She's Got the World on a String.
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Friday, September 02, 2016
By Marna Niebergall de Rojas, Embracing Grace Photography + Grace Wears Fur
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This is my friend, Barbara. Graphic Designer, Torch Singer, CEO/George Strait Fan Club, Pilates Instructor, Supervisor to all things architectural, Pollinator, Kitty Rescuer, Dog Whisperer, Muse, Wife, and Mom to one of the most awesome kids on the planet. We were introduced a long time ago when we were both aspiring young creatives, fresh out of the University of Illinois and living in downtown Chicago.  So long ago that I had to ask Barbara recently to remind me how it was that we met. Her answer made me laugh: "Lucy (a mutual friend) introduced us because she was spending too much time talking to both of us. She arranged for us to meet so we could talk to each other and not waste her precious time." We both wonder where Lucy is now.

The common elements and interests we shared in our lives back then was pretty amazing to both of us.  We had both studied Graphic Design at UofI, under some of the same instructors but different years. We both landed the same position at the same international design firm shortly after graduating, but at different times.  We both hated the job. But it was there that we both met Lucy. And Holly. And that was good. After meeting we talked every day and tried to meet up a few times a week, and we became inseparable friends.  We hung out a lot at the famous Bar Double R, on Randolph St. where I learned that Barbara liked George Strait as much as I did.  We wore our cowboy boots, drank and sang and compared notes about some of the creepy guys we had worked for. Then each of us went home, encouraged and inspired, to our tiny little apartments to dream big about all we were to become.

We saw the same therapist.  Once a week.  Faithfully.  And compared notes about that too. We coached each other, and grew up together, finally, in our 20's. One day Barbara called me with her good news: she had signed up for voice lessons at the Old Town School of Music. She was going to soon be living her dream as a Torch Singer. The one-way ticket out of design drudgery. I didn't even know what a Torch Singer was. 

Barbara would soon sing "I've got the World on a String" even better than Frank himself. She would bring the house down night after night in those dimly lit, smoke-filled establishments that foster steamy love affairs. She found for herself a kind and generous Latin Lover. I did also, but not the same one. Life took us in different directions and sadly we lost track of each other. (Continued below.)

Chapter 2: Facebook.
(Or "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is Silver and the other's Gold.")

 I was stalking some old friends one afternoon about thirty years later and was surprised and thrilled to find photos of Barbara in her new, coveted role as Pilates Instructor. She was my age and looked like she could have been my daughter. I picked up the phone to call her with an urgent request: Could she help me find the young vibrant body that once housed all the big dreams of my youth? We met for coffee and a scone in a chic little cafe in Evanston and the years melted away. That's how it happens with true friends.

Barbara had become a Mother. REEEEEEEALLY? Yes, a Mother. And her son was already 10 years old and I hadn't even met him yet or known that he existed. She had to get up early and drive him to school every day. And then go and pick him up. And she loved it. She had rescued a dog, and he had found a happy home in her heart. Then a kitty, and another one. She and her Latin Lover, turned husband built their dream home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Evanston. Barbara dug up the front lawn and planted a lush pollinating garden to attract Monarchs, those winged symbols of transformation.

Then. When life was just about as good as it gets, my friend Barbara was diagnosed with Kidney Failure. The really serious kind. Or is there any other? She was in the hospital, and they were doing all kinds of tests on her. Surely there was some mistake. I mean she was posting some pretty funny photos in her hospital gown doing her yoga poses in the sterile halls. Her attitude was as healthy as ever. Two weeks later, Barbara had her first dialysis treatment. Followed by 2 more that same week. I got scared.

Once Barbara had settled into her treatment schedule and we were able to talk openly and honestly by phone, I heard her calm and determined voice state: "I don't care what anyone says, I'm going to have a kidney transplant." She just put the thought out there, matter-of-factly and with unwavering faith. And within a year of her diagnosis, in May of this year, Barbara received the gift of her new kidney. A gift given in love, by her sister.

I received a beautiful gift also: A second chance to reconnect with an old friend who still feels like family to me, and reignite and celebrate the comfortable relationship that has helped fuel our dreams all these years. I photographed my strong and courageous friend Barbara a few weeks ago for her new blog..................all about offering help and hope to others affected by kidney disease. We had a great afternoon together with lots of heart-to-heart chatter about cats and dogs and kids. I loved embracing her vibrant being through my lens, sensing how much we both had changed and yet stayed the same.  (Please click on the photos in the Gallery below for full-screen viewing.)


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