and I began to lift up a few feet. I didn't want to go any higher than a few feet; I just wanted to get the feel of the controls. As my confidence began to build, I moved around a little, then went higher above the roof and tree tops. My stomach lurched a little as it sometimes does when an elevator takes off quickly. I felt so free, excited, joyful, and then damn! Something woke me up. I lay there for what must have been five or ten minutes trying to decide if it was all a dream or it really happened. The excitement of soaring in the air was still stirring within me and I wanted to do it again. I was disappointed when I decided that it had to be a dream and that I couldn't run out and try my little helicopter again.

Years later, I mentioned the dream to a family therapist. She laughed and agreed it was a wonderful dream, but ones like that one are not unusual. They are often associated with transition from child to adulthood. It made sense to me. I was going to experience the freedom that came from driving, and being able to date if I wanted to but boy I would sure like to experience that feeling of flying again.

The second profound dream I have had came several months after my son, Jason passed away. One man who lost his whole family in a horrible automobile accident told me not to be surprised if I started "getting weird dreams." The mortician, whom we had already been acquainted with through Erin's skating rink told me that there will come a time when the real grief would hit me between the eyes at the strangest times. He told me of a time when he lost a loved one and it hit him while he was driving. He said it was so strong, sudden and out of the blue that he had to pull over and stop the car. Both of these warnings proved true in the dream.

One evening as I was just starting to fall asleep, I felt a presence walk into our room. My mind thought it was Erin and I expected her to shake me on the shoulder and tell me what was wrong. I didn't ask her; I let her come to me. But she didn't. She just stood at the foot of my bed. This is where it gets weird, but it didn't strike me as being strange at all at the time.

The figure was trying to talk and somehow got the message to me, thanking me and thanking Dad for everything and what we ment to her. I was given a symbol; a dove, like a Christmas tree ornament. (there were a number of years that I decorated our Christmas trees with doves). Then to my husband, she gave a drum with a scroll. Again like a Christmas tree ornament. The figure, with raised hands began to chant, praising God. That's when I got slamed in the gut and realized that it was goodbye. I started to scream, but nothing would come out of my mouth; my breath was gone. That's when my husband started shaking me. I woke up with a start, sucking in precious air. I remember I continued to gasp for air for some time, but I didn't want to tell Kit what had happened because I needed to think about it. At first, because I really thought it was Erin coming into our room, she was the one saying goodbye but deep down I knew it had to be Jason, but it took me awhile to accept that.

I read a book sometime later about death and dying that many cultures expect family members to have similar dreams as part of the process of separation. Sometime after that, Erin had her own dream, but it wasn't as traumatic as mine. Whenever she mentions it, she said it was very comforting. Jason hasn't come to me in a dream since.

My mom had a prophetic dream once. She thought it had to have meant something because it was so real to her. She said she was driving up the hill towards our house and saw our home on a trailer being moved very, very slowly across the top of the hill. Then it started snowing. A few months later, they found and purchased several acres in Coloma and began building their retirement home which took a very long time to complete because of countless delays (slow moving house). The sale of the property they owned gave them plenty of money to build their home and pad their retirement funds (the snow or rain often symbolizes money).

So I guess the whole point to this little story is that there are all sorts of dreams. Most of them we don't remember. But maybe the profound ones, the ones that stick with us down to our core, the ones where we say "It was so real" we should pay more attention to. There may be a message there.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Family Herritage

My father is my inspiration because he could tell so many stories about growing up in Hackettstown, NJ. In his later years, we spoke one time about his leaving this plane of existence. I said, "Dad, you know what the best thing is you could leave us? Your stories."

He had a very old Royal typewriter purchased decades prior from an office that was getting new electric ones. Over the next year or so, he began to write down his stories on that old typewriter as best he could; pecking away with two fingers (he was a terrible speller!). He finally gave them to me in an old school binder; precious writings I still love to look through and remember when he used to tell them with a twinkle in his eye and laughter in his voice. Boy could he tell a good yarn when he had a drink in his hand and was in the mood! This is his legacy; our family's little piece of American heritage. But the story doesn't end with my dad. My generation has lived a good part of our expected lifespan. What about the stories we can tell and pass to our grandchildren. What a waste not to!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Simple Joy

Let me tell you a story about this picture. This is our pasture on the East side of our house, probably early Spring before the warm, dry weather turned the grass to a golden brown. It doesn't look anything like this now. Our little neighborhood stayed pretty static for the many years I have lived here, until the early 1970's when a real estate developer purchased the property and filled this little gully with landfill. We have houses looking down on us now.

This was always a beautiful time of year. Just out of the camera shot were two Weeping Willows that budded out and made a canopy that covered an area as big as a house, it's branches reaching the ground until the cows trimmed them up. In the hot summer months, that is where I liked to hang out because it was always about 10 degrees cooler.

The cows or horses, whichever we had at the time were always kept off the pasture all winter and my dad waited until the ground was dry enough that their hooves wouldn't dig up the earth. That first day we turned livestock loose to eat the fresh green pasture in the Spring was always a pleasure to watch. They would run out there, often kicking their hind legs, their joy so obvious having such wonderful stuff to graze and room to roam.

Do you see the bottom between the two hills? It looks a little flat there. That was where my dad decided to grow his own grain for the cows. He had it fenced off, using an electric wire around the parimeter to discourage anyone from pushing down the fence. The animals had a healthy respect for it and kept their distance. He grew "Indian corn," the multcolored ears you often see in the grocery stores to use as decoration at Thanks Giving. We never tried eating this variety ourselves; my dad said it wasn't very good. But the cows loved it. He also grew sweet corn for us. He and Mom stripped the cobs of the kernals and froze it. There is nothing quite like corn fresh picked and dropped immediately into boiling water!

At that planting time, I asked my dad if the popcorn we bought from the store would grow. Dad said that he thought it had been treated and probably wouldn't, but he let me try. I got to plant two rows of popcorn all along the whole length of that patch of dirt. The corn grew strong and healthy. The stalks were about half the height of the sweet corn but otherwise looked identical.

So at harvest time, we had three varieties of corn and we had to husk it all. My sister, me, Mom and Dad sat out in the back yard rubbing two ears of corn together that had been dried out in the sun; the Indian corn going into a barrel and the popcorn going into mason jars. Mom took care of the sweet corn, loading it up into the freezer in small bags. My fingers got so sore and it seemed to take forever to get everything de-cobed. I'd come home from school and be sent out back to rub ears of corn together, especially "my" popcorn. You can imagine how many stalks of corn covered those two rows and how many ears each one produced! I think we had the last bowl of popcorn from that harvest about 10 years later!

Then I remember after the all the corn was harvested, Dad took down the electric wire and part of the fence and let the cows in to eat the stalks. There was that joy again in these animals at the bounty they were given. And as I remember that simple joy that could also be taken as thanks, I wonder where my simple joy and appreciation of simple things has gone. It's good to think back and be reminded once in awhile.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heart in the Art - An Unlikely Revelation

Back when my son was about 12 years old, I was working a job and for that time, Jason was a latch key kid. I worried about him, but he seemed to prefer coming home and being alone for the hour or two before I arrived. Not too long after this new routine got established, I came across some very good sketches in his room. Among them was a lifelike wooden bucket with a knothole. The texture of the wood grain was perfect. The shape of the bucket was proportional, the detail minute. "Who drew this?" I asked him. "I did," he said. I had a hard time believing that a 12-year-old could draw something so well and he was reluctant to give me any details. Later, I started finding unique cartoon bears who lived on forested islands that floated in the air, the tree roots dangled below. He said he drew them too. After my job ended, I came across a kids TV show where the host was giving drawing lessons on drawing the adorable bears. Jason was picking up on the techniques like a sponge.

Wow, my kid's got some talent here, I thought and I wanted to encourage it. But I found out quickly that he didn't like to be pushed or encouraged on anything he took an interest in. After enrolling him in a summer art class at the junior college for kids that summer, he stopped drawing altogether; stopped for years and nothing I could say would get him to pick up a pencil again. When he finally did, he said he wanted to do it his way. He didn't want to take classes. He liked the medium he drew with and wasn't interested in trying any other. I backed off. He started to draw in charcoal, not on a regular basis but only when he wanted to. Most of what I saw were things that he copied like album covers or popular logos of his favorite rock bands. I would sometimes discover that he had stayed up all night working on a piece in his room. Thankfully it wasn't on a regular basis. However, once in awhile, he would do something that came from deep inside him and it was powerful. Those pieces hit me in the gut; it made me feel something quite emotional inside myself and I would think of what must be going on in his head. It took me a little bit of time after the first shock to understand a little bit of what he was saying, and I began to see a little bit of the inner Jason.

The first piece I remember was a pencil drawing on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 typing paper. There was no outline of the face, but there were eyes closed. I could see it was his eyes. Hands gripped around a human heart; his hands. Drips of blood squeezed from the heart ran down and dripped from the bottom of it. And then there were the words. Above where the forehead of the face would be was "HATE" and below the droplets of blood formed into "LOVE." It was a statement that was disturbing at first, but the message was clear how hate can destroy love.

I knew that Jason, a teenager by this point, was having some latent anger issues that started when he went from a very safe Christian school environment to public school. He had always been taught to "turn the other cheek" and not to fight. It wasn't tolerated in his other school and any scuffles were dealt with promptly and consistently. There was no question as to what the consequences would be if there were fighting.

The public school was a whole different animal. Here, the principle did not take a firm hand and the teachers felt that they shouldn't be referees. So bullying, particularly by one very disturbed child was the daily norm and Jason was his target. We got him out of there by the second year once it became clear how miserable he was and that nothing would change within the school. But the resentment lingered with Jason. I wondered if this pencil drawing reflected that, but I believe it went a little deeper, perhaps even a little prophetic.

The second piece to hit me like the pencil drawing came later. It was one of those pieces where he stayed up all night to finish and he had it tacked up on the wall above his bed when I went in to wake him up the next morning. At first glance, it was dark and ominous. The charcoal medium helped with that. At the forefront were two hands cupped together holding a flame. In the background was a craggy precipice with juts of overhangs as far as the eye could see. On each of these cliffs were small bond fires and knelt before them facing out into the void were creatures. I couldn't tell what they were. Too much heavy metal rock bands, I thought. I felt uncomfortable with what he drew.

Once he was awake, I asked him about it. He gave me a sly smile and asked what I saw. I looked closer at the detail. The first thing was the hands holding the fire. The smoke coming up from the flame formed into hearts. That was a little unexpected given my first impression. The creatures had wings. "What are these?" I asked. "Angels," he said. Then he quoted me a piece of scripture, I can't remember which one. But basically, the creatures were the seven angles guarding the gates of Hell. Then I understood that the fires represented the love and light of God holding back the evil darkness of Hell.

I don't know where this drawing is now. Jason had been looking for it before he died. But its image is something that I will not soon forget. I think it was prophetic and it answered a question I had been pondering for a very long time understanding the parallel of the coming of Christ and the 10 virgins.

The parallel, Jesus told, goes that these 10 virgins are waiting for their bridegroom. They don't know when He will come. When He does, it's very sudden and at night and the virgins must light their lamps to go with Him. But some of the virgins didn't have oil for their lamps and the ones that did only had enough for themselves. So, I had been asking, what is the oil? I knew it was important in this parallel, but the story didn't really spell it out. The overall message says to stay alert and prepared for the coming of Christ. I think the deeper meaning is that the oil represents love and only through love can you find Him in his second coming. Only with love can you defeat hate and evil. Only with love can the light of God shine to help you through the darkest times. But allowing hate to take you over can snuff out the love. Jesus also warned that the world would go crazy, that hate and evil acts would become so rampant that love can can die out even in the most devout. But those who endure keeping the light of love intact will survive these times. All the art Jason did that came from inside him, it always seemed to be about the battle between love and hate. Intentional or not, his art gave me a new understanding and perspective. This is the one precious gift he left me.