Tag Archives: hope

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

Cautious Optimism

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“Hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain.”  –Samuel Johnson

Tomorrow I begin work towards a new job.  I have finished the application process and now am working on training/orientation which will (hopefully) lead to a new job.  It won’t pay enough or be predictable enough to rescue me from the grasp of retail, but it’s a start.

Last year I got really excited about a job posting that I found that was made for me.  It fit my interests and talents perfectly, but it never developed into anything, not even a rejection letter.  I let my imagination get the best of me.  I began to see a life away from retail, away from coworkers that I cannot stand the sight of and customers who make me want to throw myself from a bridge.  I imagined a fulfilling job, one that I wouldn’t hang my head in shame when I admitted to.  I let myself hope.

Tonight I am nervous.  I am worried that I will botch this online teleconference.  I worry that I will put time into this, and never get a job.  I worry that this will have been another tease, a crueler one because it came closer to reality.  I am anxious and will be happy when four o’clock comes tomorrow and it’s all over.

But I can’t help but feel a little hopeful.  I am trying so, so hard not to, but I am hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction.  It will be the death sentence to my retail life and lead to another job, a bigger step, a world that I feel more at home in.  I hope that it will bring me joy.  I hope that I love working with students online, working with writing, working on something that is not calculating coupons.  I hope that it will mean that retail no longer defines (or confines) me.  It will broaden the picture of who I am, for others and myself.  I hope that finding fulfillment somewhere will make dissatisfaction at work more bearable.  I hope that the money will make me independent, make me comfortable.  I hope that this is a sign of good things to come.

As I look at all this, I realize that it is not too much to ask and hope for.  But I am not a lucky girl, and things tend to go any way but mine.  I feel my throat knot as I try to leave those hopes on this screen, let them out of my heart and forget that they were ever there.  I need to let go of them so they don’t haunt me when they are dashed.  I am trying to get a good night of sleep, trying to clear my mind and kitchen table for tomorrow, but I can’t help but feel a tiny flutter deep inside.  I can’t help but, with an abundance of caution, feel like tomorrow will be different and better and a new start.  I am trying to ignore and release it, but for the first time in a long, long time, I am actually hopeful.

“Every so often we long to steal/ To the land of what-might-have-been/ But that doesn’t soften the ache we feel/ When reality sets back in… Don’t wish, don’t start/ Wishing only wounds the heart”Wicked

One Good Day

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“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  —J.M. Barrie

I hate my job.  I have been unhappy since the second day.  I have wanted to do more, to be more from the very beginning.  I am sore, degraded, frustrated, bored and annoyed by the end of each day.  I wake up and dread getting out of bed because I hate what’s coming.  Days off are ruined because I know what comes next.  This is a huge reason why I am in need of a life change, why I write, why I named this what I did.  My job makes me hate the general public and want to move to Antarctica and avoid people.  And I had a good day at work on Friday–perhaps my first one ever. 

Very small things added up to one of the best days I’ve had at this job, by far the happiest.  I have had days where I have been productive, days that weren’t miserable, but I can’t actually think of another day where I left happy, not because the day was done, but because the day was happy.  Nothing was particularly noteworthy, but the little things made the day,  little things that caught my attention in a big way. 

I got a free cup!  This job takes everything out of me.  My energy, my patience, my drive, my hope.  It gives so little back: no satisfaction, no challenges, no growth, not nearly enough pay.  And I got a free cup!  Apparently my manager had a stash of cups that he was supposed to give out to all of the employees for a year or so.  He kept them in his office, I would like to think out of laziness or indifference, not malice.  I would like to think that he just didn’t think that we would enjoy a tiny little perk, not that he intentionally kept a little trinket from all of us.  It is a nice cup, one that I have considered buying.  It saves me ten dollars!  I expect very, very little from my employer, and this was the most generous they have ever been.  Who doesn’t love getting something for free?

I got a compliment!  It is incredibly, unbelievably rare that anyone compliments anything.  Customers complain.  Managers complain.  Coworkers are petty.  I try to do good work and every once in a while someone will speak up to a manager, but my efforts go largely unnoticed, or at least unrecognized.  But it wasn’t my hard work that was complimented.  It was me!  I feel like a failure more often than not these days.  I feel pretty darn worthless at the end of a long day on my feet and I, like many, don’t see much that I like when I look in the mirror.  But my customer complimented me!  Not my accuracy or politeness or attentiveness.  She told me I had “the most soothing voice.”  She liked how I sound.  She liked something that is me, that is unchangeable, undeniably me.  It’s not something that I worked at or practiced or could try to improve.  It’s just who I am.  Who I am was enough, was enjoyable, was worth complimenting.

I witnessed true love!  We see newly weds and engaged couples all the time.  I see people moving in together, parents shopping for children, children shopping for parents.  I see love and affection all around me and it is rarely refreshing.  Mostly it is depressing or annoying or frighteningly insincere.  With just a few minutes left in my day, a customer came up with his phone to his ear.  This annoys me and is an incredibly rude message that I am invisible, unimportant and not worth acknowledging.  As he listened to his phone, he asked me, “Do you want to hear something funny?”  Sure, why not.  He grinned and told me that his fiancée had accidentally called him and didn’t notice.  He told me he could hear her driving and singing in the car.  He said that she never lets him hear her sing, so he was just “soakin’ it in.”  He had been on the phone for more than a half hour just listening to her sing.  It was a smile, a gesture, an indulgence of pure, sincere love and adoration.  He left with the phone still to his head, a small smile fixed on his face.  He was happy.  He encouraged me, reminded me that romance is real and love is simple.   

I had a good day.  It was unexpected, unprecedented, and unimpressive.  There is nothing about that day that, to an outsider, would appear spectacular.  It was.  It was refreshing, like the chill of walking into an ice cream shop on a hot day in the middle of summer.  I want a job and a life where this is everyday, the norm, not the exception.  This is not nearly enough to make the job worthwhile or pleasant.  It is enough, however, to remind me that the little things are important, are everything, and that they beg to savored.  Good days really can happen, if I am open to them. 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  –Anne Lamott

A glimmer of hope

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Yesterday I spent time at the beach.  I sat alone on the sand, read and watched, and then went to a movie.  By myself.  While I was hesitant to do this, I ignored the voice telling me I should feel lonely and listened to the one telling me to do what I wanted.  I felt the cold ocean on my feet and watched people parasailing, and then settled into the sand for some reading.  As I tried to get through a chapter, I couldn’t help but watch all that was going on around me. 

I had started in a fairly empty stretch of beach, but people began to close in around me.  I was close to midway between the two piers that stretch into the water and mark off the beaches.  I was immediately back in my childhood.  On a visit down here, I took off on a walk with a friend.  We rarely saw each other, but managed to have fun when we did.  Maybe it’s just the way kids are.  We walked along down the beach, talking I’m sure.  The next thing we knew we had rounded a bend and were nowhere near our parents’ sight.  In my mind we walked for hours, but I’m sure it was no where near that long.  I just remember walking, no destination in sight, no fear, no timetable.  We were probably 10 or 11, and despite how beautiful she always has been, I can oddly remember feeling no insecurity as we walked along in our swimsuits.  We had an adventure, inadvertently, and that quite afternoon is both fuzzy and salient in my memory.  I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, what we saw, but the feeling of setting out, of going, of disappearing, is more vivid than my lunch yesterday.

As I left this memory, I noticed two things I have never seen before.  I saw a seagull in the water.  It was not flying above the waves, or pecking through the sand, but standing in foam that rolled in.  It let the water wash over its feet and lifted them to stay in place as the sand rushed back out with the wave.  It stayed in the water, something I have never seen before.  Another gull joined it, and then they both flew away, but for that one moment, I was seeing something completely new and unknown to me.  Then, moments later, an orange balloon rolled through the foam.  An orange, inflated, latex balloon just rolled along and then out of the water.  It blew across the sand and down the beach.  I wonder if anyone else saw that balloon.  It sounds like something Alice would have seen, beckoning her to a land of imagination.  Nevertheless, I have never seen a balloon at the beach before.

As I sat and watched the water, I noticed a young boy out in the waves.  He stood, letting them wash up onto his torso.  I am in middle school, standing in the water with my mom and youngest brother, raising onto tiptoes as each wave broke on my knees.  I watch him alone in the water and feel for him.  Then he’s joined by another boy, neither of which could have been more than 11 or 12.  They stood in the waves together, pulling long strands of seaweed out and whipping each other.  They twirl them around and jostle each other in the surf.  Then I notice a man on the shore.  He’s taking a picture of them out there, of the moment.  I can’t explain why, but it brought tears to my eyes.  It wasn’t a baby’s first day at the shore.  It wasn’t an engagement shoot.  It was simple and quiet–unextraordinary.  It was a desire to capture this moment, this day, this child, just as it was.  I can’t explain why, but I have such deep love for those children and that dad even now.

After the beach I went to the mall to see a movie.  I have not done this on my own before and it is something I have dreaded.  I have feared the loneliness and embarrassment that would come from sitting alone, worried that everyone would stare.  Poor, pathetic girl who has no friends.  Poor thing has to go to movies alone.  So sad.  On the contrary, I was much less anxious than I thought I would be.  At the mall, parking areas were blocked off for a skateboarding expedition.  While it made maneuvering the area a little tricky, I was less annoyed than normal.  This was something else, something new, that I have not seen before.  I watched for a moment before going into the movie.

All of this is to say that, as I sat and let my mind wander, I realized that I am every so slightly closer to my goal.  I had plenty of road rage and almost slapped a couple of people in the movie, but I saw new things.  I know, deep inside, that I want to continue to see new things.  I want to experience more, to see more, to know more.  I want to see New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Time Square on New Year’s.  I want to see the glow of the Vegas Strip and the Northern Lights.  I want to cook and sew and plant a garden.  I want to do and be more.  I started writing to change my attitude, to get some perspective.  I wanted to learn to love people again, to find joy in the world.  I’m still dissatisfied with my job.  I’m still lonely in my crappy, over-priced apartment.  I still don’t really feel like the me I used to be happy with.  Yesterday I really enjoyed being here.  I have a long way to come, but I have hope.  I have seen a glimpse of what life can be like, of the adventure and joy it can bring.  I have been reminded that this process and road are long, but there is progress.  Somewhere, in some way, my attitude is changing.  That’s really all I can hope for. 

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”The Shawshank Redemption

In a Past Life…

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“Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart.”My So-Called Life

Yesterday I saw my high school Algebra teacher.  He was accompanied by his wife, who also worked at my high school as a counselor and vice principal.  This would be unremarkable if I were in my home town, but I was at work 600 miles from home.  I second-guessed myself when I fist saw him, but his wife was unmistakable.  I wanted to find a reason to speak to them, knowing that a decade after I took his class he would have no reason to remember me, but was busy with customers. 

My mood lifted when I saw them, a piece of home where I never expected it.  Finally I approached his wife and introduced myself.  She was never my counselor, so she also had no reason to recognize me.  When I told her my name she smiled and said that she remembered it from my time at the school.  While this may have been polite courtesy, she then asked who my parents were and nodded as I named them, making connections in her head.  Finally, she asked I attended the elementary school that, in fact, I did attend.  She laughed and said that she knew me through my sixth grade teacher, her close friend and walking partner.

This whole interaction left me glowing.  A woman who had no business knowing me and, in fact, did not know me, somehow knew who I was.  She remembered my name, my history, my people.  She could have feigned recognition, but she knew me through a teacher that I loved.  There was a time in my life when I was someone people knew.  I was involved, a leader, someone who stood out.  For twenty-two years, I was noteworthy.  I’ve spent the past three years being reminded how unimportant, unremarkable, insignificant I am.  I am surrounded by people who do not know my name, even when I am wearing a name tag.  I have come to have a hard time discerning which me is the real me, which is the fraud. 

Tonight I spent time with some friends from college.  I met many of their new friends, most of whom are pursuing post-graduate degrees or are working in fulfilling “real” jobs.  I felt out of place, embarrassed whenever I was asked what I do.  At the same time, I talked with new people, asked about their lives, was engaging and enjoyed getting to know them.  In a moment of clarity, I saw the me that used to be confident, personable and social.  I saw the person I used to be, that person that relative strangers knew.  Inadequacy quickly took over and I was ready to hide in my anonymity soon enough, but for a few minutes, the old me surfaced. 

On the way home, my friend played a “sweet” song for me.  Not being a fan of country music, I was biased and not incredibly inclined to listen, but I gave it a shot.  My polite patience turned into almost immediate tears.  The song was “The House That Built Me,” about going back to your roots when you’re lost.  It’s about revisiting a childhood house, but it’s so much more.  It’s finding the place that created the person you are, the world that bore you.  Finding that origin, that point of creation, might bring back the person we’ve lost. 

While there is a powerful healing that comes from visiting my house, home is much more.  Home is seeing the friends who knew me when I worked hard, achieved high and led my peers.  Home is seeing my parents, getting notes from them in the mail.  It’s seeing someone who knew you by reputation, who remembers you a decade later, and gently reminds you that you are someone worth seeing. 

I was someone important, someone impressive.  I do not say this arrogantly or lightly.  I say this because I was reminded, by a piece of home, of who I used to be in my past life.  I say this because I hope, deep inside, I still am. 

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/ This brokenness inside me might start healing/ Out here it’s like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself…”  –Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

“Will you keep out all the sadness?”

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“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” —Vincent Van Gogh

For a little more than a week I have felt like I’ve been walking around under a dark umbrella.  For one reason or another, internal or external, I have just been down.  A part of it is loneliness.  I miss seeing my family and as I get closer to visiting them, I realize how much I really do miss them.  Part of it is spending a holiday alone and at work.  Part of it is having friends cancel plans and be in funks too.  Most of it is just me.

I have always been an internal processor.  I like talking through things with people I trust, but I never get as deep, as analytical as I do in my own head.  I have also always been overly sensitive, always taken everything personally.  There is no other way that I take things.  An unreturned phone call indicates that a friend is tired of spending time with me.  The small things become huge. 

Spring has begun to emerge and with it comes unpredictable weather.  I love the rain, love cozy, cold weather.  Yesterday, as dark clouds hung over the city and the rain began to fall, I realized that I felt as cold and dark as the sky.  I felt down, falling, disconnected.  I enjoyed time inside, warm and lazy, but it was a rare occasion when the weather didn’t so much get me down, but it reflected and intensified the heaviness I was feeling.

I watched Where the Wild Things Are this weekend.  It is a beautiful movie, but much like the rain, it is dark.  The colors are bleak and muted.  There are instances of striking color and contrast, but it is mostly a shadowy, dim film.  It is visually really beautiful, but something about the story and look really made me deeply sad.  It is a lonely movie, filled with people aching to belong and be wanted.  It just hit the wrong, or right, spot.  One of the first things one of the massive Things asks their new king is, “Will you keep out all the sadness?”  It’s the question we all ask, every time we forge a relationship, every time we spend money, drink, eat, create, pray– will this keep out all the sadness? 

I spent some time talking with a good friend that same night.  We caught up on life a bit and one of the things that we commiserated on was our ability to assume the worst.  We talked about how quickly we jump to the worst case conclusion, specifically with respect to relationships.  I have done this a lot lately with friends in general.  I assume they judge, they tire, they despise, they regret.  I assume that I am a problem, a burden.  Part of this is the dark mood I’ve been in, but part of it is just the core of me.  It’s been a week with a lot of tears, a lot of exhaustion.  It’s tiring to feel sad.  The energy drains from you, leaving heavy fatigue. 

Then today I ran out to the post office.  It was sunny and breezy, with warmth just beginning to cut through the morning.  The radio started up with Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day,” the most upbeat song about exactly how I felt.  “They tell me your blue sky’s gone to gray/ They tell me your passion’s gone away.”  There was something uplifting about singing along with it as the song played on.  It was followed up with Jimmy Eat World’s “It Just Takes Some Time.”  As I sat at the stop light, feeling sun on my arms, the words just spoke deeply into me.  All of the sadness, the darkness, melted away as I listened to the song tell me to not do exactly what I had been doing: don’t write me off.  Hang in there.  Trust that it really is going to be fine.  Trust that time changes things.  Sometimes it takes something really small to change a person.  I had a nice, joyful day after that.  I enjoyed company, the sun, walking around a beautiful city, coming home and resting.  There are still plenty of things that I am worried about, insecure about, hurting because of, but it feels so much brighter, easier.  I just needed a little reminder to lighten up.   

“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet/ It’s only in your head you feel out or/ Looked down on/ Just do your best, do everything you can/ And don’t you worry what their bitter hearts are gonna say/ It just takes some time/ Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride/  Everything (everything) will be just fine/ Everything (everything) will be alright.” —Jimmy Eat World, “It Just Takes Some Time”

“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

Betting on 2010

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“New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.”  ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

2010.  A new year has begun.  I have not written yet, which is less disappointing than I thought it would be.  There has been a lot that has happened and inspired me to write, but I don’t feel the need to berate myself for not writing.  Perhaps 2010 will be a more forgiving year than 2009.  One can only hope.

This year began in spectacular fashion.  On a cold, clear night, under a blue moon, I welcomed a new decade surrounded by friends.  No matter how cliché, it truly is a special thing to think of the year starting with a blue moon.  It shone brightly, lighting our walks to and from the bar.  It heard our laughter and listened to our excitement.  It saw us look to the next year with hope that it would be better than the last.  Not that 2009 was all terrible, but the world as a whole has seen better days.  Very few would say it was the best year of their lives.  I would not be among them.  After leaving my family behind and returning to an empty apartment, I was exhausted and content to relax and enjoy a quiet night.  I think it would have been nice and nothing I would regret, but I’m glad that I opted for a  little more excitement.  I spent the evening with girls that I love and am loved by.  I spent it laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath, working my core harder than any workout.  I spent it surrounded by warmth and joy and people who know me at a time when I forget who I used to be.  I spent it with friends.  As the sparkling ball descended on television, we turned down the volume and rang in 2010 with Journey.  Nothing could capture the new year, our optimism and hope, our faith that this would be better, than singing at the top of our lungs, “Don’t stop believin’!” 

Since that night, the year has been good and bad, joyous and tragic, as all other years before it, and all years that will follow.  I still hold out hope that it will be a better year.  It has to be.  Or, rather, I have to hope.  If we didn’t hope, we wouldn’t have a reason to wake up, to do the things that perhaps did not end well before, that disappointed and frustrated us last year, hoping that this time it will be better.  Hope is the only reason the human race continues.  Hope is a powerful thing, bred into us.  It’s the magic of New Year’s Eve.  We all need new starts, second (or third) chances.  We all need clean slates, but they are only useful if we have the hope, the confidence, the faith that this time, we might do better.  We hope that next year, we might not need them.  We hope that instead of rushing to start over and put the year behind us, we will wish it a fond farewell and hope that the next year will be just as good, because it couldn’t possible be better.

This image of persisting hope appeared again in my life today.  Today we went to the casino.  It’s interesting to see the crowd that gathers around the flashing lights and card tables on a rainy Monday afternoon.  It’s a humorous and tragic sight through the smoke and slots.  But no matter who they are, where they come from, what they own or owe or have, they all come with hope.  No one gambles without hoping to win.  They may try to keep a level head, accept losses and limit the damage, but they would not play unless they hoped to come out ahead.  You don’t try to lose.  You do it because maybe, perhaps, things will turn out better when you leave than they were when you entered.  You hope that this is your lucky day. 

That’s the thrill of gambling and the new year.  It’s the hope for a win. 

“Working hard to get my fill/ Everybody wants a thrill/ Payin’ anything to roll the dice/ Just one more time/ Some will win, some will lose/ Some were born to sing the blues… Don’t stop believin’/ Hold on to that feelin’…” –Journey

JOY to My World

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“Even stop lights/ Blink a bright red and green…”  –Silver Bells

In the realm of retail, Christmas means working harder, faster, longer hours.  There is nothing particularly joyful about this time of year.  We are overworked, underappreciated and often the target of Scrooges, Grinches, and people simply tired of lines.  It’s not the happiest season of the mall.

The other night I was leaving my job at midnight.  As I walked to my car I reveled in the stillness and quite of the empty parking lot.  I drove down the length of the mall, a little irritated at the late hour, ready to be home and in bed.  It was a striking sight, however, to see the empty street.  No cars lined up for spots or shoppers dashing across streets.  Bags didn’t cram carts and noise didn’t bombard my ears.  It was literally a breath of fresh, cool air.  Despite the oddly pretty solitude of an empty mall, I still resented working so late.  As I came around a bend in the road, all that frustration and cynicism and ugliness melted away. 

Through the buildings, I could see the Hilton hotel.  Illuminated in its windows was “JOY.”  Simple, succinct and glowing before me was a reminder of what Christmas really is.  This is a time of pure, true joy.  It’s surrounded by family and traditions that I cherish.  It’s a time when friendships rekindle and people want to be close in ways they don’t at other times.  It’s delicious food and presents and parties.  But, more than anything, it’s hope.  The birth of Christ meant hope for mankind, for a broken people.  It is hope of relationships being mended with our Creator and each other and a hope of life.  There is nothing more joyful than hope. 

I have found myself feeling especially happy lately.  It has been a lasting, deep happiness that I don’t really remember enjoying throughout my life.  I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that this is a time of year that I love for the aforementioned reasons and more.  It’s also the result of different friends and interactions and reflection.  But it’s a feeling that, more than anything I think I’ve felt before, feels like lasting joy.  It was such a small reminder of the big things in life.  Not the customers who complain and cut in line, or the inadequacy of my Christmas budget.  I have a family I love, friends that I love, a job and home, food and health.  There is no reason not to be joyful.  I know that sounds so trite and insincere, but seeing it blazing across a building, I realized that Christmas is above all a time of joy.

“Tis the season to be jolly and joyous/ With a burst of pleasure, we feel it all right/ It’s the season when the saints can employ us/ To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive…”  –The Muppets’ Christmas Carol

A Season of Potential

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“Mary, did you know/ That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?/ Did you know/ That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?/ Did you know/ That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?/ And when you kiss your little boy/ You’ve kissed the face of God…” –Mark Lowry

I love the Christmas season.  Advent does not even seem long enough to prepare for Christmas.  A mere four weeks simply does not give enough time to be ready for the holiday.  I have always loved Christmas, as far back as I can remember.  I’m sure that the showering of gifts didn’t hurt my childhood love of the holiday, but there is so much more to it than that. 

I love the preparation for Christmas.  As I think about my family’s traditions, so much comes to mind that I will have to save that for another night.  So full of nostalgia and comfort, our rituals are as much a part of the holiday as the date itself.  I love the closeness of people, the openness and generosity, that surrounds the holiday.  I love the food, the celebration and joy that surrounds the day.  And I especially love Christmas carols.

Working retail has almost broken me of my love for Christmas music.  For a holiday that is deeply religious in its origin, there are few songs that are strictly secular.  Those few are the ones that repeat all day long in the store.  They are jolly and festive, but rarely as moving as those that at least mention, if not celebrate, the origin of the holiday. 

Today, for the first time this season, I heard part of Mary Did You Know? on the radio.  This song, first introduced to me in Catholic elementary school, has always moved me.  The lyrics are beautiful and the song is almost haunting in its questioning.  Did she know that the baby she carried would be who He was?  I have studied the Gospels in detail and I know the stories of the Nativity relatively well.  Biblically, the angel came to her and another visited Joseph.  Sure, they got the jist of what was to come, of how much this child would change their lives.  So little scripture is devoted to them and the start of their family, that it’s easy to over-simplify the gravity of their situation.  I wonder how much they really understood. 

This song hits so deeply at the personal side of the story.  I think this is probably why I find it so moving.  My dad has told me that as a parent it is a completely different experience to listen to the lyrics.  Did that girl have any idea what she and her little boy were in for?  As she felt Him grow, as she gave birth, as she held and fed and bathed Him, did she have any idea?  Could she have foreseen the crucifixion when she washed His scraped knees?  Did she really understand the incarnation of God in her baby?  Can anyone wrap their mind around that in a finite way?  Or was she just a new mother, glad that the child was alive and had ten fingers and toes? 

I spent Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle and my two young cousins.  One of my cousins just turned five and the other one.  They are such tiny people, already forming personalities.  They have opinions and ideas and tell stories.  Despite these things, they are so unformed.  There is so much more about them that will develop and grow and define them.  It’s exciting to think that they are just starting to become actual people, to be more than cute little talking dolls.  I don’t see them as often as I would like, so when I do, they are so different!  They change and grow so quickly, and I’m excited to watch them grow up.  The older they get, the more excited I am to know them and witness their lives unfolding. 

I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt the same way.  Did they revere their son and see Him as God, or did they get excited when He started to become someone.  Did they know He was destined for things that the word “great” doesn’t even begin to describe, or was is just fun to hear Him tell stories and be excited over bugs and leaves and every little that caught His eye?  I know that Christianity, and particularly Catholicism, place Mary in high esteem and like to think of her as holy and special.  I do not think that she was unimportant or ordinary.  I do think she was human.  I think it makes the story so much better to think of her that way.  She was a young, first-time mother who knew her baby was different, knew that she was different, but couldn’t possibly know the big picture.  She was a mom.  It had to have been hard and tiring and exciting and scary and joyful and frustrating and everything in between.  It had to have been fun to watch His hesitant first steps and hear Him talk about His friends and watch Him be a big brother.  The biggest part of the miracle of Christmas, the part that is so important, was the humanity.  God became human.  It’s a much better story when His parents are too.

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.”  –Maria Montessori