The Things We Hide Away

Today I am thankful for a moment to remember.


When I first started dating my husband, some thirty years ago, I remember a night when I called him to find a tearful, shaken man. His friend Ben Pinel had just been killed in a fire at The Proud Bird restaurant in Los Angeles. I didn’t know him, but his death was widely felt by many I knew in our small suburb of Los Angeles.

This morning I went to a new coffee place in downtown San Pedro called Sirens. My husband and I sat down to enjoy a quick latte with our daughter before she headed back up to school. We started up a conversation with the owner. I noticed there were a lot of firefighter references all around, including the Dalmatian, a dark and white chocolate latte, and asked her about them. Turns out, Yolanda is the sister of Ben, and she and my husband started talking about Ben and the fire, and on it went. She created this coffee house as a tribute to her beloved brother. She told us about the beautiful tile and clay artwork on the wall.


The lighthouse is a replica of a beautiful gem, Angel’s Gate, in our own Port of Los Angeles. Julie Bender, an artist and retired LA City firefighter, designed and created the work. The wings were painted one night by a group of widows whose husbands had died in the line of duty as first responders. The light in the lighthouse shines to symbolize how we will never forget those who gave their lives in service to their communities.

Yolanda shared with us how she met Julie, who just sort of showed up. Yolanda was looking for something to memorialize her brother and other first responders, and had in mind something that would fill up a large wall space in the back. As they talked, they realized they had a deeper firefighter connection. Julie had been at the Proud Bird fire, and she pulled out Ben’s partner. They were unable to save Ben in time. Yolanda told us she believes that creating the memorial allowed Julie to lay down some of that burden.

That is how it goes, isn’t it? There is so much around us, so many layers of life and experience that we can’t see unless we spend a little time digging. I have been thinking about this a lot in my classroom the past few weeks. Listening to children, instead of talking at them, always opens up my eyes to the lives they lead right under my nose. They have questions and goals, likes and worries, and they bring it all into the class. And then they seem to hide it away so they can learn the way we ask them to.

“Maybe we could talk about the things we have hidden away inside of us,” D told me last week. At a loss for words, I smiled through my tears. Yes we could. Yes we will.

That is how it goes…we spend our days walking around, carrying our burdens and the things we have hidden away. Some are heavier than others. Reaching out, showing up, sometimes it just works where we meet the person we are meant to meet, and life’s synchronicity works in our favor.

What a lovely way to remember.  What a lovely thing to celebrate.

Thank you to Ruth Ayers. I have missed celebrating with you on Saturdays, and am aiming to get back into that habit.



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10 responses to “The Things We Hide Away

  1. sallydonnelly11

    So glad you took time to celebrate and share this story today! A favorite line is “Listening to children instead of talking at them…”
    And I do think people intersect our lives when we need it, as do words read in stories and on blogs. I’m glad I interacted with your story today!

    I too need to get back to my Sat blogging habit that you actually took time to tell me about at TC! For that moment I am grateful!

  2. Threads of lives intertwine and it is only through conversations that we discover connections. Sometimes I think it is serendipity that allows us to learn of those connections. Keep listening to those students, they have stories to share.

  3. Yes, we are carrying around a lot of hidden hurts and I think it is a gift when opportunities arise for us to share those things. Creating a safe space for our students to share could be worth a lot to them and lead to connections and healing.

  4. I know that I didn’t learn some things, but my students wrote letters to me 3 times a week, & that helped me learn what was “really’ happening in their lives. (middle-school aged students). I think we do keep things hidden, and your story is beautiful. Just think if you hadn’t carried on that conversation. I had a repairman work on my heating system yesterday, & I know quite a bit about him. He’s worked for me for a long time. But this time we discovered that we both had cerebral palsy afflicted family members, and quite a few similarities in our experiences. I am sorry for your husband’s and other’s loss in their work, and so grateful to them for their work. Thanks for a nice post.

  5. Terje

    What an incredible story crossing over time. Unexpected connections arise through conversations. Being present to truly listen may be the key to discovering the connections.

  6. Such a beautiful post! The part about the things we have hidden away inside us reminded me of the survey question, “Something I wish my teacher knew…” I did this with my 4th graders a few weeks ago and, wow, am I ever glad I did.

  7. This is such an important story to share. The things we have hidden inside = so very powerful. Love this post.

  8. Carol Pinel

    Cathy ; I love your blog , Sirens if definitely a very special place in my hearts and many others . I’m so proud of Ben’s sister for her perseverance and devotion to opening this fantastic Java and tea house . It’s must see place . Thanks again for those special words .

    Carol Pinel ( Ben’s widow )

    • Thanks for reading Carol. It means a lot to me.
      And I agree, Sirens is a wonderful place, and even though the decor and space is beautiful and comfy, the vibe is even better.
      Hope to see you down there!

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