Category Archives: Holidays

“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

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some very small things

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“Our lives are made in these small hours/ These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate/ Time falls away, but these small hours,/ These small hours still remain…”  –Rob Thomas, “Little Wonders”

I tend to return from a trip home to see my parents with a certain loneliness.  It’s sad to go back to my empty apartment, listening to the roar of the freeways instead of the wind rustling in the trees.  My laptop is warm on my knees, but not as cozy as our dog curled at my side.  It can be a bit hard to pull out of this funk because I miss my parents, miss my home, and am floundering on my own right now.  I miss the security and companionship and comfort of home. 

Yesterday I decided, in order to help myself feel a little more upbeat, I would make and send some Easter packages to my brothers, who are now both away from our home for the first time.  I had the best of intentions and picked out things to remind them of our childhood Easter baskets and the excitement of that morning.  I even spent the better part of the afternoon tracking down ingredients and testing recipes for some cookies one had asked our mom for.  I didn’t make it to the post office.  I couldn’t find packaging tape.  I made some gross cookies before getting the right recipe from our Grandma and making some good ones.  And I felt like a failure.  My good intentions and high hopes were ruined and I couldn’t pull it all together.  I was disappointed and saddened, but amidst this, little things brightened my day.

I have come to really, really enjoy PassiveAggressiveNotes.com.  A lot. My best friend introduced me to it, ironically, after we reminisced about how we lived with a girl in college who only communicated through rude post-it notes.  Now I love checking in on the stellar communication skills demonstrated on the site.  As I struggled to haul my bags up to my apartment, I was greeted by a wonderful example of my own:

The envelope was clearly one sent for returning an invoice or something else to a sender.  The ample scotch tape is classic.  I love that someone else saw the note and decided to add, in different writing and ink, who the note was “From:”  And the kicker is the paper towels, torn up and tucked inside!  I should have been disgusted, for sure, and probably annoyed with my neighbors.  But I was tickled!  I laughed out loud and, clearly, felt the need to photograph it.  I loved it!  This literally made my day.

Then I dyed eggs.  I have no one to hide them for, no one to hide them for me.  I will probably not get around to eating all of them before they go bad.  But I realized that I had not dyed eggs since I was in high school, and I desperately wanted to.  So I bought some vinegar and a cheap dye kit and got to work.  I wish I could say that they were stunning.  They should be artistic, impressive, something far superior to those of my youth.  Martha has taught me better than this.  But they were nothing special, nothing exciting.

Yes, I cracked some eggs boiling them.  No, they were not spectacular.  But they made me so happy.  Knowing that they are sitting in my fridge makes me happy even now.  I am excited for egg salad sandwiches next week, because that’s part of Easter, but I’m also sad to think about the fact that once these are gone, my eggs will be white again. 

I’ve tried to find little things to make my day because the big ones seem to be few and too far between.  While creeping on a friend’s facebook page, I saw that one of her friends recommended a blog to her.  The title sounded promising, so I browsed through it.  I now love it.  I loved the pictures first, because I wish I could take good photos.  And I wish I had beautiful little girls to dress up.  Now I love reading the posts, hearing her thoughts, sometimes nearly my own, sometimes very far from them.  I highly recommend a look at Enjoying the Small Things.  If nothing else, it brings a smile and reminds me to keep looking for the little moments, the things that make days good. 

Until the big things come along with some certainty, the little things will have to do.  And that’s okay, because big things can be overwhelming and confusing.  I’m not sure what I will do with a new job or relationship or home.  I am sure that my Easter eggs make me smile.  For today, in this tiny moment, that is enough to be sure of.

“Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.” –Benjamin Franklin

One Red Heart

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OR: A DEFENSE OF VALENTINE’S DAY AND THE POSTAL SERVICE

“And none will hear the postman’s knock/ Without a quickening of the heart./For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” —W.H. Auden

(It’s been much too long since I have written anything and there has been so much that I have thought about since July.  But internet was spotty and time was wasted and the longer I wait to write, the more daunting it becomes.  So I’m diving back in because I feel and think better when I write.  I write better when I write.)

I used to consider myself a romantic.  I was a sucker for any film starring Drew Barrymore or Freddy Prinze Jr.  I gushed over boy band lyrics and was convinced that Prince Charming was just waiting to make his move.  Now I fear that I am a garden-variety cynic.  Love stories are too neat and cliché.  Declarations of love are too optimistic and blind.  And I hate Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day to remind me that love remains elusive, romance a stranger, and affection distant.  That being said, deep inside, a small flicker of the optimist remains and fights to reclaim her territory.

I am a fan of the ease technology lends to communication.  Living far from my family and old friends, it’s nice and convenient to go online and send a message, to email when I have the time, to text when I can’t talk.  However, I embrace these only because the world has moved so fast that it leaves me no choice.  I highly prefer a phone conversation to the 160-character limit of a text message.  I like the nuances of voice much more than an emoticon.  I’d rather have lunch than repeatedly message that we should.  I will never, ever, EVER embrace the electronic reader.  I find photo prints far superior to clicking through a flickr file.  Going to college gave me a new appreciation for mail.  To get a care package or letter from home rivaled any e-Card forwarded to me. 

Loving the physicality of mail, the weight of a card, the feel of tearing into an envelope lingered after graduation.  I have continued to try hard to get cards in the mail for holidays, send home a little reminder that my family and friends are on my mind.  I spend time searching for the right card for each person, choosing humor or sincerity, addressing and decorating each envelope.  I love getting mail, but I have come to love sending it just as much.  Just before Valentine’s day I was waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps.  Losing precious minutes on my day off, I stood in line for what everyone knows is far too long.  As I neared the front of the line, I saw an older woman leaning over the counter addressing an envelope.  She then turned it over and with a red marker, drew a large red heart over the sealed tab and colored it in.  This is why I love mail.  I almost cried, overcome with emotion watching her.  I was filled with love for her, for whomever that letter was meant for, for my family and friends I was mailing. 

Mail is time.  It is money.  It is effort.  I have to pick out a card, or at least find paper.  I have to put my hand to the paper, write out my own thoughts, articulate my own feelings.  I leave a piece of me on the paper, my handwriting, my words.  I put the writing in an envelope.  I lick it, tasting the glue and feeling the rough paper on my tongue.  I line up an address label and stamp.  Mail is intentional: one card to one person.  No Cc or BCc.  No mass forwarding.  No Tweeting to the masses.  I then spend time putting stickers and colors all over the envelopes, making my letters special.  I want my people, my loves, to stand out and be unique.  I can be impatient, but I also appreciate that mail is not instant– it goes on a journey, taking time to arrive.  Mail is anticipated, delivered, discovered.  Junk mail is annoying and wasteful, but it’s worth wading through for the good stuff.

This incident at the Post Office reassured me that perhaps the hopeless romantic I bragged about being in Junior High isn’t gone.  She’s wounded and scared, but she’s in there.  Like Bukowski’s blue bird, my optimist survives quietly.  If she weren’t, I wouldn’t send Valentines.  If she weren’t, that woman and her heart-sealed letter would not have been on my mind for more than a month.  I wouldn’t be bitter and resent romantic holidays if I didn’t believe in romance, feel that I am missing something.  I go out of my way to show my love, even if it is a small gesture.  Watching that little old woman with her red marker, it was clear to me how much I value the written word, communication, and love.  True love, strong and simple, is not grand gestures and big romances.  It is small devotions, simple reminders, and hand-drawn Valentines.  You can see it, touch it, read it, and send it– it is very, very real. 

“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.” –Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge!

“Land that I love”

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“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.” –Erma Bombeck

The Fourth of July has always been a small, quite holiday with a big end.  We never did much growing up.  Perhaps there would be a barbeque, some time spent by a pool, but generally it was a day spent trying to hide from the cruel heat.  In high school, I spent the day working at the local celebration at the park and since I left home I have had to work as well.  However, no matter how big the fireworks I watch are, nothing compares to a small town Fourth.

After we ate dinner, my parents would load us into the car and head down to the fairgrounds to watch the fireworks.  We would leave early, well before sunset, in order to find a good spot to set up our blanket and chairs for the night.  We collected our walkmen and gameboys and books and made last-minute requests for sodas and snacks to go in the cooler, and then headed out.  We had different friends that joined us over the years, sitting on the grassy hill, but the night was always the same.  We swatted bugs and fought boredom and saw dozens of people we knew pass  by.  We’d chase down friends and heave overly dramatic sighs when people would stand in front of us.  When the sun set and the cool drifted in, our attention would wander as we whined and wondered when the show would start.  Rogue fire crackers would sound in the neighborhoods behind us and tease eager kids.  Then, finally, the first real one would rise.  We’d lay back and watch the sky above us, ooohing and awing at the raining sparkles.  Babies cried at the loud screams and booms and for a moment the whole town stood still.  The grand finale would always come too soon and life would start again.  As soon as the last light disappeared, under the drifting smoke, we would pack up and try to beat the traffic out of the middle of town.

I’ve seen some really impressive displays since moving to a big city.  I’ve listened to radio stations sync patriotic music to fireworks.  I’ve spent the night drinking and eating with friends.  I’ve sat home, exhausted, and done absolutely nothing.  None of those nights has yet to compare to Independence Day at home, in the summer breeze, with my family. 

Yesterday I spent time with friends, and friends of friends, doing nothing particularly patriotic.  We ate and drank and played games.  We watched the boys play baseball and walked through the streets barefoot.  Unexpected and thick clouds led us to choose to forgo a fireworks trip and opt for the hot tub.  Beer in hand, we headed to the pool to talk and soak.  As we walked we listened to the crack and whizz of fireworks just beyond our view.  A sparkle or two made their way above the trees, but we saw very little.  A dozen twenty-somethings sitting around watched colored clouds reflect the celebrations as the displays went on.  A barrage of booms signaled the end, the best of the night.  With no prompting, with no explanation or expectation, one of the guys began to sing.  By the second “America,” we were all singing along.  Perhaps it was the alcohol, the day, the way we were raised, or just an authentic feeling of love for our home, but no one hesitated to sing along.  We finished our verse just as the last fireworks echoed across the neighborhood, and just as quickly went back to our conversations.

Perhaps these simple holidays are a little more patriotic than I give them credit for.  Sitting on a street with family.  Walking and talking freely with friends.  An abundance of food and drink and laughter.  Fearlessly going out into the night.  This is the Fourth of July, what our nation is.  We don’t fear war or occupation in our back yards.  We don’t cower under dictators or hide from the military.  We live free and joyful, boldly and hopefully.  This country is not perfect, and I am not always as grateful as I should be for its gifts.  While I was not at home, last night was an unforgettable birthday celebration for my home.  Being alive and young and free is worth celebrating.  Having a home that allows us to be who we are, fights for us to be safe, protects our right to be happy–these are things worthy of our gratitude.  Voices raising in the darkness, singing through the night about a country that, for better or worse, we love?  That’s what the Fourth of July is all about.

“America!  America!/ God shed His grace on thee/ And crown thy good with brotherhood/ From sea to shining sea!” –Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”

The Ring and The Cross

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“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.”  –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means.  It means something slightly different every year that passes.  In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before.  When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal.  The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year.  I mean something different. 

This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds.  The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence.  While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated.  I flashed back to my Senior year of college.  As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity.  The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me.  We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced.  I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it.  After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death.  It just sat entirely wrong with me.  Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different.  I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island.  Life is different this year.

Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays.  Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster.  All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King.  The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter.  As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art.  Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight.  He is similar to Jesus, but so different.  They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry.  They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.”  They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved.  Frodo is much more human, in some ways.  Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions.  When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind.  He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to.  We are weak.  No matter how noble the intent, people are frail.  Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road.  There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness. 

I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan.  As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me.  Lewis is brilliant.  The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table.  This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone.  The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught.  He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.”  This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus.  There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories.  As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me.  He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way.  It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest.  He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it.  He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious.  This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful.  He didn’t do something that was easy.  It was scary, and He wanted out.  He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting. 

I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history.  I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort.  I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body.  I know fear.  I know loneliness.  I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears.  I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost.  I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone.  Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel.  He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves.  He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain.  While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel. 

Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death.  He died.  A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died.  He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation.  He died.  He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me.  His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus. 

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”  –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Un-celebrated Birthday

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“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents… and only one for birthday presents, you know.” –Lewis Caroll

I have found a perplexing phenomenon among my friends: they do all that they can to avoid celebrating their birthdays.  While we are entering our mid-twenties, which is a bit disheartening, it’s not that we are too old to want to talk about our age.  I miss being in college, wonder what happened to the past three years, but I am not avoiding my age.  I don’t know what it is that causes this problem with birthdays.  For that matter, I don’t even know what the problem is.  It could be the ambivalence we all feel about aging and facing our own mortality.  It could be embarrassment when people throw parties and have waiters sing.  It could be wanting to appear cool because no one else wants a big celebration, so they have to fit in.  I really can’t make sense of it.

I love birthdays!  There are few things more worthy of celebration.  I firmly believe that a birthday can, and should, be stretched for a full two weeks: the week prior to and the week following the actual day are fair to claim.  I had a friend in college who celebrated her birthday month, and I love her for it.  It’s a day that is yours, specifically and intimately.  You entered this world on your birthday.  After months of waiting and preparing, your parents welcomed you, literally labored to meet you.  You share the day with them, but it is yours.  It is a day to recognize what your life has been, what it will and can be.  Perhaps this is the depressing point that causes some to shirk the day, but I think it’s the hopeful, beautiful part.  It’s a time to revel in the love that others feel for you, the beautiful uniqueness that is only you.  Presents are always a plus, and who doesn’t love cake? We live in a world that does all that it can to bring us down, instill fear and blend us into faceless demographics.  We are reminded on a regular basis that, by and large, we are not special.  One day each year, that message is erased.  We are special.  We are something to celebrate, simply for being alive.  The act of living, to being who we are for another year, that is enough to warrant a party!

Today is my uncle’s birthday.  I hesitated for a moment and almost said “was” his birthday.  The reality is, despite the fact that he died, this will always be his day.  He won’t be blowing out candles or opening gifts.  I did not send him a card and my mom will not call him.  All of that is irrelevant.  This is still his day.  We are all still thinking about him, about who he was and the years that he lived.  We are celebrating all that he was, even if it is without him.  Your birthday does not stop being your birthday just because you also had a deathday.  He was born.  He was David, a part of the world, of my family, of me, and that will always be worth celebrating.   

“This is the start/ This is your heart/ This is the day you were born/ This is the sun/ These are your lungs/ This is the day you were born… These are the scars/ Deep in your heart/ This is the place you were born/ And this is the hole/ Where most of your soul/ Comes ripping out from the places you’ve been torn/ And it is always, always, always yours…” –Switchfoot, Always