Today my mom, Wendy Lou Alford, would have been 70 years old, had she made it past 60. And she would have had a rip-roaring party, I tell ya… especially since it's on a Saturday!
However, nine years ago, her life was cut short from a disease which, although she was able to stave it off for years with good self care, Chinese herbs and a lot of support from her family and community, finally got the better of her formerly strong body - hepatitis C. But it's not her death, nor even her living about which I'm thinking this morning, as I sit here watching the sky lighten from dark to day. It's about her essence and her gifts; it's about what she brought – and still brings to me, and I would venture to say, and all those who knew and loved her. It is a testimony to her spirit that, for the last nine years, I still receive calls and emails on her birthday, and every time I've sent out an email or posted a note, I've received numerous responses saying that others were thinking of her on this occasion, too. It's that – her indomitable spirit, her undying gift for leaving a lasting impression - which is on my heart this morning.
Since she passed, my life has changed in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. Although I knew my kids would grow and leave to create wonderful lives of their own, I had no idea that they would both become world travelers, nor that they would come to be the unwavering pillars of love, strength and support they have been in the years since her death. I have stepped into living as a single woman in her 40's, feeling stronger and more confident than ever before, in many ways following in my mother's footsteps. I have moved away from the home I thought I would inhabit for the rest of my life, carving out a new path and creating a new community in a place I could never have imagined hanging my hat – Los Angeles. And, although I have relocated, it seems ironic yet so fitting that, of all the places I could have landed, I landed in Topanga Canyon – a place much like our home in the Sierras.
Nothing, really, has remained as it was when my mom was alive. And it is this about which I am thinking this morning… the way in which her living – and her dying – always inspired me and so many who knew her to stretch beyond our comfort zones and go for our best lives, even when – especially when – it meant going out on the "skinny branches" into unknown territory.
I've written many pieces about her and who she was, about her being larger-than-life, her unwavering courage during her battle with Hep C, her phenomenal ability to make friends in an instant with anyone she met, her deep love of the natural world, and her incredible ability and all of these things were who she was. The thing is, she still inspires me on an almost daily basis.
Honestly, I feel at a bit of a loss for words, but the essence of what I am trying to say is that, in her courageous living and dying and beyond, she has carried a torch of sorts for me. She has walked ahead on this path called life, pointed out the roots and rocks upon which I might stumble - or not and let me stumble and learn. She's held my hand in the particularly dark and scary parts where I might have been too afraid to venture without her by my side. She's stopped me short in my tracks – countless times – to stand in awe and amazement at the beauty of the scenery before me, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the scent of fresh rain, the wonder of being alive.
It seems so ironic that, for a woman who was so vocal about how beautiful and precious and wondrous the world is, I am more moved by her guidance to recognize it now than ever before. She walks with me in the mornings on the misty mountain trails, dances with me on the beach, smiles through me at each stranger on the street, and most importantly gets me up on many a morning when I'd rather stay cozy in bed to write, to correspond, to plan and execute this big life I've chosen to live.
It is she – and the vision of my children's hopeful yet uncertain future – who reminds me that if I want to be of service to humanity and the world, it takes me getting up and staying up, getting uncomfortable and pushing on to do it. No one is going to do it for me. Her favorite quote, from Anais Nin, sums up her life and legacy, "…and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom." In everything she was and did during her brief visit here, in her determined month-long fight to live long enough to receive a liver transplant, and in her guidance from beyond, she shouts from the top of her lungs, "Be the one you are waiting for!"
In this moment, then, I ask you, on behalf of a woman whose large life, and even larger spirit continues to inspire her daughter, her grandchildren and countless others, what will it take for you to risk blossoming? In the words of Mary Oliver, "What will you do with this one wild and precious life?"
I ask you because the world needs you now and Wendy is out there, somewhere, cheering you on, holding you accountable and lifting you up to Be the Change you wish to see in the world.