Category: Healing


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“Springer Barn” Photo by Carl Johnson

I met Evelyn Johnson in 2006 while speaking out in support of saving the barns at Maple bay during a city council meeting.  She was full of energy and described herself as “the barn lady.”  Later, I purchased her book, The Barns of Old Mission Peninsula and Their Stories, and found myself immersed in a delightful series of stories stored for years beneath the rafters of these great structures.  

Earlier this year, as I began research for my own historical narrative on Old Mission, I received and invitation from the barn lady to work on quilt barn squares for some of the historic barns out on the peninsula.  Quilt barns can be found throughout the Appalachian States, where they originated as a way for people to tell the story of their community and family history and display it proudly on the side of their barns.  These barns are found traditionally off the beaten path and quickly spur the most adventurous to explore less traveled roads to learn more about the region.  

We’ve been painting all week alongside some wonderful people from our own community, all committed to sharing our story with future visitors to the Grand Traverse Region.  Yesterday, my mother-in-law, an artist, accompanied me and helped detail a square featuring cherries at its center.  It’s wonderful to see this coming together and in the next few weeks, as the remaining squares ascend, we’ll see the beginning of a new chapter in our history – a manifested adventure for people from young to old.

Photos by S. Tengelitsch

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Anne and Christy demonstrate their technique to Popo.

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Evelyn, Tina and Samantha work to finish the first coat on a square.DSC_0007

Windmill pattern.
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Choosing yellows.DSC_0012

Popo at 2Ladds Winery overlooking East BayDSC_0022

Stacia works on the cherries.
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The tape still adhered, two squares take shape.
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A close friend of ours was recently diagnosed with cancer.  She’s a farmer’s wife who has always been good to us and treated us like family.  She’s a second mother to me and the news hit with a ferocity unmatched by my own diagnosis.  I say that because, as with most things in life, we know what we can handle, but when the same infliction is paired with someone else, the doubt we shelved on our own behalf is more easily recovered.  

And then there’s an anger that resides in the memory of what it was like to survive cancer.  The horror of it, the fear that will emerge and the knowledge you can’t fight it for them.  At the same time, the experience of cancer can draw out strengths we didn’t know we had and it’s a comfort to know our friend will experience, in her hardest battle, a courage that everything else will, eventually, surrender to.  

When you are diagnosed, your battle isn’t to fight the disease, but to fight to remain in the moment; to stave off the need to know what lies ahead, to find solace supplied by each breath unaware, as we all are, whether ill or healthy, of what future we’ll meet around the next corner.  That is primary.

Secondary is our need to survive by whatever means we find acceptable.  And for those co-survivors, there are no sidelines.  It’s our duty to our loved ones that helps us focus on the here and now and survive alongside them.  We find our own courage – a word that reflects a strength that does not come from muscle or brawn, but from the heart.  And again, as I discovered emerging from my own illness, we find ourselves feeling fortunate having come to some understanding that we are all in this together.  And that is something cancer will never destroy.

I’ve spent the last several months trying to come to terms with Bill’s death.  And when I say this, I don’t mean his death alone, but the complexities of our former time together, how things ended, my behavior, his behavior, our separate paths and what might have been a good pairing of friends, his decision to end his life, the method he chose, his last postings, Facebook, how networking sites function to superficially bridge gaps, etc, etc, etc.  

My textual artifact is the suicide note; my last assignment involved another textual artifact pertaining to suicide and my first assignment was no less cheery.  In all of this, I had spiraled into a functioning depression; struggling to reconcile so much without anyone to talk with who really knew anything about Bill.  

Somehow this mattered to me.  I process through talking and in this case, I just couldn’t find my voice.  In finishing up this final project, I feel like I am finally letting go of everything Bill has represented in my life.  There were wonderful warm feelings, but there was also a lot of regret and wishing I could have ended things with more maturity or handled my life at that stage with greater dignity.  I’ve found myself obsessing over it – night after night of dreams filled with visions from the past, but with no sure way of venting my feelings other than to funnel this process into my schoolwork.  

I’m really fortunate to have patient friends and family.  Though Erick wasn’t around and only met Bill once in passing, he’s been a good support.  He can’t speak to who I was, but he’s wonderful about reminding me who I have become.  And in winding up the semester, and with spring offering a gentle nudge, I’m finding the strength of character to let go of the past and to move on.  

I’ve finally come to accept that Bill may truly have gone to his grave not liking me very much and this was really, truly hard for my ego to acknowledge.  At the same time, it’s so like Bill and that was one thing I loved about him.  I’ll not let go of the positive memories I have of our time together, but the grieving has ended and is being replaced with a renewed sense of responsiblity to those I love.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed over to Empire to witness the release of an adolescent eagle back in to the wild.  Despite not having the characteristic coloring of an adult eagle, she was still a beautiful, powerful presence.  A few hundred people were there and we all cheered as the magnificent bird soared skyward.  

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Following the eagle, Erick and I took the girls over to the big lake and collected stones and watched a lone freighter pass quietly in the distance.  The water was a vibrant hue – a turquoise blue.  

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The sun was setting as we left for Boones in Glen Arbor (yum).  And on the way back, I captured my farm at dusk.  The wind turbine moved slowly on a light breeze.  Love that place.  

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The girls were sleepy on the way home.  

And finally, a photo of Grandpa and me at Thanksgiving.

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Yesterday, the bat kept flying into my life.  When the bat flies into your life, it is a signal it is time to bury some old part of yourself that has long ago died, but you have continued to carry.  Last night I was thinking about a time in my life when I was homeless and sleeping on a stiff bench in the Art Department building on campus.  I remember waking up to a class beginning and concerned students leaning over curiously poking at my arm.  The not knowing what will happen day-to-day is exhausting.  

That moment reflects a period of my life when I was filled with a sort of listless wanderlust.  Wanderlust minus destination and purpose.  At the time, I couldn’t afford an apartment of my own and had seriously irked my parents over something.  

A week into my ordeal, my now-husband invited me to Nashville and I quit school and headed down south for a few months.  When I returned, I was offered a beautiful place to live rent-free, which I immediately and shamelessly accepted.   I felt enormous gratitude, but I was still without purpose and a constant thorn in everyone’s side.

In a very real way, I didn’t “grow up” until I got married and settled with my husband into a home of our own.  Our marriage, though rocky in the beginning, offered the kind of security I hadn’t felt before.  And as we began having children, I slowly began to explore my purpose on this planet.  Over the last ten years I have shed my old skin (or killed off cells with chemo), and now it is time to bury that part of me without direction, without hope.  

Partly, this moment is inspired by the election, but I also believe some internal cycle ended long ago was carried along unnecessarily in the form of guilt or shame or an unwillingness to connect with the people of my past.  At this point in my life, though much remains uncertain, I am filled with gratitude and a feeling of hope that accompanies each new, promising hint of change emerging daily.  I feel much like the butterfly bush whose old-growth skeleton as the new shoots come up through and flower.  I have weeded out those branches that no longer serve my purpose for growth.

After 21 months on the campaign trail (longest in history), Barack Obama still inspires.  Please listen to Sen. Obama’s closing arguments (full speech).

Listen here at the Daily Beast.

After my treatments ended, I was asked to speak at the Survivor’s Day Picnic at GT Commons that May.  I just stumbled upon the speech and was struck by the last paragraph.  

And that’s exactly why they call us “survivors.”  The outcome doesn’t matter, but rather what emerges within us:  A renewed sense of courage, a desire to reach out to others, the realization that we are in this together and that no cancer can destroy our hope for the future.  

In a way, cancer is not just a disease, but a state of mind.  It’s a negative energy that permeates the body.  In these difficult times, as our nation struggles with its own form of self-depreciating warfare, I still hold out hope.  And I know we’ll get through this together for the better and with that renewed sense of courage that will enable us to make positive changes in a new, forward-thinking direction.  

In wellness, Samantha

Recently at a McCain rally, a woman said she didn’t trust Obama because “He’s an Arab.”

McCain was quick to address the crowd, telling them amid boos that Obama was a “decent family man and not an Arab.”  

Firstly, I’ve been to two Obama rallies and whenever McCain is brought up, it’s usually in regards to a policy and the crowd listens and maybe cheers Obama and more importantly whenever Obama states boldy that we need to come together as a nation – Democrats AND Republicans – he is cheered loudly.  Nobody yells, “Kill him” or “terrorist” or “traitor” or “off with his head.”  I can’t even believe McCain tried to suggest this was normal.  I’m also irritated that McCain, through his disjoined logic, apparently believes you can’t be both Arab and a good family man. 

We need a president who can UNITE the parties, not further divide them.  And this is one more reason I support Sen. Barack Obama.

When Taylor Carol got sick at age eleven with leukemia, his father and CEO of Game 7 Entertainment Inc. got busy.  Taylor’s dad, Jim, went to work creating a video game platform that would help families and friends raise money to fight cancer.  Visit PledgePlay.com to take the first swing against cancer.