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Just Say No. Well…Maybe.

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I’m a sinner.

Despite being a genuinely good person at heart, I’ve certainly sinned during my lifetime.

I am imperfect.

I was at a party my Sophomore year in college.  It was at my roommate’s friends’ house down the street from ours, off-campus in the old Greek Row.  I had been drinking, but wasn’t drunk.  I was most definitely high, though, because my roommate was a stoner musician. I mean she played a wind instrument in the orchestra, not the drums or guitar in a grunge band or something, but still.  And well… I was high.  But not crazy-high.  Just happily buzzed.  The typical mellow, no worries, chilled, isn’t-everything-so-awesome-and-interesting kind of high.  I didn’t really know the people who lived in the party house, but they seemed cool. Nice.  Musicians also.  Artistic.  I was a Theatre major and I loved being around “that scene”.

At some point I wandered off from the group hanging out on the back porch and in the kitchen, and into the living room.  There was the stereo blaring The Ramones.  No one was around.  I stood in front of the speakers looking at the cassette tapes (uh huh, 1988.  Hey, at least they weren’t 8-tracks).  Probably 100 of them.  Without so much as even looking around to see if anyone was watching me, I picked up three of them and put them in my coat pocket.  They were three I wanted but didn’t have.  The only one I still remember was Sting, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”.

So I put these three tapes in my pocket very nonchalantly and turned and walked over to the couch, sat down by myself, put my head back and listened to the music.  I smiled to myself because I had just stolen these tapes, and I didn’t care.

Now Nancy Reagan would have said it was the pot stealing my soul.  It altered my thought-processes!  It brought out the demons in me!

Nah.  I’d always wondered what it would be like to steal something.  Small, you know.  Not grand-theft auto or bank robbery or anything.  But I had always been a good girl, and I wanted to do something “bad”.  The weed simply lifted the veil of morality that separated me from my inner bad-chick.  And honestly, it kind of felt awesome.

I walked around that party the rest of the night occasionally putting my hand in my coat pocket touching the tapes.  I had a little secret and I liked it.   Plus, they honestly had at least 100 tapes in there, they’d never miss these.  And they’d never in a gazillion years suspect lil ol’ me.

The next morning I woke up not with a hangover so much as a fog.  We didn’t get home til almost 4 am, and I woke up around 7:30 and I was just…tiiiiirrrrreeeeeddddddd.  I sat up in my bed, reached for the litre of Pepsi next to my bed (you know, dry mouth from all the reefer) and guzzled half of it without breathing.

It was FREEZING.  I think it was February.  My room was in the back of the house, and it was basically an enclosed porch.  I’m almost positive there was no insulation of any kind in that room.  It slanted significantly downward and to the right toward the back, with some paneling semi-nailed into some 2 X 4’s comprising a closet and old, dingy dark brown carpeting covering the floor.  I loved it.

My coat was laying at the end of my bed.  I reached over and put it on, got up to go to the bathroom, grabbed a piece of plain white bread from the kitchen and shoved it into my mouth (pathetic excuse for delayed-munchies junk food) and got back into my bed under the covers shaking violently.  I put my right hand in my right coat pocket and felt something hard.

My eyes opened real wide, and I pulled out the tapes.  What the…what???

Uh oh.  It all came back to me.  I was a thief.  There was Sting in all his tantric glory.

Oh. Boy.

I didn’t feel guilt right away.  I felt confused.  I remembered taking the tapes while being of “sound mind”.  I knew it was wrong when I did it, but I did it anyway.  I made a conscious, if not slightly altered, decision to steal them from my friend’s friend.  Yep.  I sure did.  I put them under my bed and put my hand back under the covers until I stopped shaking and started to fall asleep, I’m pretty sure with a slight smile on my face.

The next day was Sunday.  Me and my roommate went out for lunch.  We got back to our house and watched some TV.  Laid around.  Studied some.  Just a lazy day.  At some point mid-afternoon, she got a phone call.  She went into her room to take it and I went back to my room to find a book.

When I came back out she said, “That was Mike.  He’s so pissed off.  He’s calling everyone to find out who stole his shit.  Give me a break”.

Oh boy.

“What shit?” I asked.

“I don’t know, some tapes.  He’s so uptight.” she said shaking her head.

And I just shrugged my shoulders and sat down.

We both had our feet up on the Salvation Army coffee table, on top of the “Juggs” magazines we kept there as a conversation piece.  (Four girls lived in our house, all of us artists in some form or another, and we thought it was hilarious that we had four copies of “Juggs” as our coffee-table books.  Very weird, yet still damn funny to me).  And it hit me.  Um, I had done something bad.  And now I was feeling bad.  I had to return them.

But how??

“You know what?”, I said as if I had just remembered something, “…wait a minute”.  And I got up and ran to my room.  I reached under my bed and put the tapes back into my coat pocket.  I went back into the living room with my coat and reached into my pocket in front of her.

“Some guy at the party asked me if I wanted some tapes, and I obviously said okay, because I found these in my pocket yesterday and forgot about them”.

“Whoa!” she laughed, “Seriously?  Some guy at the party gave those to you?”

“Yeah, really.  Some guy sat down next to me and asked if I wanted them, and I said uh, okay, and he gave them to me.”

“Holy shit!  I have to call Mike!”

“Yeah”, I said, “I have no idea who he was, I just thought he lived there and was flirting or something and gave them to me.  And then I forgot about them.  He was pretty wasted.  But yeah, they’re obviously Mike’s.  So tell him I have them and I can bring them over to him.  Tell him I’m sorry, but I had no idea they weren’t that guy’s”.

Oh my God.  I was making so much shit up on the fly…and I was freaking out.  But I was an Acting major, so I tried very hard to utilize my training to cover my very-guilty-sorry-thieving-ass.

She called Mike.  She came out of her room and her face looked surprised and she said, “Wow, he’s pissed and he’s coming over here right now!”

“What?!  Pissed why??” I innocently asked.

“He thinks you stole them!” she gleefully yelled.

“What?!  Oh please.  Why the hell would I steal those?  I have a ton of my own tapes.  And I wouldn’t do that!”

“I know!  I told him that but he doesn’t believe me!”

Oh. My. God.  Now this guy who I didn’t know at all was coming over to what…beat me up for stealing his tapes?!

He only lived around the corner and within a couple of minutes he was knocking on the door.  I was cool.  Very nonplussed.  On the outside.

The tapes were sitting on the coffee table on top of the April issue of “Juggs”.  I thought if he saw them there he might be distracted from wanting to kill me.

He came in and said directly to me, “What the hell, man?  Why did you steal my tapes?”

“Hey, I didn’t steal them.  Some guy gave them to me and I was pretty stoned so I didn’t think much of it and forgot about them until you called here.  So here they are, sorry.”  I ushered his gaze toward the Juggs with all the zeal of one of The Price is Right showcase girls.

“Well this is only two of them.  Where’s the other one!?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.  I don’t have another one.  These two are the only ones he gave me”.

“Bullshit.  Where’s the other one?”  He was kind of menacing now. And it pissed me off.

“Hey, look.  He gave me two and these are them.”

“What did this mystery asshole look like?” he asked sarcastically.

I thought very quickly and decided giving him the “bushy-haired stranger” description would be too obvious a lie, and at lightning speed I ran through the guys who I remembered being there so I wouldn’t describe any of them.

“I hardly remember.  He was blonde.  That’s about all I remember.”  That description fit roughly 85% of the guys there that night so I felt sure I wasn’t pinning this on anyone in particular.

“Whatever, man.  Not cool!”  And he grabbed the tapes and left.

My roommate stood by the door with her mouth open and said, “What an asshole!  He’s always been asshole, man…I’ve never liked him.  Ugh.”  She came and sat back down next to me.

I was completely and totally freaked out.  I’d never stolen anything before in my life and I was wracked with guilt.  He knew I was lying.  It was good to hear that Mike was not highly thought of, that kind of lessened the guilt, but not by much.

My roommate completely believed me, because she knew I wouldn’t steal stuff.  That is what made me feel instantly horrible.  We laughed about it, all the while I was feeling bad on the inside.  My parents had raised me better, and I was a very good girl.

I went to my room soon after to take a nap.  I sat on my bed, reached under my mattress and pulled out…Sting.

So here was this crazy guy coming over to a girl’s house to accuse her of stealing his stuff, a guy who wasn’t digging “Juggs” (what’s up with THAT?) and…knew I was lying.

Still, I kept Sting.  What was wrong with me?  Had I turned to a life of hard-core crime?  Was MaryJane really the gateway drug Nancy had been preaching against all these years?

WHY had I kept Mr. Sumner’s tape?

You know what, to this day I’m not sure.  Except maybe at the time I was thinking, “Hey, if I’m going to get caught I don’t want it all to be in vain.  He can’t prove I did it…”

And maybe because a little part of me still wanted to feel “bad”.  A little rebellious.  A little ballsy.  Push the envelope a little.  I laugh to myself as I write this…yeah, a REAL little.  What a bad-ass.  Are you rolling your eyes along with me?

I still have “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” in a tub in my basement.

I’d never stolen anything before that night, and I never have since.  Well, not long ago I walked out of the gym with one of their towels.  I had simply forgotten to throw it in the bin when I was done and had left with it absent-mindedly.  I brought it back the next day – after washing and folding it.

I heard the song “Russians” on the radio the other day, and here I am telling the tale of my inner-outlaw.

I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.  I’ve done a lot of other worse, though not intentional, things in my life.

It was just one of those things that I did…maybe as proof to myself that I could take a risk and get away with it.  It was stupid and not right.  It was wrong.

But…is it bad that I don’t really regret keeping it?

Eh. I blame the weed.

Hold The Door

I was nearing the entrance to a store the other day, and a probably mid-thirties man was holding the door open for two women in their early twenties in front of me, and me.  I said “Thanks” and smiled.  As we walked into the store, the women in front of me chuckled with eyebrows raised and looked back at the man and shook their heads.  I looked at him when he started to walk past me, and he had clearly seen their reaction.  He shrugged his shoulders at me as if to say “Oh, well, can’t win”.  I said “Thank You” – again.

That little episode made me think of this:

Many years ago I was an actor in a play with an all-female cast (save for one small male role).  The play addressed many of the plights and issues which have confronted women throughout modern history, albeit in an indirect manner.  It was a comedy with some heavy undertones, naturally.

As with any gathering of multiple women, there were some very strong personalities at work, which was a good thing…mostly.  We had all become friendly through the process of putting together and producing the show, and I had become close to one woman in particular.  Let’s call her Mary.

Late in the process of rehearsals, nearing opening night, we had a break in our Director’s notes one evening and we all started talking.  The discussion drifted toward sexism and harassment.  If there’s one thing a big group of women can all pretty much collectively rally around is that we hate misogynists and harassers.  What’s not to hate?

At that point we started comparing notes on who’d been done more-wrong by a man, and all of us had these things in common:

  • We’d been touched by a man in an inappropriate, uninvited way.
  • We’d been made to feel like we needed to “give it up” to a boss or teacher in order to feel secure in our jobs or classes (college classes, thankfully).
  • We’d been objectified by many men in an effort to make us feel less intelligent.
  • We’d all been at least verbally threatened or ridiculed by a man when we refused their advances or ended a relationship with them.  And in some cases “relationship” meant all of one date.

That’s eight women with all of those things in common.  We all obviously found this disturbing, but still it was a fun discussion as with hilarity we ripped each of these guys a new one.

At this point Mary said to me in front of everyone else, “I’m so tired of men making me feel like I’m worthless because I’m a woman”.  Most everyone agreed.  I was perplexed though, and I said “What do you mean exactly?”  She went on to explain that she was tired, for herself and all women, that we’re made to feel our self-worth is tied ultimately to what a man thinks of us.  Mary was a self-proclaimed feminist.

“Hmmm…”, I said, “I’m not sure I agree with that, I’ve never felt worthless because of what a man thinks of me.”

She said, “Oh, come on.  You’re telling me that no man in your life has ever made you feel like shit or degraded you to the point where you felt you had no self-worth?”

It was getting a little tense now.

“Has any man made me feel like shit and degraded me?  Yeah, of course.  But have I let that make me feel worthless as a woman or a person?  No.  I really don’t think so.”

“I don’t believe you.”  she said.

“Ok, well you don’t have to believe me…but that doesn’t make it any less true.” I responded.

“Bullshit”, decried Mary.

People were getting uncomfortable now.

“No, not bullshit.  It’s the truth.  I know women don’t get what they deserve in comparison to men, and that we’ve all had to deal with harassment and getting dumped and all of it.  But I’m telling you, not once in my life, not once, have I ever felt like ‘I’m a woman and these men make me feel worthless’.  Not once.”

The conversation went South from there.  And so did our friendship.  Mary clearly saw me as being in some sort of denial about my man-damaged feminine psyche and was angered at my dissent from the “feminist” mantra she espoused – which was “all men want is to either screw, or screw over, women.”

It was a very tense discussion which led me to leave the theatre wondering to myself, “Is there something wrong with me?  Maybe I should feel that way…I’ve known a lot of assholes in my life….hmmmm”.

I’ve always considered myself a “feminist”.  To me the enormity of that word encapsulated who I felt I was:  strong, opinionated, not intimidated by any man’s attempts to diminish me due to my sex, demanding of respect and equality….yeah, I felt very much like a “feminist”.  But not the parodied, cartoonish version of a Rush Limbaughian “femi-nazi”…I mean, I really like my bras.

Then I started to think of some of the things I like about being a woman:

  1. I definitely like my bras.  Not only do I like them, they are entirely necessary to hoist up what gravity has pulled asunder.
  2. I like feeling attractive to men.  And to women too for that matter.  It’s nice to feel as if people appreciate and admire the superficiality of my face and/or body.  I’m pretty much relegated to the realm of “cute”, and while I used to hate that word I appreciate the compliment if given.
  3. I like exhibiting power and strength that doesn’t stem from my physicality, and that I don’t have to rely on my physical self for people to see I have strength.
  4. I like that women can give birth to human beings and men cannot.  It’s kind of the ultimate “up yours…try THAT”.
  5. I like how we are given “permission” to openly express feelings to most anyone on most any topic.  Even though we get ridiculed for it by, men, mostly…I’d still rather be “allowed” than repressed.
  6. I like that our clothes are much more interesting than a man’s.  “Ooooh, look, he’s wearing a dark BLUE suit tonight instead of black.”   Yeah.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  7. I like men.

I do.  I like men.  I think good men can be hard to find…(or, as my Nanna used to say, “A hard man is good to find”)…but when you find them throughout your life, they’re pretty great and you should keep them handy.  I would say that I’ve had nearly as many close male friends as female friends.  And I can honestly say that’s held true for most of my life.

What I don’t understand about hard-core feminists like Mary, or perhaps these young women at the store, is this seemingly instantaneous skepticism regarding a man’s character.

God, yes, I’ve been blindsided by men who I was sure were upstanding and wonderful and caring who ended up breaking my heart, or stabbing me in the back, or groping me instead of wanting to have a relevant conversation with me.

But from an early age we women are trained to expect less from men in “general”…in other words to set the bar very high in terms of what kind of man should be allowed into our female inner-sanctum, because most men just aren’t very…good.

This way by the time they get through our screening process – in theory – they should all be Prince Charmings and every character Paul Rudd has ever played.

But honestly, truly…I’ve known just as many women –  friends or co-workers  – who’ve ripped my heart out or screwed me over in one way or another.  And it can hurt more.  Why?   Because women often let each other “in” willy-nilly for the most part.

I have rarely come across a man I was more afraid of or hurt by than a girlfriend or female colleague who had some sort of hidden agenda or vendetta against me.  The biggest “dick” of a man can’t hold a candle to the biggest “bitch” of a woman.  Sorry.  In my experience it’s just the truth.  Actually, in some strange way it kind of makes me proud:  right or wrong there is power in knowing hell-hath-no-fury as a pissed off woman.

No one I know would ever describe me as being passive, or a doormat, or intimidated, or even remotely capable of being dominated in any way by a man.  If if they did describe me as any of those things, they very clearly have no clue about who I am.

Yes, I’ve been hurt deeply by men I’ve loved.

Yes, I’ve been taken advantage of by men whom I’ve put naive faith in.

Yes, I’ve let a man or two get away with harassing me in a sexual manner in order to avoid an Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas pubic-hair-on-the-Diet Coke-type-thing.

Yes, I’ve occasionally allowed a man to momentarily make me question if I was “good enough” because he didn’t want me in his life.

Yes, I go through periods of extreme frustration knowing I often still have to fight harder and longer in order to get what a man merely has to sport facial and chest hair, to get.

Yep.  All of those indignities and more simply because – I’m a girl.

But I swear to you, not once have I ever tied my self-worth…what I believe I can offer to the world by virtue of my womanhood and my humanity…to any other person.  Not even a man.

My truth is, I really love it when a man offers his seat to a woman.  Or holds the door open for her.  I know many women look at it as a throw-back insult from a bygone era when we were consistently thought of as weak or frail and so we must sit so as not to risk injury to alabaster skin and bones by standing too long, or risk the busting open of the laces on our corsets by pulling on the knob of a door; seriously, I think that must have been a real concern.  Have you ever worn a corset?  I have.  They suck.

But to me, in this era, I see a woman behind that.  I see a strong woman who taught her son that it’s honestly just a really nice thing to do.  It shows an appreciation in some small way for who women are in general….a spontaneous recognition that every single, solitary human being who has ever walked the face of the Earth once grew and lived and was nurtured – literally – inside the body of a woman.  Yeah you can chalk that up to evolution and biology – but we’ve turned it into an art-form.

Or perhaps it’s an appreciation for how we look, or dress, or walk, or smell, or an appreciation for our intellect or the enlightening conversation we just had over coffee, or the account we just secured for our company.

Whenever it happens and for whatever reason, to me those niceties show respect for us, not disdain or pity.  Not anymore, at least.

Maybe I’m reading a tad too far into things here.  Still that’s how I see it.

A lot of men abuse the power they’ve endowed themselves with since the beginning of time.  And let’s face it, they did it because they could; they’ve got us on physical strength and that’s where all oppression of women going back to our primordial beginnings, stems from.  They took advantage of their biology, and did it with what evolution gave them.

But many more men, don’t.

One thing’s for-sure in my world; if a man doesn’t hold the door for me when it’s reasonable for him to do so, I automatically see him as weak.  And when he does hold the door for me, I smile warmly and say thank you.  I think it’s cool.

Maybe he does it as his way of paying “reparations” to us on behalf of all men, for thousands of years of ongoing oppression.

Maybe he does it because he can sense my womanly awesomeness, and it would be pretty damn weird to tell a stranger how cool he thinks she is simply because he can recognize her strength (whether through physical attractiveness or motherlieness or what…) without the need to flex her biceps or pee effortlessly standing up next to a tree.

Maybe he just wants to get laid.  I don’t know.

But he does it because he appreciates…something.

I am a strong woman. I am a feminist.

I suppose this is just my very long-winded way of saying to all of you men out there:  hold the door.

It’s okay.  I’ll thank you for it.

**********

Here are some related articles, agreeing and disagreeing:

The Good Men Project: Damned If We Do, Damned if We Don’t.

Feminist Theory Reading Group: Marilyn Frye – The Politics of Reality:  Oppression

Maybe You Had to Be There: No. 1

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I love to laugh.  I really do.  I mean it!  I love it.  And I love making people laugh.  It’s like a drug to me.  I’ve never used cocaine or heroin or uppers or goofballs or, Jesus – I’m so uncool…I’ll just say “illicit drugs”….but to me I equate enduring gut-busting laughter, or causing it, with that kind of high.  Any of you hard-core drug users out there might disagree with me but you can’t prove me wrong so, piss off.

It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard that I felt like I couldn’t breathe and like I was going to pass out, and I really need a fix.

So I started compiling in my head the things that I can remember laughing at the hardest in my long, illustrious life.  This is one of them:

College.  1988?  Probably Midnight.  Eating at “The Junction” with the usual suspects… a bunch of dirt-poor, over-worked, never-paid Theatre students.  This was “our place”.  We OWNED that place.  You could write a check there for a buck-fifty.  ‘nough said.

So I’m eating a taco salad (not their signature dish, but it cost like $ .12 – so it was pretty popular).  I start choking and gasping for air.  My friend “Sue” (I’m protecting her identity, from what I don’t know…but she’s the same friend with whom I shared Super Mario life-lessons) is sitting to my left eating her who-knows-what.

I’m gagging and can’t catch my breath.  Other friends start to notice and become passively concerned, doling out the intermittent, obligatory “are-you-okays”.  Sue doesn’t flinch and continues eating and I was pissed she wasn’t trying to help me.  She was, after all, the only one there who had taken Nursing courses and was, I assumed, my best chance at survival.

I dramatically, natch, grab my throat, look directly at Sue and sputter out the word “HEIMLICH!” in my raspy, nearly-deadness. She. Does. Nothing.

Someone from across the table leans over and smacks me on the back in a pretty half-assed sort of way, rolling their eyes the whole time.  That pissed me off too.  I cough and the offending piece of something dislodges in my throat.  I breathe hard and drink some water, slamming the glass down with a flourish.

Once I compose myself I turn to Sue, and with arms flailing in their ridiculous Italianness, yell…

“What the FUCK!?  You couldn’t HELP ME??!!  I said Heimlich!!!

Without looking up and continuing her meal she said……

“If you can say it, you don’t need it.”

The Closet Superhero

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My entire life I’ve had extraordinarily vivid, realistic dreams.  They are almost entirely in living color.  They occur almost exclusively through my point of view; I don’t see myself in my dreams.  They are almost always cinematically perfect; dramatic cut-away shots of action taking place out of my view which I can still see and hear and understand.  They are almost always breathtaking and vibrant in their realism.  They are almost always unbelievably detailed; extraneous background sounds, smells and textures appropriate to the setting.  They are almost always ingrained in my consciousness upon waking.

Most of the dreams worthy of my morning remembrance, and there are many, almost always involve water.  Lots and lots of water.

And the ones fitting these descriptions are almost always…absolutely terrifying.

I do not drown in these dreams.  But there is a recurrent theme, or thread, running through all of them.  I end up in some sort of building; a warehouse, a house, a shed, an apartment building, a barn…which eventually becomes submerged in hundreds if not thousands of feet of water.  Water rarely enters these buildings save for the leaking which comes through the closed windows and doors.  There is air for me to breathe.  Life is normal inside these buildings.  But only inside.

I’ve had this same type of dream for at least twenty years, a couple of times a year, roughly six months apart.  They are definitely cyclical.  Cyclical to what, I’m not sure.

The last water dream I had was about five months ago.  It went as follows:

It was a summer night, early evening, in Chicago.  I had been to the beach and was walking home.  While I am usually the only person in my dreams, I don’t always feel alone…I know there are other people around I simply cannot see them, but I can usually hear them.  I could hear children laughing and playing in the streets.  It was hot, and I was sweating.  I was very anxious to get home.  I could smell popcorn nearby and realized I was very hungry.  I was wearing flip-flops and my feet ached.  I had a beach towel around my neck and was carrying a bag with a book inside.  I was walking toward the apartment on North Broadway I used to live in alone, at a time when that area was probably not considered the safest place for a woman to live in alone.

A few blocks from home I looked West and noticed huge, billowing, undulating black clouds forming and rolling Eastward.  The wind became strong enough for me to have to brace myself against light posts and buildings to avoid falling down.  I stopped in an inset doorway of a little shop and looked South, and noticed the same types of ominous clouds rolling in from the South meeting up with the clouds from the West where they converged over my head…then the same from the North, and the East.  I was one block from my apartment.  I heard no other people at this point, and there was no sound at all coming from the hurricane force winds.  Complete silence except for my heavy breathing.

I reached the double doors to my building and walked up to the 5th floor.  It was indeed my apartment in every way that I remember it in real life, except in real life that apartment was on the 1st floor, not the 5th.  I put my things down and stood in the dim light trying to catch my breath.  There was no sound anywhere save for my breathing.  I went to the stove and turned on the kettle to make tea.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and tried to make sense of the weather outside.  I couldn’t.

I went to the window facing South, and there it was far off in the distance…the wall of water, a hundred feet high.

I began hyperventilating.  I opened the window and now there was no wind, not even a breeze.  Roiling clouds overhead.  Utter silence.  But it was coming.  The black wall of water was moving toward me slowly and steadily, swallowing and making invisible everything in its path.

I started screaming to warn people of its approach, but there were no people to warn.

I was alone.  When I looked again at the street below cars were askew all over as if left there in a mass exodus.  I then realized that everyone knew of its approach but me and had gone to a safe place.

I somehow knew it was futile to try to leave.  So I got a teabag out of the cabinet and put it in my mug and poured the not quite hot enough water into it.  I started humming The Beatles’ “Michelle” under my breath.  And I kept walking to the window to see how close the wall was getting.

Within minutes it was across the street.  I could see it engulf the Walgreen’s, the video store, the bus stop.  It was relentless.

I closed the window and backed up facing it until I was against the living room wall.  Twenty feet, ten feet, five…….and then it slowly pressed up against the glass.  I could see into the rippling blackness which was held at bay only by some thin panes of glass, some wooden doors and some bricks and mortar.  I turned my head to the left and watched it lumber past another window, and then another until the dim sunlight was completely extinguished.  The electricity was still on.  Life was normal inside.

I moved in slow motion toward the kitchen again and stared at the bottom of the back door leading to the porch.  And I stared, and stared, until finally trickles of water started seeping in.  Then the same from one window, and another.  The windows and doors never broke or burst open, they simply…leaked.  A gentle, monotonous reminder of what existed outside.

And then I woke up.

What is happening to me now physically as I write this, is a controlled panic.  I’m breathing fast, my heart is racing, my head is pounding and my legs are shaking ever so subtly.  I’m trying to make myself calm.  It is difficult to write this out as I have.

I have analyzed these dreams at great length.  I believe their meaning goes beyond any simplistic Freudian explanation of repressed sexuality, or extreme stress literally burying me in over my head.

Nope, I’ve come to realize that about every six months or so I quite simply need the shit scared out of me.  Fear is a very real and true motivating force in my life.  I have worked extremely hard at controlling and containing fear since I was young.  I abhor being fearful.  I feel that strength and courage are two of the most admirable attributes of personal character.  And fear is an all-encompassing hindrance to attaining those qualities I so admire.

For me, I truly believe that my subconscious tests me in this way.  I’m one of those people who wonders often:  Would I run into the burning building to save a child while others run away?  Would I stand up to an attacker in defense of my own life or the life of someone I love or care about?  Would I do it for a stranger?  Would I think about it?  Or would it simply be an instinct one way or another?  I like to think I could truly be brave, put fear aside, take action at the risk of my own peril to help myself or anyone else.  I want to be that person.

I want to be strong, and brave, with a disregard for fear.  I want to make brave and strong and bold choices in my life which ultimately have a positive impact on myself and those around me.  I don’t want to be reckless.  I want courage.  Courage of conviction and personal truth.  These are character strengths I strive for and goals I have tried to reach since I was a teenager.  I’ve had only moderate success with these things, but I’m trying.

One of my favorite movies is “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep.  It’s kind of a hokey comedy about some people who die and discover that you don’t go straight to Heaven or Hell, but instead to a type of courthouse where you have to prove to a panel of judges that you lived your life without fear to the best of your ability.  A prosecutor awaits to show you examples of how you instead let fear run your life.  Hence, you must defend it.  If you can prove you made at least continual efforts at true courage in all aspects of your life – even if unsuccessful – whether it was to run into a burning building to save someone or took a calculated risk in the stock market in an effort to better your future or stood up to the playground bully…you move on.  If you can’t prove you lived your life without fear and with courage, you go back and start all over until you get it right.  If you have to go back too many times, eh…you get thrown out as unworthy of progressing to the next phase of existence.

The message of that hokey little movie struck a chord with me years ago and stays with me.

And I think that’s what these dreams are about.

For years I’d wake up from these dreams with dread, in a cold, dripping sweat…crying and gasping for air.  I’d have to turn on every light within reach, rinse my face, and it could take an hour or more to convince myself it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening, so strong was their impact. Now, I wake up from them still breathing hard, but no sweat, no lights on, no water in the face.  In a matter of seconds I know it’s not real.

In the past, within the dreams themselves, I’d scream and try in vain to run, begging for someone to save me.  Crying for help.  Desperate.  Terrorized.  Unable to react in any way other than a primal version of myself. Now, I still breathe hard, my heart pounds, I feel clausterphobic…but I at least try to warn other people. I make tea, albeit not very hot tea.  I now watch in controlled, panicked silence instead of unchecked, mindless hysteria as the wall approaches.  I now make a concerted effort to be brave.

I don’t know.  That’s how I choose to interpret these dreams.  I suppose they could occur due to simple hormone fluctuations, the time of year, what I’ve seen on the news, sexual repression, the sometimes overwhelming nature of day-to-day life.  I suppose.  But I doubt it.

I think my subconscious self is wayyyyy more intelligent than my conscious self.  And I think oh, twice a year or so I put myself to a “test”.  Yes, that’s what I choose to believe.  And I’m passing with higher and higher marks the older I get.  At this pace I should be ready to prove my inner bravery to myself when I turn 80.  And that’s okay.  So long as I get there.

I’m due for one of these dreams pretty soon, within the next couple of months most likely if history continues to repeat itself.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If this time I sit on the couch reading Cosmo and sipping a glass of Pinot Noir as the wall of water encases the world around me, I just might buy the cape.  Not the full body-hugging jump suit with the “C” for courage on the chest or the black, knee-high patent leather high-heeled boots or the mask or anything.

…it’s a deep, rich and blue satin.  It’s pretty and shiny.

I really want that cape.

“Dipshit” is the new “30”

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By the time this entry is posted it will be my birthday.  And I will be 43 years old.

This one is hitting me kind of hard for some reason. I’m not really sure why….

Ohhhh wait.  I know why.

Because DAMN it sure is close to 45.

Which is pretty damn close to 50.

It’s all so pathetically cliché; I don’t feel like I’m 43.

I don’t feel like I was born in the flipping 60’s.

I don’t feel like I should need bifocals (which I absolutely do).

I don’t feel like I should be in peri-menopause.

I don’t feel like I should be getting night-sweats for no apparent reason – to the point I wake up dialing 911 for the fire department to douse the INFERNO that is surely raging in my bed.

I don’t feel like crazy, wiry gray hairs should be popping up all over my body.

I don’t feel like working out at least five times a week should enable me to only sort of maintain my current physique instead of actively improving it like it would have even five years ago.

I don’t feel like when I dance in my living room my kids and nieces should recoil in horror and embarrassment and beg me to stop because I look like a such a dork, when I know damn well I look cool.

I don’t feel like it should be necessary to don a huge floppy hat any time I’m near sunlight so that my ever-increasingly sensitive skin doesn’t literally sizzle with Shar Pei sized wrinkles.

I don’t feel like I should preemptively start adding “Bran” to my diet to stave off the “irregularities” I hear about in people my age on those God-forsaken daytime commercials.

I don’t feel like my back and my knees should periodically give out on me…when I’m SITTING DOWN.

You get the picture.

I know.  Small potatoes.  Nitpicky stuff.  I have no real complaints.  That’s a lie, I do.  But I’m trying to keep them in perspective.  I have the love of family and friends and three wonderful children, and I love them back.  I recognize this post is excruciatingly petty.  I’m nothing if not self-aware.  I don’t know…I guess 43 just seems like a crossing-over into the permanent “I could be your Mother” category.  It’s inane.  Believe me, I know.

Honestly, the last time I had a problem with an age was when I turned…wait for it…………. 27.  What a dipshit I was.

“Oh I’m so sad…I’m almost 30 and I haven’t won an Oscar yet, or written my novel, or been skydiving…”.  Puh-leeze.

I still haven’t done those things.  Oi.

If I could go back and visit my 27-year-old self, I’d say “Hey, Dipshit, look…” and I’d show her the course of my life up to this point.  Then I’d ask her, “Would you really change anything?  Really?”

My 27-year-old self would ponder thoughtfully (after the near-stroke and freak-out of seeing my squinting, profusely sweating, hunched over future self) and say, “Are you fucking kidding me?  Yes!  Yes!!!  Hell YES!!!….Wait, where are you going, Grandma?  The “Golden Girls” isn’t on for another hour!  Come back here!  Are you DEAF too….wait….!!!”

My future self would have been walking out the door into the time portal upon hearing that and flipping my past self the bird.  I don’t think I’d appreciate being the victim of my own caustic, taunting sense of humor.

And also because while I’d change a lot, and I mean a LOT about the course my life would take, 27-year-olds who are depressed about some day turning 30 are really just stupid.

Did I mention I have less patience now too?

I hope in sixteen years I can come back here, still relatively happy and healthy, and write about what a dipshit I am right now.

That would be pretty cool.  Yeah, here’s hoping.

Ahh…and there it is.

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It might be too late for Caylee, but just maybe someone else will know that ignoring the fact that your child is “missing” has direct and serious consequences.  Maybe.

“Caylee’s Law”:

ABC News

Sign the Petition

Another Petition Site

Washington Post…Exactly.

The Mother of All Panic Buttons

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I have now raised three sons past the age of three years old.  Boogs is 6 1/2.  Bubs is 4 1/2.  Boo is 3 1/2.  Sometimes it smacks me in the head like a swatter hitting a fly: “Who in the HELL thought I was adult enough, know enough, am responsible enough….to have three children COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON ME?!?!”

Yeah, see?  Sometimes it still freaks me out.

A friend once asked me how I do it – three boys so close in age, so young.

My response was: “Some days, if they’re just…alive, and relatively healthy by the end of the day, that day was a success.”

It is HARD being a parent.  Good God Almighty.  It just is.  And to be a good parent…a great one?  Well, I’m not there, but I certainly give it everything I have.  I suppose the magnitude of my kids’ adult neuroses will be the gauge on that meter.

My wonderful boys are…hmmmm.  Energetic.  Very.  They are wonderfully and often, stupifyingly, exuberant.  They’re kids.  Beautiful, crazy, life-loving kids.  I am only recently feeling confident enough in myself to take all three of them together, out anywhere in the world…let’s say grocery shopping, and feeling like I can handle it without at least two of them ensconced in the cart.  When the two youngest would be put in the cart they were excited…they thought it was awesome and the most fun ever!  Me?  I saw a safe little cage on wheels.

All three of them are far too big for carts now.  Now they must be allowed to walk free.  Free-range children.  Oh boy.

Planning a simple grocery shopping trip with them takes years of pre-planning, statistical pie-charting and the mapping out of contingency scenarios.  It requires a thorough knowledge of the store to be patronized and the death-defying route from the parking space to the store entrance.  It requires stern but not menacing discussions about stranger-danger and what to do if they get separated from me.  It requires no sauntering or meandering once inside, but does require a precise list of the goods needed in the precise order in which I will find them in the store.

Listen, I understand that I might seem a little high strung about this…but it’s new to me so give me a break.  I also understand that many mothers just pack their three to six+ kids in the car, zip off to the store and wing it.  Yeah yeah yeah…bravo for them.  I don’t know who those women are, and I don’t want to.  Anyone that brave and put-together is not welcome in my inner-circle…what with their carefree attitudes and zero-stress levels and all.  Don’t let the very-slowly-closing automatic grocery store door gently bump you in the ass on the way out, I say.  I digress.

So six years ago I mapped out my recent grocery shopping trip with the boys, really the first with three completely free-range children.  The day was upon us.  I felt good.  I felt prepared.

Navigation of the parking lot went well…blood pressure was within normal ranges.  Walking through the automatic doors went well…no head injuries.  Explanation regarding why they can no longer sit in the “awesome” cart went fairly well…no sit-down-on-the-floor tantrums.  Directive to never leave my general view went well…”Okay, Mommy”s heard all around.

“Well, hell”, I thought, “All of my hard work has paid off.”  I squeezed my own shoulder with pride.

I was cocky.  Oh yes.

Produce was the first department.  Fruit went fine.  Twenty feet past fruit are vegetables.  Did my head count, all accounted for and within easy sight.  They didn’t need to be glued to me, simply within my vision.   They were laughing at potatoes.  I don’t know…don’t ask me.

I turned around to fill a bag with green beans.  I don’t know why they don’t have a bean-catcher at the bottom of the Giza pyramid- sized mountain of beans.  It’s like some sort of Candid Camera situation when you try to take a handful and 25,000 beans cascade to the ground.

“Son of a bitch…argggghhhh”…under my breath as I bent down to at least move them out of the middle of the floor.  Being an HR Director I’m pretty aware of the hassles of Workers’ Comp claims.

It probably only took about 20 seconds to bend over and push the beans underneath the shelf.  I stood up and realized I heard no potato taunting.  Like one of those prairie gophers I stood up on my toes and scanned the horizon.  I could see the two oldest boys whose heads bobbed above the displays, over by the deli.  I assumed Boo, the youngest, was with them.

“Come over here please!”  I whisper-yelled.

They did.  But there was no three-year old Boo.

“Where’s Boo?!”  I asked my oldest.

“I dunno.  He went over there.” He said passively and pointed toward the entrance.

My heart stopped.  I grabbed their hands and left my cart with my purse open, wallet sitting inside invitingly.

I dragged them behind me as I weaved in and around the multiple displays and shelves in circles making my way toward the entrance.  And now I was not whisper-yelling, I was yelling… “Boo!  Boo…where are you?!  Come here now please!”

Nothing.

And here is what went through my mind, in no particular order:

  • He was close enough to the door that someone walked out with him easily, lured with candy.
  • How charming and funny he is.
  • He was being harmed or killed in a van in the parking lot.
  • His funeral.
  • His beautiful laugh.
  • I bet it was that shifty-looking man in his mid-fifties who looked out-of-place when we walked in.
  • What was the shifty man wearing?
  • What was Boo wearing?
  • The State taking away my other two children due to my extreme negligence.
  • How would I keep the other two kids safe while I beat to death the person who was trying to shove my son in a van in the parking lot?
  • How my remaining children would forever grieve the loss of their mother because I would be sitting catatonic in an institution or prison for the rest of my life.
  • His big, gorgeous eyes.
  • Quelling the scream which welled up in my throat.
  • His pleading for me to save him.
  • How much I loved him.

By the time these thoughts had run through my head at the speed of light, I saw the colorful, tethered and slightly bouncing helium balloons in the floral area near the store entrance.  I don’t even really remember how I got there.  The two boys locked in my grip were whining.

I walked around the back-end of the floral counter, and there he was.

I stopped and just stared at him.

“Balloons Mommy!”  he exclaimed.

I let go of the other two kids’ arms which now owned my hand prints emblazoned in red.  They ran to the balloons too.

I leaned my arm against the counter and just kind of…shook.  Tears welled up in my eyes but did not fall.  I felt light-headed.  I felt stupid for losing sight of him and guilty for everything that just went through my head.  I felt incompetent and as if I had no control.  I felt the head-rush of immeasurable relief and thankfulness.

I picked him up and he was annoyed.  He squirmed to get down.  I obliged, knelt down to his eye-level and turned his head toward me and said “Never, ever, EVER walk away so that Mommy can’t see you.  Do you UNDERSTAND?”

“Yeah!” he yelled and went back to the balloons.

I pulled myself together and now I was pissed.  At myself of course.  But to them I was just angry-for-no-reason-Mommy.

I picked up both of the youngest boys and squeezed them into the basket of the cart.  At first they were thrilled, and then complained there wasn’t enough room as they kicked each other.  “Too bad!”  I snapped.  My oldest ran alongside of me as I grabbed what little I could fit into the tiny front of the cart and we got in line, checked out, got in the car and went home.

Six years of pre-planning and pie-charting…for nothing.

I couldn’t see or hear my son for what was approximately one minute.  One. Damn. Minute.  In that time my life and his flashed before my eyes.  It was one minute of sheer, unadulterated panic.

Overblown?  Perhaps.  Over-thinking?  Perhaps.  Overreacting?  Never.

What must it take for a woman, a mother, to live through 31 days of not knowing where her child is?  What must it take for a mother to not only live, but to live it up, during those 31 days?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming panic in her head and heart if she believes her child to be missing, somewhere in the world with God only knows who?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming grief in her heart if she knew her child was already dead, by a tragic accident or not?

Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder.  Not guilty of manslaughter. Only guilty of misleading law enforcement officers with her countless lies about what happened and when during those 31 days.  I did not watch the entire trial, only the synopsis here and there on the news every night.

I’ve been on a jury.  Not a murder trial, but a simple personal injury trial with only some banged up cars and a slight injury settlement at stake, and I can tell you that all twelve of us jurors took that job very, very seriously.  I have no doubt that the twelve ordinary people chosen as jurors in the Casey Anthony trial took their jobs seriously to the Nth degree.  They had reasonable doubt that Casey actually murdered her own daughter.  I believe they did what they had to do despite what seemed like a very circumstantially damning case for her.  I believe the State couldn’t prove she murdered her daughter Caylee.  And the jury couldn’t convict.  I accept that, regardless of what my personal opinion is.

But….oh, the “but”….she was found “not guilty” on the count of “Aggravated Child Abuse”.  How is that possible??  Casey Anthony never reported her own daughter missing, she allowed her mother to do that.  How can you not report your child missing for over one month…one month…and not be considered a child abuser?  Yes, I know…someone will tell me it’s the wording of the law, the charge should have been more suited to the circumstances. Blahblahblah. Bullshit.  I don’t want to hear any of that.

Casey Anthony is the worst kind of child abuser; the kind who truly doesn’t think she is, that her inaction was justified in some warped and twisted way.  The kind who is devoid enough of even the basest of human emotions…grief and guilt…that it allowed her to completely erase her own daughter from existence.  Whether she knew Caylee was dead through murder or tragic accident or believed she was alive but missing during those 31 days is irrelevant.  In any of those scenarios, Casey Anthony is a pathetic excuse for a human being and an aggravated abuser of her nearly three-year old daughter…at the very, very fucking least.

She abused her daughter’s chances for survival if she was indeed missing and alive.  She abused her daughter’s right to be found dead, murdered or not, in a timely manner so that enough evidence could be gathered and justice and/or closure could prevail. And she abused her daughter’s very existence…extinguished it…if she knew her to be dead through a tragic accident and disposed of her tiny body in a garbage bag.

I don’t know a single mother, not one, who hasn’t had their own version of my grocery store incident with one of their children;  experiencing soul-screeching panic at not knowing where their child is for thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes…let alone for 31 days.

There is no excuse for Casey Anthony:  Not fear of the law.  Not fear of punishment.  Not fear of acceptance of her daughter’s fate.  Not trauma for alleged abuses by her own father twenty years ago.  Not insanity.  Nothing.

She abused everything human about her daughter; abused her dignity, her life and her death for over one month by not reporting her “missing”.

The jury was wrong.  They should have convicted her of aggravated child abuse…even if the letter of the law didn’t strictly apply in that they couldn’t prove some sort of physical or mental abuse.  They should have convicted her of that at least because it’s the truth.  And Casey Anthony’s complete callousness and flagrant living as if life was wonderful and unchanged…proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.

I convicted myself within one minute at that grocery store.  I’m willing to bet a lot that I’m no different or better a human being than any of those twelve jurors.  So I want to know how they came to the conclusion that she didn’t abuse her beautiful, little girl.  The whole world wants to know.

Maybe those jurors and the entire defense team ought to be made to take a small child they love and care for to the grocery store, and lose them for a minute…or two, and multiply the panic they feel at that perceived loss by a billion. Or 31 days.

Then I want them to tell me that Casey Anthony didn’t abuse her daughter.

A Little Faith

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It’s staggering to think about.

It’s difficult to comprehend.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine.

And yet it’s true.

Human beings look back in time every night.

Every night we look up at the heavens.  The stars we gaze upon are thousands of light years away from us.  By the time the light from those stars reaches our eyes, what we see is a remnant – a snapshot – from the past.

The mind-boggling photos from Hubble show the births and deaths of stars and solar systems and planets, but the pictures we see are not as they are in our present.

I remember the first time I grasped this concept and how enthralling and heart-stopping it was. I have always been consumed on some level with the universe and astronomy.  In no small measure this was due to the enthusiasm of my father and uncle.  As a child we’d look up at the Moon with a basic telescope and I could not believe how clearly you could see the craters on the Moon’s surface.  We’d follow satellites with flashlights in the deepest, darkest night while camping.  They’d talk to us about the statistical reasoning behind the assumption that we are not the only intelligent beings living and breathing and blogging…in our galaxy, let alone the universe.  They tried to explain the theory of the expansion of the universe, but alas I still can’t quite wrap my head around that one…how can everything that exists expand into nothing that doesn’t exist?

All of it, every bit of it, is wondrous to me.

One night when I was around 10 years old, my father and I were sitting on the front porch on a warm, summer evening.  We talked about the stars and he reminded me that because we lived in a city what we could see was “nothing”.  He wanted me to remember the night we were driving home through a very rural area from a party, and how he stopped the station wagon on a lonely little road next to a field and opened the back hatch.  My sister and I were sleepy, cranky.  Remember, he said, that I told you all to be silent, and to just look…up.  And he reminded me that we gasped “wowwww” and were indeed silent.  And he reminded me that the sky was nearly white from the brilliance of the stars and planets and star-dust, to the point where you almost couldn’t see the blackness of empty space.  And he reminded me that even that particular night couldn’t convey the enormity of what lay beyond our planet.  I told him I remembered.

There was a breeze, a beautiful night on the porch.  My father then pointed to the schoolyard across the street.

“You see over there?” he asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“If a spaceship from another planet landed there and asked me to go with them, but I could never come back…I would go.” He said matter-of-factly.

“What???”  I was stunned.  Hurt even.  I didn’t believe him and I argued with him that ultimately he would do no such thing.

He explained to me that he would forever miss me, my sister and mother…everyone he knew and loved, but that he simply could not – would not – pass up the opportunity to see things that no human being could even begin to imagine.

It upset me a great deal to hear that from him, but even then I understood it in some small way.

We are but specks.  I knew it then and I know it now.

As a child might say, we are Horton’s Whos.

While most rational-thinking people can believe that we are almost certainly not the only intelligent beings in the universe, we still have no proof that we aren’t.  We keep looking, searching for evidence that we aren’t floating around – all alone – in the blackness of everything that ever was or will ever be.  If I think about it long enough, it’s terrifying.  I don’t want us to be alone.  No one wants to be alone.

There are but a mere handful of human beings who have gone into space and were able to see with their own eyes the Earth, and an even smaller handful of human beings who have walked on land belonging to another celestial body and gazed upon the Earth.  What must that be like…feel like?  Clearly the pictures they take help convey to us the grandeur of our planet, but I think in no way can they adequately instill into us our…aloneness.

I will never understand why human beings as a whole do not seem to comprehend this.  Why don’t we?  As far as we know…know…we are alone in all the universe.  We’ve created religion to help sedate our fear that there is no rhyme or reason to our existence, that we’re not all just happenstance and the blind-luck of molecules and atoms and proteins converging in just the right proportions.  I believe in God, I feel God…and I don’t think believing in God and science are mutually exclusive.  But I do believe that “religion” as a concept was given birth to by people who wanted to feel as if there was a “father” taking care of us, somewhere…just out of sight.  Children do not like to be left alone.  Even if they can’t see you, they want to believe you are there – ready to help them, comfort them, save them.

All you have to do is look around.  In a world filled with so much beauty and wonder and love, there exists so much destruction, and sadness and war.  I know, I know…it’s so “hippielib” of me to say…but really…why??  We kill and hurt each other over land and money and oil.  We destroy with callous disregard the very place we live.  And much of what we fight and kill each other over harkens back to God, and religion, and ideology; which God is the right one, the RIGHT protector and creator?  Which God should we put our faith in?  If it’s the “wrong one” you’re penalized over your poor choice.

What are we doing?  All we know is each other.  All we have are the other finite number of human beings on this planet.  This Earth is our only home.  Why can’t we accept, that for now, maybe forever, this is it…that everyone we know and everything we see around us is all we get?  How can we not take care of it all and each other as if we are each others protectors?  Instead of putting our faith in only God, or only in the hope that we are indeed not alone in all the universe, where is the faith that we can take care of each other?

I am struck by the similarities of the statements from astronauts all around the globe who have been uniquely privileged to see our planet from the vantage point of space.

For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands
more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we
share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.
– Donald Williams/USA

Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I
saw majesty – but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin,
moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the
human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
– Loren Acton/USA

The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended
like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round
meant until I saw Earth from space.
– Aleksei Leonov/USSR

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space.
As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a
marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object
looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall
apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God
and the love of God.
– James Irwin/USA

My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.
– Edgar Mitchell/USA

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin
seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been
told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.
– Ulf Merbold/Federal Republic of Germany

A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty,
become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the
first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.
– Taylor Wang, China/USA

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth.  I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth.  I didn’t feel like a giant.  I felt very, very small.
– Neil Armstrong/USA

The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful.  Maybe we can make it that way – the way God intended it to be – by giving everyone, eventually, that new perspective from out in space.
– Roger B. Chaffee/USA

They speak of our fragility, how we must cherish this tiny little speck of a planet, defend it, and how seeing it from above instilled in them a sense that divinity must have played a hand in our creation, so awesome and inspiring it was.

I believe that every single leader of men and women and nations should be made to view Earth from above.  No, not just from above…from the Moon.  They should be made to stand alone on our beautiful yet lifeless satellite and view the only home the entirety of humanity has ever, ever known.  And in utter, catastrophic silence take in our complete, as yet unproven…aloneness.  They should be made to watch, and listen, in staggering awe until they feel…faith in humanity.  A faith perhaps born only when one realizes that there is quite literally – no other option.

Who then might become the protector in their eyes?  How then will they feel about killing and war and destruction?  How then might their instincts to “take care”, no matter how small at the outset, expand exponentially?

I hate the thought of a young girl somewhere on a distant world looking through her telescope with her Dad, the light from our planet finally reaching her eyes…from a time gone by…and thinking how beautiful a light it is – not knowing it was snuffed out long ago.  And that we did it to ourselves.

We desperately need perspective.

And a little faith.

15 Minutes

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A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away…I was 14 years old.  It was an unusually warm, October day during my Freshman year in High School.  I was a cheerleader and we were practicing on the football field.  I distinctly remember being hot wearing the white, short-sleeve, wool sweater with the big blue “R” on it.  It was snug, and scratchy – being wool – and fairly uncomfortable.  We had been warned by our coach not to wash the sweaters or skirts, or to get them soaking wet, ever, or they would shrink to a Barbie doll size and we’d have to pay for them.  They could only be dry-cleaned.  They were cute, old-school uniforms…complete with pleated white and blue upper-thigh-high skirts and yes…saddle shoes.  Boy, how I hated those clown shoes.

I only lived about five blocks from the school, and three blocks from the football field.  Practice that day was right after school and it was still fairly light outside when it ended.  I should have been home within a few minutes, but I had forgotten one of my books in my locker.  I ran back to the school, got my book, and walked out.  It had been a really beautiful day.  It was one of those Fall afternoons when the nearly setting sun glowed enormous and orange, and the warmth made the scent of the season’s change hang potently in the air.  It was my favorite season.

But in the ten minutes it took for me to run back to school, retrieve my book and walk out again – thick, dark, puffy clouds had gathered low in the sky.  I had no coat, no umbrella and the raindrops were beginning to fall.  Huge, round, cold raindrops.

Before I even reached the street it began to pour.  A hard, steady fall of cartoonishly-splashy drops.  I started to run.  And panic.  I was carrying my math book, and even though the very word “math” made my muscles tighten in tandem with heart-palpitating dread, I didn’t want my book to be ruined.

However, the real panic was reserved for my cheerleading uniform.

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My coach, well she was an…odd woman.  She was also my English teacher.  I didn’t much care for her, and she didn’t much care for me.  She was hard on me both in class and in practices.  She made “examples” of me in class, and not in a good way.  The most recent talking-down from her had come in class when she made me stand up and display my hands in order to show everyone that nail polish should never be chipped and old-looking like mine was.  Another was when she read one of my journal entries to the class as an example of “how not to write”.  She made us write in those things every, damn day.  The horror.  And one day she asked us to write about what animal we’d most like to be and why.

I felt like she was sitting at home drunk and thinking up crazy shit for us to write about and it annoyed me.  I’d been a “writer” literally my whole life, so I wrote what I thought was a brilliant thesis on how I’d be a “seal”, and explained why.  It was ridiculous, albeit I felt very well-supported and elaborated upon.

She knew I was writing it as a joke, and a joke on her at that.  Still, she couldn’t prove it.  What animal would you be…puh-leeze…so juvenile. Regardless of my convictions as to her lack of teaching skills, she then had me read it in front of the class.  Everyone laughed at the flowery language I used to describe how much I’d enjoy having warm blubber, eating live fish and swimming simultaneously, being able to dive to great depths with a single breath and how I felt in a past-life I might have been one.  She told the class it was disingenuous, it hadn’t come from the heart.  What did she know?  Maybe I really LOVED seals.  Eh…she rightly called me out.  I rolled my eyes and couldn’t have cared less.  I liked making people laugh so it was a win-win for me:  they laughed and she couldn’t embarrass me.  So…we had that kind of relationship.

Still, I was a good girl, and my uniform couldn’t get soaking wet.  Or she’d have my ass.

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I crossed the campus and reached the street.  My heart was beating wildly, I was panicking.  I could feel the uniform clinging to me with its scratchy wooliness.  I couldn’t see any cars or people on the street at all.  It was like everyone had advance notice of the torrential downpour but me.  I ran and ran, thinking to myself that the less soaking wet it got the better.  I ran through puddles I tried in vain to avoid, then slipped and almost killed myself trying to jump over one up onto a curb.  My meticulously permed and then blow-dried-to-perfection hair was now just long, wet curls.  I was whining aloud periodically…”Shit!…oh come on…Shit!”.

I ran two blocks that way.  So scared of what would happen to my uniform, my book, that I’d get in trouble, that my parents would have to pay for new ones.  When I got to the beginning of the third block…I stopped at the park which still exists at the end of the street I grew up on, close to the football field.

I just stood there.  Breathing heavily.  Book held loosely in my right hand down at my side.  I brushed the drenched hair from my forehead, put my left hand on my hip and leaned on my right leg.  I remember it all so clearly.  Then I shook my head, leaned forward and yelled out “HAH!”  I think it was to the Gods.

Then…I let go.  I just had to let it go…the stress and panic of ruining my book and my uniform.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I had no control.  I simply had to let it go.  And when I did I felt so, incredibly…happy.

The rain was cold but I wasn’t.  I felt warm and I felt liberated.  I was alone on the street, possibly in all the world; just me and the rain and everything else that ever was.

I ran some more, toward nothing really.  Not toward home or school or shelter of any kind.  I walked in circles.  It suddenly felt so good to be drenched and free of my immediate worries.  I felt strong.  I began jumping around.  I jumped with both feet into a puddle sending mud and muck up my legs, inside of my hideous shoes.  I laughed out loud.  I yelled aloud at no one, and no one could hear me.  I felt powerful.  I wiped the rain away from my eyes and realized I was breathless from laughter.

I stood in front of the park and looked down my street with its big orange-leaved maples hanging over on either side touching at their tops to create a beautiful tunnel.  And then I walked…straight down the middle of the pavement.  No people, no one.  I felt free.  I carried my book close to my chest with my right hand and I swear to you I could not stop giggling.  I zig-zagged back and forth between each side of the street, up onto the sidewalk and back to the middle of the street.  No one was watching me.  No one could hear me.  I was alone, and I loved it.  I walked back to the park and then started to run again.

Mid-way down the first of two blocks toward my home I stopped and leaned over with hands on my knees, book under my right armpit, to catch my breath.  Water was running off of my face and the back of my neck in a torrent.  The pelting water from above was loud…I couldn’t hear anything but its pounding on the ground and parked cars on the street around me.  It felt like minutes, but in probably only a few seconds I lifted my head and looked up, still breathing hard.

There was a familiar car right in front of me.  I hadn’t heard it approach at all.  It had stopped and not hit me, which was nice.  I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t stand up.  I squinted through the sheet of water and insanely fast-moving windshield-wipers to see if I could determine who was driving it.  It was my Mom.  She beeped and held her hands up as if to say “Get in the car!”

I knew she or my Dad would come looking for me.  Still, I didn’t want anyone poking through this bubble I was floating in.  I walked to the passenger side window and she leaned over and slowly rolled it down.

“Hi!”  I exclaimed, smiling.

“Oh my God, get in the car!” she yelled.

“No…please…please.  Let me just run home.  It’s okay.  I want to.” I pleaded.

My Mom sighed, irritated that water was pouring into the car.

“What?  No, you’ll get soaked…and sick!”

I shrugged and said “Too late.”

I expected my mother, usually very forceful when it came to protecting my health, to protest and demand that I get inside.  But she didn’t.

She paused and said, “You’re crazy.  But okay.”

I love her so much for that.

I smiled and walked past her car as she slowly drove the opposite way.  I turned and watched her round the corner and drive out of sight.

Then I ran again.  I kept going until I got to the grade school across the street from my house.  I walked up onto the black-top of the school yard and looked West.  As torrential downpours are wont to do, they come on hard and fast…and abruptly end.  The rain was slowing and it was clear with an orange glow on the horizon.  It made me feel sad.  I didn’t want it to stop.  I didn’t want the moment to end.

I turned and looked at my yellow-bricked house with the crab apple tree in front.  I tilted my head.  It looked a little different to me somehow.  Smaller.  Suddenly…impermanent.  As the rain subsided to a drizzle, I crossed the street and went inside.

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All told, from leaving my school to walking through my front door, it was about fifteen minutes of my life.

But it was the first time I remember having the feeling of surrendering to a higher power, of having no choice but to let go of expectations and fear and consequences.  It was the first time I remember truly feeling free, and feeling alone in the world.  It was the first time I remember feeling peaceful and joyous amidst “chaos”.

There have been countless, much more important and life-changing fifteen minutes I’ve lived through.

But of all the fifteen minutes in all of my life, I remember very few with such clarity.

It was fifteen minutes of nothing.  But it meant everything.

What I wouldn’t give right now, nearly 29 years later, to be able to achieve that letting-go moment once again.

I’ve thought of that afternoon many times during the course of my life.  It’s stayed with me.  In some small way, it began to change how I viewed my life and my place in the world from that point forward.  I felt bigger, less afraid.  More…grown-up.  And it reinforces for me to this day that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.

I will always encourage my children to experience those kinds of moments, but I know you cannot manufacture an indelible memory.  They simply…happen.  They spring forth from nothingness into somethingness.

I’m betting my mother remembers very little, or nothing, of that afternoon.  Other than me possibly recounting it to her at some point, she’d have no reason to remember it.

I can tell you that I look very forward to the day when each of my children asks me, “Mom, do you remember that afternoon…you know, when I……?”  I’ll think back and try to remember, shake my head and say sweetly, “Nope”.

But I’ll smile, my heart will swell, and I’ll hope they had their fifteen minutes running in the rain.

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Then again…maybe my mother smiled to herself as she watched me in the rear-view mirror.

Fate vs Destiny

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Fate:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do – Merriam-Webster

Destiny:  a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency  – Merriam-Webster

They sound so similar.  Instinctively though, most people feel very differently about them.  “Google” them and you will find that overall, people feel this about these two things:

Fate:  Passive.  No control over the inevitable outcome.  Per one website with a discussion on the differences:  the course your life will take in spite of your actions.

Destiny:  Dynamic.  A degree of control as to how you will reach the inevitable outcome.  Per the same website: predetermined events within your life that you take an active course in shaping.

In general, “fate” seems to have negative connotations to it while “destiny” is used in a much more positive context.

“It was his fate to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her destiny to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

How differently would we feel about these two sentences if the words were inter-changed?:

“It was his destiny to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her fate to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

Very.

If we say it was his or her fate, even though the outcome is preordained, it makes us feel as if it all happened without their choices as the driving influence.  If we say it was his or her destiny, for me at least, it automatically makes me feel as if they made choices or came to some sort of peace about the end results…whether or not the end results were something everyone would consider positive.

Words and how they are perceived matter.  A whole lot.

As a woman nearing the age of 43, I am naturally thinking about – my life.  I am looking back, reflecting on what has transpired to date… the place those events either of my choosing or thrust upon me have led me to thus far…and where the place I’m in now tells me about where I’m going.  I’m not alone in this.

I suppose some might call this the beginnings of a “mid-life crisis”.  As a younger person, say in my 20’s, I would have agreed with them.   But “mid-life crisis” has the same type of negative connotations that “fate” has.

In your 20’s it’s very difficult to conceive of a life lived long and hard enough to reflect upon, and society has all but assigned, with impunity, the “mid-life crisis” to men in their 40’s buying Ferrari’s they cannot afford and women of 40+ hooking themselves up to a Botox-drip to regain any infinitesimally small vestige of the care-free youth they are now old enough to realize is gone forever.   I assume that’s because of the word “crisis”…which instantly implies something negative to be dealt with.  An emergency situation.

I’m trying very hard not to see it that way.

I believe it’s only natural and human to reach what you hope is the mid-stage point in your life and feel the need to take serious stock in what has happened to you, what you have created for yourself and how that will affect what is left of life you will lead.  You no longer have your “whole before you”…you have, maybe, half – or less – of your life before you.  And therein lies the problem.  Once you’ve been lucky enough to live your life to a point where you know you’ve lived more already than you are likely to live in the future…a slow, boiling fear sets into your gut.

What have I done?

What have I accomplished?

Have I lived up to my potential?

Have I loved enough?  Cared enough?  Given enough?……….

When I die, will I feel the power of the love I made and gave given back to me?  Will it envelop me and carry me forward?

It’s very difficult to imagine living the final moments of your life and not being able to answer “yes” to those questions.  And if you can’t answer “yes” to those questions when you ask them of yourself, which can really only be asked when you’ve lived long enough to assess the answers realistically, there is an overwhelming desire to not let another minute of your life go by….not another single minute….. in which you don’t at least attempt to fulfill…your destiny.

I am a mother.  I have three wonderful, beautiful children.  The majority of my personal energy, strength and love is channeled into guiding them toward living strong, healthy, happy lives.  And that’s how it should be.  My parents are wonderful…they did the same for me.  The appreciation I have for them with regards to what they gave to me, and gave up for me, is limitless.  But at the same time I hope so much that they were able to secure some piece of what they believe their personal destiny is along the way, despite having given so much of their lives to their children.

We all have dreams and ambitions and goals for ourselves that seem achievable.  Before you hit, oh…about my age, it seems that you can say to yourself so easily….”There’s still time.”  Staring down the barrel of 43 I can realistically say to myself,  “Self, there might not be that much more time.”

And then I hear Morgan Freeman whisper to me, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”

I’ve achieved some of the goals in my life and am so eternally grateful for them.  But ohhhhh…..I have thus far fallen woefully short of the smile I hope graces my face at the end of my life when I ask myself “the questions”.

I wonder what am I waiting for. (Something to make it all easier?)

I ask myself what’s holding me back. (Fear?)

I worry about whether my happiness and personal fulfillment can exist in tandem with what I owe to my children and the other people in my life whom I love. (I don’t know the answer to this.  I’m not sure I ever will.  All I can do is my very best to make sure… it can.)

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.  Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.  Wait…no.  I’m getting sidetracked here.

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.

I want – need –  to start actively taking the steps which will move me closer to my destiny.

We all end the same way.  But how do we get there?

Whether on the beach or at the bar, and despite the “crisis” apparently inherent in reaching this point, I don’t want to be fated…to anything.

I just don’t.

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