Alone

 
I recently flew into Chicago in the evening. The sun had long set, and the last faint light of day showed that we were over Lake Michigan. The effect was eerie…water and sky were nearly the same dark gray, and it was difficult to mark where one ended and the other began. I was struck with the cold reality that if we suddenly fell out of the sky right there, we would sink forever into dark oblivion. It reminded me of a haunting piece of artwork in National Geographic a few years back. The painting of a solitary planet, adrift and alone in the utter blackness of space, was impossible to look at and not feel cold to your bones. Some theologians have described hell not as a lake of fire, but as separation from God. That theory particularly resonates on these rare occasions when I glimpse utter aloneness. Only interaction with others makes life worthwhile; being profoundly alone would be hell. 

Without love, there is no hope. Without hope, there is only despair. If I didn’t have faith in something better after this…if I believed that I would drift eternally past that lonely planet or forever sink into the dark waters outside my plane window the other night…I could not go on.

A friend once shared that he was an atheist, even as he battled the cancer which eventually took his life. Though I must believe what he told me, I thought I sensed a faint doubt in his disbelief. I think of him especially when I ponder the nature of heaven. It is my fond wish that one day he will smile at me and tell me that he was wrong. I will not revel in having been right…I will simply be at peace knowing that I will never feel alone again.

“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”  –George Fox


Remission

sadness

I wasn’t sure I should write this. A large part of my brain told me to forget what I’d read, forget the pictures of the boy, forget the key and terrifying fact. Another HLH victim, this time a boy of 10-12. He’d had a stem cell transplant and had been in remission for two and a half years. Two and a half years. We’d clung to what we’d read, that most relapses occur within a year, a milestone we comfortably passed last fall. I’ve not let myself think about it since. I don’t think you can, or you go crazy.

I’ve read other parents’ stories, stories of very real PTSD. I’ve been blessed to avoid it, but not without scars. All of us parents whose kids have been critically ill bear them. There’s no way to fight at your child’s side for their very life for months without scars. There’s a whole year of my life that I either don’t want to talk about or which makes people uncomfortable when I do…our lost year. But it happened, and we’re still living with the long-term repercussions. There is no roadmap for crap like this. Sometimes you just get dealt a bad hand, and you just have to find a way to get through it.

Then every once in awhile…too often…you hear someone else’s story, a story of tragedy. And you realize that your own burden isn’t so bad after all. Rest in peace Mihir, and prayers to your loving family. Your remission…your healing…is now permanent.

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  –Marcus Tullies Cicero


Time

I don’t know where the time has gone. We’re creeping up on Megan’s 17th birthday; later this summer her kid sister will follow her siblings into teenagehood. Seventeen. It sounds so near-final. I know I shouldn’t look at it that way, but it’s hard not to. Her brother left home a year older and never came back. No boomerang kid, no summers and Christmases back home the way I’d reassured myself it would be. He simply walked away, shoulders back and unblinking, straight into the sun and his future. Of course I’m proud of his independence and happy that he’s happy, but weekly phone calls and annual visits are no substitute for hugging him goodnight every night.

It’s impossible to say what path the girls will take. Our own journey would have been unbelievable at that point in our lives. We all must find our own direction, stumbling and feeling our way, getting extraordinarily lucky sometimes, falling face first into the pavement others. Our scars either make us hole up and hide away, or they leave us stronger…limping and bruised, but wiser and more certain of what we believe in.

I am just as optimistic about our girls’ futures as history has proven  that I was right to be about our son. They are optimists. They know how to laugh. They are smart. They are so very strong and independent…I never worry that they’ll allow themselves to be taken advantage of by anyone. But I also know that they will make mistakes…some big…and they will get hurt. And I will continue to hurt when they do, just as I always have. Except that I won’t always be right there to rub their backs and say soothing things to help make it better. I will have to count on who they have become to get them through from here. I know I won’t be ready. It’s a good thing that they will be.

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  –Denis Waitley


Nostalgic


I’ve never been nostalgic, romanticizing another place or time. Years ago, my forceful “No!” surprised us both when my dad asked me if I didn’t wish I lived in the “good old days”. I am happy not to live in a past where lives were hard and short, and where women and minorities’ freedoms were severely limited (of course, I now realize that while we are “free”, there is still much work left to do on “equal”). So I was surprised the other day to find myself nostalgic for at least one aspect of the not-too-distant past.

Somewhere around channel 100, I stumbled across the 1960 Presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy. I watched it much longer than I expected…not because the issues were interesting, but more as a sociological lesson. Three white men moderated the debate – we were still years away from women having serious roles in TV news. Each candidate spoke at a podium when it was his turn, returning to a chair when his opponent was speaking. They were given adequate time to address each question, providing thoughtful, articulate answers that made it clear what they valued and how they would work on behalf of the American people. They pointed out their disagreements with each other, but did so factually and respectfully.

The contrast to today’s loud and rushed affairs…timed to the next commercial which only incents the candidates to compete to be heard, the audience’s boos and cheers adding to the circus environment…was stark. Listening to a younger Nixon that I never experienced, I had almost forgotten that he was Vice President under Ike. I heard a thoughtful politician whom I could almost see myself supporting, if not for his future actions to which I am now privy.

For the first time in my life…for a brief 15 minutes…I was nostalgic. I wished for a civil Presidential campaign of substance and issues. The American people deserve it, our children deserve it. The issues ahead of us are too large, the stakes are too high not to focus on what we need to do. We’ve done this before…surely we can remember the path back.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  –Abraham Lincoln


Country

 

My new job comes with a commute. Only in a place like northwest Arkansas does everyone ask if you will move because your drive to work is now 35 minutes. I like the drive. Not only is it a chance to plan my day going in and decompress coming home, but all of it is on curvy, two lane country roads. Unless I get behind a Walmart truck going to or from the DC, an occasional chicken truck, or a retired farmer no longer in any hurry, the drive is pretty relaxing.

I grew up in the country, amongst the wheat fields of Kansas. My great-grandparents on both sides were farmers, back when almost everyone was. By my parents’ generation we’d left the farm, following America’s wholesale move into its cities, but we were never far from it. Both of my grandparents lived in the country when I was a kid, one with an exquisite red barn complete with horses to ride. I grew up a “city kid” in a farm town of 1,300 where everything revolved around harvest and farm work and the fun (and trouble) we could get into just outside the city limits. Though I never lived it directly, I absorbed farm life through its proximity.

My new drive offers the daily privilege of cattle and hay bales and windmills. Fog sets in some mornings, bringing its special peace. I pass two closed-down gas stations…one nearly new, one with old style gas pumps from my youth…both someone’s dream now dead. I ponder which internet theory is right on why barns are red vs. white:  is it the cost of paint, or the part of the Old Country your ancestors came from, or does it really have to do with the physics of dying stars (!)? There’s a shack whose paint has long since lost its color near a luxurious horse estate. I ponder if the people in the shack are there because they are trapped with no way out, or because they get the same view as the estate on the cheap?

So far I’ve only seen the scenery in one season; I look forward to watching the seasons change, up close and in slow motion, just as my ancestors did. I’ve missed the country…it takes me back to my childhood and to my roots. That connection brings me peace, though I’m fully aware that a farmer’s life is anything but peaceful. The farmers I’ve known love the lifestyle and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. They chose independence and control over their destiny, happily trading fluorescent lighting for the great outdoors. Now, for an hour every day, I can appreciate why.

“The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”  –Will Rogers


Quotes

I’ve long loved quotes. Years ago, my Franklin planner (remember those?) had a daily quote on each page. A series of them struck me, and I began collecting them; my collection is now 15 chock-full pages and has followed me through a dozen job changes. I began sharing them about once a week on LinkedIn shortly after I joined the site. I’ve just finished another year of sharing, but this year’s quotes have been special in a way that I’m guessing none of their readers noticed:  they were all quotes by women.

I don’t fully remember the seeds of this idea, but I do remember noticing that a list of quotes that I’d stumbled across was not just dominated by, but entirely populated by, quotes by men. I began to pay more attention to lists of quotes, and quickly realized that women are as underrepresented in the quotes which have been recorded by history as they are in our politics, our government, and on our currency. This gap shouldn’t have surprised me, but somehow it did. Though women represent half of all the people who have ever lived, it is said that history is written by the “winners”. This is just one more reminder that men have had the sole authority to pen history. Women began entering previously male-dominated fields in significant numbers only in the last century; we are just now at a point in history to have collected a critical mass of their thoughts.

With the Internet now putting the entire recorded history of our planet at my fingertips, it didn’t occur to me that I might struggle to find 52 worthy quotes by women to share from the billion websites available on Google. But if you search “Women Quotes” on Brainy Quote, fully 40% of the first page of search results are from men! I worked much harder than I ever had before to find a year’s worth of quality quotes. As you read this, many of you are thinking of women that you’d have searched; I can guarantee you that I searched most of them. Think about it:  can you name more than one female astronaut or scientist or CEO or more than a couple of female politicians? Then there are still entire fields with no tokens as yet (i.e. how many female U.S. Presidents or Vice Presidents can you name?). It’s just a simple reality that until we get well beyond the era of firsts–until they can be counted on more than one hand–women will continue to be underrepresented in our collective consciousness.

I will leave you with a quote from my favorite female philosopher who, despite her very severe limitations, seemed to have experienced and understood more of life than many without her limitations.

“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”  –Helen Keller


Angry

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Ok, it was…well I don’t what it was…for awhile. I was going to say entertaining, but it wasn’t really that…bullying never is. It’s definitely been concerning, but I never really expected it to last this long. I’ve had faith that the American people would eventually tire of the circus and get serious about another candidate. But New Hampshire is only a couple of months away, and he’s still here. Now it’s no longer anything close to funny or amusing or like when we all knowingly shake our head over nutty uncle Louie. I’m now angry–an important line has been crossed.

It was bad enough when he repeatedly insulted me (along with half of the American population of the opposite sex). It was embarrassing when his hyperbole made us the laughing stock of the world. It was alarming when he slandered entire races of people and proposed very un-American databases. But this latest “policy statement”, which guts the freedom and immigration foundation of this great country, goes way too far. Pandering to fear in order to move up in the polls by demonizing an entire religion, one with which we share a common history by the way, is plain wrong. It’s frighteningly reminiscent of Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow, and stars of David sewn onto clothing. Had this xenophobia been sanctioned a century ago by those who were running for the highest office in the land, my hated-at-the-time Irish ancestors would never have been allowed in. Nor your ancestors, nor most of America’s. We are better than this.

It is not too late to reverse this sickening, terrifying spiral:  ignore him. Stop watching him, talking about him, voting for him in the polls. Speak up at the water cooler or at church. Quietly reinforce that not all Americans agree. Reassure our Muslim neighbors that we stand with them. Let’s take back our country from this fear and hatred, and let’s live up to our ideals.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”                            –Martin Niemoller


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