Monday, September 20, 2010

Batteries not included

For the past ten years I have lived in darkness of one kind or another.  Sometimes it was a total lack of understanding over what was going on in my life, that feeling of falling down the proverbial rabbit hole and finding that nothing makes sense, looks familiar, feels like home.  Other times it was the darkness of sorrow, like a weighty velvet curtain across my heart, suffocating my ability to bear witness to joy; the knowledge that it still existed, further insult to my shattered state.  There was illness and too much death, and then one day, I just didn’t turn the lights on at dusk, so comfortable had I grown in the dark.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the computer, windows framing blue skies and sunshine, when the power just disappeared, like God blowing out a candle so softly you didn’t even hear the flame sizzle.  I waited for the inevitable power-up but it didn’t come, cursed the Facebook fascination that now rendered me egg-less, (and in that deprivation, all I could think was, Soft-boiled eggs--the food of the gods!). I began making preparation—called KCPL, took out the trash, and went for a walk/run believing with all my heart that when I walked down Briar Drive I would see it lit up like Christmas.

Well, half of it was.  The other half--my half, let’s call us the half-nots--lined up like sad little Olivers (musical theatre reference—google it) bereft and envious.  Darkness was falling and I knew that it would arrive before the power did.  I scavenged a flashlight (did ever a family have so many non-battery containing flashlights?  I feel this is a significant homemaker’s flaw on my record), hauled out the entertainment section, found the time and location for The Town, and was opening my car door when I thought, “What if the power is not back on when you return?  Will you want to sit with The Town in the darkness?”  Um, no.  What could I live with in the dark?  Scarlet Letter redux, Easy A--the only funny movie I know about right now (yeah let’s just say I’m not exactly UP on things).

The movie was all I imagined it would be and, surprisingly, more.  I tried to think positively as I drove home, but I knew what I would find.

It wasn’t that I was afraid.  Nor was I wishing for air conditioning or comfort.  No, as I lit a few candles, fished something (quickly! quickly!) out of the refrigerator, and pulled the newspapers out for recycling, I realized that with all of my heart, what I wanted was to see

My sister told me about a cave she and her family visited that contains ponds with fish; colorless and entirely blind, so long have they lived in darkness.  Painful as it is for me to admit, I knew this was what I had become.  I’d made my peace with the darkness in my life, a state, I believe, all grieving hearts must reach.  "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it," Jesus said, and over the years, both fiercely clutching and with a free hand, piece by piece, I had let it go.

The problem was, I'd forgotten the rest of the sentence, "But whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

Funny, the places we find lost things--car seats, coat pockets, the last place we used them.  For me, it was on a road in the middle of nowhere, which turned out to be the exact right spot on the map; a hand in the darkness striking a match.  This way.  As the days passed it returned—the right book at the right time, a song on the radio, a letter to a faraway land. How did it happen, this wind change in my heart? At what moment did I become like a watchman on a hill scanning the sky for that slip of a crescent, certain of its existence; faith like a tent revival springing up in a beaten town.

I sat in the darkness last night and knew there was a message for me.  This morning I awakened to electricity and sat down at the computer to find it. 

“Arise, shine, for your Light has come,” said the prophet Isaiah. 

I'm on my way.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Home is wherever I'm with You

You see the way it works is, the train leaves, not the station
A League of Their Own

I have spent a lifetime not being at a loss for words.  In person, at weddings, in prayer, and at bedtimes, consonants and vowels have waited for me to snatch them up by the handful like manna from heaven.

Yet now all I can think of is Marla Hooch standing at the train station, all bad hair, worse clothes and muted tongue, terrified at the thought of the unknown; the risks we take when we leave the house and start living the life for which we were created.

The sorrow of loss comes with its own paralysis, its immediacy as raw as its heartache.  We long for sympathetic ears and hands that guide us to cozy chairs and cups of tea, when what we really need is the grating voice of Jon Lovitz unsentimentally telling us the truth--Get your ass on the train because it is going somewhere better than this, and if you don’t hustle you will miss it.  And the rest of your life.  

Consider this my first postcard.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Things Done and Left Undone, Pt. 1

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks
Luke 6:45
...the words get in the way...
Gloria Estefan

I was supposed to write this post nearly two months ago, but you know how it is.  You have a houseful of family and bathrooms to clean, and a trip to see your daughter and a party the night you get back, and kids are home so there's competition for the computer, and then your sister gets married (see TDaLU, Pt. 2) and previously mentioned daughter comes home from college, and the next thing you know it is one month and twenty days after your son has graduated from high school.

All of the above things really did happen, but the reality is, those are excuses for the fact that my heart is so full, it feels like the Scrabble factory.

Rayner Andrew Fredrick had two speeds from the moment he was born--100 mph and Crash.  He climbed out of the bathtub as an infant, climbed out of his crib as a toddler, and climbed onto the roof  of the minivan before he was three.  Where do you go with a kid like that?  How many times do you yell at them, lose them, wonder if they will have memories of you without gray hair?

I'll tell you where you go.  To your knees and pronto, sister.

And if you can stay there and not try to be all, Hay You are Driving Me Crazy! Let Me Seize Control of that WILL of YOURS because I Know Best and NOT GOD (I am telling you this so you can learn from my mistakes) then what you will find on Graduation Day is that same child standing atop a mountain.  The one they've been practicing their whole life to climb.

No words can do justice to his achievements--the obstacles overcome, the choice of grace over anger, the road less traveled, generosity toward those who would delight to see him wounded.  No, you must trust me on this, that whatever you imagine when you read these words, it is only a pale imitation of the man himself.

Pictures aplenty we took on that night, and yet the one that lingers in my mind will forever exist only there.  Waiting on the sidewalk as the graduates rounded a curve, I saw him before he saw me, his tall frame and handsome face easy to spot in the crowd.  And then his eyes met mine, and in that glad recognition was all the life of our together-journey; the hearts that claim us, broken places where no one else sees the mending glue, road signs along the way and the songs that took us there.

Rayner Fredrick, you've given me the best seat in the house for 18 years; these words an insufficient teaspoon of thanks for an ocean of gratitude.  I see those mountains up ahead that you've got your eye on and I just want you to know--I packed a flag in your backpack for when you reach the top.

You're the best.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Many. The Humbled. The Mothers.

This has been a Mother's Day for reflecting.  When you spend as many years as I have in a crowded boat, rowing with one hand and passing out food, lifejackets and warnings with the other, the day you find yourself no longer steering is a day of mixed emotions.  If everyone can swim, I could actually close my eyes and take a nap.  If everyone can swim, do they still need me in the boat?

My new vantage point affords me views of scenery I was previously too busy to notice; music I did not have ears to hear.  But the most extraordinary gift which has come from my place in the back of the boat is the ability to see my fellow travelers.  Some are still steering and passing out cookies, some have moved on to outright sunbathing and others, like me, are offering sporadic navigational tips and learning how to let someone else be in charge.  Each one a heroine, they offer inspiration no sunset can equal.

My friend Alicia Zurlo left a note and a pie on my doorstep in 1996.  I had five little children and she had just given birth to her third son.  Within two weeks we forged a relationship that felt like it had begun before we were born.  It probably had.  She brags about her friends' children, doesn't have a jealous bone in her body, and within two years of getting her realtor's license, was selling millions of dollars in homes...because she actually listened to people telling her what they needed.  She will be the friend I call if I am ever jailed in a foreign country because there will be NO STOPPING HER from figuring out what to do, and the way she practices her faith, the way the love of G_d infuses her being, is a gift that she gives to all around her.

Motherhood found me early, but it found my two sisters, Sally Otsuka and Rebecca Forristall (soon to be Arterburn) later, and oh, they have made up for lost time.  For years they loved my children like they were their own and when Kyle Otsuka arrived on the scene there was no question that he would be the brilliant, hilarious go-getter that he is.  On June 5 Becca will inherit a family--husband Todd and daughter Elyse and to see the way my career woman sister has stepped into this new role is to see that love really is the answer.  They are the most generous women I know, these two sisters who have carried me through dark days, and demonstrated over and over that sacrifice is a gift that can be given with grace and joy.

Laura Denison and Elaine Myers are the two women I think of when I hear the beatitude, "Blessed are the gentle for they will inherit the earth."  It is a frightening thought to consider falling into the hands of people suddenly bequeathed terra firma, but then I remember these two and I know everything will be all right.  They are listeners, peaceful warriors who managed somehow to raise incredibly different children in a way that gave each one freedom to assume their own lovely space in the universe.  Elaine makes you a cup of tea when you arrive and then offers you chocolate, and Laura takes you into her world so effortlessly that within twenty minutes you are not a guest, but a family member, opening the refrigerator and napping on her couch.

With six children, Kris Unruh is one of those women who has the loveliest boat on the river and yet says to people who are bailing water in rustbuckets, "Let me come over there and help you.  I'll just climb in for awhile until you're all ok."  And when you point out to her that your vessel of death is headed for white water rapids and she might want to get out now, she just goes on smiling and repairing boards and making you feel like your boat is just as nice as hers--or will be, because by God, she won't go anywhere until it is.

Almost three years ago Susan Satterlee practically held me by the hand for daily walks during some of the hardest days of my life.  "Sometimes you just have to walk out of the corner," she told me on the worst ones.  A lesson that served her well not long after when she learned that her son Andrew had a brain tumor.  We walked through speculation and MRIs and diagnoses; surgeries and chemo, radiation, and healing.  I watched her do the thing we mothers fear the most, with trembling steps, and then with bold faith.  "Will we accept good from His hand and not evil?" asked Job.  The answer, in her case, was a resounding yes to both, and a faith that grew into a mountain.

"And what more shall I say?" as the writer of the book of Hebrews wrote.  There is Gina Vescovi, whose life and home are like some exquisite art project; Irene Flannery who loved Jack Flannery with every fiber of her being in a way that gave "in sickness and in health" new meaning, and then raised their two beautiful children with hands that blessed God and served Him fearlessly.  I see La Donna Mabry who has gone on ahead, having bequeathed to the world a daughter who walks with the strength and intellect deserving of her mother's legacy.  And Ghana Fickling and Annie Presley who lost mothers at tender, tender ages; so much loss, so much too young.  Yet, the seeds those women planted--words that were whispered, prayers offered up, courage infused through hands no longer remembered--oh the pride those mothers would feel to see these two great women.

And then on this Mother's Day, there is my own mother, Sara Kate Forristall, who put in at the Wakenda Creek near Carrollton, Missouri and one day found herself in the Pacific Ocean.  She was a small town girl for 50 years, but when the going got tough, the tough got going.  She has seen hardships so hard, heard swearing so shocking, witnessed lives that she could not have imagined, and yet it has neither jaded her, nor caused her to turn her head away.  At an age when many have shifted into neutral, she is still growing, leaning into the sunshine, navigating her boat into uncharted territory.  There is no proverb greater than an example.

And no gift more precious than to know we are not alone.  The five passengers in my boat, Daniel, Hannah, Mary Glen, Rayner, and Matty, have been the greatest blessing I know.  To them, to my fellow travelers, and to the One who filled the river, I raise my glass.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Birthday George Clooney. I agree with you about Up in the Air

I subscribe to a few blogs out there in internet-land.  I don't know these people, but I'll tell ya, they are REAL writers; people who are up and crackin every morning, probably at 5:00 am before they head out to their demanding day job where they ALSO write tappity tap tap.  Come quittin' time, they hustle their laptop and good ideas back home where they efficiently prepare a well-balanced meal while running through their mental rolodex for the next wonderful piece they will start working on just as soon as they get their children into bed.  These people are everywhere and sweet Jesus, do they try my patience.

Like virtual postmen, they fill my mailbox on a daily basis, cheerfully updating me with writing awards, side-splitting stories, and quirky family members who often have minor celebrity affiliations.

Meanwhile I have squinted at this blog like a coal miner on his first day at a recently cited hole in the ground, "It's real easy," say my fellow laborers, "Just start digging!  Oops, not there.  We've got a gas leak!  Try a little to the left.  Oh that's where the roof caved in!  Hey, there's a good spot.  Yeah, that two inch by two inch section right there!"

Needless to say, I'm not one of those folks who writes well through the pain and complications of life.  And so, today my eye landed on its harmless 2x2 square.  Happy birthday dear George.

I am a movie geek.  I raised my children on classics, foreign films, Shakespeare, war movies, and the occasionally child-appropriate indy.  I read movie reviews and energetically discuss what I've seen with equally passionate friends.  But I'm also an egalitarian.  I give two thumbs up to The Parent Trap and The Best Years of Their Lives; All About Eve and The Sandlot.  What I do not like, is hype.  And so, I saw Up in the Air somewhat reluctantly, on a recommendation from my movie geeky son, and because I truly did love Jason Reitman's delicious, Juno.

I adored Anna Kendrick.  Every twitch of her eyelid rang true.  And, unlike a lot of people, I liked the trip home for the wedding because when has Amy Morton not delivered?  But George Clooney in a one-bedroom that looked like my first apartment on its worst day?  Um, no.  Ricky Gervais maybe.  Richard Jenkins, maybe. But the reality of life is that people who look like George Clooney don't wind up in lives that look like that.

Which is why the ending (spoiler alert for the two people who haven't seen it) just totally pissed me off.  Vera Farmiga as a warm and wonderful potential girlfriend dispensing advice to clueless young career women?  You betcha.  Vera Farmiga as an unrepentantly cheating wife and mother, angrily chastising George (what was his name in that movie?) because SHE'S the grown-up?

I'm going to stop now and take a deep breath before I blogswear.

Which brings me to the ending--a thwarted George in that situation does one of two things.  He calmly burns her house down.  Or he turns on his heel and never once looks back or tells himself he cared.  But George just looked like he was searching for something, anything, in the recesses of his mind that felt like getting unceremoniously dumped.  He didn't find it.

And yet the critics couldn't get enough.  It was a confessional, they wrote breathlessly.  It was revealing, they flushed, right after leaving their interview with the man himself.  And all I could think was--the rest of us are not doing so well if we think that was George's true to life story and he really is heartbroken about being alone.

He didn't win the Oscar.  Jeff Bridges, in a performance that, even in memory is so painful it makes my skin hurt, won in a landslide that included George Clooney's vote.  You gotta appreciate a guy who knows when he's beat.

And yet.

On a flight to England, bored and twitchy out of my mind, I watched a movie for which I would never have bought a ticket--The Men Who Stare at Goats.  It is completely weird.  The story line is herky-jerky and the sarcastic friend who lives in my head just couldn't stop saying, "Really?  Are you kidding me?"

And then after all that weirdness, there's George.  Betrayed and betrayer.  And emanating from that man like radioactive waves is one of the greatest portrayals of heartbreak I have ever seen.  Even my sarcastic friend was silenced.

Life is funny.  We get on the highway looking for the next big thing and find ourselves in the desert for years.  Dismissing the gas station in a one-horse town, we stop to use the bathroom and come face to face with a truth that defines our destiny.    George and I will never meet, but it's nice to know we all have that in common.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And in today already walks tomorrow...

"So often do the spirits of great events stride on before the events. And in today already walks tomorrow."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I didn't intend to wait six weeks and one day before writing again.  My goal, when I started this blog, was to discipline myself into writing at least twice a week, and so, by that standard, the ensuing days are a fairly large FAIL.

And yet, there was life in those days.

I remember getting our first (and, now that I think about it, only) camcorder when the children were little.  Roughly the size of a small car, I would dutifully hoist it onto my shoulder in order to capture moments I didn't want to lose.  But I also remember experiencing a sense of dismay, that in the midst of capturing life I wasn't actually participating in it. Don't get me wrong--I'm grateful for those vhs tapes and all that they recall.  But there was a reason for not replacing that video recorder when it finally bit the dust.  It was time to get in the picture.

The weeks that piled, one atop another, have held some precious moments--and some indescribable pain.  How can we know what each day brings, the treasure of breath, the weight of loss, experience which becomes us like the rings of a tree--part of our dna and yet, so often invisible to the casual observer.  

In bleachers around the city, I watched high school basketball with people I barely knew four months ago and whom I now call friends.  Saw victory begat victory, young men play with purpose and a young coach rise to the occasion.  

One month ago exactly, I awakened to the sight of my youngest child, newly 16.  Our wait at the DMV was spent in the company of three women friends, one six months sober, taking steps at life with the joy of a child; getting a driver's license, a job, a purpose in the very middle of her days.  "This is a birthday present to you," I told my son with tears in my eyes,"her story is a gift from God."  He nodded slowly, understanding and that, to me was a gift.

My oldest child came home for a week and though we did not kill the fatted calf, oh we rejoiced in every minute of his company.  He hollered at the refs watching his brothers play basketball, did his laundry and treated us as his dearest friends.  He wept when he left and though his life is elsewhere, his heart still beats in time to his original home.  How can words do such love justice?

I watched my fourth child grow, in the space of one week, in such wisdom and stature that the mere thought of him reduced me to tears.  Honor and courage, in such short supply were his in abundance; heartbreak no match for the hand that reaches out to God and finds also, the shoulder of a brother in arms--'we few, we happy few."

And just like that, I found myself in a foreign land.  An airplane ride, a trip through customs, a jacket on a passing stranger that read, Grace.  Oxford University, once a concept, is now an actual place, a home for my beloved daughter, a greenhouse for great thoughts, for love, the life she lives so richly and happily shared.

Over my shoulder and across an ocean, I look back at that day and see how little I knew about what lay ahead, what courage would be needed, how many joys could co-exist with heartbreak; hope, against all odds, rising.  Life takes time, I think as I look to the door and hear tomorrow's knock.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No Poems About Groundhogs

Hope is the thing with feathers, said Emily Dickinson, and while it certainly created a line that would live for decades, I have realized my hope arrives every year in far more pedestrian form, say buck teeth and a fat backside.

January is a month where I dream of the tropics, and hang on till the end.  If it wasn't for my sister and Dr. King, I'd say there isn't a bright spot in the entire freaking lunar cycle.

But on February 2nd, every year I feel hope rising.  I know the tradition is stupid and pagan, and Phil almost never predicts correctly.  But for some incredible reason, on Groundhog Day life may look cold and bleak, but I know the world really is turning on its axis.  And with just a few more spins it will resume its bow to the sun and I will once again feel the kiss of the heavens on my cheek instead of a dope slap on the back of my head when I leave the house.

After all, there's just something about a month that holds Cupid, Abraham Lincoln, the countdown to  Easter, a celebration of Esther, the Father of our Country, and one lovable rodent, all in 28 (or 29) days, that gives a person reason to believe that anything is possible.

Even Spring.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The 2nd Shift: Or Vocational Options for those who like Legos

Many years ago we lived in the town of Midland, Michigan,  a time in our lives of lots of togetherness.  The first snow of our first year fell on October 15 and the last one fell 6 months later.  I had four small children, the grocery store was only 10 minutes away, and still there were days it was so cold that tuna and chocolate chips looked like a mighty fine dinner to me.  You could get one child into a car seat and begin buckling the second, but usually at that point there was a diaper to change.

And so, what we did, during those two cold years when four children turned into five and going out meant shoes and coats to the 10th power, was watch a lot of movies and take a lot of naps.  If you couldn't sleep you had something we euphemistically referred to as a "quiet time."

Matty was days old, the youngest child, and would sleep on top of the refrigerator if I put him there. Hannah and Mary Glen shared a room and while they occasionally slept, mostly they redecorated, perfected hair and makeup techniques, and ran complex business operations out of their pink and purple headquarters.  Rayner dozed off in 45 seconds, slept for two hours and then practiced climbing furniture.  But Daniel, took his daily break from leading the tribe as only a hard-working man could.  He played horses and Legos for hours, talking to himself long enough that he actually got tired and then took a nap.

I didn't know it at the time, but I had created a night owl.  While reading some guilt-inducing sleep book, I realized I had sold my child's REM to the devil in exchange for a little selfish quiet.  I confided my fears to a neighbor, hoping for one of those, "Oh no, it will all be fine," responses and instead she said brightly, "Well, he can always work the 2nd shift."

I remembered that remark this weekend when I traveled to Dallas to see him living the life that all of those late nights and Lego dreams prepared him to live.  It is, in fact, the 2nd Shift, though not the one my long-ago neighbor imagined--Daniel Fredrick is an actor.

He is hideously modest, so I will do my best to keep this post at the lowest Jewish Mother decibel I can, but I will tell you, it is an amazing thing as a parent to see your child doing the thing which God created them to do.  This is the fourth professional show he has done since he graduated from TCU in May, and each time he walks onstage, my heart constricts  and my eyes well up because lord almighty he is good at what he does.

Eager to learn, he has looked to his more experienced colleagues and observed like a sponge.    But mostly, he understands that talent will never be enough--that what he does is a job, one that demands as much sweat and labor as any 2nd shift in town and which, because of those moments of  glory that guys on the line will never have, he is fortunate to possess.                  

Yet, these days there is no time for napping--time and money are often in short supply and it takes the 1st and the 2nd shift to keep life going.  I see the questions in his eyes that ask if all those big dreams are enough, once you wake up and real life is upon you.  The answer, of course, is yes...with one small addition.

Hope is the dream of the waking man, said Diogenes.

If you have that, it doesn't matter when you go to bed.

*Cast of WaterTower Theatre's Laughter on the 23rd Floor

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Here's a dime, call someone who cares

People used to say that to each other.
Back when there were pay phones.
Back when you could use them for a dime.

If you are a certain age, I wonder if reading those sentences had the same effect on you that writing it had on me.  All of a sudden I was overcome with the desire to be on the sidewalk in Manhattan with an urgent need to make a phone call.  No, not an urgent need, just an ordinary need.

Here I am at 71st and Broadway and there you are in Soho and I won't be home in time, but break a leg, ok?
I just left the hospital.  I think I'm going to walk home.
I miss you.  I love you.  Look out the window.  I had to see you one more time.

I would spend a dime to say those things.

These days I can tweet or blog, text or call 24 hours a day.  I know what kind of underwear people are wearing and if they are eating local for dinner and when they are drunk or why they are depressed.

New to the blogosphere, I jumped on the bandwagon because I needed to start writing again and I believed this was the lowest pressure medium I could choose, apart from Dear Diary.

I could not have been more wrong.  There are blogs of note and blogs that advertise, and a "follow" button that makes me feel like I'm running for senior class president.  I can monetize my blog or tweet my blog and if I want to see how I stack up against the kajillion other runners in this race, I can attend a blog conference so that I can truly feel bad about how far behind I am.

My only problem is that I am trying to figure out if what I want to say is worth a dime.  I admit that I am often given to too much introspection, fretful about subjecting readers to navel gazing--Here's the color I'm thinking about painting my bathroom--or snappy patter--These days I live in a world of raised toilet seats.  I don't spray Vive la Juicy to smell good, I spray it to mark my territory.  But, where does it end?  At what point am I writing simply to fill a page, meet a quota, pursue an academic exercise?  At what point, are there so many words in the world that mine are merely another example of Mary Glen's current tutorial paper topic, "Sound and fury, signifying nothing"?

And in this spirit, I imagine us all, born with an allotment of expression.  How much did I spend when I believed it to be limitless and cheap, my audience leaning forward and my tongue at its witty best.  It is a gift now, to see the levels dropping, to be quiet, to listen.

I think of Nicholas Kristof in the Congo and others like him, in brothels and shattered villages; with the dying and those who wish they were dead, reaching into the hearts of the silenced, casting their sparse and stuttered words into a sea of chatter and willing them to have weight, matter, resonance.

What would I say if I had to spend a dime to say it?  That's about it for today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Begin at the beginning

The other day I saw a comment on a blog I follow that said, "I'm distressed by the lack of postings drawing attention to the devastation in Haiti."

Guiltily I realized that I was one of the bloggers she was referencing.  Not only had I not written about the devastation, but by day 2, I hadn't even thought about it that much.  Which of course made me start thinking.

I'm not one of those hard core types who isn't moved by the plight of others.  When you've been through as much as we have, you don't hear about someone else's hardship without thinking, There but for the grace of God go I.  I pray for people I read about in the newspaper; and when I know about a need--a young widower with multiple children who is struggling to keep it together, or the family recently hit with a father's cancer diagnosis, I know what you do, organize a group to provide what they need until life straightens out a bit.

But for Haiti, I had no solutions, no recourse.  Any effort I made would feel like picking up roadside trash next to the Apocalypse.  And so I did nothing, felt nothing.  Until one day I logged in to my computer and saw this:

How many times have I seen that look on my own children's faces when they had been away from me, crying and tired and then there I was, the whole universe in one human package.  This tiny child is living in a hell my kids never thought about, but look at him, that little face so open and joyful because, at least for now, he has all that he needs.

And with that, my heart broke for Haiti.  My efforts will not yield great work.  I don't have the capacity to give and rebuild a village.  I can't afford the time or finances to travel there and my help would surely not be help at this point.  All I can do is stand, nameless and faceless, along with the thousands of nameless and faceless Haitians and carry my teaspoon of water back and forth from the well, praying that at some point it becomes enough to quench one person's thirst.  I can give small amounts so that those who are doing something can keep doing it, and I can pray--for added strength for rescue workers, for airport landing strips to miraculously open, for families to find each other, and for my own heart to understand that if this tragedy will test the Haitian people, it will test us as well.

Our nation, battered by war, unemployment and economic distress, still possesses a will for good unlike any nation on the globe.  Weakened, we must abandon our typical go-it-alone mentality in favor of humility, cooperation and partnerships, willing ourselves to trade the satisfaction of credit for the subtler joy of anonymity.
Go big or go home, is a pretty common phrase here in Supersize land.

Well this time, I'm not going anywhere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Squared

Neither deserves to be a post-script, so right now, let me wish the happiest of birthdays to my darling sister, Rebecca Bond and our dear friend Annie Hildebrandt.

Annie is 21 today so God knows when she will read this, but when she does I want her to see, in writing, that she is a rare young woman in this hectic and shallow world.  She has seen with wise eyes as long as I have known her and we are all the richer for her presence.

A few more than 21 years ago today I tapped my foot impatiently through reading, math, and recess, barging out of the doors  of Ridgewood Elementary and running the entire 3 blocks home.  I learned then, that good things can come out of January, great things even.  A sister.
She was the most easygoing and adorable baby you ever saw and she has grown up into an extraordinary woman--fearless in business, creative in her "spare time" pursuits, and full of life.  A life that got a whole lot bigger with the addition of a fiance and a daughter in November.  I think Todd and Elyse would agree--there is something irresistable about a woman who is always up for a game of Balderdash.
Happy Birthday dear Becca--may your cup runneth over all year.

The Winter of My Something

I started this blog with the intention of writing regularly, of forcing myself into a routine, or practicing quickness the same way that Hannah and Sarah had to learn to draw fast when they took art classes in college.  I remember them (perfectionists and gifted artists, both) showing us sketchbooks of line drawings, created in 20, 30, 60 seconds.  You could see the progression of those drawings as they described their feelings the first time the instructor said, Turn the page.  They both said all they could think of was, "What?  Are you kidding me?  I haven't even made a mark!"  And yet, like a flip book marking the sands of time and experience, you saw three lines become four and seven become a human body, and by the end, you realized that they had learned to see with new eyes.  
Right now I feel like a new student, alternating between, "I don't know where to start" and "Wait, can't I finish that?"  The holidays were a wonderful time to be with my children, a space in which  I thrive because it is the life I know how to lead, the place I am most practiced, see the best.  And yet, that life is changing.  Daniel, Hannah and Mary Glen have headed back to their own lives and while I still have Rayner and Matty here, I feel the quickness in my heart, the instructor saying, Turn the page, and my own reluctance to do so because there are so many blank pages and how will I fill them all?  What if I don't do them well?  
How welcome was my reprieve.  
Matty had started looking a little funky to me the Monday before New Year's eve and by January 2 when we went to urgent care I knew that he had either strep or mono.  After a two hour wait, the strep test was negative and Dr."Hey I can still get my MD if I sleep through the diagnostics class" determined that Matty was a) allergic, hence the swelling eyelids b) viral, hence the sore throat and c) stressed, hence the pain when he breathed deeply, caused by none other than that chronic afflicter of teenagers--acid reflux syndrome.  We walked out of urgent care with instructions for Zyrtec and Zantac (maybe the guy woke up at the end of class when they were describing, in alphabetical order, common OTC remedies) and the thought bubble careening above my head, "There is no way in hell I am paying for that visit."
On Wednesday, Snow Day #1, we learned it was mono.  After a couple of internal conversations where I debated the merits of going to medical school based solely on my ability to diagnose via the internet and mother's intuition, I abandoned my daydreams for thoughts of what we'd have for dinner and headed out, a la Pa Ingalls to forage us some food.  I would not leave the house again until Sunday afternoon.
It was weird, having that much time off, with one sick kid and no desire to leave onaccounta the below zero temperatures.  We slept in and watched movies and on Friday Matty started watching Lost Season 1 and by Saturday, all Rayner and I had to hear was the Hulu "the show is starting now" sound and we'd come running like a couple of Pavlov's dogs.  On Sunday we were struggling to accomplish the basic tasks of life, and so compelling was the narrative that in emails to Mary Glen and Daniel, I told them that I feared I could not wrest myself from the computer if I were summoned to a deathbed.
And yet...
I took down the tree yesterday, made plans for a conference call and determined that no matter how navel-gazey or ridiculous, I would post my attempt at a line drawing today.  In one episode of Lost, John Locke said, "Everyone gets a new life on this island."
Perhaps the same can be said for a new year.  
It's not much, but you gotta start somewhere.