I’m sure that everyone can name at least one person who has held a place of influence in their life. Some people are fortunate enough to name several, or many. I consider myself to have known and loved some truly fantastic people in my day, but there are those special souls—those comet-like individuals—that shoot through the sky of your life and light it up with wonder. I was changed by a little light named Clara Quinn Phillips.
Today marks 2 years since that precious light left this earth, but not a day has gone by since that I have not mourned her passing and been grateful for the joy and laughter she brought to others while she was here. When she was just a little bit of a girl (not even a year old), I had a near shrine to her hanging in my cubicle at work; her smile was THAT infectious. Every time I felt even the slightest bit stressed out, I would just look at her face and remember that there were much better and more important things to think about than worrying about some meeting or project deadline. I don’t think there was a Facebook picture or video of her that I ever missed seeing (or liking, or commenting on); her cuteness was unparalleled, and I was a huge fan. She was her mom’s little snack-eating sidekick, and she was always a part of our interactions and stories, whether she was physically present or not.
Since that day 2 years ago, I have experienced a lot of joy in meeting and growing to love Clara’s baby sister. I have laughed and looked at hundreds of photos and shared stories and memories in my times with her mom. I have also cried a lot of tears, and I cry even more as I write this now. Clara’s name is never far from my tongue, nor her face from my thoughts. I have a birdcage decoration on the wall of my bedroom, and on it hang a few little artifacts that remind me of the things I want to focus on. Clara’s picture is front and center. Because more than just mourning her death, I want to continue honoring and celebrating her life with how I live my own. One evening in early spring of 2017, after a long visit with Clara’s mom and dad, I drove home in the darkness, tears streaming down my face. The sadness was almost too much to bear. I knew that, on some levels, it would make sense in the face of so much grief to protect my own heart from any further pain or discomfort—to dial in to ‘business as usual.’ It was a pivotal moment for me, though, because I also knew that being broken open like this was an opportunity to head in a new direction with my life...to stop being afraid of some things and to make some real and lasting changes, to get my priorities in order. This one thing I knew for sure: I owed it to Clara’s legacy to run headlong into the unknown and risk failing and being hurt for the possibility that I might find something much greater in front of me.
And I did just that. Over the next few months, I chose to dedicate some efforts in my life to Clara—things I may share publicly at some point, and some I may never tell another soul. But in my heart, I know that Clara knows. She inspires me every day in the way that she loved her friends, her mom and dad, and even her dog Miller. She loved to dance and be silly. She loved music and singing. She wasn’t afraid of who she was, and she was living her best life. She deserved the very best. We all do.
Clara’s mom told me one day a few months after Clara’s passing that she and her husband had been taking a walk in their neighborhood and had found that Clara carved her name on the stop sign at the end of their road, where she used to wait for the bus. I kept that little detail tucked away and recently stopped one day after a visit to see if I could find it. I admit I was hoping to catch a glimpse of her, and I was both thrilled and pained to see her name written there. Clara made her indelible mark in that place—in this place. She left behind pieces of herself, of her spirit, in this world, and I like to think that some of those pieces are inside of me now, too.
Clara, sweet girl, I’ve made many promises to you over the last 2 years that I won’t let you down—that I’ll be there for your mom and dad, that I’ll be the best friend to your little sister, that I’ll never, ever forget you and do my best to ensure that no one else does, either. You’ve changed me for good, little light. You’ve left an indelible mark on my heart. I will always carry you with me, and with sadness and joy, I remember you today.
Love always, Sarah