That Which I Sowed in Tears, I Reap in Joy: A Love Letter to my Beautiful Readers

Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Poecile rufescens, photographed in San Rafael, California.

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 25 December 2007.

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/500s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Something amazing has happened to me, my sweet little chickadees (I say that because you, dear readers, are my beautiful little chickadees, for reasons you will learn in this essay). For the first time in my life, I am happy beyond all imagining. I have experienced many joyous events that have given me a glimpse into what happiness feels like, but never have I experienced something as intensely life-changing as these past few months have been in my life. I never knew anything like this could happen to me, and I never knew such events were even possible -- for anyone.

First, as you know, I married an amazing man in August. I thought that building a life with him would be the greatest joy I would ever know, and I was happy beyond words to have such an intelligent and kind man in my life. But as I was preparing to join him Germany, I experienced a second (surprise) event: I was contacted by my beloved brother.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It turns out that my brother was coming to NYC to run in the marathon (amazing! I was always the serious long-distance runner in the family!), and he wanted to meet me and go out to dinner with me. You may not know this, but our childhoods were filled with astonishing abuse, with every sort of horror that you can name, and we have not spoken since I was 15 and my brother was 13 -- after I was thrown out of the house and made a ward of the courts.

Now, after all these years -- after I've lived all over the country (and even in some other parts of the world), after a legal name change, after adopting the pseudonym that I write under -- my brother found me and had the courage to contact me. The fact is, he found me through my blog, after I "decloaked" myself in anticipation of publishing in Nature and Science (I revealed myself because I wanted to share my writing with you, so you knew I was making some progress). My identity became more widely known soon afterwards because of the publicity surrounding the Antarctica competition, which I was a contender in. (well, I think that was how my brother found me, but perhaps not?)

Of course, I immediately wanted to speak to my brother, although after I'd calmed down a bit, I was truly terrified, of .. what? Thousands of horrible scenarios flitted through my mind, and I experienced lots of terrifying nightmares that unfortunately are recapitulations of my life and all the terrible and sad things I've experienced. I was almost ready to email my brother to tell him that I am not strong enough to meet him, but my beloved spouse encouraged me to ask my brother what he wanted to discuss, just so I could have some mental and emotional peace. Almost immediately, my brother texted this response: "I have wanted to talk to you for many years but wanted to give you your space and privacy. As life has gone along, I just need to speak with you - you are my big sister and I need you."

Wow! Regardless of how much of a failure that I think I am, there is no way that this ass-kicking sister would ever abandon her duty to protect and help her brother (that was my first job in life -- one that I felt I failed at miserably -- and I take all my responsibilities very seriously). So I spent hours reading restaurant reviews in search of a nice place in NYC that was near where my brother was staying or picking up his race materials, and finally, I found The Place: The Red Cat.

I won't go into all the details about our meeting and conversation because it is a very long and incredibly tragic story (I will tell you more later, after I sort through all my emotions, and because I know this is a story that must be told -- and because no writer truly has any secrets!). The Red Cat restaurant was magnificent: the food, excellent; the staff, amazing and kind and chatty in a sweet and disarming way (they even gave me a window table after I asked, even though they had no idea about our story!). The evening was far, far too short.

As you might expect, after this meeting, I was shocked. I experienced every emotion you can imagine, from joy to outrage, and I was so overwhelmed I could barely think. After a sleepless night, I found myself waiting anxiously at the NYC Marathon "12000-12999" sign for my beautiful and tragic brother. The police spoke with me for awhile, wondering if I was alright.

"I am so happy! I am so happy!" I wept aloud to them.

(Keep in mind that I never cry, even when I shattered my wrist so badly that my future spouse almost fainted at the sight of it and I had to undergo surgery to repair it.)

Slowly, I told bits and pieces of our story to the police officers. As I told them our story, it dawned on me that perhaps they needed to hear this as much as I needed to tell it, so they might be reminded that in the midst of all the sadness and tragedy that they face every day, that there are happy stories out there, too.

Again, to make another long story short, it seemed like a century before my beautiful brother was there, but then, like in a dream, he appeared. As soon as I saw him once again, I was overwhelmed with joy and sadness and a wide assortment of other huge emotions that I cannot give a name to. We were hugging and crying this time, we were 13 and 15 years old again; happy, overjoyed, grateful beyond words that despite all the sadness and terror we experienced as innocent children, we both had somehow managed to survive and had found each other again at long last.

We ate a lovely meal at the most excellent Mexican restaurant that I love and know of in NYC (The Great Burrito) and had a beer (at "my pub": The Dublin House) before he returned to his family. But before he left, my brother invited me to visit -- to meet his wife and children -- so that's where I was this weekend: visiting his beautiful family. This was the most amazing and the most healing experience I've ever had in my entire life.

Of course, this means I didn't have wireless, so I was out of touch with all of you. (This generated an avalanche of email from my concerned readers, so I am writing this just to let you all know that I am alright -- better than alright! -- and to let you know that I will do my best to not allow a lapse of communication to happen again).

So what does this story have to do with you, dear readers? Everything. You kept me alive when my days were so dark and awful and frightening that I wanted to die (and there were many of those) -- and a fair number of you were there for me before ScienceBlogs was born! There were many days when the only reason that I stayed alive was because of you, because I respected your investment into me of time and effort and emotion and because you genuinely wanted me to keep going -- how could I break your hearts? Most of you have never seen me, and have no idea about me and my life beyond what I write about on my blog and in email to you, yet you "stepped up to the plate" and made a huge difference for me -- unasked! You helped me stay housed, fed, clothed and intellectually challenged. You even set up paypal accounts for me (I've got roughly one dozen of those now, so please, no more!). I am surrounded by gifts small and large from you. These gifts, tokens of love, hope and kindness, are like small water droplets reshaping huge stones.

I will never forget the beautiful digital camera (thank you once again, Karen, I still have it and use it daily), the chocolate-covered coffee beans (thank you to one of my readers who wishes to remain anonymous -- I am fat because of you!), the iPod filled with beautiful music (thank you to my wonderful colleague, Orac), the home-made chocolate-chip cookies (made with love, thank you to my colleague, Janet Stemwedel and children, for also helping to make me fat), all the wonderful personal care items (thank you, Abel Pharmboy and thank you, SEED Media Group and all my fellow ScienceBlogs colleagues for helping me stay sweet-smelling!), those delightfully naughty magazines (thank you, Shelley), the underwear, socks and nightshirt (thanks to JY and MA, I didn't scare all those beautiful boyz), the clock radio/CD player that I listened to every morning (I gave that to my brother's family this past weekend, thank you, Wally), my trip to Kansas to experience the gorgeous Konza Prairie and the Platte River (thanks to Dave Rintoul and Elizabeth Dodd), my beloved, beautiful laptop computer (that I am using right now to write this to you -- thank you, Wally, again), the DVDs, computer games, books and other items that you all sent to keep me going.

(Really, almost every one of my ScienceBlogs colleagues and readers played an important role in my life, and I apologize for not giving you all the proper honor here that you deserve, and I will thank you all personally as soon as I can for what you've done for me.)

But most important, dear readers, throughout everything, you never abandoned me. You were like sweet little chickadees visiting my bird feeders every morning; like these delightful little birds, you popped into my life every day with your comments and jokes and funny stories, your arguments, your thoughts, advice and experiences and your observations. You made me feel special with your presence, your comments kept me involved with life when I wanted to retreat and die, you gave me a smile when I had none, and you gave me hope with your amazing, unshakable belief in me -- where did that come from? How did I come to deserve that? And now, I am alive to experience this amazing and wonderful life that I never imagined -- indeed, I had no idea that this life was possible.

I am already hoping (and planning) to become stronger so I can write a book about our experiences, so people can learn from living examples that a tragic life is not a death sentence, that good things do happen to good people, and so all of you who struggle with monstrous horrors of your own might be able to gather your courage, to trust those around you, and to stay alive long enough to experience joy like what I have now.

Despite the relocation chaos I am trying to deal with right now, I had to share this story with you now because I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life, and because I will tell other people the amazing story of the unemployed scientist and her flock of devoted blog readers because people need to know that their actions do have a result, even if it takes years before they bear fruit.

As I said on twitter when I first was coherent enough to say anything publicly about this; "That which I sowed in tears, I now reap in joy." This is because of all of you. The words "thank you" are so silly and tiny and insignificant when compared to this amazing and life-changing gift that you all have given me.

Today, I am walking around in a beautiful pair of running shoes that my brother bought for me as a going-away gift. My spouse (another marathon runner) and I had already been planning our own marathon training and now I will run in comfort in Germany because of my brother -- who knows; maybe all of us will run the NYC marathon together next year? Regardless of what happens with that, these shoes are amazing; my feet have not yet touched the sidewalks of NYC (nor indeed, have my shoes, because I am floating).

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By Katharine (not verified) on 09 Nov 2009 #permalink

Huh. Wow. Good for you (for you both). Good on Bob for being there too.

I am so happy for you.

"I am already thinking I might write a book about our experiences, so people learn that a tragic life is not a death sentence, that good things do happen to good people, and so all those who struggle with horrors of their own might be able to gather their courage, trust those around them, and stay alive long enough to experience joy like what I have now."

Do that. I was helped immeasurably by a book like that, some 30+ years ago. Later, I wrote my own story, hoping to pass on the gift I had received. A painful experience, but healing, too, like good surgery. Open-heart surgery.
I've never been sorry that I did.

I have been encouraged, already, since I read a while ago that you had heard from your long-lost brother. And now to meet him and find him a wonderful person! What joy! What new hope!

I remember you were one of the first blogs I read regularly and I am certain that I approached all my blog reading with some suspicion. But your truth and beauty seemed to send its way through in your words and I just plain knew that I liked you and that there was a diamond inside that had been forged in some pretty ugly fire. I am so happy for you and your brother.

Great story. Build on that happiness.

you deserve to be happy, kid. glad it could happen while you are still with us :)

you seem to be experiencing a "flowers for the living" moment... enjoy!

I am so happy for you and your brother, Grrl! I hope you can run many marathons together in the future.

Oh, and that spouse of yours is one super-smart guy! But you knew that already. ;-)

That was the best possible news! Thank you for a wonderful story!

I have always been amazed at your ability to find the beauty around you despite the obvious hardships of your life. I have no words that can add to what you are feeling, but I thank you for sharing it. It is a beautiful post

I noticed there weren't many posts. I hoped it was because you were busy moving to Germany, but I worried that you weren't feeling well.

I'm more than glad to hear you're doing well. What a surprise all of this must have been!

Beautiful post!! So very happy for you! Glad you connected with your brother. Family is such a source of sister has certainly been for me.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 09 Nov 2009 #permalink

Hey, you have made a big difference to my blog reading experience and I am glad to read that this is happening for you. Thanks for giving us the gift of this post.

I've enjoyed reading your blog since before you moved to SB, in fact it was one of the first I read on a regular basis. So I'm glad to see that so many good things are happening for you right now after several difficult years.

I noticed your lack of posts over the past few days, but I figured you were busy with travel preparations. Maybe you could set up your phone to text blog posts by email so people don't worry. Not sure about this platform, but Blogger has a unique email address for each blog that you can stick in your contact list.

Its all about you Grrl! You made me care by being so honest and so real. By knowing your shit and sharing so much with us! You've inspired me to be more open with myself and studying your writing has made me appeal to my emotions more. Blogging is a 2-way street, and your readers are getting as much out of it as you are out of your readers I gather.

I'm so glad things are looking up for you and that I might have had any part in your life no matter how small. I am looking forward to even more good news!

It's lovely to hear that happiness in your (typed) voice! And that is quite the story. I'm much more of a library-type person (my parents encouraged me in that direction as my bookshelves filled up with stacks of paper that took me only a few hours to read), but if you ended up writing that book, I would definitely buy it.

As for "people need to know that their actions do have a result, even if it takes years before they bear fruit."
This is so true. I usually read and keep quiet, not because I don't care, but because I don't know what to say. But what I do off the internet is this: I try to give a genuine smile to at least a few people I pass on the street every day. Sometimes it's hard to keep up, but you never know what kind of day someone else is having, and I always hope that maybe I could have made someone's day a little brighter. Bonus side effect - it keeps me happy too.

OH! I don't comment often, but I read all the time and this made me cry. (In a good way.) Thank you for your writing, and enjoy your happiness, you deserve it.

So happy for you to have reconnected with your brother. I've never commented before, but I read your blog and admire all that you've accomplished in spite of what you have suffered, and it seems your brother has as well.

Grrl, your story is incredibly poignant for me. In one sense because I know the fear and joy associated with meeting long-lost loved ones, having been reunited with my father and sister this summer. And in another, because I know the strength that an online community can contribute to those who are searching for fulfillment beyond that which traditional interactions can provide.
I got to know you while I was with ScienceBlogs, and even more after. It is in-part thanks to you and Bob that I was able to survive in NYC after being laid off, and I still owe you so many thanks for that. And through both online and IRL interactions, I have learned that you are a beautiful person all-around. I am so happy that you have attained this state of happiness. If anyone deserves it, it's you. Best of luck to you. You are loved.

I am very happy for you. We all need good news, and we all need each other. You found both, and I hope that your future includes more of the same!

Thank you, Grrl!

Wow...speechless. That was beautiful, Grrl.


By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 10 Nov 2009 #permalink

Wonderful! I wish you the best!

Ahhh! I am so happy for you! I have been wondering how the Antarctica thing came out, but it sounds like you're basking in a warmer place now.

Hugs to you, my friend. I look forward to hearing more from you.

On the subject of life issues, fellow GrrlScientist, I have a quandary: my friend, who lives in another country, is a fellow university student who is near-starving and doesn't have enough money to keep himself fed. How can I help him?

By Katharine (not verified) on 10 Nov 2009 #permalink

katharine, i am not sure what to say since i don't know what country he lives in, and resources vary from one country to another. but you and your colleagues can send him care packages containing "basic" foods (dried rice and lentils, dried fruits and nuts, for example), along with a few treats, like cookies and coffee .. but it sounds like this is a situation that might require some time with google, searching for resources such as food banks, churches that feed the hungry, etc. you and your colleagues can do that if your friend doesn't have good internet access, and you can print out and email/snailmail your search results to him. i am sure my readers can help out with suggestions of their own, so check back in a day or two to read what they suggest.

This is a beautiful thing to read. I'm very happy for you.

He lives in Romania. I'm not sure they've got much there. Luckily, he lives in Bucharest, where most of it is concentrated.

By Katharine (not verified) on 10 Nov 2009 #permalink

Good for you! Wish you happiness in your future endeavors. I can only guess what you went through. You are truly an inspiration!

Amazing news! I've been fairly out of the loop of what's been going on with you for a while, now.

Since we're neighbors, you're welcome to zip up to Denmark for a visit, should the mood strike you. Mr. Grrl is welcome of course.

Email me if you have the time.

Hugs and high fives,

Wow. I have been so far removed from everything that has been going on with you. This is very touching. Good luck to you my dear... keep writing and I will keep reading.

I'm behind on blog reading, but this is such a great story I had to drop in a late comment. YAY!! I guess you're lucky that you have an original name, so somewhat easy to find online (once you use your name, that is).
It's too bad that just now you've found your brother, you're moving to another continent, but it's 2009, and there's internet, so I'm sure you'll talk lots!

(And if you write a book about it...DON'T DELETE THE DRAFTS!!)

Wow! I'm happy for you too, congratulations on your reunion!

By David Harmon (not verified) on 14 Nov 2009 #permalink