Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just The Way She Left It

"Believe in yourself," Julie told her daughter.  "You are smarter than you give yourself credit for.  Not that it's going to be easy; it's going to take some time, that's for sure.  But you'll figure it out.  You're going to be okay."

"I know you say that, but you're my mom!" Tina answered.  "If my own mother doesn't believe in me, nobody will.  I know that you just want to make me feel better, but it isn't that easy..."  Julie could hear that Tina was crying again.

"Honey, I know it's not easy.  And I do want you to feel better, of course I do.  I'm not trying to make light of it.  I only know that everybody has issues and problems that they need to face.  You are a strong person, very talented and usually focused.  Be a little bit easier on yourself and give yourself some time to recover, that's all.  We're all here for you.  We love you and we believe in you, even if you don't believe in yourself right now.  Especially because you don't believe in yourself.  Lean on us for awhile, why don't you?"

The conversation came to a close.  Julie couldn't think of anything else to say that might make Tina feel better.  The truth was, she didn't feel so great herself.  She stayed awake at night wondering and worrying about her youngest daughter.  Tina lived in the Middle East and time difference and distance made regular communication difficult at best.  At certain times, it was impossible.  It was during these lapses in communication that Julie worried the most.  She tried to remind herself that "no news is good news" but generally she saw those words  as empty--a heartfelt but failed attempt at comfort.

Julie worried about Tina most days.  During those few occasions Tina called, she was able to muster up some joy, spending the few minutes concentrating on Tina's voice and whatever news she was willing to share.  But as soon as Julie hung up, she felt the sadness wash over her once again.  She missed her daughter terribly and couldn't remember the last time she felt truly happy.  It was before Tina left the country, that much she knew for certain.

But now Julie lived in a fog of sorrow.  The emptiness of the house gave witness to the loneliness she felt on a daily basis.  While most of Tina's clothes were still scattered in piles around her room as evidence of her existence, there was no real life there--no music being played, no lingering scent of Tina's perfume, no current magazines lying about.  Just enough of her things to remind Julie that Tina was really, truly gone.

It probably didn't help, but Julie found herself sitting in Tina's room a lot.  She didn't mean to make this either her place of mourning or a shrine to Julie--as if she we were gone for good-- but she couldn't help herself.  She had nothing else, really, only a few pictures that she had collected over the years.  And Tina's belongings.

After the phone call, Julie visited Tina's bedroom yet again.  

"I really should get rid of all this stuff," she thought to herself.  "Surely by the time she gets back Tina will want new things--the latest fashions--not this old stuff left over from high school."  And so, for the umpteenth time Julie began folding and sorting the clothes into piles.  Some would go to charity; others just needed to be thrown away.  Sometimes Julie put Tina's very favorite things into her dresser drawers:  her volleyball jersey, her favorite hoodie and jeans.  She opened the closet and looked again at the prom dress that Tina wore, remembering...

 After that, Julie just couldn't get herself to complete the project; it was just too unsettling, too permanent.  

"How do parents who lose a child do it?" she wondered.  "How do they pack up and get rid of all his or her things?  What do they hold onto to remember them by?"  Though she had never considered herself a sentimental person,   Tina's move gave Julie a better understanding of this emotion.  It wasn't about the things, per se, but the person who owned them.

 In her absence, Tina's things had become the sum and substance of her life, as if taking on a life of their own.  They illustrated the story of her life, giving a good glimpse of the largeness of her personality.  Julie needed these memories right now to fill in the holes that Tina's absence created.   Her certificates and awards were on her desk.  Various albums of photographs laid next to them.  

"Those things can stay--she'll want them.  But the clothes should go...  Ah! There's the green and white polo I gave her last Christmas.."
Holding her daughter's favorite shirt, Julie felt the tears stinging her eyes.  And she gently placed it on top of  pile covering the bed.

Closing the bedroom door, Julie decided to tackle the chore some other day.  She wasn't ready yet.  She hoped to have the room cleaned up and ready for Tina's next visit home.  But since she didn't know when that might be she felt she had all the time in the world.  This is one chore she didn't mind putting off again.  Though messy, Tina's room was just the way she left it.  It gave the illusion of being lived-in, as if Tina might walk through the door again at any moment, looking for the very shirt that Julie folded.  And even though she knew it was a fantasy,  that was exactly what Julie hoped might happen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

Here it is again--a Monday!  And, to top it off, it's cool and rainy.  I don't usually borrow titles from other sources, but this one says it all.  Getting up and out the door the first day of a busy workweek is always hard.  It was harder than usual this morning because my daughter and her family were  all still at our house after a weekend visit. Usually I am out the door and on my way by 6:45 AM, yes, believe it or not, even on Monday mornings.  I am a morning person by nature and by temperament.  I feel rested, fresh and ready to go.

I was already awake when when I heard my daughter, Erin and her newborn son, Will, arrive downstairs.  It was just before 5:00 AM.  Will is a thriving two-month old, a happy boy who makes everyone smile.  Being a healthy, growing boy, when he awakens he is ready to nurse.  No matter how mom may be feeling or how sleep deprived she may be, it's up and at it for the two of them!  Erin, not acting quickly enough for Will's taste, was subject to his complaints, getting louder every minute and waking up the rest of the household.

In just a few more minutes, we would all need to prepare ourselves for the day.  My husband would jump into the shower at the very last minute resulting in a chaotic rush out the door.  Since my work schedule allows for more flexibility, I enjoyed a more leisurely start, enjoying coffee and conversation with my daughter and grandchildren before really beginning the morning routine.  There was just enough time for a quick scan of the morning's paper; I prefer to spend my time with them.  After a quick breakfast and just one more cup of coffee it was chaos once more as I helped to get five others out the door before brushing my teeth and hitting the road.

My daughter's visits home are always bittersweet.  I enjoy every minute that I spend with her and the family.  We usually tend to overdo it, trying to visit every relative and friend while still completing the errands on our list.  Add to that our trying new recipes, giving baths, combing the doll's hair one more time and throwing in another load of laundry--yes, we're busy ladies committed to doing it all!  We run both the kids, and to a greater extent, ourselves, completely ragged, rushing from task to task and place to place... Everyone drops from exhaustion on their last night here,and then another visit comes to its inevitable end. It's difficult to say good-by, even if only for a while.  Just one more hug and kiss before waving them off, on their way! They're on the road again, homeward bound.  The house becomes eerily quiet; the only signs of the flurry of activity are extra dishes in the sink and a few random toys still laying around in odd places.  

The long-awaited weekend is over and with it comes a change in the weather.  It was sunny and warm enterring into the weekend, but with it's passing it is grayer, cooler and rainy.  It's almost as if the weather is determined to match my mood.   The weekend brought with it the "sunshine of my life" but now they're gone.  It's Monday morning again.  Not much to look forward to now but a complete week of work and appointments.  Yes, "rainy days and Mondays always bring me down."  At least ones like this where I have to say good-bye.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TGIF! Thank goodness it's Friday! Thank goodness it's fall...!

It's Friday!  The day working people live for!  After a busy week at work, I look forward to the weekends. Fridays are my favorite days because the anticipation of the weekend is there without any of the expenditure.  Yes, it all lies ahead.  The children's farm, shopping, Scottish fair--lots to do--fun things that say "Autumn is here!"  

I can't wait to get out in the fall air, even though it's been unseasonably warm these last few days. Eventually, the air will turn crisp and cool, with that little bit of bite that holds promise of the colder days to come.  Very soon the leaves will burst into flames--red, oranges, yellows--even hot pinks!  And then, they'll succumb to the changing weather, falling onto the grown to be raked into a heap.  Oh that some children will jump into that heap and discover the joys of disappearing into that pile!  Later, if lucky, there may be days that the scent of burning leaves wafts on the wind, bringing back memories of bygone days when just about everyone burned leaves in their yards or ditches.

The displays of autumn:  Corn husks, hay bales, pumpkins and gourds---I love them all!  I find myself scouting for Halloween decorations in much the same way I seek out decorations on cold December evenings.  Ghosts, goblins, witches and vampires will soon move in to our neighborhood, much to the delight of the young at heart who enjoy the occasional fright. Sidewalks take on an eerie glow, reflecting the orange of lights strung through yards and trees. Perhaps reliving our childhoods is what it is all about!  

Yes, these are days to celebrate the bounty of our harvest and the change of the seasons.  Each day brings new discoveries and promises of things to come.  "To everything there is a season!"  Fall is the time that brings that passage more fully to mind.  To autumn, in all its glory, I turn, turn, turn!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tagging My Favorite Blogs

Answer the following questions with one word answers and one word only! Then pass it on to five others! The questions are as follows:
1. Where is your cell phone? table
2. Where is your significant other? swim meet
3. Your hair color? going natural
4. Your mother? deceased
5. Your father? deceased
6. Your favorite thing? pictures
7. Your dream last night? bizarre
8. Your dream/goal? writing
9. The room you’re in? bedroom
10. Your hobby? reading
11. Your fear? failure
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? retired
13. Where were you last night? home
14. What you’re not? confident
15. One of your wish-list items? lap top
16. Where you grew up? Tinley Park
17. The last thing you did? vacuumed
18. What are you wearing? jeans and t-shirt
19. Your TV? tired
20. Your pet? Sophie and Charlie
21. Your computer? lonely
22. Your mood? thoughtful
23. Missing someone? yes
24. Your car? PT Cruiser
25. Something you’re not wearing? hat
26. Favorite store? Borders
27. Your summer? travelling
28. Love someone? you bet!
29. Your favorite color? purple
30. When is the last time you laughed? 5 ,minutes ago
31. Last time you cried? 9/11
The bloggers that I’m nominating:
1. tba
2. Tba
Now, for you recipients of this award, here’s the deal:
* Display your award.
* Link back to the person who gave you the award.
* Nominate at least 5 other blogs. (Well, I didn't do so well on that part!)
* Put links to those blogs on yours.
* Leave a message on the blogs of the people you’ve nominated.
* Enjoy your award!

Dissing Disagreeable-ness

I drove my son-in-law to the airport this morning.  He is on his way to San Antonio for a weekend workshop and he asked if I could drop him off at O'Hare.  So, by 7:30 this morning we were on our way, leaving a little bit earlier than he wanted in order to avoid the bulk of rush hour traffic.

I have to admit that I was a little bit nervous about the drive. While I don't mind at all driving expressways or tollways, I do mind the traffic that rush hour brings.  Large semis make me paranoid about my little Cruiser. Visions of being first crunched and then run over come to mind as I attempt to merge my way into oncoming traffic.  Some drivers are more courteous than others, actually changing lanes in order to accommodate the driver attempting to enter into the flow of traffic.  "Come on in!"  their courtesy conveys.  Others are less inviting.  Acting as if they own the road, these drivers stand their ground, almost daring the newcomer to even think about trying to merge.  Yes, it's not for the faint of heart, this Chicago traffic!  It requires skill, patience, courage and chutzpah--things that only years of driving in high speed traffic teach you.

But it wasn't just the traffic that I worried about.  It was the company itself.  My son-in-law is a great guy, good husband and father, very intelligent.  But, politically, we just don't see eye-to-eye.  Things got a little bit heated the last time we talked politics. Yes, when politics come up, I know it's time to do one of two things--either change the subject or pack up and go home.  It's just easier to keep the peace that way.

So, when he began talking about the financial bailout, I got nervous. Where was this leading?  Hmm...hopefully, we wouldn't argue about each candidate's strengths and weaknesses.  And let's avoid altogether the subject of how each should respond--debate vs. not debate, and things like that. Democrats vs. Repulicans-- Nope!  We don't agree when it comes to conservatives, moderates and liberals.

But today's conversation took a different route.  We actually agreed!  We agreed that this bailout is not only troubling but dangerous, a way of making government bigger at taxpayer's expense, with no guarantee of ultimate success.  We also agreed that since neither one of us is an economist, armchair or otherwise, we don't understand all of the ins-and-outs of the situation.  Those decisions are best left, we supposed, in the hands of the "experts."  We only know what it's like to work hard, pay bills, be accountable. All this talk of corporate bailout seems unfair to both of us.  We had no answers, but questions abounded as we bantered back and forth.

So after all of my angst, it ended up being both an easy drive and a delightful conversation with a person I respect and admire, even though we see things differently.  That's the way it should be:  a fair exchange of different ideas is what makes this country work.  The checks and balances of government need to be upheld in order to keep things balanced in terms of power and authority.   Differing points of view need to considered.  Diversity is a gift that needs to be celebrated and appreciated  instead of feared.  

The financial crisis is just the latest issue facing us.  There are many others that need to be addressed.  It's not just about the presidential candidates; we can all debate the issues in our attempt to find solutions. America IS free speech!  Let our voices be heard remembering:  Civility and mutual respect works wonders.  There is generally no one right or one wrong answer, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. Whether we agree or disagree, let us do it without being disagreeable.  It can be done.  My son-in-law and I have succeeded, proving that anything is possible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moving on Toward Happiness

"Maybe it's time to move on," Tanya thought to herself.  Although she knew she loved Jim, she also knew that more often than not she felt completely and absolutely drained by the relationship.

"Perhaps it would be easier if we could be together," she thought.  She understood the warnings that people had given about the hardship of maintaining a long distance relationship.  All they could do was talk on the phone; no date nights, no sitting in front of the TV, no kisses or hugs.  Just words.  It seemed that lately Jim overanalyzed every sentence she spoke.  Her words were taken out of context and used against her.  Tanya felt that either Jim didn't love her or that he loved her too much, in some weird possessive way that made her uncomfortable.  

Sure, she went out with friends and, sure, some were men. But they travelled in groups and everything was completely innocent.  She had no interest in other men, no interest in flirting or pursuing any romantic relationship.  All of her friendships were completely platonic, so why didn't Jim trust her?  

She understood some of his reasoning, of course. She had lied to him once but that was long ago, and she was only telling him what he wanted, or needed to hear. She didn't mean to betray his trust.  Rather, she was trying to protect his feelings.  And, in a way, trying to protect herself. Tanya knew that she was wrong, but it hadn't seemed like that big a deal at the time. Apparently it was, at least to Jim.

And now, because they weren't together physically, she had no way to prove that she was being truthful.  He doubted everything--every friendship she told him about, every outing she enjoyed without him.  What was she supposed to do--sit alone in front of the TV every night?

For a few days Tanya had even considered giving up her career and relocating just to be with him.  She believed that being together would solve everything.  

"We love each other; surely we can fix these problems," they both believed. But that was several weeks and countless arguments ago. Tanya no longer believed that now.  

"Will tonight's call turn into another shouting match?"  she wondered.  "Will he yell at me again about what a liar I am?  I don 't want to hear those ugly names he calls me.  Maybe I just won't answer the phone."  

And yet, she still held on to the dream of love that they once shared.  So when the phone rang, Tanya answered out of curiosity, hoping that maybe this time would be different.  Accepting the call, her confidence deflated as Jim spoke.  Nothing had changed for him.  It was clear to Tanya:  she could not continue; it was time for both of them to find some peace in moving on.

Tanya decided then and there.  She blocked his emails and subscribed to caller I.D., enabling her to ignore his attempts at communication.  She loved Jim and always would. She had grown in this relationship and she hoped to remember the good times they shared.  But right now Tanya needed to take care of herself.  Moving on was the only way for her to renew her sense of worth.  Her happiness depended on it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Terry!

Yes, another Stephens Family birthday takes place today. My husband, Terry, catches up to me again.  I'm five months older than he is, so from my birthday until his I am subjected to jokes about being old(er).  If you're a married person, you can probably imagine the types of things being said--nothing malicious--just good natured teasing about adding another year to the total before he does.

But today is catch up day.  And while I'm still older, we share the same number.  So the teasing ends until my birthday rolls around again.

People who remember may take the time to call.  Of course, our three adult children always remember: Amy called at 6:00 AM and I'm sure the other two kids will call later today. So it's not only a birthday, but a reunion of sorts, even if the reunion takes place over phone lines and computers.

On the way home from work, I will stop at Menard's, one of my husband's favorite places to shop, to pick up a gift.  I had already purchased a couple of good books that I thought he'd enjoy, but he requested an air compressor.  I consider this a strange gift--not romantic at all--but you know how guys can be.  Tools and such are the ultimate in gifts, at least for my fella.

Next on the agenda will be  cooking  a nice dinner, nothing too fancy, but something that he likes, maybe meatloaf and mashed potatoes, comfort foods extraordinaire.  I might wander over to Baker's Square to carry out just a couple pieces of pie; it's just the two of us now, no need to bake an entire cake.  Not that we wouldn't eat it but that, in itself, is the problem.  The older we get the harder it becomes to control our weight, much less lose it.

Terry likes the fact that his birthday is today because it is the  last official day of summer.  The weather is generally mild with just a hint of autumn in the air.  This particular September 22nd is a bit warmer than usual, but it's a good day--sunny and bright.  Terry will enjoy it; it's his favorite time of year, maybe because marks his birthday, but more likely because it is football season. Whatever the case, today brings  another reason to celebrate life's blessings.  Happy birthday, Terry!  Here's to a great day!

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's a Freedom Thing

I had my hair cut super short a couple of weeks ago. I immediately experienced a newfound feeling of freedom! No more primping, being slave to the blower dryer and flatiron. Now it's just gel it up, brush and go! 5 minutes and I'm ready.

"Why should only men have this advantage?" I asked myself. And so I went for it.

Besides being slave to hair styling tools, I felt held hostage by the beauty industry and the way they define "feminity." $100 salon appointments included coloring and cutting. Now--gone, if not forever at least for awhile. I'm going natural; let's see how much gray I actually have. And then I'll decide. From now on, I'm going to decide what beauty is, at least for me.

Yes, I'm free--free to decide for myself and to express myself.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kathryn's Joy

Misunderstood. That's how Kathryn feels much of the time. And this day was no different. In her excitement at seeing them, Kathryn ran cirlces around her friends. Whooping and holllering, she alternated: first running, then hopping--calling out names as she did so.

"Logan! Isabelle! Emma!" The names became mantras of Kathryn's joy! The other children may have wondered what she was up to, but they didn't show it. They stood there, reveling in the attention that Kathryn poured out upon them. And then, as often happens when children come together, their own happiness overflowed. They all began running in circles, laughing and shouting out each other's names and the names of those yet to arrive. Round and round they all ran as if chasing each other in endless pursuit.

Their mothers became unglued. They didn't know what to make of all of the uncontrolled energy--crackling like electricity in the air surrounding them. Something had to be done.

"These kids are out of control!" exclaimed Mrs. McPheerful.

"Yes! We need to do something!" agreed Mrs. Power.

"Kathryn started it! She always gets the others all riled up!" said the judge's wife. "Make her behave!" she demanded of Kathryn's mother.

"Yes! She's always the instigator. She should be punished!" Mrs. Law proclaimed.

Aware and attentive in spite of her activity, Kathryn overheard the conversation. She didn't understand.

"Am I doing something wrong?" she wondered. "I'm just being happy It's fun to run and play! Why do they think I'm bad?"

Puzzled, she stopped running and looked at her mother, hoping for answers. In her wisdom, her mother smiled at Kathryn and winked.

"Kathryn's just being Kathryn," she told others. "She's excited to see her friends. And, what better place to run in circles than out here on the lawn?"

Reassured of her goodness, Kathryn smiled back, scrunching her face into a crooked wink of her own. Then she began to run again, singing this time around.

Her mother relaxed.

"Look how happy Kathryn is today," she thought to herself. "The pure innocence of childhood is so fleeting. Why squelch it? We should all be rejoicing in the beauty of this fall day."

Like Kathryn, she was a leader in her own right. With wisdom and composure, Kathryn's mom stepped up and stood her ground, advocating on Kathryn's behalf. By not bowing to the pressure of her peers, she learned something about being a mother. Gazing at her daughter, her heart was filled.

"Love is unconditional," she reminded herself.

For their part, the other mothers, too, began to relax and enjoy the moment. Laughing at the their children's antics, they remembered something of what it was like to be a child. And they understood. It wasn't that Kathryn was misbaving. None of them were. Kathryn knew that life was to be celebrated. She was full of joy and her running helped to spread it throughout the group. When it settled upon them, they caught it, too. Joy is contagious.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Princess Warrior

The news came yesterday.  She  called my husband's cell phone.  In the midst of teaching class, he couldn't talk long.  So we know no details.  Just the basics--the good news/bad news of the situation.   

It doesn't really matter how I feel about it--about the war, about her going.  The Marine Corps doesn't check with parents about these things.  No permission is asked or given.  Marines are independent adults, even the youngest ones.  And my feelings about the war don't really matter any more.  Now that Amy, my youngest daughter, my baby princess is a Marine, I don't talk about war much. Instead, I do all that I can to support her.  This child of mine, cheerleader, volleyball player, homecoming princess and prom queen will deploy to serve in that war--heading off to Iraq next March.  It is what she is trained to do--to serve, to protect; her life is on the line willingly.  This is the path she has chosen.

Amy was always the child who felt she had something to prove.  The youngest of three, with successful older sister and brother, she has not one but two hard acts to follow.   And so, Amy chose a different path for herself, uniquely her own.   A radio operator, she works hard, usually repairing the communication systems on humvees.  She may get her humvee license, allowing her to drive those vehicles of war that she now repairs, putting herself more firmly, perhaps, into harm's way.

I'm proud of Amy and all that she has experienced and accomplished. She meets each challenge with courage and grit.  She overcomes obstacles, physical and emotional. She is fit and strong: trained to fight and trained to survive.  She feels ready.  Would that I felt as ready as she does.

The good new is this:  before Iraq, she will fly home for pre-deployment leave.  I will be able tell her all these things as we shop and go to lunch, doing all of the things that we enjoy doing together.  I look forward to seeing her and hugging her in person, not just through our Facebook connection.  It will be good, but like all of life,  much to short.  And then off she'll go again, carrying her own hopes and dreams along with my love and prayers for her happiness and safe return.  My princess warrior, my hero, please remember: there's no place like home.  We'll be waiting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lying Fallow...

Unfortunately, I have not been able to take time to write lately.  It's not that I don't want to.  It's a very busy time for me at work and I have been working long hours.  However, that doesn't mean that things aren't happening.  Like a field that lies fallow, my mind is being refreshed.  I have several new ideas that are forming and taking shape.  Thank you for your patience, and please check back soon!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Aimster!

Today is my youngest's daughter's birthday.  Happy 20th, Amy!  The baby of the family, she is no longer a baby, but a beautiful young woman, out on her own and making a difference.  My husband and I will celebrate her birthday tonight.  We're doing it all--dinner, cake, a movie...  What makes it hard is that Amy will not be there with us.  But we'll take pictures and sent them off to Okinawa where Amy is serving in the US Marine Corps.
In Japan it is almost 10:00 PM.  Amy had plans for dinner and a night out with friends.  She is probably enjoying herself right now. It is her roommate's birthday as well, so they are celebrating together, getting all dressed up for a night on the town!  It helps that it's a Friday night and tomorrow is a day off. They can sleep in after a night of partying.

Amy has ridden  a roller coaster of emotions this year--ups and downs, incredible highs and devastating lows.  She has weathered it well, thanks in large part to the friends that surround her, lovingly shoring her up every step of the way.  These are the friends she celebrates with tonight.  They have a lot to celebrate:  birthdays, friendship and just being together.

Thank you to these friends of Amy for being there for her when we could not be there with her physically.  And thank you to Amy, beautiful daughter and wonderful friend!  Many happy returns!  I can't wait to celebrate with you!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering...with sadness

Today is September 11th and it has been 7 years.  I remember those attacks on the twin towers as if they were yesterday.  It was a beautiful day.  Even in Chicago, the sky was crystal clear, a deep enough blue to be noticed.  The sun was shining; the air was crisp and clean.  It was one of those days where you felt glad to be alive.  

Driving to work, I listened to the reports of the first plane hitting, and wondered...?  With the reports of the second hit, I knew.  I think we all did.  These were no accidents.  

Arriving at work,  I informed my co-workers of the news.  We turned on the television and watched--the live broadcast smoke and fire, the impact of the second plane, the people desperately jumping from the highest floors.  And we waited, for what we weren't sure.  And then, suddenly, the south tower collapsed upon itself, crumbling into a heap of dust-covered, twisted concrete and steel. People ran for their lives, screaming and crying, trying to cover their head until they found shelter. If one tower went down, the other was sure to follow.  And so it did.  We saw it, televised, as it happened.  And we wept.

We continued to watch and wait.  News of the Pentagon was reported.  Then flight 93, crashing into the Pennsylvania field.  Wondering who or what might be next, we called friends who worked in the Sears tower.  Yes, evacuation had begun.  

As the  images were repeatedly replayed they were imprinted into our psyches.  Over and over again, we relived the experience and felt anew our own grief. The cloud hanging over Manhattan and the glow of the fire smoldering in the distance for weeks became symbols of our mourning.   No doubt, the firefighters and police did the best they could.  Until then, we were unprepared, complacent in the belief that life was safe and that each day would be the same as the the one before it.  Shook to the core by the sudden realization of our vulnerability, we were scared. And angry.  So many people missing, gone in an instant.  Could it, would it happen again?

I am glad that today is at least partly cloudy.  If it was completely clear, it would be that much harder.  Listening to the reflections of loved ones left behind, I found my eyes filling with tears.  September 11th is now forever connected to sadness and tragedy.  Another "Day of Infamy."  Remembering is difficult, but necessary.   We remember so that we can appreciate and learn.  Life is precious and fleeting. Take nothing for granted.  

While the world is changed, we still have hope.  Giving up is not an option.  We need new leaders and heroes, people who are willing to sacrifice in order to help keep us safe.  We are those leaders and heroes.  It takes all of us to make the world a better place.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Lunch Friends

They didn't really have much in common other than sitting next to each other in class.  And that they both liked Tia Maria and coffee for lunch.  "Let's get out of here," Deidre said.  "This is making me crazy!  I'll drive."

"Of course," Dana thought to herself.  "Who would want to ride in my beater station wagon when we could take the 'vette?"  It was one of the many differences between the two.  Deidre drove a silver Corvette with removable T-tops.  The car matched her personality, always front and center, catching a lot of attention.  Dana drove a 10 year old Dodge station wagon with a broken spring.  The body of her car leaned to the left and had long ago lost any shine that may have covered the ugly tan paint job.  Still, it ran well and it got her where she wanted to go. Always practical Dana liked to declare, "A car is just a way to get from point A to point B."   But, secretly, she was always relieved if she got to the parking lot and there no one was there to witness what she drove.

The cars were a symbol of the differences between them, and yet there was something that drew them together.  Was it just the lunches out?  Or the fact that being in school drove them both kind of crazy?  Or so Dana pretended.  Perhaps it was that Deidre talked and Dana listened...who knew for sure? It was one of those 'odd couple' kind of things where opposites attract. 

"Thank God we're out of there," Deidre moaned dramatically.  Then, changing her tone, "It's such a nice day!  If I was leaving for home I would take the T-tops off, but I don't want to leave the car open in the parking lot.  Let's just go."  Deidre turned the key and revved the engine. Dana sincerely enjoyed riding in this car.  It was exciting and glamorous, qualities her rather mundane life often lacked. Deidre was exciting, too, in a way that Dana was not.  She seemed to seize upon life, living for the moment, not taking anything very seriously.  People were attracted to her in the same way that a moths are attracted to light; they enjoyed basking in her warmth and they reflected her  glory.

Dana, on the other hand, was more introverted and quiet.  Generally, she went unnoticed.  People thought of her as kind, helpful and smart, but in other ways, in social settings,  she was of the invisible outsider.  "Better that than the way it used to be,"  Dana thought to herself. As she rode toward the bar, she  remembered her high school days when she had been victimized by a gang of mean girls and bullies.  Never considered cool or popular, Dana had grown used to the idea of being alone.  As a result she could never completely understand or feel comfortable in her friendship with Deidre.  Dane knew that she cared more and invested more into the relationship. And she understood that eventually Deidre would move on, perhaps to another needy person, like Dana, or maybe to someone more like Deidre herself.  

 'It's  just a matter of time. Popular people don't hang out with geeks for long,"  Dana continued to ponder as Deidre sped down the highway,  waving to those drivers who honked and winked at her.  "Nice ride!"  or "Wanna' race?" they shouted out, flirtatiously.  Deidre flirted back and  laughed, enjoying every minute of the attention.  For her part, Dana just enjoyed being along for the ride.

They swerved into the parking lot, tires screeching in their own excitement.  "We're here!  Diets be damned!  Let's get whipped cream this time!" Deidre exclaimed.  Dana happily agreed.  "Diets can wait 'til tomorrow!"  She realized that this moment, like their friendship, was fleeting.   Yet, while sipping her coffee, Dana felt content.  " On my own I would never have ordered this for lunch.  It feels nice to be here with someone...with Deidre.  It may not be forever, but it is enough for now."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Veggin' Out Again!

   About a year ago I read the book Diet for a New America by John Robbins.  I have been interested in health and diet for a long time, so the title caught my eye.  As I read the book, it reminded me of  Upton Sinclair's The Jungle,  so similar was it's indictment of the meat industry in the United States.  It would seem that in the years since Sinclair's book the industry would have changed for the better, making progress in both sanitation and ethics of the industry.  While progress has been made in terms of affordable meat products, the sanitation and farming of the animals leaves a lot to be  desired.  The main consideration, if not the only one, seemingly, is the bottom line:  how much profit is being made?  Factory farming does not take into account that animals are living beings that deserve ethical treatment.  Penned up, force fed and brutally slaughtered,  it is clear that these unfortunate creatures have become mere commodities in the market place.  One does not have to be a member of PETA to be disturbed by this book if for no other reason than the descriptions of the unsanitary conditions and the addition of antibiotics to the feed to help prevent infection and communicable diseases among the innocent:  both the animals themselves and the consumers of their meat.

For several weeks after reading Robbins' book, I committed myself to a vegetarian lifestyle.   I couldn't go the vegan route;  cheese and dairy products are staples of my diet that I am not ready to forego.  And these products could be obtained, I believed, without causing suffering or death for the animals producing them.   But meat?  That was another matter, entirely.   I made the effort to avoid all meat and did fairly well for several weeks.    But eventually I felt hungry and in some way deprived and my appetite for meat was stronger than my commitment.  I'm ashamed to admit how easily I got over my angst at the revelations in this book!  In time, I forgot it's lessons completely and began to imbibe much more heartily in the typical American diet once again.  My sense of entitlement took over and I compromised my values.  I caved.  I co-opted.  I settled for the status quo.

But fate has intervened!  If you've ever read Blink or The Tipping Point, both by Malcolm Gladwell, you will know that there is a time when a small idea, presented and spread often enough, grows larger.  Was it coincidence that my daughter and I had both been re-exposed to the sins and maladies of the meat industry through Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma?  More than mere coincidence, I believe, that in our quest for healthy lifestyles we came across this book at the same time.    In reading it, my concerns with the food industry expand past just the meat industry to include plants that are genetically altered for the purpose of improving upon the inefficiency of Mother Nature.  Again, profit margins trump health! Both Robbins and Pollan   discuss this in their respective books.

Since I cannot give up all food, I do what I can. I support local farmer's markets and try to buy produce grown within 100 miles of my base.  I buy fruits and vegetables that are in season so as to reduce my carbon footprint.  I spend more on foods that use organic fertilizers rather than petroleum based chemicals and try to eat less, opting for smaller portions and better choices.  I recommit myself to at least a primarily vegetarian diet, eating meat only once or twice a week, buying only that raised by local farmers rather than factory farms and feed lots.

So often my small efforts seem to be in vain. I'll be tempted to give up yet again.  Advertising and appetite collude to lower my resolve.  But if one person can make a difference I'm willing to try.  It may not be much, but it's something.  Please pass the arugula.