Remembrance





While in the process of cleaning my room I found a note written by my mom on some scratch paper. There are corrections and arrows and long, scratched-out sentences—she was obviously editing this for something. I don't even know what it was for. But I've been thinking a lot lately about the inheritance left to us by our ancestors and I have wanted to start learning about them, the way my mom did, but I never seem to find the time. Her thoughts on genealogy work really put things into perspective.

That she wrote this as she approached her own death also lends poignant meaning to her thoughts on not wanting to be forgotten. Here it is in her words:


Many of my family came to the United States in the early 1800s. They were farmers and miners from Ireland, England, and Denmark looking for a better life. They settled in the Midwest to begin that life. Some of them took their place in the political system very seriously. Stories are of my great-grandfather finding a note on the door that read: "Went to the Democratic convention. See you in 2 weeks." My great-great-great-great grandfather was killed in a gun battle in which he was "delivered to friends" when his daughter was 15. The story is the gun battle was over a political disagreement.

I once heard: "Once you are gone and those who you knew are gone also, it will be as though you have never existed." I suppose I do the genealogy just so we remember those who come before us—to make sure we remembered they exist.



I find a lot of solidarity with the written word, and never is this more true than with my mom's writing. I was so young when she died that sometimes I feel like I never really got to know her. She wasn't alive for my teenage years, nor as I entered into adulthood. I can't ask her for advice or call her when something exciting happens. I can't introduce her to the boys I date or the friends I've made. I can't tell her about the struggles I'm having. Her absence is simply a hole that I've learned to live with.

But sometimes when I read her writing, I realize how similar we are. Our love of the written word, our competitiveness and dedication and drive. Our dramatic flair. Knowing how similar we are makes it so much more tragic that I can't confide in her—her words make me realize that the one person I really want to talk to is this woman who is exactly like me. But still her words remain, some of them anyway, and I'm grateful for that. Because more than just a static remembrance of her legacy, those words are dynamic, alive. They highlight all the ways her qualities live on.

And most miraculous of all, they live on in me.


Things I want to be able to do but can't because we live in a rape culture


"We live under what amounts to a military curfew. Enforced by rapists. And we say usually that we're free citizens in a free society."

—Andrea Dworkin, from "Terror, Torture, and Resistance"



I want to go running at any time, day or night, without having to watch over my shoulder for someone following me.

I want to sleep under the stars alone without the fear of someone kidnapping me.

I want to leave my window open on a hot night and not wonder if someone will try to attack me in my home.

I want to hop in my car and go on a spontaneous road trip, and know that if I have car troubles the person who stops to help me isn't going to hurt me.

I want to know that none of my friends will ever be violently assaulted by the men who were supposed to love and protect them—though in reality one in four of them will.

I want to read the newspaper—for just one day I want to read the newspaper and not see the death of a person who was killed or brutalized simply because she was a woman.

But if these things happen, I also want it to be front-page news—as if people cared that one half of our population continues to face the largest genocide in the history of the world. If the violence that happens to women on a daily basis was happening to some ethnic minority group—if the 6 million "missing" women in Pakistan, these fetuses who were aborted simply because they were female, were aborted because they were of a certain race, wouldn't we be outraged? I'm so sick and tired of pretending like this is normal just because it's happening to women. It's not, and if we can't fix it anytime soon we can still sure as hell acknowledge the depth of the tragedy.

Why is it so revolutionary to acknowledge that women are, in fact, people, that their rights are human rights, and that crimes against women are crimes against humanity?

Windmills

























I took this picture on the arrival trip. I have always thought that Portland was a pretty airport, and the windmills were so whimsical they begged to be photographed. Now on the return trip with a 2-hour flight delay, I find myself staring at the windmills again. Carl Solomon is playing near the entryway and I’m sitting at one of the tables behind him, with no better purpose than to listen and watch the windmills turn.

At my best, I’m grateful when life defies my script. Most of the time it frustrates me: people don’t seem to understand the roles I’ve laid out for them in my head. They say things I don’t expect and react in ways I don’t understand, and the scenes play out differently than I planned. I want the ending I wrote: the graceful exit, the surprise success, the happy conclusion. Often what I get is far less tidy.

But why not just roll with the plot twists? Like today—I have to wait another three hours to get home, but I get fading Oregon light and some great music on the way.

And you know, I’m finally that girlthe one you see sometimes while you're rushing to some important thing—who walks slowly, stares at the sky, stops for the street performer. She seems to live with such obvious joy that you half expect it to pass on to you, as if at any moment she might turn to you and say: Aren’t those flowers [or the sky or the sunset] beautiful? They’re just beautiful. And as you rush by you wonder—I always wondered, anyway—how she finds the time to be so thoughtful of the world around her. 

I always thought there were people who just lived like that, on a level separate from the rest of us where time slows, colors brighten, and somehow there is opportunity to smell every flower and listen to every bird. I still think that such people exist—I’m pretty sure I met one in Budapest. Her name was Rebecca, and she was a fan dancer. She was one of those remarkable people who find the time and energy—maybe just the handle on priorities—to feel proper awe for something so unknowably divine as daily life. And she made it look so easy.

For the rest of us it’s more of a struggle. But I’ve realized that it’s okay if we can’t live every moment with this hyper-attentiveness. There will always be more in a single moment— artistically, emotionally, scientifically, spiritually— than I could hope to understand in a lifetime. But that doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I think life just asks us to use her wisely and take the opportunities to see her when she chooses to reveal herself. She has a way of inviting us to share her secrets.

I’m beginning to wonder if that girl, the one I always admired, isn’t more like me after all. Maybe life just offered her a free pass—an excuse to be whimsical for a moment—and some disappointment or annoyance became for her a chance to live.

Beyoncé voters

My new favorite blog.







I'm going to frame those last two. 

Also, here's a good review of how the Supreme Court failed women this term.

And I loved this short story—part of my obsession with all things dying/mourning. Also all things to do with The New Yorker. 


Writing again

I'm back. So much for the goal to post every day: it's been a over month. I actually made the blog private for that time and I just opened it up again today. I was inspired by the blog of my friend Elizabeth, who isn't afraid to write openly.

I feel like most of the personal blogs out there are covered in a layer of make-up: they're beautiful and interesting but they present a carefully crafted public persona that coats more than it reveals. Thus it is our insecurities that draw us to the blogosphere—our guilt that our lives are not so perfect as theirs, and our desperate hope that they could be if we could only lose 10 lbs and renovate the living room. But until I tried to create something different, I did not realize how difficult it is to discard this false self.

It's terrifying. And courageous.

And so sorely needed.

I believe that this courage could make blogging a real art form, a way of letting people into the secret life we're usually reticent to share. It would be a blogging culture that heals—heals by the simple virtue that it is real when so much of what surrounds us is exaggerated and sugarcoated. Heals through exposure, through a nakedness that makes us see something of ourselves. Have you ever read an essay that made you feel less alone in the world? Have you come across an author who wrote what you always felt but could never explain? Now imagine, not an essay or a novel, but a life, a whole person presented to you in their messy entirety, a daily confession that life is not perfect or lovely or organized, but it is good. It is so wonderfully, surprisingly good. And its goodness is not lessened by its imperfection: it is exalted by it. That we cling to life and love it so desperately is made miraculous by its drudgery. Why should we love something that both tortures and bores us? It never ceases to amaze me that life, in all its difficulty, is also incandescently precious and joyous. There should be a blogging style to reflect that.

That's the goal, anyway. It's lofty, maybe, but that's all the more reason to try.

Touch

I'm writing a day late again. Yesterday was good, though. I woke up early enough to run, but ended up writing instead. My roommate woke up to get her bags ready for her trip and she saw me on my computer. "Are you doing homework or writing?" she asked, and gave me an approving look when I said I was writing. We both make these goals to write more but then never do it. I think the blog has helped me keep up on it, though I don't think anyone but me and my children will ever read it. But it's nice to have a place to write a little every day, even if it's not very profound or literary. I love to read good writing, and someday I would like to write that powerfully, but sometimes I need the process of writing more than the result. There's a healing power in creativity, whether you're writing or painting or making music. I think it reveals the divine in the ordinary.

I went to class, then to work, then to the French speaking lab. I connected with an old Skype buddy who lives in Guatemala City. We practice French together, which is kind of funny if you think about it. A Latino and a gringa having conversations in French. I remember once I taught a man from Cuba on my mission, and sometimes it would hit me how strange it was that his native language was Spanish, mine was English, and here we were speaking to each other in Hungarian.

After the French speaking lab I watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation with Chicho. It was kind of awkward between us for most of the day, but even then it was good to be with him. I had the thought that, after everything, maybe he just wants to be friends. And surprisingly, I was okay with that. It would be sad, of course, but it was good to know.

We went on a long walk and stopped at Sammy's on our way. He got a peach milkshake and I got a peach-flavored Italian soda. We were there for a long time, then we walked back to my apartment and watched He Loves Me ... He Loves Me Not. Afterwards we were just sitting on my couch talking. He found a massive spider in my bathroom that I didn't know was there, and we (by that I mean I) spent a good 15 minutes trying to work up enough courage to move it outside. I really just wanted to kill it, but instead I put a cup over it, slid a paper underneath, then ran outside—screaming the whole time. "CHICHO GET THE DOOR! GET THE DOOR!" He laughed as he recorded the whole thing on his phone.

When the spider was safely and peacefully moved outside, we sat down on the couch again and talked (our lives are exciting, I know). We started talking about current events, and he got out his phone to check the latest news on Twitter. While he was on his phone I tilted my head back, closed my eyes, and started singing. Caledonia, Moon River, Gypsy Rover. I don't usually sing around other people, but I often sing or hum to myself when I'm driving or cleaning, and I always imagined singing to my kids at night. Singing to someone is such a loving act. Maybe even more so for those of us who aren't great at it.

I was just finishing Gypsy Rover when I felt Chicho put his arm around me and pull me toward him. I put my arm around him and laid my head on his chest—it was the first time we'd touched all day. It felt good to be close to him again.

Guardian angels

I was feeling awful today. Because of my bad decisions yesterday and in other recent weeks, I damaged a relationship that means a lot to me.

This morning I woke up and went on an hour-long run to try and let those emotions out. I called my brother as I began walking home from my run, and he said that he was at a doctor's office, which I happened to be standing in front of. I went in and sat with him in the waiting room for awhile. That was a small miracle, now that I think about it. After that I walked home, made a green smoothie and drove over to the farm to pick up my CSA.

Then everything set in, and I felt awful again. I called my brother to see if he was going to come on a hike we'd planned with some family friends today, and I didn't mean to but I started to cry. He invited me over, and when I got there he just talked with me. It meant a lot to me to have him there.

He couldn't come on the hike, so I drove up alone. I couldn't shake the sadness, and I was trying to find a radio station to help distract my mind from the turmoil in my heart. First you should know that when I got home from my mission, whenever I turned on the radio while driving, I gravitated to the Christian Rock station. I don't know that it was my type of music, but the messages made me feel good. There was this one song that always made me happy and I would wait for it to come on. So fast forward to today, and I'm sad and regretful and I'm flipping through radio stations as I drive. I finally end up on the Christian Rock station, and as the song that's playing finishes up I'm thinking of all these emotions, and I start thinking of God. Not so much praying as extending my heart to him, which I suppose you could say is prayer in its essential form. I felt awful, and then that song came on. I had the distinct impression that God was aware of me, and as silly as it is, that song seemed to be his way of letting me know.

I also felt—I'm not sure how to explain this. Sometimes people will say that they feel that their deceased loved one is there with them, and I always wanted to feel that about my mom, but I never could. I believed she was there, to the point that I could say that I knew she was there, but I never felt her. But lately I've had these moments where I really do feel her. And it's not a big thing, or an extravagant thing. It's as simple as it would be if she were alive—like of course she's there. Why wouldn't she be? I felt her today again, and it reminded me that the pains of this life are temporary. Losing her was the greatest pain of my life, and knowing that that pain will end someday means knowing that there is no other pain that won't end as well. I imagined seeing her again; it's always the same: I see Christ first, and then he motions me to her. It's always him first, though, and I think it has to be. He's the reason I'll see her again.

I don't know why she's come back to me lately, when I'd been afraid for so many years that I would forget her. But whenever I feel her, it's as if she'd been there all along. As if nothing has changed: I'm still her daughter and she's still my mom. She can't give me a hug and tell me everything will be okay, but feeling her there reminds me that I can be strong like she was. That strength is a part of me. It always surprises me how fresh the pain of losing her is, even after all these years. Memorial Day weekend marks the anniversary of her death, and sometimes it's as if it was just yesterday. How could I forget her when the wound is still so raw? But then lately there have been these moments—it's like Proust wrote in a letter to George de Lauris, whose mother had just died:

"Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you."

(1907, quoted by Roland Barthes in 'Mourning Diary,' trans. Richard Howard)

Besides the pain that won't go away, there's something new. For lack of a better image, it's as if I have a guardian angel. And I don't know precisely why, but I really need her right now. I think God understands that, so he's letting her return. It's only happened twice, and just in the past few weeks. But she's there. She promised she wouldn't leave me alone, and she hasn't. I will always be grateful to God for letting her keep her promise.

It just took me ten years to see it.

I made it up to the hiking place, a really pretty area with lots of trails. We found a campsite to roast some hotdogs (I made myself a vegetarian sandwich), and the mom, when we were walking alone at one point, talked to me about everything that had happened. She didn't tell me that it would all be okay, but she said she'd be there if it wasn't.

Coming home meant confronting the consequences of everything, and it turned out to be more heartbreaking than I expected. But as I lay awake at night, the pieces of my heart in my throat making me want to vomit, I realized that this will pass. And if I can be humble enough to really change, then things will be better for it. Much better. It just hurts right now, and that's okay. 

Writing tonight also helped me realize how many people the Lord had placed in my path today. When I got home my roommate was there. She was supposed to be in a different city tonight, so it was another little miracle that she ended up staying home. She talked to me for a long time, and I began to see a way forward. I felt that familiar peace again, and I knew that everything would be alright.