“Can you imagine what it’s like seeing life from the other side?” For those that have followed my writing for a while, you know Teo’s Gelato on 38th in Austin is a special place for me. Last Wednesday, I was sitting at Teo’s, after dropping my youngest, Katelyn, off at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School for another day of 6th grade. However, what unfolded over the next few hours was definitely not routine. For that matter, what has unfolded over the last few days is beyond imagination, but when “your heart is open wide, you’ll believe it.”
And, for the last hour, I have been having a conversation with Nicholas here at Stouthaus Coffee Pub on Lamar… yes, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops! Nicholas was here with his son, Finley. Finley is only 5 months old, and as I looked over at him, I remembered “wheeling” Taylor around the University of Texas School of Law when he was this age. It was my third year of law school. It was late 1999. Taylor had been born earlier that year, at the end of January. Fortunately, Nicholas and Finley decided to move over to the couch at Stouthaus, and Nicholas and I started an unexpected, yet powerful conversation. Quite frankly, this blog post on “Can You Imagine?” would not be complete but for the many nuggets of thinking that Nicholas unleashed in my mind. This is the power of authenticity and vulnerability. It is why I like to talk with people so much. I’m lucky Nicholas was of a similar spirt this morning.
One of these nuggets that Nicholas shared was the notion of “thin places.” According to Celtic mythology, “a thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.” Teo’s, for me, is a thin place. It sits across from Seton Hospital. Seton Hospital is where I last held hands with Maureen before she passed on the morning of October 21, 2014. As I awoke in darkness that morning, in my cot, on my side of her hospital bed, I looked out across a starlit night and down at Teo’s. It remains a thin place to this day and no more so than last Wednesday.
So, with all this talk about last Wednesday, you might be wondering what exactly happened there at Teo’s. Well, I was at my MacBook Pro keyboard writing a grant proposal that CLOUD will be jointly submitting with a leading onco-philanthropy to support our work with a leading cancer center in the new year to make my vision for CLOUD and a new Internet real and #changethefight with cancer (really wish I could say who, but soon enough). With the joy of Apple Music, I was listening to a Yes album that I had not heard before. One of Yes’ songs was Maureen and my wedding song, The Meeting. As I became absorbed in my work on the proposal, though, the words from a song on the album, Magnification, from 2001 started to enter my consciousness. It was no longer background music. The lyrics were coming through this “thin place,” Teo’s and Seton, my connection to my Maureen. The song is titled simply, “Can You Imagine?” and some of its lyrics follow:
Can you imagine what it’s like seeing life
From the other side
Do you imagine darkened light, starless night
You might need a guide
And will the illusion confuse you, play with your thoughts
And alter your mind
Or become a delusion, include you
Change your existence for another kind
See what you see for yourself
‘Til your heart is open wide
Wish what you wish for yourself, and you’ll find it there
And you’ll believe it, and you’ll believe it
I knew what was happening, so I walked outside on this beautiful morning and simply stood by the bus stop on 38th, by the sign for Teo’s, and looked up. And cried. And smiled. And breathed. The words of this song and its music washing over my soul. I was shaking, because as I know now, I was in a thin place.
For me. For the kids. The thin place is always where and when love opens the door. In this place, the door is always wide open. It got thinner as I walked around the parking lot of 26 Doors, the name for the shopping complex where Teo’s is located. Other songs followed “Can You Imagine,” and the thin place stayed thin as the words of the songs that followed seemed to mimic and follow the exact thoughts and the exact feelings of love that were washing over me.
Maureen can see life from the other side, and when we are open to it, we get a brief glimpse through the thin place and see it, too. It is beautiful. It is powerful. It moves me. It is her way of telling me something important. In this case, she was telling me that my work to #changethefight with cancer, born of love, is bigger than I will ever know.
Maureen and I have another thin place. It is on the back road from 290 to Blanco, via Henly. It is the way we liked to go to San Antonio. About half way to Blanco on 165, there is a hill, where you crest, and as you prepare to drive down the hill that follows, the entire Hill Country opens in front of you. We always waited for this spot on our drive, and when we reached it, we would always sigh together and smile. We knew at this spot that we were meant to be in Texas. That we were meant to have moved here from Chicago 22 years ago. That we were meant for each other. That we loved each other. Forever. For what happened next to make sense, though, I need to make a little detour in my writing…
…. so, I frequently joke that iCal needs a connector to heaven, so that Maureen can keep up with our family calendar. She was good at this. I’m not. Never was. Still can’t get myself to be that organized. I tease her about it now even 26 months since her passing… and then, in this thin place, at our hill, on the way to Blanco, she responded. Remember that grant proposal from last Wednesday? Well, in order for the work to begin there are about 12 people, both from the cancer center and from my virtual CLOUD team that needed to be available on the same 2 1/2 days for a physical meeting. For anybody that has scheduled a meeting, they know this one is a virtual impossibility. Nope. As I crested the hill, looking over the Hill Country, a notification popped up on my iPhone. The dates in late January actually worked. For everybody. Maureen had reached out across our thin place to remind me that she, and God, had a much bigger calendar, and that they were on it.
“My heart was wide open, and I believed it.” Little did I know, however, that, the thin place was becoming a thin week, and we weren’t done yet. Saturday night was the annual gingerbread house decorating party, hosted by dear friends of ours from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. Saturday was the 14th annual version of this joyous event. Taylor was 3 when they started. Katelyn had not been born yet. She hadn’t met her friend, Ella, daughter of the hosts, until 2nd grade on their unicycles. We started attending these lovely gatherings a few years back. This past Saturday was mind blowing. I was sitting in their living room, watching the fire, and started into a conversation with another of the guests. As we talked, we discovered our connection to Chicago. Talked about Yak-Zies, a place Maureen and I loved to get burgers. Talked about the Cubs. The conversation continued as he introduced me to his wife and as I shared that Maureen and I had met at Apple… and then, his wife says, “oh, I was neighbors with an Apple executive in the northern suburbs of Chicago, but his plane went down years ago outside of Raleigh, NC in an ice storm.” I only wish there were words to describe my stunned silence in this moment. A massive thin place had just opened up, a rift, a rapture, a tearing in the fabric between heaven and earth.
That man, that neighbor, was the reason Maureen and I met. That man was the reason we were in Austin. That man and his plane going down was the reason I found the closest church I could on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin when I got the call that Sam Stellato had died. That his plane had gone down. And, 22 years earlier, when I returned to Chicago for his memorial service and wake, there at the corner of Old Orchard Road and Skokie Boulevard, I was there, unbeknownst to both of us at the time, at the same wake with the person to whom I was speaking now. At the gingerbread party. Sam Stellato was Maureen and my manager at Apple when we started going out in the fall of 1988 and started dating on New Year’s Day of 1989. Heaven and earth. Connected. Thin places. Life from the other side.
And then, as if to tell me that it was time to put all of this down in a blog post, Maureen reaches out one more time last night on my way home from yoga. The night before Taylor, our son, and I had a deeply emotional and open conversation while his sister was at volleyball. It is one of those moments where you both choose to be vulnerable. Being a senior in high school is an emotional transition, and as he shared himself and his feelings with me over the phone, I did the same. That is how trust is born. You have to be vulnerable. We were talking about that conversation last night as I was driving home from yoga, and he mentioned that after we spoke, he was watching an episode of Friday Night Lights, one of Maureen’s favorite shows. It was a thin place, because, as he told me, one of the main characters was talking about meeting Jimmy Carter and joking about how every other word the former President spoke was about Habitat (A thin place for Taylor as he had raised $85K to build an Austin Habitat home in memory of his mom and had met the former President in Memphis at the 33rd annual Carter Work Project). And as Taylor concluded sharing this story, I looked to my right on Southwest Parkway, heading home from Black Swan Yoga, as a car passed. It’s license plate was simply this, “Lov Life.”
Thank you Maureen for showing us life from the other side. For reminding us of the power of the love. Reminding us of the power of life. And to “lov” it. And I will never stop imagining the day we are together again… on the other side of life.