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One degree of separation, gratitude and community

2015 January 21
by Rachel Turiel

It is morning and I am drinking coffee, reading the paper, and fielding interruptions from the kids in a parody of my own routine ordinariness when my phone rings. It is my friend Steph, whom I’ve known since we were in our mid 20’s with no one more complicated to care for than a handful of animals. She made our wedding cake 12 years ago, zucchini with thick, chocolate frosting. I took a walk with her less than a week ago. She has learned that her daughter has leukemia. “I can’t believe I’m speaking that word,” she says through tears. “This is a game-changer.”

If there are six degrees of separation between everyone on this planet, there is exactly one degree of separation between everyone in Durango. Going food shopping is like old home week; I make half my social plans in the produce aisle. I know people who go to the farmers market strictly to “catch up with friends.” I’ve run into people I know miles out in the backcountry, and I’ve yet to take a plane into or out of Durango where I didn’t know someone aboard (Including, last flight, the guy who used to buy a pound of dried mint at the herb shop I managed, and joke “How do I explain this (baggie of dried herb) to the cops if I get pulled over?”). Facebook is the digital representation of this interconnectedness (I have 103 friends in common with my friend, Sheryl, who I met here in Durango.) Even the dogs are in; Rose scored a new dog-walking client when a jogger recognized the dog she was currently walking and got my number to sign her dogs up.

I have a very strong feeling that Steph’s daughter will ultimately be OK (Just as certain people in our life had very strong feelings that Col would be OK when he was born 3 1/2 months early. When Col was 2 weeks old, Dan’s friend, Robert, flew to Denver, rented a sportscar, and took Dan on drives to see the bighorn sheep in Georgetown. He told us, “Col will be fine. You both have very good genes.” Robert is a biologist). Steph’s family will go through some very hard things in the next year, and when they can’t hold themselves up anymore, the net of this community will catch them, relieving the ordinary burdens a family faces, so they can focus on the extraordinary. (Stay tuned on the old church committee of Facebook for ways you can help the Harris family).

There have been some devastating losses in this community in the past few months. Parents and children, their deaths rippling out across our collective hearts. In the following weeks friends greet each other with extra long hugs, clumsy sentences, and the shaking of heads because often there just are no words. But we show up with food, donations, any comfort we can spare. I’ve had two impromptu grief/hope/hug sessions with my friend Kate because she was walking by my house at the right time. Each time I felt my world pull tighter, closer.

I keep wondering: how do you prepare for these game-changers? How do you go about your life, drinking coffee, reading the paper, fielding interruptions from your children, knowing that in the shadows of this ordinary moment, life is a dangerous, wonderous and unpredictable place?

When I was pregnant with Col, after suffering an unusual 2nd trimester miscarriage a year before, I was buoyant. I loved how my belly was rising like bread dough, loved the indoor tickles of baby feet, and the feeling that if this life I was growing had a brand name, it would be: world’s luckiest secret. 

And yet, I was nervous that my happiness was distracting me from being prepared for, y’know, all the other things. I was on a meditation retreat, 24 weeks pregnant with Col when I asked our teacher, Eugene Cash, about this wild subversive joy I’d been swept up in.

Eugene’s eyes smiled behind his John Lennon glasses, his closely cropped, dark hair hugging his head like a tight-weave black carpet, freshly installed. “If you are joyful, then be joyful! We don’t prepare for disappointments or tragedy by worrying. We also know that experiencing joy doesn’t bring down the wrath of tragedy, nor does it equate to being immune to disappointment. In fact, nothing will make you entirely immune to disappointment, so you might as well enjoy being joyful.”

Wait, was this the Ben and Jerry’s school of Buddhism? Just enjoy being joyful? No nifty Zen tricks or mind-bending efforts which lead, like a lighted runway, directly to the prize of enlightenment? No need to imbibe happiness in careful moderation as if it were something on which one could dangerously overdose? No outwitting joy like the broad-ankled Eastern European matriarchs of my family line, whose superstitions about not letting the evil eye catch you gloating over your own good fortunes, are lodged like a splinter in my DNA?

Two days later I was emergency air-lifted to Denver, my joyous pregnancy a medical crisis. Everything Eugene Cash had said was true. It’s still true. Scouting around the corner, bracing oneself for the tragedy in the distance does not equate to protection. There is no protection, no way around heartache but through the sticky, hot center.

And so we go on being grateful, recognizing that this life is ridiculously precious, and equally out of our control. Maybe remembering this helps us love better, picking ourselves up and letting the small grievances fall away. It’s like that old physics equation: gratitude → generosity →happiness → more gratitude. Gratitude pries that crazy heart muscle open, letting in more light than you ever thought possible.


There is a tradition in the Dharma Center I attend, after meditating and listening to the Buddha’s teachings together, we dedicate all the goodness that arises from our practice to all beings. I would like to dedicate any goodness that arises from contemplating joy and connectedness, community and gratitude to lovely little Chloe Harris. Thank you.


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23 Responses leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    January 21, 2015

    Oh Rachel,

    Thank you for writing about this today. My heart has been heavy for our friends. Much love and light to all.

  2. Julie permalink
    January 21, 2015

    You are gifted beyond words my friend. Everything you said about life and our special little town is so true.

  3. Susan S permalink
    January 21, 2015

    I can’t imagine a harder thing ever in this world. I will be thinking often of Chloe and her family, holding them up in joy.

  4. michele permalink
    January 21, 2015

    Thank you. I feel fragile as life’s messiness unfolds around me. You’re right, you’re right, i know you’re right. In church recently the subject was “How do you handle the unexpected”. Sometime more gracefully than others, that’s for sure.

  5. January 21, 2015

    This is beautiful – and struck such a chord with me. Our town is similar with its one degree, two at best- and last year had to face tragedy after tragedy. The list of hard conversations I had to have with my child last year I hope is one I never have to top. There is no way around it but through sticky, hot center and to just keep going. So well said.

  6. January 21, 2015

    This. We have already had a dramatic and devastating loss of our own in our community these first few weeks of the year and THIS has been on my mind a lot. How do we deal with these blows, that come harder and faster because we know and love and care about so many more people than any extended family. How do we do it with grace? How do we do it with the right amount of respect and still carry on? I don’t know the answers. But I appreciate your thoughts. They’re lifting me up a little right now. Thank you.<3

  7. Maribeth Harris permalink
    January 21, 2015

    Thank you so much Rachel! Your net of love is thrown over our whole family and we are all feeling it. I am SO thankful for the community of Durango these past few days and I know that they will be loved and cared for in an amazing way. They are lucky to have a tribe like you all!
    I am waiting for them to say the word and then I am ready to fly to Denver. Sounds like tomorrow is a big day for tests: Bone Marrow biopsy, spinal tap and such to find out details. Treatment will start right away. Thanks again, I have always loved your writing, thanks for giving me another reason to do so.

  8. Judy Hinds permalink
    January 21, 2015

    So sorry to hear about these challenges – for young Chloe & her family, your longtime friend Steph. Very touched by your words. Have sent them to a couple we hold dear who are going through the extraordinary. It is often hard to ask for help with the ordinary. We need to help each other do that more and more. Thank you

  9. Carly permalink
    January 21, 2015

    The second seven-year-old this week in my one degree of seperation to be diagnosed with leukemia. I have watched a child close to me battle this before, also at seven, and see the other side, like I know Chloe will. Thinking of the Harris family and waiting on ways to help!

  10. Ellie permalink
    January 22, 2015

    This might be one of your most beautiful pieces, at least since I started writing this blog. We send all good thoughts and wishes to little Chloe and her family.

  11. Kelley Bard permalink
    January 22, 2015

    Thank you. Such a sweet piece written for a sweet family. And a love song for our good town.

  12. Jacque Hendricks permalink
    January 22, 2015

    Thank you Rachel for your beautiful words to remind us all of life’s precious gifts.

  13. Karin Becker permalink
    January 22, 2015

    This is the essence of community–the ache from the rub of yarn that interweaves our lives.
    Thank you for starting the connection, for creating the words to which we can respond and grieve and love.

  14. January 22, 2015


  15. January 22, 2015

    Oh, Rachel. Once again, you say it all so well. And I, for one, am grateful that you mention the appropriateness of being joyful when joy is filling up your heart. When else would we, otherwise? And the more joy there is in this world, the better we are prepared to help, I am sure.

    Just as I am fairly sure that you and Col were indeed sharing a joyful secret, so strong that it stayed with him throughout his preemie months – as it has ever since. Col is perpetually in awe with life and with the world. This is a tremendous gift.

    My heart and thoughts are with your friend, with her daughter, with her close and extended family.

  16. Michelle ellis permalink
    January 22, 2015

    We know the feeling of loss unfortunately in these last couple of weeks. As hard as this time can be, laughter and joy is so important and keeps us grounded. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun and don’t feel guilty for doing so!

  17. January 23, 2015

    It’s awesome to go to see this web site and reading the views of
    all mates about this article, while I am also eager of getting familiarity.

  18. Emily permalink
    January 23, 2015

    Prayers are radiating out to Chloe. It is true that they are going to be fine, and stronger for the journey. Thank you for drawing in our attention and love, Rachel.

  19. Andrea permalink
    January 24, 2015


  20. January 24, 2015

    When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I
    get 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there an easy method you are able to
    remove me from that service? Thanks!

  21. carrie-anne permalink
    January 24, 2015

    feeling it all
    sending love
    xx carrie-anne

  22. February 8, 2015

    Can you tell us more about this? I’d love to find out more

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