My Year of Un-Gilded Quiet

Grief is not eased by material possessions and luxurious distractions, nor is grief drowned in wine, nor muffled out by mindless noise and superficial, furious activity. Living with the death of a child requires inner strength, which cannot be borrowed, purchased, or negotiated from the universe. Only the human grit within our own bones can give us the courage to seek our own robust measure of contentment in the heartbreaking and beautiful world in which we live. Likewise, solace does not come in a package wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a shiny bow. Solace only exists within the confines of our own beating hearts, and we can only tap its healing powers when we possess for ourselves the strength and the courage to find it.

All this truth converges upon me on first-day January air, with the struggle of past months barely quiet but with a fresh set of new days brightening my doorstep. All this truth I now know as intimately as the breath in my lungs, but the full meaning of all this truth I cannot yet fully comprehend. Still, I have stuffed it all deep into my pocket like a good luck charm at the ready for what comes next. The big what comes next—a dream of establishing a writer’s retreat in a spacious historic home—is still just a warm feeling in my hopeful heart, still a glimmer in my expectant eyes, and still a dream whispered to me from across an unknown landscape far, far away in the future. But for now, baby steps forward. Always forward, and that is the important thing on the cusp of a fresh new year. Right now, I still have much important work on myself to do; and the aspiration to a better human me is the current value of that charm of truths tucked away within my pocket.

In December, I read in the New York Times an opinion piece entitled “My Year of No Shopping” by the author Ann Patchett. In the article, Patchett describes her year of minimalist consumerism inspired by the country’s turn at the end of 2016 “in the direction of gold leaf, an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionaire-dom” that kept her up at night. I share Patchett’s political anxiety, but mine is also grounded in my current historical research on the excess and inequality of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era of America’s sordid past. The political ascension of an old-fashioned robber baron in America’s second Gilded Age keeps me up at night, too. And like Patchett, I have, in middle age, come to question the mindless consumer culture that lulls us into complacency and false contentment and now carries with it such unwieldy and untenable political freight, as well.

Since reading Patchett’s article, I have not been able to quiet its inspiration for my own personalized version of her experiment. It seems to me brilliantly pertinent to my life at this moment when I need so desperately to break free from false contentment. Therefore, I have formulated my own plan for a year of un-gilded quiet, which I believe might actually feed two birds with one small pack of seeds. It will help me focus my attention on making a better human me out of the riches inside my own head, within my heart, and from my own cherished circle of human beings. A happy bonus of the project will be extra money saved for my big what-comes-next dream. More importantly, however, pulling back from the frenzied consumer culture of our society will help me rediscover what I already have, teach me what I can do without, reinforce for me what is truly important, and inspire meaningful quiet time and space unburdened by the broken promises of frivolous pursuits and material possessions.

I want to spend the next year becoming more comfortable being alone with myself without noisy, meaningless props, like Netflix, which I have these past four bitter years used like drugs to distract me. I want to work on my human self, concentrating on reading and writing, exercise and nutrition, and peaceful living. I think this relatively simple plan for my un-gilded year of quiet, is just what the doctor ordered (or at least it is what this particular doctor of philosophy has ordered!). Over the coming year, I will purchase only necessary consumables and used books required for my professional work and scholarship; and I will only replace broken household or worn-out personal items I absolutely need and use (like a toaster or running shoes). I do not expect my plan to solve my problems, counsel my heartache, or fix my human deficiencies, but I do hope the living out of the plan will simplify my daily life and enrich the experiences that come along the way.

My survival is a work in progress. My life is a work in progress. My life, like any life, is a lifelong journey, and 2019 will be just another path along the way. I still need my sweet Savannah and my family to be healthy and hopeful roots, grounding me to the earth. I still need the broad and generous shoulders of old friends upon which to lean on my bad days. I still need the sweet, daily devotion of my beloved, cuddly dogs to soothe my troubled soul. But I also need to get a little closer to making my own inner peace, building up my own quiet strength, defining the parameters of my own survival, and finding contentment in the world standing on my own two feet.

I hope, and I think I am right to believe, that in spending the next twelve months living life with more deliberate purpose, by slowing things down a bit, and by relying not on material comforts but on meaningful experiences, I might just unravel some of the mysteries of personal contentment. I am going to try to help myself get stronger and healthier in my body, in my heart, in my mind, in my confidence, and in my very being. I think all of this is good work, and no matter how successful it may actually be, I think it will lead me a little closer at least to finding my own, more permanent solace. The poet David Whyte defines solace as “the beautiful imaginable home we make where disappointment can go to be rehabilitated.” During my year of un-gilded quiet, I intend to make that home in the chambers of my very own heart, fueled by the power of my own inner strength, and contented enough within myself to let the year unfold as it may.

P.S. Dear Mack, as with each and every single thing I do, you are the inspiration.

January

The Missouri Botanical Garden has been for me a sanctuary for peace. It will no doubt continue to play a role in my survival during my un-gilded year of quiet.

Mackenzie’s Rainbow

I find myself standing in a curious landscape. My travels through grief have brought me here. For much of the journey, the weather was foggy and misty and so much of the traveling progressed during the darkest of nights. A return to wherever it is I was before is impracticable; and besides, to this unexpected new topography I find myself profoundly drawn. The contours of the land are as yet unknown to me, and the lightness of the atmosphere in this new country unfamiliar. Yet I recognize the historical landmarks and the precious human faces of this peculiar place. The breeze here rings bells in my memories. The sunlight stirs in me warming hope. The fresh air gives buoyancy to aspirations I now feel strong enough to embrace. And, strangely, I am not a stranger here. I am home.

I have finally, thankfully, perhaps evenly blessedly, arrived somewhere over Mackenzie’s Rainbow.

I am relatively certain that I have not been in this new place for very long, and I have only just noticed my arrival on this bold frontier. Last week at home after a therapeutic four-day weekend with old and dear friends in Minnesota, I cried. And cried. And cried. Every day the tears falling like rain in the springtime. I hadn’t cried like that in many weeks, and I had become very worried that my tears had dried up forever. I had been feeling cracked and hardened by their absence, but now the clouds had opened up and these tears poured down, refreshingly different, less bitter, more cleansing. It was through these new tears that I first saw the beauty of the very different landscape in which I now find myself. What is most curious, and wonderfully unexpected, is that this fresh landscape of my life is a whole new place under the sun, created and settled by all of the people, living and dead, who are critical to my survival in this world. It is a landscape planted with all of my tangible and emotional needs for a livable, breathable environment that is not only healthy and whole but also full of possibilities I thought gone forever.

This place somewhere over Mackenzie’s Rainbow is not a paradise in which my pain and sorrow have vanished or where I possess total clarity and feel no fear. Instead, it is a place where I can walk hand-in-hand with grief and with happiness, in security and in uncertainty, and through all of the pain and the joy of being human. It is a place that allows me, simultaneously, to inhabit two separate pasts, to define a new and brave present focused only on the things that bring me peace, and to curate a future of my own making. Innumerable, varied, and terrifying uncertainties remain, but I have some pretty good ideas about what life here will look like and, most importantly, I know I have the strength to face whatever experiences life might bring me and to go wherever life might call me. Mack will continue to guide me and my sweet and sassy Savannah is here to keep my feet upon the earth, but as terrifying as life still is and as hard as I know it will continue to be, I feel like I have emerged from a fog.

In life somewhere over Mackenzie’s Rainbow I have:

  1. Family members and friends who have traveled with me on this journey, people who knew and loved Mack, who each share with me the agony of her absence but also carry the light of her beautiful life within them. Last week while I was crying my eyes out I was reminded once again of how Mack’s spirit shines out into the world. Mack’s best friend Justice (with the help of another best friend Elyse) and Project Mack hosted an inspiring gathering of community in hometown Springfield, Illinois. The two-day Take Back the City event, featured a concert and all-star basketball game, raised awareness about gun violence, supported scholarships for city high school students, and directed a positive spotlight on local talent and an incredible group of young people making a difference in the world. In these people that Mack collected, I am incredibly proud, and I am so grateful that Mack brought them into my life. All of Mack’s best friends are as important in my world as my family and my cherished Springfield friends who helped me raise my daughters. All together, these people represent my past with Mack, they are of my life with her, and they are now and forever, collectively, my family.
  1. I can be the Stacy I was before Mack and the Stacy I was with Mack and the Stacy I am now without Mack. This might seem very obvious, but I assure you it escaped me, and I cannot express how liberating it is for me now to know that it is true. After Mack died, I could only conceive of life and memories with her; to my mind there was no past, no present, and no future without her. But six beautiful and beloved growing-up friends—three from high school and three from college—wrapped me up so tight that they have, finally, squeezed this ridiculous misconception out of me. It took me too long to get it, but I get it now, even if I only just figured it out last week in Minnesota with two of these friends at my side. None of these women knew Mack, but they reached out and were willing to bear witness to my grief, to be old friends who knew me happy, and to be new friends willing to know me sad and dramatically different. They turned out to be life preservers and guides—Bridgett, an immediate and enthusiastic cheerleader of my blog, encouraging my writing and helping me find my way back to reading; Kathy, a keen observer of what my intellect needed to stay alive during some very dark days; Carol, an earth mother who gave me her heart, her family, and a dog; Michelle, who always cheerfully offers unconditional love, no matter what; Julie, a delightful imp who dared me to laugh and lets me laugh through my tears if that is what is required; and Diane, who faced cancer at the precise moment I faced the loss of Mack and whose quietly brave, matter-of-fact, ass-kicking of the disease was an inspiration to me when I thought all inspiration was lost. These women represent my past before Mack, and vital as they were to my formative development, they are ever so more vital to me now.
  2. My life in the present is up to me to define and to narrate. A mother’s grief is bone-shattering, life-altering, and permanent. I am coming to grips with this reality, and I am learning, as well, that I can bear no people or circumstances that make me feel my grief must pass. Part of my recovery is wearing the badge of that truth on my forehead and refusing to apologize for it. As well, I need to do a much better job of surrounding myself with the people and the things that bring me peace. I deserve peace wherever I can claim it, and in this new landscape I can see more clearly the roads I need to take to claim some of that peace.
  3. I am strong, but that does not mean I don’t sometimes need a little help. During the past nearly four years of life without Mack, there have been countless days when I was the only person who made me get out of bed. I had Savannah and good work to draw my broken spirit out from under the covers sometimes, but I have come to rely mostly on own my stubbornness to live. Throughout my grief, my mom kept telling me that I was strong, and I’m sorry to say, it made me angry. I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and let somebody or something else be strong for me, to bear the weight for me, to fix me. But now I understand that it is OK to be strong, because I am, actually, really strong. But mostly, I understand that being strong does not mean that Mack’s absence somehow matters less or is easier for me to bear. This realization in the learning curve of grief is, perhaps, the most significant lesson I have learned. Just because I get out of bed every morning and function and dare myself to be productive does not mean I don’t miss Mack and struggle to breathe without her. It simply means that I am strong enough to survive it with a little grace and enough of myself intact that Mack might still recognize me. In this weird and wonderful new place in which I now find myself, I no longer feel guilty for being strong. But I am also no longer afraid to lean a little bit on people who will prop me up if I need to renew my energy, to regain my own strength.
  4. My brain is still alive, thank goddess, although its resuscitation has been a terrible trial. When Mack died, I quit reading books, I stopped taking online classes, and I abandoned my Pimsleur Spanish and French lessons, too. I gutted out the reading and research for my job, but my former life of the mind, my voracious reading, and my personal scholarship were casualties of my grief. Because you know what no one tells you? Grief is a monstrous, devastating destroyer that shatters so much more than the heart. I could no longer concentrate and for better than three years I faded as my eyes stared blankly at Netflix. My brain went offline, and I did not expect it to return to active duty. But thanks to all of the brilliant book-loving women in my life, I am a reader again. Thanks to an amazing new editing job, I am a scholar again. Thanks the lifting of the fog that smothered my brain, I have taken one online class and am in the middle of another. My brain is coming back, and that means in one really big way, I am coming back, too. And as I stand here in this bright new landscape, I’m smiling because Mack would be so damned happy and very relieved to know that my brain is not dead after all.
  5. Today, along with being Savannah’s mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a professional historian, I am a creative writer. Since attending a two-week creative writing camp at Indiana State University with my dear Bridgett in 1984, I have been a creative writer. But while I enjoyed a successful career of historical writing, life often intervened and my creative pen was idle. In October 2014 I started this blog, a desperate attempt to capture in words my memories of Mack, to celebrate her life, and to work through my sorrow. This blog was the first non-scholarly writing I had done in years, and it sustained me through many dark and very lonely stretches of depression. In March 2018, the urge to be creative again bubbled up anew, and I purchased a thick blue notebook with a wide green strap, and I became a creative writer again. Every single day in my notebook, I jot down thoughts and observations about the world, copy a paragraph of beautiful writing from the latest book I am reading, compose a poem, or frame dialogue gleaned from eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants. Since March, I’ve been writing a lot of poetry, and in my less lucid moments sharing that poetry with poor people who have no choice but to accept it. I’ve also written character sketches and short pieces of prose; I’ve conjured up ideas and taken copious notes for a book of essays and two novels, and I’ve written nearly 100,000 words for a memoir about grief. At some point I will explore the publication of some of this writing, but publication is not the end game. In my new life it is the process of the writing that matters, it is the good therapy it does me, it is the solace it brings me, it is the journey of curiosity and exploration and the rediscovery of me.
  6. BKS=01

    Me with Bridgett and Kathy, present for my epiphany in Minnesota.

This blog entry is a meandering mess, but my strict rule of raw, vulnerable, quick release forbids editing and, thus, I apologize for the density and the disorder. But, I hope, it is clear enough, dear reader, that a mist has cleared for me or I have emerged through a portal into the light or come to some proverbial crossroads. Or, perhaps, I really have arrived somewhere over Mackenzie’s Rainbow. Still grieving. Still a speed bump away from a straight-jacket. But better. More vibrant. Less afraid about where life will lead me in the coming year. And, I think, looking a little more like the Momma Bear Mack knew and loved for twenty precious years of my life.

Mackenzies Rainbow

Voting for Mack

This 2016 campaign for the Presidency has been an emotional one for me. The hate-mongering negativity of the Republican candidate has enraged me. The blatant sexism, racism, and the terrifying Know-Nothing ideology of many Trump supporters has brought real sadness to my heart. The offensive tenor of the debates and the shocking rhetoric of Trump’s campaign has tested my faith in America. Last night, my restless slumber illustrated the depth of my campaign anxiety, my Fitbit recording just 2 hours and 27 minutes of sleep. Election Day 2016 clearly weighed heavy and dark upon my racing mind. I awoke bone tired, but I also awoke with a renewed sense of civic duty, with a hopeful spirit and a readiness to put this ugly campaign behind us, with enthusiasm to cast my vote for the first woman president of the United States, and with Mack whispering in my ear to get thee to the polls. Because even my morning-adverse Macko was up early on this historic Election Day.

Mack was a liberal, open-minded, justice-loving feminist who never saw race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference as barriers to a Big-Mack hug. She did not believe in walls or hate or politics of exclusion. In her life, Mack always understood that love trumps hate; and this campaign would have only strengthened her loyalty to the personal philosophy she so naturally embraced. And so, for Mack. For me. For the very best of the American character, I voted for Hillary Clinton and for the Democratic Party all the way down the long, Missouri ballot. As my Mack would have been, so too am I excited about this historic election. Because it is time for a woman to lead us. Because it is time to put hateful, bitter, and divisive politics behind us. Because it is time to celebrate the characteristics and values that make America great: diversity, equality for everyone, freedom of religion, open and democratic debate, civic mindedness, and compassion and empathy for all of our fellow human beings.

Mack, this one’s for you, my angel.

voting

Mack Memo #4: Nothin’ You Can Do About It Now

One Sunday many years ago, Mack, her dad, and I headed home from a youth basketball tournament just like we did on so many Sundays during Mack’s competitive basketball career. We passed through the University of Illinois campus, where we had spent the weekend. We traversed nearly the entirety of the twin towns of Urbana and Champaign. We drank leftover Gatorade and engaged in some small talk, perhaps about the basketball facility, a bad ref, or a Mack-crazy assist to one of her favorite inside targets. But soon we settled in for the ninety-minute drive home to Springfield, and then Mack tuned out with her headphones, ear spray wafting up to me in the front passenger seat. It was a typical afternoon in our basketball lives. But as we were cruising at 75 mph on Interstate 74, nearing the town of Monticello, a soft little voice, quiet and matter-of-fact, whispered from the back seat: “Hey, mom, do you have my basketball bag?”

Of course, I did not. Of course, I yelled a few obscenities, demanding answers as to the said bag’s whereabouts. Of course, Mack feigned investigative effort, leaning over the back seat of my Honda Element to search the trunk, but knowing full well that the bag was sitting on the sidewalk outside of the recreational center on the University of Illinois campus, so many fucking miles behind us. As I loudly recited a list of the bag’s contents, offering appraisals as to each item’s monetary value, Mack maintained the resting heartbeat of a person who was sleeping. As I frantically, and maybe even a little hysterically, called coaches who might have stayed behind after we were gone, Mack was cool and composed in the face of the unfortunate situation and in the path of her Momma Bear’s wrath. While I raged at her about responsibility and warned about consequences of the lack thereof, Mack’s easy breathing in the vicinity of my stress over her lost basketball apparel, would have been the envy of even the most secluded Buddhist monk. As she always did in unfortunate situations, Mack remained perfectly relaxed and serene even in the knowledge that she might never again see her beloved and perfectly broken-in Nike high-tops. As she frequently said, and certainly uttered in some form or another on that day as well, “Oh, well,” shoulders shrugging, “nothin’ I can do about it now.”oh-mack

As it turned out, Mack’s basketball bag made its way into the car of a coach of another team who recognized the Predator logo upon it. There was no hard lesson for Mack to learn and, in fact, the good luck only reinforced Mack’s perspective on the whole sordid affair. When the bag with the entirety of its contents returned to her, Mack sweetly reminded me of how much energy I had expended in the car that day. Mack knew that sweating and fretting and carrying on was of no use. It could not change the fact that Mack, distracted by giving hugs to parting competitors and teammates, had left the bag sitting on the sidewalk in the first place. It did not cause a coach who knew Mack’s team to recognize the bag and pick it up for safekeeping. And even if the bag and those beloved Nikes had been lost forever, Mack knew that sweating and fretting and carrying on had no power to change that either.

For years, this Mack story was just one of dozens of illustrations of the peaceful and lackadaisical quality of her nature in striking contrast to the frenetic and worry-wart quality of my own. But during this past year, I have been practicing meditation and the basic principles of mindfulness in an effort to quell my anxiety and to lead my restless mind to some peace. In this personal journey, Mack’s natural sense of peace has been my guide, and this particular Mack story is now an inspirational one for me. Though I am still very much a novice, my practice is beginning to make a positive impact on the health of my mind, I now understand better how Mack possessed such a healthy and happy spirit, and I am finding some clues about how to make my spirit happy, as well. While I know I will never achieve Mack’s level of calm, because of her and with her as my guide, I am working very hard to one day be the kind of person who might inadvertently forget a bag of necessary and favorite items on a sidewalk somewhere and shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, there’s nothin’ I can do about it now.”

Mack Memo #4: Let it go, people. Relax. Have some Gatorade. Nothin’ you can do about it now.

 

Project Mack

Mack was a joyous and inspirational presence in the lives of her family members and her friends, and each one of us who loved her struggles to cope with the reality of life without her. To keep Mack with us, her family members, her friends, and I have set up a scholarship in her name, blogged about her life, published her writing, written touching eulogies, used social media to share photos and memories, gotten tattoos, and kept Mack alive in our hearts as we each strive in our own way to carry on with as much grace, hope, and Mack humor as we can possibly muster. The outpouring of love for Mack has buoyed me in my sea of sorrow, and the brilliant and beautiful ways that people pay tribute to the memory of my darling girl gives me strength to keep my head above the water.

Mack’s spirit lives in every beat of our hearts, and to observe her birthday this month I want to recognize one particularly extraordinary effort to share Mack’s spirit and to take her heart out into the world. Founded by Mack’s best friend Justice, Project Mack is based on the principle that individual people can make a difference in the lives of their friends, can influence the character of their communities, and can have an impact on the world. Through this very human project, Justice pays tribute to her friendship with Mack and draws inspiration from Mack’s personal philosophy. Because Mack loved life, was a devoted friend, always kept an open mind, maintained a cool and calm demeanor, and giggled every single day of her life, Project Mack wants to inspire others to “Enjoy Life. Be a Good Friend. Try Something New. Relax. Laugh.” And, most importantly, to “Live a Life of Impact.”

Project Mack

Through inspirational messages, multimedia, and monthly Big Mack Challenges, Project Mack is getting started in Kansas City, where Justice attends the University of Missouri, KC. Whether it’s delivering lunches to a homeless shelter, presenting flowers to nurses, passing out treat bags to students on campus, hanging out with young children at a community center, or hosting a bake sale to raise money for a friend who was facing a serious surgery, Project Mack is taking random acts of kindness to a whole new level. Justice not only channels Mack’s spirit in the effort, but she shares her own gentle nature, her own kind heart, and her energy and enthusiasm to make an impact in the world, as well. I am, simply, in awe.

Mack Madness

At Project Mack, this month is March Mackness and here are Justice’s three new Big Mack Challenges (taken from www.projectmack.com):

  1. Celebrate Mack Day! Out of every #BIGMACKCHALLENGE thus far, this probably is my favorite. Mackenzie, who is the heart and soul of #PROJECTMACK, would have turned 22 this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Mackenzie loved to have a good time and loved the fact she was born on St. Patty’s. It just wouldn’t be right not to celebrate her birthday, so that’s just what we want everyone to do! This #BIGMACKCHALLENGE is simple, go out and celebrate St. Patty’s day and more important Mack’s birthday. Even if you didn’t know Mack, go out and have a great time in her memory. Since she can’t celebrate her birthday, we should do it for her. Then post a picture and tag us in it! #projectmack.
  1. Big Trash Clean up: Our environment is something we really need to start taking better care of. So with this #BIGMACKCHALLENGE we want you to go out and pick up trash and litter. Try and get your teams, family, and classmates, involved! You can even make a community service event out of it. Pollution is something we take way too lightly and we need to take more responsibility for how we treat the earth. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. Don’t forget to post your stories and tag us in it!
  1. Treats for Teachers: Teachers are the back bone of our education system. I don’t think people realize how important they really are. And on top of that, they don’t get even half of the appreciation they honestly deserve. So with this month’s #BIGMACKCHALLENGE we want you to in some way say thank you to those who teach. There are tons of ways to say thank you, so don’t be afraid to get creative. And those college students who are home on Spring Break, maybe stop by and say hi to an old teacher. There are endless possibilities!

Project Mack is pretty freaking amazing, right?!! So, here and now, I am taking up that first Big Mack Challenge by encouraging you all to celebrate Mack’s birthday and March Mackness by connecting with Project Mack. Joining this big and bold movement to embrace our humanity, to be grateful for the people in our communities, and to be a source of positive light and energy in the world is a perfect way to celebrate Mack’s birthday. It’s better than a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” More original than chocolate cake with buttercream frosting and sprinkles. And way grander than a mug of green beer. There is no better way to party on Mack Day than to support Project Mack and one remarkable young woman’s effort to cherish the memory of her best friend by living “a life of impact” and inspiring others to do the same.

Please visit Project Mack at: http://www.projectmack.com/. Don’t miss the entertaining monthly videos that shows Project Mack at work.

Like Project Mack on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/projectmackk/?fref=ts

Stay connected on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Project_Mack?lang=en (#Projectmack)

And if you need to be reminded about why Mack cherished her friendship with Justice, check out this blog from January:  https://macksmommabear.com/2015/12/03/macks-best-friends-justice/

Mack and JC 2

Silly Songs and Funny Faces

Mack loved eating, spending time with animals, and watching her favorite television shows, but I believe her favorite activity was making people laugh. For my funny girl, laughter was the essential ingredient for a good life; and I can say with certainty that Mack laughed every single day of her wonderful life. Laughter soothed Mack’s soul, and she developed a passion to evoke laughter in the people around her. She loved to be the cause of a good giggle, to bring on a big belly laugh, or to start a contagious chuckle; and she was particularly delighted if she could cause you to blow soda out of your nose.

Mack employed various strategies for unleashing an outbreak of laughter around her, and her methods reflected the sensibilities of her own inner child. She made up silly songs and sang them in ridiculous voices, and she performed her own unique renditions of popular songs. In a squeaky register, for example, Mack would sing: “And I’m on tonight, you know my hips don’t lie, and I’m starting to feel it’s right,” mimicking the singer Shakira but also adding a Mack-silly twist by singing out of the side of her pursed lips. Mack danced like a fool, could talk right through a belch or a yawn, told stories in a horrendous cockney accent, and always ratcheted up the teen slang with a heavy dose of nerd. Mack relished her repertoire of really, really bad jokes (many straight off of Laffy Taffy wrappers), and she made up her own dumb jokes as well. Of her Mack originals, one of my personal favorites was: “Why did the squirrel cross the road?” There were many that started with this question (and others that started with a chicken), but every time Mack began a joke in this way, she would lean in with an expectant look on her face and pause as she waited for her victim to nod, and then she would shout out the nonsensical answer: “Because there was bacon on the other side!” Mack would usually start giggling before she could offer the entire punchline, and people were laughing before they even knew just how bad the joke was going to be.

But while silly singing, crazy voices, and lousy jokes were useful tools of her laughter-seeking occupation, it was probably the art of the funny face that drew the most laughter. Mack could suck in her lips or bug out her eyes and make us all laugh without saying a single word. Mack’s humor was mostly of the low-brow variety, was usually self-deprecating, and was always fair and good-natured; and since she liked to use herself as the target for most of her humor, she rarely engaged in excessive teasing or orchestrated practical jokes at the expense of others. But there was one practical joke that Mack deemed particularly successful for the laughter it produced; and because it is a personal favorite Mack-story of “Stapes,” Mack’s beloved high school golf and softball coach,” I offer it here in his words:

“One evening after a golf match, the girls were getting brand new golf bags. Their old bags were going to the junior varsity boy’s golf team. Mack asked if her and fellow teammate Becca Ramirez could be the ones to give the bags to the younger guys. She and the rest of the team started laughing, so I knew something was up. After some conversations back and forth, I convinced her to let me in on the joke, because with Mack, she was always up to something. Mack said that her and Becca purchased 10 boxes of feminine products and planned to stuff every pocket in the bags with them. Now image, with me, if you can, 14-year-old boys getting ready to practice with their new Springfield High bags only to find them loaded with tampons. So, of course, I looked at Mack and told her to go ahead and proceed.”

With the approval of her coach, Mack then carried out her humorous plot. She giggled throughout the plans, she laughed long and loud with her teammates as they stuffed the golf bags with tampons, and she chuckled every time she told people that “Stapes” had joined in the laughter, too. But the belly laughs of those boy golfers were the laughs Mack enjoyed the most. They were a new audience for her, and it tickled her pink to learn that she was capable of sharing a good laugh with people outside of her own circle of friends and teammates.

Oh Mack, you were a natural, my dear. We enjoyed the giggles we shared with you, we treasure the laughter you brought us, and we know that every day you made us laugh was a day worth living.

sisters babies  nerd caffeing and yellow nailscheesin with kaitlin

no lips  dancing with a potato eye balls

I Love to Laugh

Writing this blog has been a therapeutic endeavor for me, but it has also been a way for me to share my unique and amazing girl with the world and to keep her spirit alive. Mack and I were close, I knew her very well, and I have been able to share so many stories about her life, her character, her world view, and her zany and charming personality. But I realize that my perspective on Mack and my understanding of her was through the lens of a Momma Bear. Therefore, when I run across an artifact of Mack’s life, I am compelled to share it. And when it comes in the form of Mack’s own words, so much more the better.

Recently, one of Mack’s best friends reminded me of a random Facebook game in which Mack participated back in February 2009 (thanks, Kailey!). It was one of those chain games in which a friend of Mack’s tagged her to “write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals” about herself, and then tag twenty-five people to participate, too. Generally, Mack poo-pooed games like this, and she was very resistant to use social media to call attention to herself. Therefore, it’s quite surprising that she decided to answer this very public request to share personal insights about herself. I have no idea why Mack made this post, but I am thrilled that she did it. It offers one of those precious windows into her soul that has become a priceless artifact of her beautiful life and a sweet treasure for me. When Mack posted these twenty-five random facts about herself, it was 12:35 a.m. on a Saturday night. She was just shy of her fifteenth birthday, a high school freshman in the middle of her first varsity basketball season, well settled in at high school, unusually comfortable in her teenage skin, and already a wise old owl.

Below is Mack’s list of twenty-five random thoughts she offered about herself more than six years ago. I have provided some annotations and a couple of photos to go along with Mack’s words. Coincidentally, I have already featured several of Mack’s random thoughts in previous blog posts (they are hyperlinked) and, no doubt, other items will provide entertaining fodder for future blogs about my Macko. Mack’s wonderful list captures her incomparable humor and charm, offers some honest insights from her heart, and reflects the level of comfort she had with herself at a time when most girls her age are struggling to find themselves and to make their way in the world.

  1. I tend to overthink things. not sure why.
  2. I’m crazy if you know me but quiet if you don’t. [Mack was a little shy around strangers, but that never lasted very long. The close friends she made on the golf course is an excellent example at how quickly her “quiet” faded away.]
  3. I enjoy food. a lot [Oh, Mack, what an understatement!eating 1].
  4. lunch is my favorite [I suspect what she meant by this one is that lunch was her favorite subject at school!]
  5. people say I’m odd, but what do they know =).
  6. Basketball’s chill but it’s not my life [Even though Mack was at the height of her basketball success, making varsity and getting playing time as a freshman, she already knew that basketball did not define her nor did it control her life.]
  7. When I grow up I’m going to have a show on the food network called Mack’s Makin Bacon. I shall be famous [Mack’s love of bacon was legendary, and for a very long time she talked about having this show. A blog post entitled “Mack’s Makin’ Bacon” is definitely forthcoming].
  8. I once had a hamster named Strawberry Fabio McDermott. She died a tragic death. [Strawberry died of wet-tail disease, which is a common ailment in hamsters. Yet, I do suppose her death was kind of tragic, as Mack was so very fond of that little rodent.]
  9. I also had a fish named filis. Her death was similarly depressing. [Mack named a giant carp in our aquarium Phyllis (at least that’s how the Greeks and most other people would have spelled it). During an ice storm one winter when the power went out for several days, we had to leave the house as temperatures dipped below zero. Sadly, we left Phyllis behind, and the poor beloved fish froze to death. Mack was upset with her dad over that one for quite some time!]
  10. I have a pound puppy named Spot that I’ve had since I was two.
  11. I have 2 dogs. One is fat and the other is insanely hyperactive [Napoleon was our fat pug; and Pepper is our crazy Pomeranian]
  12. Stuff doesn’t bother me, I just kinda go with it.laugh
  13. I play golf basketball and softball. I don’t really have a favorite, but I’m best at softball.
  14. I can’t dance, but that doesn’t stop me.
  15. My nails are bright purple at the moment [Mack’s one beauty item was nail polish, and her toes and fingers were always as bright and cheerful as her personality.]
  16. Harry Potter is pretty durn sweet. not gonna lie.
  17. I love to laugh [oh, yes, Mack laughed every day; and she made other people laugh right along with her.]
  18. It takes a while for me to break out of my shell.
  19. I did not enjoy middle school.
  20. When I wake up in the morning, the only thing I want out of life is to stay in bed. [Mack was a professional sleeper…more to come on this topic for sure].
  21. I have 7 pairs of huge sunglasses. They all cost about 5 bucks [Stay tuned for a photo-essay about Mack’s glorious collection of sunglasses.]
  22. Blueberry pomegranate gatorade is disgusting. (that is not really about me, but I just took a sip and thought I should give a warning).super cool 11
  23. My sister’s in Argentina and I am very jealous [Savannah spent a semester studying in Buenos Aires when she was junior at Indiana University majoring in Spanish.]
  24. I watch comedy central, disney, food network, and discovery, and that’s about it
  25. There’s a giant CWLP cone in my room [Mack’s sister stole a giant orange City Water Light and Power caution cone, and when she went away for college Mack inherited it. When we moved to St. Louis, Mack insisted that it come with us. It enjoyed a place of prominence in her bedroom, we have it still, and I will keep it for Mack forever.]