Monthly Archives: April 2015

Clinging to Life

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York restores a 75 year-old photo by Lorstan Photography Studios of her aunt, Bertha Spector of Brooklyn.Some people cling to life like a scab clings, by mere threads, to an old wound. And some hold fast to every moment grabbing celebrations, laughter, moonlit nights, magnificent meals, the here of the sun, the now of friends. I used to shake my head, grumbling that my daughter was living like she had only an hour left. Then she died. “How will I live the rest of my life?” I wondered. It’s a good question to ask periodically.

Four years later I’m still aware of my season of hailstorms, the two-month period from my daughter’s deathday on March 4 to Mothers’ Day. In between those dates fall my birthday and Marika’s, the first day of spring, Easter and Passover. All are opportunities to wallow in misery and close off the world. Brain nausea sets in every year as I try to sort out what this deathday really means and how I should commemorate it. What keeps coming up is my Aunt Bertha. The aunt I adored as a child lost her husband on her birthday over fifty years ago. She kept to herself for over half a century, feeding on little other than her immense sorrow. So I have a familial model for how to live in grief. Only, that is not living; it is dying a very slow death.
I used to wonder, no, to be honest it used to bug me: how come she got to live? As much as I loved my aunt, her heart was dead and buried with her husband long ago. Why was she still schlepping around in her mid-nineties while Marika didn’t even get to see twenty-one?

Last week, in a rainstorm, we buried my Aunt Bertha in a cemetery in New Jersey, next to her husband. Nine of us huddled under umbrellas, taking turns shoveling rich red soil onto the lowered coffin. The ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes. And then we climbed into our seven cars and went home.
For me it was a five-hour ride. I thought of how, when I was a kid, I was afraid to use telephones except to call my Aunt Bertha. I remembered the jewelry she used to give me, visiting her in Brooklyn, and the candy-salesman husband who made her smile. She bought me my first camera.

The rainstorm followed me back to Ithaca. When I got home, clumps of soil still clung to my black boots, rich and red.

 

What does a life well lived mean to you?

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Who or What is God?

Who or What is God? Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, has an up-close encounter with a plant in a Tucson desert
There are places that make me want to sing. There are beautiful things that make me cry. Every so often something smacks me in this world and I am prompted to question everything I believe in. Then I stand stock-still and forget to breathe. Maybe even tremble.
“Who could create something like this?” I whisper. And if you know me you will not be surprised to hear me declare, “It’s a gift.”

If you put on your glasses and examine the insides of a flower, cut open a vegetable, or magnify the eye of an ant; if you step back to survey vast seas and skies, magnificent landforms; or close your eyes completely to meet the wind, the sun’s warmth, cooling mists of roaring waterfalls, the sound of a baby’s laughter tucked in your closet of memories; you might begin to find what some call God.

What makes you drop your jaw in awe?

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Lighting Up Life

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, foinds a photo of a red tree from the last beautiful day in October.“Go see the Ithaca Falls,” my friend, Annette, said when I complained about the lack of sunshine. “The runoff from the swollen creek… It’s beautiful. You’ll be inspired.”

When the rain stopped I went to the falls. I photographed until I was soaked from the mists and my hands stung with cold. At home I photo-shopped the scenes, inverting, painting and posterizing them. Whatever I did, the images were still all gray. I was desperate for color.

Back in October I had photographed the last beautiful day in Ithaca before the cold set in and the leaves dropped from the trees. Then the snow came. Early. And it kept coming. Mountains of it surrounded the house and lined the driveway up and down. There were some silent snowy mornings when I felt like singing. But mostly, the colorless skies and bare trees made me want to hibernate. The cold was brutal. Unending. Underneath the snow was ice. Under the ice the ground was the color of concrete. And when the plows came through the snow became black. Finally the whole mess thawed and flooded. Then came the mud.

In early April, the weather in Ithaca may be warm enough to eat dinner on the deck or cold enough that your pipes freeze. Either way, on my birthday it is always drab. Gray. Maybe that is why my daughter, each year before she died, always gave me a gift of something red. Red capris, a sweater from GAP, screaming scarlet socks, a red velvet cake.

It rained on and off on my birthday this year. So I mail-ordered myself a gift, a red dress “from my daughter.” I bought a bouquet of basil and stuck it on the kitchen counter. And then I found the picture I took on the last beautiful day in October.

Three days later the sun came out. But I was too happy hiking all day to prepare another photo.

 

What do you do to put color back in your life?

 

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A Gift of Memories

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops goats and Marika Warden (the girl in Ithaca who kicked leukemia but died of complications) wearing her coat of many colors in a Montessori school play.“Guess what I found.” That was the Facebook message I got from MJ last week.

MJ is one of those people I’ve felt connected to for years but never really spent time getting to know. These days we are Facebook friends. I love her posts. They often feature her crazy goats. We have designing and a love of fabrics in common. In the mid-1990s, MJ was sewing costumes for the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca annual musicals while I was painting their scenery. Our daughters were both in the 1996 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. My six-year-old Marika got the part of Joseph and MJ created a beautiful Coat of Many Colors for her. The youngest student to get a major role in the school play, Marika spun proudly around and around on stage. It is one of the most precious images I have of my daughter who died fourteen years later.

Right away from the message, I knew MJ was trying to return the big bag of fabrics and clothes I’d given her to refashion. That’s what MJ does when she has time; she sews various remnants into stunning creations. But she got a full-time job shortly after I last saw her and no longer had time to sew for herself or for others. My bag sat in her house over two years while we both were too busy to bother with it.

I went to MJ’s house to pick up the bag. I was hoping to see her goats. What I got was the bag, the goats, and a magnificent gift.
“This isn’t mine,” I said, pointing to a garish pile on top in the bag I immediately recognized as my own. I held up the colorful bundle and it unfolded into a coat. And I unfolded into a mess of memories and tears.
“Yes, it is,” she said.

 

What was the most thoughtful, wonderful surprise you ever received?

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