Friday, September 25, 2009

Is That It?

One of our weekly rituals occurs on Wednesday evening . . . Kevin and I snuggle up to watch "Ghosthunters" -- about two Roto-Rooting plumbers by day, turned paranormal experts by night. I'm really rather obsessed with anything relating to ghosts. I can't get enough of ghost specials such as on Discovery or Travel Channel. It appears as though Jason and Grant (the co-founders of TAPS - The Atlantic Paranormal Society) also have their rituals. Almost every week they split the hour into two separate ghost-busting visits. And as they drive away from the client meeting of the first location they bump fists and Jason says, "On to the next." This always amuses us . . . I'm not completely sure why.

The other repetition that I've noticed lately happens while they are taken on the tour of the location that they are about to investigate. The client relays various stories to TAPS of the types of paranormal experiences that have happened in that particular room or area and Jason invariably says, "Is that it?"
Now, I'm sure that he doesn't mean for this to sound impatient, snotty, or condescending. He's just a to-the-point kind of guy and is most likely wanting to not waste any time. But that specific phrase has a rather touchy connotation for me. It rubs me the wrong way.

A few years ago I was looking for a job and was having a difficult time of it. Not so much in the way of actually finding something, but more in that I was struggling mightily with a bad self-esteem, lack of confidence in my workforce capabilities, social anxiety, and fears beyond what I could even explain. I had just signed up with another one of the temp agencies in town and shortly after they landed me an interview. I will not mention any names, so as to not "burn any bridges." I hadn't honestly done tons of interviews and my anxiety was exploding through the top of my curly head. You must know that job interviews are pretty much what I hate doing most in this world. :) So as you can imagine, I was full of dread.

I tried doing everything I could think of to help. I had already done preparation work -- practiced questions and answers, learned a tiny bit about the company, etc. And now I was trying to take at least one deep breath, pray, and tell myself that it will be just fine, no matter what.

As soon as the lady came out to the lobby to get me I got very bad vibes from her . . . you know, the kind of vibes that say, "Great, another peon to deal with. I'd like to get this over as soon as possible. If she thinks I'm going to go out of my way to make her feel comfortable, she's delusional."
So, let's just say, the lady wasn't terribly nice, or welcoming, or chipper. She looked as though I had already annoyed the hell out of her. Greeeaaaaattt, looking forward to this interview! As she perused through my resume, she asked a couple questions about past work history. I answered. And then she paused briefly, still looking at the paper in her hands, looked up and said, "Is that it?"

Huh? Is what it? Oh, my work history? I realized that my resume was basically a piece of poo on paper . . . and simply said, "Yep." What else could I really say? Oh, I'm sure a lot of people would've come up with a way to turn it around and inform her of the many reasons why they're qualified, but that's not me. I'm not good at advertising myself. I never have been. I hate feeling pushy, aggressive, or like I'm bragging. So I have always gone far, probably too far, in the other direction. I couldn't think of anything else to say at that time. I was still pretty new to all of this and I wasn't savvy, due to a lack of experience. And I felt ridiculously stupid.

I could tell within a couple minutes of the interview that this would be the last place that I'd want to work. I was determined to do the best that I could, however, and just see what would happen. But when this occurred I felt defeated. I felt like a complete loser. I tried to be upbeat and attentive the rest of the interview, but I could tell it wasn't going anywhere. Sometimes you just know. I could tell they wouldn't even consider me. But I sat there, nodding my head, feigning interest, and mustering up a couple questions, hoping that they would just let me go, so that I could go home and have a nice, fat, much-needed cry.

A day or two after, I got a call from the temp agency. "Um . . . they weren't impressed," she said. I just kind of chuckled and said, "yeah . . . I could tell." And the truth is, I wasn't impressed with them either. They were very cold and aloof and didn't ask me very many questions. They instead rambled on about how wonderful their company was and how it's grown so much, etc. Course, maybe they didn't ask many questions because they already knew that they didn't want me. Who knows . . .

Is that it . . . I can't tell you how many times that phrase has come back and haunted my thoughts, spooking away the confidence that I've been building. That's one of my
Ferocious Crap Moments -- the kind of bad moment that changes you and has a powerful effect on you. Yep, that's definitely one of mine! It's taken some work to shrug that one off. And sometimes I still have to let it go when I let myself start to believe that I am nothing more than the little, unimpressive person that they saw. Sometimes I look at myself as the shy, pathetic, nerdy girl that some people view me as being. But I'm not that, at least not entirely. Yes, sometimes parts of me are those qualities that are unimpressive. But that's not all. Sometimes parts of me are the impressive qualities that those who know and love me see. But that's not all either. Sometimes I'm simply in between. In fact, this is probably where I reside most -- not outstanding, not pathetic. Just normal. Just human.

I think our society caters too much to the extremes. Everyone is labeled as either a Rock Star or a Peon. An Admirable Human Being or a Degenerate. Why isn't it okay to be somewhere in the middle? Why isn't it okay for someone to encompass lovely qualities as well as some that are unlovely? None of us are perfect. We all have our strengths and our defects. We are never just one thing or one way.

I have struggled with a beaten down self-esteem since I was 12. It has only been in the last two or three years that I've made significant strides to changing this (I'm almost 29, by the way). I understand what it's like to hate yourself and see yourself as worthless, deserving nothing good. I have seen this in other people too, and I know what pain they feel. In fact, I feel pain
for them.

Do you think God looks at any of us and asks himself, "Hmmm, well that's nice, but . . . is that it?" The God that I love would never have such a limited, finite view of us. (That's what we tend to do to him.) No, I think he looks at us and sees everything that we have been, everything that we are, and everything that we can be. He sees every possibility in us . . . our fullest selves. And he must ache for us to see that in ourselves. It is true: we are our most devilish critics. But know this . . . you are more than your accomplishments, more than your flaws and deficiencies. You are a spirit full of life and love, with the potential for more than you can imagine. So, is that it? . . . not in the least!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Cover me in sweet surprise
Free of regimen and raw election
With soft protection
From light
From heat
From hollow wind
I am tired
I am worn
Sometimes we need the darkness

Monday, September 21, 2009

Scars and the Real World

Kevin and I finally watched yesterday a movie that we'd been wanting to see for ages now . . . "Lars and the Real Girl." Any time a more quirky, independent movie comes out, you can bet we'll want to see it. We love movies that are quirky, darker, and unique (yes, and even downright weird). And not just for the sake of being different, but because those are the types of movies that we relate to more -- the types of movies that more accurately reflect who the two of us are as human beings. Neither of us fit terribly well into the mainstream. We're like the two random trout that swim upstream, in a school easing down.

I have always felt like an outsider, sometimes, even in my own family. I have never really felt like I fully belonged anywhere. I have a close family; I have friends; I have acquaintences. But in every group that I find myself, I feel as though there is some part of me that is hidden. I think that part of the reason for this is because I AM different. Everyone in this world is unique and has been made to be a special individual. I don't mean to diminish that. But there are some people that are so completely different that they cannot function within the "norm" at all. I'm not THAT far out there. I can certainly function. But I usually do end up going against the "norm" and doing my own thing.

My favorite quote of all time, from the moment that I heard it, is from a beautiful transcendentalist spirit, Henry David Thoreau:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

If a single quote can sum up the whole of me, then this is the one. It's meaning has given me great comfort and hope through many times of feeling lost, feeling like a loser, and feeling stupid. I honestly feel as though God speaks to me through this . . . laying his gentle hands upon my shoulders, telling me that it's okay. Telling me that I'm okay just the way I am, that I don't need to be like anyone else to be good enough. Telling me that someday the very ways in which I feel like an outcast will be the ways in which my purpose will come to fruition.

It's hard to feel okay in a world of supermodels, rocket scientists, charismatic businessmen, and beloved comedians, when you don't feel beautiful enough, smart enough, outgoing enough, or funny enough -- when you feel like a mistake. A blemish of brown on a perfect canvas of white.

The other reason that I often feel like an outsider is that I make myself one. I tell myself that I don't belong, for one reason or another. And the root that all reasons are grown from is that I feel like I'm not good enough. And I waste no time in making sure that I remember this every day.
But the thing is . . . I think everyone feels like this, at least in some way, or at some time. We all feel like we don't belong and worry whether or not if what we are, the raw, bare, naked selves we always try to hide, is good enough. How sad for us all to wander along feeling the same loneliness, never connecting under the vulnerability that we all share. I suppose it's too scary to be the first one to open up and let someone in to know that you're not always "strong" or always "happy." It's hard for me to be that vulnerable too. I don't want to look stupid or weak. But the rare times that I have bared my soul to someone, I cannot describe just how liberating and comforting it is! When you show a person all of yourself, no pretenses, no masks, no filters, they respond better than we tend to imagine.

The truest connections that I have made in my life so far are the ones in which I allowed myself to be more vulnerable and shared the "uglier" parts or stories. It's so easy to get discouraged with people and with the world. There are people that would use your weaknesses to hurt or take advantage of you. But these people are outnumbered by the people that would nuture and accept your weaknesses. I get so disillusioned sometimes with the cruelty, arrogance, and selfishness of society. I sometimes let myself believe that most people operate more through these traits than through goodness.

Yesterday I was reminded of just how kind and compassionate people can be . . . and are. "Lars and the Real Girl," on the surface, is a about a deeply introverted young man that purchases a lifesize female doll and acts as if she is a real woman -- a companion. The story follows his reclusive life, showing how his belief in his doll companion opens him up to finding connections with townspeople and his family. On a deeper level the movie is about the brokenness in us all, as well as the goodness, compassion, and strength. The doll acts as a conduit of connections, revealing how every human soul is interconnected on some deep level.

Lars grew up without a mother, and found little affection or comfort from his father, who was overcome with his own grieving. This led Lars to experience human touch as pain. Some people thought that Lars was strange. Some thought he was just a recluse. And when he began dragging around a lifesize doll as a girlfriend some wondered if he had some form of mental illness. This is when something beautiful and touching begins to happen . . . his family, friends, coworkers, and church congregation begin to play along. They act as if his doll is real, talking with her, driving her to "work" and volunteer functions. They take photographs with her and give her a haircut. And little by little this eases Lars into more social interactions than he has ever permitted. He begins to open up and allow people into his world for the first time.

As Lars's psychologist explains, he created all of this as his way of working out what had been going on inside of him. A person will only change when they are ready. And Lars was finally ready.

This film was incredibly moving. It was one of the most caring, hopeful, and "pure" stories I have ever seen. When I say pure, I'm not speaking of whether or not it had violence, cursing, etc. I am speaking of a certain naturalness that it holds. It is not trying to be any certain thing. It's not trying to excite like an action adventure, scare like a horror, evoke hilarity like a comedy, or evoke uber-sentimentality like a drama or romance. It just is what it is. And already I hold it near and dear to my heart, as a special reminder to see the good in people. To give them a chance to bloom by giving them what love and kindness I can, no matter if I think they're strange or aloof. Those are probably the ones that need a brush with kindness the most.

As the people in the movie continued to pretend in the doll's realness along with Lars, they were fulfilled themselves and found things that were missing for them in their own lives. Somehow the doll was able to heal the loneliness and scars of all the characters. She helped them find each other, truly find each other, and realize the bonds that were always there, ready for them to experience.

We all have brokenness, loneliness, and scars. We have all been wounded by circumstances and people. We have all felt like an outsider, looking in to a world of "best friends." We have all felt as though we are not good enough for anything or anyone. And sometimes we have allowed these feelings to dictate how we have lived in this world. The trick is to remember that we are not the only one. We need to remember that people may be able to understand us better than we assume. There is goodness in this world. There are good people. There are people that will go out of their way to offer compassion. And no matter whether or not you feel as though you deserve it, you do. Your brokenness can heal. God works with many mediums . . . often his favorite paintbrush is an unlikely friendship. He only needs for us to open up ourselves to be art transformed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Transformation of Loss

Sometimes it comes quietly. Sometimes it arrives violently. Sometimes it is met with shock and surprise; sometimes with long-held expectation. It is the culmination of life's every moment, every matter. It is feared; it is loathed, and occasionally, welcomed. Whatever it is, I don't think that it is the end.

I don't mean to sound macabre, but death has been on my mind lately. It's not a subject I tend to spend hours upon hours thinking about. But my mind does naturally wander into the dark and dusty labyrinth of all things existential now and then. It's only human. With life, comes death. How can one avoid thoughts of it completely? While I certainly don't think it's healthy to dwell on the topic of death, I also do not think it healthy to never confront it either.

It's one of those vastly complex subjects that has physical, spiritual, and philosophical importance. Death is different to everyone, on some level. For some, death is merely the transition from our hours spent in human form on earth, to a spiritual being. For some death is Mother Nature's final say, her bid adieu. For some, death is a question: what will happen to me; is there anything after?

I grew up being taught that death was a transition from the physical to the spiritual -- that our time on earth was incomparable to the eternity that would be spent in heaven. There is no possible way for me to know whether or not this is true. I cannot prove, nor disprove its validity. But I choose to believe in something more than just our time here. If, for no other reason, than it is comforting. If I choose to believe in an entity greater than myself, than it is logical for me to believe in an existence greater than the one in which I am living.

This belief in an afterlife allows for something quite beautiful to occur: a celebration after a death, rather than a finalization. I have experienced this many times at funerals, where the people choose to celebrate a life lived and what is yet to come. I value this perspective. It gives me hope.

But even though this perspective is comforting, it of course does not alleviate all the pain of our loss. Loss is a profound thing. Nothing smacks your gut and knocks the wind out of you quite like losing someone you love. And nothing hangs heavier over you with blackness than losing someone you need.

I've been fortunate to not have had to experience this too many times, unlike many people. But I have had my losses. And I can still conjure up those desperate feelings when I think back to those times.

* * * * * * *

My first significant experience of death was the loss of my great-grandmother, Ruth (my mom's grandma). She died when I was in seventh grade. I was home from school, sick that day, and remember my mom walking into the family room, her eyes pink and puffy. When she told me I grabbed my notebook, in which I had been working on writing a play for a contest, and dedicated it to her. She had always wanted to be a writer.

At the funeral in Minnesota I stood several feet away from her casket, not wanting to approach. Death was foreign to me -- frightening and confusing. I knew what it was, what it meant. But I didn't understand how to interact with it. I was sad, and that's the only thing that really made sense to me.

* * * * * * *

I lost my grandfather, Clyde (my mom's dad), in November of 1998. I recall the late afternoon when we received the call. I had just gone to the basement for something and heard my mom answer the phone. I stopped. For some reason I got nervous and wondered if this was something important. I heard my mom's voice weaken, "What?" she said softly. "When?"
I knew. Something inside of me knew that it was my grandpa. I wish I hadn't been right.

He had died while working on the new addition to their church, doing what he did every day of most of his life: laying brick. He died with his boots in the mud.

Later that evening my immediate family all gathered in our living room, huddled together in a fractured communion of mourning. We had our arms around each other, already retelling the stories of his tricky card-playing, affinity to toothpicks, and silent dedication to his family and church.

The day of his funeral was chilly and very windy. I don't remember a lot of the funeral ceremony. I have bits-and-pieces type memories of the stories that were told, the music that played, and the squeezes of hands throughout my family. But I do remember the graveside. We huddled once again together, wind assaulting our faces, and watched and listened as the American Legion Honor Guard saluted my grandpa with the firing of rifles.

This is what affected me more than anything that day. Each firing resonated like a base drum in my gut . . . stung like a slap in my face. It had a powerful way of making me realize that he was truly gone.

* * * * * * *

I lost my grandmother, Ruth (my dad's mom) in October of 2000. She was one of the unfortunates that was stricken with Alzheimer's, which is what eventually facilitated her passing. I don't remember that phone call. I was in my second year of college and it all seems to be much more of a blur. I remember the car ride to Ohio, however. I rode with my brother, Jeremy, his wife, Mary, and my (at the time) one year old niece, Nikole. In the face of losing someone it was comforting and healing to be around my niece. She was a gentle light in what felt like a dark time.

It's sometimes strange to be so fully engulfed in the reality of death while being confronted with new life. I think it's difficult for our minds to know how to process it all -- to grasp and understand the cyclical nature of life and death -- to know that nothing is really ever over.

My grandma's funeral was lovely, as I remember it. My dad officiated and very tenderaly told stories of her and spoke of her favorite song, "The Tennessee Waltz," which was then played while we all sat in silence. It was this moment that affected me most.

I thought back to all of the times I would sit in the kitchen with her and our dog, Fluffy. She would softly chuckle, shoulders bobbing, and say, "My girl."

The song was so very her -- tender, warm, slower-paced, simple. To look up toward the coffin, realizing that her body was not responding to the music that she loved . . . I knew, that she was gone now.

* * * * * * *

I held death in my hands in February of this year. Our dog, Miko, that we had to put to sleep, was buried under a tree at my brother, Jeremy's house. I helped bury her. I carried her dead body out of the vet, into our apartment, and carefully placed her on the floor of our living room while we got a few things that we needed before heading to Wabash. I looked at her body, wrapped in her blue blanket, motionless, quiet. It was so surreal to see her there, knowing that she wasn't really there at all.

I helped dig the hole where she was placed. It was cold and very windy. I had snot dripping from my nose, mixing with the tears that were impossible to push back. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to go inside and forget about it all. But when I went to pick up her body out of the car to carry her over to her resting place, I didn't want to let go. I cradled her dead body, trying to transfer some last form of affection to her, knowing that she couldn't feel it.

I placed her in the ground, still wrapped in her blanket, with her rope and a picture of her with Kevin and I.

* * * * * * *

There is nothing more evasive to your own sense of life, than to hold death in your hands, your arms, against your chest. It changed me. I think that day I was able to embrace death more than I ever have before. I was able to see it, feel it, but know that life still goes on all around us and in us.

We will never fully understand what happens to us after death. Most of us are still simply trying to figure out life. We are constantly changing, constantly transforming. Perhaps death is just one, small step of that transformation . . . into something better.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Get-a-Way That Got Away

I have been on a lot of family vacations while growing up. Most of them were trips to Minnesota to see my mom's family or to Ohio to see my dad's family. But now and then we would travel elsewhere to New England, Tennessee, or Michigan. We never went to Disney World, or California, or Mount Rushmore. We never really did do the "grand adventure" type vacations. But that never bothered me too much, because what we did do, we made the most of it.

There have been many insanely wonderful times throughout those trips. Most of them would probably be mundane, in fact boring, to people outside of our family. But for some reason, those subtle, simple (trivial you might say) memories are my favorite. Usually they are moments of complete and utter silliness. If you don't know my family, then you don't know just how very silly we all are, especially when we are together. There is a certain ease when we are all together . . . the way in which a child easily fits into the crevice between the side of your body and your arm. We enjoy each other. Don't get me wrong; we're not the Brady Bunch! We don't neatly wrap up the problem of a broken vase or broken nose within 30 minutes and all have a group hug at the end. We're normal. We have our dysfunctions as does any other family. But we love being together -- something I truly cherish.

Although, I must admit we weren't always at the height of our enjoyment in each other's company while on all of our vacations. There were times when I would jab my elbows (they were extremely pointy back then) into any available flesh of my brothers to cease their taunting. There were times when Dad, exasperated with our indecision, would say, "I'm just the chauffer!" And there were also times when my brothers groaned with disaproval at the music choice of my parents. I suppose they just weren't as enlightened as me and could not absorb the beauty of the soundtracks from "Somewhere in Time" and "Out of Africa." ;)

And all of these memories, though frustrating at the time, are precisely the same, warming tales we love to retell around the dining room table. I can't think of any vacation that amplifies this phenomenon better than our most beloved trip to Southern Indiana. It was the summer of 1992. I believe it was August because the Summer Olympics were on at the time. I remember this because I was forced to inhale my Olympic fix and listen to Bob Costas through the fuzzy, black-and-white, 5-inch screen, on our mini-TV that we brought so as to not go into a TV withdrawal coma. My brother, Jeff had just graduated high shool and I had finished up my year in fifth grade.

My parents had found out about a minister's retreat in Southern Indiana, somewhere nearby Spring Mill State Park. I don't remember exactly where this place was, for the simple fact that it was in the middle of NOWHERE! We didn't know this at the time. We knew it was out in the woods -- not within any city limits. But we had no idea . . . The whole time while we drove down to the retreat, with me sitting in the back, right corner of the van in my hot-pink beanbag, surrounded by suitcases, coolers, and duffle bags, I was imagining what our "home" would look like for the next two weeks. I pictured a quaint, white country cottage, sitting on top of a small hill, overlooking a pond or two. I was excited. I had everything that I needed -- my Sony Walkman, coloring books, Travel Spirograph, and oodles upon oodles of paper, crayons, and markers. This trip was going to be amazing.

As we neared our hotspot destination, traveling down the final road that ran alongside a small river, we passed by lots of trees, and only a few random houses. I began to get a tad concerned when passing by those homes. They were, shall we say, a bit "Deliverance-ish." Old cars without tires, decrepit and retired Lazy-Boys, and a smattering of tools adorned the "yards." There weren't really any "yards" there; they were more like mudscapes. And one house that we passed had a good, old-fashioned outhouse in their mudscape. While that was not particularly alarming, the message painted on the side of it was: "The Can." Just in case someone wasn't sure. :) A few of the inhabitants of these homes happened to be out in their mudscapes as we passed along. Each of them stood, very still, and watched from the first point of sight until we were out of their vision. Had they never seen cars before? Or just cars that still worked?

I began to have a brooding feeling . . . what were we getting ourselves into? I was right about one thing: the house did sit on top of a hill. Small though, it was not. Dad turned our Astro Van left, onto the narrow, gravel path that meandered up the steep hill. On the right side -- the hill and trees. On the left side -- about a foot of ground and then . . . nothing. It dropped off almost at an eighty degree angle. I was definitely glad to be sitting on the right side of the van on that particular occasion.

After a couple intense minutes we found ourselves in the middle of a farm, cows and everything. It was a small, white farmhouse and barn, nestled in an opening, with trees surrounding it on all sides. Well, not quite what I had pictured. I tried, however, to reserve my judgment at least until we had explored the depths of the house. As we got out of the van our dog, Fluffy (a Peek-a-poo) saw the cows and bolted toward them with reckless abandon. She sprung around them, barking some kind of doggly obscenities and decided to take on the bull. Mind you, this dog was about as high as my mid-to-upper calf. I had never seen such aggression from her. And she, apparently, had never seen a cow.

After much shouting and cajoling we finally were able to grab her and take her inside. The inside was pretty much what you would expect for a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. The rooms weren't terribly large, or terribly small. There were two bedrooms, with a bathroom adjoining them. There was a nice, large screened-in porch, extending from the living room, which had walls of a sort of jade green. It was quite cozy. Nothing fancy, but still nice.

However . . . the first day and night there we were without running water. The owner of the retreat, Roy Lee, had to come and give us a few buckets of water to tide us over until it was fixed. Hmmm, no TV, no phone, no water . . . are you sure you want to call this a retreat?

I spent much of that first week playing with my Travel Spirograph, which uses Post-it-Notes, instead of full sheets of paper. My brother, Jeff, his girlfriend, and I decided to deem one wall of the living room the Spirograph Art Gallery. We plastered our bedazzled Post-it-Notes neatly in rows along the wall. By the end of the second week I think we had nearly covered it. We also spent many hours doing Mad Libs (a favorite pastime of mine). I tell you, there's not much that can produce the laughs that Mad Libs can, especially when my family is doing them. We don't limit ourselves to a simple noun or verb. We add adjectives to everything!

On one particular evening we decided to talk about Unsolved Mysteries, alien abductions, and such. This discussion, of course, took place right before we all went to bed. I scuttled into the tiny bedroom and pulled every available inch of covers up to my face. The bed sat in the far corner, with the two large windows on either side of it. I began to visualize aliens silently landing their spacecraft into the nearby field, and watching me through the windows. I kept looking out the two windows, my head bobbing back and forth like a ping-pong ball. There would be little sleep tonight!

I'm not sure if the next day was when we went to peruse Spring Mill Park or not. But if so, it would then make sense why I was in such a foul mood! Normally I love this kind of stuff. I have always loved parks and historical sites. But on this day I think I was annoyed with the world. Must have been the pre-teen hormonal resurgence. I moped around, dragging my feet, and posed with my arms crossed in every photograph. After we were done, and ready to get something to eat, we attempted to find an agreeable decision . . . which we did not. We all wanted to eat somewhere different. Mom didn't care; she just wanted to find any place that we could agree on. Dad didn't care; he just wanted to know where in the world he was driving the car. After several minutes of sibling banter, Dad finally zoomed the van back into a parking space and said, "All right, that's it! I'm not doing anything else. I'm just a chauffer for the rest of the day!" Needless to say, we did no more that day. :)

The first week was spent with my parents, brother, Jeff, and his girlfriend. My oldest brother, Jeremy did not come until the beginning of the second week. The night before he was to come there was an incredible thunderstorm. I was not aware of it at first, as I was asleep. But as the intensity grew I awoke, startled and terrified. I shot out of bed and through the adjoining bathroom, straight into the other bedroom where my parents were and leapt into their bed. A few minutes later we heard the loudest crack of thunder of our lives. Mom jumped. I jumped. Even Dad jumped. There would be little sleep tonight!

The next day Jeremy was due to arrive. It was getting late and there was no sign of him. And this was before we all had cell phones. Plus, there wasn't even a phone in our farmhouse. Mom and Dad were getting quite worried. We discovered that because of the previous night's storm, there was much flooding in the area, including in our immediate vicinity. Jeremy did finally arrive safe and sound, but much later than planned. He had had to take many detours due to the flooding. What a welcome! I wondered if our "neighbors" had lost any of their mudscape ornaments.

As Jeremy began to get settled in, he was setting up his bed, which was on the porch. All of a sudden I heard a shout. I ran to the porch to see what was wrong and saw a small lizard running around with Dad and Jeremy trying to shoo it off the porch with a broom. I guess it had been communing with us unknowingly. We never saw it again.

I had seen very little of the cows also after that first greeting. One afteroon I went for a walk and wandered through some woods, into a clearing. I stopped there. I suddenly thought of the cows . . . and the bull. Where were they? What if they come around while I'm out here? And I looked down at my shirt, realizing it was bright red. I panicked . . . a bull . . . a red shirt . . . this can't be good. I started having terrible visions of the bull charging through the clearing, chasing me through the woods. I had run track before but I didn't have that much confidence in my racing skills, enough to outrun a bull. I turned around, back toward the house, and walked quite briskly, hoping that my red shirt would not alert any unwanted guests. Luckily, I made it back without coming across any creatures.

The next week we spent every evening playing games, especially Pit and Balderdash. Jeremy got so excited when he finally won a hand at Pit that he bounced off of his chair and ran into the kitchen to show Fluffy his winning hand. We all had a good laugh over that one. During Balderdash I channeled Hee Haw and turned ever word into a colloquial, southern term, such as "allo" for "all though."

This was by far, the most different of all our vacations. It may honestly be the closest thing we have had to a "grand adventure," though we did not know it at the time we signed up for it. We returned home, happy to have our modern conveniences back, but somehow missing our "Little House on the Prairie" get-a-way. It was probably one of our most frustrating trips . . . and one of the most memorable. Besides, the worst things usually make for the best stories. And we all love a good story . . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Life and Breath of Poetry

For some reason, tonight some haunting words came back to me, to weave their way through the vast complexities of my soul. When I first heard them I felt a warming pain that both stung and comforted me in the same moment. These were not just words . . . they were a beckoning of the surrendering to our own agendas. They were more than syllables, vowels, and punctuation. They were a mourning for the loss of selflessness. These words hit me, and hit me hard (I love when things do this!). I'll admit, I'm moved by things quite easily. I frequently find beauty in the subtleties of life. But this was one of the most beautiful statements I had heard in a long time.

The words of which I am speaking are from Elizabeth Alexander -- the Inaugural poet from this last January. In her poem "Praise Song for the Day" she spoke this line:

". . . love with no need to pre-empt grievance."

This may mean little to nothing to most people, but for me, this is such a profound and poignant thought. To me, it's incredibly beautiful. I was not aware of this until just this evening, as I was reading some articles on Alexander, but it seems that many, if not most people were quite underwhelmed and even bored with her poem. They felt it was too prosaic and one even said, "bureaucratic." Well, that's the nature of poetry: it's a purely subjective art and speaks to some, while not others. It is practically impossible to truly judge a poem as "good" or "bad," though my professors did not seem to have this problem with me. :)

Poetry is my first love, and will always be my greatest love (aside from my husband, of course). Poetry is life and breath . . . it relfects the truth and beauty of our world and our experiences. To see someone's poetry battered to hell, like I just saw her's, I begin to feel very angered. Perhaps it hits a bit too close to home. I've had my share of that too. And though I don't looooove every poem I read, I can always find at least one good thing in it. And even if I couldn't, I know that it doesn't make it a "bad" poem, simply because it's not my taste. I think a more accurate gauge of whether or not a poem is good or bad is whether or not the poet crafted it from an honest place. But that, unfortunately, is also impossible to ascertain.

In my poetry, I most often try to create vivid imagery, in order to portray a "truth" of humanity. If anything was hammered home into my skull during my years of college, it was to "show" and not "tell." Excellent advice; a tip of my hat to all my old professors out there! And probably the first thing that I ever learned as I began my journey into writing (which was when I was nine), was that a writer is NEVER satisfied. No matter how many drafts we go through, it is never quite good enough for us. While I may be satisfied with parts, I am never fully pleased with the whole.

When I read others' work I very often wish that I had thought of that. I wish that I had been that insightful and creative. The aforementioned line of Alexander's is one of those wishes. It blew me away. Love with no need to pre-empt grievance . . . I had to really let that one sink in for awhile, and spin it around till I had viewed it from all angles. I'm still pondering the full meaning of it, quite honestly. The most basic understanding of it I think, is that of unconditional love. Love that needs not to be won or earned. Love that exists in spite of differences and accusations. Love that comes before a reason to love. Love that does not need to block or stifle criticism. But love that allows openness for all emotions, all freedoms, all circumstances.

When I heard her poem on that January afternoon I immediatly thought of Walt Whitman, whom often used the idea of "song" in his poetry. There was a similar tone, I thought, as in some of Whitman's work -- the calling upon of people to unite, and lift up one another in appreciation of the beauty of the human condition. There is a hopefulness to both Alexander's poem and that of Whitman's work.

I heard Alexander speak some time after the inauguration about her poem. She explained that when she said "praise song" she meant that as one modified noun -- a song of praise. The way in which I interpreted it when I heard it was that she was giving the command to praise the entity of "song." That's the other nature of poetry: it's open for interpretation. And while I appreciate the way in which she meant it, I sort of like my own piddly interpretation better. I like the idea of "song" being an entity to which we are offering our praise. It's that transcendentalist in me! I love to personify objects and ideas in writing. That technique lends itself quite well to poetry. It is a useful way in which to create many layers of meaning.

Like every person, the best poems (and this is subjective) have multiple layers, from which you can constantly find new meanings. This is what makes poetry so alive . . . that it breathes and takes upon a spirit and soul of its own. Corny? Perhaps. It may be the nerd in me. And trust me, I AM a nerd. :) But the fact that most poetry does not have a defined interpretation laid out for the reader allows speculations, discussions, and ponderings to continue indefinitely. It is a continous searching for the truth behind the metaphor. What could be more alive than that?

I am thankful for the insight of authors and poets. There is so much knowledge to be gained . . . and I am not only speaking of knowledge of facts and figures. There is knowledge of humanity, of society, of ourselves, and of the soul. They offer a looking glass -- an altered reflection, showing us not only what we were, what we are . . . but also what we can become.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Below the Soil

Being that Autumn is about to brush across the landscape with yellows, coppers, and russets, my thoughts begin to turn toward many upcoming holidays, including my birthday (September 30), our anniversary (October 22), Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Holidays always seem to be a time when memories of the past come drifting back -- memories of old family stories, places we used to live, people that we've lost. Things that we forget about in our day-to-day business . . . this is the time to feel them flood and wash over us, sometimes with the power of a tsunami, other times with the gentleness of a late summer rain.

Last Thanksgiving we were fortunate to have the company of my aunt and uncle from Ohio (my dad's sister and her husband). She is all that remains for Dad of his immediate family. There are many cousins and nieces and nephews, and such . . . but his parents and oldest sister are now gone. There is much closeness between my dad and Aunt Phyllis; and it's easy to understand why. She is warm, caring, welcoming, and kind. She is very much like her mother, my grandmother, Ruth, whom with I share a name (my middle name is Ruth). Dad was also very close with her. He is much like her as well. He gets his compassion and softness I think, from her.

Dad's oldest sister, Georgia, was the opposite of Phyllis. My memories of her are few, but I recall more of an aloofness than from other parts of the family. She and Dad didn't often get along swimmingly. Because of being twelve years older (at least I think this is correct, I may be a little off) than Dad, she often never let him grow up in her perspective and be and adult. I have heard that she is very much like her father, my grandfather, Charles Sr. My Dad is Charles Jr., something that I don't think he is still any too pleased with. :) There was much love between the two of them, but it was often more difficult to have that same closeness. Grandpa was hard on my dad. He expected much, did much, and talked little. From what I have been told, he was an extremely hard-working man, very stubborn and strong-willed, and very honest. Though he may not have shown his softer side to his own children, I have heard it said that his grandchildren received much love and tenderness.

I was not one of those grandchildren, you see . . . he died the same year in which I was born, only his death came before my birth. I never got to meet my grandpa. The only things I know of him are stories from my family and photos that have long since been captured. He is family, and yet I have no real ties of my own. He is for me, a two-dimensional tale, not a living, breathing memory. I have often wondered what he would think of me -- how he would feel about the person that I once was, the person that I am now. Would he like me? Oh sure, I know he'd love me . . . I am his granddaughter. But would he like me? Would we have been close? Am I anything like him?

It was last Thanksgiving that these questions hit me very hard. Phyllis had brought many old photos of the family, including many of Grandpa, ones that I have never seen. There were some of him in his early twenties, one in his uniform. I realized then that I'd never seen any pictures of him when he was younger. The little sketches of him that I had had in my mind seemed so narrow now. I didn't know this person. I had no reference for who this was. And I found myself feeling overwhelmed. We were all standing in the kitchen, looking at the photos, and I suddenly couldn't handle it anymore. I left the room to find a quiet place to work through my emotions. I stood alone and felt the power of the tsunami -- I cried for a few minutes, thinking of all the things I was cheated. I never got to know him, or play with him, or hug him, or talk with him. I didn't get to create memories of my own of him. This knowledge has always caused me some sadness.

And yet, amidst this sadness I somehow feel connected to him. I don't think any of my family really understands this. It's hard to explain to someone that I feel a certain closeness to him, despite our lives never intertwining. But he is my blood; that has to count for something. I don't even really know why I feel this way exactly. Why should I feel connected to someone I've never known, blood-tie or not?

Sometimes I think that maybe he would see himself in me, if we had gotten the chance to meet. I sometimes think that maybe he would find amusement in the parts of me that are spunky, feisty, and passionate, the same way in which I know my dad does. My dad is like him in many ways . . . he gets his sense of justice and fairness and his "toughness" from him, I think. And I am very much like my father. Perhaps this is why I feel connected to my grandfather . . . a certain sharing of traits, like the interweaving of roots below the surface of soil, from plants maybe scattered and far away. There is a tie there. It may be deep and hidden, but it is there. He is a part of me, whether or not we saw each other face to face. I am a remnant of the ways in which his roots massaged the soil and his branches spread to the sky. In this way we are all connected.

I know that I can't possibly feel the same way toward him as if I had known him, spent time with him, and then lost him. But I can love him in my own way. I may only be able to know him through other people for now, but perhaps someday I will be able to
know him in my own way as well.