Monday, June 10, 2013

A Birthday to Remember

Last Thursday, June 6, was my birthday. It also marked one-year since the funeral Mass celebrating our Brandon’s life. One year since I accompanied his body to a crematorium. One year. The event I’m about to describe took place last week on my birthday – because it was my birthday. You may make of it what you will…

A month or two ago a friend suggested getting through this year’s birthday and the one-year date by “doing” the Zipline at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, which is one of Brandon’s favorite camping, hiking, rock climbing and rappelling spots. I’ve also heard it was the site of some of his more inventive gourmet campfire dishes. Ziplining above the trees and between the hills he loved seemed like a good way to spend this day. However, the weather had other ideas.

Thundershowers rolled through the Red River Gorge while Cincinnati dealt with heavy on and off rain showers. Checking my Weather Channel hourly forecast and my Doppler radar apps, an early afternoon rain-free window of about two hours was to occur. The zipline may be out, but a labyrinth walk would fit perfectly in that time frame. Since the day was one of significant life transitions, I chose the first labyrinth I’d ever walked. Like “my” downtown labyrinth, this one is adjacent to a river. However, unlike the hustle and bustle of the downtown setting, one mainly hears the wind whispering through trees and the song of birds in response when walking the 11-ring labyrinth on the grounds of the Jesuit Spiritual Center.

This labyrinth was also more centrally located for a number of friends, and I emailed to see if any of them might be free to join me on this spur-of-the-moment walk. Three said they would meet me there. It’s about a 30- to 35-minute drive to this labyrinth from my home and, as I got closer, I could see by the debris that a considerably larger rainstorm had recently hit this area of town. The clouds still threatened rain, but it had stopped for the time being.

My friend Debby beat me to the grounds of the labyrinth by a few minutes, so she helped me clear it of twigs and leaves before Dee and Jo arrived. (For whatever inexplicable reason, I wanted to walk it barefoot that day and small twigs can make for unpleasant surprises!) Once everyone was there and introduced, we started to walk. We were taking no chances with the weather!

I entered the labyrinth first and I exited first, although that’s not always how it happens. I cannot claim to have had a profound experience during that day’s walk. Still, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt previously and at some point I heard Brandon’s distinct voice wish me, “Happy Birthday, Mom.” While the others completed their walks, I quietly stood and contemplated the significance of the day and enjoyed the beauty of the river and trees.

There is a deck overlooking the Little Miami River next to the labyrinth, and several deck chairs invite one to sit and enjoy the sounds and scenery. Last Thursday they were arranged in a haphazard semi-circle. Usually, I would have sat and waited for the others to finish their walks; however, the chairs were obviously wet from the recent rain so there was no point in sitting on them.

Gradually, each of the other three completed her labyrinth walk. All were quiet until the final walker exited. As I was about to ask if anyone wanted to drive into Milford, Ohio for a late lunch, my friend Jo pointed to a chair in the middle of the semi-circle and asked, “Karen, did you turn that chair around when you finished?”

“No,” I said. “I could see the chairs were wet. I didn’t touch any of them.”

I expected Jo to say something more about the chair. Instead, she said, “I’m not sure how this will sound, but as I walked I had the sense we were being watched – that we’d been watched for awhile. Then I came around a bend in the labyrinth and I felt moved to stop. When I looked up, someone was sitting in that chair, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s Brandon.’ His legs were crossed – one foot was propped on the opposite knee. His elbows rested on the armrests, and his head was cocked to one side. He looked big with broad shoulders.

The reported "pose"
“He didn’t say anything out loud, yet I heard him say, ‘Thank you for being here for my mom.’ I knew he meant that for all three of us,” Jo said. “Finally, I felt I should move on. I felt I’d stood there long enough. When I circled so that I faced the river again, I looked up and the chair was empty.”

We all briefly discussed Jo’s experience and asked a few questions, although no one mentioned the chair. Then we moved on to where to meet for a late lunch. Still, something about Jo’s original question about the chair niggled. Then Saturday I received a message from Dee, another of those who’d walked the labyrinth with me on my birthday.

She wrote, "Have been thinking about what Jo said and the chair. It hit me a few minutes ago. I remember thinking as I walked up before I entered the labyrinth that whoever had sat in that chair last was looking at the river. When we came out, it was turned more at an angle toward the labyrinth."

Her message had me on the phone to Jo. “Was there a reason you asked me if I’d touched or turned the middle chair?” 

She thought a moment and said, “No, I just remember thinking it seemed out of place. It was the chair closest to the Little Miami – the one that would be turned to look at the river.”

I asked more questions about her experience and learned that Brandon looked like Brandon but not. He was not a three-dimensional person sitting in that chair. Yet it was him and he looked healthy, strong and his typical relaxed self. When he thanked her and my other friends for being there with me, she said, “His words sounded so gentle, peaceful.”

Finally, I read Dee’s message to her.  “That makes sense. I knew that chair somehow seemed out of place.”

I admit I wish it had been me who’d seen him in that chair, but I accept the gift as given on my birthday and am glad in it. And I heard him wish me Happy Birthday.

And you? Well, you will believe as you will…

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