December 2012 Newsletter

everyone deserves a maura

Dunn children on Christmas

When my sister was a little girl, my Uncle Steve turned to my mother and playfully noted that, “Everyone deserves a Maura”.  He was speaking as a father in reference to Maura’s amazing temperament.  Since birth she has been the definition of ‘calm and collected’.  And as I sit writing this newsletter in my chilly apartment after a long day of painting, I realize my uncle’s statement is among the truest I’ve heard - everyone does deserve a Maura.

Maura Dunn

Born on the 9th of October, Maura is the embodiment of balance and grace.  She has been dubbed “The Baby Whisperer” by friends for her uncanny ability to pacify even the most colic-y of babies (eliciting an equal amount of relief and frustration from the exhausted parents). I might go so far as to revise the title to “The Person Whisperer” as I’ve witnessed her ability to calm the spirits of adults and infants alike (including her prone-to-anxiety-and-over-analyzing-little-sister).  Maura is the first person I call when I need the following: 1) no judgment 2) a perfect ratio of attentive listening to insightful observation 3) the most amazingly sensible plan to dig myself out of the mess I’ve created.

One of the bloggers I follow, Daniella LaPorte, recently posted that her new metric of love was being able to call someone at 2 a.m.  She asked readers to reflect on their “2 a.m. friends”:

:Who’s the first person you’d call if you landed the job, won the award, found out you were preggers, got the news that you qualified? : Who’s your “In Case of Emergency” contact? : Who could write your obituary? : Who knows how you take your coffee or could order for you at a restaurant? : Who’ll drive you there—and back? : Who’s seen you do the Ugly Cry?

I forwarded the email to my sister with the subject line, “You’re my 2am-er”.  Maura has definitely seen me do the Ugly Cry - and the Happy Cry, and the Scared Cry, and the Laughing Cry.  She knows what I would order at a restaurant, namely because it is what she would choose.  (Along with Baby Whispering, she also has a knack for picking out the most delicious item on the menu). She is also well aware that Sheila+Coffee is a horrible combination and will likely result in forcing me to run a few laps like you would a 5-year-old who has been sitting in the car too long.

Although there are countless stories I could tell about Maura from our growing up years, I think the one that best reflects our bond as sisters involves none other than a 2 a.m. call:

In March of 2005 I was studying abroad in a small Tuscan town, Castiglion Fiorentino.  My friend Corbin and I spent the first part of our spring break meandering around northern Italy and made a loose, sans-cell phone plan to meet up with our friend Emily later in the week: “Meet us at the Tower of Pisa on Wednesday, March __ at 2pm”.  From there, we caught a series of sketchy southbound trains all the way to Sicily.  We rented a little apartment overlooking the water and stocked up on various forms of carbohydrates and Limoncello.  One afternoon, Corbin traveled to some ancient ruins while Emily and I opted for a shorter, if less-cultural, journey to the plaza for a midday apertivo.

Some 6,000 odd miles away my mom, dad and sister were sound asleep at my aunt’s house in Arizona.  At 2 a.m., my mom awoke to her cell phone ringing. The incoming call was an international number, and she sleepily answered the phone, “Sheila?”   The young woman on the other line replied, “Yes”, and so began the worst conversation of my mother’s life.

I will spare the details of the phone call but will say that after 45 minutes, my family was fairly certain it was me on the other line and that my life was in serious danger.  Distraught, they immediately called my school in Italy, followed by the police who were unable to track the call.  They powered on my Aunt Kathleen’s computer to email me, only to discover the Internet was down.  On the verge of panic, they called my Aunt Maureen across town and asked her to send an email immediately.  My mom maintains that this was her scariest experience as a parent.

Now here’s the amazing part.  In a moment of despair, Maura gathered everyone together and calmly said, “Okay.  We need to send all of our energy and prayers to Sheila”.  And so they did.

As I walked down the sun-soaked streets of cobblestone with my childhood friend, I remember coming to an abrupt halt.  I can still clearly recall the long shadows of the afternoon sun and brush of olive-skinned strangers passing me by when the thought “I need to check my email” seared into my psyche and stopped me in my tracks. (It’s important to note that prior to this point I was notoriously horrible about checking in with my folks on a regular basis.  When I arrived in Sicily it had probably been three weeks since I last checked my email). The one public computer in Cefalu was, quite perfectly, in the back of musky wine shop and dreadfully slow.  I told Emily I would meet her in the plaza and waited several minutes for my inbox to appear on the dusty screen.  A lot of junk, several Yoga Journal emails, and one from my aunt Maureen titled, “URGENT, URGENT, URGENT.”  As I double-clicked the 3 URGENTS, the computer froze with no hope of resuscitation.

As I walked toward the plaza I started to piece together that my mom, dad and sister were all visiting my aunt.  Simultaneously, my mind began to race with different URGENT scenarios involving three members of my immediate family. When I relayed the story to Emily, she looked at me intently and said, “You need to call them right now”.  My fingers were shaking as I dialed the 30 some numbers of my international calling card.  I remember time slowing down with the forethought of news unimaginable.  When my mom answered the phone, "Sheila?", she sounded horrible.  However, this time it was actually me and we proceeded to share the biggest Oh Sweet Relief and Gratitude Cry of our lives.  Less than an hour had passed since Maura initiated Operation Contact Sheeler.

This experience forever solidified my faith in the Divine and the connection I share with my sister - one capable of crossing continents.

Dunn Sisters on Napali Coast

With the exception of me ruining half her wardrobe with permanent paint stains, Maura and I have always been close.  Although fairly different personality wise, we do share the exact same voice that can trick even those closest to us and have the same tiny wrists and hands.  We  frequently catch ourselves sitting in the exact same position on the couch, my frame perfectly mirroring hers.

A few nights I met up with my friend Matt to catch up on art and life.  When I asked what he’s reading these days, he reached into his backpack and pulled out “The Holographic Universe” (you know, just your typical light reading material).

“The reason subatomic particles are able to remain in contact with one another regardless of distance separating them is not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion.  At some deeper level of reality such particles are not individual entities, but are actually extensions of the same fundamental something.”

In order to help me better understand the ‘illusion of separateness of subatomic particles’ he used the salt and peppershakers as props.  It was a thoughtful effort, but my only true hope for grasping this concept on a scientific level would have been through sudden osmosis or Divine Intervention.

However, I do grasp it on an emotional and poetic level.  I love to think of those we love the most - both living and not - as echoing within us, and us in them.  I love to think of my sister and I as two particles, mirroring one another in space, despite the perceived distance between us.  I love to think of us as individual extensions of the same fundamental Something, so close that when she is calling to me, I can hear her across oceans.

Maura and Sheila at pumpkin patch



Guatemalan Mother and Children

Seattle-scape by Sheila dunn