You Can Quote Me On This

IMG_5138I will not rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.
I will not straighten my tiara and be a queen.
I will not find my sparkle again, grasp my dreams, shine like a diamond under pressure, get in touch with my inner goddess or live out the rest of my life renewed like those inspiring meme quotes.

I will trudge on. This perilous place I am in will become smaller as I move away from it but I will be forever changed and have the footprints leading away but always behind me to prove I was there.

I will not fool myself that life becomes brighter, better, more beautiful after its battles. But it does go on.

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34 Going On 15

Introspection and life changes always seem to bring me back to her, 15 year old me. Maybe she is the most whole and true version of myself. God, how I miss her.

She was boldly yet quietly confident. Not in an exhausting, girl-power-inspirational quote way that actually wreaks of insecurity but in the way that she knew who she was, was she stood for and what she wouldn’t stand for. Sure, she was insecure in the new top or the zit that popped up on her chin but she was firmly grounded in the person that was her. She didn’t long for the popular crowd nor did she sneer at them. She was comfortable with her role in the high school hierarchy because she was comfortable with herself.

She was smart, but it didn’t define her. She didn’t have to stand out with exemplary grades or hide away in books to escape reality. Her interest and enjoyment of books and history was purely because it satisfied a thirst for knowledge. The stellar grades and honors classes were just the flowers on a solid evergreen plant within her. She was wasn’t only smart, she had wisdom that couldn’t be found in any book.

She was kind. Just because it was who she was, not because it was expected of her. Not because she cared to make people think well of her or feared criticism if she wasn’t. Not because she expected anything in return. She did small things for the outliers of her demographic to make them feel good. Even when she was rebuffed by friends for inviting that goon to the lunch table again.

She wrote. She wrote beautiful poems about the feelings a dog has when it encounters a dead bird. She wrote angsty diatribes about all the things her parents just didn’t understand. She wrote for the pure pleasure of it. She took the time to process her life on paper and capture her experience of the world in her own words. Words that never met another eye outside of that Mead folder and she was perfectly okay with that. She wrote for her.

She had posters on her wall of Oscar De La Hoya but she wasn’t carried away by a pretty face or a smoozy compliment. Her heart fluttered in silence for a chubby, awkward young man whose sharp wit made her laugh until her belly ached while he was also innately kind. She had not yet been undone by what love can do to you.

She was funny, geeky, fierce, profound and wise in a stage of life where others are trying on personalities and figuring out who they are; she knew. And she was proud of that person.

I wonder what happened to her.

She didn’t know sadness. She knew it existed, she was deeply moved by the drama of the world but didn’t yet know how it would touch her and twist her like a Bonsai tree. She didn’t know how much of her strength was drawn from another and without that person she withered little by little. She tried on those different personalities and each time she pruned a little more of herself away. She let herself be watered by the expectations and praises of others and grew towards a sun that was not her own.

Ah, but the roots. The roots still contain the 15 year old girl that was quietly confident, intelligent, kind without reason, and did things just for the pleasure of them. The one who let her emotions flow on a page and didn’t drown in them.

I may never be able to chip away the charred bark of sadness but I have some digging to do.

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Learning from Disney Villians

Disney movies catch a lot of flack for giving girls the wrong ideas about love, independence, and the knight in shining armor. If the princesses aren’t falling into the arms of the first prince to ride up and plant one on ’em in their sleep (Snowy, Narcolepsy, I’m looking at you ladies) then they’re fiercely independent to the point of bratty (Ariel, Merida, you’re overdoing the fiery redhead stereotype gals) or aloof and unavailable (Tiana, you’re a workaholic chic). Personally I give Belle a pass, motherless book lover, eccentric father, moody beast for a love interest; the girl hits too close to home not to love her. The movies that don’t feature a busty royal lead normally have much more well rounded, believable and relatable characters. Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Mike, Sully, Wall-E- apparently to be capable of deeper human emotion a character must be not human and a Pixar creation.
While their leading ladies may lack depth and their relationships with family and romantic interests aren’t exactly exemplary models for impressionable minds there is one thing Disney nails: the Villains. A villain doesn’t need a ton of dimension, they serve the plot line while only seeking some self serving goal. Disney manages to portray some of the most believable, ruthless and chilling villains because they are so true to life and they do impart lessons their princess adversaries don’t. The burglar who breaks into the castle to steal, the beast who gobbles up children, the ugly step sisters who destroy a dress; they’re easy. They do obvious harm so that even a child can look at the character and say “That’s mean! There’s the bad guy!” The evil queen, the wicked step mother, Gaston and Jafar were plotters and schemers but more obvious bad guys. It didn’t take them long to go from subtle tactics to out and out locking people up, inciting a mob, criminal type behavior. The really good villains (an acceptable oxymoron) are the ones that are doing harm and manipulating people but you still kinda like them and feel a little guilty about it. In Hercules , Hades used poor Meg to destroy the hero and was bent on domination but darn it he was funny. Even though he was evil you couldn’t help but find comic relief in him also. Ursula is a serial manipulator who claims “on the whole I’ve been a saint” she manipulated Ariel into a gig she surely couldn’t win and when it looked like she just might Ursula used her feminine wiles to play dirty. But her bosom shaking charisma still endear you to that character despite all evidence she’s a sea witch. Toy Story 3’s Lotso bear oozed southern charm and gentility all plush and smelling of sweet strawberries. Turns out he was a tyrant who used people to do his dirty work and convinced innocent toys they were unloved. He was harsh, but you still want to cuddle him.
The jewel in the crown of Disney Villians has to be Rapunzel’s Mother Gothel. She’s beautiful, charming, funny and has taken care of Rapunzel since her infancy. She seems caring and overprotective and poor bumbling Rapunzel is made to feel she should be grateful for all her kindness. All the while she’s stolen this child and everything she does for her is to serve her own vanity. To literally suck the goodness out of her. She presents herself as a martyr, gives back handed compliments, creates feelings of guilt and shame and undermines Rapunzel’s confidence. She’s an animated malignant narcissist but her one liners and smooth as butter singing voice make you almost want to overlook it. She’s almost too complex a villain for the under 10 crowd to fathom.
Though the groundwork for healthy self image and stable relationships cannot be built for a child with Disney films they sure get a taste of the evils people are capable of and the many shapes it takes. There is more good in the world than bad but follow your intuition. Listen to that itchy brain-rock in my tummy-can’t put a word to it feeling even if the voice you hear sings like an angel or the hug smells like strawberries. Sure, you could get legs out of the deal but it’s much easier to call out for help with your voice than it is to run for your life.

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Loving Humans and Hating People

Young black man, boxers visible, white tank top, cap sideways holding the hand of a grubby toddler in the overgrown yard of a shabby duplex.
Old woman, creased skin and swollen fingers trying to write a check that the cashier will only hand back to her.
Landscapers resting in the shade.
Pharmacy clerk with disheveled hair and hipster glasses.
These are just a few of the people I can recall in the last few weeks who have given me what I can only describe as the “Christmas Feeling”. It’s something of hope, mixed with joy and peace. A sensation of warmth and love that brings a quiet smile to my face and an almost involuntary sign of the cross.
Sometimes I get the feeling passing an unkempt, single wide trailer with a sunken faced Jack O’ Lantern on the porch. A child playing with a dog. Occasionally when a stranger sneezes or I picture the convenience store clerk sleeping. It’s a feeling of being connected to these humans even though we’re very different.
I’m no saint however and this feeling is hard to hold onto once people open their mouths. There’s been a man who I’ve watched walk a nearby stretch of road in the same dingy jacket for a few weeks. Day or night there he is, wandering, sitting, standing. I picked up a hat and gloves at Wal Mart because it’s cold and he had neither. The next time I saw him I stopped, told him I didn’t know his story but it was cold and offered him the hat and gloves. He proceeded to tell me about his estranged wife and the medical experiments she was allowing to be conducted on his children. He didn’t take the hat and I began to feel sorry I stopped. But I guess that’s the point. When The Lord looks down on us all snug in our beds, or singing His praises in church on Sundays it’s easy to love us. Yet even when we’re complaining, revolting against Him, and hurting one another He still does. Though we’re weakened by our sinful nature we’re made in His image and should strive to do the same.
Last night violence erupted over the decision in Ferguson. While people were outraged over the senseless anarchy and posted their feelings to social media they started to become just as senseless and barbaric. An image was shared of Michael Browns dead body lying on the street with the words “I fought the law and the law won”. While the poster would say it’s the truth, it’s a deterrent to crime and a warning to would be thugs; it’s nothing short of horrific. I got the complete opposite of my “Christmas Feeling”. I was filled with disgust and despair, not only for that body and his family but for the mindset of people to think they have a right to share another human being in that fashion. What I saw when I looked at that photo was not a hardened criminal who got what he deserved I saw a young man who was loved by a mother and a father, who may have talked in his sleep and at one time was a giggly baby with strained peas on his nose. What I saw were callous, mocking words posted by another human so broken to and detached to think that’s okay.
We’re all broken. Whether you’re throwing a flaming wad of rags through a storefront or flaming words of hate onto the internet I ask that you stop today and look at the bodies around you. Hard though it is forget that they make lousy decisions, are bigoted, entitled or whatever fault it is that rubs you the wrong way. Look at their hands that may be calloused from a hard days work, the coat they wear to keep them warm,imagine them young in their mothers lap, picture them murmuring softly in their sleep.Think of them as humans and forget they’re people.

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Life is Beautiful Because it’s Ugly.

Right now there are two human interest stories all abuzz on the internet. One is that of the the “Bucket List Baby”, little Shane Haley who was diagnosed with a fatal condition in utero and his parents carried out a list of things they would do with him while his mother was pregnant.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/10/09/bucket-list-baby-dies/16968305/

Unfortunately, Shane did succumb to his illness hours after his birth but in his few hours of life he brought joy to his family, felt the warmth of human touch and his story has touched millions of people he will never meet.

The other is the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman dying of brain cancer who has chosen to die on Nov. 1st, to celebrate a last birthday with her husband and spare herself and her family the pain of advanced disease.

http://www.wfla.com/story/26729736/woman-diagnosed-with-terminal-cancer-chooses-to-die-nov-1

I was talking to an aunt the other day about some trials in life and she said “If your life is very comfortable, you’re not doing it right”. Life is dirty, hard and ugly. It’s tears, pain, sickness, sorrow. It’s these things that make it beautiful. Like a salted Carmel, that briny flavor enhancing the sweet.

Shane’s parents could have chosen to abort their terminal child. Spared themselves the sadness of carrying to term only to glimpse his face and hold him ever so briefly. They could have considered his “quality of life” and chosen to keep him from it all. Tried again for a baby that wouldn’t bring that kind of heartache.They didn’t. They took the road less traveled and decided to relinquish control. His mother bore the pain of delivery only to bear the pain of watching her son leave this earth shortly thereafter. But she gave us all hope, she gave her husband a son, her parents a grandchild and the world a story of Love. Not that, cushy, Love heals all wounds, poster kind of love but REAL sometimes Love IS a wound, Love.

Brittany and her husband moved to Oregon so that she could choose to die her way. She will celebrate one last birthday with her husband then die on Nov 1st before the cancer robs her of her faculties or causes more physical pain than she is already in. She is choosing death to keep her family, her husband and her friends from the trauma of caring for and experiencing her in the advanced stages of a horrible disease. Her motives are pure, and self-less. She is heralded as brave and commendable for making this difficult decision. She has chosen to go gently into that goodnight; pulling up the covers and dousing the light of the candle herself. I won’t say that she should hang on because God may miraculously heal her, though that is never out of the question. But I will say that a little grit is good for the soul. Her family will be forever changed by her loss. In one scenario they will tearfully say their goodbyes, she will lie back and drift into a peaceful slumber. They will stand vigil as she passes quietly into the next life. The other sees her mother again spoon feeding her child, her father holding her when she is in pain, her husband carrying her, dressing her, changing her. Getting their hands dirty and their hearts pummeled in the act of loving her so completely. The stuff that all humankind has never had the choice to opt out of before.

Shane’s family has made life beautiful through the pain of death. Brittany is attempting a beautiful death to spare the pain of life. The right to choose, to decide, to control- we are consumed nowadays with the desire to be the God of our own lives. Our ability to choose an Instagram filter that puts just the right hue on a sunset doesn’t carry over to the sunset of our lives.

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The Car-line Conveyor Belt

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been jealous of some intrepid souls in 4 wheel drive that have hopped out of the morning car line, pulled on to the grass in front of the school and deposited their children. I wasn’t the only one who noticed; the practice got a stern condemnation in the school newsletter. This morning as I was sucking the exhaust of the car in front of me an intimidating pick up took a sharp left and his offspring disembarked on the grass. There’s no way he didn’t get the message. Between e-mail, notes home, weekly phone calls, newsletters, morse code and carrier pigeons our elementary school is on top of it when it comes to communication. He had a brush guard and some alien notion that his child might survive the 20 feet to the school doors.

The morning car line has 2 or 3 staff opening doors, picking up dropped book bags and escorting each child out of the car. The afternoon car-line would make Frank Morris put his paper mâché head aside and say “Forget it”. You must have your number (which corresponds to one on your inmates personal effects) prominently displayed, a teacher calls that number into a walkie talkie and another teacher gets your child out of the line up and passes them off to be placed in your vehicle. My 1st grader normally rides the afternoon bus (another topic, another time) so I get the third degree and soup-nazi disdain on the rare occasion I have to use the car line. I won’t be surprised when we start air dropping the kids right into their classes or install intricate bank tube tunnels under the town that have the children pop up whack-a-mole style in their desks. Does anyone remember walkers? Not the ones on AMC-though almost as outlandish a concept these days- I mean the segment of the school population way back when that actually WALKED to and from school. We were the majority at one time, donning our back-packs and trudging home from school. Unthinkable.

I’m all for safety and I know the school is doing what it feels best and most parents are perfectly happy with this strict and efficient system. In fact I know parents who have moved to other schools and consider anything less complete bedlam. I can’t help but wonder what the bigger cost may be.

I have a letter that my mother tapped out for me on the typewriter I received as a birthday gift:

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My parents trusted and had enough confidence in me to navigate the big, bad world all by myself. They were proud of me for it. I was pretty dang proud of myself. What are we telling kids when we don’t allow them to and from a car alone? That they’re not capable? That the world even between their trusty school and their waiting parent is too dark and dangerous to go alone? How will they build confidence and self reliance?

That pioneering parent in the dually may just not give a rats patoot about rules and is pressed for time but I bet his child doesn’t feel like a nitwit.

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Spirit Schmirit, My husbands take on “Rudy”

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We’ve been married for 10 years and I’ve always known my husband wasn’t a very emotional kinda guy. He isn’t easily moved by things on a screen. When a movie has managed to give him a case of “the feels” his face changes, his nostrils flare and his jaw tightens. That’s how I know he’s been touched by something; he looks angry about it. Yesterday we happened upon a discussion that made me see him not just as unsentimental but damaged. He doesn’t like Rudy.
He isn’t a fan of Notre Dame, his humming along with the fight song as it chimed from the church bells on Sunday was the knee jerk reaction of a college football junkie, but to enjoy Rudy you only need to be a fan of the human spirit. His distaste for Rudy draws this into question.
He doesn’t hold just a “Meh, Rudy doesn’t do it for me” neutral opinion of the film but a repugnant one. In fairness he often plays devils advocate and takes things to an extreme just to rouse me. Well, he did. The famous scene that I see as a team acknowledging and participating in the underdogs dream of his family seeing him play on the field and hoisting him up in solidarity and celebration of this realized dream my dear husband equated with “cushy, everyone gets a participation ribbon crap”. When I made a plea for the perseverance through adversity he quipped that Rudy persevered in having everyone feel sorry for him. The fact that Rudy was disheartened and quit but ultimately returned to the team did not ring of a renewed spirit or second chances. Stephen offered no Mulligan to poor Rudy. His summation of Rudy: He was a lousy football player, he stayed a lousy football player, they threw him a bone in the last play of the game and then everyone celebrated a lousy football player.
I’ve been thawing his 30 pound frozen pork chop of a heart for 10 years now. Braveheart and the Jimmy Valvano speech have been a few microwave minutes on defrost but for the most part I’ve let it sit on the counter gradually softening at room temperature. Now, I feel challenged. To quote the movie “After years of religious study I’ve learned two things; there’s a God and I’m not him” but like Rudy I won’t give up on my dream. A movie marathon is in order. Help, please? What movies could move this statue to tears?

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