When I Grow Up, I Want to be Danielle Montiel: A Year of Being.  Together.

 

By way of introduction, Danielle is a good friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, we did Thanksgiving one year at her parent’s house, primarily because she married one of my best friend’s brothers who had invited us along.  Fast forward about five years and we spent two years in a couple’s group with several others, we camped and travelled once or twice a year with our families this last decade, we had a deep appreciation for one another and I felt “goodness” in my soul when I saw her but we weren’t necessarily in weekly or even biweekly contact until this past year.

A few things you should know:

She’s amazing – seriously.  Before cancer, she could do handstands and back flips- leftovers from being a gymnast (yes, in her 40s).  She was a gourmet chef effortlessly, whipping up whatever was in the kitchen and having it taste divine.  She was profound, observant, kind, generous, intelligent and had a combination of laid back and disciplined that few people could pull off.  She was so gracious in how she approached situations and people.  She single-handedly got a new charter school, the joint vision of her brother-in-law, Steve Porter and good friend, Jason Baehr, up and running.  She was a doer and yet she appeared to flow so easily between the doing and being, recognizing that while one does, one needs to be.

This past year, she transformed me spiritually without having a clue she was doing so (I didn’t have a clue in the middle of it).  I’d committed to a year of practicing the spiritual discipline of being and she and I together were engaged in a touch therapy I’d been briefly trained in (a modality I practice with friends, not professionally.).  She showed me the beauty of dependence, of asking for one’s needs, of moving slow together and not rushing to “get somewhere.”  See what was so clear to Danielle, but what I didn’t get (at least initially) was that our time was about being. I wanted results – a better sleep, loosened muscles, coordination improvement after her brain surgery.  But for Danielle we never tried to get somewhere, she let me know she enjoyed the company, the nurturing.

What I gut-achingly miss the most is feeling her body.  I learned her arms, her legs, her back.  Over the months, we grieved, through our acknowledgement of changes, ineffective chemotherapy, which resulted in the cancer stealing her strength because breathing was compromised not to mention the chemotherapy and radiation side effects.  Much later, we grieved the arrival of the breathing machine and what it meant at the same time we rejoiced she could breathe better.  We grieved that the spiritual images given to us during our time together never promised healing.  The last image she spoke about (our last months had very little speaking in them) was a dollhouse with open rooms that she could come and go in without being trapped in one place (possibly a foreshadowing of her visiting us from “behind the veil).”

I confess, I wanted to be miraculous.  I wanted her to heal so we didn’t have to live with worry.  I wasn’t so naive that I declared it to be true – that God was going to heal her through our time together.  While my posture might leave doubters declaring, “No wonder she didn’t heal oh ye of little faith,” I don’t think either one of us felt that way.  We were united in the very core of why we were together – to seek God’s will and to trust that He was with us as we were with each other.

I doubt I’ve done something more important in my life than sit with Danielle – listening. She showed me a part of myself that has rarely shown itself – being while helpless, dependent, powerlessness, with absolutely no power or control to change the outcome, only to impact the process. I needed her to show me our time wasn’t worthless even though I couldn’t heal her.  Even when I couldn’t help her sleep through the night, she gave herself over to the process and showed me what it was like to enjoy one another while being dependent and vulnerable.  I see now, our time together was an intimate pause in our lives.  It grew me.  Facing into death with her – feeling the muscle decrease in her arms, hearing the struggled breath, and shifting movements – going from lying flat, to being propped up by pillows, to sitting in a recliner, to siting straight up in a chair – all of these things we faced together – acknowledging with words and without what this meant for God answering our prayers.  Oh we hoped – we asked for healing for the chance to once again lie on the massage table but we didn’t proclaim false hopes or optimism like, “I can’t wait until you are strong enough to walk Juneau again” or “I can’t wait for this year’s camping trip when you will have enough breath to go on some longer hikes.”  In this, we were steadfast, “God’s will be done and we invite His Presence to be with us.”  The last several months we were together, she slept while I worked though she asked to be woken up each time so she could spend more time with her family after I was done.

I learned from Danielle that my beginner’s training was sufficient for us.  Danielle taught me that I didn’t need any special tricks or powers to pull out of a bag – what I was doing was good enough.  I didn’t believe her at first.  Wasn’t there something I could do to miraculously bring more comfort to her body?  Shouldn’t I know more?  When her body had declined to a place we couldn’t use the massage table I had a perfectionist panic – What if I don’t know what I’m doing and hurt her?  So I said to her, “okay – if things get too hot (my hands combined with the energy in her body creates heat), you let me know and I’ll stop.”  She very gently looked me in the eyes and said, “You’ve never hurt me before.  I doubt it will happen now.”  I met her gaze, nodded and answered with a bit of guilt in my eye for having been trapped once again by my perfectionism and said, “True.  Let’s get you more relaxed.”  See here with Danielle I was finally bearing witness and embodying what I’ve known for decades — being is about the good enough – otherwise what takes the place of being is often an anxiety that is focused on performance and outcome.  Perfectionism or focusing on “doing it perfect” can’t digest the present moment; instead it’s there to eat up the present moment for something obtained in the future.

Danielle also spoke into me about an identity I hadn’t claimed in myself.  So casually she shared with me a story about a Christian healer she’d gone to hear speak and was greeted by a member of our congregation via a handshake.  Danielle said to her, “You have warm hands like Kimber, you must be a healer.”  The gal had laughed and said, “I’m a massage therapist.”  I haven’t experienced my hands the same since.  See I do talk therapy professionally, I only do touch therapy as a hobby, yet here she was calling something into being for me.  “I’m a healer.”  I wear this declaration now as true.

My deepest regret is I didn’t share this with her because I didn’t know it until she’d died.  See I feel as if I’ve lost a patient who was a dear friend.  But it’s my hands that miss her the most.  They long to be with her, to touch her feet and create energy shifts up her body, to feel warmth, not the inability to create warmth as I experienced as she passed from this world when my hand was on her leg and I felt only coldness.  It was then that I knew what I’d miss the very most – being.  Together.

My year of being has made its way into my bones.  I have a category, a new way of existing.  I’m grateful.

Danielle, if your reading this now — I miss our times together.  You’ve marked me, changed me for good.  I love you, friend and please visit me – with Amy.  And my son.