Tag Archives: time

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

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All dressed up and nowhere to go

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“A father is always making his baby into a little woman.  And when she is a woman he turns her back again.”  –Enid Bagnold

I’m sitting in my stuffy room after school.  As Nickelodeon cartoons flicker from the old tv in the corner, I riffle through my closet, squeezing between the Barbies and shoes, making my way to the back.  I pull my Easter dress off of the hanger, hopping back out onto the carpet.  I pull the dress on, fluffing the sleeves that my mother painstakingly sewed, and toss my uniform aside.  Peeking from my door, I race down the hallway to the bathroom to admire my gown.  I comb my hair and make sure the bow is tied perfectly at my waist, and then sneak back to my room.  I hide quietly, listening for the familiar crack of the front door opening.  For no particular reason, with no particular plans, I sit and wait for my dad to get home from work.  Maybe it is because I think this is what a princess does.  Maybe I just want to wear my dress more than one day that year.  Mostly it’s because he’s my dad and he’s coming home from work.

I sit with crumpled brown paper book covers making my legs itch.  Binders surround me and my eyes feel heavy.  Frantically trying to finish homework before Letterman’s Top Ten, I scribble on the couch across the room from my father.  He turns on Sports Center and I continue to work, procrastination becoming a familiar foe.  He turns the volume down and begins to tell me about whatever game is being recapped.  And about his day.  And that leads to stories about college, or childhood before cable, or the years when I was too young to be up this late.  Then it’s movies he loves, the books they remind him of, the art classes he once took.  Some stories are old, ones I’ve heard a dozen times.  Others are new, adding a new dimension to this man whose known me since I was an amorphous cell cluster.  Some are favorites I love each time and others I tune out as I continue work.  Only now do I realize what a sacrifice that was, staying up so late and getting up so early, working so hard and forgoing his rest to talk with me. 

I’m hot and tired and sore and hiking the longest trail I’ve ever seen.  I want to cry and shower and be anywhere but here.  He laughs along with the boys in my class, leading the hike with them while I lag behind with my friends, hating the camping adventure.  I hate them for being with him, hate him for wanting to be with them.  I hate this trip and the nettles that scratch legs and everything.  Then he drops back, slowing himself down, leaving the guys whose company he’s enjoying, and brings up the rear with us.  He’s a favorite chaperone, and enjoys the time with the class, and decides to lag behind.

I head out to visit him at a conference.  With no work, I have nothing tying me to the city so I head out.  He has sessions to attend, but we walk through the town and find a restaurant to enjoy dinner.  We talk about our weeks, what I like to drink, my brothers, the people around us.  We venture through a park, posing with the statues we find there, snapping pictures in the chilly drizzle.  We watch a marathon of Lock Up, laughing and riveted by the documentary of our prison system.  We go to dinner at a museum, he networking and me perusing the exhibits.  I put on a dress I bought a year before but never had reason to wear.  I want to look professional for the executives at the conference.  I want to look business-like, or fashionable, I’m not quite sure.  I just know that I’m still dressing up for my dad, simply because his work day is done.  I am always a daddy’s girl.

Home

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“There are places I’ll remember/ All my life though some have changed/ Some forever not for better/ Some have gone and some remain/ All these places have their moments/ With lovers and friends I still can recall/ Some are dead and some are living/ In my life I’ve loved them all…” –The Beatles

For the first time in a couple of years I went back to my college campus today.  I needed to sign some papers in the administration building and stopped by early in the afternoon.  Almost exactly three years ago I graduated.  It’s a bittersweet feeling being back.  I try not to think about my college life and self much.  When I do, I feel like Harry Potter.  He lived the school year in a world where he mattered, where he was a hero.  Then he returned to a world where he was neglected, humiliated and ignored.  College was my Hogwarts, a place where I was someone.  I was, as Ron Burgundy put it, “Kind of a big deal.”  Now, I live a life so different, so far from that that I hardly recognize it.  I am not a leader, not lauded for my efforts, not given responsibility.  I am not surrounded by friends, cramming my schedule full and forcing myself to make time to sleep.  I spend my days alone, bored, in quiet anonymity.

I walked through the ground floor of a building to get to my office destination.  As I opened the door, I quickly wondered if I would remember the way out of the labyrinthine classes and offices.  As soon as the thought entered my mind, my body took over.  Muscle memory led me through the halls, around corners.  I walked the buildings and pathways so many times, so naturally, that it was still ingrained in me.  My home of four years has changed significantly, new buildings sprouting up and faces all changed.  Despite the new terrain, it was the same.  The bookstore smelled exactly as it did when we wandered it between classes, despite all the new merchandise.  The quiet campus still held a calm and comfort that I found in my hundreds of hours sitting around it. 

All of the memories of who I was, of what I used to do, were hard to experience.  I remembered cramming for finals, frantically finishing assignments and meeting for half-hearted group projects.  I also remembered the people whom I loved, who loved me, and the time we spent there–the hours wasted in the coffee house, lounging on benches in the sun, strolling across the plazas.  It was comforting to know that a piece of me still felt at home, still belonged on that campus.  It also stung to see the new additions, the strange faces, and know that it is no longer my school. 

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”  –Saul Bellow

For All the World to See

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“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” –Jack London

For quite a few years now, I have been fascinated with tattoos.  It started with a love of the TLC reality show Miami Ink and the slightly less engaging Inked on A&E.  For someone who does not pretend to know anything at all about art, it is simply astounding what can be done on a person’s skin.  The details, the beautiful pictures created with ink and needle will never fail to amaze me.  And while all of the artwork was incredible to see, the stories behind the tattoos were even more interesting.  People choose to alter their bodies permanently for so many different reasons!  Some do it for the sake of the art, others for shock, to belong, to stand out, to remember, to celebrate, to mourn and display.  It is so interesting to listen to what it is that each person is choosing to record for the rest of the world to see. 

For close to five years I have seriously considered getting a tattoo.  I had an image, small and simple, that was incredibly meaningful to me.  When I look back through the notes I took in college, the little cross is drawn on almost every margin in my notebooks.  There are plenty of other things that I have seen or thought about that I think would be cool or pretty or unique to get, but this one stuck with me over the years.  After this long, one would think that I would feel confident enough to actually get it, to commit to it.  One would be wrong.

A friend of mine has been talking about changing one’s name lately.  We talked about whether it would be disrespectful to your parents, who named you before anyone knew you, to decide to put aside the identity they chose.  It’s an interesting thought.  A name is just a name, and a person is who they are no matter what you call them.  Still, somehow, it seems like a name can change you.  You are so many things, but one of them is your name.  I mention this because the same idea crosses my mind with respect to tattoos.  Especially in a religious community, there is an aspect of it that feels like changing what God created.  It’s saying that the beauty of being formed in His image is not enough, that I am not enough just as I am.  I know not everyone thinks this far into body art, but it’s something that I’ve heard before.  This is aside from the Levitical prohibition against tattoos, which many people have opinions about in today’s society.

I don’t really think that God sees me getting some ink as an affront to Him.  I don’t think that what I want, an image of my faith, defiles the body He gave me.  I don’t even really worry about reactions and judgement from others, especially with the prevalence of tattoos today.  I do worry about regrets.  Constantly.  No matter how much I think about my tattoo, that little voice that always seems to whisper, “What if…?” speaks up.  What if it doesn’t look like I would expect?  What if I wish later in life that I hadn’t done it?  What if, as I age, it looks worse and worse?  What if it hurts a LOT worse than I think?  What if I don’t get one and really regret it later? 

I analyze everything so much, running over and over every possibility, dwelling mostly on the worst, that I tend to be overly cautious.  I talk myself out of things, and rarely into things, much too easily and stubbornly.  I want to take a risk and be rash.  I want to be young and make a quick decision.  I want a good story to tell.  Sometimes, I just want to not be me.  I want to know what it’s like to not think things through, to forget about consequences.  I don’t want to be responsible and reserved and just do.  I sincerely doubt that I will get up the courage and bravado to get my tattoo.  I hope that I’m wrong, but I know me and know that I’m right.  A leopard can’t change its spots.  But maybe this girl will work up the courage to slip into the skin of a braver person, leaving a scar that lasts forever.

Until I give up my love of the body art, I have come to really enjoy looking at the masterpieces that others’ proudly wear.  The nerd in me is obsessed with this site, www.contrariewise.org, devoted to literary-themed tattoos!

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  –Elbert Hubbard

The Un-celebrated Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

A World of Grief

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“When someone you love dies, you don’t lose them all at once. You lose them in pieces over time, like how the mail stops coming.”  Simon Birch

I have come to the conclusion that, once you lose someone, your life continues on in a world of grief.  Each person grieves in a different way, dealing with the loss, and they grieve differently over time.  It never ends, though.  The tears may end, the ache may dull, but we don’t wake up one day and suddenly find ourselves living the same life we had before death entered it.

I had friends who lost parents when they were quite young, but old enough to remember.  I always wonder how often they think of their parents, how life is after.  I wonder if it’s a daily shadow, something that follows them everywhere, or something that comes to them at big moments, or perhaps small ones, now and again.  Do you always miss your dad, even after your mother remarries?  Or does his birthday sting, but most days go on without him?  The first person I actually knew who died was the son of one of my mother’s friends.  The first person who died that I loved was my aunt. 

I made my way through a large part of my childhood without feeling the emptiness of death.  When it came, I didn’t know what to do or how to cope.  I wonder if anyone ever does.  I do know that I didn’t mourn then, that the death stayed fresh with me for years, until I was able to begin to cry and grieve for her.  Now she crosses my mind often, but not daily.  I still feel an overwhelming hollowness, a numb day of near sleep walking on the anniversary of her death.  It has been ten years, and I think that I have begun to let her rest in peace in my mind, but things are not ever the same.  And she was only my aunt.  My mother lost a sister, my grandmother a daughter, my cousins a mother. 

Today I made a trip to Goodwill in an effort to clean out my life.  If I am not using things, there is no reason someone else shouldn’t.  It’s a mixture of cleaning and charity.  I finally pulled a large box of recipes out from under my bed and brought it with.  The heavy box literally contains hundreds of recipe cards and is one of two things I received after my uncle died.  My mother, who has lost two siblings, does not talk about death.  She doesn’t talk about the brother and sister she lost.  This made her giving me his possession all the more meaningful.  I sorted through all of the cards right after I got them.  I pulled out dozens that I have not used, but someday might.  And then the box went under my bed.  I stubbed my toe on it, considered throwing it away, but I’ve had it for more than a year.  It’s like his mutt of a dog.  No one really wants it because it’s a burden, a little weird and impractical, but it’s his, so we hang on to it.  We love them because he did.  I tried to make a healthy decision and start a healthy process of letting go, so dropped the collection off for someone else to venture through.  And then I cried.

I didn’t know my uncle well.  I knew that he loved his fish and flowers, proudly caring for them.  He loved my grandmother and was her constant companion.  He lived a hard life of addiction and harder one of sobriety.  He talked endlessly, about anything.  He endured a long, painful death, but it was still too soon.  As I left his box behind, I felt a sense of betrayal, of abandonment.  I cried the entire way home, knowing I did the right thing, but wishing I hadn’t.  I would never use the cards, but they were a little piece of him that I had, a link to him. 

It’s best that I let that bit of him go.  It’s not really him, anyway.  There are many more things that remind me of him, more appropriately.  It just made me realize that grieving never ends.  My grandmother and her sister just lost their brother this week.  They lost a sister a few years ago, leaving them in the middle of one round of mourning and beginning another.  It’s a process that goes on until we die ourselves.  We are always with the memories of our lost one, always with their death, always without them, always a piece of them.  The world will always be one without them, one of mourning.  That does not mean that there isn’t joy in that world, that mourning does not also include rejoicing in their memory.  It just means that grief changes, evolves, and continues on in different ways.  It’s just like us. 

“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.”  –Arthur Schopenhauer

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