Mack Day for ProjectMack

Human life is short, and it is precious. Yet precious few of us live our lives like the breath might leave our lungs tomorrow, and many of us who learn the lesson, learn it much too late. Mack was one of those precious few, living each day like it might be her last. She lived in the moment, present for all of the simple joys many of us miss in the frenetic pace of our daily lives. Mack breathed life fully into her lungs, found humor in all the dark corners, inspired laughter and fun for every circumstance, and cherished family and friends with the simple, remarkable gift of her time. Mack was true to herself, and she let people be true to themselves, too, loving them unconditionally, never criticizing or judging them. Her sense of humor, her fearlessness, her devotion to good fun and endless leisure, and her fierce sense of loyalty and social justice inspired a close-knit circle of friends who were her everything.

To those of us who loved her, Mack’s absence is a void as expansive as the universe. But like the universe, brilliant with billions of stars, Mack’s spirit shines on. She is still here. She lives on in the hearts of the people who were lucky to love her. She continues to be an inspirational presence in the lives of her family and friends. The creative writing scholarship in her name at Truman State University, where Mack found the writer inside of her heart, will spread Mack’s love of words to students for decades to come. And ProjectMack shares Mack’s philosophy of living with people who never had the privilege of knowing her: Enjoy Life, Be a Good Friend, Try Something New, Relax More, and Laugh More. I have found precious little peace since losing Mack, but much of it has come by the way of her best friend Justice and the work of ProjectMack, making a difference in the name of my girl.

The mission of ProjectMack “is to inspire those around us to live a positive impactful life. We have this idea that if one person can make the conscious effort to change the world, it can inspire others to do the same. ProjectMack isn’t something we do, it’s how we live our lives every single day. Through projects big and small we try to inspire positivity and good vibes in our communities by our words and actions.” The organization—now established in Kansas City, MO; Springfield, IL; Rantoul, IL; and Cincinnati, OH—has created music and sporting events to raise awareness about gun violence, held bake sales for cancer patients, organized sing-a-longs at nursing homes, passed out donuts, goodie bags, and care packages. It also uses its website and social media to inspire monthly Big-Mack challenges for people to initiate in their own communities.

Mack would have turned twenty-five this St. Patrick’s Day, and to celebrate her life, her legacy, and her birthday—Mack Day 2019—I want everyone to visit the ProjectMack website and consider making a $25 donation. It’s a beautiful thing—it’s a Mack thing—to live a life of impact.

And now a special statement from ProjectMack founder and CEO:

“If I have learned anything in my twenty-three years of life, it’s that death gives you perspective. When Mackenzie passed away four years ago, my biggest fear was that one day, eventually, people would find Project Mack 3their new sense of routine, and they would forget about her. I thought ultimately life would go on and everyone would get to a point where they wouldn’t even remember what life with Mackenzie was like. People ask me all the time why I created ProjectMack, and if I’m completely honest, it was to keep Mackenzie alive. I refused to accept a world without her in it, even if she technically wasn’t here anymore.

“I look back at where ProjectMack started and where we are today, and I am genuinely humbled because every single day I get to share my best friend with the world. I think I am fortunate, because at twenty-three I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I see the difference and impact ProjectMack is making, and it motivates me more than anything. I see how Mackenzie’s spirit has changed hearts and affected lives; and I think she’s exactly what this world needs. Mack understood you could change the world just by how you treat other people. I miss her more than anything, but ProjectMack is my way to make sure her legacy and memory never die. Mackenzie might not be here anymore, but her spirit and legacy will forever live on with ProjectMack.”

Justice Collins, Kansas City, March 2019.

 

 

Throw the Damned Discus

When she was in the sixth grade, Mack came home from school one day and announced, “I’m going out for the track team.”

“But you hate running.” I said.

“I’m not gonna run,” she replied, looking at me as if I was crazy to think was going to run.

“But people on track teams run around a track. That’s why it’s called track,” I said.

“It’s track and field, mother. I’m gonna high jump and throw discus. In the field,” she stressed, annoyed.

I skipped over the high jump part, because, yes, I thought she could actually probably do that, she did possess very long legs. But I looked at her noodle arms and her lanky and un-muscular body, and I did not see any comparative physical quality in my twelve-old-girl to the thick-set, muscled discus throwers I had seen in the Olympics. Yes, it is true, I went from zero (six-grade track and field) to 100 (Olympic-caliber discus throwing) in .3 seconds flat.

“But you don’t know how to throw a discus, do you?” I asked, confused.

“No. The eighth graders will show me.”

“But have you ever even held a discus?” I asked.

“No. I will at the tryouts, though,” she answered, looking at me like…duh.

“But…um…do you think you’ll be able to throw it very far?” I gazed at her noodle arms again, and even thought about poking where a bicep should be. Mack looked up at me curiously, with no furrowed, worried brow on her sweet freckled face as she, I suppose, prepared her response to my ridiculous questions. And then she absently shrugged and ran up to her room.

As Mack’s mother at that moment, I had been full of worry and fear that she would fail. I mean, just look at what an unsupportive ass I was employing all of those “buts” in my discussion with her! As Mack’s mother now, however, I am filled with wonder at my daughter’s matter-of-fact approach to living. She wanted to be on a spring sports team with her friends, and since she did not enjoy running, she chose high jumping and throwing the discus instead. She had no idea if she could do either one. “What the heck” and “why not” were her mantras, and questions like “what if I can’t do this” or “what if people see me fail” did not hold any sway with her.

This discus-throwing decision was not a moment in Mack’s athletic life when she knew going in that she would be good at something new. Rather, this was a moment in her life when she was going to try something new even though she might not be able to do it. Whereas I failed to see Mack’s discus-throwing potential and worried she would fail, Mack thought it was ridiculous to be worried about an outcome that, either way, would be perfectly fine. I also failed all those years ago to see the life lesson my little girl was standing there in my kitchen teaching me. She was not afraid to try something new not so much because she might enjoy it and might be good it. Rather, Mack was not afraid to try something new because she saw no shame in the failure to succeed at something new.

On Wednesday, I am going to throw the discus. Well, I am going to try something new, something that I may or may not be good at. I am going to begin teaching a six-week writing class for an adult, continuing-education program in suburban St. Louis. I want to become a part of a community of writers who share their joys of writing and their struggles with the craft of writing, and for me right now in my life that means teaching. I have taught history and I consider myself a writer, but the teaching of writing is a whole new thing for me. The old me would have been terrified at such a risky prospect.

However, for the past week, as I have finalized my syllabus, gathered my readings, prepared my writing prompts, and thought about all of the things I want to share with my first small group of writing students, I have also spent much time thinking about the sixth-grade Mack and her attitude about throwing the discus. “What the heck” and “why not,” I keep saying to myself. I want to do this, I’m going to give it a try, and I refuse to be terrified (although I am just a little bit scared). I do not want to be that fearful mom who stood in the kitchen all those years ago injecting doubt in the form of a whole lot of buts. I want to be the sixth-grade Mack, ready to throw the discus no matter how far the damn thing might go. Mack did not worry about how it might turn out, she worked hard, and she became a pretty good middle-school discus thrower. Channeling her, I will try not to worry about how far the teaching might take me, I plan to work hard, and, hopefully, I will turn out to be a pretty good first-time writing teacher.

Anyway, it is far too late to be terrified. This new thing of mine is in motion, and I intend to face it with the resolve of a sixth-grader who sees no reason not to try something new and no shame in the outcome, whatever that outcome might be. Besides, Mack is now standing in the peripheral vision of my memories cheering me on from behind the fence: “Just throw the discus, Momma Bear, and everything’ll be alright.”

P.S. My daughter Savannah, who is a bleeding-heart, not-for-profit, liberal-arts-educated young woman, just started an executive MBA program at the University of Illinois. Talk about not being afraid to try something new! Here is the great big giant truth of my life, people: I have learned more from my two girls than I could ever have dreamed of teaching them. I just wish I would have started letting them teach me a whole hell of lot sooner.

discus

This is the 8th-grade Mack, by then an experienced discus thrower, competing at a track and field meet at Southeast High School in Springfield, Illinois.

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