When your mind is all over the place with anticipation and then you get a message of hope that changes every little thing!!!!
Apryl Sims the operator of a wonderful healthy restaurant in Los Angeles ” Simply Wholesome ” http://www.simplywholesome.com/
sent me a picture and message. I have not seen her in a few years. She said she still wears her JCWWP turquoise
bracelet – and has not taken it off since the day that I gave it to her. She said she never will!! She said this art mural called “The Embrace” by the incredibly gifted artist Patrick Henry Johnson! is of her hand and she said: ” He lives in our hearts forever” .
A gift of a compassionate embrace that keeps on giving on the eve of Justin Carr World-Peace 20th bday…
Justin was so proud when he was in 10th grade and a 12th grader Asha (an incredible dancer ) asked him if he would join the Dance Show and Dance with her!!! Justin and Bella are holding Asha up in the picture below !!!
I can’t make this stuff up!!!!! I was just scrolling through my thousands of pictures and I came across this one with Justin and Bella( another talented dancer) ( holding Asha) – a mere 5 minutes before I got Apryl’s message !!!!! I sent it back to her.
When time elapses for each waking hour, day, month, year, holiday or any major milestone—without Justin within our reach, Darrell and I still look at each other in pure disbelief and say; Is this for real? Is this forever? Unfortunately, the answers are, Yes it is for real and Yes it is forever.
But fortunately, because of our village of friends, who constantly seem to hold us up, we are grateful for your listening ears, and the many unexpected gifts we receive. The main one being your presence. These gifts come in a variety of ways. They include verbal or written words of remembrance, or reflections or personal changes that individual’s see when they teach, work, shop, study, vacation, sing, smile, play, listen, or even help someone. The pictures of the worldly travels with the JCWWP luggage tags are breathtaking, Sometimes I wished that I could stow away on the ventures with people. They all have special meaning and are the things that make it easy enough for us to still rise out of bed (most days) and plant our feet on the ground and just try and do what Justin would want us to do. So thank you. Thanks for the gifts and for being present in our life. Following are some of the wonderful gifts that are apropos as we once again celebrate the birth of Justin.
The Gift of Words…Expressions from a Day Camp Counselor
When Justin was 4 years old, he started attending his first day camp—Summerkids An old-fashioned summer camp nestled in the in hills of Altadena, mere minutes from our home. They believe in the power of play and the spirit of fun. He attended until he was 10 years old and he loved each and every day. So, this past summer, I came across this letter we received from his camp counselor that is worth sharing. We could only picture Justin in action and the picture speaks for itself. The words (gift) from a stranger brought joy to our hearts.
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Carr,
I was sadden to hear of Justin’s passing. I knew him many years ago when I was his counselor at Summerkids Camp. When I saw his photograph on the news, I immediately recognized the bright eyes, and sweet smile of the camper I once knew. He was charming, lovable, funny and oh so talented. I clearly remember a moment when he got up on the little wooden stage and in front of the entire campfire and sang the Jackson 5’s “ I want you back”. He captured the crowd. I shared the news with several friends; also former counselors and everyone remembered him. I’d like to say that we’d remember every camper who shared our summers, but it’s just not the case. Your son however was one of those campers-the unforgettable ones. I know you know this already, so the real reason I’m writing is to let you know that there are a few more people out there remembering Justin with you. He touched our lives in the brief time that we knew him. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and Justin’s friends.”
The gift of Friendship…A change in vacation plans
A timely visit with a friend from the Past
It was a late night FB message from my FB friend Lisa. I had not seen or heard from her since we graduated in 8th grade. The message read something like this: “Susie, I am on my way down to stay in Venice Beach. How far are you from there? Maybe, we could meet?” I rushed to respond and told her that we would actually be in the area the following afternoon in support of our friends Mary and Jay Faganano as they celebrate the anniversary their son Nick’s passing and “Thrive in the Joy” as his life continues to impact others. The next day, my anticipation for seeing Lisa was intense. Since we still looked the same as we did in 8th grade (lol) it was were easy to spot each other . Lisa saw me. I saw her. We darted towards each other and we hugged, cried and would not let each other go. Darrell patiently watched us. The thought that Lisa was eager to spend her vacation day with us at such an emotional occasion was profound. But she gets it. She felt a deep empathetic connected with both families. She said I have only one son and she could not even remotely imagine what it would feel like to lose him. But, she was a fearless warrior and she embraced the moment and was truly honored to be there. Now how many people would give up a Beach vacation to attend a memorial event for a stranger??? Lisa would and she did. This is a gift of pure unconditional empathy and love.
The gift of action…College Life; Choosing Passion vs. Prestige
I must say that our only chance for thinking about what college life might have been like for Justin is by living vicariously through contact with his peers. Following, is part of a cursory interface that I had with one of Justin’s dear friends this summer. She gets the Gold Medal Award for Excellence!! Hands down!! She adamantly told me: ” I want you to know that people will never loose sight of Justin or his impact and imprint that he made in our lives. His reach is beyond the walls of Harvard Westlake. You know, I have always been an introvert. But this year I decided that since Justin could not go to college, I would take on the super traits ofJustin. So from day one at college, I did just what Justin would have done the first weeks of school. I met everybody. I helped people in need. and I introduced myself by stating my name and my passions. When some of my classmates responded with the ordinary answer: “ Hi my name is Michael and I am majoring in Economics and Finance!” I would respond to them and say: “ This does not tell me anything about who you are as a person, or what you are interested in …” It made them start questioning themselves and their disconnected drive for academic success. By the end of the school year, so many of my friends thanked me for helping them see the light or picking them up when they literally fell. Like me, many of my friends also changed their majors to what “they” wanted to do, not what their “parents” wanted them to be!! I told them to “Thank Justin, don’t thank me…”
This realization was a huge gift of knowledge
A thoughtful gift…A chance visit to the International Peace Park
This past Friday, our friend gave us a memento he purchased on his summer vacation. Fighting back his emotion, he told us that usually, he and his wife travel East to visit the grandchildren. However, this summer, they found themselves (in a round about way) touring the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Montana. It was designated In 1932 when the Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with the Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world’s first International Peace Park. At the time of inscription, the Peace Park commemorated the peace and goodwill our two nations share. He said that when he saw this fragile gift, a turquoise origami crane, it reminded him so much of the spirit of Justin that he had to figure out how they could carefully packed it to assure that it would not get crushed. Well their method worked. What a prize peace of art.
The card attached to the crane stated:
“ I will write peace on your wings and fly all over the world” Sadako Sasaki. Jim said that he could not leave that store without getting it!! He said it had Justin written all over it.
Ironically, this is the same quote that Felicia (artist extraordinaire) inscribed on a mosaic farme that she created for us.
In case you don’t know the story behind the International Peace Crane is:
As noted in wikipedia “Sadako Sasaki (佐々木 禎子 Sasaki Sadako?, January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) was a Japanese girl who was two years old when the American atomic bomb Little Boy was dropped on August 6, 1945, near her home next to the Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan. Her Grandma rushed back to the house and was never to be seen again. Sadako is remembered through the story of a thousand origami cranes before her death, and is to this day a symbol of innocent victims of war.”
The gift of dedication…A Message from the Stage Manager and Producer
When Kat first invited me to come see the off Broadway musical production of the Last Five Years that she was producing and stage-managing, I was hesitant. Justin and Kat were two close thespian comrades, who supported each other in high school. I did not think that I could handle it. But through the encouragement of my cousin Colleen we went and saw the fabulous musical production. The story explored a five-year relationship between a couple. After the show, before Kat spoke to anyone else, she sourced me through the crowd ran over in tears and said, “ So what do you think? I did it for
Justin. I was so overtaken with emotion but I managed to say:”Well Kat, you know what I thought, it was a “10”!!! Justin would be proud and always thought that you will soar.”
Look at the dedication for Justin that was written on the playbill… Too much.
The dedication is:
“play/ground theatre is proud to present The Last Five Years with the generous support of The Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation ( www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org)
“Justin Carr was a beautiful, promising, young 16-year old whose life was cut short on February 22, 2013 when he died during a swimming workout ( from an undiagnosed heart condition ) at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, California.
Justin’s greatest wish was for World Peace. With a myriad of passions and talents, he loved to draw, sing, act, and dance; to write poetry, to design buildings, to create enthusiasm, and to lead and orchestrate. He was passionate about visual and performing arts, with plans to explore Architecture, Technical Theatre Design, and Art History in college. Justin was kind, passionate, and committed to participating in the creation of powerful, honest art. He was humble, patient, and vibrant. He always saw the best in others, rooted for the underdog and stood up for the lonely. He was a connector, full of understanding and empathy.
Justin Carr was the cousin of play/ground theatre’s Co-Managing Director, Kat Chevalier. This production is dedicated to his memory.”
The Gift of Hope because you never know someone else’s struggle or story.
My sister Jeni came in eyes wide open after she took the kids to a water park. She said as she waded in the pool watching the kids play she struck up a conversation with a woman named Mary Ellen Suey. The woman told her that she was with her grandkids trying to have a decent time because last year, her 12 year old grandson Christopher (aka Bubba) collapsed and died on the first day of try outs for the soccer team. Bubba was an authentic kind and loving boy she said. Jeni could not believe her ears. She hugged Mary Ellen.
She told Mary Ellen Justin’s Story. They exchanged contact information. That night I made arrangements to meet her the next morning. She told me she was looking forward to a hug. she wrote “We may shed a few tears, that shows are love.” The next evening we got together and we talked while her grandson played with my nephew JJ. She told me another deep story that she was abandoned at birth and was left wrapped up in a blanket out in the woods. Miraculously, a 14-year-old boy, who was hunting with his Dad, found her!!! Last year, 60 years later, she was reunited with this now 74-year-old man. He wanted to find and to meet that baby he found in the woods.
Mary Ellen said that she is grateful for the life she has. She said: “If he did not find me, I would not be here today. I would not have the gifts of family or grace from God either. So, I am grateful for all of my blessings, I am grateful for my life and for all of children and I am grateful for the time I had with Bubba because he still rides with me each and every day. She also said to me as we departed– and it is not by coincidences that we met!!”
I wrote a brief entry about my infamous nephew JJ playing with Mary Ellen’s grandson AJ.
The Greatest Gift of All is Love
So the greatest gift of all is why I must write tonight. I just had to celebrate Justin and his birthday and about the things that matter most. You see from all of the above mentioned “gifts” love does shows up in unexpected ways. My love for Justin goes deep. I am especially remembering him from that first days he graced this earth when he was placed in my arms back on September 13, 1996. I will never forget. And you know by a fluke Soledad, my dear friend from high school just happened to be on call at the hospital and she delivered Justin.
Well, you all also know Justin’s little cousins, Mia, Dashton and JJ are growing up fast. I guess they think that it is tradition for them to spend the last week before school with Uncle Darrell and Auntie Susan. This year I heard Dashton shout out when he saw a butterfly… “There goes Juju.” Mia the oldest, still can’t grasp the thought of visiting us without seeing her big cousin (whom she coined the name) Juju, so she just continues to look away and not discuss.
Then, there is “50 questions JJ”— the youngest of the trio who walks in, closes the door to Justin’s room, comes into the breakfast room and out of the blue asks me: “Auntie, How old is Juju?” My sister Jeni and I looked at each other and tried not bursting into tears. I thought to myself—what do I say? How do I answer this? Is he 16 or 19? Well, according to my support sisters, I responded correctly. I told JJ that Juju would be 19 years old on September 13, 2015. JJ then says: “Mom, where is the gift I got for Auntie?” She directs him where to find it. JJ comes running back and hands me a bottle of turquoise finger nail polish, and with his “kool aide smile” he says” “This if for you Auntie.” Jeni looks at me and said: “We were in Target and he told me he wanted to buy you something.” He picked it out—on his own accord.” How did this 5 year old know that turquoise is my color???
What does all of this mean??? I can’t make any of it up!!
So, happy 19th Birthday, Justin aka Juju, Champ my baby, and the greatest gift from God of all times.
I’m sure that everyone probably remembers the classic children’s tale: “The Little Engine that Could.” It is the story that teaches children the values of optimism and hard work. When a train carrying toys to kids breaks down at the base of a mountain, it hopes that one of the larger trains passing would help pull it over the difficult terrain. To his chagrin, not one of the bigger capable trains stopped to help as they each declined for various (selfish) reasons.
However, it was the smallest and happiest BLUE ENGINE that stopped on his own and assisted, without hesitation. Even though he had never traveled this road before, this littlest of the trains, believed in himself so much that he found the inner-strength to pull an impossibly heavy load up a steep hill (subsequently overcoming a seemingly impossible task) while repeating the mantra “I think I can.”
Justin loved this story and you know he had the “Thomas the Train Set” and he built cities (with all the accouterments) all around the tracks that he laid between rooms and dared anyone to mess them up. Since, I have wanted to share this story for awhile I guess there is no better time than now to write on this eve of my precious little ENGINE Justin’s would be 18th birthday.
This past year, Darrell and I have heard many wonderful untold stories that warmed our hearts- about how Justin (the boy who loved BLUE) in his selfless own ways managed to help and carry many people to safe passage on their various journeys during his short life. The good thing that has come out of this shift in our life is that we are seeing how his impact will last through the ages in various ways. These are the greatest gifts of all.
This story is also about the power of many other BIG ENGINES who are still on this planet traveling difficult terrains, willing to risk their own safety to save lives and property. They have the public’s trust and gratitude and they are empathetic and compassionate humans too. And, I’m sure many times they chant the mantra, “I think I can” to get through difficult patches. The key is they don’t give up.
BIG ENGINE STATION #78
One afternoon this past February, after I finished a brisk walk with a friend in the 90210 flatlands, I headed home over one of the canyon roads. As I reached the top near Mulholland Drive, I saw a Fire Station to my right. I must admit that in the prior months, very time I would pass a fire station or (stressfully) pull to the side of the road when an ambulance would pass, I often wondered were they the ones that responded to the 911 call when Justin needed them the most? As I sat daydreaming at the light- wondering if this was the ENGINE company that where the first responders, I decided to find out. I searched for the non-emergency number and found out that this station was not the one, but it was another one less than a mile from the school.
My heart was beating fast as I drove to Station #78. Initially, the place was abandoned and all locked up, but I decided to wait just a few more minutes near the back of the building by the garage. Soon, a Fireman driving a red pick-up truck drove up and as he was backing into a parking space, he nonchalantly asked: “ Can I help you?” I said: “Yes. Does this station handle Harvard-Westlake school calls?” He callously said: ”I don’t know, maybe we do?” Once again, I was about to do an “exorcist” move on him because he did not appear to be caring. Fortunately, after I gave him the address he clarified himself and got more brownie points when he said: “ Yes, we do. This is not my normal station I am here just to do some relief. ” So, I felt better because initially I thought he was playing with my already high strung emotions. I then told him why I was there and that I wanted to speak with anyone who may have responded to the call when Justin was in distress. He had not heard of Justin’s story. But, he quickly became compassionate, introduced himself as Roger and invited me inside to wait for the guys that were either out on a call or shopping for food.
I sat down and told him that I was surprised that I even had the gumption to come near any fire station let alone walk inside one because of my aversion to anything related to emergency vehicles. I told him that I usually cringe, plug my ears and cry profusely hearing constant siren sounds knowing that I was not there to help or ride with Justin to the hospital. But that day, as I sat there, for that moment, a calm came over me.
We sat in the uninterrupted station for about 30 minuets and I told him more about Justin. He asked me: “Was Justin was a believer in God?” I said” Yes he was, but at the moment, I am mad at God for taking my baby away.” He proceeded to tell me his own personal story about his son who has major health issues and has been near death many times before due to a serious heart condition. He said:“ You have to have faith Susan. Each and every time we take our son to the hospital for surgery, we do not know if he is going to come back home with us or go home to God. “ Justin would want you to be happy.
One by one, eleven different strapping and strong firemen returned to the station. Each time, Roger would gently introduce me saying: “ This is Justin Carr’s mom, the student who died swimming almost a year ago. Did any of you respond to that call?” One by one they all said,”No,” with unimaginable looks of sadness on their faces. Fortunately, Stephen, the last 30 something year old handsome fireman, came in and when Roger asked him if he was aware of the case and he said, “Yes.” He then sat down next to me and the rest of the guys all huddled around the large table. I stoically spoke about Justin, my only child – who died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition during swim practice minutes after concluding a happy call with me, a selfless Earth angel, Renaissance Man, scholar, singer, actor, artist, Junior Olympic BUTTERFLY swimmer, an underdog supporter who repetitively since age 4 prayed, “God, help us achieve world peace”, – an ebullient charming child… left them SPEECHLESS.
I then shared the CBS video with them and showed them pictures of what he really looked like and they got an intimate cursory snapshot of whom “that kid” who suddenly passed away really was. After I finished, they stood up in solidarity, hugged me and shed a few tears. Then, the Roger, the Paramedic, proceeded to tell me everything he remembered from arriving on campus, running to Justin’s aide and how they painlessly tried to save his life. His details were so succinct it was as if it was just yesterday. He said proudly, “all six of us who got there became paramedics and we tried everything before we took him to the hospital-even the Captain.”
I then asked them collectively as they tried to fight back their tears :“ How do you guys manage your jobs? What do you do? “In unison they said “We try and save everyone from the senior who inadvertently steps on the gas and not the brake and runs over their spouse, to the smallest of the babies. We try to save everyone. When we see kids, because we all have them, we want them to go home to their families we work hard and hard and hard to save them. The aftermath of each event we come back and we sit around this table and we support and help each other get through, we are humans too they all said.”
Then I sternly asked: “I want to see the vehicle that Justin was riding in.” I saw them look at each other in shock, like OMG, but I got my wish. A sense of calm came over me when I realized that this Big ENGINE Company #78 did what ever they could to try and save my little ENGINE. They tried hard hoping they could until they passed him over to the hands at the hospital ER. They were emotionally affected as if Justin was one of their own kids. They did their best but because of the suddenness of his condition, there was nothing that they could really do to change the situation. As I walked away from the truck, I thanked them for aiding my son, and they all hugged me again. Roger on the other hand asked me if he could walk me to my car and I agreed. When we got outside, he put his arm over my shoulder and asked if he could say a prayer. It was a beautiful calming moment and at that juncture, I found a little peace. A few hours later I sent the station an email saying:
“There are no words I can say but thank you for being patient with me today. To connect with you all has been lurking on my mind during this complicated grief for almost a year since the passing of my baby. Thank you for trying your best to save one of the best Earth Angels… Justin Carr.”
Later I got an email from Roger and he said:
“Susan I’m so glad you came by the station today and I thank God I was working and got to meet you. What an amazing mother you are and I was truly blessed by your visit. I pray that you and your husband will find peace and joy; I know Justin would want you to be happy and live with passion and joy as he did. Death is not the end but the beginning of a new chapter. I will be praying for both of you and may God give the peace and joy you deserve. “
These BIG FIREMEN who drive these ENGINES never give up on the helpless at the bottom of the hill. They help others try and get over the hump each and every day.
BIG MEDICAL ENGINE
Justin may not be here physically to be celebrated as we usually do it on earth, but his legacy lives on and his story is saving and changing lives. Earlier this week, I woke up to an email from a Nurse from a local high school who started testing their students soon after she saw “ Justin’s Story on CBS” The Subject line said: “ We Saved this one for Justin.”
“Dear Carr Family,
I have wanted to reach out to you to tell you about our August Screening event we had. You were on my heart that day as we were able to screen over 100 students through Cardiology and provide physicals. When I saw concerned Echocardiogram techs running down to catch a parent to meet with the cardiologist again, I knew we had found something significant. The screening captured a serious life threatening undiagnosed condition in this young man.
I have wanted to tell you of this and let you know that I was thinking of Justin that whole day as I do at every event. Sadly, I did not know you personally at that time and I am so sorry for your loss of such a great young man. But that day I also felt a sense of peace as I told Justin…”we saved this one for you.” There was a sense of immense emotion as we gave this child back to his mom and told her about your story. It brought tears to her eyes and she pledged to be praying for your family as well.
We are happy to have saved this one young man in Justin’s honor and memory and we will continue to move into the future to provide cardiac screenings for our students. Hoping to save families the terrible grief you have been through. May God bless you today and everyday.
This is a gift in Justin’s memory for saving the life of another. Although, receiving this wonderful message was bittersweet ,it is still a blessing that a story on TV changed others lives and how they do business…
MY LITTLE ENGINE
Time flies by and 18 is that milestone age when your child becomes an adult and you see the fruits of your labor… just like we wrote on Justin’s birth announcement back in 1996- when Darrell created a personalized “New Carr Registration.” In my wildest dreams, I never thought that Justin would not be here…
Justin was born on September 13, 1996.
I can honestly say that this past 1.5 year without him, my BUTTERFLY, life has not been easy. But, what I can say with a bit of joy is that he was the little ENGINE that could, and that did do his best! We have learned that this gentle giant of an ENGINE was happy and helpful just like the little BLUE ENGINE in the book “The Little Engine that Could.” Justin would often put people before himself, help when someone fell down (physically and mentally) and his signature smile would brighten up anyone’s day. He also had many special friends who took good care of him too! He even coined his character traits as being helpful, observant creative, sensitive and skillful. So, as I pay tribute to my selfless angel on the eve before his would be 18th Birthday, I have comfort in knowing that he never gave up, did his best and helped without hesitation so many people he came in contact with. This is a gift that I will cherish each and every day.
My dear butterfly Justin, the infinite and unimaginable trauma that we have endured has recently catapulted me to a higher understanding of how I am going to live my life in the days and years to come. I have come to experience an indescribable “knowing” within my soul that somehow during this difficult journey from my chrysalis – a catalyst will move me toward to find my voice, and my wings, once again.
Tonight my love, the choirs will sing loud for you and I hope you can hear them.
Happy Birthday honey! I love you forever, and I love you always. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be…
P.S. I Can’t make this stuff up…As I just finished this entry, this email with a poem popped up. It was from my cousin Burl who lives in Memphis, Tennessee…
Our Train Ride
“At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.
As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life. Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum.
Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats.
This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.
It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.
I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.
Reap success and give lots of love.
More importantly, thank God for the journey.
Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train”
*** Justin’s Great Grandfather Arnold Toler was a Pullman Porter and he worked on the trains back in the day…
I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP…
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr