Thursday, November 22, 2018

Small Bursts of Grace

A litany of thanksgiving for small bursts of grace:

For quiet mornings and strong coffee shared with soul friends,
neighborhood potlucks filled with toddler squeals and baby coos,
late night, life-changing conversations,
easy tears that come with remembering departed loved ones,
for the comfort and grace of authentic community, I give thanks.

For goofy Snapchat conversations with far-flung cousins,
thoughtful texts that bookend tough days,
memories that spring back while looking through photographs,
handwritten verses delivered by poet-gardener neighbors,
for the gift of communication - simple and profound - I give thanks.

For art that demands attention and opens up possibilities,
music that serves as a reminder of the goodness that remains,
words that transport and transcend,
theatre that inspires and provokes,
for the bravery of humanity in creating and sharing, I give thanks.

For mystical, intuitive healers who work to release pain and trauma,
rituals, ancient or new, that bring hope and restoration,
friends who challenge and console, tell the truth and extend grace,
those who make room for doubt and faith,
for soulful connections that celebrate the mysteries of life, I give thanks.

For the majesty of mountains and peace of valleys,
the inexplicable pull of sparkling water,
the hush in twilight and dusk,
the radiance of sunshine and the rhythm of rain,
for nature that restores and revives, I give thanks.

For shared history that brings about quick laughter,
those who see and know and choose to love anyway,
dreamers who urge us to press on,
the joy of belonging to family and friends,
for true love, which imbues life with magic, I give thanks.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Born of Love

"We are born of love;
Love is our mother."
- Rumi

Nearly a decade ago, Anne Lamott wrote an opinion piece for Salon entitled, "Why I hate Mother's Day." In it, she argues that part of her hangup with the holiday is that the celebration perpetuates the myths that women without children are somehow less important than women with children, that parents must ultimately be more loving, more fulfilled people. She calls out the problematic incompleteness of the day, the exclusivity and impreciseness. This year, on a Facebook reissue, Lamott added a disclaimer: "If you love the day, and have or had a great mom, and kids who have brought you incredible pride and joy, maybe skip it."

I happen to love the day. While I don't have children of my own, I am fortunate to have the most darling of mamas. I had read the piece years ago and didn't skip it this time around. The author often writes with the overlooked or marginalized in mind, and Lamott makes some insightful observations in her Mother's Day post. It's worth a read - especially for those who find themselves conflicted over the holiday. For those who associate the day with more pain than joy, they may find their feelings mirrored in Lamott's. There just might be some validation and comfort in her words.

I do not hate Mother's Day. While I can appreciate the criticisms Lamott and others throw at the day, I had the benefit of being raised by a devoted mama. My life has been defined by her grace and wisdom, warmth and tenderness. When you have someone so worthy of honor, it makes it easier to see the goodness behind the idea of the day.

Anna Marie Jarvis - the founder of Mother's Day - had pure intentions when she created the annual celebration. Her own mother, Ann Jarvis, was a fierce advocate of her Appalachian community. Anna was inspired by her mother's beautiful life and sought to elevate the contributions mothers make to our world. After the holiday became commercialized, Anna worked to rescind Mother's Day. Even the founder of Mother's Day understood that the holiday had become something untoward.

Mother's Day does present real challenges for real people. My young cousins are spending their first Mother's Day without their incredible mama. My Aunt Binnie is enduring her first Mother's Day without her husband. My friends who have had to bury their children relive the heartbreak. My brother is a single dad. His dual role makes for some difficult days. My friends navigating blended families have to manage warring expectations. My friends who desperately want to be mothers will go through yet another Mother's Day with grief in their hearts. Well-meaning folks will tell me of the joys I'm missing out on and urge me to get settled already.

Even with all of that, I choose to celebrate today.

I celebrate my lovely mama. She never wanted children. Until all of a sudden, she did. A few weeks later, she was pregnant with me. She considers that miracle the most profound of her life. She grew up playing Star Trek with neighbor kids and learning the viola and blasting Beatles records. She wasn't into dolls or playing house. Her desire to become a mother was as unexpected as anything. Remarkably, she was a natural. Some people are authentic nurturers, and she is chief among them. Growing up, our friends would seek Sarah Barrick out for advice, a listening ear, true understanding. She would sit with them off in a corner, laughing or crying, paying attention to that one soul in front of her. My friends and I are now grown, but she still offers that same gift, and we all take her up on it. Now as a grandma, she shines even brighter. We're all empowered by her sincere championing.

I celebrate the saints who have gone before us. My grandmother Sparky, my Aunt April, my mentor Julia, my great grandmothers, my fierce friends who never had children but were eager and generous with their love. Few days go by when I'm not reminded of the lessons they imparted, of the gift of presence they all gave wholeheartedly.

I celebrate the women who look after me as if I were their own. They've taken the time to know me and love me for my ridiculous self. I have a divine mama, but one can never have too many people who offer loving support. They serve as shining role models. I've never had the desire to be a mother, but I relish my role as Auntie, as godmother, as friend. I adore the dozens of children that add fullness and joy to my days. My phenomenal women have imbued my life with such warmth, what can I do but try to pass on a little of that to others?

I celebrate the friends who have opened up their lives to me. I am "Auntie" not only to my sweet niece but to many precious kiddos who take me by their pudgy little hands as we chase or dance. My heart wells up when I'm asked to draw or bake cookies with the ones who are growing up too fast. I'm honored as teenagers whisper their struggles and dreams. I'm part of these families, and they are a part of me.

As a woman who is purposefully child free, I still see the beauty this day has to offer. As Lamott reminds us, it can feel "incomplete and imprecise." People are sometimes excluded from the revelry. Harm can be perpetuated by outdated notions of the roles women are meant to play. There are other true criticisms that can be lobbied.

But I still love cutting roses from my garden and offering them as tokens of love so deep no gift is ever adequate. I still delight in searching for the right words to express my gratitude toward the women who love me better than I deserve. I still hold out hope that we can be more sensitive and inclusive on this day and every day as we strive to honor those who mean so much.

I was born of love. And for that - and so much more - I give thanks.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dear Abby

For Abby, on the eve of her 27th birthday.

At the end of my days,
I'll look back and remember giggles
shared in a haunted house,
confessions whispered
in the shadows of an old staircase.

I'll recall that bitter December
when, like Austen sisters,
we shared a bed and
warmed one another
with secrets and stories.

I can't imagine a time
when I won't think back
to the night when we and our neighbor,
drunk with new house jitters,
danced until we created a holy trinity.

The Sundays filled with new songs
and simple food and
the best of friends.
The late nights spent searching
for truth or comfort or beauty.

I consider the mundane mystery
we've shared and give thanks
for the everydayness of it -
the coffee, records, hairpins,
our secret language that confounds.

We've cried at the magic of the stage,
sworn we should run away
to chase our dreams,
discovered art in our own backyard,
and fallen in love with our lives.

We've grown up -
you and I -
and it's hard and gorgeous
and scary and grace-filled.
And I'm grateful for it all.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

While You're in the World

Today, a small circle of those who loved him best gathered at Sweet Gum Point to say goodbye to Doug Jester. Only a week before, most of the family had been in to celebrate an early Thanksgiving and my granddad's 90th birthday. I was too sick to go, but Uncle Doug, as always, added insight and laughter to the festivities. He died the next day of a heart attack, leaving behind a family bereaved and shaken.

My dad, long regarded as the 'designated religious person' of the family, met with my Aunt Binnie and Doug's sister Diane and led a sweet service that honored the man we all miss terribly. My cousins played a slideshow of wonderful old photos as Elton John's "Your Song" accompanied the memories flashing before us. We read from Wisdom and Matthew and were reminded how Doug's life was full of generosity and compassion. We shared stories - funny and heartbreaking - as we laughed through our tears. Doug's 3-year-old granddaughter Lily chimed in with her little voice now and then, giving everyone permission to smile.

Aunt Binnie, devoid of her soulmate, managed to speak beautifully of Doug's love for his family. Throughout the years, no matter what, he and Binnie would constantly tell one other, "You're my everything." They meant it and lived it. 

Binnie reminded her three sons how much Doug adored them. Brooks, Matt, and Sam carry so much of their sweet dad with them. They have the same handsome features and the same sense of humor. Those men love their mother with the same gorgeous blend of tenderness and fierceness. And they honor their significant others, Jaclyn and Jackie, the way their dad modeled so well. 

She spoke of Doug's absolute delight in being known as "Pappy" to Lily and her soon-to-be-born sister Molly. He was everything a grandfather should be: fun and funny, adventurous and caring, goofy and brilliant. It's unthinkable to imagine a world where my cousins' children grow up without the big hugs and sincere love of their Pappy.

My grandmother said, "He always loved us like we were his real parents. And we always loved him too." Indeed. Doug was a rock for them, driving them to one doctor's appointment after another. He was a natural caregiver, and his love for his parents-in-law was evident in everything he did.

After my cousins and brother shared stories of silly high jinks, Doug's brother-in-law ended with the lyrics from Grateful Dead's "And We Bid You Goodnight."

Even when a loved one knows they're dying, we often don't say everything we want as we offer our goodbyes. But when we lose someone so dear and vibrant without warning, the grief is mingled with another kind of loss. We all know Doug loved us, and we're all certain he knew we loved him. There really wasn't much left unsaid. Still, if I had been given the chance, I would have said something like this:

Doug, thank you. Thank you for being a real friend to my parents. I've grown up listening to stories of the fun and mischief you found yourselves in. In a world where true friends can be hard to find, you were always there for them. You were a source of encouragement and wisdom. You partied as carefree hippies together, learned how to raise families together, and grew up to be exceptional grandparents together. 

Doug, thank you. Thank you for loving my aunt with such openness and grace. You modeled a love I'm still looking for. I know it exists because you were proof. You were always generous with your love, sacrificial in your decisions, and true in your devotion. 

Doug, thank you. Thank you for being the kind of father that anyone would have been proud of. Your three sons are living testaments to your success as a dad. You loved them more than life itself. Anyone could see it. You reveled in parenthood. You taught your boys how to play, how to love their mom, how to live life to the fullest. And your fatherly love didn't stop with your own sons. It extended to countless young people over the years.

Doug, thank you. Thank you for being over the moon about being a grandfather. Your delight in Lily was precious. Your glee over the news of a new grandbaby filled our hearts. Your love for them inspired us to love better ourselves. Memories of your goofiness and silly magic tricks and little adventures will live on in the stories we tell your grandchildren.

Doug, thank you. Thank you for honoring your elders. My grandparents' lives are richer because you loved them and cared for them heroically. 

Doug, thank you. Thank you for embracing your daughter-in-law and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. You always made the circle wider, always made room for people. You loved Jaclyn and Jackie like your own. Seeing those sincere, sweet bonds gave me hope that the hard work of blending families and lives could actually be beautiful. You saw those young women as gifts, and you treated them that way.

Doug, thank you. Thank you for giving my brother a fine example. As a man, as a skilled artisan, as a father - you supplied him with extra motivation. He will honor your spirit all his days. Thank you for loving his little girl - for getting down on the ground and making her laugh. For being the same sweet uncle to her you always were to us.

Doug, thank you. Thank you for seeing me. You always took the time to relate beautifully with each person in a way that made them feel special. You always cared about what was going on, what I was trying to create, what I hoped to do and be. I can't remember a time when we were together that you didn't ask me to draw you a picture. I should have drawn you something every time you asked. You were always the family chronicler. Most of our photos and all of our videos were created by you. I'm thankful for those images of young Lindsay, shyly sharing a painting, your narrator voice cooing kind, encouraging words. I always imagined that if I ever fell in love, you'd take my beau for a boat ride, share some beer, and agree about most everything but politics. You'd come back laughing, having added him to our circle. You'd wink at me and give me one of your big bear hugs. You know, I'm going to miss all that was and all that could have been. But I'm also going to rejoice in the 34 years I had with you in my life. I will treasure the memories, and I will honor your gentle spirit all my days. We all will. I love you, Uncle Doug.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Reflection of Your Life's Kindness and Beauty

May your leave-taking be gracious,
Enabling you to hold dignity
Through awkwardness and illness.

May you see the reflection
Of your life's kindness and beauty

In all the tears that fall for you.

-from "For the Dying" by John O'Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us

Last night, I attended a farewell party for a dear former colleague. For a few hours, I was surrounded by friends I hadn't seen in months and was overwhelmed with hugs and well wishes. I was swept up in waves of gratitude as teenagers gushed about new friends and schools, immediately taking me into their confidence once again. I beamed as beautiful old women held my face in their hands and told me how much they missed seeing my smile every week. For a short while, my soul found a safe spot to settle.

As the shindig was wrapping up, I got a text: Pray. This may be it.

And then I knew. All day, my heart had been heavy. I had woken up with John O'Donohue's poetic blessing "For the Dying" on my mind. My Aunt April, who had privately dealt with cancer since the winter, was moments from death. I told the last few lingering friends, all pastors. We stood together in a rag-tag circle, sharing in the gift of communal grief. None of them had met April, but they knew I adored her, and that was enough. I told stories of her passion, her goodness, her grace. We hugged and parted ways as they spoke words of love over my family.

As soon as I started driving away, I got the call. My dad didn't have to say anything. I told him how sorry I was. His love for his baby sister had always been so complete, so whole. I told him I would come over later.

Then I called my buddy Charlie. We already had plans to hang for a bit. I didn't realize I was crying so hard until he told me to pull over, that he would come and get me. That one thoughtful gesture - authentic and brotherly - eased the tension in my chest. I told him I could drive, and I'd see him soon.

Before I pulled in to Charlie's, I saw him and our best friend Thomas waiting for me by the curb. They were illuminated by street lights and shop windows. They looked to me like angelic sentinels - all at once divine and completely human. I wasn't two steps from my car before I was wrapped in a bear hug, embraced by strong arms and the true love of soul friends.

Upstairs, Charlie's wife met me with a hug just as powerful. For months, Susan had shed tears over a woman she would never know. A mother only nine years younger than April, she held such immense empathy. Understanding better than most, she realized how unfair it all was - leaving this earth with a grieving husband and young children behind.

We sat together up on the roof. They let me talk and cry. They made me laugh and poured me a drink. My friends gave me strength for the journey ahead. I left them, feeling fortified.

My dad was playing clips of "The Pride of West Virginia" - WVU's marching band - as I walked into my parents' home. April, a devoted alumnus, loved the Mountaineers. My mama regaled us with stories of college-aged April having too much fun at football games. Earlier in the evening, together with my brother and his daughter, they lit a candle for April. We spoke of the sensitivity of my eight-year-old niece. We cried for April's darling husband Tom. We mourned for my cousins, Olivia and Cameron. The depth of their pain must feel bottomless.

In the wee hours of the morning, I drove home. Then I dreamt of April, sitting in the wingback chair at my grandparents' house. For a brief moment, I was transported to a world that no longer exists.

The last time I saw April was a few weeks ago. Her husband and kids were home. We laughed at old photos and reminisced about days gone by. We prayed for a miracle.

Tonight, my dad said that a world without April is inconceivable. He's right. I cannot fathom an existence where I won't ever again feel her embrace or marvel at her wit or revel in her perfect laugh.

When I was a baby, April would spend part of her summer with my parents. I was ten when April had her first child. I started spending summers with April, Tom, and Olivia. Cameron joined the fun five years later. I spent every summer with them until my late teens.

Watching April, I learned how to be an aunt, a sister, a friend. Her love for her family and friends knew no limit. Her home was always a haven for the weary. Her light empowered all of us, even during the darkest of times.

This weekend, I'll go to Virginia and say goodbye to the woman I was sure would outlast us all. My cousins and I will somehow manage to laugh through our tears. I'll hug my sweet uncle and tell him that there has never been a more sparkling example of a devoted husband. Our far-flung family will gather once again for a funeral as we cling to the ties that bind. We'll offer prayers of thanksgiving, grateful that for a while, we were loved by a woman of grace and valor.
April, delighting in her family, at Cameron's last high school play.

Monday, June 13, 2016

This Unity of Ancient Belonging

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the 
   secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and 
   renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
   and receive your work.

- from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue

On a day when so many of us wept in the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, I found myself spending hours with two men who have become kindred spirits. On a day when consolation was needed, my soul friends supplied real comfort.

I met Mark five years ago when he became a pastor at the church I serve. I liked him immediately. His humility and humor were refreshing. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was in need of healing when he entered my life. I was getting over years of church-inflicted trauma. Of powerful voices dismissing the calling and capabilities of women. Of disappointment and disillusionment amplified by religious-based bigotry.

Mark and Denise
Mark ably weaves grace and love as easily in one-on-one chats as he does in his sermons. Between hearty laughs and meaningful moments of silence, he practices holy listening and authentic presence. Over the years, my friends and I have challenged ourselves to embody such goodness.

Yesterday, amid prayers for those who grieve this latest act of evil, our church bid farewell to our beloved pastor and his dear wife Denise. Mark was recently reassigned, and so they will begin a new chapter apart from us. As the choir sang one last song, Mark and Denise held one another at the altar. My roommate Abigail, a bearer of light and love, came up beside me and rested her delicate hand on my shoulder. We stood in the balcony together, mirroring our friends, and shed tears. We cried over the loss of Mark and Denise. We cried over our slaughtered brothers and sisters. We cried for the hatred that seems all too prevalent.

Later, standing in the empty parking lot, Mark and Denise and I hugged. As we said tearful goodbyes, he reminded me that we were soul friends: one last gift of healing. 

The late Irish poet, John O'Donohue, dedicated an entire book to the concept of soul friends (anam cara in Gaelic). In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, the philosopher offers:

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship... This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”

When dozens of vibrant lives are cut short, when power-thirsty charlatans heap hate and ignorance on top of the initial violence, when our collective hope is once again dashed, our souls need their cherished friends.

Yesterday evening, as the oppressive heat gave way to a light breeze, I enjoyed the presence of my other soul friend, Thomas. My soul must have something of a split personality. Mark is devout; Thomas doubts. Mark is as wholesome as John Denver or Mister Rogers. Thomas is more of a rock star. Both men epitomize the truth behind O'Donohue's words:

"The one you love, your anam cara, your soul friend, is the truest mirror to reflect your soul. The honesty and clarity of true friendship also brings out the real contour of your spirit." 
Thomas in his studio - the scene of many of our conversations.
I've never enjoyed looking in the mirror. I'm quick to scrutinize and inflate any perceived flaw. But somehow, in the presence of my soul friends, the mirror doesn't seem quite as harsh. The reflection, whole and still full of imperfections, is softened by overwhelming, genuine love.

With an abundance of grace, Mark points out the inconsistencies in my life. His gentle questions bring me to a place of self candor. I am a better person because of Mark.

And I'm a better person because of Thomas. Though staring down the ugly and hard is difficult, I'd often rather do that than explore the good and beautiful parts of me. Thomas is the one who casts light on what is almost too hard to see. As an artist always ready for the next critique, it's uncomfortable to sit in the brightness.

I was a student when I met Thomas a dozen years ago. I was in the adjacent pottery class, and I would work almost exclusively at the hand building table so I could overhear his art appreciation lectures. The next semester, I registered for his drawing class. My love of visual art, somehow abandoned in my late teens, returned with a new energy. 

Over time, Thomas became a trusted confidant. His search for and appreciation of grace, along with his passionate approach to living, imbue our late night conversations with meaning. We see the best in one another, and we make a point of reminding each other that we both have something worthwhile to give.

It's been less than two days since the news of the Orlando massacre broke. Already, the loudest and most obnoxious voices are heard above those calling for love. In times like these, what are we to do?

I am reminded that there are alternatives to hiding away or despairing of life. Mark is a pastor; Thomas is an artist. Through their vocations, they offer healing and beauty to a world desperate for both. I feel called to minister through acts of compassion and justice. And I feel called to create and teach art. Because of the influence of my soul friends, I am empowered to work for a better world, using the gifts I have. O'Donohue bids in Anam Cara

"may the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work."

Tonight, my friends and family stood shoulder to shoulder with members of our community. Words of mourning and resilience were shared. Candles were lit. A song was sung, and a bell was struck once for each victim of the Orlando shooting. It was a humble affair, quickly arranged on a downtown square. But in that assembly, the first embers of healing, light, and renewal were sparked.

We have work to do. I hope we find soul friends who remind us of our connection to all of humanity, who urge us to truly see ourselves, who bring out the real contour of our spirits, who share the burden and gift of life together. Perhaps then we'll be reminded of our shared work of pursuing peace and seeking justice and choosing love. 

"If you realize how vital to your whole spirit - and being and character and mind and health - friendship actually is, you will take time for it… [But] for so many of us… we have to be in trouble before we remember what’s essential."

May we take time to nourish real, soul-deep friendship. May we seek and be soul friends. May we meditate on what we learn. May we urge one another on in love.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

'Til I Reach You

Been talkin' 'bout the way things change
And my family lives in a different state...

-from "Rivers and Roads" on The Head and the Heart's self-titled album

In this morning's wee hours, my friend Daniel lost his grandmother. I found out right before the bidding prayer during a service that celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. Calling out Daniel's name, I recalled similar prayers of comfort lifted for my own family last January 10.

A year ago today, my dad's family grieved the death of Pop, my 88-year-old grandfather. My parents had been keeping vigil for a long time. On my Aunt April's birthday, Pop breathed his last.

This afternoon, in the midst of chaotic funeral arranging, Daniel and his wife Monica took a little time to attend their young son's first art show. Daniel, proud Papa that he is, texted me an image of a whimsical collage, pointing out that the brightest component - a colorful bird - was created by his son.

I grieve with my friends. Daniel, Monica, and their clan will miss their Granny something fierce. But, as affirmed by an unexpected, happy paper bird, life goes on. Those left facing a new day without their loved one can find that fact almost unbearable at first. Even after a year, I know what it is to occasionally wake with a surprising sense of loss.

Pop and I were always great buddies. I had the good fortune of living close to my grandparents as a baby. And after he was sure I was too sturdy to break when he held me, Pop and I shared a bond that lasted the rest of his life. If I'm being honest, I still believe there's a tie that binds.

Pop and Lindsay on the deck of Pop and Sparky's home.

Pop was a complicated man, born and raised in a hard time. One of my cousins once described him as a "happy-on-the-inside kind of guy." And I suppose that sentiment was fairly accurate. I don't think he ever quite got over the death of his beloved brother in the Korean War. That heartache left him wounded and a bit hard around the edges. Even so, Pop sure was lovable.

In his own little ways, he made us all feel special. There's about a decade gap between the cousins in our family. Amanda, my brother Allyn, and I came first. Pop would make us giggle by randomly popping out his fake teeth. He spent hours regaling us with stories of his and Uncle George's shenanigans in Depression-era West Virginia. When Olivia and Cameron came along, Pop developed a game just for them. Every time he said goodbye to his youngest grandchildren, he would let out a huge sneeze. Dozens of quarters and dimes would magically land on the floor. Their delighted squeals always made his eyes soft.

Not the most demonstrative man outside of those childlike moments, he could seem gruff. But we all knew the truth: Mike Barrick loved his family and friends. He even knew our pals and regularly asked after them. If he met someone once, he remembered them. 

As my brother became a teenager, Pop would 'sell' him something - like an old TV or some forgotten toy - for a dollar bill now and then. When Allyn's best friend AJ would come along to visit, Pop extended the same deal to him. And when AJ died before his 23rd birthday, Pop grieved right alongside us. He knew the pain of a broken heart better than most, and when my dad and I both lost our best friends, Pop's heart broke again with ours.

I'm a keeper of letters and a firm believer in the beauty of handwritten notes. Pop prided himself on having perfect penmanship and a keen ability to choose just the right card for any occasion. I saved the ones he sent over the years: lovely words of sympathy, funny postcards sent from Florida vacations, cheerful cards filled with birthday wishes. In these treasured pieces of paper, I am reminded of his big heart.

My family and friends remember Pop and his love for us in different ways. We think of him when an old Dean Martin song is played. Or when we recreate his famous chocolate chip cookies. Others recall rooting for the Mountaineers with a young, debonair Pop, when dressing up was the fashion on game day. For me, he is inextricably linked to West Virginia and my abiding passion for my home state.

My grandparents' home was always the gathering place for holidays and summer vacations. The happiest moments of my life were spent in north central West Virginia, playing with my cousins and whispering late into the night with my grandmother Sparky or one of my aunts or uncles. We're all scattered from Texas and Indiana to North Carolina and Virginia. And Pop and Sparky's house is now someone else's home. This past Christmas was the first time none of us made the long drive out of state. We didn't exchange gifts around the tree or attend midnight mass or eat gobs of the best Italian food this side of Calabria.

Nothing is as it has been. And I miss the faces of my sweet cousins, aunts, and uncles. I miss the faces of our West Virginia neighbors, priests, and old friends. I certainly miss looking my grandparents in the eyes and kissing their cheeks. But, in the newness of life without Pop and Sparky, our hearts are softened. We can share the gift of empathy. We appreciate rambling stories and the gnarled hands of the aged. We don't take for granted opportunities to gather with loved ones.

On this feast day, at my Aunt Mickey's parish, mass was offered for Mike "Pop" Barrick. I give thanks for the life of the man that did so much to shape mine and honor the ways he demonstrated his love for us.