Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

For Susie

When my friend Susan (Chamberlin) Brachna was born, her mother looked into her very dark eyes and was reminded of the flower called the brown-eyed Susan or (sometimes) black-eyed Susan. That’s how she got her name. These have always been among my favorite flowers; they look like golden daisies and are in the sunflower family. As I think of Susie, I think of a beautiful flower growing toward the sun.

I greatly appreciate the friendship we shared for four and a half years. Compared to some, I did not know Susie that long. But in that time, we both lost our mothers. No matter our age, the loss of a mother is devastating. And we were in graduate school studying counseling together. No matter our age, graduate school is a tough time, full of obstacles. But it also brings the joy of learning, and I will never forget the image of Susie studying in the campus library. We would encounter each other quite often as I also teach part-time at John Carroll University.

When Susie was reading, she was really reading. She was like a laser beam in her powers of concentration. When she was writing, she was really writing – and some of you know, she was a solid freelance writer for quite a few publications. Did you know that an article she wrote in 2000 shows up in Easy Bib, an online citation tool sometimes used by students? It’s called "Incorporating Individuals with Disabilities in Everyday Work Force” and appeared in Plastics News 11.49 (2000): 24. Print. Skillful as she was at writing, Susie wanted to set freelancing aside. She did not want to be in a room alone, writing, with the door shut, as she put it. She wanted to be among people, helping.

I loved every conversation I had with her, the questions she asked, her laughter. She had a very reassuring way of saying good-bye – with an upbeat tone. It was as if she had a smile in her good-bye.               

Susie and I have sons of about the same age, and she often said that being a wife and mom was her proudest achievement. Knowing what she was like as a graduate student, I can imagine that her parenting was done with zest and creativity and precision. She told me of a phase with her young sons when she wanted to both support their interest in science and “keep them busy and occupied.” If I heard this right, at that time their stately home had a secret in the basement … something to do with amazing living creatures – even a reptile (?) in a tank … not standard in a colonial. Susie said “I didn’t go down there.” From this I learn: Give people what they need. Then step back.

One winter holiday, Susie gave me a beautiful vase made in Israel with a colorful rendering of Jerusalem on it. I brought it to one internship site where I taught relaxation; I filled it with dried roses to try to create a meditative atmosphere for recovering addicts. The vase drew many compliments. Susie had excellent taste. I told her she was doing therapeutic things even when she didn’t realize it. From her example I learn: Cherish what is beautiful.

The evening of her presentation in multicultural education she had worked so hard on learning PowerPoint, but as often happens: the projector wasn’t working. “I’ll just skip that,” she said, sliding the mouse away and not missing a beat. She spoke eloquently without bells and whistles but never thought of herself as a public speaker even when leading five therapeutic groups at a community agency. So from her I learned: Get rid of what doesn’t work and Share your wisdom.

Susie characteristically downplayed her own talents but her article on parallels between her battle with cancer and her client’s battles is one of the best I have read. It is in the July 2013 Counseling Today online. Her skills as a writer and a counselor converged in that essay.

From her I learned lessons perhaps more powerful than the whole counseling curriculum combined.

Some people think of the world beyond as eternal rest. Somehow my heart tells me Susie may be busy as usual, using her compassion to help the world from a new vantage point.

I will always remember the way she blossomed – with beauty, dignity, humor, and grace.


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