"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Memories Aflame

I’m not a Colorado native, but my mom is a third generation native, so love and feelings of connection to Colorado runs deep in my veins.  Which is why watching the destruction caused by the now 14,000+ acre wildfire raging in Colorado Springs breaks my heart.
Colorado is my second home, and Colorado Springs especially looms large in my life and in memories I cherish.  I am familiar with its history, legends, landmarks and lore as I am with those of my own hometown.   

My mom was born and spent her early childhood years in Colorado Springs.  Her grandparents and many of her cousins lived nearby.  I have early, vague memories of visiting my great-grandmother’s house in downtown Colorado Springs.  Through the years, I’ve walked the same sidewalks that my mom did when she was young, looking at the house where she grew up, visiting the church my grandparents were married in, where my grandma sang in the choir, and where my mom, uncle and aunts attended Sunday School when they were young.  Old black and white pictures of family members show them standing in front of homes and buildings in Colorado Springs, or on picnics and camping outings in the mountains outside the city.  “Springs” as locals call it, is part of my family.   My mom said it best in this blog post about the fire with these words, "Truly, the backdrop of my earliest days, the beloved skyline of my life,  is on fire.  I am heartbroken."

From as far back as I can remember visits to Colorado have been a regular part of my life’s rhythm.  Summer vacations and many Thanksgivings, Christmases and other holidays were spent there.  I associate Colorado with celebration and family.  Colorado Springs especially holds a kind of magical charm for me, and the days and weeks before a trip there made me giddy with anticipation. There was so much to do and see, not to mention my favorite cousin, Michelle, was there!  Colorado was where I chose to celebrate my milestone 40th birthday, surrounded by many I love, marked by visits to places I cherish. 

Summertime meant extended stays in Colorado, with weeks on end spent at my Aunt Suzy’s house or Michelle’s, or some combination of both.  When I was in Junior High, my mom moved from Utah to Colorado Springs, and the Springs really did become my second home.  

Summer visits to Springs were never complete without at least a few outings to Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods. These are two of the areas most affected by the fires.  Residents of Manitou Springs were some of the first to be evacuated.  Drinking Manitou water, which is really nasty, but supposedly has healing properties, is a rite of passage for children in our family.  The arcade at Manitou was a favorite hangout of my cousins and me when we were teenagers. Getting our pictures taken in the photo booth was a must on every visit there.  Last summer, a 4th generation of children in our family was introduced to Manitou Springs and its traditions, as I spent a fun afternoon there with many of my family.  

Manitou Photo Booth fun with my cousin Michelle
Gillian's first taste of Manitou Water
Garden of the Gods is another Colorado Springs landmark that is deeply ingrained in my memories.  Growing up I remember reading Packy Climbs Pike's Peak, a book about a packrat that lived in Garden of the Gods in the winter and on Pikes Peak in the summer.  Many summer picnics with my cousins took place in Garden of the Gods.  Driving through the park we’d all compete to see who could catch the first glimpse of the Kissing Camels.  Then as we’d drive by Balancing Rock we’d all hold our breath, because if we didn’t the precariously balanced rock might come crashing down on our car!  As soon as the cars were parked we’d all burst outside and immediately scamper onto the red rock formations.  While we climbed, our mom’s would go buy candy rocks from the gift shop and then try to fool us into thinking they were eating rocks.  Lame!  We were never fooled, but we enjoyed watching them act like fools in an effort to entertain us.  On double dates with my cousin Michelle, we again returned to Garden of the Gods with our boyfriends to climb and play. There might even have been some making out in the car parked under the stars and soaring red cliffs, but I won’t confirm or deny that.  

Balancing Rock in Garden of the Gods
Kissing Camels in Garden of the Gods

Glen Eyrie Castle

Glen Eyrie, the castle/home built by the founder of Colorado Springs, General William J. Palmer, is another favorite place.  Bighorn Sheep can often be seen on the grounds or in the cliffs near the castle. Who would expect a castle to be up in the mountains outside a city in Colorado?  I was completely enthralled by the romanticism and beauty of the place when I was younger.  I loved walking through the halls; exploring and imaging the history that had taken place there.  As a teenager, I even got to attend a wedding in the chapel of Glen Eyrie, which was almost too much for my romantic young heart to stand.  Located in Queen’s Canyon, Glen Eyrie is potentially right in the fire’s path.  If the unthinkable happens and the winds blow the fire into Queen’s Canyon, the canyon will act like a chimney and force the flames directly down the canyon with devastating consequences.
Mom, Amy, Jon, Me and Julie with Glen Eyrie Castle in the background
Flying W Ranch, a landmark tourist attraction where tourists and locals could go for an authentic Western Bar-B-Q dinner and cowboy music experience was destroyed yesterday by the fire.  I went there once with my mom and the man she was dating at the time, along with my boyfriend. I was a teenager and remember thinking the experience was cliché and completely uncool.  Still, it was a landmark, and hearing that it was destroyed broke my heart.

Watching and hearing about the devastation from afar is difficult.  I know I’m not the only one experiencing feelings of sadness, helplessness and mournfulness.  It’s all really hard to take in.  The pictures being posted on Facebook by friends and family look like those from a war zone.  I can’t imagine being there and literally watching parts of my home, my city, burn before my eyes.  I’m struck by how closely our emotions and memories are intertwined with places.  Seeing those places literally going up in smoke before your eyes is like having parts of your personal history destroyed.  It’s a very helpless, hopeless feeling.  Places that have been touchstones in my life, and the lives of my family, are up in flames.    

Hopefully, soon the forces of nature will let up and the firefighters and many others working to save lives and homes will have some success in containing the fire.  Until then, all I can do is watch, dumbfounded, and wait, and hope for the best.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


des·ti·ny n., 1. Something that is to happen or has happened to a particular person or thing; lot or fortune 2. The pre-determined, usu. Inevitable or irresistible, course of events 3. The power or agency that determines the course of events.

Some things that happen in life are so big they change us forever, permanently altering the direction and focus of our lives, changing our destiny.  At the time I didn’t realize it, but the day my sister died my destiny changed.  The power of her suicide and its aftermath was too great to ignore, so significant that it couldn’t help but fundamentally change me and my life’s direction.  Being an advocate for suicide prevention education and mental health awareness doesn't seem like a choice.  Experiencing my sister’s suicide feels made it inevitable that I would try to find some purpose behind her death and use my experiences as a survivor to help others. 
Mine isn't the only destiny that changed after the suicide of a loved one.  Over the weekend I helped at a golf tournament fundraiser for Miles of Hope, Inc., a foundation that raises money to assist military members and veterans.  Mark and Melanie Vigil started the foundation after their son Miles killed himself in November 2010.  Here’s a link  to a newspaper article that talks about Miles, his death, and how the Vigil’s are using his death to provide hope for others. http://www.standard.net/topics/service/2011/02/26/parents-soldier-killed-war-want-find-hope-his-death

The tournament was a success, with great support from many individuals and businesses.  Over $15,000 was raised! Sitting on the pavilion as golfers gathered for lunch I was struck by the love and support given so freely by so many.  I don’t know for sure, but I bet almost every person there knew Miles or was touched by his life in some way. I’m certain every single one of them would have done whatever was necessary to help save his life.  It reminded me of a poem someone recently shared with me.

“…We remember you.  Not as a soldier who fought a battle read about between the pages of our history book, not as a soldier who fought for his country for values and a way of life worth preserving.

We remember you as a soldier on the battlefield of life, valiantly struggling through your own personal war.  A war none of us were aware of.

All of us would have taken up arms for your cause.  We would have rallied, given muskets of courage, canons of patience, barrels of understanding, rifles loaded with love and compassion. 

But you didn’t let us know we needed to come to your aid.  We didn’t know you were on the battlefield all alone.  The dragons of despair, the monsters of melancholy, the shadows of stress and the presence of pressures. 

We would have slayed them, we have lessened their ability to lead you astray from a life full of hope, promise and love. 

Now we remember you, for you valiantly fought a battle only this family is vaguely aware of.  You were our soldier, our happy, carefree, confident companion.  

We wish we could have helped you, but this was one battle you had to fight by yourself.  We treasure our memories of you and of our times together.  We remember you with love, but most of all, we love you and remember you always. “ ~ Author Unknown

Who wouldn't take up arms and do whatever was necessary to slay the demons that torments a loved to the point of taking their own life?  I would have done anything in my power to save my sister's life.  Every person gathered together on Sunday to support Miles of Hope would have gladly done whatever it took to save Miles.  I'm certain of it.  

Mark, me and Melanie 
Sitting in the sun, surrounded by the sounds of laughter and music, watching so many gathered to support a common cause made me a little introspective and melancholy, wondering why all of us weren't given the chance to rally a little sooner.  Then the band started playing The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down".  It was too much.  I had to escape to the bathroom to cry.  The irony of that song, there, that day, reminded me of how suicide lets so many people down.  As I took deep breaths to calm myself I realized there was another way to look at it.  My sister, like so many others, gave her life in a battle with mental illness.  I can't let her down. I won't let her death be in vain. Together with other survivors like Mark, Melanie and their family, we'll find hope and meaning from tragedy, helping each other heal while at the same time providing hope, healing and support to others.  

Me and Melanie