For Ronan and Emily

Two Fridays ago I attempted to revise part II of the series about bike parking that I wrote two years ago. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to care about something as trivial as bike parking once I learned that Ronan, my childhood classmate Emily Rapp’s son, died in the early hours of the morning on Friday, February 15th.

Ronan was just shy of his third birthday, but his health had been steadily deteriorating since he was diagnosed with Tay Sachs—a rare and fatal disease—two years ago. Although I never knew Ronan personally and haven’t seen Emily since our playground days in Laramie, Wyoming, Emily’s photos of, writings about, and love for her son have touched me and countless others around the globe. I am filled with sadness that her gorgeous baby boy shared such a short time with us here on earth.

I couldn’t stop my tears that Friday night thinking about Ronan and Emily, and I felt compelled to try to write something in hope of clarifying all of the emotions that were swelling up in me. I don’t exactly call myself a writer (this is just my third blog entry in two years, after all) and I fear my intentions will eclipse my abilities to express my feelings coherently—kind of like when I’ve tried to sketch something beautiful that I’ve seen and it turns out fairly mediocre. For this, I apologize.

Through Emily’s writings and facebook posts, it is easy to see her love and care for her son. Beyond things like looking for better medicine to treat his seizures, I was impressed by how she did everything she could to bring him comfort and joy during his last days—things like seeking out harpists to play him music and creating a cozy nest for him surrounded by stuffed animals and handmade quilts. In the end, though, I imagine one of the most comforting things for Ronan was to be held by his mommy, and if he was still able to, to smell her and hear her voice—a voice that he knew from the time when he was in the womb.

I also understand this love on an instinctual level as a mother. When I was pregnant with my son, I knew that I would love him, but I wasn’t ready for how overpowering a feeling it would be once he was born. I wasn’t prepared for the hours of not sleeping—not because I was trying to get him to sleep, but because I was watching him breathe, admiring his long eyelashes and feeling the warmth of his little body snuggled next to mine. I never thought I would love a little person so much—as I envision Emily loves her Ronan.

With all that love also comes an incredible sense of vulnerability and possibility of loss. It’s the other thing that keeps me up at night—it is why I cried nearly every time I read a post by Emily, why I cried when I heard about the shootings at Newtown, and why I can’t watch movies like Life is Beautiful anymore. It is why I feel especially heartbroken about Ronan’s suffering with Tay Sachs disease and the pain and loss his parents have endured. And it is why I think Emily is one of the bravest persons I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t know what happens to people when they die, but I like to think that Ronan, wherever his soul or spirit is, still feels the warmth and comfort of his mother’s loving arms rocking him gently down to sleep.

Rest in peace, sweet Ronan, thank you for touching my heart. And for Emily and Ronan’s father, Rick Louis, and all those who loved and knew Ronan—sending you all the love, courage, and hope in the world.


Below is a relato or short story written by Eduardo Galeano that was read at my wedding. I came across it again yesterday afternoon and the last phrase made me think of Emily and Ronan: “others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.” I see vibrant light and beauty in both Emily and Ronan, which became ever more brilliant when reflected between the two of them.

Many beautiful photos of Emily and Ronan are posted on their facebook pages. Here are some of my favorites that capture their beautiful light and energy: Emily kissing Ronan (July 2012), Ronan grabbing his mommy’s nose (March 2011), Beautiful Ronan (July 2012)


A man from the town of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, could climb into the sky.

On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.

“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”

Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.

—Eduardo Galeano, from The Book of Embraces translated from the Spanish by Cedric Belfrage



In search of a third place

When I started this blog two years ago, I had a list of possible topics that I intended to write about on a weekly basis. But…let’s just say that life happened and I left off after publishing just one entry. In the mean time, I got married, had a baby, and have been busy with my little one since then. Now, I’m finally getting back to this blog and I would really like to make it a weekly activity if possible. I think when I started this blog I was a little intimidated to publish something online and thought it had to be perfect. But, really, when I think about it I can’t imagine anyone actually reading this anyway. It’s really just a place for me to record and explore topics that interest me in the context of my life and experiences as an urban planner, mother, and expat in Madrid.

At the moment my husband is feeding our baby his ‘cerienda’—a combination of an afternoon snack (merienda) and dinner (cena). I’ve escaped to the local library branch, which for right now is my chosen third place—not home, not work, but a public place where I can have some quiet time to work. I would love it if it had a more of a café vibe, but the local bakery café near our home doesn’t have wifi or really much seating aside from the outside seating on the terraza that can be a little cold and filled with cigarette smoke.

Looking back at the last entry, I mentioned that we were lucky that we have a trastero where we can store our bicycles. Though I still feel fortunate to have that space available, on my way walking here I was wishing that our apartment complex actually had some secure outdoor bike parking. Just the matter of going down to the trastero and carrying my bicycle up the stairs is enough extra effort for me that I opt to walk places instead of bothering with the bicycle. For that matter, I wish the streets on the way to the library—that pass by the local school—had bike lanes. I really LOVE the feeling of riding a bicycle so much more than the slow pace of walking. If we end up staying here in Madrid, I wonder if its Plan Director de Movilidad Ciclista will ever get implemented so that my son can experience the joys of riding around his city on two wheels and we can have the peace of mind to let him explore the world on his own. I hope so…

Well, it’s time to head back home to put the ‘lil one to bed. I’ll try to post something next week when I return to the library—next time I have to remember to bring my wallet with my library card—I’m bummed I can’t check out the video “Chico y Rita” that I’ve been wanting to see for some time. ¡vaya!