Monthly Archives: May 2011

Weddings and Flowers

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“The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

This is delayed, but tonight I collect my thoughts about the royal wedding.  I admit, I was more than happy to wake up in the middle of my night to watch two strangers marry.  I was excited, not sure of what to expect.  I just knew, as I went to bed, that I wanted to wake up and be a part of something historic, to watch with millions around the world. 

I was sad, when I flipped on the television, that I had missed most of the ceremony.  I thought I had calculated everything right, but I was misinformed.  I was hoping to see Kate walk into the church and barely got to see the couple walk out.  But I stuck with the newlyweds.  I watched them leave the church, ride away, kiss, and begin life, husband and wife.  I did this with a joyful heart.  The much-anticipated dress was lovely, but so unexpectedly ordinary.  It could be on any bride, fit any ceremony.  The two walked down the aisle and the future king gave side glances and small smiles as he met familiar eyes.  They invited friends and family and the people who sell them candy. 

The thing that I loved so much about the wedding, what made waking up more than worthwhile, was the splendid ordinariness of it all.  Yes, they are royalty now.  Yes, it was expensive and pretty.  But they were a happy young couple committing to life together.  The now historic second kiss they snuck was incredibly unrefined and loving.  The stories of Prince Harry’s “survivors’ breakfast” for the guests who could stay up all night was exactly what a best man/brother should have done.  The queen, after the royal reception, left the castle to the couple and friends.  Yes, it was a castle, but it was not much different from the wedding of my friends.  It was beautifully, refreshingly normal. 

That same week I went to see the famous flower fields of Carlsbad.  I had wanted to visit them last year, but did not make it out before they closed for the summer.  I was so excited to go see these acres of blooms.  I wanted to practice a little photography and see if I could get a good shot or two.  I woke up early, made the drive, paid my entrance, and excitedly entered the fields.

The fields were pretty.  There were a lot of flowers.

There were many kinds of flowers there. 

I am glad that I went.  I wish that I had gone a little earlier in the season because some of the flowers were starting to wilt and die, but it was nice.  It just wasn’t the overwhelming experience I thought that it would be.  Perhaps I had built it up too much in my mind, but I expected…more.  I expected breathtaking.  I expected.  I may have expected too much.  I liked the flowers, but had thought I would be inspired, I would fall in love, I would rave about it and never want to leave.  I was satisfied rather quickly, much faster than the driving I did to get there and back.  These famous fields simply were not as great as I thought that they would be.  In fact, possibly my favorite part of the field was a mistake, something only I seemed to notice:

It struck my, on the way home, that it was the ordinary, the unexpected that moved me.  This magnificent flower patch was pretty, but it did not make me feel like I had hoped it would.  Instead, I thought about the yellow flowers (okay, weeds) that line my route to and from work.  The wall of yellow against the freeway, following the river bank, makes me happier than most things these days.  They are my flowers, my spring, my joy.  Today I spotted this poking through the parking lot fence:

I made sure to return and take a quick picture of it on my way home from the grocery store.  These are the things that I love deeply.  They are the everyday.  They are the common beauty.  They make this city of concrete and this world of pain a little more friendly and beautiful.  They are the free, accidental gifts of life.  They are quiet and simple.  This is what made the wedding great, the flowers stunning: the unremarkable.  The simplest things bring the most awe.

Happiness is just outside my window/ Thought it’d crash blowing 80-miles an hour?/ But happiness a little more like knocking/ On your door, and you just let it in?”  –The Fray, “Happiness”

The speed of childhood

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 “But to be most effective, the faces of the children would need to be painted in a blur, the way all children’s faces truly are.  For they blur as the run; they blur as they grow and change so fast; and they blur to keep us from loving them too deeply, for their protection, and also for ours.”  –Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 

In the past week, I got to visit my babies that I’ve had the privilege of watching live.  My baby cousins, now little boys with hobbies and voices and lives, and the children I babysit, now in preschool and building Lego houses, are not the tiny ones I once knew.  I have held them and fed them bottles, burped them and felt their tiny fingers squeeze my own.  I have propped them on my hips and stroked their wispy hair.  And now they are all walking, talking tiny people.  They like some food, hate others.  They tell jokes and giggle and tell me stories.  They say my name and climb into my lap all on their own.  In the past four years, I have stagnated and life has passed with no noticeable changes.  For them, life has made them unrecognizable.  I love their little toddler voices and the little boy stories they tell.

To see these children grow is bittersweet.  They bring us all so much joy as they develop and change.  They become more complete and whole as we watch.  I do not see them nearly as often as I would like, so each time I meet new children, find new little lives that have developed.  I watch as their scribbles straighten into shaky letters and words.  Their steps stabilize and evolve into endless running.  I love seeing them become more every day, but I miss those tiny bodies that slept and cried and just wanted to be cuddled.  It’s the pull everyone feels, every parent agonizes over: an ache to keep the baby frozen in time and an excitement to watch the child come into their own. 

I watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week too.  The Chronicles of Narnia were a fixture of my childhood.  I can remember sitting on the couch, next to my dad, in my brothers’ room, listening to the stories before bed.  But, in the scariest way possible, the memories are fading.  They stories are hard to remember, the details vague.  I can’t remember the nightgown I wore or which side of my dad I sat on.  I remember the story time, feel my heart swell each time I hear the books even mentioned, but the details are fuzzy.  It scares me that twenty years have melted away and that life will never return. 

 Watching the movie, I lost it and cried uncontrollably as the children slept on a dark beach.  They lay next to the fire, Eustace quietly crying his giant dragon tears.  I felt that fear, that pain so deeply.  I wake up and have no idea how I became this monster, this grown-up with freedom and power and authority.  I don’t know where my old life went and how I managed to let it slip away.  It is lonely and uncertain and all I can think is how much I want to be back home with my parents protecting me.  Somehow, my life got away from me.  That story, those words that lulled me to sleep all those nights, are forever a memory, never again reality.  I don’t get to go back, to return to those nights.  This, more than anything, breaks my heart. 

I marvel at the little lives I get to watch unfold.  I am a witness to their stories being written, their memories branded, their persons formed.  I love knowing more of them, privy to more of their thoughts and ideas and joys.  I do mourn the quiet, small times when they couldn’t play tee ball or chase after the dog.  I miss the soft weight of their tiny bodies curled against my chest.  I am trying to remember to enjoy them just as they are, each time I see them.  It is exciting to tell my parents about the changes they have to miss, the wonders of the everyday.  As I was told all about cars and school, I was just struck by how fast is has all gone by.  It is a reminder that each day is only here for a moment, that things change and people grow.  The first girls I ever babysat are now graduating from high school. 

The years streak by and there is joy in the changes that they bring.  The danger is not savoring the changes as they come, enjoying the process of life.  The more I drink in the present and force myself to be present, the more salient the memories become, sinking deeper into me.  Those nights, listening to stories of dragons and fauns and witches, my mind was not wandering.  I was not worried about the next day or regretting the one passed.  I was quiet and still, drinking in the story as it happened. 

“…Stop this train I want to get off and go home again/ I can’t take this speed it’s moving in/ I know I can’t/ ‘Cause now I see I’ll never stop this train…”  –John Mayer, “Stop This Train”

“My mother, that’s who I mean…”

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“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  –Washington Irving

I love my mom. 

Writing about her proves a little harder than writing about my dad because I have always been a daddy’s girl.  On the other hand, I had quite a few years where, at best, I maintained a shallow truce with her and, at worst, was furious with her.  Perhaps that is every adolescent girl’s fate.  Perhaps it is the timeless Greek tragedy, the younger determined to tear down and defeat the older.  Perhaps these are just excuses.  The truth is, I said and did so many things that I now regret.  This shame is why it’s hard to write about my mom.  I didn’t have a life-long friendship, a close companionship.  I have guilt and deep, unquenching love.

I spent a lot of time angry at my mom.  I was angry because I had two little brothers.  I was mad that she babysat other children.  I hated that she was a dedicated teacher that loved her students.  I hated that (I thought) she had all the time in the world for every other child.  I wanted her to myself.  I can seen now how much I craved her affection and attention.  She was in no way distant or absent–it was just never enough for me.  No matter how present she was, I needed more.  To this day, I don’t know why.  I may have been a deeply unhappy child, lonely and unpopular, that just wanted someone to fill that emptiness.  Maybe my jealousies just got the better of me.  Whatever the reasons, I resented her.  I also burned with hatred for her rules.  She was so strict with me, lenient with my brothers.  She was unreasonable when I wanted to go out in high school, unwavering with her rules when it came to boys.  She wasn’t like the other moms who bent curfews and trusted their girls to make good choices.

Because she wasn’t like other moms.  She has lived a harder life than I will ever understand because she shielded me from it.  She struggled more through childhood than she let me.  Her family was unstable and fractured–she held ours together.  Her mom still works endlessly to support her children–she spent years at home so we were not alone.  She saw what drugs and violence do to people, and put up her iron walls to protect us from those evils.  She is a stronger woman than I ever knew.

As I’ve grown, I’ve understood her better.  My dad told me this time and again, but I now see how deeply she loved us, loved me.  She is not an overly affectionate woman, but I never went to school without a clean, ironed uniform.  My lunch was always full and fresh, my hair washed and combed.  Our home was clean and comfortable, our homework checked and complete.  Our birthdays were photographed and Christmases video taped.  She crocheted me afghans and sewed my bedspreads.  She stitched me Easter dresses.  And Christmas dresses.  And birthday dresses.  And Halloween costumes.  She found the perfect stocking stuffers and underwear.  She made dinner every night and birthday cakes, snacks for class and cookies for the fair.  We never went without. 

I would have prefered more cuddles and tender moments.  But I see as clearly as the keys beneath my finger tips that this was how my mom loves us.  This is how she knows to show her love.  She spent every last penny, every moment giving to us.  She gives things, does things, and makes things to show her love.  She doesn’t say it often and doesn’t talk endlessly about it, but she gives it. 

As I grow older, I see what this has done to me.  I send cards every holiday.  I send gifts every birthday.  I buy things that remind me of my friends when I see them.  I don’t regret spending money on others.  I am happy to run errands for them.  I bake for people.  I do for people.  I try to be better than she is about telling people how I feel, but without realizing it, I have taken on her generosity, the physical form her love takes.

Today, I love my mother just as much as I did when I was young, if not more.  I know more of her, have had more of her, and have been given more of her now.  I like to call her and talk about the television shows we both watch.  I like sending her websites to look at.  I like making her recipes myself.  But I also love making her laugh.  I like to make people laugh in general and want to be thought of as funny, but there is a pride that comes with making her laugh that no one else gives me.  I want to make her proud.  I know that there really isn’t a lot that is remarkable about my life right now, but there was a time I loved to call and tell her about tests or papers I aced, programs I coordinated, projects I completed.

I loved her so much more deeply when I was young than I realized.  My anger and pain eclipsed my devotion to her.  Now that age has tempered that angst, that love is clear and easy to find.  It courses through me, it crosses the miles, and it beats like the life blood she infused me with.  I wish there were no asterisk to our relationship, nothing that I want to forget, but the reality is that life and relationships are complicated.  I would rather not think about the monster that I was, the cruelty that she loved me through, and focus on the now, the true friendship that we have forged.  My mom may not be the easiest person on earth to love, but neither is her daughter, and we both overcome that.  I am so proud of her, so amazed by her strength and resilience, that “love” seems too small a word, my heart too weak to hold all that I feel for her. 

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his.”  –Oscar Wilde

Malignant Anger

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“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  –Friedrich Nietzsche

Again, I planned to write about something different today.  And I still might.  But what was going to be a nice, quiet day off before my week begins started with indignation. 

I rolled over and checked my phone after hearing a text message arrive.  It was an unknown number from my home area code.  Because my brothers are in flux and their numbers could very well change, I immediately read it.  I will forever regret that I did.  The message told me to flip open and read the message inside my phone.  This happens when the message is more than 160 characters, so I assumed it was just a long text.  It also happens when I receive a photo, which I forgot.

I opened my phone to see a beaten, bloody face of Osama bin Laden and the caption, “Say hi to Allah.”  I was sickened.  I was mad.  I was horrified.  This is something I would have, and will continue to, go out of my way not to see.  This is what bothered me so much last night as I watched the news.  This is something I should not have had to see.  This is something I will never un-see.

I texted back that I didn’t know who the sender was, but that this was disgusting and offensive, all of which was true.  The response was that they typed a wrong number.  I let my fury get the better of me and  typed back that they should be proud to have sunk to bin Laden’s sadistic level.  I now feel bad about letting my anger take over.  I was about to follow that with a “but…” statement, but there is no but.  I feel bad.  There is no explanation of my thoughts or feelings that justifies acting rashly in anger.

“Anger is a killing thing:  it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.”  –Louis L’Armour

And that is the whole point.  We are cheering and celebrating more death.  We are happy that yet another life has been taken because of bin Laden’s hatred.  The United States is partying in honor of murder.  Our anger is animalizing.  It sinks us below justice to vengeance.  I do sympathize with the fact that there are still families mourning lost loved ones.  There is justifiable outrage over the destruction that bin Laden caused.  However, there is a gross baseness, an indignity to the gloating, the joy over his death.  Call it self-righteousness, call it hypocrisy, call it illogical, but I feel a distinction between a resignation that this killing needed to happen, acceptance of it, and the elation and revelry filling the midday news.  I am disappointed that we are treating his death not as closure, but as fodder for jokes.

And this disappointment, this unease, is what has been churning inside me.  But my anger was less with my unknown texter’s callousness.  It was not with their racist caption or macabre glee.  It was their carelessness.  Perhaps it is an emotional dehumanization that comes with texting.  Perhaps it is because they could not see a person’s face as they read it or hear their voice.  Perhaps it is a boldness that comes with anonymity, hiding behind phone lines and screens.  Perhaps they are just distasteful and could not care less if they said this out loud too.  I was mad because this all happened with so little care, so little thought for the consequences. 

 What I saw this morning I can’t take back.  I don’t get back that time before I saw that bloody face.  I don’t get to return to a morning where I didn’t have physical proof of the depravity of humanity.  I don’t get to reclaim my mind.  I did not want to see and read that.  I did not choose to indulge the darkness that others are enjoying.  It was forced upon me.  I was pulled into this by someone who didn’t care enough to get the right number before passing on a battered corpse’s photo.  They didn’t think enough before writing an offensive, anti-Muslim message to type the right number.  They didn’t care.  They changed me.  I am different now.  I am haunted.  I am jaded.  My day is ruined and I can’t shake the dirty feeling that photo rooted in me.  And this sender didn’t care.  That indifference, that indiscretion, that general disregard for the consequences of their actions– that, that is why I am angry today.

“What I want to do and what I do are two separate things. If we all went around doing what we wanted all the time, there’d be chaos.”  —Simon Birch

A Complex Victory

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“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible.  But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”  –Mahatma Ghandi

I had planned to write about something else tonight.  Then life happened.  While talking on the phone with my dad, the news cut in with the announcement that Osama bin Laden is dead.  For a country that has feared that name alone for nearly a decade, a name that is synonymous with death and destruction, this is huge news.  This is the only news. 

I think about the gravity of this revelation.  The man we have hunted, have feared, have loathed since September 11th, 2001, is gone.  He is no more.  His body is still, his life ended.  It is still far too early to tell what the implications of this will be.  Is the world now a safer place?  Did we crush the head of the terrorist beast that has stalked us?  Did we simply anger it?  No one has answers to these questions yet.

I am, rather unbelievably, conflicted about this news.  The moment I read the headline flashing on my television, I felt a jolt of disbelief.  I remember that morning, remember the planes, remember the rubble and tears and flags.  I remember the fear, the hope, the patriotism, and the thirst for blood.  I remember vividly the day that made Osama bin Laden a household name. 

“The world needs anger.  The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”  –Bede Jarrett

A piece of me is glad, relieved to hear that he is dead.  I feel a little safer, a little calmer.  I am not naive and know that there are still plenty of people out there who hate me because I am an American, because I am white, because I am me.  This is not the end of the story.  But tonight, as I go to sleep, I will know that there is one less monster in my closet, one less nightmare hiding under the bed.  This is not an innocent man, bullied by the big kid on the block.  This is a murderer, gone.  He terrorized the world, made life unbearable for average, innocent people.  He preached hate and lived violence.  His crimes warranted punishment. 

We were wounded, blindsided.  We wanted justice, and were willing to settle for revenge.  In all honesty, they may be one in the same.  We wanted blood for blood, death for death.  And I am not necessarily saying we were wrong.  Tonight’s news may very well be a reprieve for countless lives.  This may mean freedom for the masses.  This may have been necessary and inevitable.

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”  –Ernest Hemmingway

All of that being said, I feel a deep, nagging sadness as I watch the news.  I do not think that we were necessarily wrong.  As I said, I do feel that this was necessary, that I am now safer, if only in my mind.  However, the human part of me, the divinity within me, the heart of God calling to me, is saddened. 

I watched as crowds gathered in front of the White House and cheered.  They threw streamers, chanted, and took photos.  They celebrated.  And perhaps the joy is justified, but a man is dead.  Another person was forced to end a life.  No, bin Laden himself had no qualms about killing.  Yes, he was a monster.  But a tiny little part of me also knows that he was once a baby, a son.  He was indoctrinated, just like we all are.  He made choices, just like we all do.  He allowed a hatred to manifest in ways that we all do not.  But he was a person, a life now ended.  I have no problem with people resting easier, with a danger neutralized.  I do, however, sit uneasy in the celebration of death.  I do not know that we should have a party over the end of a life.

I feel a tearing, a pull between knowing the bigger story and seeing the bigger picture.  Justice.  Revenge.  Protection.  Necessity.  It was all of those things.  I can’t help but feel, though, that relief and jubilee are not necessarily the same.  Death and destruction are still tragedy.  The man who killed him did not deserve to be a hero in that way, deserve to have that job thrust upon him.  Whatever had to happen, I feel a deep sadness that we rejoice in murder.  That is what bin Laden did.  We did not deserve the attacks he rallied terrorists behind.  However, we also do not deserve to be a people who celebrate death, dance through destruction and revel in ruins.

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary.  The evil it does is permanent.”  –Mahatma Ghandi