Sunday, April 28, 2013
My writing has been pushed to the back burner. I didn't think I missed it, until I took some time the other day and spent time writing. I've missed it. Writing is not like breathing to me, I don't have to do it to survive. I realize, however, that it is part of who I am. It enriches me, it makes me feel more whole, more complete. I went home a couple weekends ago. When I go home to my dad's farm I usually take a long walk past the meadow and through the fields. I didn't do that last time I was there. It was muddy and I didn't have the right kind of shoes. Writing for me is like walking the hills at home. I miss it when I don't do it.
I'm going to work on doing it more. Winter is over. The sun is shining again and though my heart aches about certain things, it is time to return to what lies in my soul. Writing helps me navigate my heartbreak. So I must write. I must find the balance between work and family and self and obligation and creativity and suffering. I think we call this living. It is hard, hard stuff.
"She had always wondered at the bravery of it. The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they jumped" (Liesel & Po, by Lauren Oliver, pg 108).
I'm no sparrow. I don't fly. I plod along like everyone else. I don't pretend to know what it takes to leap. I only know how to do the best I can, which is less on most days than it should be. I don't know if I'm learning or getting stronger, I only know that I am still here. The sparrows are braver than I am. I do, though, look at the mountains and trees and awe in the beauty of the world. I do this even when I am so, so sad.
"Perhaps that was how the sparrows did it too; perhaps they were looking so hard at the peaks and tips of the new rooftops covered with dew, and the vast new horizon, that they only forgot that they did not know how to fly until they were already in midair" (Liesel & Po, pg 111).
Ah, if I could be so brave.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Autumn was my mother's favorite time of year. It's mine too but I'm not sure I know anyone who loves the fall as much as she did. The only thing I hate about fall is that it inevitably turns to winter. I have been without my mother for ten years now. In some ways it has seemed like several lifetimes and in other ways, it seems like the blink of an eye. I miss her----mostly for selfish reasons. I know I never thanked her enough for all the things she did and for the person she was. I know that she makes me a better person, even now.
The pain of her loss is different now. It is not as sharp and it allows me to more reflective: to feel her presence more, to call on her for help, or to show her the person I or my children have become.
This time of year, though, has always been difficult for me. The leaves turning red and orange and yellow and golden and then falling. The smell of winter coming and the way the air has turned cold. These were her last best days. There were a few weeks there, at the end, where things became calm. There were no more doctors or radiation or running after an impossible cure. There was simply staying home and being together and talking and watching the leaves turn. I remember holding her hand during that time and realizing how much my own hands look like hers. I still sometimes stare my hands and try to remember hers. We had talks during that time that I loved, that I treasure.
My mother stayed with us through the long, beautiful fall that year. The snow started falling just three hours after she died on a Sunday morning. It was officially winter.
I know winter is coming. It is right around the corner. I don't hate the winter like I used to but I hate for the autumn to end. It seems that every day I wonder, if today is the last good day.
It never is.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
I read John Green's The Fault in our Stars for 3 reasons:
It had a cool cover. It had an intriguing title. It was by John Green (author of Looking for Alaska, which I recently read and loved).
I knew NOTHING about the book, or the rave reviews it was getting, or what it was about. I didn't even read the flap copy, I just dove in. And now that I've finished it, I might just declare it the best book I have ever read.
I'm not kidding.
When you read one of the best books you've ever read, well it is hard to describe it. You find yourself thinking and thinking about it. This book just took my breath away. I laughed out loud, I cried out loud, I mourned the loss of it when I'd finished. I fell in love with characters and places and dilemmas that were not real, except they are.
I'm not the only one who loves this book. To date, it has no less than 4 star reviews on amazon.com. That is amazing.
It is wonderfully well-written. The plot is both heartbreaking and humorous. The characters are flawed and love-able and real and dying, which is partly what the book is about. Hazel Grace has terminal cancer, and yet is not a just a cancer book. It is a book about loving and being alive. Hazel feels guilt for the financial burden she's been to her parents. She mourns that, having spent most of their time and earthly energy fighting a disease, she'll probably never change the world. She'll be remembered only by those who love her. It is the plight of most of us: we are obscure, and yet, we aren't. None of us are.
I could go on and on about this book, but I won't. I'll just tell you to read it and read it now. It will change you. Good fiction can and does.
Friday, August 24, 2012
I've climbed Mt. Whitney.
It was never something I planned on doing; it wasn't on my bucket list. However, my husband, who loves mountains, thought it was a good mountain to go climb. Maybe it was on his list and so, by default, mine. It was a hike we could do together. I don't like rock climbing and I don't like exposed summits and Mt. Whitey had neither. It was a no-brainer. We took my husband's brother and sister with us. I read "The Green Mile" as we drove down to California. I've never cried so hard reading a book before. I was 2 months pregnant (no one knew) and my mother was having surgery to remove some cancerous tumors.
After visiting the visitor's center and learning about the dangers of the local bears who will eat you in your sleep especially if you have smelly things like makeup or Chapstick in your tent, we set up camp and went to bed. My brother-in-law Todd insisted on sleeping with Chapstick in his pocket. His sister and I were not amused.
We started climbing between 2 and 3 in the morning. I like hiking before the sun comes up because it is sort of like you don't even count those miles done in the dark. I mean, you can't really see anything and so you sort of zone out and you just walk. It was a challenging hike. A long hike. Those 97 switchbacks went as far as the eye could see, and I thought we'd never reach the top, but we did. It was a rewarding hike. We passed a older man and his son who were doing the hike together (it was on his father's bucket list) and though the father was healthy, he was well advanced in years. I was amazed at them: a father and a son, fulfilling dream while there was still time and opportunity to do so. They hiked slow and deliberately and they seemed to look around more than the rest of us. I knew it meant something special to both of them.
There was bagpiper on the summit (cool!) and the highest outdoor toilet in the lower 48 (should using it have been on my bucket list?). The summit was also COLD. And me--thinking it was California and summer time--well, I was unprepared for the frigid temperatures up there. It was then that my husband starting pulling things out of his pack: a hat, a fleece jacket, gloves. Unbeknownst to me he'd planned and packed and carried items for me to be comfortable on the summit. It was sort of sweet and thoughtful of him.
We returned to camp tired and exhausted. It had been a long day, but I'd loved it.
I loved climbing that mountain.
We rested for a while and then drove into town where I made a phone call home. I sat on the ground at a pay phone and learned that my mother's surgery that day had been unsuccessful. Her tumors, surgically removed just weeks earlier, were back larger than before and were growing quickly. I sat in the dirt and I cried and I cried.
I didn't know that it was possible to be so very high and so low in the same day. It is.
Friday, July 13, 2012
During the last 3 weeks of school I substituted for a teacher who was recovering from a heart attack. He (and so I) taught a class called "War in the Modern World." Of all his classes, it was my favorite. Not because I love war, but because I despise it. In most cases, I don't understand it. I often don't understand the political and regional and economic and national and ethnical complexities that contribute to such unresolvable conflict that destruction and annihilation of other human beings becomes the only answer. What I do understand, however, is personal experience and personal tragedy. It is why a book by a young Jewish girl in hiding has become, on a global scale, more widely read than the Bible. We are taught in math to break things down to the smallest common denominator and in the context of large, complex wars the smallest common denominator becomes personal stories. Those we get, those we can wrap our heads around.
There is a poem entitled "People" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In it he writes: "In any man who dies there dies with him / his first snow and kiss and fight / it goes with him. . . Not people die but worlds die in them." Would it change us, if we viewed the loss of every human as the loss of a planet, a world?
God says in Moses 1:33 "And worlds without number have I created." Maybe he's referring to people as well as galaxies. In this context, the poet Yevtushenko echoes my sentiment: "And every time again and again / I make my lament against destruction."
This week, my hometown of Preston, Idaho is lamenting destruction. A young man, killed in Afghanistan, will be laid to rest today. I don't know Army Specialist Cody Moosman, but my heart aches for those who did and those who love him. I think our whole world diminishes a little with each human loss, but losses like this diminish us more. There were more snows, and kisses, and perhaps fights left for this young man and others like him.
My father knows the Moosman family. When I spoke to him he said, "I don't know what we're doing over there." I don't either. There is no way to win the Afghan war and no way to make a graceful exit. In the town I now live in yellow ribbons hang as a reminder of one of their own, Bowe Berghdahl, the only U.S. soldier known to be in captivity in Afghanistan. He has been a prisoner since June 2009. Three years. What he and his family must be enduring. . .
On Wednesday, cars lined the highway from the Idaho border to the mortuary in Preston where Army Specialist Cody Moosman's body was being taken. People stood with American flags and their hands over their hearts as the motorcade passed. Cody lost a brother about a year ago, we mourned with his family then and we do so again with his passing.
We can wrap our heads around individual loss, but destruction on a massive scale, that is something different. I will take my children to Washington, D.C. this summer. We will walk among the headstones in Arlington and rub our fingers on the names of soldiers who died in Vietnam. The sheer number of names and headstones will startle us. It will affect us. But the names on the wall will mostly be strangers to us: men and women we didn't know from places we've never been. Our Uncle John, though, lost a brother in Vietnam. His name we will find, because even though we might have never known him, our cousins would have. They've grown up without an uncle and probably an aunt and cousins they would have had: worlds of people to love and be loved by.
Today my thoughts and prayers will be with my little hometown and the Moosman family. I might not understand the Afghan war, but I understand loving and loss. I understand and honor his service to our country, a country I love despite it's failings and imperfections. I hope his family understands and accepts the shared mourning of their son. People will gather to honor and to pay respect to support and to mourn. They will do that not just for Cody, but for all the fallen and the lost. After all, the loss of an individual, a world, is no small thing. John Donne says it best:
"Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
If you have not had a 4th of July in Lander, Wyoming put it on your bucket list. Let me tell you: there is nothing like it.
I'm a big fan of the 4th of July. I love the patriotism, the Star Spangled Banner, Old Glory, and fireworks. I especially love fireworks. There is not a place on earth who loves their fireworks more than the town of Lander, Wyoming.
We'll start with Dr. Bills and his family who host what has to be the largest privately funded firework show pretty much anywhere. It is larger and greater and grander than most city firework shows I've seen and yet Dr. Bills does it on his own with the help of his family and volunteers. Let me tell you: it is amazing. There are Revolutionary War re-enactments, complete with red-coats, a fully scripted firework show with history, quotes from our founding fathers, and admonitions to us, as citizens, to participate in the political process. There's patriotic music, a big flaming fireball, and there are fireworks. Lots of them in every style and color. The sky is an amazing display of the love Dr. Bill has for this great nation.
Dr. Bill's firework show is usually on the 3rd of July and then on the 4th the whole city of Lander, Wyoming sounds like a war zone. Fireworks erupt everywhere all day long, but when it gets dark. . . the fun really begins. Pull up a chair and watch. It doesn't matter where. . . there are fireworks going off everywhere until well past midnight and I love every minute of it.
We only lived in Lander, Wyoming for 2 years, but I loved, loved, loved the 4th of July there. It was unlike the 4th of July anywhere else and is truly a unique experience that I feel blessed to have been able to have.
Unfortunately, this year in Lander, Wyoming will not be the same. Dr. Bills was killed tragically in a plane crash just a few months after we moved away. His family was planning their annual firework show without him. They were planning on using the same script as last year's show -- one that had his voice as the narrator. I'm sure thousands of hours had been put into preparations and then, like so many other places this hot, dry summer, a fireworks ban had been put in place in Lander, Wyoming. I'm sure the town is in mourning in more ways than one. The 4th of July will not be the same.
Still, how blessed we are to live in this nation. How I love my country, even without fireworks there is so much to celebrate.
On a side note: my hometown lost one of their own in Afghanistan yesterday. My thoughts are with the Moosman family at this time.
Friday, April 13, 2012
I am not a world traveler. I only need my ten fingers to count how many times I’ve flown in an airplane. It’s not many. But I have flown first-class. It’s something I thought I’d never do. After all, I’m not the type of person to splurge for a first-class ticket. Flying first-class was experience I had because of an act of generosity from a ticket agent at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.
I was with a small group of missionaries returning home after serving an LDS mission in the Amsterdam, The Netherlands mission. I’d served there for a year and half. The young men I traveled with had been away from their homes and families for two years. It had been an inexpressibly incredible experience but we were jet-lagged and tired and still hours from home with a layover in St. Paul. We wandered aimlessly during our layover and had to remember that America has sales tax when we bought candy and chewing gum at the airport store. As a group, we sort of huddled together and said goodbye to some who were departing on other flights. We weren’t a large group and I remember being sort of quiet as we reflected on what we left behind and what our futures might hold. We weren’t particularly observant to what was going on around us, and so we were surprised when we went to board the plane on our last leg to Salt Lake City, Utah that all of our tickets had been upgraded to first-class.
The man behind the ticket counter simply handed us our tickets and wished us a good flight.
It took us some time to figure it out. We finally concluded, both from his action and the white shirt he wore under his uniform, that he shared our faith. In a spirit of generosity and as a sign of respect for the work we’d been in engaged in, this man had given us a gift: A first-class ticket home.
It wasn’t so much the plush seats or the upgraded food and drinks that made the flight home something special. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man and what he’d done. The flight we were on was sparsely occupied and so first-class seats must have been available. As a ticket agent, I imagine that the man upgraded tickets for returning missionaries whenever he could. I thought about the gesture. How generous, how simple, how kind and sort of reverent it was. How we hadn’t thanked him. I hope he knew, though, what it meant. Not to fly-first class, but to be thought of as someone who deserved to.
When we landed, we were first: first to stand, first to exit, and first to run to our waiting families.
Thank you, ticket man in Minnesota.