Robin Iida was my best friend growing up. Basically until I met Scott. We both got married in our early 20's (my dad walked her down the aisle; she was my only non-sister bridesmaid) and our paths diverged, but from about 1rst grade until college we were kindred spirits (our preferred Anne of Green Gables term for friendship). We met because Robin's aunt lived across the road from my family in Herndon, Virginia, and our moms became friends at a pivotal time. Pivotal, because Robin's dad died that year, and my family absorbed hers into a circle of four families that created a little community of shared faith, geographic proximity, carpools to the same small Christian school and church and Pioneer Girls' group. Robin was two years ahead of me but we were the oldest girls; the other two families started with boys. So, friends. That friendship deepened into kindred-spirit-quality though untold numbers of slumber parties, books passed back and forth as we both loved to read, forts built in the woods, paths explored, dress-up and imagination and drama, sewing and crafts (who remembers decoupage and counted cross stitch?), camps, vacations, homework.
Robin died on Friday. She was 59. She had a sudden hemorrhage in her brain from a burst aneurysm, one of those 1 in ten thousand kind of rare events that upends a life. The initial bleed occurred the prior Saturday; we got messages during the party Abby's parents threw for her and Luke. We were able to go see Robin and family in the ICU in Washington DC the next day and in spite of all she had been through she opened her eyes in surprise at my voice. We prayed for her. By Monday she was off the ventilator and whisper-talking, and through the week as we flew back to Uganda we all had great hope. But on Friday a second and larger bleed occurred, and in spite of high levels of care, she died. Her community now will remember her for her four wonderful young adult children, her three and one-on-the-way darling grandchildren, her marriage, the musical gifts she shared with her church and other groups, the international students to whom she gave a home, her active role in making this world a better place. But I have been thinking of the earlier part of her life, and the unique gift of her friendship.
And if I had to sum up that gift in two words, I think it would be smiling grit.
For some reason, we were both quite concerned about our knobby knees. I'm not sure I've even heard that term in the last few decades but as pre-adolescents we looked at our bony legs in despair, feeling awkwardly gangly, and talked about those knees a lot. We both loved to play soccer, but were never the first-picked athletic types, not particularly muscular or speedy or coordinated (though in our small-school world that didn't put us off the teams, just off being stars). We both liked boys, but never felt like we were the most beautiful or interesting (in our world, that did not mean zero dates but did prevent the status of cheerleaders or the homecoming court). And neither of us hit puberty with sudden graceful curves. Our hair difficulties were opposite: Robin's sandy blonde straighter hair was thin but cooperated with the 70's allowing her bangs and feathered layers. Mine was kinky curly thick and unruly and very much NOT blonde and I thought at the time, along with those knobby knees and flat figure, socially irredeemable. Trivial as it sounds, navigating growing up as a girl is a thousand times more survivable with a companion. So the first thing I have to remember about Robin was the life-saving effect of having a knobby-kneed partner who could commiserate, normalize, and LAUGH. Yes, Robin taught me to not take my self and my hair and figure woes so seriously. She exuded a kind of strength and spunk and humor that let us be ourselves. We didn't mourn about it, we made it funny. We had clubs and codes and secret languages, phrases that could send us into doubled-over giggles. I think all girls look around and assume everyone else has it more together than they do. So having a true soul friend walking through all those adolescent years with laughter, was priceless. (And I should have done more of this for my sister, but am grateful for Kristin who was the parallel in her life).
Secondly, and probably related to that ability to take life with humor, Robin swam against the current. We attended a very conservative Christian school in primary and middle and early high that met for years in a massive Victorian house in Leesburg. Then by a tragedy of county lines dividing us, we went to separate public high schools. Looking back, I think Robin shored up my own determination to find the path less traveled. She was an artist at heart, a talented musician with an eye for beauty. She married a first-generation Japanese American, and embraced his cultural heritage (one of my high school friends actually, so it seemed quite normal to me then, but in 2019 eyes I can now admire the courage of that decision). Perhaps losing her dad so early, perhaps just her personality, but she had a core determination that did not bow to changing tides. She decided to have all of her children as home births, even when she was a bit high-risk. She decided to home-school them creatively. She supported her first son's desire to train as an officer in the marines, and her daughter's passion to become a professional ballerina/dancer. She and Ken were never financially rich, but they made their town-home into a place of nurture for their own family and many others. Robin had opinions, and she did not mind those being different from the majority. Her goal in life was never wealth or success or fame; her goal was to be faithful, to serve others, and to sparkle. She was loyal, protective, assured. And again the humor let her stand against the flow without being obnoxious. While her adult life remained within a few miles of our childhood homes, and her adult focus within the walls of her own home, and mine went out towards medical school and Africa with all those miles and all that immersion in a more public arena, I think our kindredness of spirit is that we both made choices based on faith, hope, and love. We both risked the less expected paths. And I suspect that those choices were possible partly because of the strong foundation we gave each other.
Today is Scott's birthday. From the late 60's to the 80's Robin gave me her grit and her smile; from the 80's to now it has been Scott. Losing Robin makes every birthday a wonder. Objectively, Scott has nearly died multiple times but here we are. This year has been one of the hardest ever, wresting Christ School from the brink of demise, moving away from the slightly more do-able comforts of near-Nairobi to the decidedly more tiring life of the Uganda-Congo border. I know Robin's family needs her just as much as our family and community need Scott. It's not fair. God's mercy is an inscrutable tangle that I cannot justify and explain. I can merely be grateful today for Scott, and ask Jesus to walk closely with Ken, with Robin's mom Kay, and my mom, and all our siblings and friends. I can ask Jesus to be a presence of peace in a time of anguish. I can give testimony to the assurance that Robin's death and Scott's birthday are both redeemable mercies, even if one feels severe, in the end all shall be well.
I wish I could be with everyone who loved Robin on Saturday at her service. I wish I could find photos in the chaos of this move. But these words are all I have to give today. Rest in peace Robin.