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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

Plans

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“Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?” –Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

Today was a mess.  I was put in my place, reminded that hope is really not for me.  As my three o’clock meeting approached, my computer (yes, this one, that works so great right now) and internet decided to conspire against me.  I spent more than an hour trying to get it up and running and online.  Yesterday I downloaded every update, ran every scan possible, and was ready for my web conference.  I had an hour to just get onto the website and, go figure, couldn’t.  I did everything in my power and ended up in tears watching a job opportunity slip away.

I quickly called into the number listed with the web address and hoped I could get by with just listening in.  I was late and missed the first minute or two of the meeting.  I took notes the best I could, scribbling every term or direction that they gave, for a program that I could not see in front of me.  I tried to calm myself and focus and planned how to best send an apology email and ask to still be considered for this training session.  In less than half of the time we were told, the meeting ended.  I apparently understood more than most of the other candidates did, who asked questions, without ever seeing the website.  I got all of the information that I needed to log on (miraculously) after the meeting ended and was able to easily navigate the training site.

I called my mom, still shaking from the frustration and emotion racing through me.  (I may have used some very, very harsh expletives when yelling at my laptop.)  I calmed down as I told her all about the frustratingly unsurprising bad luck I had.  I tried to shake the tension with a quick shopping run before rush hour set in in the valley.  As I walked down the hall to my car, one thought flooded my whirling mind.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.'” 

I have felt discouraged and hopeless about much in my life since graduating from college.  I have felt stuck, cornered in a place that I never intended to be.  I have tried, but grown so tired trying to find a way out, a way back.  At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that it doesn’t get much better than this.  So it goes.  And then, though I fought it, I allowed myself a little hope, a bit of dreaming.  And then it all failed me.  I barely made it through and it remains to be seen whether any of this will work out.  Yet in my frustration, through all my self-pity and self-loathing, I heard it:  “Plans to give you hope and a future.”

My plans are not His plans, and His are rarely mine.  Since graduating and losing (and perhaps leaving) much of my faith support system, it is far harder to hear His plan.  Perhaps I have not been seeking it, and that’s why it’s not clear.  I am still unhappy, still stressed about this new venture, but today I heard Him.  I know that, while I still doubt and fear, deep inside me is rooted this promise.  Somewhere, beyond what I was aware of or thinking about, His words echoed.  Somewhere, woven deeper within me than my skepticism and self-destruction, is the knowledge that He does have a plan to give me a future, one full of hope, worth hoping for. 

 

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

Mirror, Mirror…

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“It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy/ ‘Cause every now and then I kick the living sh!t out of me…”  –Lit, “My Own Worst Enemy”

There is a trend in music that has caught my attention lately.  I didn’t think much of it at first, but now I am struck, saddened, uplifted and fascinated by it when I listen to the radio. 

Artists are pleading, challenging, and encouraging their listeners to see themselves as worthy, as beautiful, as lovable.

I noticed it first in Bruno Mars’ sweet “Just the Way You Are.”  While the love song has been in heavy rotation and is tottering on the edge of overplayed, it still brings a smile to my face.  But flattering love songs are nothing new.  Every crooner and songbird has lauded their adored, extolled their beauty and charisma.  The part of this song that stopped me, that was sweet in such a tragic way, was the first time I heard him sing “Yeah I know, I know/ When I compliment her/ She won’t believe me/ And, it’s so, it’s so/ Sad to think she don’t see what I see…”

The next time my ears pricked up was when Katy Perry’s “Firework” picked up air time.  I am disinclined to listen to her songs, not really wanting to hear about how hot “California Girls” are or think about “Teenage Dream” intimacy, but this one was different.  The first lines caught my dissatisfied attention in that eerie, unexpected way that  feels invasive, like someone has dug too deep and knows too much.  She sings, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/ You’re original, cannot be replaced/ If you only knew what the future holds… Cause baby you’re a firework/ Come on show ’em what you’re worth.”  The same reassurance, same words of wisdom echo: you’re worth more than you know.  You don’t see what everyone else does.  You are special.

And then Pink hit the airwaves.  Her cleaned up lyrics hit home the same painful, imploring message in “Pretty Pretty Please (F*ckin’ Perfect).”  “You’re so mean/ When you talk/ About yourself/ You are wrong/ Change the voices/ In your head/ Make them like you/ Instead/ So complicated/ Look how big you’ll make it/ Filled with so much hatred/ Such a tired game/ It’s enough/ I’ve done all I can think of/ Chased down all my demons/ See you do same/ Pretty, pretty please/ Don’t you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re less than/ [Less than] perfect/ Pretty, pretty please/ If you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re nothing/ You [are] perfect to me.” 

These singles top the charts surrounding a heartbreaking, albeit unsurprising, poll that Glamour conducted.  Women are mean, catty, cruel and judgemental.  They are critical and superficial.  They know how to hit where it hurts and they are relentless.  And all of this brutality is aimed at themselves.  We berate and tear down daily, telling ourselves over and over again that we are not enough, we are not okay.  It’s the scene from Mean Girls when Cady watches her new friends stand in front of the mirror after school and dissect what they see.  She says, ” I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.”  From early on, everything and everyone around us tells us to take a close look at our appearances.  A harsh look.

This is why, I think, the songs are so poignant to me.  I am one of the 97% of women who are self-haters.  I know what it is to think that I am not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not tan enough, not short enough, not blond enough, not everything enough.  Not enough to be beautiful, to be liked, to be loved, to be popular, to be noticed, to be acceptable.  I know those thoughts, the ones that trickle down, seep in, and become a part of my being, pulsing through my vein.  Those thoughts that we call “realistic,” we accept as normal, and apparently are, are stifling.  They are heavy, a darkness that weighs down the light and confidence that we try to project.

The irony is that, while I may snip or gossip, my hatred is mainly turned inward.  I don’t pick at the size of a stranger’s pores or their hair frizzing or their thighs or chipped nails or crooked teeth.  They are just fine, pretty, acceptable.  They don’t live under the microscope that I do.  This is why Bruno Mars’ lyrics pierce so deep: my girl friends are gorgeous.  They are funny and smart, compassionate and interesting.  They are objectively beautiful.  And the odds are against them.  They criticize too.  It breaks my heart to think that these women I love don’t see how wonderful they are, see what I see.  And like Pink sings, it is an old game; self-deprecation is overrated.  We’ve survived the brutality of adolescence and have come to know who we are.  While that is always changing, we should be comfortable now, embrace these people we have discovered and become.  We should rest easy in these bodies that have grown out of their awkward stages.  And yet, at 26, I am just as self-conscious and insecure about my body as I was at 12.  I am not the only one.

These songs are everywhere because they are needed.  Needed by the artists who write and perform them.  Needed by the young girls and boys who idolize the stars and loathe themselves.  They are a small reminder that there are people who see us better than we see ourselves.  There are people who want to remind us that there is beauty where we don’t see it, worth where we can’t find it.  There are voices from outside our own heads, voices that do more than criticize and tear down.  Sometimes we are wrong when we hate.  We are myopic, but someone sees the big picture.  And if you, if I, still refuse to believe these assurances, then the songs do something else.  They remind us that other people feel this way too.  We aren’t alone.

“Sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison. And the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It’s good to get really dressed up once in a while. And admit the truth: that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they’re actually…beautiful. Possibly even me.”My So-Called Life

One Red Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Toy’s Story

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“We’ve done our duty.  Andy’s grown up.” –Army Man, Toy Story 3

Last week I went and watched the newest (final?) installment of the Toy Story world.  I knew going into the film that it was an emotional story for me.  Andy, like any real boy, grows up and leaves home.  He heads off to college and leaves behind the toys that defined him, the story of his childhood.  I looked back through photos that I took of my room before I cleaned it out after graduation.  I looked at my collections, my awards and pictures that plastered the walls.  My dolls, my toys, my books and movies–it was the product of fourteen years of life.  I decorated rooms in college and now have my own apartment, but nothing has ever been as truly, deeply, boldly me as that room I grew up in. 

I was choked up within a matter of minutes watching that movie.  It pulled at  my heart throughout the story.  I later read a “confession” in Entertainment Weekly by a man who had seen the film.  It was about his own emotional outburst, and those that men confessed to him they cried while watching it.  Something about the movie is so painful, so beautiful, so personal to adults.  Yes, there are moments that children are enjoying, but Pixar knew that they were targeting every person who had ever packed up toys, ever decided to grow up, ever had to become an adult.  It asks the question of what a toy really is.  Is it something that you enjoy and then put away until it’s needed again?  Does it wait for the next generation to find joy in it?  Or is it never really happy unless it’s being loved and played with  by a child?

I know that all of this is silly to question, because toys are pieces of wood and cloth and plastic.  They do not feel or think.  They just are.  But this is the whole magic of the movies.  Everyone who has ever carried a toy everywhere, who has had ongoing games and stories they imagine, knows that a toy is much more than what it’s composed of.  I think of my Polly Pockets (the real ones, the tiny ones I couldn’t play with if my brother was awake) and Barbies and Precious Places and American Girl dolls all packed away.  The Littlest Pet Shop (again, the real ones, not the creepy new generation) and Beanie Babies and Legos that fill buckets in the garage make me feel guilty.  Should we give them away?  Should they be somewhere where children will love them as much as we did?  Is it selfish to keep them for the children I want someday?  Is a toy something that we can rightfully hold onto?  The army men left because their job was done: they saw Andy through his childhood.  After that, they had no more use.  Is there truth in this?  Or do we really never outgrow our need for the toys that accompanied us through the years?

“‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'”  –Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I grew up in America.  I had parents who loved me and my brothers, who provided for us and wanted to make us happy, give us a childhood of joy.  Part of this meant that we never wanted for much.  We had clean clothes, plenty of food, shelter and attention.  And we had toys.  We had too many toys.  Many of them I would never recognize if I saw them in a thrift store, but there are many others who I can feel in my hands, who I can smell and hear and never forget.  I remember the cardboard Grocery Store my parents assembled for me.  They painstakingly kept boxes from food and resealed them so I had REAL food for the shelves.  I can remember the way my mom’s doll house she handed down to me smelled, even after I started using it more to throw clothes on top of than to play with.  I can hear the swish of the water and plastic that swirled in my little pot, made to look like soup cooking.  Nothing on earth sounds like the clatter of hundreds of Legos falling out onto the floor. 

We were raised to appreciate our toys.  We were relatively good to them.  We didn’t draw on them or leave them outside.  We loved our toys.  My brothers both had a propensity for choosing the ugliest, hardest, sharpest toys to take to bed with them every night.  We kept the accessories and pieces and took care of what we loved.  My dolls all had names.  My mom made beds with blankets and mattresses for them. 

“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?'”

Another part of Toy Story’s universality is the tragedy of it.  Again, the unnecessary guilt sets in.  We all have favorite toys.  We would be excited by new ones, revel in the adventure of playing new games, but they would mostly fall by the wayside.  I feel sad for those toys, who were wonderful and gifts and special, but not special enough.  They were fun, but not lasting.  There were so many that eventually broke, or were lost, or handed down to other children.  As irrationally sorry as I feel for these toys, I feel an awe for the ones that stayed around.  When my grandma continues to give my little brother Legos for Christmas, a little part of me stings with jealousy.  Where’s my new doll dress?  Don’t I get a new stuffed animal?  There’s a piece of me that wants to know that others recognize that child that’s still inside me, that I still love my toys, that I’m not the only one who has no idea when I got old enough to live on my own or hold a job or make restaurant reservations.

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”

On my bed right now, next to my pillow, is the Pound Puppy I got for my fourth birthday.  She is now old enough to buy alcohol.  She has been everywhere with me.  She has gone to the hospital with me when I was scared.  She left for school with me when I was terrified.  She has been dragged all over our home, shoved in suitcases, gone on sleepovers, and seen two decades of my life come and go.  When I read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit my throat tightened.  My dad told me that the last time he saw Nicky he got choked up.  She doesn’t look like she did coming out of that box.  She looks old.  She has almost no fur left, few of the strings that separate her “toes” and much of the paint on her big eyes is scratched.  Her nose and bow are faded.  She is dirty and stained, looking more like she’s gray on accident.  She has soaked up tears and secrets.  She has no stuffing left in her neck, the perfect place for a child to carry a toy.  She is soft and floppy in all the right places for her to fold in half and fit perfectly in the crook of my arm as I sleep.

“‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”

I know one day Nicky will have to go away.  My parents have talked about having her cleaned and preserved, like they would in a museum.  One day I will have someone else to occupy my bed, and her place will be taken.  One day she will simply not be able to withstand the demands a girl puts on her.  I dread that day and prefer to think that if she’s made it this far, she’ll make it forever.  At a time when my family is far away, she is closer than anyone else.  When I’m alone and realizing that friends are not as true as I thought, she is steadfast.  When I feel like things are out of control and chaotic, she brings me back to the simple.  When all the fears and anxieties and dreams and wishes that I build up in my head get too big, she can bring me back to the small, to the little me that made her leashes and buried my face in her tummy.  She is more real than almost anything in my life, more than cloth and stuffing and thread.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.'”

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

Just Beachy

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“I hope you still feel small/ When you stand beside the ocean…” –Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance”

The Pacific

With no work, and no friends to spend time with, I headed to the beach today.  I have been alone a lot lately and am trying to work up the courage to go and do all the things that I want to, despite the fact that I have no one to come with me.  After getting up, I decided the longest day of the year and the first day of summer deserved some time in the sun.  I planned to go read, listen to the waves, enjoy the sun and then run my weekly errands.  Because I am me, things did not go that way.

About fifteen minutes after settling down in the sand, taking pictures of the rolling waves, Murphy’s Law caught up to me.  Miscalculating the speed at which the tide was creeping in, I was not quite quick enough to pick up my things and got much, much wetter than I had planned.  So I headed back, sandy and wet, fully clothed, with a very heavy towel.  As my face heated and shame settled in for my stupidity, I remembered why exactly why I went to the beach.

I looked around at all of the people.  Some sunbathing, some walking, volleyball players and cyclists.  People come from around the country and world to see the beaches here.  All different shapes and sizes soaked in the sun, enjoying summer’s emergence from hibernation.  People didn’t come here to judge me and my wet pants.  People watching is part of a day on the boardwalk, but it’s not why we go to the beach.  There are so many weirder, louder, more baffling things there than a girl who’s wet.  While I was uncomfortable and sandy, the anonymity of crowds gave me a little bit of dignity back.

I went to the beach to enjoy the beauty of it, but also to get perspective.  The waves crash in, spreading along the sand, drowning out talk.  They come regularly, rhythmically, always.  The water stretches to the sky, and beyond.  Turning my back on the boardwalk, it is easy to forget that yards away are homes and hotels; the ocean becomes consuming.  The sky and sun  cover the sand, uninhibited and free of power lines, overpasses and towering buildings.  The sand stretches out to the piers, and deep into the water.  It continues deep beneath the small indentations my feet make.  The tide smooths it, erases the messes people make, leaving sparkling perfection.  The ocean is too big, to the point of inducing anxiety.  My heart races when I think of how small I am in comparison, how easily I could be lost if I went out there. 

And it is comforting.  I am small.  I am young.  I am transient.  The ocean in huge, old, permanent.  It doesn’t waiver.  The tide comes in and goes out every day, waves continuing their predictable dance.  Waiting to hear about this job is easier.  The cruelty of my acquaintances, whom I misjudged to be friends, is trivial.  My loneliness is lessened.  We are all small.  I remember why I live in this city, why I struggle and stress over money in order to live here.  This is why I miss my family, why I miss friends, why I stayed behind.  Sitting small in the warm sand, I remember why I love this city.  Everything else, everything that isn’t warmth and refreshing and huge and enveloping melts away. 

“You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?’

“No.”

“They say it has no memory.  That’s where I want to live the rest of my life.  A warm place with no memory.”

The Shawshank Redemption

“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”

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