The dogs and I went up into the hills above our farm today for a walk. From above, the patchwork of fields spilling from one farm to the next look a lot like they must have looked a hundred and fifty years ago when sheep farms filled this region. Besides the obvious addition of electric wires, the scene has an orderly timeless tranquility of early winter, something it must have had back then. Everything shipshape and ready for snow.

The one thing that always puzzles me as I walk the roads and fields around our farm is where are all the people. No one is ever home. It befuddles me. Morning, noon and night. Weekday and weekend. Our neighborhood is empty of people. Where is everyone? What are they doing? I really don’t know.

I wonder if a hundred and fifty years ago there would actually have been more bustle here. More home fires burning. More bumping into neighbors out doing chores. More community on a smaller neighborhood scale. I would have liked this.

As I think back to the moments I loved best this past year, they were mostly gatherings on a small scale: a winter bonfire on our farmland down the road, a night of song when one of the children’s friend visited with a guitar, picnics in the Arbor Garden to celebrate whatever we could think of to celebrate- a big garlic crop, the safe harvest of all the red shiso, the joyful return of a child coming home from travels or school.

Small sweet moments feel more and more worthy of celebration and gratitude and a feast (when the stove works), because life gives us all a lot of difficulties that make these moments feel more and more precious.

I know I haven’t written many posts this year. We have been wonderfully busy in the office and that was one contributing factor, but another reason was that we had a lot of difficult things happen to us, and it’s been hard to figure out how to even begin choosing words to describe the events.

One particularly poignant event was the death of my brother, Sam. He died this July in a motel room in Nashville,TN of a prescription drug overdose. A sorrowful end to a tragic life. Sam was the funniest person I have ever known and also the source of much confusion and pain for our family when his personality got the better of his heart, and he went off the deep end with drugs and violence directed at my family. Before his decline into drug addiction and desperate acts, he had been Jeff to my Mutt on a spiritual search for how to make sense of our difficult childhood. No one supported me more in my search for meaning. And then he was lost to us in a haze of scary choices. Letting him go when the relationship endangered my children was one of the most difficult and saddest moments of my life.

When he died this summer, I hoped and prayed he had remembered enough from all our spiritual adventures to get himself safely across the astral plane to heaven. When I heard of his death, I asked him to send me a sign that he was okay. That next morning as I walked into the office, a poster fell off the wall. Unbeknownst to me, the poster had an address label from Sam on it. His address on the label? Sunwood Place.

He always liked the razor’s edge between life and death, so it really shouldn’t have surprised me that Sam went on to spend a good bit of this summer and fall sending me wild and crazy signs that all was well with him and he was moving on and making amends. Much as I still feel in a muddle about other members of my family of origin, I have felt close to Sam since his death, and much healing has happened. For that I will always be grateful.

And while I have frequently reminded him and his Angels that I don’t want his imaginative efforts to console me to get in the way of his forward progress as a soul, I also hope he is up there in heaven giving talks on how to let the people left behind know you love them. He really is a genius at this!

Sam wanted fame while here on earth. It was one of many tragic obsessions that made it so hard for him to find his way. Now he is probably playing to sellout crowds doing heavenly stand-up, all the while finally knowing it doesn’t mean anything unless it serves the light in all of us. That was the thing about Sam. He knew exactly how to light everyone up with his humor, yet it all got away from him as darker pursuits prevailed during his life on earth. Thank God he will get more chances to get it right and be his very best self.

I cheer him on from here as he goes about his work of figuring out a new way for himself. And in the small circle of our family, we begin to mend the wounds of his crazed behavior, one small celebration at a time, and we begin to find a way forward that remembers the best in Sam and leaves the rest to God.

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