Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Last Stop Before Heaven

clarisse merigeot, shadowy

This is a story I found stashed in an old journal. The author is Christina Hotsko, a dear friend and fellow writer who shared many great stories, the finding of a second family, the Mcfaddens, and an unsuspected home when we so badly needed one. Thank you Christina for putting this story to words. Thank you Janet, Micheal, Summer, Meghan, Bryce, and Mikie for loving us and our journeys and our mistakes and for giving us a home.

I'll write about home-that's easy enough. What I didn't realize was the many definitions of the word home, the many different conceptions of the idea of home. To me home is home-a place I know, a place I take comfort in; a place I can turn to, always; where I can run to and play, where I can turn to and cry. Home will always be a retracing of my childhood and a tracing of my future. Thomas Wolfe argues, "You can't go home again." Perhaps this is true, in the sense that home, like life, is and always will be changing. The home you leave will never be the home you return to-we shape our definition of the word home and we shape the home we live in. Emily Dickinson wrote, "Where thou art, that, is Home." I leave home and I go away-to school, to study, to work, to live-but I keep an image of my home with my family nearby and create new homes where I go. If you can get people to understand you then you can understand what it means to have a new home. Undoubtedly the house where you live, the first of your homes, will always be the place to which you will return. But to survive in this world new homes are constantly being built in the company of others, in the company of those who are able to understand you.

I started having dinner at the McFaddens's house, every Thursday night. No questions asked, just show up. That's what they said. I knew them from Summit, the coffeehouse nearby at which I had spent numerous hours of those first eighteen months of college. There was no formal meeting, no expectations to be met, just a once-a-week dinner with a family away from home. I often sit and wonder about the people with whom we come across in this life. There must be a reason for the meetings, whether or not it is ever known; we are affected by them, just as they are by us. I remember, after the first initial dinners, thinking, this family has taken me in as one of their own. They already have four younger children, the eldest being fourteen, and the youngest three. Slowly I began feeling more like an elder sister to the kids, a younger friend to the adults. Slowly I realized I had been accepted and by now I have come to understand that I am not a guest at their house but an adopted member of their family.

At some point last spring the McFadden's neighbor Janet was going to be marrying john, and they were searching for a pianist to play at their wedding reception. After discovering I was a friend of the McFadden's I was hired instantly by this couple-to-be and before I knew it I was invited over to their pre-wedding parities, meeting more neighbors, and when the wedding fate came, I played at the reception for a ceremony that had united them for life.

A year later, it I spring once again. A time for change, a time for new beginnings. I still am having Thursday-night dinners with my adopted family, only the family has grown; Ashley is the newest addition, another adopted college student. The "youngest," I am told. As of now there are three of us college students; Amanda, the respsonsible older child-the , "Dad" says, "will take care of us when we're old." I am the middle child, Ashley the youngest. Of the three, that is. Then we have the other four children, making the new McFadden household one of seven children.

A year later and, after everything, that has gone on, it is once again Thursday night and Ashley and I are having dinner with the McFadden's. Janet comes over; John is not doing well. He had been in the hospital for a while, his cancer has gotten worse. After 46 years of working with chemicals, only now has it affected him. The McFadden's day he fluctuates between doing really well and falling apart. Janet says he came home this past weekend. "The first things he did was get into his own bed. He said there's nothing like being in your own bed and in your own home. He asked if I remembered the clouds we used to talk about, the clouds we would see when we fell asleep. Wouldn't it be grand=, he said, if the last things you looked at before falling asleep would be clouds, and when you awake the first this you would see were clouds? I said yes and smiled; he smiled, then fell asleep. The best sleep he had had in a while." He went back to the hospital the next day.

It's Tuesday and I see Ashley in the library. She tells me the hospital had informed Janet that her husband has less that a week to live. She tells me the McFadden's called her earlier that morning and asked if she was busy, if she had work to do. Suprisingly, no. Ashley is an artist; the Mcfadden's wanted to paint the ceiling above Janet and John's bed and fill it with clouds. All day Tuesday Ashley stands of a ladder and paints the clouds and the sky under which John and Janet will fall asleep peacefully, rested, untroubled, dreaming.

I leave Friday to Florida, my sister's graduation. I return Sunday and call the McFadden's, letting them know I have gotten "home" safely. John came home from the hospital that Friday afternoon. As darkness stole the blue sky and the white clouds, as daytime shifted to night, John fell asleep in his own house, in his own bed, next to his wife, both of them under their own clouds. Saturday morning the sun rose and darkness fell. The sky-clear blue. The clouds-vanished. Not a single cloud could be seen. In his sleep,. John had stolen all the clouds from the sky and taken them with him to heaven.

these days since have been clear, the troubles washed away with the rain that came, the future shown amidst clouds of white and skies of blue. In the end, you see, we all come together, filling in missing gaps that make each one of us complete. How I found a home away from home is in itself a mystery, but I have become a part of their life and they a part of mine, affected day in and day out buy the activities their days, by the experiences of mine. Away from home I can still have a home, a place I know, a place I take comfort in; a place I can turn to, always; where I can run to and play, where I can turn to and cry. Home will always be your first home but, while you are away, there are always little spaces that need to be filled with love, laughter, tears, and cries. So, if you can find a home-away-from-home take it, and cherish it. In the meantime, take time to notice the clouds in the sky.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet sirs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes, a thousand tangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
(William Shakespeare, The Tempest III.ii.135-43)


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Thanks for writing.

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