Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Aria and Kitties

September 21, 2008
Subject: Aria and kitty cats

Before I launch into yet another tale about the farm in general and kitty cats in particular, let me give you an update about Aria and her clinic visit on Friday September 12, 2008. This appointment was only a finger poke and an evaluation with her physical therapist. She has been doing exceptionally well so this visit was completely relaxed and almost enjoyable. You may recall that 2 weeks before I had talked with a mother whose son was scheduled to finish his 3 1/2 year chemo treatment this day and I was hoping to run into her so I could congratulate them. I have been thinking about her ever since feeling so thankful for having met her and having had such a genuine conversation. I was eager to thank her personally and express my gratitude.

The finger poke went without incident. Aria's beloved Krista was there playing the guitar for her and that exchange makes everything right in Aria's universe. I was all set to take off since we didn't need to wait around for results and I thought this would be a nice in-and-out kind of thing. Aria was downtrodden thinking that she wouldn't be able to play with the Playskool farm/barn set with Krista, who, as you can imagine probably had far more important things to do than this, but humored Aria completely. I allowed Aria to play for 10 minutes or so and just as we were packing up to leave, in walked the mother I previously mentioned and her son. I nearly knocked her over with my enthusiastic leap out of my chair to greet her. I breathlessly rushed into thanking her for our conversation 2 weeks earlier telling her how much it meant to me. I congratulated them on a huge day. The end of chemo! The end! Wow. I was amazed and all smiles. She, on the other hand, was completely reserved and guarded.

She smiled and thanked me and told me she felt relieved that I hadn't misunderstood her perspective. She worried that she was too negative and gloomy. I reassured her that I was completely taken with her and felt like I had finally met someone willing to refuse to wear the mask of bravado and optimism instead of a genuine face of realism. It is very easy to be positive about the prognosis for her son and for Aria but at the same time the process is a grueling one and the bubble in which we once lived that was made up only of fictitious worry, namely "what if something happened to one of my kids" has been shattered. We are now learning to live among those shards and sometimes it is very painful. That is the reality. It is an almost balanced mix of both positive and negative things and this mother was so gracious to share with me what these 2 sides mean to her. She mentioned that she is thrilled about the end of this treatment and at the same time dreading "what now?" She admitted that she is scared to death about having him off his chemo knowing that when his body was left to its own devices, it developed leukemia. She is petrified of a recurrence and knows that it would more than likely mean a bone marrow transplant. I was fascinated listening to her. One minute she was saying, "I know, this is so great! When we're done we'll have to go and get a cake or something and celebrate!" which was soon followed with, "I'm so glad we're still going to have to come every month for follow-up because, God, what if it comes back? That means we move for 6 months to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant? I don't have 6 months for that! I don't want to do that!" It was agonizing listening to her. This is the next chapter for her and I instantly understood that all she wants to do is read ahead and know what their future holds. It was all I could to stand before her when all I wanted to do was kneel at her feet and thank her. She is like an emotional portal to what my future is going to be like. She is mentoring me and I am paying very close attention.

Her conflicted emotions are significant and completely understandable and yet you'd be so surprised by the kind of messages bombarding our psyches. "Aren't you happy you're all done? You should be so thrilled! Why aren't you jumping up and down? You're all done!" She told me these were the kinds of things she was hearing constantly and it was driving her nuts and filling her with horrible guilt. She wants to be happy, oh so happy, but she's frightened. She wants to think that this is it and that they're in the clear but she knows better. She wants to tell her family and her friends and everyone else overflowing with wonderful intentions how she really feels but she doesn't. She fears that it would leave the wrong impression and she knows that they may not understand. She doesn't expect them to and so she tries to absorb their enthusiasm but the armor she has had to wear these 3 1/2 years doesn't come off that easily and has become a second skin. She isn't ready to shed it yet. I listen intently taking in every single word, every bit of intonation, every emotion, every eye blink, and every breath. I want to remember this exchange for a long, long time. I know it will sustain me.

I was teary listening to her and feeling equally conflicted. I'm so happy for her and at the same time I completely understand her fears and how they can gobble up her joy. I want to be consoling. I want her pain to end. I want the light at the end of this tunnel to last and last and last. I see so clearly that one chapter has ended but the next chapter, prithee, what will it tell? I take a deep breath and I put my hands on her shoulders and I said, "I am celebrating you and your son and your family today, in this moment, right now. It is an enormous moment and I am thrilled that you get to experience it! As far as tomorrow is concerned, I'll simply continue to hold you in the light to face what you have to." She smiled and whispered an emotional, "Thanks." We had to leave and so we did. I gave her my contact information and I hope this is the beginning of a friendship.

I have said this many, many times, but clinic no matter how long or short is always a profound experience.

Aria was oblivious to this exchange, as well she ought to be and we went along with our day. We spend many afternoons outside playing in our large sand pile. The kids like nothing better than to strip naked and run frigid well water onto the sand creating puddles for hours and hours of blissful muddy amusement. We had one incident maybe a week or so ago that is probably rather unique to farm living, although not unheard of in suburban settings. Like many farms all over, we have and have had an array of cats. Admittedly, we are not the most conscientious cat owners because we don't spay or neuter our kitties on a regular basis so we have had several litters of kittens. That, and we do little to protect them from the elements that constantly threaten them, namely our dogs, coyotes, hawks, snakes and so forth. Cats don't live long out here and frankly a 3 year life expectancy is considerable. When we first moved here, I remember meeting a neighbor who simply numbered her cats, which at the time I thought was strange and a little cold. I completely understand her reasoning now and we barely name them at all. We've had up to 14 kitties at one time and until very recently we got down to 3. Such is life and death on a farm. I know that sounds rather curt but it is the truth.

The 3 kitties remaining were beginning to go outside using a cat door that we have fixed into a window leading to our root cellar/basement. I hadn't spent much time with these kitties for the past few months because most of my time has been devoted to Aria. Needless to say, they are shy of me, skittish and a little bit wild. I think this suits them and their survival instincts that they'll need in abundance if they intend to stick around for very long. Don't be fooled, however, that sentiment is nothing but a pathetic excuse to curb my guilt at having neglected them. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that this is not the way I normally feel about our cats. They are members of our family and I adore them and feel great sorrow when they don't make it. These kitties were a little different and were part of a long line of kittens that I unfortunately was not able to befriend very well. It is fair to say that I didn't feel strong attachments to them but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I didn't care whether they made it or not. I do care.

One day, I was hanging laundry on the line and the kids were playing right along with me. They love to run through the sheets and underneath the hanging clothes, letting pant legs, skirts and sleeves drape over their faces like ghostly shrouds. I call them Casper and they have no idea what I'm talking about and don't find it funny in the least. Not only that, but I interrupt their game, which is highly inappropriate. Regardless, this is one of my favorite chores and everyone seems to enjoy it. At one point they tired of their game and Reo decided it would be good fun to whack crabapples off the tree using a large spear like stick. Rianna thought it was great fun chasing after falling crabapples and Aria was interested in 2 kitties that were literally hanging to the upper most branches of the tree. Aria began whistling to them, encouraging them to come down to 'safety.' This got the attention of the dogs and 4 of our 5 began circling the tree. Do I need to finish the story? Reo joined in too and was cooing at them with baby-like goo-goo words of tenderness and encouragement trying to get them out of that tree to someplace safer. Rianna was under the tree pointing and screaming at them. Did I mention that the dogs were circling like earth-bound vultures? I was still hanging clothes on the line and wasn't all that concerned.

Suddenly, the kids started screaming, "Mama, Buddy's got a kitty! Buddy's got a kitty!" I could hear the cat wailing as Buddy was running toward the playground. I couldn't believe it! The stupid cat climbed down that tree into the jaws of one of those dogs? It was incredible. Buddy dropped the kitty to the ground, who immediately began hissing, spitting and clawing at anything that moved. My first thought was, "This thing is gonna make it!" He was wild and tough. I ran over and got in between Buddy and the cat. Meanwhile, my other 2 dopey large dogs were getting into pack mentality and starting to skulk around the poor little thing. I went to grab it by the scruff of its neck, so as to keep his claws out and away from me and keep him high enough in the air that the dogs wouldn't torment him any more. Unfortunately, he lunged at me giving me a mighty scratch and this set off the dogs. In a blink of an eye Buddy had the cat in his jaws and was running full steam into the pasture. I picked up Rianna and Aria and ran after him. None of us had shoes on, which is why I was carrying the girls, and the pasture is pokey-pokey-pokey this time of year. Reo was walking slowly behind to meet up with us. Buddy had set the cat down again who was swiping at him constantly. At one point, one of his claws nailed Buddy in the lip and he hung on for dear life. Buddy was enraged and in pain and grabbed the kitty again flinging him into the air. Tipper and Asia were right there teasing him, playing a twisted perversion of cat and mouse. Buddy grabbed the cat again and took off in the pasture closer to the playground. He held him in his mouth for a few more seconds and I noticed that the kitty was losing the fight. Buddy laid him down and walked away. That's what this dog does. He doesn't eat these kitties. He just kills them. It is some weird instinctual thing. The other dogs soon lost interest too but the kids and I were determined to stay with our friend until he died.

This cat was a fighter. He would not let me touch him let alone pick him up. So I sat down on the sun baked pokey ground with Rianna and Aria in my lap and Reo beside me. There we watched him take his final gasps. It is a strange experience and one I've witnessed a number of times. The kids were sober as I was talking them through the process. Aria asked, "Mama is he going to die?" to which I replied gently but gravely, "Aria, this kitty is already dying. We are watching him die and letting him know that he isn't alone." Reo tenderly added, "Ah, poor little guy. He was a good friend." Rianna pointed at the dying kitty and shrieked, "Meeeew!" We were startled when he started to choke, taking his final breaths. It was alarming and Reo took a step back, Aria gasped and I knew I had to come up with some kind of gentle explanation quick. "Look!" I said with excitement, "He's spitting out his spirit!" With that, our friend died. I couldn't believe I said it and what's more, I thought it rather clever. We all took turns saying good-bye and telling him to have fun in the Spirit World. Aria began to cry and I knew she needed a little more explanation. Reo, skipped back to the crabapple tree to resume his whacking game. It should be noted that in the commotion the other tree'd cat ran into the basement and to safety. Rianna amused herself in the sand pile, while Aria and I sat on my swing and discussed the matter. "Oh, Mama, I just feel so sad that he died. I'll never see him again. Will he be ok in the Spirit World?" I reassured her that he'd be more than ok in the Spirit World. As we swayed in the swing with the creak of an old branch as a soothing tune I told Aria, "When our friends die, we'll miss them and that is certainly something to be sad about. The Spirit World, however, is a place we all must visit in our own time." Aria interrupted and said, "But Mama, I don't want to die!" "Well not today!" I began, "but someday you'll die just like someday I'm going to die." "But Mama, I won't ever see you again!" I smiled at Aria and asked if she was ready to hear what I had to tell her. She gave me a whimpery, "uh-huh." "Aria, that's the thing about the Spirit World. The Spirit never dies. When I die, my Spirit will always be with you. Always." Aria paused for moment and said, "Just like Obi-wan!" then she recited, "Darth, if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can imagine.....Luke! Trust the Force!" It was all I could do not to burst into a fit of giggles because she was dead serious and at the same time she was right on. I was thrilled and hugged her and said, "That's exactly right Aria. Luke was so sad to lose his friend until he realized that his spirit was always with him." Aria hugged me and climbed off my lap and raced to the laundry hanging on the line. I walked over to her so that I could finish the job when I noticed the most brilliant orange butterfly I had ever seen. I immediately called Reo and Aria over to look at it and I told them, "Look, our friend's spirit has hitched a ride on this butterfly to let us know that he's ok in the spirit world!" They looked at me disbelieving but smiling and in that moment, the butterfly flew away and so did the spirit our furry little friend.

The kids have witnessed several such deaths and it is always a story to be told again and again by Reo and an event to be processed by Aria. They view the same situation through very different lenses and I find it fascinating.

As I sit here typing, I'm almost out of breath thinking about the comings and goings of our days. They are still very simple, uncluttered and quiet but keep me, nevertheless, in almost constant wonderment about the cycles of life and death, letting go and welcoming, presence and impermanence. The things Life takes only to be replaced by something else. The hard-hitting curve balls Life throws one minute followed by tender feathery moments of equal significance in another. Everyday miracles like this keep me centered somehow or perhaps it is the desire to find balance in the illusion of these dualities that I seek for centering. I'm not certain, yet this is what I ponder these days. I suppose the easiest way to describe it is the constant fear I have of something happening to Aria, as if what has already happened isn't enough to satisfy the hunger of that particular anxiety. I fear something else. I can almost taste the dread it conjures. At the same time I sense the fear coming on, I'm learning to pause and to ask myself what exactly it is that I fear. I suppose when I peel enough layers that ultimate fear is still death. Clearly I have much work to do in order to rest easy and peacefully in the very opposite of my fear which is the strength I acquire when I think of "Come What May." I suppose I should sit with my own advice a little while longer and remember that Spirit lives forever. My Spirit dwells in so many respects in my children and I can see with greater clarity now how their Spirits have always dwelled in me. ~j

Sunday Polo Fun

September 10, 2008
Subject: Sunday Polo Fun

It has been a long time since we've had the emotional and physical well being to be out in public doing something truly fun. Until very recently, the public arena was always rather threatening; "What kind of germs are circulating out there ready to infect Aria? Will Aria have the stamina to deal with an exciting event? Do I have the wear to deal with it?" were common questions always circulating, inhibiting us from doing anything too strenuous or social. Being safe and quiet at home was always the more reasonable choice. However, Doc mentioned an advertisement for a polo-match/fundraiser that caught his attention in the newspaper several days ago. The fundraiser was in support of the Ronald McDonald house here in Spokane. He mentioned it to me and I was immediately all over the idea. Horses, polo ponies, hats, champagne, fund-raising, Ronald McDonald House, these were all things right up my alley. I got on the horn to order tickets a few days later and this is the story of those few days.

It is important to preface the story with a little word about the Ronald McDonald House, a place I knew only as the little plastic coin drops outside of the drive-through windows at McDonalds. I have to admit that I was skeptical about those coin drops and rather cynical too until I actually found myself using and needing the comforts that our local Ronald McDonald House provides. You see, on the inpatient oncology ward there is the Ronald McDonald Room, which looks and feels a lot like today's modern open kitchen plan that is attached to a family room with cozy comfortable furniture and a large television. This room is incredibly cheery with a 50's style table and chairs including a highchair and a fully stocked kitchen that patient's families can use to feel like they are in a home away from home while in middle of terrible crisis. We were able to store the many meals that people brought to us in the large refrigerator. We ordered take out a number of times and could save all of our left-over food to reheat in the microwave later. The kitchen was always stocked with milk, juice and sodas as well as yogurts, soups, bread, jams and jellies, peanut butter, popcorn, coffee, tea, utensils, and so on and so forth. All of these things were provided to us free of charge and I simply will not be able to articulate how important this room came to be for us. It was a place to depart and touch normal for a moment. It was a room where we found refuge from the many worries attempting to consume us. We were so grateful for everything that was there for our use and consumption whenever we needed it.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are hospitalized with your child and you cannot go home. That thought is almost impossible for me to grasp and for many families we've met, that has been their reality for not days at a time but for months at a time. The Ronald McDonald House for them is home away from home and I haven't met a single person yet who has not been completely and profoundly affected by the goodness and generosity found there. I have since learned that 60% of families utilizing the Ronald McDonald House are those families with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). 30% of families are there with the oncology department and the remaining 10% represents a smattering of everything else that could affect the life of a child. These families, all of them, are stressed to the max and the Ronald McDonald House and those who work there provide comfort, compassion, understanding and a place for families to decompress and process in the comforts of home to face what they must. I know more about this place than I ever wanted to and it has been a privilege.

We are in a place in Aria's treatment, as I have said a number of times now, where we have space to think about others, and to do what little we can to improve the quality of life for those struggling as we did not so long ago. So about a week ago, I called the Spokane Polo Club to inquire about tickets. I was told to contact a woman named Miss Suzy and that phone call led me in a direction I never in my wildest imagination could have predicted. Miss Suzy and I chatted for a few minutes about the event before she mentioned that it was probably already sold out. I was thrilled to hear it and at the same time a little disappointed because it was something I was starting to think about and fantasize about. In truth, I was really thinking about the costume I wanted to make for the occasion. I was desperate to do something creative and this seemed like just the event to force open that part of myself that I had to shut down for several months.

Forgive me but I must digress a moment. Not too long ago, I finally saw the movie "Pride and Prejudice" starring Kierra Knightley and Matthew MacFayden. I was enraptured by it. I loved the book but the movie was an eye-full of costume mastery for those who are remotely interested in textiles, sewing, and fashion that has little to do with fad and frivolity but everything to do with classical style and personal expression. The costumes that Kierra Knightley's character wore blew my mind. I loved them; everything single thing about them; the hems lines, the waste bands, the sleeves, the back stitching and collar lines. They were artistic genius displayed in the fabric of a gown. So when Doc mentioned this polo match, I thought, "Ah Ha! The perfect venue for a classical gown with a somewhat modern appeal." I couldn't wait to get started!

So Suzy and I were chatting about the event and I let her know that I was happy to hear that it was more than likely sold out but that I would check the website just to be certain. It was then that I briefly mentioned that I knew virtually nothing about the Ronald McDonald House until Aria was diagnosed with leukemia. I started to say, "I have since met several fam.."
" WHAT? You have a daughter with cancer?" Suzy interrupted.
"Yes." I replied.
"Oh my God! I am so sorry to hear that. Well, you have just got to go to this thing. I mean really! You have got to be there."
Suzy was emphatic. I was stunned.
"Well, if the thing is sold out, then surely we can get on a waiting list for next year or something," I stammered.
"Oh, no! no! no!" Suzy began, "Listen, I'm on the board of this thing and I need to make a phone call. You guys are going to this thing. You have got to be there. Aria is why this place exists for families. I mean…She's the real deal!" Suzy pauses, "How's she doing? How are you doing?"
I told her a little more about Aria and I let her know that the other reason why we wanted to go was because Aria is just gaga about horses.
"Oh my! Well, I'm one of the organizers and I'll be playing in the polo tournament. So, you just have to bring her over to the ponies after the match so we can get her on a horse or something."
I was nearly in tears.
"Suzy,” pause, "You have no idea how much that would mean to Aria. That is something she'd remember forever!"
"Well, Julia, we just gotta get you on board here. Tell you what, let me make a phone call and I'll call you right back."

I hung up the phone and started to process the conversation a little. Suzy is a dynamo type person. She is high energy and bubbling with enthusiasm that is not only contagious but uplifting and inspiring. She told me of the variety of boards she serves and the things she does on her farm. She is a horse fanatic and a social mover and groover. I found myself saying, "Be careful Julia, she's got the kind of persuasion to rope you into volunteering for some cause or another!" I giggled at the thought because clearly being in her presence is akin to being in the middle of a refreshing breeze just primed to cleanse one of their complacency. It was here that I began to gather an image of her in my mind. She has a rough sounding voice; a rancher's voice and someone used to delegating duties and assigning chores. I pictured her in her late 50's maybe early 60's with a matronly build. I imagined her arms to be powerful and weathered. For some reason, I could not picture her as a polo player and wondered about that. It just didn't fit to put a stocky solid young grandma type up on a polo pony whacking a ball around an enormous field. The idea filled me with delight and I could hardly wait to meet her in person. In fact, I began entertaining the idea of crashing this party if I couldn't get tickets just so I could meet her.

Within 10 minutes, she called me back and had tickets for us. Not only that but she had us sitting in the premiere tent with a family whose young daughter is a leukemia survivor and would be singing the national anthem. She put me in contact with the director of the Ronald McDonald House who helped us sort out all the details. It is worth mentioning that the event was indeed sold out and these tickets were drummed up somewhere for us. Wednesday was the day that everything got sorted and the party was going to be Sunday afternoon. I had to get hopping if I wanted a fanciful gown and headpiece ready in time!

You have no idea how healing this process was for me. It was a complete departure from what has been haunting me for months. It was hours of light-hearted creative energy that came from somewhere other than me. I was able to sew 15 minutes here and there for 3 days and by Sunday morning I had only to hem my dress and my costume was complete. I'll say that I already had the pattern and a design that I had drawn to make the dress as well as all the fabric and notions. It came together like nothing else. It was nothing but a selfish enterprise and I indulged myself completely!

Sunday afternoon rolled around and the kids were beside themselves excited! Aria was buggy-eyed to see the horses and Reo was thrilled to find out what this thing was going to be like. I was completely decked out feeling fancy-free for the first time in so long. My spirit could not have been any higher. Doc was gussied up too. Rianna and Aria both wore dresses that I had made long before Aria got sick. It was festive. We were going out on the town as a family. We were celebrating the Ronald McDonald House and those families we knew staying there. We were celebrating Aria and rejoicing in her ability to resume normal activities that make the memories of childhood so fantastic. We were relishing this moment because we knew how monumental it was for our family.

When we arrived at the polo field it was lined with enormous white tents. Beautiful people were milling about. Horses were everywhere and the mood was joyous. Almost every woman I saw was wearing some kind of hat. The whole place was a kaleidoscope of color and carnival. We found our tent without any difficulty and were promptly greeted by the director of the Ronald McDonald House, who, by the way, knew Doc but didn't piece together the names until that morning. He asked if Reo and Aria would like to participate in one of the fundraising events, which would require them to go onto the field during the polo intermission and hold signs indicating the cost of housing a family for a period of time. Reo and Aria were thrilled to participate and held onto their signs the entire time! We had a marvelous lunch and I was able to wander around with Rianna in my arms, checking out the silent auction items and the artistry a few vendors were selling. I ran into the wife of a colleague of Doc's who I adore. She hadn't heard about Aria and was stunned, truly breathless, trying to process what we were going through. She said to me with tears welling in her eyes, "Julia, that is my worst nightmare. My greatest fear is that something is going to happen to one of my kids! Oh My God, just don't let anything happen to my kids!" I was nodding the entire time and telling her that this experience is still my biggest fear and nightmare. Sometimes it doesn't seem real and yet it is very real. One thing I had to tell her was that every person working with us has left me feeling like I'm a baby kitten or a dove. People have been so gentle, so easy-going, so careful in their care, so considerate and tender that it has been almost easy to allow them to take my hand and lead me wherever it is that I have to go. Her emotion was genuine and I so appreciated the connection we had. Before we parted, I mentioned that I spoke with Miss Suzy and asked if she would introduce us since Suzy mentioned that these families were very close. She told me that Suzy was probably getting ready for the polo match but that I shouldn't have any trouble finding her. In my mind I was thinking, "Yeah right, just look for the granny on the steed!" when my thought was interrupted by her comment, "Yeah, she's the gorgeous blonde one out there!" My mind was reeling. I heard myself silently mutter, "I'm sorry, did you just say, gorgeous blonde?" This was not computing with my weathered-matron-rancher. I was beside myself with intrigue!

We shared our table with a family from Idaho. Their daughter, when she was 4 years old was diagnosed with ALL. She is one of 5 children in her family and they found themselves living at the Ronald McDonald House for months at time. Her treatment was exactly like Aria's and lasted about 30 months. She has been in remission for 8 years now. Her mother was very sober telling me about her and their experience. She shook head often saying things like, "It is something I'll never forget. It has changed me forever." She looked at me with such compassion and understanding. I almost felt sorry for her because I'm certain that seeing me made her re-live some memories that she would just as soon like to forget. The young girl's grandparents were there and they were all such a delight! She took a genuine interest in each of the kids but especially Aria and wanted to know how she is and where she is in her treatment. The mother pulled me aside at one point and said, "Just a little information for the future. My daughter is absolutely fearless. She is willing to try anything and has more confidence than anyone I know. She remembers everything about her treatment and experience and it has made her exceptional." It was an emotional moment for the both of us. Here we were, 2 mothers, one with a daughter cured of her leukemia filled with relief and pride and another mother with a daughter in the early stages of treatment for leukemia looking at this little girl as living proof of our hope and our trust. I kept hearing those words, "living proof". She is "living proof" that Aria will one day be cured. I tell you, as fun as this party was, my emotions were just beneath the surface the entire time.

Just before the polo match started I noticed a woman on a horse standing alone looking around. Aria was eating her lunch so I wandered over there with Rianna. Phoebe was her name and she was perched upon a very handsome horse named Phantom. He had light blue eyes that were gorgeous but a little creepy and he was big! I don't know why she was there other than to act as patrol of some kind and she worked with search and rescue and may have been bringing awareness to that organization. I regret that I didn't ask her more questions but I was so captivated by the horse. I asked her if it would be possible for Aria to come over and say hello and pet him. Phoebe was thrilled to hear that I had a daughter interested in horses. She could think of no finer occupation for little girls. As she said, "If little girls are playing with horses, they aren't playing with little boys!" I found this hilarious! So, I raced over and got Aria and introduced her to Phoebe and Phantom. Doc, Reo and Rianna soon followed. Phoebe let Aria sit on Phantom and you should have seen Aria's grin. She was elated! A family approached us asking if we wanted our picture taken. Their 2 children (8 and 10 years) were wandering around the event playing their violins. They were stunning little kids and the daughter was dying to get in the picture with us. I noticed that Reo and Aria were barefoot. I could only imagine where their shoes were and hoped they were tucked under some seats somewhere!

Soon afterward, the polo match began. The mood was still and a little somber as a lone rider entered the field carrying the American Flag. I didn't know it at the time, but the rider was Suzy's daughter. She walked the length of the field with the flag blowing gently in the breeze. Everyone was standing watching her when over the speakers came the national anthem sung by this extraordinary young girl, whose childhood experience is mirroring that of Aria's. We had front row seats and as we watched and listened I turned to my right and looked at Doc. There he was standing with his hand over his heart, holding Rianna with tears streaming down his face. I watched him for a moment as I too was in tears. He began to sob and looked behind him for the little girl's mother. He reached over and embraced her and told her how proud he was and how inspired he felt. He then turned to Aria and said, "Aria, I love you so much!" It was almost too much. Doc is a very sensitive and private man. He has been rock solid for months and has shed a tear or two but if he's had any real emotion, which I'm sure he has, it has been out of my sight. I was completely moved to see him so touched and so free to allow his emotions to bubble over for any and all to see. Doc is an exceptional man.

As we collected ourselves a little and as the applause was fading, suddenly Suzy's daughter who was carrying the flag came thundering at a full run down the field right in front of us. It was awesome! She and her horse looked like they were flying and it got the crowd cheering with a roar. This is how the match began.

The announcer was so wonderful to explain the rules of polo and how the game is actually played. I knew nothing about it and was fascinated. It was enormous fun and excitement. During one of the breaks I wandered over to where the polo players were gathering in search for Suzy. I spotted her instantly as my friend said I would and went to introduce myself. She greeted me with an enormous breath-taking smile and immediately asked where we were sitting and said she'd ride over and meet Aria. She was indeed nothing like how I imagined her. She is a petite, gorgeous blonde who is solid muscle. Her arms are as weathered and as powerful as I imagined them to be but she had a confident grace that I didn't see in my mind's eye. I have no idea how old she is and she is definitely the rare kind of person who could be 25 and 65 years old at the same time. She struck me as no-nonsense and I liked her immediately.

We sat and watched polo. We drank wine and wandered around. It was so much fun. There was one point in the game where the entire crowd went out onto the field to stomp the divots of grass back in place. It was here that I took Aria to meet Suzy. She wasn't able to ride over to where we were sitting, so I decided to find her instead. She was absolutely thrilled to meet Aria and before I could blink, she was on top of a horse reaching for Aria to go for a ride. In another blink they were off with me chasing behind trying to ready my camera! They walked out onto the field in the middle of crowd and you should have seen the look on Aria's face. It was bliss. She was in heaven. It was magical.

They attracted quite a crowd. People wanted to pet the horse and at the same time were very curious about the little girl riding with Miss Suzy, who is a sort of celebrity in this crowd. Aria was having the time of her life! Shortly after this, all of the kids were lined up on the field holding their signs indicating the cost of housing for families at the Ronald McDonald House. People could donate a week's stay for a family or a month or whatever they wanted to do. The point was to highlight the expense. Both Reo and Aria were introduced to the crowd. I stood with them because Aria didn't want to be out there by herself. The announcer mentioned that Aria has leukemia and you could hear the gasps in the crowd and she received a good bit of applause when she held up her sign. It was really something else. At the end, Reo raced back to where Doc and Rianna were sitting while I was chatting with a young couple, who approached us. The man wanted to take our picture while his wife couldn't stop staring at Aria and wanted to know all about her. She wanted to hold Aria and have her picture taken with her. I have no idea why and I've been wondering about it since. They were from Venezuela, which made me wonder about them even more. We were sitting on the ground and Aria wasn't interested in being held by a stranger and I didn't push it but instead sat very closely next to this woman. Aria then decided it would be ok and she climbed onto her lap. This woman gave her a big hug and kiss and looked at me with an expression that was sympathetic and something else. I don't know what it was about her. Something.

We had been at this party for over 3 hours! It was such a blast for us! I was floating. We left the party shortly after and both Reo and Aria exclaimed, "That was so much FUN!" I wore my dress and head piece the entire day and was tempted to wear them to bed! I didn't want the energy of this day to end and as it turns out it hasn't. I'm still carrying it with me as I sit here and write. I look back on this day and the memories made and feel so, so, so,.....heavens, I don't even know what the word is. It is more than joy. It is more than gratitude. It is more than relief. As I look at this picture of Aria and the clouds floating above her head, and her brilliant flush cheeks and rosebud lips, I have this tremendous sense of light. The light that was but a pinprick in my gaze only a few months ago is almost blinding when I see it so radiant in Aria now. The light, the promise, the hope, the strength, the perseverance, the trust, the Life, the mystery, the beauty, the wonder and the magic of this journey have come together in a single sublime Spirit. Aria.