Tag Archives: death

“Some Sweetness”

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“Grab somebody, come on down/ Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town/ Oh there’s some sweetness goin’ ’round/  Catch it down in New Orleans…You wanna do some livin’ before you die/ Do it down in New Orleans…” The Princess and the Frog, “Down In New Orleans”

My final morning in the Big Easy started slowly.  I packed in a quiet apartment, before my hosts were awake, and thought about how quickly it all had passed.  I was so nervous about the trip, about everything involved, and now I wanted it to last indefinitely.  I straightened up the living room and tip-toed over the creaky wood floors, savoring each minute left in the city.

R and I drove back to the French Quarter for breakfast.  Early on a Sunday, it was just coming to life.  Families strolled the streets and vendors unloaded their wares.  It was just beginning to stretch out of sleep as we wandered in.  We walked down to the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi River.  It was surreal, something out of books and history, something huge and untamable.  We stood on its banks in the warming sun, staring out at the rippling water.  I may as well have been visiting the rings of Saturn.  It was all so mythic.  It was smaller than I thought, quieter, but still magical.

We walked the banks back to the historic Cafe du Monde.  Standing in the winding line, we watched people pass and eat.  We inched into the shade of the cafe, thankful for a little relief from the ever-hotter sun.  We picked our way to a table in the back, ready for the heavenly beignets to arrive.  We swooned over the cute children, covered in powdered sugar, being wheeled in in strollers.  Realizing that there is no dignified way to eat a beignet, I dove in.  R laughed as a fine, white dust settled on her black dress and I fought to find a way to bite without sugar coating my entire face.  Eating more than we should have, I finished my plate, reminding myself of Robert Frost’s insight: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Breakfast at the Cafe du Monde!

After  breakfast, we walked back to the car, taking a detour through the French Market.  Looking through used books, shot glasses, produce and drinks, I picked up a small souvenir to send home and we hopped back in the car and headed to church.  I was a bit nervous about going to church, but R wanted me to see it and I wanted to enjoy all of her New Orleans.  We pulled up under a tree and she pointed out that we were parked next to a few of the remaining Projects.  Even they were beautiful.  Red brick houses with old trees lining the streets made even the neediest part of the city enchanting.  We walked into the building and I immediately felt out of place.  After growing up Protestant in a Catholic school, I still feel unwelcome when I attend mass.  I sat alone in the pew as R ran to the bathroom, and looked around the sanctuary.  Transported back to my theology classes in college, I noticed a lot about the church without speaking to anyone.  It was bright, open.  The colors were light and welcoming.  The Stations of the Cross were closer to folk art than anything else and beautiful.  R pointed out that there is only one crucifix in the building, and it is off to the side of the altar, out of sight.  People walked around, some praying, others chatting.  The choir warmed up, piano music floating through the room.

The choir leader emerged from behind the piano, which was adorned with a Saints pennant.  She walked to the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a Saints jersey, black leather pants, and a gold chain belt.  She talked to those of us who were seated, explaining the new language that has been added to the mass and how to follow along.  She was lively and funny, engaging as she readied the congregation for mass.  Then the service began.  The music was enlivening.  The piano played, a horn and saxophone joined in, a drum kept time and a tambourine made appearances.  People sang with joy, the priests swaying at the altar as they did.  Everything that could be sung was, and it was sung with zest.  The mass was familiar but new, welcoming in ways it never was before.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer.  We sang “Peace Like a River” after the sign of peace, which was mashed up with Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling.”  It was a party, relevant and accessible in ways that I had never felt before.  The mass, which was the same one we crashed at the cathedral, was tailored to its congregation, meeting their passions and needs beautifully.

The priest’s homily hit me deeply.  Tears flooded my eyes as I realized why exactly I loved this city.  He talked about giving to Caesar what is his and God what is His.  He talked about life, how it is fleeting and the important things are what belong to God.  “Amens” filled the air as he continued, a far cry from the silent, formal masses I knew from childhood.  He talked about money belonging to Caesar, because it is stamped in his image, and us belonging to God, because we are created in His.  He instructed that we are to give everything to God, because our lives are His: money, time, burdens, joys.  As the mass concluded, the recessional hymn was a game day tradition: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  And then a “Who dat?” chant started.  R grinned widely, at home in room of people in love with life and their city.

We got back in the car and I tried to explain what I was thinking and feeling.  We drove through New Orleans and down to the 9th Ward.  She explained the Ward system, described different neighborhoods, and prepared me for what I was about to see.  As we rolled through the streets, I caught glimpses of gutted houses, rotten porches.  Spray paint still marks homes, though I didn’t even want to ask what it all meant.  As we arrived in the Lower 9th, I was fascinated by it all.  I had expected something frightening, a graveyard of houses.  I imagined dark, decaying messes, frames falling apart, destruction everywhere.  In fact, there were cute little homes, brightly colored, all over.  They were smaller than the ones on St. Charles, but I couldn’t help but love them too.  She explained that every empty lot I saw was once a home.  I saw quite a few, filled with dirt or looking like a lawn with no home to claim it.  We crept over the jagged streets and asked if I truly understood what I was seeing.  I apparently wasn’t.  There were plenty of clear lots, but there were also countless homes in fields of grass, reaching at least shoulder-height.  These were once homes too.  What looked like a house built on a lot with meadows surrounding it was a neighbor to an un-kept lot.  Then it hit me just how much was missing, what was lost.  It was weird, driving past places where people died and entire lives were lost.  We talked about whether we would come back, if we lost everything, or if we would just rather not see it all.  She showed me the homes Brad Pitt was helping rebuild.  They were cool, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the aged New Orleans.

We got back on the Interstate, driving toward my trip home.  We passed through a massive cemetery, lining both sides of the freeway.  White tombs litter the graveyard, housing generations of families together.  They keep the dead away from the mud and rain, keep them buried in the storm.  As I hugged R goodbye, I was sad to leave it all.

I tried to explain to her what I had fallen in love with.  New Orleans is a city at ease with tragedy.  It is violent.  Cemeteries litter neighborhoods.  Brass bands lead funeral processions.  Katrina still lurks, a scar that they cannot shake.  In the middle of all of this is Bourbon Street, children dancing in church, artists lining the street.  There are festivals and music, drinks for everyone and hospitality freely shown.  It is a city with every reason to mourn and fear, but it chooses life.  There is a choice to live the little time we have, to accept that it will end, and the determination to taste all that we can of this world.  The passion and zeal of the city are inspiring, it bursts with energy and celebration.  They dance for marriages and deaths, communion and touch downs.  It is the opposite of my life–vivid and electric.  It refuses to give up or grow up, greeting each day like a child: twirling through life with wonder and radiance.

“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

Ten Years

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“The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten–duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.”  –David Lloyd George

Ten years passed.  Ten years of living in a new world.  Ten years of mourning and fear.  Ten years of questions and anger.  Ten years of life and death.

I was 16, up early for school.  I showered first, early in the morning, and often went back to sleep or caught up on homework.  In a dark, quiet house, I watched the news more for the running clock in the bottom corner than for any headlines.  I was putting on socks.  All stories stopped short and footage rolled from New York, a plane collided with a building.  It was shocking and confusing, reports muddled and brief.  Could an accident this ugly really happen?  As reporters relayed what they knew, questions arose.  As a serious concern descended on the Bay Area newsroom, I became more glued to the coverage.  As reporters shared what little was known, a second plane took the nation by surprise, live.  I kept getting ready for school and remember telling my mom as she readied my little brothers in the bathroom.  I was brushed off, clearly mistaken.  I left for school and found my zero period Chemistry classroom flooded with radio coverage.  We listened as buildings collapsed.  I remember the principal making an announcement.  I remember coming home from school, canceling my babysitting appointment that night and the man not understanding why I wanted to be home with my family.

“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?”  –Alan Paton

I remember sitting in the living room that evening, watching television coverage.  The news continued all day, anchors tired and windows growing dark.  Images of the buildings, of the collapse, of people running and jumping and crying streamed.  It continued for hours, days.  More death, more destruction, more hatred.  It was all so senseless, so unnecessary.  It was brutal and cruel, targeting civilians and innocents going about life and work.  It was unbelievable.

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”  –James Bryce

Then, among the carnage, something amazing began.  People came together.  People loved and helped however possible.  People gave and gave and supported.  People were human.  In the face of blind hatred, optimistic courage poured forth.  Much like the Whos, America was about more than business and skyscrapers.  Taking away our pretty things, taking away our family and friends, would not destroy us.  We became stronger than the violence that sought to rend us apart.  There was a shining moment when all that was right with our country, all that we idealize and cling to, shone.  We were the American dream: rich, strong, generous and brave.  We were the promise for a tomorrow, no matter how dark the day.

(Frodo) “I wish none of this had happened.”

(Gandalf) “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.  There are forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”  —Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring

Life is not the same today.  The world is different than it was ten years and one day ago.  I resent that my safety was stolen, my security erased–the world is a scary place.  I resent that I can’t take liquids on a plane, that I can’t meet my parents at their gate as they arrive.  I resent that every fly over for the football games down the street stops my heart and makes my stomach lurch.  I resent that concentrate, small hatred has ruined so much for so many.  Today should be unremarkable.  It should be just another Sunday, wedged between my aunt’s anniversary and a close friend’s birthday.  It was not supposed to be this way.

“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”  –Kurt Vonnegut

And, most years, the day passes as routine.  The date stands out and a slight anxiety surrounds it, but it blends rather seamlessly with the rest of the year.  What I lost was ineffable, theoretic.  There are so many others who lost concrete, tangible pieces of their life.  I was lucky.  But this year, with the tenth anniversary, I am much more aware of the day.  I am astonished that ten years have passed, that sixteen year-old me lived in such a different world.  As I watch the memorials and coverage, I have been unexpectedly moved.  Last night I watched as four firefighters recounted the woman they saved from the tower, and how she stopped to rest as the building crumbled.  Even though they had helped carry her down, she stopped at the perfect spot, cocooning them in the stairwell and protecting them.  The tears welled in my eyes as they reunited, the four tough men stooping to hug the lady.  Tonight I watched the real-time footage documented with the fire department.  As they entered tower one, filling the lobby, my body tensed and I had to keep myself from shouting, “get out!” at the television.  As off-duty men arrived at the station and suited up, racing into the destruction, the tears came.  All of the fear and devastation came back.  The bravery and unimaginable humanity overcame me as they did then.  It was all raw and real, just as confusing and painful as the day it happened.

Ten years has been a long time.  I am a different person and the world has changed.  But it also feels like yesterday, like the dust has not yet settled.  In some ways, it hasn’t.  But today, I know that I love this country.  I love the people who love it.  I am humbled to live under the same flag that flew over those men and women who rushed to their deaths to spare others from theirs.  Today was a very different day.

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs, Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, Croats and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it, between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past, between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.”  –Bill Clinton, 1997

A Dark Day

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“In the future, can’t wait to see/ If you open up the gates for me…It’s kinda hard with you not around/ Know you in Heaven smilin’ down/ Watchin’ us while we pray for you/ Every day we pray for you/ ‘Til the day we meet again/ In my heart I’ll keep you friend/ Memories give me the strength I need to proceed/ Strength I need to believe… I still can’t believe you’re gone/ Give anything to hear half your breath…”  –Puff Daddy, “I’ll be Missing You”

September 8th is a difficult day.  It marks the anniversary of my aunt’s death, which rocked my family.  My mom’s only sister, her death was incredibly painful and something that we just don’t talk about.  In fact, her name is only mentioned with the greatest caution.  While she crosses my mind throughout the year, the day we lost her always comes with an empty ache, a fog that makes everything else so much less important.

Terry was the first person I knew who died.  I had friends who lost parents and knew of some girls who had tragically died when we were in junior high school, but no one that I knew, that I loved, that I had a relationship with, had died before.  I remember the frustration and deep, novel sadness that overcame me.  As a freshman in high school, I was in a difficult middle place between wanting to be comforted and coddled and feeling compelled to comfort my mother.  It pains me that we do not talk about her.  I hate that she is taboo, too hard to remember because she was wonderful.  I know that we turn the dead into saints, and she had plenty of demons that she faced and conquered in her life, but she became a wonderful woman.  I actually spent very little time with her, but she was an inspiration.  On top of defeating addiction, she was the mom I hope to be–she led her daughter’s scout troop, shuttled her children to archery and AWANAS, loved her grandbaby fiercely, and met the neighbor kids at the front door to pray with and for them before they walked to school each morning.  Her family fell apart after her death and now, twelve years later, I still do not see the silver lining, the reason, the good that came of all this.

This unresolved anger, the senselessness of her passing, is perhaps why I feel so unsettled on the anniversary.  As I drove to work, I was incredibly stressed and tired.  I had (big shock!) computer complications that made me miss an important conference early in the morning and was running on just a couple of hours of sleep as I left for a long day of work.  For the last month and a half, the only thing that I have listened to in the car has been the Avenue Q soundtrack.  I closed at work the night before, so I had listened to the radio on the way home because Love Line is a super secret shame of mine.  As I started my car, the radio was still playing.  Before changing over to my cd, I scanned my presets just to see what I was missing.  In a moment that makes me think that “coincidences” are just a simplistic word for God at work, the song that opened this post, good old Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” was just starting.  My eyes flooded and throat closed, but I couldn’t turn it off.  A cheesy remnant of my adolescence, this song is so full of sorrow and strikes me as painfully sincere.  It was a reminder of Terry, of her day, that sadness and anger is okay, and that her memory and legacy live on.  I haven’t heard that song in years, but it made its way, in its entirety, into my drive.  Mourning with the radio made me feel a little less alone.

As the day dragged on and the city baked in an above-average heat, the day looked to be as bad as it could be.  And then everything went black.  From Mexico to Orange County, the Pacific to Arizona, electricity disappeared.  Of course.  Because when it rains, it pours on the day I forgot my umbrella.  Sitting in the darkness, unable to leave work, I thought about the fatigue overtaking my body.  I thought about my stressful morning, about how tired I am of having the worst-case scenario always play out, and then I thought about Terry.  The day was just overwhelming.  I felt small and helpless and very, very alone.

I finally got home and quickly rounded up candles and flashlights.  I called home quickly to tell my parents I was alive and, if something more sinister struck while we were without power, that I loved them.  I settled for the most edible of my food and finally gave into the darkness and went to bed.  Laying in the still, hot darkness, willing my open window to carry a breeze instead of the roar of freeway traffic, I drifted in and out of light sleep.  I woke up and hoped that when I checked the time on my phone that the night had passed, that dawn was near.  It was 10.  I lay in sweat, near tears, and resolved that it would be a sleepless, endless night.  No tv, no reading, no video games, and no phone.  I knew I would never make it.  And so did God.  As I lay there, feeling the hot darkness crush me and my spirit, it happened.  About ten minutes after I woke up and panicked at the long night ahead, the lights came on.  My fan kicked in and the air swirled over my hot skin.  He really wasn’t going to give me more than I could bear, but as Mother Teresa said, “I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” 

I do realize how insignificant a dying computer, mean customers, no lights and a hot night sound compared to my aunt, who no long can fight those little battles.  It was just a long day,  a hard day, a day that I was more than glad to see end.  But, as I fell asleep, with most things back in order, the words of my beloved Avenue Q ran through my overwhelmed mind:

“For now we’re healthy/ For now we’re employed/ For now we’re happy/ If not overjoyed/ And we’ll accept the things we cannot avoid, for now… Only for now!/ For now there’s life!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s love!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s work/ For now there’s happiness!/ But only for now!/ For now discomfort!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s friendship!/ Only for now!… Each time you smile/ It’ll only last a while/ Life may be scary/ But it’s only temporary/ Everything in life is only for now!”  —Avenue Q, “For Now”

Unexpected Casualties

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Today, on my way to work, I hit a bird with my car.  It was bizarre and traumatic.  I was driving along, cursing how hot it was in my car and wishing the blasting air would start to cool it, and then it happened.  A small bird flew out from the brush to my right and was right in front of me.  I didn’t see it pass my bumper, and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw it tumble down to the road.  I screamed and was so confused about how I had run a bird over with my car.  I felt horrible!

I forgot all about the bird as my hectic day went on.  I got back into my car, tired and ready to be home, and left work.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, I remembered the bird.  I was saddened as I thought about it and, because my mind is frequently in hyper mode, thought about the implications.

It was weird and a (hopefully) once in a life time accident.  But it happened.  We do harm when we don’t intend to, or even understand that we are about to.  We say and do things that seem small, that appear to be innocuous, but they break and kill and wound.  You expect to hit a cat or skunk with your car, but not a bird.  They have defenses, the upper hand.  The odds were against me taking out a flyer, but I did.  So much of what we say or do has no evil intent.  We shouldn’t be able to hurt others with the little jabs, but they leave scars that never fade.  It catches us by surprise how powerful we are, how destructive we are, how fragile we are.

This should be an epiphany.  I should know that I have the ability to change others with small actions, to devastate with my words.  I should remember that the smallest gestures matter, that sticks and stones may shatter bones, but words go after the soul.  I affect others, and may not even realize when it happens.  And yet, the snarky remarks will slip (or spew) out.  The eye rolls will sneak in.  I am me, in all my cruelty and callousness.  I am more than just that: I am kind and considerate, loving and loyal.  But the darkness is there too, defines me just as much as the good.  It is also just as powerful.  If nothing else, this will hopefully cross my mind from time to time and remind me that there are big consequences to all that I do, even when it’s a little accident.

“We’re all damaged, it seems.  Some of us more than others.  We carry the damage with us from childhood, then as grown-ups, we give as good as we get.  Ultimately, we all do damage.  And then, we set about the business of fixing whatever we can.” Gray’s Anatomy, “Damage Case”

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

You gotta fight for your right to… what?

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Though violence tends to make me a bit squeamish, I devoured Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club this past week.  The vivid images he creates of fights, of the wounds inflicted, are easier to digest in words than they will be in images.  I am one of the few who has not seen the blockbuster based on the novel, though the big “shocking” revelation was ruined for me.  Despite knowing the secret of Tyler Durden, I fell into the world and lost myself in the violent freedom that is Fight Club.

The narrator drew me in with his utter restlessness.  There is nothing wrong with his life and, yet, there is nothing not wrong with it.  When he meets Tyler, his “life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.”  There is a stagnation, albeit in a comfortable home and job, that can lead to insanity.  The apathy somehow is intricately tied to rage.  I say this not as some refined literary critic, but as someone who knows this. 

Typically a “guy’s book,” this one is so familiar to me.  Not in the blood filled basements and mayhem, but in the restlessness.  There is a deep need to release all that builds up in the ordinary life.  I have a gratitude for my life, appreciation for my fortune and blessings, but also a desire to break things down.  I don’t know if it is about power, or anger, or just a need to release energy, but somewhere in the most animalistic recesses of my brain, I can identify with that need to hit, to break, to destroy.  He explains, “If you’ve never been in a fight, you wonder.  About getting hurt, about what you’re capable of doing… Tyler explained it all, about not wanting to die without any scars…”  Now, I have perhaps the lowest pain threshold on earth and absolutely no desire to get into a physical altercation, but I understand the desire to know.  I understand what he means about wanting to feel it, to experience this moment in life, to see how you hold up.  I don’t know what my correlating experience might be, if not a fight, but I do know that this made as much sense to me as one plus one equalling two.

While there are so many brilliant things that Palahniuk wrote about, the other thing that has stuck in my mind is Tyler’s justification for Project Mayhem.  He explains, “You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something.  Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need.  Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.  We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit.  We have a great revolution against the culture.  The great depression is our lives.  We have a spiritual depression.”  I know these words ring a little less true since the War on Terror began and the economy took a dive, but they still resonate.  The war is divisive, not something the nation rallies behind like they did in our history.  The economy seems to breaking spirits, but not building character.  They are not drawing us together.  They are not mobilizing us.  They simply hurt, making life harder.  We want to feel passion, feel something is worth fighting for, or against.  We want to move, to be strong, to defend and protect.  We just need something to call us. 

So we fight.  Life is easy and comfy, even when it’s hard.  We move in slow motion and need anything to pull us into real-time, to be uncomfortable.  We fight the haze that covers our day-to-day life and want nothing more to see the sun, in its blazing, burning, blinding glory.  It’s a fight to live, instead of just exist.  I get that.  I understand the desire to be pulled into the moment, out of the past and future.  I want to know how it feels to stand when I think I can’t, to bear the marks of my battles for others to admire.  I want scars to prove that I went through it, I fought and took blows, but I came out the other side; I am stronger than anything they threw at me. 

“What I’m gonna live for/ What I’m gonna die for/ What you gonna fight for/ I can’t answer that…” –Bryn Christopher, “The Question”

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

“Survived the madman’s dream…”

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

I cannot place the beginning of my fascination, for lack of a better word, but I am captivated by stories of the Holocaust.  I understand that this is a somewhat disturbing statement that, at best, requires a caveat, but it’s nearly impossible for me not to read an article or watch a show that I stumble upon about the subject.  There are two things that simply boggle my mind with respect to the horror. 

The first, and perhaps greatest thing that intrigues me is that is happened, plain and simple.  I was chilled the first time I watched footage of the infamous Milgram experiments to show the power of authority and peer pressure.  (For a rundown, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.)  I know, that on a much more mundane and miniscule scale I have gone along with my peers and failed to question authorities that I may not agree with.  I can see how good, honest men and women were swept up in the Nazi movement– to an extent.  There comes a point, however, that I like to believe my humanity would kick in.  I think that I would draw a line and stop my obedience before it got too far, if I were involved.  But I cannot say this for sure.  There is such an unimaginable darkness to the actions of Nazi soldiers, but there is a part of me that really can comprehend how it got so out of control.  Especially when it came to protecting their lives.  This does not make the whole reality of the hell that developed any less astounding.  And it happened fifty years ago.  Not centuries past, in barbaric times.  My Grandmothers were alive to see these days.  This is what I cannot wrap my mind around. 

“The children of Israel survived the madman’s dream…”

In honor of those lost, on behalf of those who live on. That we may never forget, and never allow this again.

The second thing that simply astounds me with respect to the Holocaust are the superhuman acts of bravery that took place.  The amount of hope and determination and strength that it took to endure the torture is beyond what any human could be expected to muster.  People are simply amazing.  Stories of survivors, stories of those who protected, stories of those who remember.  It is so inspiring.  That is the paradox of the Holocaust: it was literally the darkest period of human interaction, and the most glorious.  People slaughtered others with indifference at best, hatred at worst.  And people survived hell, proving that “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it  (C.C. Scott).”

My interest has not extended to everything on the subject.  In fact, there are many great stories and accounts that I have not yet encountered.  However, I would highly recommend the following films, simply for the inspiration they have given me: Everything Is Illuminated (based on the acclaimed novel), Life Is Beautiful (who wouldn’t recommend this one?), Paperclips (a moving documentary about children learning about the Holocaust), Forgiving Dr. Mengele (an unbelievable documentary on a survivor’s decision to live a life of forgiveness) and The Children of Chabannes (about schools smuggling children to safety).  There are so many others, more than I have seen, but these are phenomenal and I highly recommend them. 

I know that there was not a whole lot of reflection or insight in this entry.  It was not poetic or eloquent.  But after visiting the memorial this weekend,  this is on my mind, my heart, so here it is.

“I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Like you say, inside out. Jonathan, in this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.”  —Everything Is Illuminated