Tuesday, July 12, 2016

You Hit Him Back

When I was 19, I moved into a house on East 13th street in Over-the-Rhine. It was not called OTR then. My rented row-house was a far, far cry from the semi-rural Kentucky subdivision I grew up in. Here, no one had their own washing machines using instead the laundromat down the block. The kids I met had never seen a cow and no one had any green space except for the abandoned postage stamp-sized lot next to my house.

You couldn’t count on the Thai-quickie mart to have fresh milk, and you’d have to get permission to go behind the bullet proof partition if you wanted to browse around anyway. Getting to a decent grocery store meant a trip to Clifton, and if you don't have a car (which means you probably can't really afford a cab), then you'd have to figure out how to get your groceries home on the bus. Daily conveniences that I had taken for granted became one irritating obstacle after another. 

All of my neighbors were black and my house-mates and I were the only white people who lived on our block, maybe the street. Those were the opposite demographics of where I grew up. We were also coming from middle-class (what my mom would call lower-upper-middle) households and were basically playing around in the world before we started college: young, white, and good-looking. There was nothing middle class about this new neighborhood. 

I didn't realize when we moved in, but after having lived there for about a week, I realized that the street was running a pretty efficient drug selling operation, crack to be specific. Cars, usually from KY, would get off I-471 and take the Liberty Street exit, which puts you right at the mouth of 13th. Cars would stop at the top of the block to give someone money, stop toward the middle to get the drugs, and then turn left to get back onto the expressway. 

It was usually a very smooth operation. The older man who was in charge of the whole thing ran the whole street. He really liked us. His great-grand kids were adorable and they'd hang out on the stone wall by our house, and I'd read to them. I didn't realize how "well connected" my little friends were initially, but I learned soon enough, and it afforded us a protected status. 

I was self-congratulatory at how well I was fitting in. And looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe because people were nice. I worked at the coffee house down a few blocks on Main St., so I was a familiar face in the neighborhood.  

I was able to drive to the grocery. We did our laundry for free in the suburbs, lived in a beautiful rehabbed two-family while most people on the street lived in cramped apartments in mid-sized apartment buildings. Not once did I invite anyone into my home nor was invited to someone else's. None of this dawned on me then. I just thought about how well I was getting along. 

Other kids would ask me if I was the "Big Sister," from the Big Brother program when I'd walk down the street with the kids I read to. I still didn't get it. In fact, worse than "not getting it," it probably added an obnoxious false-feather to my moral superiority cap. 

There was finally a crack that let some light into my awareness that this world was significantly different from mine in a way that was more than just laundromats and buses. 

Two little boys were playing on the sidewalk when one of them hauled off and knocked the other with a closed fist. The little guy that got hit crumpled into tears. I almost went to go tell the offender to stop and apologize until I saw that there was a mom outside. The crying little boy went to his mom and hugged her legs and cried, "he hit me!"

"You hit him back," she yelled angrily. 

She was livid. I was appalled. Well, no wonder there are drugs and crime all over this litter-covered neighborhood, I thought indignantly. Terrible parenting, terrible!

It was an absolutely beautiful morning. I bet I could get a near date because it was right after the "Dancing Baby" episode of "Alley McBeal," a show I never did watch. But everybody was talking about it.

The crying boy was replaced in my attention by my consideration of the dancing baby and how I thought it was weird. Or maybe it was in there right before, but my thoughts of the boy blew by as quickly as the cumulous clouds that sunny late-morning. 

A few months later, I was sitting on the couch when I heard all at once, tires squealing, shouting, and then a sickening crack and a thud. I spun around on the couch and looked outside to see a man lying on the sidewalk and a car just past him trying to drive away. But there were people from the end of the block, people I had not noticed before, who were not going to let that happen.

I called the police, and they got there fast. The people from Kentucky were arrested, and the man on the sidewalk was taken away in an ambulance with a broken femur, or at least that is what his mangled leg would indicate. And later I went out to sweep away the glass and rinse off the bloody sidewalk.

The kids didn't hang out as much anymore after that. They'd be nice and wave in the street. So would their great-grandpa. I felt the new distance. I had called the police. I did not understand that place at all. 


The boy's mom knew. She knew what her son would be living with the next 10 years or so, and she loves her son. She wants him to be ready and know what to do and how to act in a way that will keep him alive and help him swim to the top. She wants to keep him breathing. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Oh, the Humanity!

Once, I went San Francisco with my friend Tasha. I can't remember if I was a junior or a senior, but we were headed to the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting. It was so cool. Tasha is a good traveler. She is organized, competent and savvy. We couldn't afford to stay at the Hilton where the conference was, but Lonely Planet devotee Tasha, found a youth hostel that was catty-corner to the tall sparkling glass hotel, and we were right in the thick of it on the cheap.
The new Radio Head album (Kid A, which is a great album, IMO), had just come out about a month earlier. The young guy checking us in at the hostel was listening to it. I knew he'd be impressed if I commented showing myself to be in the know and "down with it," so to speak. I was right. Tasha and I got a room directly across from the bathrooms and showers so we could just look through the peep hole to see if they were available. That was a total coup.
After we had gotten ourselves all checked in, we headed to the Beauty Bar for some drinks. Tasha, I told you she's a good traveler, had all kinds of fun things picked out for us to do on this quick little trip. It was a neat little bar, kind of kitschy, with interesting people but it was a bit of a hike through some dark blocks to get back to the hotel. Modern day Becca would not have walked. 
We saw some sketchy dude come out of the shadows and call out to us, trying to get us to come over to him saying he needed the time. I hollered over that it was a quarter till midnight and we kept on walking briskly away from the dark and low buildings that seemed to be hiding in their own shadows. I'm pretty sure that was the prudent thing to do. 
When we made it back to the hostel, there was a crowd of people on the sidewalk, mostly there to smoke. And, as a "social smoker" back then, I was one of them. There was a cop who was working private detail for the hostel. He was Chinese-American. This surprised me. I was then further surprised that I was surprised. I had never seen an East Asian American police officer, or any kind of Asian for that matter, and I had not realized this until that precise moment.
He was incredibly friendly-- really, really nice. Not just with me and Tasha, but with the rest of that motley looking crew hanging out by the front door, as well. We were all talking, lots of laughing, and clouds of cigarette smoke wafting up to the overhead lights above the hostel's entrance. I couldn't stop thinking about the cop. It wasn't him so much as it was me. I was so surprised at my own reaction. It wasn't a negative reaction, it's just that in all of my life, in all of the times I had imagined police officers, read about them in books, seen them in real life, whatever the representation-- be it out in the world or of my own imagination's design-- they were either white or black. That's it.
Several gin and tonics, and general revelry, an exciting new city with so much I'd never seen before, and the heady thrill of being on the other side of the continent in charge of my own grownup self; all this was milling about on the sidewalk with me and the others. 
Suddenly there was a new face. She had slightly manic gigantic eyes and smears of makeup streaking her face which was crowned by a short and uneven crop of hair. Balanced on skinny long legs stretching far down to the ground from a tight gold mini-skirt and arms to match sprouting from a tube top that even the most fashion-oblivious may find to be a questionable choice, she strutted up to the group.
I think I was expected to ignore her. The other hostel guests were avoiding eye contact, something which I happen to be very bad at. In fact, not only did I look her in the eye, but I smiled. She was asking for money and cigarettes, and I had both. I was more generous with the cigarettes than the cash. I gave her $1 and the remaining pack of Camel Lights. She gave me a hug, kissed me on the cheek, and hung out with the rest of us destroying our lungs and stinking up our clothes. 
The police officer knew her and they talked, reminding me of the sheepdog and coyote changing shifts from "The Roadrunner." They shared a joke, caught up on the gossip, and then he told her to stay out of trouble as she sauntered on her way. 
Who were they? Who are they? These two (to me) unlikely characters sharing that little illuminated patch of sidewalk in an otherwise quiet downtown block. I remember the officer was wearing a wedding band. Does he have children? Where does he live? What does his house look like? Does he visit his parents on the weekend? Is he still a police officer? What are his hobbies?
What about the woman? Was she a prostitute? Where is her family? Where does she live? Is she still alive? Is she from San Francisco? California? What did she want to be when she grew up? What does she eat for breakfast? Does she believe in God? Is she okay?
I don't wander about that guy listening to Kid A or the sketchy guy in the shadows but those two, over 15 years later, and I still think about them from time to time wishing I could spy and see where they are and how they're doing.
Maybe it was the shock of having my assumptions up-turned that led me to see them a little more clearly, as complex figures who wouldn't happily hop into the boxes and constructs I had devised to make my world more organized and clear-cut. But whatever it was that jostled me to recognize them as actual humans and not just predictable characters animating the world, it was a fleeting moment, a stroke of luck that allowed that encounter and those people to impress themselves upon me like a stamp into warm wax.
I've learned that I can turn that on now, or at the very least, attend to it. I don't know who they are, or what they like, or how they act or what scares them, but I wonder. I now realize that I can make myself attend to the individual in front of me and allow myself to be surprised. I can suppress and squelch the impulse to categorize and stereotype as I gallivant through the world. 
I can let myself wait and pause, and allow others to be who they are, not who I expect them to be. I can look more carefully, listen more closely, and try to understand. But I must not jump to understand, or think that I've got it right away. Those leaps and assumptions do a disservice to whomever is being assessed (and who likes being assessed anyway?), but also, harms the one doing the assuming. Living in a world made of generalizations and superficial consideration of others is essentially life in a poorly written comic book-- filled with tropes, clichés, and two-dimensional figures.
But if we stop and wait, let people be who they are and try to meet them there, we are rewarded with one amazing discovery after another. The surprise and delight of learning what we don't know, things we've never felt, stories we've never heard and faces we've never seen is well worth it when all we have to do is look someone in the eye and let ourselves be surprised. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Part of the Story

Becoming and being Catholic is not what I expected it would be. It is some of those things 
but more and some not at all what I thought. But how could I accurately guess? I never 
could have expected as a younger person that I would be: 

1.) Religious 
2.) Catholic 
3.) Pursuing any sort of religious studies. 

The above surprises many of my friends and family myself among them. 

I find it incredibly satisfying, being Catholic. I find the doctrine, the community, the social justice, theology, expression of the Paschal Mystery, transubstantiation, the art history, the health care and education focus, the ritual, the incense, the monstrance, all of it captivating. Maybe someday I can learn Latin. It’s this rich and vast world to explore where I’m literally invited to eat and drink it in. 

But it’s not the dazzling outer-layers that draw me to it like a magpie to a sparkling stone. It isn’t the declarations of the creed or sacrifice and giving of self to those in need; it’s not Bernini’s sculpted white marble made flesh or glittering jewel-toned mosaics of stained glass. It’s not even the Faith, Love, and Hope that ribbon through the Church, though these things are wonderful and stir the soul.

It is that this is where I’ve been led with each preceding step leading to the logical next. Sometimes the next step wasn't always the formal logic of ‘ifs’ and ‘thens’ but sometimes it was an experience or a conversation or a person or a new job and house— a long and looping path like a CandyLand board with stops at “Culturally Protestant,” “Vaguely Spiritual,” and, “Intellectual Atheist” ultimately leading to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church has allowed me to wrestle with and reconcile views of mine, long-held and otherwise, and forces me to make them consistent, both with each other and the teachings of the church. I think consistency of beliefs is of the utmost importance. Inconsistency strips away any semblance of legitimacy or credence. 

The Church has room for me and my views and helps me bring these views and outlooks into accord with one another and the Church teachings. This has provided me with a subtlety of thought and sensitivity I was previously lacking, a way of seeing faces and actual people instead of anonymous voting blocks of various demographic groups.

RCIA was my official entrance to the church, the rite by which I was initiated, and it was long and intense. It was reading the abridged Catechism and discussion questions, weekly meetings joined by the committee, my sponsor and occasionally the other initiate in the class when he didn’t have to work. Half the time it was just me and the committee sitting in a conference room while being asked to share answers to incredibly personal questions- a peculiar sort of vulnerability but without acquiescing you limit what you gain. 

I was all in, and I loved it. I studied and read, was anointed with oils and baptized, I gave myself over to learning how to cross myself, kneel, pray, learn, listen. It’s a lush and exotic landscape that while I’ll keep trying, I will never fully map.

My experience with RCIA let me into the Church. It led me to begin a master’s program in religious studies. It has led to me overcoming my fear of having another child. It led me to reconciling with my estranged father. It has determined where my daughter goes to school. It demands that I recognize the inherent dignity of every human being and treat them with the respect with which they are accorded and work towards treating their needs with the same attention I give my own. It has led me to the Paschal Mystery. I am hoping to be led to Christ.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Girl

I will never be forgiven for this. I think I apologized to her (because I think a bunch of us got in trouble), I’ve apologized publicly before, and I’ve written about it more than once. And even though I’ve been baptized in between then and now, I’ll never be fully absolved. 

I made fun of a girl once because she was wearing a bra. It was a horrible thing to do. I was eight and I remember it like watching a film strip— me teetering on the edge of a group of kids who were saying something to her. It wasn’t heinous but it was not nice. It was a mean thing to do, another lash to the girl.

I remember not wanting to do it. I hesitated. I felt my face get hot, red, and uncomfortable which is exactly how she looked. After looking at her distressed face, I made a conscious and deliberate decision to join the group and shout, “yeah, you’re wearing a bra!” 

I hate myself for that, and I beg her forgiveness again. 

I was talking to a confidante of mine about this recently. She told me way more stuff than I had ever known. Yet I did know, on some level, I must have. My path did not often cross that of the girl’s, so it was just that one-time taunting for me— not because I was some kind of great kid (as I have already made obvious) but because I was distracted by my insufficient popularity, why I wasn’t a full member of the Unicorn Club, and trying to find my 1/2 completed homework.  

My kinder and gentler friend (she’s nicer than me so I’m confidant she’s an innocent third party) told me of how the girl was relentlessly tormented and abused on all fronts. She was made fun of on her long bus ride home, in the lunch room, in her classes, at recess, and then who knows once she got home.

“Do you remember her smell,” she asked. “People made fun of her for her smell.”

“No, what are you talking about?”

“Kids always made fun of how she smelled, and you know she smelled the way she did because someone was on her. You know, like, sexual abuse, rape. That occurred to me after we grew up.”

That sickening punch, that possibility I had never considered. I know that she grew up in a small wheeled box with a missing door; you could see inside. I knew her family’s trailer was set up in a hole, a depression in the landscape of an over-grown field, where I imagine water collected underneath leaving an eternally wet and moldy environ that acted as the mother of all mosquito hatcheries. 

I realized intellectually that “they” faced ‘dire economic conditions’ but what was it like to be that poor, to have to contrive a door for every season as it comes? To not have a home that affords you a certain comfort and ease for how you perform in school and the like. 

That was about the depth of my reflection regarding her situation, superficial questions regarding poverty. And now? I can’t bring myself to ask “what is it like” with the specter of abuse abuse haunting the scene. It’s too much. It scares me too much. I can be sympathetic and still protect myself, but trying to truly empathize is too terrifying. This is a failure of mine I need to work on.

My God, the responsibility that we have to others! Did no one try to help her? Maybe they did, I don’t know, but I think the unsettled feeling in my stomach screams, “not enough!” I didn’t see her, no one else seemed to see. Eyes shut.

She’s still there though, people like her discrete and suffering, all around us. Or we, the group, are all around them only paying cursory attention, enough to point out perceived flaws before we bounce on our way. 

I cannot teeter on the edge though. I don’t want to ever do that again; I haven’t healed from the last time. Now, I pray for open eyes and for hands strong enough to raise us both, me and the girl.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Joy


Liam was a two-sided revelation for me. I was, upon his birth, introduced to the previously unknown and fathomless expansive love of a mother, his mother. I bore my son into the world, stroked his head, cradled his still-warm body and succumbed to tides and swells of love flooding me.

At the same time, as I held my lifeless newborn in my arms, the world fell away, like a cardboard set, leaving a vast and dark emptiness filled with unconsolable anguish and despair. I was starting to realize what I had been given while at the same time realizing what was being taken away.

I delivered Liam, he was buried, Mike returned to work and the world kept audaciously turning as it always does no matter the degree of one's loss. 

Mike was forcing me to do things: go places, get dressed, eat, visit people. I found myself being shuffled to one such meeting. I was being taken to lunch by one of his co-workers, an amazing and special woman, Kathy. We went to Panera and she bought me lunch and we talked. 

Everywhere I went for a while I was searching, but not in a way that exactly made sense. I was searching for someone else this had happened to. I was searching for reasons why. I was searching for a way to go back in time. I was searching for Liam.  

We talked about what had happened to me. We talked about things she had gone through in her life and we just quietly chatted. It was a temporary poultice for my inflamed soul, and I was grateful.

Then it was time to go. She put the top down on her convertible as we settled ourselves into her car-- it was a beautiful early October afternoon. Kathy turned right to take us past the Jewish cemetery on the way back to the Mount. It was a prettier and less direct route than the way I normally took. 

The well-manicured lawns were letting go of the last of the summer blossoms and the hardy mums were standing guard on the porches. The pumpkins weren't yet carved for Halloween and people still weren't finished cutting the grass for the season. You could still hear the mower engines humming from distant yards. 

I turned my face up to the sun letting it warm all of my head and closed my eyes as the sharp shadows from the overhead trees punctuated the bright light like some sort of Morse code. 

I said to her, "Kathy, I'm just so sad, and it hurts so much. I love him so much. But sometimes, like now, I feel so... Well, not exactly happiness, it's much more than that."

Kathy said, "Joy. It's joy."

And I let it wash over me.






Friday, June 10, 2016

20.02




I “saved” $20.02. I know that’s a lie, but still, the symmetry of that number. The receipt says I saved it but I know that's just a gimmick. But want I really wanted to find, was the date that this story took place. It was June 1st and I was hoping to find a dress for church and I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I needed to go pick-up the groceries I had already ordered from Kroger and since I had a little time to spare before I was due there, I decided to run in real quick. 

Caspar wailed getting into the stroller. It's a nice stroller. I got it on sale for about $180 but it retailed normally for a lot more. But he hates getting strapped into a new contraption just as soon as he gets free of the car seat, the other bane of his existence. 

One lady in the parking lot gave me a look, a cross between a sunny-day squint and a glare as I lovingly wrestled my strong and screaming kid into the straps. We ignored her, I beamed out a few alpha-female vibes, and then Caspar and I went on our way. It was no biggie. 

It's a disaster trying to sort through the clothes at Gabe's. The sizes are all jumbled together and it's just a sea of racks. Clicking through the white plastic and metal hangers, quickly scanning fabrics, and pausing here and there, this horrible guttural cry raced through the air from the far side of the store. 

This baby was not crying a normal cry. This was the sound of a terrified and injured animal. 

"If you don't think I'll bust your ass in this store right now, you're wrong!" a woman shouted.

The shuddering, coughing, shrieks continued. There was another baby crying too, an infant, maybe two more. These sounds tear at your soul. They tear at your nerves and pretty much your muscles, bones, and blood start to quiver, too. These cries have been cultivated over eons of evolution to elicit in the parent, or pretty much anyone, the need to react, ready for some sort of sprint, some call to action.

Caspar and I kept going through the aisles but I started praying, too. I don't chat when I pray. I primarily recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers while I mull or ponder or stress and this was definitely stress. After about one Our Father and three Hail Marys in, I realized it didn't seem to be getting the babies to stop crying or the two moms to stop shouting. 
I started walking over towards the sounds. They were over in the baby clothes and I had a baby too, so it wouldn't be weird for me to go over there, so I went.

A woman passed me and said, "aren't you glad that's not you?"

I gave her a tight grin. "Not this time," I said. 

But really, when you heard the way those babies were crying, it had never been like that for me. I kept going and saw a stroller. There were two little twin girls, less than three months old, in a ratty, dusty old double stroller, not a model I was familiar with. But those girls weren't crying that loud. Then, on the other side of a tall rack in the baby section, I saw them. There I saw a young teenage girl with a distraught wild-eyed toddler wearing just shorts in the cart, maybe 18 months, and an older but nutritionally stunted, preschooler-- maybe 2 1/2, walking in semi-circles about 10 feet away.

The young girl's skin looked as if the cell turnover that usually results in the bright firm glow of youth had been shut off. Her skin looked like it had been spray-tanned with old-age, healed boils and round age spots, and some sort of ground-in grime. 

I started to rock back and forth, the ever common reaction the body starts on its own when a crying baby is close by, side-to-side while pushing Caspar's stroller up and back like he was the one in distress. I kept praying, and I started to feel very calm. The baby stopped crying and no one seemed to think it was odd that I was lurking, so I decided I'd stay close by.

I kept praying. I felt my face relax, my body relax. I felt very calm. All the babies stopped crying. The moms were calming down, too.

Since it was working, and no one looked particularly concerned that I was following them, I figured I'd keep going. I hummed a couple songs, kept rocking Caspar's stroller, and gave a couple quiet and subtle smiles to the babies all while staying about 10 feet away. I was in the young girls section by then.

The party then got their carts and stroller and baby-on-foot all corralled and queued-up in the only open line when the scared 18-month-old in the cart started to wail again. 

"Shut the fuck up!" the young mom screamed. The baby, his age still measured in months, couldn't catch his breath.

I looked around to see if anybody was going to do anything. Was anybody going to say anything? It was like when a professor asks a question in class and no one will answer and stillness extends forever, so you raise your hand for the third time in a row (maybe that's just me). I couldn't take the inaction one more second.

I walked up to them.

"Can I show your baby my baby? You know, since babies think other babies are funny and all. Would that be okay? It might help you with the line."

"Uh, sure. Okay"

She looked up at me as she said that. My God, she was just a child, too. She looked up in sheer relief and something akin to, a close cousin of  love, as I talked to her just kind of nicely. She was so vulnerable and I saw her exhaustion, pain, and embarrassment. I saw sadness and shame, too. Her eyes glassed over in some sort of dryer version of tears.

I whipped back the cover on Caspar's stroller and we started playing peek-a-boo. All the kids liked it, of course because peek-a-boo is awesome. The little guy who was walking came up played with Caspar's toes. Caspar grabbed his nose, and I helped put their stuff up on the counter. 

"Can I put your cart away? Only if it's going to help, I don't want to take it if you need it to get your kids out of the store. Don't say yes if it's not going to help"

"Um, yeah. Thank you."

I could see then that she was pretty but it was almost gone. The coating of extreme poverty and God knows what other hardships had nearly extinguished it. For a second she was young, and I could be the mom, the grownup and she was a child. And just for a moment her face softened. For a moment, she rested.

"At least somebody in this fucking world still cares about helping other people!" the older mom belted as she shoved the double stroller toward the automatic doors.


I spun my stroller around and quickly scurried back to the dresses with my head looking down at the spinning wheels feeling the squints and glares bouncing off my back and the too-bright lights humming down on all of us in disapproval.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Currents


Instead of letting my $10 a year for my www.keep-guessing name to go to waste, I've decided to update my blog with my homework assignments. Fun times for any accidental reader out there! Ha! Sorry. Kind of.  

This assignment is my week 3 journal post and I decided to write a poem. Hint: stupid riptide!

Currents

The petulant child slamming
a rag doll on the ground 
or a flag rippling in the wind
snapping into a too-close wall.

Just as these, dragged across the rip-tide
sculpted floor that was
more concrete than sand-- 
ridges both transient and immovable. 
Skull banging and bouncing, 

I see all around.
The cerulean-sky waters 
churning with bubbles of air 
but no breath 
lit by the sun above. 

Violent. Calm. Bright.

The flag does not fight the wind. 
Whatever would that mean? 
The rag doll knows of no reprieve 
save the changing whims of the child. 

Like the water, I go where I am taken. 

Sweet air! A cork spat from a bottle, popped out and floating, 
like a rejected and distasteful bit
bobbing in the calmer water, a ways off shore. 

The sea birds see, screeching and laughing, but
it is no concern of theirs, maybe an annoyance,
that in that tangle of tides,
death swam right under me.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Preach



We pray and pray, or we say we do, for Colorado, California, Sandy Hook, Paris, Boston, the Sudanese, the Iraqis, for our leaders, for our troops, for our country, for the mentally ill, for the poor, and I'm wondering exactly what form these prayers are taking. In the words of one of my most favorite priests ever, Fr. John Amankwah, "If someone tells you prayer doesn't work, they lie!" Good enough for me. So, I believe prayer works.

But it doesn't seem to be doing a lot of good. I like praying. Fr. John is right; it does work. I pray to be more patient. I pretty much need to pray that every moment of the day. It helps. I pray to be a better person, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, school-mom, parishioner, and citizen. I'm still something of a hot mess but less so year by year. Okay, there are some occasional dips but the overall trajectory is still upward.

I pray to be an agent for God and that, I think, is a pretty efficient prayer. Help me do good. Help me be better. Help me serve you by serving others. Help me improve myself to help me better represent and act for you.

So, I need a prayer for myself that actually helps get something done. I can't say, "God help those poor people" and ignore the call to help. I cannot expect God, whose expression of perfection is very much the physical world that we live in, to wave a magic wand and make bad things stop happening. Why would God do that, when he peopled the earth with his agents. That seems like something more inline with the flying spaghetti monster (haha! Atheist joke. No offense.).

God gives human kind equal capacity of high and low I think, opportunity for great and wondrous deeds but also the free will to ignore the call of God. I think God is also the pull to do what is most good and right and that the distance from God, that which is most good, in how we act and who we are, is how I think of sin and to a greater extent evil. But what I think is really scary is how unsinister this distance from God can appear and how I may fall prey (forgive me for what I have done and failed to do) to this distancing from God.

Cause and effect is as much a part of God as the story of Moses in his basket (God is "I am who am!"). What can I do to stop these things from happening again? What is preventing me from action? How can I help fill the world with more love and mercy (the year of Mercy!). How can I help people from needlessly dying, disease, violence, and suffering oppression in such horrible numbers? How can I offer comfort to those whom have already suffered so much?

Dear God,

Help me to open my heart to others, those who are like me and those who are not. Help me to love more those who are close to me and those who are not. Help me keep judgement out of my love. Help me love more both those who are easy to love and those whom are difficult.

Help me open my mind to productive thought that leads to action. Help me generate positive ideas and concrete steps to take to help others. Make real to me the importance of a humanity that respects the sanctity of all human life (the good, the bad, and the ugly), all life, that respects the sanctity of the earth and the divine importance of taking our stewardship seriously. Help me listen to the ideas of others without undue bias so that we can join together to help orient the world toward the goodness of you.

Help me be bold when necessary or meek as the circumstances may dictate. Keep my fear and pride from directing my decisions. Help me hold accountable those in positions of power who do not hold the common good as their guiding principle. Help me hold the complete goodness of the will of God in all of my intentions and actions as much as I can.
This I pray,
Amen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Three Pounds, One Ounce




I had such grand plans; I always do.  This time, I was going to fill a journal with loving notes documenting the mystery and magic of growing a human life and all the personal wonder that entails (Not in too much detail!  Even I have limits.).  I should know by now that my ideas are way bigger than my britches.  I'm now officially in my third trimester and this, coupled with my earlier mentioned goals, leads me to believe I can handle but one creative endeavor at a time.  So, I shall try and remedy that now.

First off, let me apologize to the soon-to-be-born offspring who is already starting to suffer the slings and arrows of neglect often lobbed at the younger sibling in so many stereotypes.  Your sister has been keeping me very busy.  Irish dance class, social engagements, ferrying to hither and yon, packing lunches, and bane of my existence, math homework.  Spelling and reading are generally no biggie, but I have prayed more than once, that you will be a natural at math.  Is that wrong?  No pressure.  But please, I beg of you...

Your journey in many ways has been quite similar to that of your older sister, who will soon be dragging you around like a life-size doll: a pregnancy wrought with  nervousness, anticipation, many-many heparin injections, and paper cut-outs of family names being shuffled around the dining room table to ensure you have a fighting shot as President of United States.  Again, no pressure.  But the retirement home your father and I have chosen is quite pricey, and did I mention the injections?

There have definitely been some considerable differences in the gestation period between you and your sister as well.  I barfed with her only a couple of times and morning sickness was moderate light.  You only made me toss my cookies once.  Oh, you're the good one, right?  Guess again.  I was nauseated non stop.  I did not get hungry, I just got more pukey feeling: morning, noon, night, no reprieve.  Did I mention that pricey old folks home yet?  Totally not a joke.

I felt kind of tired with your sister.  With you?  Three hour naps in the morning after I would drop off your dad and sibling at their respective destinations only to later nap again in the carpool lane at school pickup.  I can only hope that the soft-top on the car was enough to muffle my snoring.  As for the open-mouthed drooling part, I now see the benefits of tinted windows.  Sadly, we don't have those.  I can't believe those other parents have not completely shunned me.  A small miracle, really.

Now, there is something that may just earn you a 10% discount on your "fund your parents' retirement" bill.  So far, I've gained less weight with you.  You totally get points for that.  A couple of times, when wearing black, I've been able to convince my self that I don't look pregnant at all...  Until I turn sideways and that fantasy is blasted clear out of the water.  But overall, I can't complain, which is definitely saying something seeing that complaining is one of specialties.  And you are a kicker, for sure, without a doubt.  You deliver the kinds of kicks that make me screw up my face in public leading perfectly congenial strangers to wonder if I'm giving them dirty looks.  But I love feeling you kick, so that's just fine.  In fact, I'm used to strangers (and those that know me well) thinking I'm crazy.

There you go.  A quick summary to get me off the hook for the lack of careful diary making I had in mind for your future reading, in addition to a warning to start your financial planning early.  My old-folks home will have a golf course I think (actually, I plan on talking to them soon to get them started on construction).  Of course, if this blog post is in an indicator of parenting to come, you might have some substantial therapy bills to pay for.  It will probably be a wash.  So let's just say this, little squirt...  I love you and we're even.
















Monday, May 26, 2014

Don't Bug Me

I have a seriously uneasy relationship with bugs.  Bugs...  That is not a word I use flippantly.  I use it in the inclusive sense that garners membership from the like of arachnids, insects, and whatever you call those monsters with more than 10 legs.  Honestly, live shrimp weird me out, too, and really, there are some freaky crabs at the aquarium I could do without as well.

I wonder occasionally what childhood experiences led to these uncomfortable (and sometimes freakin' terrifying) relationships with bugs.  When I take the time to reminisce, there is no shortage of mental fodder.   

It all started when I was three (I think).  My mother and father had just returned to moderately rural Kentucky from Alaska after my dad was discharged from the army where they settled into a rental house owned by my grandfather and grandmother.  Considering the absurdley young age that I moved into that place, I have a nutty number of memories from there.  For now, I'll concentrate on those of the bug variety.  

My first traumatic bug memory is somewhat convoluted as is the prerogative (thanks for that word, Bobby Brown) of a three year old.  My mom swears it was a hot coal from an ash dump after a grill out that I inadverntly stepped on in the yard and yet I swear it was a bumble bee.  Chances are, I suffered through both, but I remember pain, a swollen foot that wouldn't accomodate a shoe and a lingering reticence to ever walk barefoot in the grass, yet another thing that made me a statistical outlier in the rolling hills of NKY (Northern Kentucky for those who are bigger outsiders than me...)    

But it wasn't just the smokin' hot bumble bee that messed with my psyche, because you see, it was also during that small window of time that my first nightmares started to arrive.  And the one about the walking sticks still haunts me to this day.  


Chapter 1.5 

The Walking Stick Dream...

Not much too it really, in the telling in any case, but oh how it has stayed with me.  

It was a beautiful day (much like today's weather in fact which is certainly why I felt compelled to write this whole thing just now) with azure blue skies and rare whisps of the odd spare cloud.  I was at the south end of the yard near the black barn letting the wholly indulgent and delicious sunshine and breeze of what could only be a May afternoon riffle through my hair and whole being when suddenly...  I felt a tickle.  

There I was, a beacon of childhood happiness, when suddenly an ominous skitter of what could only be a 6-legged tap dance of sorts started hopping like popcorn through my favorite lemon yellow snap-up jumpsuit with the rainbow collar (thank you so much 1979).  It became overwhelming to such a point where a so-so modest kid felt the need to rip apart the snaps to reveal...  

At least 50 WALKING STICKS marching across my milky white pre-prepubescent torso!  GAH!  And they were huge!  I blame my first visit to the zoo for my intitial rememembered burst of nightmares, and I'm sure the insect house was due to bear a good chunk of the blame.  I have more stories for a later time that orients around bears and snakes, but like I said, for another time.  

But that was just the beginning of my bug issues.  I had to stay home from school one day in first grade because of a spider bite that left a knot on my arm the size of a highly tradable marble.  My cat got fleas once in second grade, and I quickly came to understand the value of complete immolation (yes, I was pretty sure we should burn the house to the ground), and bees and mosquitoes have alway  sought me out like a delicacy.  That whole "don't bother them and they won't bother you" is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard in my life.  

And then there were the cicadas.  That is a story I will DEFINITELY leave for another time.  Shudder.  Let's just say it leads to an 8 week future vacation plan in some glorious and culturally rich location that has yet to be determined which is certainly FAR AWAY FROM HERE!  But for now, we shall wait.  

So when you see me scream, dance and wave my arms around my head on the soccer field like a charming yet seriously mentally ill individual, you'll know that there is a history there-- one that you've only heard a tiny bit about.  And if it's not me...  Well, now maybe, you'll be a bit more sympathetic to that crazy lady you see.  :)