Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parting shots—I mean, thoughts—about 2008

In the deep end of the pool:
The only thing that keeps me from feeling sheer panic about the state of the world right now is my faith in God and the knowledge in my heart that He is in control.

In the middle of the pool:
I must cultivate a perspective of thankfulness in all areas of my life. My personal contentedness is almost wholly reliant not on my circumstances, but on my perspective. When I choose to see the blessings in my life instead of focusing on what I lack, my entire outlook changes. I suddenly remember that, in truth, this world is the hard one and I am not honestly entitled to a single thing that it has to offer. I may be indirectly responsible for the good things I enjoy, but honestly, I am no more worthy of them than anyone. It’s quite often by chance or thanks to someone else’s efforts that I have what I have—not because I earned it.

On a side note:
I’m watching the world rip on the UAW and its silly demands, ridiculous expenditures, overly generous treatment of the leaders of that organization, and I’m chuckling every time I hear about how the UAW’s sense of entitlement brought them to their current state. Is not the United States a bigger, badder example of the UAW’s values? How many people are whining now, and being rescued now, because they overspent and over-extended and had to cry for help? Is there not a preposterous sense of entitlement buried in every American heart? How many of us bemoan hungry children and homeless people whilst we sip our Starbucks, which we feel perfectly okay about drinking? I occasionally have the pleasure of eating at a restaurant—and always, always, the restaurant is filled, often with people complaining about how they have no money. Ironic? Stupid? Both?

In the shallow end:
Is it wrong for me to root for Jen Aniston? I do. I’m a married woman; of course I root for her. I am so pleased to see her being truthful, being positive, being sure of herself. I won’t lie: I was weary of Angelina big-lips long before she became a home-wrecker. Now I am really quite un-enamored of her. Still…is it wrong for me to notice that Brad is looking rather worn? That he actually wears the face of a still-handsome but lined and exhausted father of six? Does that make me a bad person?

**********
In short—my advice to myself and all in 2009:

Trust in Jesus (but still lock your doors), remember how incredibly blessed you are, and be glad when people who once mourned begin to celebrate.

Happy New Year! Hope to see you in 2009!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A portrait of pals

I’ve seen them around many times, always walking along Babcock Boulevard. I’ll be driving by, and they’ll be making their way on foot. I always get a good look at them, because there’s never much of a sidewalk in the spaces they frequent; Babcock is lined with many necessary but unattractive industries, all of which seem to sneak right up to the edge of the road.

The short one is a man, slightly bandy-legged, usually wearing a scruffy coat, broken jeans, and nondescript work boots. I couldn’t tell you his facial features, because he often wears a baseball cap that obscures his details. There’s nothing hanging out the back of the cap, so I figure the fellow is either short-haired or tucks it up under the hat.

The tall one is a dog. A huge, rangy, all-black dog of indiscriminate breed, with the longest canine legs I’ve ever seen. The dog’s head sort of resembles a Great Dane’s—although this dog isn’t quite as sleek as that breed—and the dog’s gigantic face easily comes up to the guy’s bicep. They walk side-by-side, not hurrying, not tarrying, simply traveling with purpose. The dog is always leashed, and I’ve never seen him fight it or strain against it; like many large, mature dogs, he is confident and calm.

When I passed them today, the guy was seated beside the road on something—I’m not sure what—and the big beast was seated in the dirt next to him. Sitting like that, they were practically the same height. And the man was stroking the dog’s ears, and the dog was loving it, tongue lolling a bit, eyes half-closed.

It made me wonder where they live, and whether they walk for fun or because they have no choice. I’ve never seen them hauling big bags of dog food (or anything else for that matter), so I’m guessing the man must have a vehicle, since the dog looks healthy and well-cared for. I suppose the walks must be for the dog’s benefit. The beast certainly appears to be a dog that could walk on and on and on without tiring.

Are they best friends out of necessity? Did one find the other by accident, or was the relationship sought intentionally? Was the dog a tiny puppy once, and then metamorphosed into its current behemoth state? Did that smallish fellow have any idea of the size and appetite that would accompany the grown animal? Does the dog stretch out at the bottom of the bed and then, by morning, move up to claim a pillow, or is he relegated to his own doggy area on the floor?

The details don’t matter. They are pals, steadfast and true. At least in my mind.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Simple gift


Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

******************************
A savior, a redeemer,
Emmanual—“God with us.”

Have a blessed and grateful Christmas.

(Borrowed the image from a guy named Mike at stillanightowl.wordpress.com—hope he doesn't mind.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rescue Bunny--a bizarre gift of love

So, my kid has this weird fascination with pretending to be a small, helpless animal. Occasionally, he likes to be a ferocious predator, but mostly he gravitates toward small and helpless, like a bunny.

Case in point: Rescue Bunny.

Rescue Bunny is a rather odd game of pretend, likely borne out of many hours spent pretending to rescue people from fires, people who are lost, people who are injured and can’t get to a hospital, etc. Somehow, those logical and somewhat expected little-boy fireman and police games morphed into this strange version in which the bed (or the couch, in a pinch) is a floating vessel of some sort—a vessel which exists solely to sail in search of drowning and often injured animals.

I don’t even know how the idea came about, really. I blame the child’s father. He was playing Rescue Bunny with the kid long before I even understood the point of the game. I knew that Marcus was intrigued by bunnies and had some favorite stuffed bunnies, but I didn’t know until Rescue Bunny was a favorite pastime that the boy had devised a simulated means of rescuing them. And why from water? Have you ever seen a bunny in water?

But the game lives on, long after it should. The first animal rescued is usually a bunny who happens to be Marcus, and then other animals are discovered (or should I say their stuffed counterparts are flung from the bed and then spotted afloat) and my heroic son must climb from the bed, grab the endangered critter, and toss it aboard to safety, where the co-captain (his dad or me) quickly wraps the poor thing in a blanket to warm and dry it. Sometimes the bed—er, I mean the boat becomes so cluttered with animals that we must go ashore to the animal hospital and drop off our load for veterinarian’s care.

To say this game of pretend is mind-numbing would not do it justice. And I’m sad to tell you that the boy never tires of it. He could play and play and play, rescuing one reckless, risk-taking, fuzzy beast after another. Is this normal? I dimly recall playing Little Lions when I was a kid; Lions was a similarly pointless pursuit in which my sisters and I, and any other kids we could coerce, would crawl around on the ground pretending to be cubs. I think it was inspired by a kid cartoon called Kimba or something like that…

Anyway. Rescue Bunny is a pastime that could only be endured by an adult when he or she truly adores the child who pleads for such an investment. I feel certain this is one kid memory I won’t be missing. I suppose I might miss the initial rescue in which Bunny (my little guy) is all wrapped up and cuddling for warmth on my lap. But honestly, all the rest of those stranded stuffed toys could keep on doggy-paddling and I wouldn’t mind a bit.

Ah, what we do for our little folks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Your own personal zenith

I was driving this morning, running yet more errands with the boy belted in the back seat. I was delivering a raucous outburst along the lines of my own idiocy and forgetfulness and lack of focus (I’ve delivered a number of these lately) and this outburst was more vociferous than usual because it was the third or fourth time that morning that I’d experienced my own shortcomings.

First it was the misplaced keys. I suppose they weren’t truly misplaced, because I knew where they were: in the right pocket of the coat I wore yesterday. That’s where I always leave my keys. But why do I keep doing it? Then, I remembered a paper I needed and had to go grab that from upstairs while my patient son sat strapped in his car seat. And then, as we headed to our destination, I got in the wrong lane and ended up going in the opposite direction, away from the store I’d meant to visit.

That was the point that drove me to vocal uprising—that final wrong turn that took me away from where I’d been headed. I wound down the declaration of my frustration, and tried, not for the first time, to explain to Marcus why I was so angry. “I’m not angry at you, Honey—you know that, right? Mommy gets frustrated because she’s not able to think as well as she used to.” And he said he understood, although Lord knows if he does; I’m sure if he’s sitting in therapy some day, he’ll think back on my self-abusive tirades and blame them for something deficient in him.

My waning brain is cause for alarm, though, if not for diatribes. I used to be a clear thinker, able to catalog lots of tasks, and put things back where they belonged, and make certain I was in the correct lane and that the day’s events were mapped out neatly and efficiently, in geographical order… No more. It just isn’t happening like that these days. And I don’t have a newborn to blame, don’t have a gaggle of children hollering and throwing things in the mini-van, don’t take any meds. I’m just not as capable as I used to be.

That goes for all areas. Not as thin, not as limber, not as pain-free, not as able to go without rest. I’m not as.

It made me picture a typical human life of average duration as a mountain of sorts, or even a bell curve (remember, I used to teach). It seems we spend the first half striving to acquire things that we hunger for: basic skills, then knowledge, coordination, perspective, increasing freedoms and permissions. We work for all those years on “arriving.”

I don’t know if I even realized when I had arrived—does anyone? For many of us, there’s no a-ha moment of achievement. Unless you’ve earned bank presidency at a young age, or have been hired to coach for the NFL when you still have little kids at home, or find yourself aboard your own yacht while you’re still agile enough to handle the thing neatly and swim ashore if it sinks—unless you’re extraordinary in some way, it’s quite possible you’ll reach the pinnacle of your arrival and completely miss it.

You’ll figure out soon enough if it’s passed, though—oh, you’ll figure that out without any problem. You’ll start to notice brain misfires and malfunctions, you’ll start to make involuntary noises when you stand up from a squat, you’ll notice your skin beginning to sag here and there where once it was firm. You’ll play a sport some weekend and suffer for the next week. You’ll stay out too late one night and suffer sleep disturbances for days. You’ll look around one morning at work and realize that, if you’re lucky, you’ll still be here in this cubicle many years from now, vainly yearning for that corner office. You’ll stop talking about traveling around the world.

Then you’ll know, in your heart, that you’ve passed that point: your own personal zenith.

But there are advantages to aging, to becoming seasoned. I’ll tell you what they are as soon as I can remember them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A childhood fear revisited

I was solo parenting this evening as the boy and I headed out into the night. Usually, Dad accompanies us on Wednesday evenings, but he was at home completing some unfinished business, so Marcus and I headed down to church by ourselves—he to his kid club activity, and me to choir practice. The kid activities start and finish at about the same times as choir practice, and it gets a bit hairy when I have to do the pick-up instead of his father.

I should have known that practice would run over a tad; we’re rehearsing extra songs for Christmas, we’re running out of practice time, lots of people are sick this time of year so sometimes attendance is sketchy and the practices are more confusing what with people coming back from absences… I should have planned to leave rehearsal early so that I could collect my son on time.

I didn’t. I figured I could rush out of rehearsal, run across the street, and meet him without incident in relatively punctual fashion.

And that’s just not how life occurs, especially when it’s occurring in crowded spaces with throngs of people milling and last-minute requests to sign service commitments and forgotten umbrellas and the like. I was late picking up my boy. And we’re not talking mildly late—we’re talking pretty darned late. I ran across the street to his building, not waiting for the “walk” sign, scurried past the other bodies as soon as I was able to do so, leapt into and out of the elevator, ran down the hall to his room, and—

It was empty. The light was out. He was not there. No one was there.

Oh my God! Where is he? I practically collared a woman I did not know who was leaving the room next door: “Where is my little boy? He was in this room, right here.”

She looked around, asked another club leader, and that kind lady pointed down the hall: “He’s down at the information desk.” Okay. Okay. Breathe. I trotted to the information desk, still panicked, looking all around, and then someone else pointed to where my heart was sitting on a chair behind the counter, all alone, not another kid in sight.

And oh, his little face, his small pointed chin, pale and worried. His grey-blue eyes, big like saucers and quite serious. I wanted to weep. “Oh Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so late.” He bit his lip, said nothing, looked at me with those enormous wet eyes. The ladies assured me he’d just gotten there, that he was fine, it was not a problem. But I felt awful.

I’ll tell you why I felt so awful: Because that moment, those few seconds and the look of confusion and concern on his white face, brought back to me with stark detail one of my own childhood fears: That my parents would leave me somewhere and never come to get me. Of course this never happened. It was a completely unfounded fear, a ridiculous uneasiness that had no source of reality whatsoever. But it didn’t matter; for at least the first six years of my life, probably longer, I was convinced that I’d be abandoned by my family.

I can recall many occasions, waiting for my mother to pick me up from school on days when she’d worked, waiting at school for my school bus when it was later than usual, even waiting for my ride home from a play date—and I would work myself into a state of frantic frenzy, anticipating what would happen to me when no one ever came to take me home. Why? What in the world caused this trepidation to bloom? I didn’t know anyone who’d been abandoned, wasn’t worldly enough at that point to watch the news and learn that yes, abandonment and worse does happen to some unfortunate children in this cruel world. So where did the frightened thoughts come from?

Who knows. I suppose there are very few childhood fears that make sense, really.

All I know is that seeing my son’s face brought it all flooding into my consciousness and I felt so terrible for having made him wait, for having left him to be singled out as the only little child whose parents hadn’t come. He climbed down from the chair where he’d been sitting, and I took his hand and held it tightly, apologizing profusely for my tardiness to the women who’d been keeping him company. Thank goodness a young memory is quick to change directions; even as we stepped out into the hall, Marcus was telling me about the cookies that a classmate had brought to class, one of which was wrapped in a napkin and clutched in his other paw.

We made our way to the elevator, and he said, “Mommy, what were you thinking?”

“You mean when I couldn’t find you?”

“Yes.”

“I was confused, Baby, because I went to your room and it was empty. The lights were out. And I had to ask the lady next door where you were.”

“You had to ask the lady next door?”

“Yes, Sweetie, because I didn’t know where to find you. The funny thing is, I probably ran right past you when I was on my way to your classroom. I didn’t even see you sitting there because I was in such a hurry to get you!”

“You went right past me?”

“Yes.”

“And the room was empty and lights were out?”

“Yes.”

So went the ride home, a thankfully short ride, with him rehashing each moment of the ordeal several times. And when we pulled into the garage and I unlatched his seat belt, I reminded him that if ever I were late picking him up, he should remember that I was on my way and he needn’t worry. I would never leave him. As the belt slipped free and I went to withdraw my arm, he reached out and hugged it to his chest. And I snuggled him back.

And made a mental note to leave rehearsal early next time.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another great flick

Okay, so I’m into the serious movies lately. My next one’ll be something simpler, I promise. But I’ve been pondering this one for a week or so now, and it earned a second viewing from me within that week. Not a common occurrence—I may have mentioned that before. The flick merits a blog post, for certain. And I believe it merits your viewing.

The movie is a documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It’s narrated, and guided, by the dead-pan voice of Ben Stein. Yep, the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The same guy who hosted that goofy show "Ben Stein’s Money." But this, truly, seems to be the role he was meant for: instigative inquirer. At its heart, the film explores the question of whether true scientific pursuits and the concept of a designer of life on earth are at cross-purposes; on the surface level, it discusses some examples of persecution by the scientific community (mostly in Amerika, I’m sad to note). Who’s being persecuted? According to Stein and Expelled producers, the persecuted are the few voices in the dark who dare to utter the phrase Intelligent Design. The movie goes other places, too, but that’s the gist of it.

Now, if you haven’t heard, Intelligent Design (a.k.a. ID) is the scientific moniker for acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, life began even in its simplest form through an act of a very advanced, possibly supreme, designer. The very complexity and miraculous nature of the cell, of recreation, of life itself—all of those are amazing to the point of at least suggesting to me that there might be a creator. But ID doesn’t really even take the leap of identifying any sort of creator; all it says, in its basest form, is that intelligence and the life that leapt from it had to come from somewhere, had to be given or granted—that it couldn’t just rise up out of primordial soup thanks to a helpful bolt of lightning.

The movie is awesome; it will make you laugh, make you think, make you doubt large portions of the “educated” public, and it will likely cause you some sober moments as Stein’s investigation leads him to a dark time in history: Nazi Germany.

It got me thinking about how really, the idea of Darwinian evolution removes our personal responsibility for so many things that we classify as deeply human. If we really are naturally selected, we don’t need to worry about preserving folks who are less able, who are old, who are handicapped. We can assume that nature will run its course and eliminate these people, and we can rest assured that our efforts to counteract nature will eventually fail. Sometimes, history shows us that people who embrace the idea of natural selection can justify cold-hearted attempts to “help,” or speed, the process. If we accept Darwin’s concept as truth, then we are released from any sense of moral obligation to our fellow humans or even to any living thing, since we’re all accidental and will be dealt with in the same arbitrary and likely ruthless conditions through which we came to exist.

(BTW, I don’t believe that.)

The information presented in this movie is fascinating; some of it I’d already heard, some I had not. The simplest life form requires over 250 proteins, in the proper order, to live. Primitive and modern attempts to create the scenario in which life “springs forth” from its building blocks have all proven uneventful. The very process of natural selection minimizes genetic material simply by its very essence. So how can living beings become increasingly complicated if those same beings are losing genetic material through the survival of the fittest? And not many thinking people argue that change occurs within a species over time—it’s been documented. But naturally selected change from one species to a different species has never been documented; how can a theory like that be regarded so highly by people whom we consider to be informed and intelligent?

These are just a few of the intriguing and still-unanswered questions the documentary raises. All of the chastised folks who’ve felt the sting of science’s one-way-only paddle seem to be highly educated, thoughtful, well-spoken individuals; not a one struck me as a nut. (I can’t say the same for a few of the die-hard Darwinists featured in the movie.) Who’s really crazy? What is science? What is proven, and what is unfounded?

I realize that the movie is likely slanted toward a pro-ID perspective—Stein himself declares that he is Jewish in his narrative—and I know better than many how a good editor can make a really convincing argument by cutting and splicing in the right places. And yet. And yet. I challenge you to see this film, to watch it carefully, and to come away without having seen serious tears in the fabric of evolutionary theory.

Come on, your brain will thank you. Besides, Stein urges the viewer to speak up, to get involved, for the sake of preserving freedom on speech, freedom on inquiry, freedom in general for this country we love. I, unlike Michelle Obama, feel proud to be an American most of the time; but when merely questioning a theory is squelched with fear, intimidation tactics, and “disciplinary measures,” I am worried about our future. Hence, today’s post.

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
~David Ben-Gurion

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Miscellaneous positive thoughts

A number of folks I know are going through some rough times—really rough. The economy still stinks. It’s practically winter and nothing will bloom for many months. My fat clothes continue to be too small. What should one do in the face of such opposition to cheer? One should focus on blessings and wonders. Taking a minute to consider what makes one smile can change the course of a mood.

Here are some things that can be relied upon to make me smile.

• an older man and woman, holding hands. The older they are, the bigger the resulting smile.

• the sound of my little boy giggling with abandon.

• a good, strong cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream and sweetener.

• noticing that my husband cleaned the litter box.

• puppies. Although not all puppies would make me smile at this point in my life; I’d opt for a yap-free variety, and I’d prefer for them to still have puppy breath.

• watching Polamalu snag an interception or two. Is he a human bullet, or what?

• securing a treasure for a few bucks from craigslist.

• hearing about the foul, lake-influenced winter weather in the Erie area…because I don’t live there anymore and it’s no longer my problem.

• that Christmas television commercial for Eat ‘n Park, where the star tries to fly up to the top of the tree and can’t quite make it…so the tree helps by bending down and scooping up the star. They use that ad every year, and it never fails to make me smile; sometimes it even makes me a little bit misty. Yes, I know I am becoming a cornball.

• and speaking of Christmas, it makes me smile that in less than a month, we will observe the day when Jesus was born, our savior, who left a throne to be a babe in a manger—to show us how to live and then to die for us, thus providing everlasting life.

So, think about what makes you smile! And smile! Or, share it here so that we can smile too!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Untitled


Okay, I almost titled today’s post “Norman Rockwell was on Prozac.” Because of that picture over there—the one of the perfect table and the happy people? But while searching for that painting itself, I encountered a lot of his other work, too—and was forced to confront the fact that Rockwell was a genius at portraying every nuance of human expression. To jest about the man himself or his unspeakable talent felt pretty childish and rude. So, I had to readjust the tone of this post a bit, so as to be humble before a master.

Besides—as far as I know, Prozac did not exist in the era when he painted.

Why would such an insolent and drug-related thought even skitter through my brain? Well, it’s the fact that I’ve just finished a bevy of Thanksgiving gatherings, and I know that there were some smiles at the table, but also some other, darker expressions. I’ll never know why Norman R. chose to exclude the antagonistic relative, the young upstart, the whining child, the sibling competition, the fawning over the favorite, or any of the other uglies that turn up when you gather family together to “be thankful.” You’ll find not a trace of any of that very real hideousness within the painting’s beaming countenances.

Since I know the artist is quite capable of showing emotions better than most folks who pick up a brush, I must assume that either a) his family was perfect and got along perfectly, or b) he chose to paint a picture of the gathering as we would all like it to be. I’m betting that the latter assumption is the right one.

(Okay, you people who are reading who really believe that Norman Rockwell got it right and family gatherings are wonderful: you can stop reading. Go call someone you’re related to, and please don’t ever tell me how exemplary your family is.)

Why does my chest get tight as holidays approach? Golly. I couldn’t tell you. I really like holidays, the ideas behind establishing them, the religious celebration and remembrance that accompanies some, the preparations and the anticipation. I love feasting, sneaking cookies before a meal, an excuse to drink wine, and the warm feeling you get when you give a gift that’s truly appreciated. There's a flip side, of course; I’ve already addressed the commercialization of most of our special days, so I won’t belabor the subject here. But family gatherings are part of holidays for most of us. And they’re tough—even when they go well.

Perhaps it’s because expectations are so high; these are people who are supposed to love and accept us without condition. Or so we’ve been led to believe by Hallmark. They may or may not be people who’ve known you for a long time, but most likely they are…so there’s an assumed level of comfort there, a familiarity that should make us feel at ease. (If only that were the case all the time.) We head to gathering with hopes of complete acceptance, support, and kinship...hopes that are quite often unrealized. Hours later, we leave, deflated again.

It may be tied to the fact that family feels perfectly allowed to inquire of attendees whether they are seeing anyone, or why they aren’t married yet, or (after marriage) when they plan to pop out a kid. Or another kid. My heart goes out to all the folks who are getting hit with those questions this season; not fun.

Or, it’s possible that family gatherings are difficult because they happen at sentimental occasions. Think about it: how often do you gather the familial gang together for no apparent reason? Not often. Usually it’s a birthday, or Christmas, or some youngster is graduating. So, people are emotionally messy already, before they even see each other. Nothing good can follow. (The whole issue of sentimentality is even more complicated and frustrating for those of us who just aren’t very. Sentimental, that is. Fodder for another post.)

Maybe it’s simply because I’m a loner. I prefer the term introvert, but the end result is the same—you like people, but they exhaust you in large doses. Maybe it’s just the noise, the general din that breeds confusion as a heap of voices try to exceed each other in volume. Maybe it’s the fact that I can never feel comfortable speaking the absolute truth at any of these gigs; it’s like hanging around with a big gag tied around your face to squelch any honest outbursts. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t stuff myself with mashed potatoes anymore because they drive up my glucose worse than pumpkin pie does. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom now and I have to stay cognizant of my son’s whereabouts and activities—thus no post-meal napping. Or maybe it’s trying to make multiple appearances and knowing we’re still missing out or hurting someone’s feelings with our absence.

Whatever the reason, it’s not important. I’ve survived another Thanksgiving. I’m relieved, but not relaxed: I know the biggie is still to come. I’m already practicing my deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Opiate for the (financially comfortable and pretty) masses

I went to the mall today.

I’m not a mallrat by any means. Today’s trip was the first visited there in a few months—and today’s mission took place mostly before the stores even opened. It was time to walk indoors on a snowy day, to work harder to fit into my “fat” clothes—fat clothes being the more forgiving portion of every woman’s wardrobe… When the fat clothes no longer fit, then the walking must commence. Hence my mall visit.

I’m always amazed when I’m in a mall; it’s like a whole new world has opened to me. A pretty, bright, fragrant world, with many gadgets and lights and beautiful people. Can this possibly be the same world I inhabit daily? Where are the unattractive people? Where are the foul odors? The noise? The poor? The unhealthy? No sign of them within this well-attended splendour.

It’s especially hard to believe we’re in a recession as I stride through the halls of success. Not even Thanksgiving yet, but every store beckons wallet-bearing passersby with shop-appropriate Christmas carols and d├ęcor. The athletic wear store blares rap Christmas from its entry, while classic jazz Christmas wafts out of the mature women’s clothing lines. Like children staring through a candy store window, eager shoppers line up before the gated entrances, gazing hungrily through the metal bars, mentally organizing their purchases before they even set foot inside.

And the shoppers themselves: Did I ever wear high heels to go shopping? I cannot recall a single occasion. I realize some of the people might have been stopping off en route to another final destination, perhaps work? But the number of women, and not just vain young women, who shop in tiny stilettos always amazes me. It’s 9:30 am and they’re tripping around on just a few square inches, by choice. I’m speechless.

It’s difficult for me not to feel like an alien when trooping through a well-to-do suburban shopping mecca like today’s walking locale. The typical shopper is, quite simply, of a different caliber than I. Well-tailored, well-heeled, mostly older women roam with confidence in this materialistic haven. It is their world, and they know it. They don’t even bother to glance at little old me in her worn sneakers and stretch pants. “Not one of us.” They’re right—I’d never argue.

And everywhere, the message is the same: Spend. Signs outside of kids’ and teens’ shops are especially disturbing: One of them said, “All I want is everything.” What the--?! What kind of message is that? Sometimes I feel genuinely sad for today’s upper-middle-class youth. What a setup we’ve created for them, how we’ve trained them to be consumers but not earners, to recognize brand names instead of character. What a disservice we’ve done them, and are doing to them.

So, I’ll probably be headed back to the mall next week, but only if the snow continues to fly. I don’t really care to see the Tiffany’s that’s nearly ready to open its doors. I don’t want to be forced to consider how many people will still be making purchases with credit cards to keep up the appearance they’ve created. Maybe some of those fashionable, attractive shoppers have the cash to back it up. I hope so. I hate to think that the whole darned thing might just be a competitive illusion. It’s so soothing for me to go somewhere and be assured of my place in the world.

Seriously? My hope is that you’ll never fall prey to commercialism and consumerism, that you’ll spend only what you have in cash, and that you’ll enjoy a good and grateful Thanksgiving holiday. We truly have so, so much to be thankful for. : )

Friday, November 21, 2008

"How can you eat that?!"


Meet Peter the buck. I call him Peter partly as a nod to REM band member Peter Buck, and partly because I photographed him in between bites of our abandoned pumpkin. Get it? Pumpkin eater?

But his name is not important. The important thing is that he is limping a bit these days, and one of his antlers appears to be shorter than the other. It wasn’t shorter a couple of weeks ago when we first spotted him, and we’re pretty certain it’s the same deer. I guess we can’t be absolutely sure… It’s not important. He’s limping a tiny bit, his antler has been broken off. Has he been hit by a car? That’s a very likely possibility, since the pumpkin photograph location is less than 20 feet from a sharp bend on a busy road—and that, of course, is the favored crossing spot of all the deer that hang out in our yard.

Sometimes we have 5 or 6 deer at once. Mostly doe—the two buck we’ve seen rarely hang with the babes, at least not when we’re looking. But they’re all regulars at our “club.” Why? They probably ran out of space, quite frankly. Plus, they know there’s easy pickin’s in our neighborhood (my animal-loving neighbor feeds them, so even when gardens aren’t blooming they have reason to pass through).

The point is, we humans are crowding them out with all our pretty little suburban neighborhoods. We’re driving big, heavy, metal killing machines across all their favorite pathways. And a lot of them are getting hit, maimed, or killed. I won’t lie: I feel really bad about that, about all the shrinking habitats of all the beautiful wildlife around us. The last time I saw an injured doe lying in the street, I was literally sick to my stomach as I called the game warden; it’s a horrible sight, the flailing limbs, the fruitless attempts to lift the head…just sickening.

But as bad as I feel, it will not keep me from eating venison. That’s right, deer flesh. I eat it. I’ve eaten it since I was a kid.

Before you slap a “barbarian” label on my forehead, let me explain myself a bit. If you’re a vegetarian and you’re reading this, I honestly have no qualms with your non-meat choices. I am pretty certain that the original, Garden-of-Eden diet did not include animal flesh. It wasn’t needed. That came around after we got kicked out of there. With some research and attention, a person can live a meatless life and be much healthier than most of us jowly, restaurant-abusing Americans. I was getting pretty good at going meatless until I got married (man want meat); plus, the whole diabetic issue isn’t helping—I’ve found very few foods that have the same hold-me-over power as meat—but I’m sure if I had limitless funds and my own dietitian, I could be meatless. I’d miss meat, especially as a cook, but it could be done. And that would be my individual choice, as it should be.

However, for the meat-eaters out there who dare to ask me the question that titles this post, I say, My dear carniverous hypocrite, have you ever ordered veal or lamb in a fancy restaurant, never giving a second thought to the fuzzy, adorable creature that your meal was in life? Have you ever stuffed a big, fat burger into your face or carved a ham at Christmas or Easter? Enjoyed a steak or a turkey dinner? Because if you have, then you cannot make comments about the barbarism of eating deer meat. I have never walked through a butcher’s workspace, nor seen a cow or pig taken in for slaughter, but how could it be any less awful than watching a deer be gutted prior to transport? Death is death; killing is killing.

And think about this: there’s my little Peter in the back yard, munching on rotten pumpkin and dying grass and relishing the memory of our pole beans from a few months back. If some lucky hunter takes him during season (which is unlikely since he’s in such a protected area), that hunter will get a more-than-half-rack to brag about and a freezer full of whatever meat forms he chooses, and it’ll be lean, healthy meat—no hormones, no chance of mad deer disease, no genetic alterations other than what God himself ordained. Sounds pretty safe, eh? Compare it to your faceless, nameless slab o’ beef (you have to assume they’re telling you the truth about the source animal, right?) that may or may not have been vacuum packed in carbon monoxide in order to keep its fresh color longer than it should…

I ponder at this time every year why some people feel righteously justified in turning their noses up at me. I think it’s founded in our complete separation of man from his food sources. It’s easy to badmouth game-eaters if you’ve never been hungry for a day in your life; honestly, how do any of us truly know what we're capable of eating? Have you ever really suffered from lack of food? I haven't. And how simple to slip into superiority about not eating wild animals when you never have to be confronted with the “civilized” (cough, cough) killing of animals raised purely for meat sales. Honestly, I think most folks would want to throw up after visiting a big, smelly egg farm, right? But those nice, white, clean eggs in their spotless cases are so removed from a chicken’s bottom that no one thinks much about it.

Well, we need to think about it. We need to grow more food in soil that we turn and weed. We need to learn more about what goes into all the ready-to-eat stuff that we consume daily without question. We need to be more responsible eaters in general. And we, as a society, need to stop vilifying the people who consume hunted game—especially when you consider that the naysayers are just as likely to be the very folks who are directly or indirectly responsible for Peter the buck’s shrinking habitat injuries. There’s a very good chance that because he’s injured and there’s limited land for him and his cronies, he won’t make it through the winter.

Now, who’s the barbarian again?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The little plant that could


I've never had a green thumb—only black,
To nurture plants? A skill I truly lack.
My family knows this; even so, they share
The little plants and blooms for which they care.

A shamrock made its way into my rooms—
A pretty plant with many sweet, small blooms,
And it was doing so well, I took it out
So it could thrive with other plants about.

It grew and flourished in our humble yard,
Drank dew and raindrops, some of which fell hard!
Yet shamrock bloomed, such tiny flow'rs of white
One could not gaze upon them and feel spite.

My guard was down, my black thumb loomed again...
A cold front came—a FROST—oh NO! And then,
'Twas too late for the shamrock. There she lay,
The leaves, the blooms, all frozen and asplay.

I bowed my head in shame, felt melancholy.
I'd done it yet again. Plant death: my folly.
But hope lived still within my sad, cold heart.
What if a bit of life might just restart?

I carried shamrock inside, let her warm,
Then watered her (a tad! no, not a storm!)
And left her sitting in a window's light.
I said a prayer: may she survive her blight.

And lo, within a few days, she lived on!
A tiny pale green shoot! Hurray! New dawn!
The God who made this fragile, lovely life
Was oh, so wise, and made it strong in strife.

Friday, November 14, 2008

If you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em all...?


My little boy started sniffling a tad on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning he was lackluster and sporting some green goo in one nostril. I kept him home from preschool, hoping that whatever it was would be short-lived. Sadly, the unidentifiable viral manifestation seems to have established itself pretty effectively in the child; goo continues to leak, the weariness and crabbiness persist, and more school and activities have been missed. And I’ve lost a little bit of my sanity, it’s true—you just don’t realize how much you come to rely on those few isolated hours of time to for a thought or spend as you wish. Combine that lost sanity with an unceasing flood from my child’s nose, sprinkle in very little sleep for all of us because of his coughing and misery—and shake it all up: you have a generally cantankerous household.

So, I’m not myself—no one in our home is right now. But I never thought I’d turn into a germophobe. I mean, I’m not a complete slob, I try to wash my hands frequently and not leave food lying around begging for infestation, I remind my kid not to rub his nose or eyes at the public library, we don’t share toothbrushes or anything like that. But still, I never got too uptight about germs. I assumed they were everywhere, and some were rather hateful and insidious, but I could take ‘em so no big deal. The same was true for bacteria, with the added complication that some bacteria was good, even necessary. I felt it best to leave the unseen world of infestation alone, and it would hopefully leave me alone.

Now? I can clearly picture that place and its disgusting tiny inhabitants. Everywhere. Is it motherhood that’s engendered this heightened sense of germ perception? Is it older age, the growing nagging yearly confrontation with my own life’s calendar? Is it the fear of super-germs that defy all attempts to eradicate them? Whatever the cause, I “see” these nasties all over the place. My child sneezes or coughs on me, and I watch the little thugs clear as day in my mind’s eye, flying out from his face and clinging desperately to my own. Other people that I observe suddenly seem obsessed with rubbing their faces, their hair, wiping their noses in what they think are unobtrusive ways… and each time I witness these daily habits of my fellow humans, now those habits are accompanied in my mind by the horrific distribution of miniscule monsters. The tricky little devils plant themselves in new hosts through unguarded moments like friendly hugs and handshakes, through shared contact via a computer mouse or keyboard, even by means of the lowly but deadly pen.

The whole world is crawling. How did I miss it all those years? I'm compelled to wash every cloth item I can reach, to start spraying diluted bleach everywhere—it's all contaminated, nothing's safe. Yet I also struggle to hold fast to my unsanitized world. I’ve read those reports—I know that sanitizer abuse will be our undoing. Put down that bottle, people! Step away from the antibacterial everything! It will kill the good stuff, too! Still, I’ve found myself eyeing bottles of Purell. Someone showed up at the craft store with a tiny container of it attached to a keychain, and I felt a pang of envy before I made myself turn away.

Must. Remain. Normal. Must not kill all germs and bacteria. Must allow nature to take its course.

My throat feels scratchy, and I think I’m getting a fever. Those little bastids.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The clear ear

I’ve written before about singing, here—and I’ve already confessed that I’m no singer. I mean, I sing at church and around the house and some Christmas carols and such…but I’m not the person whom others recognize as “a singer.” And honestly, I’m mostly at peace with that. I am pretty pleased to simply be afforded the chance to sing in this life at all, especially because the whole diversion is a pretty recent venture and not something I ever envisioned myself doing—in other words, it's been a really nice surprise.

The problem is that I have a pretty good ear. I can hear when another person is singing right in key, can detect a nasally delivery within a measure or two, can even pick out the sharp or flat voice among a gathering of voices. I know it’s not just my egotistical imagination, because I was the unofficial “tuner” for my classmates all those years in band. My ear has been proven.

And therein lies the problem. I can read the music, even imagine the way it should sound by rehearsing it in my head sometimes… but when the sound issues forth from my lungs, it’s far inferior to that pretty preview that existed in my mind. Because I have the ear, I can clearly hear that I usually don’t have the voice. I am fully aware that my range is quite limited, that I sometimes sound foggy and strained. I know that I am vocally mediocre, possibly even challenged. And every now and then, I have a little pity party about it. (Don’t pretend you don’t do that too sometimes. ; )

I was singing in the car recently (don’t worry, I dropped the kid at preschool first so he wouldn’t be punished) and as I struggled to hit some notes, I was pondering—with a little bit of relief, and a touch of sadness—that I will likely never be asked to sing a solo. Anywhere. For any reason. (Karaoke doesn't count.) And a thought came into my head quickly and with certainty. It didn’t feel like my own thought, and here it is: “You sing best when you sing to Me. And each time you sing to Me, it’s a solo. No matter what’s going on around you. A solo for man is just that.”

And it’s true, that thought—it made me feel so much better. If I crave the approval of man, in any setting and for any reason, then I’ll get it—and that’s likely all I’ll get. But when I sing to that audience of One, I become a chorus of one as well. I can speak, and sing, only for myself—and that is all I need do. It’s been a very comforting thought for me, in light of some of what I suspect are politically-fueled weirdnesses in my church home. It’s nice to realize that I don’t need to be hindered by any of that, just like I never need to worry about not having a “solo.” He knows my every thought, He hears my every note—and if my purpose is genuine, then it's a sweet sound.

So, while my musical ear reveals my vocal shortcomings, it provides me with that true standard that I can work toward attaining; I know what I want to sound like. It’s kind of like the Holy Spirit in us. We need that “good ear,” that moral compass, because even while we fall short daily, we still know how our lives should look—we are fully aware of the potential for achievement. And every time we do something unto God, even something humble or small or seemingly unimportant, we sing a little solo of praise.

Sing to him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.
-Psalm 105:2

Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious!
-Psalm 66:2

Friday, November 7, 2008

Gettin' on with it

Well, I’ve had a couple of days for the election results to sink in. I’m feeling slightly better. Not recovered, but less ill in general.

I hate that anyone has to lose. I feel the same way in sports; we’ll be watching our team kick some other team’s hind end, and as the game wears on I begin to feel sorry for the losers. The cameras will close in tightly on a player’s face, the misty eyes, the twisted mouth… Sometimes they’ll capture an unsavory word slipping out of that mouth, or a furrowed brow and scowl, and those aren’t as pitiful. But the resigned loser always gets me.

I have to remind myself, in these days, that every single time a leader is elected, there are many who are not elected. I have to remember that in nearly every casting of votes, from the first to this one and beyond, there have been people who celebrated the results, and also people who shook their heads and frowned. Every time the procedure runs its course, there must be a winner—and losers.

Maybe that’s why I’m not good at sports. Aside from my complete lack of coordination, I have too much trouble remaining polarized. I always, eventually, begin to realize that the other side is not so different, really. They want to win, too. They’ve been practicing, too. Without major conditioning and mental training, I’d make a crappy soldier. I’ve never been very competitive, and I like to think that perhaps, it isn’t just because I hate losing; maybe it’s because I hate that there has to be a loser at all.

I especially hate it at this time, in this particular “sport”—which is easily the most violent and heartless available to the viewing public—because this time, the loser was my guy. And his vice-gal.

I think about Sarah Palin, back at home, all the hubbub dying down, normality resuming…and I wonder what in the world she is thinking. Is she secretly relieved? Does she wonder what tornado hit in these last few months? Is she sorry she’s been traveling so much? Sorry she missed time with her littlest son? Sorry she hasn’t been able to spend time picking out nursery colors with her daughter? I have to think she must feel rather blind-sided. (Although not too blind-sided, since she’s sort of left that door open for four years in the future…)

And McCain himself. What’s on his mind? Does he regret running? All that time, and money, and effort. Those countless appearances, speeches, debates… Would he do it over again? Would he think about trying again in the future, if he were a younger man? I didn’t hear his concession speech, but not surprisingly, the few comments I encountered about it were flattering. He’s a classy guy, in my opinion, and I believe he’ll prove that many more times in the days to come. He’ll be okay; he’s dealt with far worse than this. But still.

I didn’t vote for Obama. A lot of other people did—people who believed all his promises, and more. I will admit that I’m taking some solace in the thought that he is probably feeling a bit of panic; you really have to wonder whether he’s as cool about all the activity as he seems. There has to be some level of frenzied realization under that calm demeanor; if there isn’t, there will be. The job he’s “won” is not an enviable position; I’m frankly amazed that people keep trying to obtain it. I feel certain, in my gut, that there will be many days when he feels completely overwhelmed. I know he asked for it, and I’m not going to go so far as to say I’m feeling sorry for him. That would be untrue. He is a human, though—and he’s got a long, ugly road ahead of him.

I heard a joke that this election might be the only one in which the winner asked for a recount. And I laughed—and nodded vigorously in agreement.

BO is our president-elect now, and I will be a level-headed American and accept the clear results of this election. But just as I embrace the "trust God and lock your doors" mantra, we'll be stockpiling some extra ammo and fuel, and praying daily: Lord, help us all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change, change, blah, blah, blah

Well. Today marks a time for "change," or so I've heard. Repeatedly. What IS the change? Hmmmm. Wish I knew. I suspect it is not at all what the misled masses are expecting, but time will tell. I'm hoping I'm wrong about what the future holds for this country. The problem is this: in the matter of dire predictions, history has proven that I'm often dead-on.

Since other people can sometimes say it better than I can, I'll leave the rest of this post to a master. (I know, as a Christian I should find something hopeful from the Bible--and I will. Just not now. Permit me a cynical, disheartened moment, please. The next post will be more optimistic and inspiring.)

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
-George Orwell

Mel's translation: "We the American people will not have to pay higher taxes, but we will somehow, inexplicably, be afforded better or free healthcare, financial benefits, handouts, cushy retirements, etc."


That's only one of many—I found a wealth of quotes from the wise and bitter George Orwell. Here are some more gems:
Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.
George Orwell

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
-George Orwell

In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.
-George Orwell

Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.
-George Orwell

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
-George Orwell

The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.
-George Orwell


In the interest of keeping my chin up, I saved this quote for last:

Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.
-George Orwell

Take that, all you celebratory socialists! You won't rule forever! I just hope there's something worth salvaging in this country by the time you've been tossed aside.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stupidity breeds ingenuity (thank goodness)

Being a parent reveals all sorts of unflattering things in a person. It’s great for building character, I suppose, but some of what I’ve learned, I wish I hadn’t. I could write an entire post on this subject, but I’ll reserve the focus this time for one particular shortcoming among the many: my inability to focus well when I’m being barraged by constant conversation. I’ve already written several times here about the nonstop chattering of my child; I never thought it would lead me to car damage. However, I believe that’s exactly what happened.

You see, I’ve had the pleasure of parking in many garages, and my car is small. I’m quite accustomed to pulling in, backing out, making sure the vehicle is properly aligned, etc. I’ve done it for years, without incident. Until now. In the past year, I have not once, but twice left the driver’s door open and attempted to back out of the garage that way. One time, I realized my error in time. The other? I practically tore the door off, and broke several storm door panels that had been leaning too close to the garage opening… it was ugly. Neighbors heard the screech of metal and peeked into our driveway to make certain we were all standing… Beyond humiliating, I kid you not.

And I’ve tried to figure it out. Why do I suddenly stink behind the wheel? And the only consistent factor I can find is my son, and his incessant flow of words spilling into my ears at all times. Add to that my tendency to try to look at him when he’s talking, and you have a distracted mommy-brain who often turns around to face the back seat, all while trying to extract a big machine through the narrow opening of a block structure.

So, I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to literally look at my car door each and every time I am preparing to back out of the garage. And thanks to my recent deliberate efforts, there has not been another incident of leaving the car door open.

But. After checking the car door to confirm that it was shut, my cocky self-assurance led me instead to drive the vehicle too close to the driver’s-side wall. The door remained happily intact, but my driver’s side mirror? Not. It was pummeled. By the time I had comprehended the horrible noise of butchered plastic and stopped in mid-backup, it was too late: the mirror hung, lifeless, suspended only by the silver cables inside. It even swung back and forth slightly, like a body suspended from a broken neck. Well, perhaps not quite that graphic. But it seemed that way to me—probably because I was its killer.

I drove the car with dangling, detached mirror for several days. Superglue did not work. One elderly gent in the Strip District explained to me (even though I had not asked) that I would need to use screws to reattach the mirror to the car body. It sounded logical, until closer examination of my car revealed very little to which one might attach a screw. I pled my case with Todd. My driving was already quite possibly impaired by motherhood itself; was I safe in a car that was missing a mirror? Was his son safe? Was this even legal? Wasn’t there something he could do?

And God bless him, he did. I came downstairs last evening, found him beaming, and went into the garage to check out his handiwork. The mirror was fixed! There it stood, back in shape, proudly at attention, reflecting with ease. No more crazy swinging. I was elated.

“How did you do it?”

He grinned sheepishly. “You won’t believe it.” And he pointed to the life-saving tool: My craft glue gun.

We howled. And the mirror? It held.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halloween-related issues

Halloween was never a big deal at our house growing up; we didn’t really live in a neighborhood, so the folks drove us in costume to homes of people we knew. I honestly don’t have many clear memories of that, even, so I’m guessing it was fun, but ultimately wasn’t too important to me. We always were allowed extra sweets at that time of year, and school afforded an opportunity to wear a costume, so I suppose I never longed for the thrill of knocking on strangers’ doors or pulling any pranks on mean neighbors (we didn’t have any close enough).

But this isn’t about trick-or-treating. I think the whole practice is rather bizarre, but I’m not barring my kid from doing it. He’s done it, and I’m sure he’ll do it again. He’s still small, so we can steer him away from scary costumes glamorizing the latest horror movie killer. And that’s good—because frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll do when he decides to “be” someone like that instead of a policeman (this year’s choice).

No, this post is about the dark side of Halloween: the emphasis on the spirit world. Goths didn’t exist when I was a kid, so I was spared that visual reminder of the undead; mostly, though, just being a goody-two-shoes academic band member kept me from the realization that there are a lot of people in this world who are quite fascinated with “the other side.” In college, a couple of girls on my dorm floor were experimenting with a ouija board, and I know that made me rather uneasy—but I didn’t lie awake at night wondering about evil spirits they might have unleashed. I just didn’t think about it much at all.

An apartment I rented a few years later kind of freaked me out a bit, because the first few days I lived there, I kept thinking I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I am not proud to tell you that I finally just spoke to mid-air and explained that I was not trying to cause problems and I was sure that “we” could co-exist… and I stopped seeing anything unusual. But I’m not convinced that the whole thing wasn’t in my imagination, and that my “addressing” the air gave me adequate peace of mind that I was able to subconsciously quell my overactive, nervous brain.

That little apartment drama was honestly the only time I've even remotely detected anything out of the ordinary. And that experience was still pretty darned ordinary. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad for that. I’ve been told that I am “Missouri” because I must be shown something before I believe it—and I’m quite comfortable with that label. Todd and I stayed at an old Victorian B&B a few years back, and he saw and heard some things that he can’t explain…but not me. Never heard or felt or saw a thing other than what was right in front of my face, plain as day. I was really bothered by the whole thing for awhile, alarmed that my own husband had had an experience like that, but now that time’s passed, I can kind of just not think about that, too.

Yet. It seems that I am one person who has not detected anything spiritually unsettling, surrounded by other people who have had the opposite experience. And some of these are others that I trust, people I have no reason to believe would lie about such a matter. Like my own husband. What do I make of that? And how do I explain all this to my little boy, who right now calls ghosts “ghosties,” finds them cute, and thinks witches are sisters to scarecrows?

The added complication of late is my faith—a factor I didn’t have to consider in my earlier, more wishy-washy/anything-goes years. Christianity doesn’t say a thing about ghosts in the Bible, at least not that I’m aware of. It talks a lot about spirits, but they don't sound like the same thing—the spirits in the Bible are something to avoid, something to keep out of your life and your home and yourself. I won’t lie: I have had a couple of experiences in my life recently that I truly believe were evidence of spiritual warfare, and yes, I do think that’s a reality. I’m more convinced daily that most of what is going on around us, we’ll never see or feel. But if I’m reading correctly, the Bible seems to say that good spirits aren’t spirits at all; they’re angels. There are no lost souls floating around us; they’re all accounted for. (I’m not Catholic, so I don’t feel obligated to delve into the oddity of Purgatory.)

So, accepting Christian doctrine as my reality, I feel as if I have to assume that any valid ghostly experience is likely interaction with an evil spirit. Is that possible? How about the stories where a dead family member reappears and helps someone out, saves someone’s life? Can I bend that scenario and explain it by assuming an angel took on a familiar form to put a family’s mind at ease? That seems kind of far-fetched and unnecessary…why would an angel bother? But it wouldn’t make sense for an evil spirit to assume a lost loved ones identity and then perform good deeds, would it? I’ll tell you, I am just flummoxed. I go months without thinking about this whole can of worms, and then it suddenly reappears in my psyche and I am forced to try to reconcile things all over again.

I’m blaming a blog for the latest resurgence of this train of thought; I regularly read a sometimes irreverent, always amazingly well-written page called Somewhere on the Masthead (there’s a link to it on this page), and one of the recent posts was called An October Moment. The fellow who writes the page described just such an inexplicable experience he’d had, and it turns out he’s had quite a few; there are several October Moments that you can find on his blog. I don’t know if they’re true, and I don’t know this guy from Adam. Maybe he’s just a good writer and he knows that if his readers think the stuff’s true, they’re all the more hooked on it—although he insists they all happened. Anyway, I made the mistake of reading some of his Moments, and now here I am, trying to make sense of something that I shouldn’t even be thinking about because it just frustrates me and frightens me a little and mostly just gives me even more questions to ask God when we meet...and He is plenty aware that I already have way too many.

I should know by now to simply avoid all this ghost stuff. It’s something I just need to steer clear of, like horrible and sick news stories about little children being harmed. I should have learned by now that this grayish, vaporous world of spirits and the like is a bad place for me to even scurry through. I should know. But it’s Halloween, gosh darn it. I can’t get away from the subject. And I’m haunted (tee hee) by all the weird stories I’ve heard from reliable sources. What’s a God-fearing girl to think?

Oh well. That’s all from this very visible, very normal, very logical part of the world. How about you? Seen anything strange lately?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bilious times

So, the hubby’s away for the weekend, and I plan lots of fun activities to pass the time for me and the boy. We go to a local museum, while away the hours gazing at dead critters’ bones and sparkly gems. Then we play in the park. We head to the grocery store, and as we begin to shop, I call for a pizza; that will be our dinner, the final treat to a lovely day of treats.

We pick up the pizza, take it home, gorge ourselves. The kid eats a bit more than normal, but not an alarming amount—he tells me as he manages half of a third piece that he was really hungry. We digest, and play a bit more, and then I give him a nice warm bath and dress him in fuzzy, clean PJs. He climbs into bed, there are stories and songs, and he drifts off to sleep.

The only damper up ‘til that time? As we were touring the dinosaur displays, the cat apparently puked on an afghan downstairs. But I saw it before we sat on it, and I threw the drippy mess into the washer.

Fast forward a couple of hours—I have just showered and I’m getting ready for bed myself, when I hear coughing coming from my son’s room. It goes on, and it has an ominous sound; this is not the dry, I-sleep-with-a-fan-on cough. I hurry in, leaving his lights off in hopes that there’s no real issue. And I pat him in the semi-darkness. But wait. He’s sticky. The sheets are wet. The comforter is wet. What is that horrendous sweet stench? Omigosh.

I turn on the dim light. There is yuck on him, on his pillow, on his covers, on the sheets… I quickly strip him down and pull off the bedclothes, rolling all the nastiness into the middle. I won’t go into detail because any parent already knows, and anyone else doesn’t want to. Suffice it to say that the entire time I’m doing this, I’m thinking how the smell will also make me hurl if I don’t get away from it soon, and also thinking how pathetic is a small, tired, ill child sporting regurgitation on his chin. I murmur quietly to my half-conscious son, tell him we’ll get this cleaned up, wipe him off and dress him in clean clothes, flip the waterproof mattress pad, put on a new fitted sheet, fish out clean blankets, and try to get my poor little guy to rinse his mouth. He refuses (God only knows why) and I choose to let it go. If he doesn’t care, I don’t care.

It’s done. He climbs back into bed and immediately goes back to sleep. I leave his room and deposit the horror into the washer (I have to remove the now-clean afghan first), then wash my hands like an OCD junkie, change into sleeping clothes, brush my teeth, the works. Climbing into my just-washed sheets should be a treat, but I feel contaminated now, yet too tired to shower a second time. I lie there, listening intently for more coughing. Every breath, every twitch yanks me back to a hyper-awake state. At last, I drift into uneasy sleep…

…only to be awakened again, by that awful cough. I leap from bed, instantly alert, rush to the kid’s room…and find an exact duplicate of the previous scene. This time he’s got it in his hair, too, at the bottom on the side. You can imagine how well he takes to getting that area wiped down with a wet washcloth. Again, we change everything, but this time he’s shaking from the physical strain and from his sleepy little-kid outrage. Again, I put him back into bed, on the last clean single sheet in the house, praying that there’s nothing left for him to projectile vomit. Thankfully, he goes back to sleep again, poor little guy. And I once more drag a roll of disgustingness to the washer, transferring to the dryer the now-clean sheet and cover from our last round.

I wash my hands again, and go back to sleep, exhausted.

But it’s not over yet, folks. The cat wakes me with that too-familiar heaving sound that he reserves for special moments like this: 3 am. I am on my feet in a second, rushing to the living room, where I manage to locate the sound in the darkness and punt the offending creature off the carpet and onto hardwood, where hairballs and the slime they wear are much less damaging. He finishes his work, and I see him retreating just as I flip the light on. I clean this up, the last of four bilious episodes within a 24-hour period. I go back to sleep. And wake to a small voice in the early morn: “I’m done sleeping, Mama.”

Some days are just like this, I suppose. You try to thank God for washing machines and multiple sets of bed linens. You thank Him that your child is healthy most of the time, that he’s not taking chemo that makes him sick like this every day. You thank Him that you have a husband who just happens to be out of town this weekend, but is usually not.

And you pray for NO MORE PUKE.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Good flick

I don’t normally tout or slam films—they’re fine, but I’m not a big movie person and it takes something special to get my attention. Finding Nemo did, if you recall, and there are a few big-people movies that stand out in a crowd, but by and large I feel concern for our society and the amount of attention and time we give to something unreal. And movies are, for the most part, unreal. They’re a means of escaping the real. (Television is the true enemy—but that’s a post for another day.)

Then, there are movies that don’t fit the mold. Some biographies, historically accurate movies, movies that do not come to exist for the same reasons that pop culture creates films. One such example is The Unforeseen.

I’ve been waiting to rent The Unforeseen for about 2 years—at least it feels as if that’s how long it’s been on my “wait” list in Netflix.* I saw it previewed on PBS way back when, and my curiosity was piqued. It was presented as a pretty fair-minded, multi-sided documentary about suburban sprawl.

And it succeeds, in my opinion anyway. It’s very good. It made me think about the issue from different angles; it forced me to consider all the factors that go into building most modern-day housing developments. It provided the basics in understanding how these projects are funded, and who benefits the most, and which beneficiaries take on the greatest risks. It gave a face, a voice, to all the different players in that drama. It will break your heart a little, and make you angry a little. It’s poetic like a Cormac McCarthy book, and it tells a story that almost anyone living in America today has been affected by.

Would it cause you to change your mind about buying a home in a “sprawl” development? If your mind is made up and you love the house, then I doubt it. But if you’re just considering it, or if there’s another of these housing plans in the works near you, I can see where it might light a fire under your bum.

So, when you get a chance, I’d recommend you see it. But ladies, be prepared: Robert Redford (who helped produce it) makes an appearance, and you may be shocked to see how time has worn him down. There remains very little evidence of the Sundance Kid.

* Didn’t want you to think that I was contradicting myself—we have the bare-bones Netflix package, which permits 2 movies per month, not at the same time…and we sometimes remember to watch that many.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

BIG time=changing standards?

It’s time for a brief rant from Mel. (And believe it or not, this is brief for me.)

**********
Vehicles have become silly large. Have you noticed?

Rumor has it that car size was originally based on the width of a wagon. Since cars needed to utilize the same routes that wagons did, the first cars looked a lot like a motorized wagon. People likely had less to carry in vehicles back then, because most people had not yet become obsessed consumers and collectors of crap—most of them had not the means, nor very much crap available to purchase and hoard. There was no need to haul your world around with you, because you stayed at home most of the time, unless you were wealthy, in which case you had several homes and a fleet of poor people to move your stuff for you.

But I’m getting off track—that’s not the focus for today. I’d like to focus on the sheer size, the monstrosity, the ludicrously gargantuan aspect of many of today’s motor vehicles.

The humongous nature of many American vehicles would be problematic enough, what with minute parking places and skinny lanes and low bridges and the sort. But what makes them even more dangerous is the fact that often, they are driven by diminutive ladies who cannot see out of them properly. And who may or may not be trying to talk on the phone and sip a macchiato while they steer that boat.

I don’t mean to sound sexist; why would I do that? I AM a woman, for cryin’ out loud. But I am short, and I know I am short, and I choose to drive a small car that rides quite low to the ground. How many times have I seen a female head peering out from behind a steering wheel of a behemoth? On how many occasions have I witnessed these cuties struggling to park their big killing machines? How often have I been narrowly missed by a big ol’ bumper because the pretty little driver couldn’t see over the vehicle’s frame to spot me?

I know, I know—kids’ car seat regulations demand bigger vehicles than we used to have. I also realize that bigger cars are safer, and higher, and less prone to being destroyed on impact like my tiny car. And honestly, some people are perfectly capable of driving these homes on wheels, and doing it well. But many such drivers are not equipped to handle these giants on the road. This fact, and the danger it brings, can only be exacerbated by the reality that driving alongside the monsters are tiny counterparts like Minis and Smart Cars and the like. How can these bitty rides share the road with SUVs—piloted by distracted and caffeinated midgets, mind you—that are modeled after an off-road wartime transport machine instead of a horse-drawn box?

So what’s the answer? And it’s not a simple answer, because This Is America, and we like stuff B I G and we don’t care it if sucks up gasoline and that’s our right as piggish consumers, by golly! Okay, okay. Un-bundle your undies and take a breath; yes, I get frustrated with huge gas-guzzlers and their defenders in general—but that’s a rant for another post. Here’s a thought: How about re-testing drivers periodically? How about forcing drivers to re-test in the car they’ll actually be driving? And how about outlawing cell phones while operating a vehicle? Maybe we could re-test drivers more frequently if they insist on driving vehicles that top 2 tons. Or, even better, try this: How about coming up with another class of license? In addition to the CDL, we could have the HSUL (Hulking Sport Utility License) and perhaps even the BPUL (Behemoth Pick-Up License). If that sounds ridiculous, then consider how many people are proponents of testing elderly drivers more often; are you not at least equally threatened by smaller and/or less capable drivers who can’t see well enough from large vehicles to be fully informed behind the wheel?

I know it’s everyone’s choice to choose the vehicle they drive. But too many choices have both improved vehicle safety and performance, and also have forced us into this insane world where a Vespa scooter and a Hummer and a semi with full trailer load can all share the same highways. To top that off, prosperity in our society has given us money to burn on gasoline and frothy drinks and technology. And the crazy thing is that no one thinks that’s crazy.

And hey—feel free to remind me of my spewing here if I ever turn up driving something just slightly smaller than an RV.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Melativity" revisited

Penning Mel’s theory of relativity (see previous post) got me thinking about the whole relativity issue. And it gave me a little stab of guilt, right in the gut—because if truth be told, I am guilty of occasional judgment on others—and glorification of self—thanks to relativity.

For example, how many times have I excused my own behavior by looking around me and thinking, Hey, I’m not as bad as so-and-so? I’ve pulled that flimsy line out of my pocket to justify tests unstudied for, to comfort myself after hurting another’s feelings, to make acceptable a behavior that I knew in my heart was wrong.

The worst part is admitting that I whip out Mel’s ol’ theory of relativity in matters of faith. I’ve stood self-righteously atop many a soapbox, including the Christian soapbox, and I’ve told myself that at least I’m not a gossip like that woman (well, actually, I am sometimes) and thank goodness I can admit when I’m wrong about something (oh really? Ask my husband about that) and it’s a sign of my growth that I don’t get mad at God when things don’t go my way (hmmmmm… wonder what God would say about that?) and…you get the idea.

It’s funny in a sick kind of way that I’ve compared myself to others over and over as a means of minimizing my sin. I can’t think of any believer who hasn’t done that at some point. Yet, the Bible seems pretty clear about this issue. This is only one of many references:

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
-2 Corinthians 10:12


It would seem that relativity among people doesn’t mean a whole lot. I’m supposed to be relating to all the other folks around me, but I’m not supposed to judge myself relative to whether those other folks are being holier or less holy than I am. I am instructed to compare myself to only One.

So, I’m sad to say that in matters of righteousness, my theory of relativity falls sadly flat. It’s stinkin’ thinkin,’ you might say. (Ah, remember Stuart Smalley? Remember the good old days when SNL made up its own parodied figures instead of mocking real, live people? Oops, there I go comparing again…)

All this blathering just goes to show that theories are only theoretical. But you knew that. The theory of evolution proves it even better than melativity does. *

* For a funny little 5-minute lesson on evolution’s improbability, hit the library and borrow the children’s book Yellow and Pink by William Steig. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mel’s theory of relativity

Yeah, I know, I’m borrowing where I may not have a right to borrow. But my theory is so simple-minded in comparison to Einstein’s that I feel certain he wouldn’t be threatened in the slightest. (By the way, I went to Wikipedia and tried to familiarize myself with the real theory… and my head began to pulse and ache and I was cruelly reminded of how feeble my brain truly is.)

So, in my theory of relativity, everything is relative to whatever else is around it. For example, you may have heard the notion that people who want to be thinner need only to hang around heavier folks to achieve the desired perception. Because, you see, you will appear to be thinner if those around you are heavier. The same goes for intelligence, fashion sense, talent, and so on. Improve your own in a hearbeat, merely by being seen around lesser examples of the same. Sick, yes. But true? I believe so.

Now I’m going to stretch this theory a bit, you see—because I stupidly chose to wear a light color this morning, and then also stupidly chose to eat something other than water. And as I was spilling food on my shirt once again, I put it all together: If everything is perceived relative to what surrounds it, then why not wear the same color I plan to eat? It’s so honest, so forthright in its boldness, this suggestion. After all, the sinking economy forces me to plan pretty much every meal anyway, right? And if I’m planning, then heck, I can wear red on tomato sauce day. I can don yellow on a mustard and hot dog day. I can pull out my finest salmon pink on salmon loaf day. And on holidays? Well, that gets a smidge more complicated. I think Christmas occasions would require mottled, semi-blended shades of brown, to better disguise the chocolate. And Thanksgiving might demand a nondescript, patterned blouse of a light, polyester blend—all the better to dry quickly after I’ve rinsed the spilt dinner and drops of red wine away in a sink and then donned again the damp-but-clean shirt.

I’ve got it all figured out; I only wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner. You all can thank me when your water bills and dry cleaning bills are drastically reduced on this plan. And you don’t have to say it—I know only a genius could come up with a theory this brilliant.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My downfall

I need to confess something, people. I have a problem. An addiction. I need to get it off my chest.

I am addicted to craigslist.com “for sale.”

Do you know craigslist.com? Have you gone there in search of a desired item, or to sell your undesirables? It’s a wonderful marketplace, a beacon of common sense in a world of materialism gone mad. It’s local, it’s free, and it’s downright intoxicating with its limitless purchasing and selling possibilities.

I can’t stay away from it. It draws me like a fresh-baked smell, like a favorite song. I sit down at the monitor to check the weather, and suddenly without my even realizing, I’ve made the quick click to that too-familiar URL. I could spend hours there, scanning items for sale, checking out the freebies, researching prices for items that are similar to what I plan to sell.

I know why I love it so. Actually, craigslist.com is merely a symptom of the true problem from which I suffer: a very real, twisted need to save every abandoned, abused, or endangered piece of furniture that crosses my path. I come by the illness honestly—I believe it runs in my family—and I’m happy to say that although I suffer from this weakness, I have thus far minimized the companion packrat syndrome that often feeds the need to save possessions forever. Thankfully, I have no trouble unloading things if I feel certain they’ll have a good, appreciative home with their new owners...

Another reason I love it so is because, unlike the Pennysaver weekly, craigslist.com has pictures most of the time. You can see the item before you trek cross country to check out the “like new” piece that turns out to be rusted, or broken, or warped, or nonfunctioning. Plus, the face-to-face contact is delayed, allowing you to garner information about the item before you have to deliver a “yes” or “no” directly to the seller. There’s some pressure when you’re facing the seller—anyone who’s visited a desperate seller’s tag sale has felt that pressure—and I know I sometimes fall prey to guilt-purchasing if the seller is sweet, or old, or looks unhealthy, or lives in a run-down home or any number of other factors that elicit my sympathy. More than once, I’ve bought something I really didn’t want because I could see it would make the seller happy, give them hope, provide them with needed money. And while that’s not a terrible thing, it’s probably not the best shopping protocol.

One more reason I love craigslist is because it, like the web in general, provides anonymity and therefore permits behaviors you would likely not display in a real-world setting. I can be flippant in emails asking for information about an item. I can be forward, implying that I’d expect a discount for distance traveled or the like. I can be completely honest (i.e., I have absolutely no need for this but if you really want to unload it for less, let me know) or I can stretch the truth when I find out that the item isn’t right for me (i.e., My husband won’t let me spend any money right now…)

In short, craigslist is a wondrous yet dangerous place for me to linger. Maybe now that I’ve “come out,” a few of you will check on me occasionally to make certain I’m not contemplating any useless purchases of lovely, high-quality, right-priced items that won’t fit into our diminutive home. I have to remind myself that honestly, if I don’t need it, it ain’t such a good deal after all.

But golly, it breaks my heart to pass on some of this stuff. Oh, for a used furniture storefront in which to play.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Technoslaves

When I was a kid, there were two ways for regular people to talk to each other: in person and by telephone. This absence of options made parting with someone either a) sweet sorrow, or b) relief. Sorrowful partings were usually followed by a brief communication hiatus and then more contact, typically via telephone. And the relieved partings? They were followed by a lightness of heart, the knowledge that your duty was temporarily done, and further contact with that person was unlikely for at least awhile.

Along the way, cordless phones emerged, and the power of unfettered technology intrigued gizmo lovers everywhere. Those who could, did purchase the first ridiculously expensive cell phones as soon as they were available—huge, awkward contraptions especially when compared to their corded counterparts. But as people used and adjusted to them, distrust and fear of the new gadgets subsided, and the phones themselves became smaller and cuter. Then their techie accomplices, accessories and “improvements” came on board to form an army of accessibility: Blackberries and Bluetooth, IM and ipods, texting and twitter, and internet and photos via cell. Suddenly, I am capable of blogging from my phone. (Well, not from my phone—I don’t have enough bells and whistles on the equipment itself or my plan. But I could if I so choose to upgrade!) I could send messages during a movie or a meeting—I could check email as I simultaneously picnic in a meadow. I could tell people exactly what I’m doing every minute of my life. I could broadcast myself sleeping. And I could watch and listen and blab blab blab with the rest of the world while everyone else does the same thing.

The question is this: Why would I want that? I bought my first cell phone in order to get rid of my more expensive landline. My initial and enduring attraction with email and the web is still the same today as it was at the beginning: I can use it at my own convenience, in my own time, and it doesn’t necessitate face-to-face encounters. I haven’t been labeled as introverted for nothing; I need my space. Why would I want to take advantage of all these tools when they take away my precious space?

Always accessible. Incessantly in touch. No mystery remains. All this technology and its popularity directly reflects the “out there for all to see” tone of our society. Reality TV? Tell-all gossip channels and magazines? Tattletale biographies? Online surgeries? Even the increasingly revealing, often unflattering fashions of the day highlight the fact that we are a culture that hides nothing—including ourselves. What's so bad about privacy? I like it. And why is it a tragedy to find yourself in a dead zone? Being unreachable gives me a sense of that old relief I used to feel when I happily wrapped up a telephone call that was sucking the life from me.

I guess that’s why I feel more and more like an interloper in this world: because there are plenty of times when I want, and need, to hide. I think I’ll just stick to email and the blog; they should serve me well. If you want to comment here, that’s great—and if you want to talk, just give me a real, old-fashioned telephone call or stop by: those are still the best means of chatting most of the time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In homage to the Honeycrisp*



Among all apples, thy allure
Must surely be a thing of lore;
Thy rosy and explosive flesh—
With every palate, it doth mesh.
Such juicy sweetness ‘twas not real
Until my teeth did crunch through peel
And taste of Eden’s finest fruit.
Is it the best? Such quest is moot.


* Many thanks to Dave Q, apple master and the one who introduced me to this delicacy

Friday, September 19, 2008

"You can't handle the truth!"

Involvement with people brings inevitable conflict and frequent disappointment in human nature.

It’s happened to me over and over, in every kind of setting. School, workplaces, friend groups, families… You start out, and everything is great. The people are kind and friendly, they help you and make you feel welcome, the general mood is harmonious and lovely. And then, time passes. You become more deeply involved. You get to know these people better…and you begin to see tiny fissures in the infrastructure.

Eventually, you can no longer ignore the noticeable foundational cracks. You cannot avoid the reality that people bicker, that there are disagreements and tensions and favoritism and inappropriate competitions. It’s revealed more and more frequently in subtle behaviors, in murmurings, and the next thing you know, the truth slaps you right in the face: In its own way, this group of people is as screwed up as any other you’ve ever been part of.

It’s horrifying. You feel disappointed, deflated, and isolated. How could you have been so naive?

I received an indirect slap in the face this week. By my church. They didn’t slap me per se, but they delivered a slap to someone whom I know and genuinely like and respect. The slap felt undeserved, unjust, and plain wrong to me. It feels like a personal blow, because—in contrast—this church has been a wonderful place for my family; we’ve grown as Christians, as humans, as servants. The leaders there have been a great example of how to make a wonderful difference in a community, how to stimulate positive change in people’s lives, how to seek God’s will and move forward while maintaining that goal. The church was so together and influential and inspiring that for a while, I forgot it is made up of people.

And people stink.

And this situation stinks a bit. It will pass in time, but there will be lasting, reverberating ramifications for everyone—and the more deeply involved they are, the more this issue will ring in their ears. Because that’s how it is—diving below the surface reveals so much more than swimming, blissful and ignorant, on top of the water. It’s the reason I fear deep involvement in any setting. Once you dip your head underwater and take a look around, it’s just a matter of time before you see something unsavory floating nearby—or swimming straight toward you.

So what’s the truth that I can’t handle? That underneath the prayers prayed, the songs sung, the teachings taught, the church is a business. Nonprofit, yes—but a business nonetheless. Knowing that doesn’t diminish my faith in Jesus one bit—but it doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy, either.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transitions

This morning? It was much like any morn.
The boy and I, we ate our breakfast meal,
But something new was brewing on this day:
We dressed in nicer clothes, put on our shoes
And hurried out en route to a small school.
The place was bustling—squirmy kids, moms, dads,
And each one headed straight up to the door.
My sweetest boy and I walked hand in hand,
His steps uncertain, brave, determined, and—
A teacher saw us there, called him by name,
Applied a sticker to his little shirt,
And gently took his hand away from mine.
I called to him, “Your photo, don’t forget!”
He took the picture from me, one last look—
Then turned, climbed up the stairs, and went inside.

I swallowed back a big lump in my throat,
And made the long walk to the empty car.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tough love for the storm-embracing masses

So, another hurricane has blown ashore, to the tune of much devastation and destruction. And, as is typical, a mix of hardcore storm-survivors and invalids have remained in the storm-ravaged area…where they now require rescue.

I have a tumbled sea of emotions about those who chose to stay. An evacuation was more than recommended for them—it was mandatory. Galvestonians were ordered to leave their homes. They were warned of likely death if they remained. Those who chose to stay were instructed to write names and social security numbers on forearms in permanent marker.

How much more clear can a risk be?

I realize some unfortunate souls are too poverty-stricken to flee multiple times each season. I acknowledge, too, that it would be difficult for handicapped people to leave town on short notice. (Although, part of me thinks that the whole hurricane scenario is sort of an assumed risk for anyone who chooses to dwell seaside… maybe if you’re not highly mobile and do not have some disposable income, you shouldn’t live there???) But I’m mostly talking about the stubborn folks—the people who willfully remain behind to “ride it out” when a mammoth hurricane is swirling toward shore... How much responsibility do we have to these folks? Honestly?

I am torn because this situation, to my way of thinking, is similar to those people who take ridiculous, unnecessary risks for thrills: climbing mountains, skiing down sheer cliffs, hunting for game among ravenous predators, etc. If fools choose to scale a mountain, is it really our responsibility to save them when they fail? If some silly photographer decides to get killer shots of an erupting volcano and takes preposterous chances for the perfect image, must we come to his aid when his life is inevitably endangered? Often, the rescue is more dangerous than the initial risky activity—not to mention incredibly expensive.

If we are all to learn true responsibility for ourselves, maybe risk-takers should be held to a higher standard. Perhaps instead of encouraging people to leave via dump truck, Galveston officials should have forced the stubborn multitudes to sign a form that released all responsibility to rescue them if they made the foolish decision to remain in the onslaught of Ike. Perhaps there could be a formal natural disaster release form, something that makes it legal to leave these people as long as necessary in order to first aid those who at least attempted to heed the warnings that were issued. Or to simply leave them.

I realize that sounds cold, cruel, harsh. But before you think me a heartless animal, consider our world: we’re living in the mess created by a nation that has encouraged no accountability for a few decades. Even the current economical crisis—or the government’s reaction to it—is an indication of how unaccountable we’ve become as a nation. In trouble? The government will bail you out. Over-borrowed? It’s okay. Financed some folks you shouldn’t have? We’ll help you. Giant corporation floundering? Work out a deal with the feds, or find somebody more successful to buy you.

I want to be supportive of help for those whose dire situations cannot be traced to their own foolhardy decisions. But at some point, we all have to bear the brunt of our actions—and some people just don’t act very wisely. If there’s always someone to bail us out, then we’ll continue to make those same unwise, proud, ego-driven decisions; we’ll never "heed the warning and flee the storm" if we don’t have to. What’s the motivation?

And that is by far more frightening to me than a sagging economy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Evolution of a neighborhood


A flattering tribute to any street, I believe, is when folks move into the neighborhood and never move away. I am happy to say that our street is sort of like that—or has been for many years. We purchased our home from its original owner, an elderly woman who’d been here ever since she and her husband got married in the 50s, and our neighbor across the street is an original owner, too. A couple of other homes right around us are owned by single men—men who just happened to purchase the house from their grandmas. There is one rental nearby that I can’t quite figure out, but it’s a covert rental, and I suspect that the people in it are in the process of slowly buying the house from the landlord in one of those “rent to own” situations…so they’re likely not going anywhere, either.

However, when people love a neighborhood and stay long enough, they eventually begin to be forced from their homes by circumstance.

Earlier this week, Marcus looked out the window and asked me what the big fire truck was doing up there. Sure enough, a large red truck—paramedic rescue, not a fire truck after all—was parked at a neighbor’s home at the top of the hill. We know the woman’s last name just because it’s on a nameplate in the yard; we’ve never met her. But she is a neighbor. And she was coming out on a stretcher, looking not so good. It was big excitement for my son, because playing rescue is his favorite game—but a more sober moment for me. This is the third time I’ve seen an ambulance on our street, and each time someone was taken in one, it amounted to the last time I saw that person.

The original owner who remains across the way is the one who said it first: “Everyone who used to live here is dead.” And he should know: Until this week, his dear wife was the last person I saw carried out to an emergency vehicle—and she did not make it back home again.

It’s a bit unnerving to me, having grown up in a more rural area where you’d likely never notice an ambulance in someone else’s driveway because they’re a quarter-mile away. Perhaps many streets are like this, and I’ve just been protected from the harsh truth. But we’ve only lived here 2 years, and I even missed an ambulance farther down the street about a year ago; that means there have been 4 ambulances on our road taking people away. As in away, not to return. And this is not a long street. One of those ladies went to live in a nursing home, but she’s not coming back to her old ‘stead—because it’s been sold to a new gal with a little dog. And the woman who sold us this place? I hope she’s not planning to leave assisted living and move back, because she wouldn’t find anything the same—we’ve changed it all.

I like the fact that people don’t want to leave this little slip of a ‘hood…but it makes for some inevitable solemnity when you realize that slowly, surely, the face of this street is changing completely, and an entire founding generation will cease to exist here.