July 07, 2002

Original Beauty

Outside a household powered by secrets and anger, I had someone who loved me *just because* and *even though,* someone who herself had to learn how to "be" against tremendous odds and challenges, who taught me it was okay to "be," to be "myself," to acknowledge, ease and forgive my own pain, to love, laugh, cry, to accept, to understand I can't fix what isn't mine, to be open and present, not just a reflection. More than anyone else, she shaped the healthy me. And as I grow older, my husband says, "You are more like her every day." I smile. I know. It's that kind of connection, even though we live 1,000 miles apart. Our hearts live in tandem.

Aunt Penny, my dead father's baby sister, is special. She is a wonder. She took care of me, kept me with her during those days when everything around me was crumbling, kept me laughing, showed me hidden joy, how to access that joy in the worst of times. She is the one who greeted me, coming home from kindergarten that day, took me upstairs, and told me my father was dead.

She is in me.

I'm five, in the back seat with Auntie at the wheel, crawling down Westfall Road, the car ahead of us dawdling along. She says:

"Wouldn't you know I'd get behind Farmer Jones and his Wife."

In my wonder of her, I say: "Aunt Penny, you know everyone!"

We laugh, the 20 years age difference between us erased. She is my friend.

I'm 35, driving down the six-lane Atlanta interstate for the first time, cars flying by me on all sides doing 80. I call her on my cell phone:

"Aunt Penny, It's so disorienting. Overwhelming. I'm driving in six lanes of traffic!"

She knows me, says: "You're only driving in one lane at a time."

We laugh, the 20 years age difference between us erased. She is my friend.

When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, I was 10. This former nun who left the convent, married a Jewish man, moruned the loss of two brothers, one of them my father, was the strongest person I knew. I told her, "Auntie you can get through this. You know I know." In her mind, there was never any other option. The disease that gradually took away her ability to walk, cost her any number of surgeries and a career she loved at the University of Rochester, confined her to a wheel chair, challenged her to keep her own home even though she has lived alone since divorcing my Uncle 20 years ago, this disease has not changed or disfigured her--only brought her beauty more intensely to the surface.

She is original beauty. She is the most amazing person I know.

She is also, I just learned from a call to her this morning, having open heart surgery next week. Difficult enough for a healthy 60-year-old, the procedure and recovery will be especially challenging because of her MS. It's a biggie. About the biggest thing she's faced yet. And still, as we talked about it, she was chasing her companion, Sammy the cat, around the downstairs of her home, wheeling after him, "Sammy, get over here!" and I'm laughing with her, telling her, "Auntie, you've faced things this big--I know you will make it."

And this time, I'm hearing something different in her voice, if I'm not mistaken: she's tired. The shere length and suprise sideroads of her personal journey have made her weary. And I'm worried. Not now, Auntie. Not now.

All this is to say, if you find room in your thoughts, meditation, prayers, and whatever else you do to get in touch with positive energy, the creator, empathy for your fellow earth travellers, then please send some prayers and good thoughts Aunt Penny's way.

And thank you.