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The prompt “The visible and the in-” by Marge Piercy makes me think of the notes I wrote in January in preparation for posting something on the Farther Along blog.

This is how it began…

This time of year has consistently been a time of reflection and mourning for me. In the early days just after Alex died when the grief was deep and raw, I counted how many days he had lived from the time he came home for good from the Navy until he ended his life. It was forty-four days. And I have since developed a pattern of marking each day from December 18th to January 31st.

Some years have been more intense than others. Often there is an innate trigger that lets me know the countdown has begun. I have noticed though that from these days of reflection I often have the gift of very special memories that might otherwise lie dormant in the recesses of my mind.

This past week, that trigger has been the series on CNN featuring the anchors sharing about “the person who changed my life,” leading my thoughts to one of the people who changed my life: Connie Alexander.

She had moved from Houston, Texas where she had been a high school teacher—English. Upon introducing myself I shyly and apologetically told her I was a high school dropout.

She never missed a beat and responded, “Well, you need to get a GED.” Which I did.

Then, “Take the SAT.” I resisted, but did it anyway and even though I had been out of school for six years, I made a decent score.

Then, “Apply to college.” She actually took me to the admissions office at Wake Forest College (as it was named then).

Miraculously, I was accepted! Then Connie helped me choose classes based on her schedule (she was in graduate school there) and then transported me for two semesters in 1966, laying the foundation and lighting the fire in my belly!

I was unable to finish a degree at that time, but I knew that someday I would go back.

In 1968, Alex was born. Connie always had a special connection to him, partly because his middle name was Alexander of course, but also because he had been born a month early and was so tiny. She said she was going to “grow him with love!”

Life happened for both Connie and me. Her retinitis pigmentosa advanced to the stage of total blindness, so of course she learned Braille and remained fiercely independent. She and her family moved back to Houston where she completed yet another graduate degree—in counseling. She always stayed in touch and encouraged me in whatever I was doing.

In 1983, I finally returned to the classroom! I enrolled in at least three classes each semester at Salem College and graduated, cum laude, in 1987.  Connie and her service dog flew in from Houston so she could help celebrate the glorious day on the Salem campus. She arrived a few days early and spent time catching up with my mother, whom she adored, and in endless conversations with my kids. They all loved Connie so much because she had such a great sense of humor and was really fun to be around.

She asked Alex to take her shopping and together they bought a beautiful music box made of porcelain morning glories with a butterfly perched daintily on the edge of one bloom. Alex later told me how interesting it had been as they “looked” at various versions and he had to describe in detail the colors and shapes of each one. He said it made him notice things he would not have seen otherwise.

Connie made a point of participating, in some way, in all our important family milestones. And she loved us deeply and consistently.

One day recently as my kids and I were reflecting on the importance of Connie in our lives, my son Glenn said, “A blind woman helped you to see your path.” This is so true.

And I can’t think of Connie without thinking of Alex and how special they were to each other. Connie died four years ago, and I can only imagine the happy reunion of those two dear souls!