This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let Him Shine
As most of you have witnessed over the past 3.5 years sans Justin, Darrell and I tuck away the pain in our heart—every waking hour—every single day. We cycle through the days, week’s months, holidays and milestones and we hold each memory of our joy with Justin close to our hearts. This will continue for a lifetime and will repeat, day after day, and month after month. So, it’s not unusual that for over a year, I have been cautiously anticipating this day—Justin’s birthday—September 13th. He would have been 20 years old… Justin was and will always be our greatest gift. He is our guiding light!
Happy 20th Birthday honey!
The other day, I went to my usual nursery—where I am known as the flower lady. Before I got out of the car, I spotted a pot full of flowers that were almost in the shape of a round cake. I knew at that moment that I did not have to look any further. I motioned to the gardener to pick out the two prettiest plants. I asked him: What type of flowers they were. He cheerfully said: “mums.” I thought to myself, how appropriate— because in England “mum” also means mother and we know that “Mother’s knows best” and I will always be “Justin’s Mom aka Mum.”
After he loaded the flowers into my car, I started up the engine. The song blasting over the radio was: “ Tears from Heaven.” I know you all remember that song by Eric Clapton. Well, I don’t have to tell you what I did next … I first wanted to switch stations right away to spare the tears, but then I caught myself as I bravely listened intensely to the words. Subsequently, I let the tears flow. That was a good thing.
Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging, please
Beyond the door, there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven…
We are so grateful that we have so many people who are wrapping their hands around us. We have learned that there are many things and encounters that help give us hope—hope for a future that includes embracing life again. So as we celebrate my baby, with the well-received gifts… Don’t just read, take heed following is a life-saving message…
GIFT #1 “The Good Samaritan”
Last year, a brave and determined stranger, Laurel Travis, approached me at a seminar. She said: “ You do not know me, but I know all about your great loss. I work for a Cardiologist and we saw Justin’s Story on television. To spare other families from going through an unimaginable loss of losing a child, I started “Safe Heart Screening ”, a heart screening foundation, in honor of your son. I was dumbfounded. Through Laurel’s dedication, research, and good work, she introduced us to the new state of the art life-saving ECG/EKG machine. It’s a handheld device (blue no doubt) that can identify young athletes who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. “CardeaScreen is a convenient, hand-held electrocardiographic (ECG) device, a diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. Specifically attuned to the normal characteristics of the athletic heart, CardeaScreen helps physicians who are conducting Pre-Participation Exams (PPE) identify athletes with abnormal heart conditions who may be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. CardeaScreen helps identify young athletes who are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).”
In hindsight, Darrell and I wished that we had this knowledge in our hands so that we could have possibly known about Justin’s condition and spared his untimely death…
GIFT #2 Save the Date; Save a Life
Justin attended St. Marks School for Kindergarten and he was also an acolyte and in the choir up until 6th grade at the church. They are opening up their doors for this special event. Thank you.
Safe heart Screening http://www.safeheartscreening.com
will be doing ECG screenings for girls and boys age 12-25 in honor of Justin. It will be hosted at Saint Marks Episcopal Church in Altadena, CA on Sunday, October 16, 2016, from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Please go to the SafeHeart Screening website to sign up !
The actual test takes about 16 seconds with an allotment of 15 minutes for the process with each person. $25.00 donation for screening.
Gift #3 Keep Smiling for Justin
Debra Johnson aka the SMILE Lady is a member of our Community. She knew Justin very well. SMILE is her acronym for Support, Motivate, Invest, Love, and Educate. And Johnson is on a mission, one “to promote all aspects of SMILE and to spread a little joy,” she said. Tune into the Pasadena Community Network Channel 32, Arroyo 32, for more about the heart-testing event. “I want to help your child tap into their inner SMILE and purpose. After all, we were all born to SMILE and we’re all destined to leave this place better than we found it,” Johnson said.
This journey that we are on is sometimes difficult, but as I looked at the homework assignment that Justin did in the 3rd grade tonight,
I know that I too will continue to transform from a chrysalis and find catalysts that can move me towards finding my voice and wings once again.
Justin is my butterfly. I will never forget him. I know he wants me to accept his metamorphosis and to find new ways to live. As we emerge from the darkness and seek inner peace, I will continue to try and love this life, and live bravely, faithfully and as cheerfully as I can with Justin—our guiding light you along the way.
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let him shine, let him shine let him shine…”
Miss you always and love you forever!! Happy Heavenly Birthday Justin.
Visit our website to make a donation to help kids or to learn more about Justin
Last night after my group, my friend Ken handed me his phone so that I could look at a picture that he took during his recent trip to China. As I zoomed in on a photo of him holding a Justin Carr Wants World Peace (JCWWP) luggage tag, I said in amazement: “That’s Tiananmen Square!” He smiled, as he hugged me he said: “Yes, it is Susan. I took Justin with me”…
Most of us know the political significance of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. However, after a quick internet search, I found out that it is in fact named after the Tiananmen Gate which means (Gate Of Heavenly Peace). How special it was that the JCWWP tag made it all the way there.
I could not wait to show this recent photo to Darrell. As I was driving home, I looked up to the sky and said to my self: “Justin we are trying to make some good lemonade out of this bowl of lemons!” It then dawned on me that with a little help from our friends, Justin’s tags have made it to ALL of the continents in a very short period of time i.e. North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and thanks the Chrissie – her recent excursion was all way to ANTARCTICA!!!! OMG. SEVEN JCWWP TAGS TRAVELED TO SEVEN CONTINENTS IN SEVEN MONTHS 7X7X7. This made me smile.
I was cracking up because I thought that most of the far away places were visited by some of my creative co-workers whom I once worked with either at Walt Disney Imagineering or Universal Studios. They are fortunate to have the coveted jobs and o take incredible vacations which have taken them to such places. Even though it has been many years since we have worked together, it is evident that our friendships have lasted throughout the ages and it is a testimony that Character Counts! I am grateful that we have all made a difference in each others lives and continue to at least think about each other.
I must say that one of Justin’s dream jobs was to one day work for either of these companies. He was fortunate to gain some of the benefits of having friends in “High Places” because he went to different events, and was able to have meaningful conversations with my friends; as he discussed the latest rides, or planned themed attractions.
Last year we were trying to figure out what we could give to Justin’s graduating classmates so that they could take something in memory of Justin -as they ventured off into their NEW worlds. We got the luggage tag ideal from our dear friends Harriet and Steve (who are also members of this unwanted club). They gave us a tag in memory of their precious son Dillon.
We had no ideal that this little tag would would literally travel to schools, colleges, and various places and landmarks within the US and around the world.
So, along with the attached note we gave each student a luggage tag:
To Justin’s HW Classmates of 2014, June 6, 2014
Congratulations, Graduates! Your hard work, dedication and determination have served you well and today you reach this major milestone in your life.
Even though each of you had different relationships with Justin, as we watched from the sidelines this past year, we witnessed your solidarity as you collectively came together in various ways to honor and remember your friend, our Young Renaissance Man. He cherished being part of your class and the HW school and it is evident that he was an integral and moving force of your community.
Thank you for your letters, Facebook messages, monthly HW Chronicle articles, videos, performances dedicated in Justin’s honor, volunteering for the after-school programs, participating in the tributes, speaking to us, smiling or hugging us when you saw us, and directly practicing some of Justin’s self-proclaimed character traits of being helpful, observant, sensitive, creative or skillful as you maneuvered throughout your daily world. Please continue to serve others!
As you move forward in your life, we want you to remember Justin and his personal place in your class. Justin was not perfect, but he did his best to do his part to create a more peaceful world. Justin tried to ensure that everyone got along, treated others with respect, accepted their differences and uniqueness, and made sure that no one ever felt alone. Whenever you need a boost in your life, remember Justin’s infectious smile, unique laugh, funny jokes or expressions, and the spirited nickname that he may have created especially for you. We all have the opportunity to make this world a better place. As Justin’s parents, we would like to share with you the lesson and values we instilled in him. If he were still gracing this earth, we would continue to tell him these same things today and throughout his life as a reminder of his character and worth:
Do your best, and your best will be good enough!
Don’t let other people determine how you act
You can “BE” anything you want to “BE”
Enjoy the simple things in life
You can’t buy happiness
Take a lot of pictures because every picture tells a story
Don’t take anything for granted
When people show you who they are, believe them
It’s ok to “Stand Out” from everyone who tries to “Fit In”
Smile and be happy
Always greet someone with a firm handshake and look them straight in the eyes
Stand up for those who need help
Every day is a day of thanksgiving
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it
Say “I love you” as often as possible (and mean it)
Share your passwords for your accounts with someone you trust (including your parents)
Enclosed is a collage insert for your yearbook and a tag you can use on your traveling adventures to keep Justin close to you. Oh yeah, there is one more homework assignment from Justin’s Dad (a retired professor): “Let’s Achieve World Peace”. We know it will take you more than a night, one semester or even a year, but when Justin was 4 years old he prayed, “God, help us to achieve world peace.” And together, we can do it—we can make Justin’s prayer a reality. Even though this might seem like a daunting task, it is the seemingly small acts of kinds, authenticity, and empathy—like the ones listed above—that are the key to creating a more compassionate, accepting, and peaceful world.
Please keep in touch with us. We will always be Justin’s Mom and Dad. We would also love to hear about your memories with Justin and to see how you make a difference in this world in the years to come. Try and continue to live as Justin did: loving this life and living it as bravely, faithfully and cheerfully as you can. Congratulations.
In Peace and Love,
Darrell & Susan Carr”
As my dear friend David Perlman recently wrote to me on FB when he was traveling with his JCWWP Tag:
“Hey Susan Toler Carr the tag helps me spot what is really important while I am traveling that includes world peace. I was suppose to be in Paris this week but did not go and they had a horrible attack. We were in Istanbul and Israel on our last trip 2 months ago and they have both been hit hard. Family, friends, health and world peace is most important. Justin Carr World-Peace luggage tag is going around the world with me as a proud reminder of what I have at home and also what some others need. It is real cool seeing to young people that knew Justin rally behind his cause. I love you and your family. “
So true, so true. I often WONDER often about our new world. I do know that Justin’s impact and what he stood for will be appreciated my many people throughout the world in the days and years to come. Justin was able to travel to a few continents with us. Those trips will be forever embedded in our mind. What we now have to do is continue to life like Justin did and Love this Life and Live it as bravely, faithfully, and cheerfully as you can- and we hope and pray that you continue to do the same.
Thank you to all World and local Travelers for taking the JCWWP tags with you. More importantly, thank you to every one who continues to walk and TRAVEL the WORLD with us. Remember JUSTIN CARR WANTS WORLD PEACE.
KEEP TRAVELING, AND KEEP SENDING US PICTURES WE LOVE IT!
Justin’s cousin Laureina did this project at UC Berkley for her cousin Justin
As the end of the year quickly approaches, we must say again how truly thankful and blessed we are to have you—our dear and very generous friends—supporting us and the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation (JCWWP), not just with your time or monetary contributions, but your very connection to us….
Although, we’re forced to have a second Thanksgiving without our beautiful Justin physically here, we’re once again reminded of what Thanksgiving really means…Thanks. Giving. So, we are thanks giving for your “Friendsgiving”, because without that support we would not be in this place. So many from all walks of life, cultural descent and ages, have become quiet foot soldiers and walk beside us—for whom we are forever grateful. You all are truly a beautiful reflection of Justin’s belief that no matter where we come from, we are always stronger standing together than apart…
Another reflection of Justin’s impact is his story being shared around the world, that’s generated a strong year for JCWWP (and personally strengthened us). Accomplishments in 2014 include:
Medical Partnerships: We were invited to share Justin’s story at the 2014 American Heart Association Ball http://youtu.be/-7g9Zb8zXOA; and are currently working on a heart, art and peace project for testing and to educate others about early heart disease detection.
Paying It Forward: Funded cost to remove a huge neck growth on a young man in Jinja, Uganda… He’s a good kid, the oldest of 6, very impoverished background, his mother has HIV – and his name is Justin…
Our goals for 2015 are even more ambitious, as we continue this journey of giving…
Justin’s Dare 2 Dream Math Tutoring and Arts at underserved Schools
An April Love Notes Presents Justin Carr Wants World Peace Benefit Concert created and produced by one of Justin’s high school friends
Provide Scholarships to Visual and Performing Arts Programs
Obtain partnerships with major companies to educate and test for early heart disease detection (stay tuned)
Learning to Grieve with Gratitude has become our mantra… And grateful we are, because of our friends who have given their time, energy, spirit and love, JCWWP has achieved a lot this year. We also know that we need each and every one of you to help us continue on our quest to do better and be better just like Justin.
It is true how love does show up in unexpected ways, and we feel that love through you, because to paraphrase John Lennon we’ve been able to get by with a “little” help from our friends, and we do need everybody, and we appreciate all of your love. Your support has enabled the ripple effects of JCWWP and Justin’s life to allow us to see stars even on the darkest days. Below are true testimonies of how his butterfly wings and your JCWWP contributions help others continue to soar, and for us to beam with pride…
Thank you again for being there as our broken hearts slowly heal and for your generous support… May this holiday bring you peace, love, faith, friendship and continued service to others–everything your friendsgiving gives us.
THANKS GIVING TO THOSE IMPACTED BY JUSTIN & JCWWP HERE ARE WORDS FROM A FEW…
“I want to do something amazing that will leave the world better than when I arrive…that’s a skill I learned from Justin.” Jackie —8th Grader
“He had such goodness in his soul and he radiated kindness. He always put others before him. It was never about him. It’s as if his goal was to make everyone around him feel happy, and he always succeeded.” Marianne —12th Grader
“He has truly changed me to be more accepting, to listen, and to be grateful for even the smallest of things. I hope to make my mark, to make an impact on the world…anyone who knew Justin undoubtedly derived inspiration from his demeanor and his determination. So any change any of us makes, is a change that Justin makes. Just know that Justin continues to live through me in college.” Maddy —College Freshman
“Justin talked to me about how he was actually self-conscious in his swim team and even in acting about not being good enough and that fear is exactly what pushed him to be great. And that is the single most important piece of advice I have ever received in my life.”Eugénie—College Freshman
“I think I admired Justin from too far away, and I wish I could’ve taken him under my wings more (though he needed no help)…As I move further into adulthood, I know without question that…Justin will continue to anchor me to gratitude and positivity.”Evan—College Junior
“Justin’s legacy will always fuel them (the kids) with appreciation for the preciousness of life, engaging in it with courage, and serving the world. Whether they fully realize it now or not… Heck, that’s a lesson he left me.And trust me, I think of Justin often…”Shelley—Parent
“The Holy Spirit is working through you. It is said, “If you want (World ) Peace, work for justice.” Justin and justice have the same root: righteousness… ” Heaven (turquoise) and earth (brown) are filled with your glory… Amen!” Walk in the light….THERE WILL BE RIPPLES… AT EACH HEART BEAT…RIPPLES OF LOVE…RIPPLES OF PEACE… RIPPLES OF MERCY…RIPPLES OF COMPASSION…RIPPLES OF POWER… RIPPLES OF LIGHT… RIPPLES OF JOY… RIPPLES OF ETERNAL LIFE ….“Fr Christopher ( La Rocca ) OCD Carmelite Missionary , Uganda —Susan’s Elementary School friend
The following is an example of special testimonies we received from those who either watched the news segment about us and Justin’s story prompting schools to test students for undetected heart disease or at a screening event:
“I have wanted to reach out to you to tell you about our August Screening event… 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…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” High School Nurse
These testimonies not only comfort us to know that the impact of Justin’s life continues, but are also evidence that the work of JCWWP Foundation must continue as well… Thank you!
A final testimony from Susan… For Thanksgivings past, our family trio would frequent San Francisco to visit my family. But in 2012, Justin insisted all family up North travel south to our home. Thrilled, Justin made a floor plan of the sleeping arrangements (those engineer genes in him!), and carefully planned an excursion to visit his favorite playground, Disneyland. We all had a fun, fabulous time. He was so excited that his staycation was successful… We don’t know what made him insist on wanting to celebrate at home, but we are so blessed that our last Thanksgiving with Justin was so full of happiness, laughter and love…
For those whose know me I really don’t have the passion anymore to shop or buy anything. A few weeks ago, as I looked down at my (Justin’s) old tattered and torn brown converse shoes that I wear most days, I thought to myself… You need to get some new shoes.! So, I hastily went on the internet in search of something turquoise and these boots came up. I purchased the last pair in my size.
I opened the box today and when I looked at the bottom of the boot, I was floored. Darrell asked me ” How much did it cost to get Justin’s name on them? I looked at him and said: ” This is the name of the boots. They came like this.!”
So, I am adding these pictures to say ” I can’t make this stuff up!” My “Rhinestone Cowboy” Justin was telling me to get some new shoes!!! As you all know I will continue to walk to the end of the Earth in honor of my beloved son Justin.
These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do…
Cristine is a new friend, who recently lost her mother. Since the aftermath of this dramatic change in her life, she told me that now she finally realizes- and can fully appreciate why some things were more important to her mother than others. As a child, she often felt that their home was not as tidy as she thought it should be because her mom used it as a staging/storage space for her classroom supplies and projects during her 30 years as an Art Teacher. Instead of constantly doing house chores, her mom’s priority was frequently ushering Cristine and her sister out of the house to explore museums, parks, beaches, exhibits and other areas of interest in and outside of their city limits.
Currently, Cristine homeschools her children, and she quickly has realized how much time it takes in a day, to manage all of the work/life/school balance issues, and she sees the importance of not sweating the small stuff and is now cherishing the things that are important in life.
This past Monday, Cristine shared a personal treasure that she found at her parents home. It was a handmade simple craft that her mother helped her create in 1977 (when she was only 3 years old). The beauty of this jewel that was completed while on a family vacation is that it only cost time and love.
This priceless treasure chest was made from an old egg carton that now will be cherished and coveted forever. The details of the park or beach visited are so well documented on the lid. Now Cristine can not only take her own children to each spot that her mother took her but they can make memory boxes filled with their finds on their childhood trip.
When you look at the attached pictures of the box, you can see that the outside of the egg carton is adorned with shells found on various beaches. Inside, each egg cradle holds a nonperishable memorabilia item that was found at the various spots. There is moss, a shell, pinecone, or flowers all secured with gobs of good old fashion Elmer’s glue. The lid has a detailed description of where each item was found i.e. Acorn (Passion Gulch State Park) or Pinecone (Napa Valley State Park). Now tell me that this piece of ART does reveal HISTORY! This is one that should be tried at home. Priceless memories that have withstood 37 years. In honoring the memory of her mother, Cristine said that she would now focus on the positive memories that she had with her as she moves forward in her life.
Last Tuesday, I dropped an earring on the floor next to my bed. When I got down on my knees in search of the small turquoise stone, I noticed a large plastic box underneath my bed that I had not touched for many years. I reached under to grab the container and I gently pulled it towards me. Initially, I had no ideal what was inside. However, shortly after I released the dusty lid, I knew exactly what lay dormant- and soon appreciated- why I had saved the wonderful treasures that were neatly stockpiled inside. Tears gently rolled down my cheeks because I knew that I was about to ride an emotional rollercoaster as I made a trip down memory lane through the eyes of Justin. Inside, I found an aggregate collection of some of his finest and priceless elementary school work from grades 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I said: Oh My!” as I frantically grabbed the phone and tried to call Justin’s Elementary Principal “Ms. Q” (who produced and directed 13 plays that Justin was in) so she could be a witness to my impromptu discovery. She did not answer.
After I quickly dragged the box into Justin’s old pre- teen bedroom, I sat down to explore. Inside I found a treasure trove of his beautiful sketches, detailed artwork, colorful and creative book reports, science projects, daily journals, letters from his classmates (written when he was the Star Student of the week), doodles, plays, scripts, autobiographies, a biography written about his father Darrell and to top it off, at the bottom of the stack was his 2nd grade report with detailed sketches of “THE LIFECYCLE OF A BUTTERFLY!! On the cover Justin used objects to depict the various stages of the development of a butterfly. All that remained in tack was a painted piece of bowtie pasta that was the shape of a butterfly. How creative is that!
All of Justin’s work depicted such skill and precision. It was again apparent and quite evident that from the young ages of 6,7,8, Justin had clearly defined the beginnings of his strong affinities for the arts. Regardless of the subject matter all of his homework assignments were completed like pieces of art.
I was a Room Parent for many of Justin’s classes throughout his life. The Public School lack of funds did not always have the resources. So my “Pasadena Public Defenders” as I call them now, Jeru, Lorraine, Linella. Etc. all helped the teachers with our time and resources to supplement and to provide the best for our kids. Whenever I did something special, Justin would MAKE his classmates write thank you notes to me. I found one and just shook my head marveling at the accuracy of Justin’s character images of his classmates. He nailed their expressions and hairdos even in 3rd grade on the cover sheet.
Justin’s homework, and the notes written by his classmates were all true testaments of who he was at an early age and once again affirm that he really never changed as he grew to become a young talented man. The scope of the work that I found revealed the value of having the tutelage of good teachers who infused creative syllabus and instruction that enticed the kids to yearn to learn and it made the work effortless and fun.
It was also a reality check in how Justin was blessed with the best of the best of teachers (Ms. Walker, Ms. Tataro, Ms. Kim, Ms. Yu, Ms. Hall) who loved their jobs, and most importantly loved their students. They were not lackadaisical in their jobs; TAUGHT every day, infused the ARTS and the kids all grew and learned tremendously as a direct result. Subsequently, Ms. Q also spent her own money and personal time on every musical that she produced. She also allowed each and every student in good standing to participate in every play.
Following are excerpts from the notes I found in the collections, I did not correct any spelling errors:
Year 2002 (6 years old) 1st Grade
Every kid in the class got a week to be the “Star Student”
When Justin was in 1st grade he wrote in his journal:
“ I am nice, handsome, cool, special, kind, helpful, sweet and caring. I am very smart. I am an incredible artist. I have pretty eyes. I am trusting and I am loveable, capable special and unique.”
His first grade classmate also wrote the following notes to him in his Star Student journal: I purposely did not correct the spelling errors to keep them authentic.
1st Grade 10/24/03
You are nice and a good artis. Justin, you are the best kid with art. I thing that you love and help out with anyone. You are a good friend with what you do. You are the best friend I have. Love, Natalie Sheng”
You are an excellent artist and a fantastic drawer. You’re capable, caring, unique and special. Love, Nolan”
I think you are the kindest, nicest and most caring student ever. I think you are a fantastic artist. You can be a fantastic basketball and football player. Love, Ravi
2nd Grade 3/19/04
“Dear Justin, you are nice, funny, handsome, cute, great singer and actor, Next time I come to your house can we do a show? And you are a very good artist.
From Berrie Tsang” “Dear Justin,
You are a good star student. You are a good artist. You are a good basketball player, you are a good friend. You are good at math; you are a great reader, actor, and writer.
You are an awesome artist. You’re a funny and goofy guy. You’re a great leader. Your great at singing. You are a great friend and helper. From Jade”
WHAT ABSOULUTELY TOOK MY BREATH AWAY WAS THIS HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT THAT I FOUND IN JUSTIN’S JOURNAL
5/23/04 (8 years old) Justin wrote in his journal
“When I get older I would like to be a great swimmer and an architect/engineer I would like to go to the Olympics and place in freestyle. After that, I would want to build movie and play sets and houses.”
“My ART Studio “I’d like to have my own art studio. I would paint pictures for weddings, parties and some just for fun” I am going to be a famous artist when I am dead.”
HOW PROPHETIC IS THAT!!!!
AND IN JUSTIN’S 2ND GRADE JOURNAL, HE WROTE ABOUT LOVING TO DO CARTWHEELS. I AM NOT GOING TO WRITE WHAT HE WROTE; YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF ON THE ATTACHED PICTURE. THERE IS A PICTURE HE DREW OF HIMSELF IN 2ND GRADE DOING A CARTWHEEL. I ADDED A PICTURE THAT I FOUND ON JUSTIN’S PHONE OF A CARTWHELL HE DID ON A FIELD TRIP TO “DEATH VALLEY” A MERE 3 WEEKS BEFORE HE DIED… HIS BEST FRIEND ERIC TOLD ME THAT HE WAS INSTRUCTED BY JUSTIN TO TAKE A SERIES OF PICTURES OF JUSTIN DOING THE CARTWHEELS.
I HAVE NO WORDS.
This evening, I decided to take a stroll after I parked on a random street in Pasadena. I have a hard time going near places of interests that Justin loved so I usually detour. However, today I could not avoid walking down the back street behind his old elementary school. The playground and gym that once were is now a major construction site; Measure Y dollars at work! As I peered through the fence, I shed a tear, because I knew if Justin (my little Architect) were here, he would have loved to see this project in progress and review the proposed plans.
I also visualized that on a few occasions (when Justin was in 1,2,3 grades) I would drive down this street during recess, just to see if I could spot him and hopefully see him engaged with friends and having a good time. Yes I did! The truth has to be told. He never saw me, but sometimes his friends would. 🙂 As I walked away from the school, I dialed Ms. Q’s number. This time she answered. I tried not to break into tears, as I told her I was standing near the school that she transformed into a Blue Ribbon School, near the same corner that she last saw Justin when he came for a visit after he left. She told me she remembered that day too. Then she said: “I just sent you a picture of something that reminded me of Justin today.” After I hung up the phone, I looked at my text and it was a picture of a turquoise butterfly.
Like Darrell said ” Justin asked for World Peace when he was 4 years old.” He also wrote it in a Santa when he was about 9 years old. This was a consistent theme and not to far from Justin’s thoughts because I also came across his holiday wishes in this treasure chest of memories and found it in a homework assignment when he was 8 years old. My baby…..
I had to write tonight, all of these things and images on the attached pictures are true. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!!
Justin’s High School Art Teacher Ms. Hall told me: “ Art is one way to keep a person Immortal. It will live on through the ages.” All of the art treasures that Justin left will last forever. Justin will forever live in my heart!!
FINDING THESE TREASURES REVEALING THE BEGINNING OF JUSTIN’S AFFINITY WITH THE ARTS, DID MY HEART GOOD.
In 11th Grade, Justin listed his character traits as being Helpful, Skillful, Creative, Observant and Sensitive. He was right again.
He also called me a Hoarder. Like my friend Marjorie said “Being a Pack rat has its benefits. Deciding what to throw away has always been a struggle. ” It looks like I chose well. I think I did!!
Was this all Gods plan? It is still hard for me to get to this point of reason. I still have questions each and every day. How could Justin have impacted the world if given more time???????????????????????
We love you Justin Carr!!
We got the Emmy for you honey!!! love Mom, Dad and Ray!!
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
The first time I saw this catch phase “Every Picture Tells a Story” is when I ventured into an Art Gallery, with this name, on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, CA. I was intrigued by the original art from books that were being displayed. I had just started working at my first job out of college, and to date, my earnings were usually spent on travelling and at Loehmans, one of my favorite shopping spots. However, this was about to change when I spotted a fabulous watercolor image called the Spider Woman by a famous Black Artist named Jerry Pinkney
I just had to have it. It depicted a beautiful black woman surrounded by animals, adorned by a spider web. The colors and the details were incredible. I secured it by putting it on layaway. Subsequently, I had to limit my leisure shopping for clothes because I was anxious to place this art on my wall. Just tonight, it dawned on me that maybe it was Jerry Pinkney’s art that could have inspired Justin (at an early age) to have such a strong affinity to include his heritage in some of his artwork in his later years.
After Justin was born, I noticed how he loved looking at this picture. Often, he would sit on the window seat and call me over to show me new things he discovered in the intricate and details of the design. Subsequently, I purchased many of Jerry’s children books for Justin. They always had a colorful tapestry and an abundance of images of people of color. These books are still on the shelf….
Well, there seems to always be a twist to my thoughts as I try and get up each day. So, in order to recap some of the events of this week that sent my infinite thoughts of Justin either into a downward spiral or an upward lift, I must tell the bad with the good. It is only natural for me to be honest these days.
I get frustrated because I cannot patch this hole in my empty heart. And with this PICTURE of grief, it brings many moments of sadness along with this unimaginable life that Darrell and I have. I know it’s hard to fathom and people cannot often find the words, but sometimes comments and or spotted non verbal communication gestures just set me back.
THE PICTURES THAT NEED TO BE ERASED
The truth can be told about how we feel. Quite frankly, it can be summed up into just a few words. It starts with the letter that comes after the letter “E”. It is beyond unimaginable. It is “devastating and profound,” the exact words used in an email by a “use to be” friend (neighbor) whom I have not seen since that dreadful day in 2013. She wrote me on the anniversary of Justin’s passing to basically abandon our friendship “because this loss of Justin was “too profound and devastating for her.” How about me? How about Darrell? Even though she lives 2 minutes away, she basically wrote that she could not be in our lives anymore, but as a consolation, she would keep good thoughts of Justin in her mind and hopes that Darrell and I will smile every day just with the memories of him.
Can you PICTURE how I reacted to this? I guess she wants to assume that I am just singing this song to keep me occupied because I can’t be sinking in sadness:
“Row, row, row my boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream. “
Oh so I wish!!!!
Why is it that some people wish that the PICTURES of Justin Carr just cease and go away? Why all of the press? They say that Justin’s Story is old news and that it has been talked about for more than just a few weeks, we need to move on. In the past, and recently, I heard that some people had verbalized that they wished that Darrell and I had stopped showing up to events at school” It was not fair to them! I think some actually believe that we are contagious and that we “bring down the house” when we do show up. They do not want to read another story or see another picture related to that dreadful Carr Family. It’s not like we parked our car on campus and waited for the pity party to begin. We attended with honor the events that we could for Justin. It helped us and the community to get though the shock of this loss. Do you think it was easy going on campus, let alone living w/o him on a daily bases and not seeing him or bringing him home with us? PICTURE that, I’m sure you can’t imagine.
The villages of people who care and walk with us have tried to encourage us to look at the PICTURES in our life with the positive things that have come out of this tragedy. I try, but I’m not a super woman and it hurts. Hear ye Hear ye, as long as we are living, Justin will live through us. We will show up and stand up for any and everything that our broken hearts can take in honor of Justin. Like my Dad always said, “ Don’t let other people determine how you act”
THE ROADS OF EVERLASTING
THE PICTURES WITH JOY AND MEANING
So with that said, I am now going to reflect back on how CBS’s Justin’s Story (after the initial news frenzy ) came to fruition. It was on a Friday night in 2012. Justin runs upstairs and shows me a picture from an ad he saw about a backstage tour of the famous “El Capitan theatre. He said ecstatically “Mom, they are going to have a rare tour that will be open to the public. Will you take me? “ I said, ”Sure, when is it?” He said, “Tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m.” I hesitated for a moment, but when I saw the excitement in his eyes, I said, “OK, so go to sleep now so we can get up early and go.” And we did.
When we got into the line of about 100 people, I noticed that Justin was the youngest in the crowd among the enthusiasts with the average age of about 65-70 years old. This did not bother Justin at all. As we toured the theatre, he marveled at the dressing rooms, the detail in the finishes, the stage, the fly loft, everything. He was in hog heaven. As we proceeded to walk down some stairs, I looked back and a man with a CBS camera crew made a motion to me to come talk to him. I went over to speak with him. He asked if I would be able to stay after the tour for an interview. I said, we could stay but I did not want to be interviewed because, I was only the driver, and it was my son Justin who wanted to come, so he should speak with him.
At the end of the tour, we waited in the lobby and the Show Producer, Raymond Bell, began interviewing Justin. Justin was just a tad bit nervous but confident in his answers about his love of Architecture and the impact of the tour. When the interview was over, Ray asked for the complete spelling of Justin’s name for the record. Then he said “Mom, what is your name?” I said “ Susan Toler Carr”. He paused for a minute looked at me and said, “Is there any relationship to Burl Toler?” I said, “Yes. He was my father.” Ray was so excited. He told me that he grew up in the Bay Area, played football for UCLA and always had the highest respect for my Dad, and he would love to do a Documentary on him. We exchanged contact information. Subsequently, a few weeks later on a saturday morning, the El Capitan episode aired on both CBS 2 and KCAL 9 news.
I will always remember that day because my phone started ringing when people saw Justin on TV. It only aired in the morning, and then it did not air the rest of the day or weekend as planned because it was preempted by the sudden death of Whitney Houston….
THE PICTURE THAT WILL LEAVE AN INDELIBLE MARK FOREVER
A few months later, Ray came over to our house with another creative artist and filmmaker, Doug Harris. They had just completed their preliminary interviews with many members of the NFL community including officials, and players to piece together a Documentary about my Father. It was a school night and Justin was tired. I remember him distinctly rolling his eyes at me when I gently asked him if he would talk about Papa to Ray and Doug who had just had a grueling day in the field. It would only be a few minutes I told Justin. He agreed, and gave me and Darrell that look to “Kindly Get lost” so we retreated downstairs to be out of mind and out of site. At the end, all Ray and Doug said to us was “Justin did great!” and they left.
Well, we never saw any part of the interview until after Justin passed away. Doug uploaded it online.
During that dreadful week of planning Justin’s service, my brother Martel was searching the Internet trying to keep up with the media. He said” Did you see the YouTube video of Justin talking about Dad? “ I said “No, and at this juncture I don’t think I can. “ Days passed before I saw it. I’m sure most of you have seen it. When I did watch it, I got goose bumps .The PICTURES of Justin were incredible as he profoundly spoke passionately about the love he had for his Grandfather. But, I could not help but notice that even though Justin spoke lovingly about my Dad, he did not realize that he was also speaking about himself.
PICKING THE RIGHT ARTIST TO PAINT YOUR PICTURE
Minutes after Justin left this Earth, our phones were ringing off the hook with requests from the media for information and interviews. Thank goodness my band of CIA Agents, including Bill Funderburke, blocked all access and made sure that the correct information about Justin’s Story was accurate. For weeks after, I had TV Stations calling asking if we were ready to talk. We were not. I stalled for months because Darrell and I needed to make sure we had all of our questions answered surrounding this unimaginable loss and that we were of sound mind to talk. Then it dawned on us that we did not want a cavalier or sensationalized segment about Justin. We wanted people to know who Justin really was. So, I contacted Ray Bell. He was the only Producer who had really got a chance to meet Justin. He enjoyed talking to Justin and I watched, as he always seemed to boost Justin up with admiration. I later found out that Ray also knew first hand about what it feels like to loose a son… Need I say any more?
So at the end of Summer 2013 Ray came over with his crew, including the Reporter, Suraya Fadel (who had on turquoise) not knowing what that color meant to us. They spent hours in our home learning more about Justin. Last Fall on a Monday night, Justin’s Story Aired on CBS 2 News at 11:00 p.m. It was painful to watch, but beautifully done.
Today, Ray called to tell us that “ Justin’s Story” has been nominated for an Emmy Awards under the Light News Story-Single Report Category for the 66th Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards.
He said regardless if we win, it was picked from thousands of submissions, so it is an honor indeed just to be nominated amongst the talented pool.
Thank you Ray and Suraya for putting many PICTURES together to tell the story of Justin. You put your heart and soul into this STORY that had to be told.
It is true that “Every Picture Tells A Story” Including the bad with the good. I could not tell this story without mentioning the bad that has come with the good surrounding my life as I know it now.
Because of Ray and Suraya’s diligence there was even a Part 2 of Justin’s Story where a local high school (Oaks Christian) started testing athletes and saving lives as a direct result of hearing about the demise of Justin. I wish we would have known…….This story needs to be told!!!
Oaks Christian School Offers Heart Screenings For Athletes After Swimmer’s Death
The death of a young athlete due to an undetected heart condition is leading to changes that will save lives. Justin Carr, a young student athlete at Harvard-Westlake, died during a swimming workout. His autopsy revealed that he, unknowingly,suffered from cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening of…
Saturday, I woke up in the middle of the night (I guess during my REM stage of sleep) and typed in the words “Still I Rise” into my phone, then I went back to sleep. When I woke up hours later, I recalled that our beloved Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou had written the poignant poem “STILL I RISE.” I read it and quickly noticed how so many of the couplets in her poem related to the life Justin led. Maybe that’s why the words came to me so clearly in my sleep.
Through the pain of this unimaginable loss, it is heart warming to take notice on how the legacy of Justin, our Phenomenal Young Man, has created a new life of its own—one that will help us RISE out of bed and try to put one foot on the floor. Yes, the blueprints of treasures that Justin left behind—his songs, his dance, his words of wisdom, his art, his messages of hope, and his self proclaimed character traits—of being skillful, observant, sensitive, helpful and creative will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of so many, even those who never met him and those that only knew him briefly. But, I must say that often it is still hard to RISE up each day without his physical presence within arms reach.
STILL I RISE
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise?
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
It is apparent, even with the stretch of my imagination, that I take Justin with me everywhere I go. Last week, at a whirlwind of unconnected events, somehow they all mentioned the sweet sound of Justin’s name. From the pomp and circumstances of a Catholic wedding, a Non-sectarian school wide awards ceremony, a Jewish B’nai Mitzvah, and an Episcopal Sunday Sermon, unexpectantly these inter-faiths all came together by including blessings and honors for Justin. And as my infamous phase goes “ I can’t make this stuff up!” It propelled me to write. I have to get it out.
RISING OUT INTO THE VISTA’S OF SAN FRANCISCO
A few Saturday’s past, we proudly witnessed the wedding ceremony and beautiful personal vows of Soledad (my dear high school friend) and her best friend Marshall in our hometown of San Francisco, CA. As we looked out into the vistas of the San Francisco skyline from the tiled terrace of the historic Fairmount Hotel Penthouse, and listen to their spoken words, we were caught off guard when Justin’s name rang out during the Prayers of Remembrance along with Soledad’s parents and Marshall’s father who, too, have gone before us. Later Soledad told me: “ I consider Justin right up there with the love I had for my parents. He will always have that special place in my heart.” It was so thoughtful of them to include Justin in their sacred covenant and personal day of celebration.
Soledad’s connection to Justin is far deeper than many people know. She and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time when it was time for Justin to come into this world. Ironically, it was Soledad who delivered Justin. I had not planned to deliver Justin at the hospital where she worked. It just happened to be the nearest hospital since time was of the essence. Need I say that when she delivered Justin, she was also pregnant with her youngest child Shaylyn who was born just two weeks after Justin. She is also Justin’s Godmother.
So, even during the holy matrimony of a couple,
Justin name STILL RISES and was included in the love shared between two.
RISING TO ACCEPT AWARDS IN JUSTIN’S HONOR
Top Senior Honor Awards were given out to a about 10% of the graduating class. The Faculty voted on most of them. The student body voted on one. Darrell and I painfully, yet with pride, received the awards on Justin’s behalf. These awards given to Justin were not out of circumstance: he would have received them even if he were still standing and some said that his name could have been placed on them in the early days when he first set foot on the campus.
AWARDS JUSTIN RECEIVED
1. Performing Arts Award
“Contrary to what some may imagine, the Performing Arts Award is given not to the student with the most outstanding talent, nor to the most-improved student during their time with us– but to the student who best demonstrates through his or her engagement in our program, that which we, as a faculty, value most in a performing artist. Above all, this means that the student is an excellent collaborator; that they ask much of themselves and in so doing, raise the expectation of the group. As leaders, they are supportive, generous, and devoted. Their focus first, is on what they can do to learn, grow and improve, and second, how they can help those around them to make the production better. Performing arts (Shared with his BFF Molly Chapman)
2. David Justin Rascoff Award
“David Justin Rascoff, was a co-editor of the school’s paper, the Harvard News. He passed away in a car crash in June 1991 (just days before his graduation). He was well known for his vehement opposition to the merger between all-male Harvard and the girl’s Westlake school. Rascoff, who had been accepted to Princeton University, played tight end on the football team and was a member of the student government. This memorial award presented to the senior “who has the courage to stand up for his beliefs” He always had the courage to say what he believed no matter how unpopular that made him.
3. The George Coleman Edwards award is given to a senior who has “best served the School and his/her fellow classmates.” There were 10 students from the class on the ballot which was put together by the Faculty. The whole student body voted on this award.
4. Humanitarian Art Award “This Culminating Award is for the Student who most inspired us as Artists”. Justin did not have any formal art training. Most of his masterpieces were just homework assignments.
As the names were called for the 25 awards, I was elated to have personally known most of the recipients. They were Justin’s friends. For years, five of them even road the bus with him each morning. They all have been accepted into top colleges and have promising futures ahead of them. Many of them have shared with me their wonderful, idiosyncratic “Justin encounters” which helped shaped them. Whether it was:
• His warm personality or his smile
• Looking up to him for inspiration
• His genuine and funny personality
• His enthusiasm that made people happy
• His comforting nature during stressful times
• His nurture and support to help build self confidence
In some way or another, Justin impacted their lives. I know that their true friendships with Justin also impacted him as well. Friendships go both ways.
THOUGHTS OF JUSTIN STILL RISE IN THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF HIS SCHOOL COMMUNITY
B’NAI MITZVAH (VILLAGE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY RISE TO SUPPORT THEIR YOUNG MEN)
Mikey (my Jewish nephew), had his Bar Mitzvah with another young boy. At a mere 13 years of age, I can see Justin’s traits shining through him. As we walked up the steps through the Temple doors, I had to pause and reflect on the many times Justin attended Bar and Bat Mitzvahs there. I remember he took pride in getting invited to his friends’ rites of passage. He made a point to always attend the service to honor his friend and then make plans to go to the fun after party. Justin would always stay and support his friends until the end of the festivities. He did not like to see kids come and leave a party before it was over. He wanted to make sure his friends were surrounded in joy to the end. We gave Justin his surprise “Bro mitzvah” as some of his friends called it, when he turned 13. No formal ceremony, just fun times at LA LIVE bowling alley. He was shocked and surprised.
As I read in the program and what Mikey’s parents Lori and David’s personal statement of love to him, my heart began to beat fast. The words brought me back to the love we had for Justin. They wrote: “Our friends and family have called you an ‘old soul’— a child who can have a conversation with a person of any age. Your interest in photography, technology, and stage mirror your understanding of what is beautiful in the world and what makes people and things tick.” Darrell and I are totally aligned with Lori and David with their unconditional love for Mikey, and their unyielding will and desire to support all of his curiosities. A true blessing when parents let their children “be” who they want to “be”. Mickey is spirited, intuitive, creative, sensitive and willing to lend a hand. Last year, he took the time and made a personal phone case for me with a turquoise butterfly inscribed with Justin Carr Wants World Peace. Now what 7th grader do you know would take the time to even think of designing such a gift? I am so glad that Mikey was able to spend time with Justin.
Louie was the other young boy who was also celebrating his Bar Mitzvah whom we did not know. However, we got to know him quickly. We learned that he was and only child, who stood strong during his fathers illness and he wanted to be an Architect and an Engineer. His parent’s message to him was: “Wee have gotten to watch and see you become a kid who thinks ‘outside the box.’ Your imagination is incredible. You began to build first with blocks, then action figures. You saw and created things in such a unique way.”
So as you can see, both Mikey and Louie both had similar traits and passions just like Justin. I could not believe it nor can I make this stuff up.
What also caught my attention was when Louie’s Father Jeff shared his love to his son by citing a verse form Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance”. He encouraged Louie to continue to trust himself.
“Emerson, who is known for his repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself” which means to have faith in yourself, has woven it into his work – “Self-Reliance”. It is his explanation of what he meant by the repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself”.
Emerson wrote that every individual has a genius in him which comes out when one trusts himself, has faith in himself, when one can trust his thoughts, feelings and his desire and passion even after all disapprovals.
I thought of Justin the whole time I was hearing Emerson’s words. These words reminded me of the meaning behind the David Justin Rasnoff award that Justin received just a few days earlier. Justin (like David) stood up for his believes, even if his ideals were not popular. I am so glad that Justin trusted himself and his beliefs and relied on his self worth. He was often able to RISE above adversity.
Justin’s name was also mentioned in the program for the Kaddish prayer along with both families revered departed. Saying Kaddish for a deceased loved one is an ancient Jewish tradition. Kaddish is an act of loving-kindness towards the departed’s soul, enabling that soul to ascend to the higher realms. Darrell and I were so touched by this love for Justin shared during the rites of passage for Mikey. It was our honor to witness this special occasion with Lori and David’s closet family and friends.
AFTER THE TORAH WAS PASSED, JUSTIN’S NAME WAS REMEMBERED WITH THE HONORED KADDISH NAMES
LORA ROSE TO SHARE HER SUNDAY SERMON
Weeks earlier I had received a message from a young lady whom we met after attending the 2013 Student Diversity and Leadership Conference (SDLC). She is a graduating senior at a local high school. During this past year, she has come to know about the spirit of Justin. She met him briefly in December of 2012 at the SDLC conference. They were standing in line to meet the Astronaut ,Dr. Bernard Harris. Justin let everyone go ahead of him because he wanted to be the last one to speak to him. He was so excited about meeting him that he sent me a picture of them together. Justin loved this conference. He came home and said “ Mom, it is ok to be me!”
Lora told me that she was selected to give the sermon at All Saint’s Episcopal Church on Sunday as part of the Youth Day Program. She wanted to know if it was ok to reference Justin when she spoke. I agreed, and told her that I did not think I could come into the church (where we held Justin’s service) but I would watch it online. When I mentioned it to Darrell, he said he wanted to go. So we surprised her. This girl is brilliant and the way she weaved Justin into her message was beautiful. I could not see clearly see at all through the tears after she finished. The Rector Ed Bacon gave Lora a blessing since she was graduating and also gave a blessing for Justin, because he too should have been a graduating senior. I was so glad that we were there to witness this young mind speak so passionately about her life, beliefs and goals. Here are portions of her Sermon:
“I Dream A World Of Eternal Life
“I dream a world where one/No other one will scorn, /Where love will bless the earth/And peace its paths adorn” These words, based on the Langton Hughes poem, I Dream a World, are part of a piece we sang in Trouvéres my eighth grade year. This utopian world that Hughes dreams of is the same as the eternal life Jesus refers to in today’s gospel. In today’s gospel, Jesus turns to God and begs, “Give eternal life, to all you have given to me. ” This eternal life that Jesus is referring to does not mean immortality, but rather he is describing a quality of life, to be able to truly live, a joyous life, a peaceful life, a purposeful life that begins here and now, in this lifetime. Furthermore, eternal life is not only experienced on an individual basis–Global eternal life is all about the interdependence and interconnection of all of humanity. In this oneness nobody is excluded; everyone belongs, everyone is always welcome.
In that room at the SDLC conference, I found eternal life—that unquenchable drive to soar—within me and around me. In this context, eternal life is not so much a lifestyle or mindset, but an atmosphere. Just as a chrysalis incubates a young caterpillar as it transforms into a soaring butterfly, this conference was like my chrysalis. This transformational experience marked my re-emergence into this world as a new and revitalized person and set the tone for what I see as my purpose in this world. I finally understood who I am and learned how to accept that. Living this purposeful life, doing what I have been put on this earth to do, is bringing the kingdom of heaven into the here and now.
Two years ago, while standing in line at the SDLC to take a picture with Dr. Bernard Harris—the first African American astronaut—I met a young man named Justin Carr. Justin understood global eternal life better than anyone I had ever met before. Since a young age, his dream had been to achieve world peace and he had done far more than the average 16-year old to reach this goal by ensuring that everyone felt included and cared for. This past year I learned that Justin’s dreams had been curbed when he passed away from idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But Justin’s eternal life did not begin posthumously. Through small actions, like the way he constantly looked out for his friends, treated everyone with respect, and boldly refused to fall victim to a society that tries to put everyone into boxes, Justin lived an eternal life that continues to inspire all of us to do the same. It is not always the monumental, heroic acts that define one’s eternal life. Sometimes it is the smaller acts of goodness and authenticity that are the key to a true, genuine, eternal life.”
Justin, on your would be graduation day, we will RISE UP proudly and accept your diploma for you honey. You are an angel in the heavens across the faiths from Catholic to Jewish to Episcopal. This is what world peace is about. When others can state their love, show their love and welcome you into their place of worship without hesitation
These experiences were true and really happened. Justin is in the hearts and minds everywhere, not just within me. JUSTIN’S NAME HAS RISEN WITHIN THE WALLS OF VARIOUS RELIGIOUS FAITHS’.
As Molly sang in her song she wrote for Justin “Butterfly,” “You were the best, and you did not know it” I hope you know it now baby…
Love you… Miss you always. You were one PHENOMONAL YOUNG MAN! YOUR LEGACY WILL CONTINUE TO RISE!
This past Saturday night Darrell and I where given the honor to tell “Justin’s Story ” at the American Heart Association (AHA) Heart & Stroke Ball that was held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Almost every place I go the surroundings seem to stir up some kind of memory from a previous precious encounter with our life with Justin. That’s all that was on my mind as we were driving towards this famous city landmark, the Disney Concert Hall. I thought about how many times Justin spoke about this building, this unique Frank Gehry architecture design and the acoustic rhythms enveloping the interiors. Who knew that at the young ages of 10, 11, 12 and 13 he would be ask to come back each Christmas season and sing along with a few other young magical voices with the LA Master Chorale (LAMC) program was called the “Voices from Within.”
As soon as we drove in clear view of this landmark exterior, I vividly remember Justin telling me many times how the building had to be modified after it was constructed because the reflective stainless steel panels made excessive sunlight glare; causing many problems to the adjacent tenants.
After we parked the car and proceeded up the escalator, my mind started working backwards. I remember rushing up these same escalator treads many times to take Justin to rehearsals and then to the actual performances. Somehow, in short order he new his way around the backstage maze. He marveled and was inspired that he was able to see the magic of this building behind the scenes, practice in the rooms, and meet other musicians. Often he discussed how one day, he would have a similar building for his students to help them master their visual and performing arts talents.
Justin’s 5th grade class wrote songs about various cultures coming to America. The words were brilliant and passionate about what it would be like for foreigners to step foot in America for the very first time. Subsequently, the LAMC professional composed the songs. These young minds under instruction of Ms. Hall were exceptional.
Upon walking into the foyer, I had to take yet another pause for cause because Justin attended the Bar Mitzvah of his friend Martin in the same space where the AHA event was, when he was 13 years old. So, as I first walked up to on stage to practice my speech, I could not help but visualize my baby, happy wearing his formal suit dancing, singing, and playing the games while enjoying the good food and libations in honor of his friend Martin. I let my imagination go and I was able to smile.
After Justin’s first year anniversary we were approached by representatives from the AHA who were at the beach service. They were able to connect with Justin’s life and the copyrighted Origami Heart Story that was unveiled. (More information will be available soon about this under construction website: www.origamihearttrust.org/ , http://www.origamihearttrust.org and learn more this amazing program that was created by Kristen as she remembered what Justin did when he was just 9 years old! Subsequently, the AHA invited us to tell Justin’s story at their major fundraising event the, 2014 Heart & Stroke Ball.
The video (link below) rolled minutes before we took our place on the stage where three seats were strategically placed. One seat was for me, one for Darrell, and the empty seat was was for Justin.
In front of 400 people, Darrell and I found our “Voices from Within” as we passionately retold the story of our beloved son. We spoke for about 10 minutes and here are a few partial excerpts:
I spoke about the untimely demise of “our beautiful son Justin- a young Renaissance man, a Visionary, and a kind and gentle soul. From day one, Justin loved the visual and performing arts. He loved to draw, sing, act, and dance, to write poetry, to design buildings, to create enthusiasm, and to lead and orchestrate. He was always smiling and wanted to make sure others enjoyed life the way he did. 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.”
I then told the audience “Tonight was suppose to be his Senior prom, instead we are wearing our formal wear to honor him. ….. Every time I see a butterfly, I will think of him and I will wear his favorite color turquoise as often as I can.”
“Justin was on his way. He was an honest and forthright young man. I taught him how to work with his hands, to build things and to be prepared in any given situation, to be a proud young man. I often told him that he could also become the President of the United States, and I meant it. Our son, the boy who could have changed the world, will not be able to do it the way we dreamed for him. We will never see him sing, dance or laugh again. He will not walk on the stage to get his a diploma, down the aisle to marry the love of his life, grace us with grandchildren or take care of us as we age. I won’t ever hear him call out for his Dad again and I can’t tell him how much I will miss that and not being able to tell him how much I love him.”
I then said, “Because of Justin we are here to ignite change. While many advancements have been made, this fight is far from over. Heart disease continues to be the leading killer in our nation and it’s time we all stand up and fight back. Heart disease took our son from us. It robbed us of the opportunity to watch who Justin would become someday. It robbed us of our time together and so many future promises. There is an empty seat up here tonight in memory of our son Justin. We are not alone, there are thousands of families who are eating dinner tonight with an empty chair for a loved one who unfortunately died because of heart disease.”
The audience was moved to tears, and a lot of money was raised for the AHA. After, we were approached in droves with hugs, handshakes, and words of wisdom, looks of sorrow, and smiles with offers to help our cause, all in Justin’s name. It was not necessary for me to ask them after to Please Remember Our Man, because they heard Justin’s story, loud and clear. It is one of those stories that will be hard to forget.
Darrell and I will continue to find our “Voices from Within” as often as we can to tell our story, Justin’s story in order to help others. There is not one single doubt that Justin would not want us to tell his story to help others.
Sunday I decided last minute to go to the Compassionate Friends balloon lift off, for families to remember their lost children. I sent up a turquoise balloon for Justin and a purple one for all of my friends who also have lost a child. You are not going to believe the type of notecards that they had for us to write on… they were butterflies in all shapes and colors. I picked a brown one because that was Justin’s second favorite color. I watched it soar up above us and travel towards the heavens.
I can’t help it tonight… It’s in the air it is everywhere PROM, Graduation, futures. Internal thoughts are coming through me.
There was a reason that I was supposed to get up and move today. We were invited to attend an Inner City High School Film Festival by a friend. She told me that Justin’s Story and life had inspired her family to give back their filmmaking industry talents to the underserved. They have mentally, physically and emotionally adopted these kids from the other side of their usual city limits. They have also realized that their small gestures to work with these kids weekly and guide, nurture and just listen to them can be the difference needed that could change their lives in a BIG way.
As we pulled up to the historical campus in South Central LA, I realized that when I was just starting my Engineering career, over 20 years ago, I would come to this same campus and speak with the students annually at their Career Day. The school was hardly recognizable. Before, you could see the beautiful landscape surrounding this massive historical campus. However, it is apparent with the high metal fences that surround every inch of the property ( to protect the innocent and keep out the undesirables out) that the times have changed. The fabric of the student body was no longer as varied, the colors were the just the blended hues of browns and black that seemed evenly split depicting the Hispanic and African American population of kids. The campus walls buzzed hot with the sounds of the children moving, eating, yelling, whispering, feeling, growing, becoming.
As soon as we got inside the reception area, we were introduced to some of the students who were being honored in the festival for their works of art. A tall, beautiful ebony girl sat down at our table and extended her hand and introduced herself by saying, “ Hi my name is Ashley”. My friend came over and said “ Ashley is going to go to college up in the Bay Area. When she told me which campus, I told her that my older sister lives a mile from there and I subsequently, gave her my sisters number. I then asked Ashley what was her major was going to be and she said “ Nursing”. I immediately exclaimed that nursing was my sister’s profession for 24 years! When my friend asked her “ Are you going to the PROM?” Ashley put her head down, tried to hold back her tears and mumbled something. When asked again, she said, “ No, my mom used the money to fix her car”. I looked over at the hidden pain that this promising young woman was trying to hide and the question came out of me without thinking otherwise “ How much does it cost? She said, “$95.00.” I quickly reached for my purse, pulled out my checkbook and wrote a check out to the school so she could get her ticket. She was shocked and really tried to hold back her feelings. She did not know what to say, but the first words were THANK YOU! I told her that I’m sure she could wear something that she already has in her closet and she smiled and agreed. I also asked her if she had siblings, she said yes, there are nine of us and I am the oldest, I am 17 years old. Darrell told her that when she is able she will be able to help someone one day and “Pay it Forward” He also told her that she needs to take advantage of all of the offerings that this world has to offer, and not to take “No you can’t “for any answer.
The films were incredible and depicted life as they know it from tales of gangs, social injustice, Sexually Transmitted Disease, friendship, bullying, romance, gender association, diversity and education. They depicted their life, as they know it in these shorts on the big screen. Amazing. Kudos to my friends who have put their thoughts into production and not just talking about it. The enduring love for you and your work with these kids was evident.
I could not help but think about witnessing Justin bustling around his high school campus in days before he is set to graduate. He would be so happy to pick his date, plan for the events of PROM night and just have a good time celebrating his accomplishments with his fellow seniors. There is nothing wrong with that.
Honestly, I get sad thinking about how Justin will not experience going to his Sr. PROM. At the same time, I have to admit that we did witness him having so much fun in the 9th grade when he went to the school Semi Formal with his good friend Kelly. They had been friends since Kindergarten. After Justin passed, she told us “ I guess Justin and I did get to go to our PROM”. I must now accept that in my heart and mind he actually did. That night he was so happy, and proud. He enjoyed all the attention he got from his peers who admired his date. He introduced her to all of his friends. He said some people were surprised that he even had a date! Ha!! They had fun at the Wax Museum, meeting friends and enjoying the overall event. They also always had a mutual respect for each other and their friendship was always special. That in itself is worth the price of gold.
So, today I told Ashley, what I would have told Justin if he was still here, and going to his Senior prom tomorrow night, and that is to be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me a picture. I then gave her one of the pocket cards with Justin’ s art and website. She looked in awe and asked me “Who is this?” At that juncture I solemnly said, (now fighting back my tears) “That is our son Justin, who passed away last year. ”She looked up in amazement and said: “He drew this artwork? Is this him flipping a perfect cartwheel? I said yes! She said “OMG”. I told her to visit the website that was set up on his behalf and asked her to spend some time seeing who Justin was. Then I said to her, “and one more thing honey, as you move forward in your life:
“Please Remember Our young Man Justin” and have an amazing time at your PROM honey. She smiled and said “ I sure will, thank you.”
***To all of Justin’s friends, this message is for you too as you venture out to your PROM tomorrow night. Be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me pictures and SMILE for Justin!!
Justin loved the vibrant color turquoise. It meant so much to him since he often used this color in his drawings, paintings, and sculptures and it was often his choice of color in his tee shirts. Today, after looking up the various meanings of this color, I can see why it meant so much to him, as it now does for me. “Seeing turquoise recharges our spirits during times of mental stress and tiredness, alleviating feelings of loneliness. You only have to focus on the color turquoise, and you feel instant calm and gentle invigoration, ready to face the world again! It also means: refreshing, calming, sophisticated, energy, wisdom, serenity, wholeness, creativity, emotional balance, good luck, spiritual grounding, friendship, love, joy, tranquility, patience, intuition, and loyalty.”
Butterfly is the symbol of change, the soul, creativity, freedom, joy and colour. Their power is transformation, shape shifting and soul evolution.
Mothers Day, The Day of the Turquoise Butterfly
I had to remind myself that every day is Mother’s Day! I will always be known as “Justin Carr’s Mom” and I will love and cherish forever the memory of all the precious moments we shared together and as a family. Daily, I will mention and remember the sweet sound of music that resonates with his name.
Today, more than most days, my heart is heavy, trying to block out all the commercial advertisement that comes along with this day to honor all Mothers. But I also know that once a mother, you are always a mother. I must somehow face and embrace the flurry when all future holidays and celebrations come and go. Thankfully, I don’t stand-alone. I have Darrell lifting me up and a feast of friends and family who willingly have erected themselves around us to protect, reinforce and envelope us with love. These are indeed blessings.
I was taught early on from the best of the best, my beloved mother, Melvia Toler. She taught me to “be a little lady, to be skillful, creative and helpful and literally how to make lemonade out of lemons. When she left this earth, my siblings started calling me “ Mama Sue.” When I attended college, my friends also enduringly calling me “Mama Sue” I guess because I watched out for them, made sure they had food, made sure they came home safely from dates, and gave them advice (as I had to learn) on how to survive away from home. I guess, I can’t help having the spirit of caring and giving; it’s the maternal instinct in me. So, I now must claim it. Thank you Mom.
I also realize that you don’t have to birth a child to be a mother, nor does your child have to still be on this earth to claim the title. Any woman that gives her love, support and nurturing ways to any child, is a mother from the heart. Justin had a lot of mothers outside of our home that took him under their wings and watched over him wherever he went. I am grateful for all of you.
I tell you, it has been hard for me to find the words from within over the past few weeks and I have been unable to communicate my feelings. Should I call it writers block or just keep it real and just say that it is infinite heartbreak? I am writing now because I felt compelled.
Just a few minutes ago, I opened a gift that was given to me by my “new” friend Diane who just came into my life. She unfortunately has suffered a major loss in her life. Her beautiful daughter Katherine also prematurely and suddenly left this earth. Without warning I have leaned on Diane (and other sisters who have lost a child) for her wisdom and strength on how to get up and move each day and to walk in faith, live in love and never ever forget our precious angels who must now live through us.
The outside of the card Diane gave to me said in turquoise letters:
“ Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”. Justin’s favorite stroke in swimming was the butterfly, the hardest no doubt.
The quotable magnet that also came with the gift said: “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder”… (Thoreau)
Inside the box was a beautiful turquoise baccarat crystal butterfly. The sight of this precious masterpiece of art set me back a notch. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I had to retreat and take a breath. It amazes me how someone else can step away from their inner pain and selflessly reach out and make someone else smile. I have no words. What a way to make my day. Thank you Diane for such a thoughtful gift of love for me. A few weeks ago Diane and I realized that the turquoise butterfly now has deeper meaning for both of us.
Note that all the following events are true, and came to me in the exact chronological order. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!
1. Shout out Request from Mary
Mary Martin, my best friend since 1st grade, and fellow Girl Scout called me a few weeks ago. When we were 9 years old, Mary and Sharon McInerny and I went to a neighborhood in San Francisco called St. Francis Woods, to sell cookies. I went to this house, knocked on the door and an old Caucasian woman opened the door. I politely asked, “Do you want to buy and cookies?” She meanly said, “No!” and slammed the door in my face. Minutes later, I saw Mary about to knock on the same door and I said, “Mary, don’t go there, she does not want to buy any cookies.” To my chagrin, the woman opened up the door and with the brightest smile said to Mary: “Sure honey,” When Mary came hopping joyfully down the stairs, I told her what the woman did to me, and we quickly went home to Mary’s house where we cried together along with her mom due to the aftermath of this blatant racism which for me was my first encounter.
Mary called me on April 16, 2014. She told me that the night before, she was out in her yard watering and she looked up to the heavens and shouted “Justin please give your Mother a sign”
2. Justin and the Universe
Later that day, I received an email from Denise, a mother whom I met when Justin was in 6th grade. I have not seen her in 6 years. Her son and Justin briefly attended the same middle school together. She wrote me the following email in response to an invitation to attend the upcoming concert in honor of Justin:
Thanks for your note. I don’t know if I will be able to attend the concert, but here’s the strange thing: I was just about to write a note to you after a very long time. Based on what I was going to write, and now hearing from you, I’m reminded that there are some beautiful mysteries in our world, that’s for sure.
Yesterday evening I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. He is a pit bull, probably the friendliest pit bull that ever lived, but I’m used to people stepping away from him as he tugs at his leash. Usually, his whole body is wagging, hoping to get a pet from anyone we pass. But I always hold him back, out of courtesy.
I must have been lost in thought as we walked, because I didn’t see the boy sitting on the curb texting. Before I knew it, my dog was a few inches from him, about to lick him on the side of his face. The boy looked up silently and smiled at me (not at my dog). My heart skipped a beat and in my head I said “Justin?” It was his face, his smile, and his expression. I almost cried in those few seconds until he looked down again at his phone.
I hadn’t seen Justin since he was about 12 and this boy was about the same age. Back then, Zayn and Justin were both big boys, they hadn’t yet grown tall and thinned out. So this boy’s body was smaller, and seemed even smaller since he was sitting and curled over his phone. But the face, the expression, and the way he looked right at me … it was just amazing.
Instead of going around another block, when I got to the end of the street I turned around to go back the same way, to pass him again – but he was gone. On the one hand, it feels like a blip, a coincidence that I saw Justin in this boy. But however, it reminded me of the connections we all have to each other, to all life and to lives we have known, connections across this universe that we don’t fully understand.
I know it’s not the miracle your heart aches for. I don’t know why I saw that boy and saw Justin in him. Why me? Why Justin? Why yesterday and then you write to me today?
It is unknowable, but it IS something wonderful.”
3. The Turquoise Butterfly
Around noon that same day, I happened to call Diane. I left her a message because I had to go to a hair appointment because I was going to the school in celebration of the seniors on the Swim Team. She texted me when I was in the salon and this is the message she sent:
“Saw this on my daughter’s closet this morning. Never saw it before today even though I walk by this spot almost daily. Notice the turquoise! ! I felt like she was acknowledging that you and I needed something a little special today. We are loved. Xoxo Diane “
Next to the email was a picture of a turquoise butterfly that her young daughter had once drawn on the wall in her closet at some time gone by. I was speechless, I texted her that my friend Mary had just called me that morning telling me that she asked Justin to send me some signs.
4. Hair Salon
After looking at the text from Diane over and over again, I sat there stunned, in a place I had never been inside before. The hairdresser asked me was I going somewhere special and why did I seem so uneasy? I told him briefly that Justin was being honored along with his teammates on the swim team. He said great. But his expression quickly changed when I told him the backstory on the demise of Justin. After he finished my hair, he embraced me and walked me to the front cashier turned and walked away. When I tried to pay for the service, the attendant said. “ Oh, Michael did your hair for free.” I started crying and said, “OMG, Where is he”, she said, “ He is gone, he left for lunch” just that quickly. “ This has never happened to me. I went looking for him and he had left the building. A random act of kindness
5. Flowers from the best Florist in town delivered to my Door
At the end of the day upon returning home with my heart so full there was a knock on the door. It was a delivery from Jacob Maarse, Justin’s favorite florist and the best in town. To my surprise, the beautiful orchid was from Lisa, a class mother whom I have shared a few conversations with over years. I immediately wrote to her:
I cried on my way home after I saw you a few days ago. Do you know why?
I was grateful that you greeted me with a warm embrace and a smile (When I know how hard it is for people to find the words) I can write a book about all the people in our life who have run the opposite way when they see us or even neighbors who live mere blocks away who have chosen to stay away because the loss of my precious baby Justin is too much for them to bear… But, I can also say that we have so many people like you, who have chosen to walk with us and embrace us during this life long journey.
I was so glad that your friend who was with you whispered Justin’s name and told me that she thinks of me often even though she did not know me. I need to talk about Justin every day.
It’s that universal love of a lost that is so impactful and the infinite love a mother will always have for her child.
Today, the doorbell just rang and I was greeted with a beautiful orchid plant from our and “Justin’s favorite Florist” Jacob Maarse. He brought his date Kelly’s corsage for the semi formal a few years ago, he was planning on buying his date Channel who graduated from HW last year her corsage from there. Instead she decided to go solo, so I had to get her corsage and had them add a picture of Justin on it. Oh the memories…
Thank you my dear friend. We will keep this orchid alive. Justin would water the plants and told us how to keep them going. I will certainly try.
All my best to your son Ross as he makes his college choices. You should be proud! I am smiling. You made my day. Love, Susan”
Lisa told me she knows how days could be without your departed loved ones and she wanted to just brighten my day. She said I was thoughtful that I cared enough to ask about her son.
The turquoise butterfly landed this Mothers Day and Every Day!
These pieces of joy help me get through the day. It’s the thought that people, even strangers, feel and empathize with my state of mind and try in their own way to make my seemingly sad day brighter.
It is true, every time I see a butterfly or the color turquoise, I think of my baby Justin, my pride and joy. Seeing these brings me some relief in the moments of the day.
So for me, every day is Mothers Day. I have no regrets on how I mothered Justin. I gave all that I had to him. Most days were joyous and on the days that were too much, I’m glad that we got through them with the unconditional love and respect that would always supersede anything else.
At this juncture, I can’t ask for much more than that.
I will try to be as happy as I can, as I wake up each morning and try to put my feet on the ground.
Justin, my butterfly keep soaring and guiding me in all the days of my life. I will love you always, and I will love you forever. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be.
Justin, I will love you today, and tomorrow and all the days of my life. Someday, my days will not be as cloudy and the Sun, you my vibrant Son will come out and live through me.
I listened to your beautiful voice today as you sang “Tomorrow”
I love you Justin..
The Turquoise Butterfly and Justin soar among us…
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr