Thursday, December 16, 2004

Irreverent Humor

December 1997. I was home for Christmas, having just pulled off the slamdance of taking fall quarter finals, going to U2's Popmart concert in Seattle (my roommate's Christmas gift to me, and possibly the coolest gift ever since I'd never have scraped together the fundage to buy tickets for myself), and getting my very first (of twelve) chemotherapy treatment. (It occurs to me that I could have easily made up a little song based on the twelve days of Christmas:
"On the first day of Chemo, my doctor gave to me
A full dose of ABVD!"
I really wish this had occurred to me at the time.)

I was sitting on the couch reading a trashy novel (like I was going to start reading Finnegan's Wake over Christmas break...please!) and my brother walked by, a sulking 12 year old adolescent on his way to the kitchen.

"Hey, bring me some water," I said lazily, still accustomed to being able to boss him around.

He scowled at me. "No."

I was taken off guard by the insubordination from the formerly compliant little fellow, and tried again. "Pleeease? I don't want to get up."

"Get it yourself," he said.

And without even thinking I pulled the dark, inappropriate humor right out of my back pocket where I'd been keeping it hidden (out of respect for the still-shattered emotions of my parents while dealing with their first baby's cancer diagnosis) and threw it onto the table. My parents, seated peacefully next to the Christmas tree, looked up as I wheedled, "C'mon, please? I have cancer!"

My mother gasped. Everyone stared at me. Nobody moved for several heartbeats. Never before nor since have I had the attention of my family focused so completely on me.

"Never mind, I'll get it myself," I muttered.

I still think it was funny.

It was a small solace, then, in the fear and sorrow after hearing that my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Thanksgiving this year, to hear that when she went to the doctor last week to see how well her mastectomy scar was healing, her first comment was, "Well, I guess that means no more topless dancing for me!"

Maybe I'm not a foundling after all.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Funny Thing

A couple of years ago I abruptly learned not to talk about politics with my father when, during a discussion about rising healthcare costs, he screamed at me (literally...and that was weird in and of itself, since he's usually pretty quiet) that I was wrong to question our healthcare system, that socialist countries have much worse health care than we do--specifically, because of all the regulation. "Canadians are lining up to come here for their healthcare, because they can't afford to jump through all the hoops up there!*" he roared, and left the room before I could reply.

Over Thanksgiving weekend this year I had a headache, and my dad offered me some aspirin. I'd already taken a Tylenol with codeine that I purchased over the counter last time I was in Canada, and said so.

"Huh," he said, shaking his head; "'Course it's probably from Turkey or somewhere; who knows what's really in it."

Yeah. 'Cause if there's one thing we know about Canadian pharmacies, it's their complete lack of oversight and regulation. Right, Dad?

*Which totally explains the busloads of people heading north to obtain healthcare.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Waiting for the Dawn

Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones--
Take this soul and make it sing. *
November 26, 1997. The day before Thanksgiving. I am alone in my dorm room, sitting on the floor in an empty space surrounded by stacks of books and papers. I rest the old beige telephone on my lap and dial the surgeon's office carefully.

Hello, I'm calling for Dr. La Mancha? Yes, I can hold. Hi, yes, I'm still here. I'm calling for the results of my biopsy last Friday. Yes, he said he'd call me on Monday, but I didn't hear from him then, and he hasn't returned any of my messages...yes, I can hold. Hi, yes, here I am.

Dr. La Mancha is out of the office for the week. Another doctor is on the phone. Well, it is lymphoma; nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's Disease in fact, he says. Looks like stage 2A. You'll probably receive the standard treatment regimen--chemotherapy, probably four cycles or so. ABVD, I imagine, followed by several weeks of radiation therapy. We'll refer you over to Dr. Kaplan at the Tumor Institute, and you can set up an appointment with him next week or the week after. Okay? Okay.

My roommate has entered the room during this brief conversation. She glances at me and her face lights up. "I knew it would be okay!" she whispers, grinning. I realize my face is frozen in the polite smile I put on when the doctor began to speak, and quickly shake my head at her, relaxing my grimace into a frown. She bites her lip and sits down on her bed while I mechanically take notes as the doctor finishes. Nodular sclerosing Hodgkins 2a, I write. Chemo. ABVD. Radiation. Kaplan.

I still have that slip of paper in a scrapbook in my closet. "Chemo" is underlined twice.

The Automatic Bravery of a Cancer Patient, Exhibit A: My roommate being a nursing student, she all but pulls me to the nursing building to sit down and ask questions of her favorite nursing professor. The professor answers cautiously when I ask about the possibility of staying in school while I receive treatment, but admits it might be an option.

I am eighteen and have been in Seattle for barely one year. I stay in control of myself when the nursing professor is speaking, but every time I think about moving back home I start crying again. It seems childish to be more upset about this than I am about having cancer, I realize, but the tears keep coming.

I don't want to tell my parents this news. I imagine my mother sobbing. Oh, hell, will my father cry? Will they insist that I move home? What if I just don't tell them until after Thanksgiving?

But they already know about the biopsy, so they'll be waiting to hear something. And I'm a terrible liar. So I try the next best thing: I ask the nursing professor if she can call my parents to tell them, while my roommate and I are in the midst of our ten-hour drive home. I convince myself that this is a great idea--my parents can have a day to absorb the shock before I have to deal with their emotions, and the professor can answer the questions they will have.

Yes, I tell myself. This is a great idea. And she does it, too, calls them while I am on the freeway, inaccessible in the slow traffic jam that always oozes down I-5 the night before Thanksgiving.

I'm still a little ashamed of being that cowardly, I say.

Ah, you say, shrugging a little; but it was seven years ago, after all. You were just a kid.

I'm glad it's been seven years. It's not a cheerful anniversary, but I mark it every year.

Is it morbid that I can remember this date more easily than the date of my final radiation, my "remission date?"

*Yahweh, by U2, from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Wee meats

My husband and I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant last weekend. I ordered chicken carnitas, which prompted my husband and I to a discussion about the meaning of the word "carnitas." I thought it just meant "little meats," but he was certain it meant pork, and was bothered by the idea of my chicken-pork blended meat meal.

Since neither of us speaks Spanish all that well anymore, I thought I'd settle the disagreement with a peek in the trusty Spanish-English dictionary when we got home. But no entry for "carnitas" was to be found. Well, I thought, I'll bet one of those crazy online translators can help out. So I went to the Spanish to English translator and typed in "Yo quiero carnitas."

And the ever-helpful translated it into English for me:

"I want carnitas."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Pointy Little Timers

This month marked the third full year I've been at my job.

That might not sound like much to some of you. Some members of my family have had things in their freezer for longer than that. My 77-year-old grandma, for instance, keeps an enormous chest freezer in her garage. Two years ago it broke down just before Thanksgiving, allowing the gathered family to celebrate our bounty by throwing it all away. My mother and my aunt established themselves at the freezer to excavate the trove of food; the rest of us hovered nearby. Grandma had meticulously written the date on each item when she put it in the freezer, making it an enormous popsicle of a time capsule.

Grandma wouldn't let us throw out the newer frozen foods, so she got her neighbors Bob and Jo to clear out space in their own garage freezer to temporarily store her goodies. Then my siblings and I lined up with garbage bags to distribute the food. First my mom or aunt would exclaim over the item--"Chili, 2000!"

"Enchiladas, Christmas 1999!"

"Oh my god--a whole gallon of potato soup from 1997! And it's split down the side!"

Then, with a nod or a sigh from Grandma, one of us would either empty the contents into the garbage bag and toss the empty container into a recycling bag, or put the entire thing into the "save" bag. The "save" bag swelled to surprisingly large proportions but we lugged it down to Bob and Jo's garage anyway, safely restoring those bricks of soup and bread to zero degrees and ensuring that after Grandma replaced her freezer they could return to live for many more years in the comfort of her garage.

Anyway, I've been at my job for three years, which is a long time for me as a recent college graduate. Er, for certain values of the word "recent," that is. It was my first "real" job after school, anyway. I was hired there after several months of unemployment in the fall of 2001, months of financial woe mitigated only by working occasional shifts at the bookstore and cobbling together a few babysitting jobs. So to get that call, after an interview I thought I bombed (Boss: "And what are you interested in down the road?" Me: "Well, after the work I did with Americorps, I'm pretty interested in obtaining my teaching certification and working more directly in the field of education." Boss: "Oh...well, we're hoping to find someone who will be staying here more long-term..." Me: "D'oh! Backtrack backtrack backtrack..."), offering me a full-time permanent position with a SALARY and BENEFITS! --well, that was a thrill. I felt like a real adult for the first time. (I even went out and bought myself a comfy chair with my first paycheck--my first furniture purchase!--just to cement my adulthood.)

It was also sobering, though. A little too open-ended. I told myself I'd work there for at least two years, and then I'd re-evaluate my options. Three years ago when I first opened the drawer of the desk I'd be using, I found an assortment of office supplies, including one of those 1,000-count boxes of staples. Only one strip of staples had been used. I wondered cheerfully how many years it must have sat in that desk, through how many former tenants of my position. This box of staples will be here long after I'm gone, I thought.

Yesterday my stapler ran out of staples. I opened my trusty little box, and pulled out the

That's right: I've used a thousand staples in the last three years. The box that seemed set to outlast me--empty, all its staples used up.

I didn't make much of it at the time. I refilled my stapler and tossed the empty box into the recycling bin.

Still, it's a bit of a marker. I went through an entire 1,000-count box of staples, and counting--and I'm still in the same holding pattern. Last year when I reached my two-year mark I did start looking around to see what new direction might be worth pursuing. The direction I found (north) didn't work out after all, so I stayed on, and don't regret it a bit. I like my job and my coworkers immensely. I could see myself staying on there for another three years or more and enjoying it thoroughly.

But now the busy season is over, I have a new box of staples, and it's time to analyze my path. I want it to be a conscious decision, and not find myself staring at another empty box of staples in three years, wondering where they all went.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Justice Ministry

New to the blogroll, over there to your right: Justice Ministry. Highly, highly recommended. I just found out about this website about an hour ago. I hear these sermons every week and I think, "I wish I had a photographic memory so I could transcribe these and put them online for other people to enjoy." Lo and behold, here they are after all!

Start here for a taste: "The Unbearable Lack of Loopholes."

This is what keeps my batteries charged throughout the week. This is why I don't curl up in a corner and cry. This is what keeps me sane and gives me hope.

And that's good news.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I'm much more a night person than a morning person. I can stay up all night if I feel like it, but waking up before 7:00 a.m., even if I get plenty of sleep, is anathema to me. Oh, I do my best, and I always make it to the bus on time, but I love sleeping in on my days off.

I have today and tomorrow off, and what do I do first thing this morning? Bounce out of bed at 6:30 a.m., of course, just after my husband left. I was so excited to have four days off in a row! After weeks of maniacal frenzy at work, finally I would have two days entirely to myself, and I wanted them to be as long as possible. As I got dressed I sketched out a quick outline of the day: go for a long walk, drink some coffee, and sit down at the computer to write.

I didn't stick to the schedule completely, but I did indeed go for a walk. Discovery Park is across the canal and not too far, but I'd never ventured to find my way over there on foot before. It was a foggy, chilly morning, and still quiet at 7:30 a.m. when I set out. It only took me about a half hour to get to the North Parking Lot of Discovery Park; I can't believe I've lived in this apartment for a year without trying out that route before.

I hiked up to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center to look out over Puget Sound as the fog cleared. We just acquired a digital camera, and I'm still trying to figure out how to use it to take good pictures. I took the ones below from the top of the bluff, anyway. The first obvious problem is that I can't seem to make my horizons straight. Kind of a problem when looking at the ocean, eh? We'll see how much better I can get in the days ahead.

Blackberry bramble over Puget Sound

Shilshole Marina through the fog

Dandelion in the meadow

Grass in the field

Sun breaking through the fog

Flower at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


I made something tonight.

I put a couple of frozen chicken breasts into a pot and filled it about a third of the way with water. I chopped broccoli, celery, onion, and potatoes, adding them to the water bit by bit. I vigorously shook parsley and bay leaves into the bubbling mix. A few hearty dashes of salt and pepper, a half-cup or so of milk, and a quick stream of marsala cooking wine, just because I was curious what it would do. I let it simmer together for a while, then threw in a couple of handfuls of stir fry noodles.

Oh, it was good. We both ate a bowlful before sitting back with groaning bellies. There's a big container of it left over, too, which will make a fine little lunch to reheat tomorrow.

We've been so lax at cooking for ourselves lately. After being so good at alternating nights and cooking for each other, we got out of the habit over the summer, especially during the frenzied weeks before the wedding. Then there was that stretch where we mostly existed on ramen noodles for the last week or two of each month to make the dollars last without resorting to the credit card. And as hot as it was here this summer, neither of us really wanted to heat up the house to cook anyway.

When we once again gained two incomes this fall, it became so easy to continue our laziness and eat out. Or order pizza. Very shortsighted of us, we agreed, and pledged to be more responsible. Then we lost the special events coordinator at work just a month and a half before our one huge special event, and I ended up working 60+ hours a week to help out. That was also not good for our cooking schedule. Lots of Taco del Mar, those weeks.

Now autumn is cooling into winter, and the warmth of the oven is welcome in our apartment. I stir my cobbled-together chicken soup and glow with pride. (Pride and the heat of the stovetop, I suppose.) My husband has been sick, and we are both hungry, but I--I have created soup. And it is good.

Of course, some people might say soupmakers must create ex nihilo, so they will deny that I really had anything to do with the appearance of the soup on our table. I am, instead, a temptation to doubt in the divine providence of the soup--a lie of Satan leading witless souls to stray from the true origins of the soup.

Still, the soup was very good.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Last Leaves

"She makes me feel like a little kid," my brother said last Sunday as he walked into church with our mother.

He was three years old when I finished reading Lord of the Rings. My sister and I trotted through the field and the woods behind our house, describing our beautiful imaginary horses and lopping off weeds with our stick-swords. I called myself "Abner" and my sister called herself "Al." Abner and Al were Robin Hood-style warriors, defending the powerless against the depradations of the wicked. When he wanted to play, we called him "Angellor" to continue the alliteration, and the three of us wielded sticks against invisible enemies all year.

It was two winters later when we dressed up in Nana's old clothes, pulling her faded dresses over our grubby jeans and sweatshirts, and he begged until we gave him a dress to wear, too. Then the three of us preened together in our chilly bedroom, twirled and danced, pitched our voices an octave higher to sound like grown-up ladies.

That was the winter we moved. Our parents spent a week scrubbing dog shit out of the new house before we could move in. We spent the week with Grandma and Grandpa; they spent the week shampooing dog shit out of carpets, cleaning spiders and mouse droppings out of closets, and patching holes in the water-stained ceiling. "It's a better school district," they said while they scrubbed. "We're only five minutes from town here," they reminded each other when they lay down aching into bed at night. "Everything will be easier now," they told themselves.

But that house was still too small for their submerged emotions. The alcohol was gone, but that just gave anger and depression more space to sprawl out in, and they started taking their arguments outside where there was room to bellow. My sister and I heard him crying, and we crept down the hallway through the kitchen to our brother's room. We sat on his bed and tried to calm him down. We sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "This Little Light of Mine. When the fight outside filtered into his bedroom anyway, we sang louder, doing the hand motions.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Ths little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine...
He turned twelve just before I left for college. That year I had to write a paper either defending or questioning the GPA system. I attacked it, writing about my brother's ability to teach himself computer skills in his spare time from the time he was ten years old. I argued that the grading system did nothing to accurately gauge his intelligence, but only to measure his ability to complete rote assignments and memorize facts for tests--tasks he performed poorly. Of course, it wasn't my professor who needed convincing: it was my father, who had taken low grades as proof of my brother's "stupidity" and heaped scorn on him every chance he got.

He was nineteen last summer when he informed me that if I wasn't a Christian, he shouldn't be talking to me because I might corrupt his integrity. "I gotta keep my witness pure," he said. "And if you can't agree with that, I shouldn't be talking to you and letting you make me doubt things.

"I gotta keep my witness pure," he repeated.

As they walked into church together last Sunday, he announced to my mother, "She makes me feel like a little kid, and I just don't want to talk to her anymore."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Animal Dreams

My dreams often contain nothing of substance--no concrete symbols or colors on which I can build a translation using traditional dream interpretation. So I was surprised and amused to have two vivid dreams full of animals the other night.

It was Friday night, after the second presidential debate. The first dream showed someone bringing a handful of army ants to the next presidential debate, in Arizona. The army ants swiftly multiplied and began to swarm over one of the men attending the debate. In the process of saving that man's life from the ants, John Kerry fell into the horde of ants. Within moments he was dead, all his flesh stripped from him, nothing left but a pile of bones. I was horrified, crying, in despair at his death so soon before the election. "We don't have enough time to choose another candidate!" I wept. (Guess I forgot about Edwards.)

The second dream was more bizarre. I was back in Oregon, idly wandering in the abandoned orchard in front of my parents' house. Looking down the road, I saw an animal loping toward me. At first I thought it was a large dog, and slowly climbed back over the fence into the field next to the house as a precaution. When it was closer I realized that it was not a dog. Instead it was a donkey, carrying a monkey on its back.

When they reached the orchard, they turned and came toward me. The donkey repeatedly thrust its head between two of the fence's wire strands and pushed against the fence, trying to get through. I backed away a little, leery of its aggression. Then the monkey spoke to me.

"We've been blown off course because of the hurricanes," said the monkey. "Can you help us out?"

"I'm sorry, I don't think I can," I answered. I wanted to help, but honestly didn't feel capable.

Fortunately for the lost animals, a group of Native Americans came out of the house and offered to help them. They all sat down in a circle with the donkey and the monkey and began to speak with them. I went inside the house and watched through a window, trying to observe and learn without being intrusive.

I don't think I've ever dreamt of a talking animal before, and I'm not sure what to make of either dream. Obviously I'm afraid something will be done to sabotage John Kerry's chances of being elected President. I don't know much about army ants, and suspect that their appearance owes itself to my vague memory of a short story I read in high school, "Leiningen Versus the Ants." The donkey being the symbol of the Democratic party would seem to be relevant, but I don't know what the "monkey on its back" would be. Or how it got blown off course by the hurricanes.

So, hey, if you see any ants swarming ominously in Arizona tomorrow, warn John Kerry, wouldja?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

"But I Want an Oompah-Loompah Now, Daddy!"

My husband and I recently took a long weekend to go visit my family for the first time since out wedding. We took our pictures to show everyone and spent every day visiting with a different configuration of relatives.

We had dinner at my parents' house one evening with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my grandparents. After dinner my aunt and uncle and I were sitting in the living room, looking at pictures and reading magazines between snippets of conversation. Very relaxed and comfy. I flipped through a National Geographic magazine lying on the table next to me. It was the September 2004 issue, with many articles focusing on the effects of global climate change.

I made a comment about the article I was reading. My aunt, a very conservative evangelical Christian, breezily replied, "Oh, well, I know the Lord's going to be coming back for us before too long anyway, so I'm not worried about it."

I really wish some Christian who holds that attitude could explain to me how they think it is consonant with the teaching of the man who warned, "If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?"* Don't you believe that humanity is to be a steward the earth, to care for it and nurture it not as a toy to use up and toss aside, but as a gift to be cared for and entrusted to God's other children when you are gone?

My aunt doesn't worry about that responsibility, because she feels certain that she's got a "get out of jail free" card--the Rapture! Hey, Jesus is going to come back any day now, and that means she doesn't have to worry about having a good earth to pass on to the next generation! It never occurs to her that for two thousand years Christians have been expecting "the End," and every other generation has been mistaken in their guesses about its timing. She refuses to consider that she also might be wrong, that there might be another generation, or ten, or a hundred, before her Jesus returns with a shiny new earth to play with.

Oh, Christian, explain this to me. Don't you talk a lot about family values and discipline, about responsibility and commitment? I hear a lot of Christians talk about the inadvisability of "handouts;" I hear them warn that people who get things for free tend to take those things for granted and misuse them. But then those Christians turn around and say, without a trace of irony, that it doesn't matter if species are going extinct, the ocean and the air becoming increasingly polluted and the earth struggling, "'cause we're gonna get a new earth any day now, just as soon as Jesus comes back! Hallelujah!"

Explain to me how you can say this without feeling like a greedy, spoiled child?

*Matthew 16:11-12

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Echidne's Song of the Earth

Echidne of the Snakes has written a poignant, lyrical song, "To the Dead Children." I can't even skim over it without my eyes filling with tears. And now I find that I can't write about it, either. This...this is beautiful beyond beautiful. It drains my fury and hatred and fills the emptiness with yearning and grief deeper than language, sorrow and yet a strange, rough kind of solace.

Thanks, Echidne.

This is the song of the earth to all the children who have died in wars and acts of terrorism, or maybe a faint echo of it:

These are my children, the dead ones, the beloved: the ones covered in mud and dirt, the bloodied ones, the limbless ones, the ones who were scattered by bombs like crumbs thrown for the birds. These are my children: the burned ones, the raped ones, the starved ones, the buried ones. See how beautiful they all are, my beloved children.

I seek for them everywhere, I call for them and at nightfall I find them. I gather them to me and give them sleep. The night I turn into a silken shawl, the sky into a blue blanket. I weave cradles and nests out of my hair, and I find a place for each one of my children, however hurt and frightened.

My lap is wide enough for all of them and their pain, and I give them dreams of pine forests, of fresh streams in sunlight, of young foxes gambolling in a clearing. I give them dreams of peace and quiet, of stars and sailboats, of flowers and meadows. I give them dreams of snow and sun and sweetness. I give them what was taken away from them and when I cannot do that I give them oblivion and rest. And the wind sings a lullaby, gently, in all my tongues.

It is my milk that feeds all, and my tears that sate all thirst, and these children, my beloved, will never lack food or drink or a place to slumber in my lap or a peace that cannot be broken..

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

That Great Smile

I can't resist leaving the adorable smile of Thomas Voeckler up as the most recent post for a bit.

Photo from

I Love Thomas Voeckler.

My new boyfriend, Thomas Voeckler.

My fiance introduced me to the Tour de France last summer. I didn't know anything about professional bike racing, and still don't know much, but it's an impressive event. Over a hundred guys riding their bikes for hours on end every day for three weeks, through the Pyrenees and the amazes me.

So it's becoming an annual tradition for us to get up early in the morning for those three weeks and watch the live coverage of the Tour de France before I leave for work. In fact, we're getting married on the final day of the 2004 Tour de France. Maybe we'll be able to say, in years to come, that we were married on the very day that Lance Armstrong won a record sixth consecutive Tour? We shall see...

Anyway, this year we've both been enthralled, together with the rest of the fans, by Mr. Thomas Voeckler, an adorable 25-year-old French rider who took the lead in the race 12 days ago and managed to hang onto it right up until Lance Armstrong took the lead today. It's only Voeckler's second time riding in the Tour, making his achievement even more impressive. And in addition to the determination and strength that won him those 11 yellow race-leader jerseys, he has the cutest smile I've seen out there this year. Check out those pictures! Every time they put the yellow jersey on him at the end of the day, he'd give this shy little smile that just made me want to peel that jersey right back off of him.

Haha! Just kidding, sweetie, I can't wait to get married to you this Saturday! Mwah!

Seriously, Thomas, you call me if you're ever in Seattle. Swoon.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Independence Day

We sang the hymn "This is my Song" today to close the service at the tiny church I attend. It was written by Lloyd Stone during the interval between WWI and WWII. I found myself weeping as we sang it, and I can't think of a more beautiful or true song to sing on this day.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

Music "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius, words by Lloyd Stone.

For a beautifully contemplative page combining the words and music of this hymn with some breathtaking pictures from around the world, visit this page at the St. Aidan's Episcopal Church website.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Treasure Hunting

Last week Mr. Thel and I were given a gift certificate to REI from a group of amazing people that I work with. (The calm, helpful staff on Bloody Thursday are all completely real, and some of the nicest people I've ever known.) We were really excited, but decided to wait until after the wedding before deciding what to buy with the gift certificate.

Yeah, that determination lasted about 36 hours. Saturday morning Mr. Thel said, "Wanna go to REI?" and off we went.

We bought a couple of useful things, things we actually needed for our upcoming trip to Glacier National Park. New jacket, sunglasses. And then we drifted into the more frivolous sections of the store, looking at stuff we totally didn't need. Stuff we never would have looked at twice if it weren't for this nice little gift certificate burning a hole in our pocket...

We probably would have held out, you know, if it weren't for the week-long sale they've got going on. As it was, the sale price on one little Global Positioning System unit was too tempting to resist. For almost a year Mr. Thel has been looking at them online, gazing longingly into the GPS case every time we went to any sporting or camping goods store. So we got one on sale on Saturday, thanks to the generosity of my work friends.

And then we went geocaching. Do you know about geocaching? Neither did I. It's just treasure hunting for grownups, apparently. As puts it, "The basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches."

It sounds deceptively easy. We had found a couple of caches last year without a GPS unit, by looking at the maps available at the geocaching website. But we took our new toy to Discovery Park on Sunday and found out just how challenging it can be. Having been to Discovery Park countless times, we had picked two caches within the park to find. (Oh yes, there is a geocache hidden closer than you think. They are all around you.)

It was so much more fun than I had expected. After we entered the coordinates of the cache, the GPS displayed the distance and direction to it. I got ridiculously excited to watch the distance diminish as we neared the cache, especially when the display flashed "You are within 100 feet of landmark!" 60 feet...45 feet...30 feet...whoops, 50 feet, turn south... We got lucky on the first one, finding it wasn't far from my very favorite spot in the park. Still, it was down a little side trail I'd never trod before, and we were tickled to find two small metal bug sculptures in a secluded spot back in the woods near the cache.

Alas, our beginners' luck was not to hold. We headed down the trail that we estimated would lead toward the next cache. It looked like it would be down at the North Beach, and sure enough, the GPS did its cheerful countdown as we strode down the beach--right up until the "go this way" arrow swung around and pointed straight into the cliff. Sixty feet that way, but a hundred feet above us. We climbed back up the trail and headed back in the right direction, determined to find this cache too. We found the right trail to the bluff's edge easily enough. Unfortunately, just as we got within 100 feet of it again, a wedding party streamed out of the cultural center next to the bluff, heading straight at us to pose for pictures in front of the view. We figured they probably didn't want two sweaty hikers poking around in the background of their wedding pictures and slunk away, defeated.

It was so much fun, though, for someone like me who used to make up her own elaborate treasure maps, or sketch actual maps of our property. When Mr. Thel first described this hobby I thought it was a kind of race, that someone would hide a cool prize and post its location, and the first people to find it would get to keep it. I pictured people hovering in front of their computers, waiting eagerly for a new prize location to be posted, then rushing out to try to claim it.

But of course, the point wasn't the cheesy little prizes in the box at the end. It's all about paying attention to the direction your trail is heading. It's about looking hard at the scenery around you and adjusting your route when you find you're off course. It's about chuckling over the mystery with other seekers, and getting that little bubble of glee when you know you're on the right track.

It's all about the journey. And that, I like.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Childhood detritus

I naturally tend to be a bit of a packrat. When I was a little girl my closet had a built-in dresser, and the bottom drawer was left empty because it didn't have a handle and was difficult to open. I discovered this empty space and squirreled away the weirdest things in there. I brought home flannel-board figures from Sunday School, pretty rocks and shells from the beach, and sheets of paper I'd carefully covered in scribbles and drawings, tucking them all carefully into my "hidden" drawer.

The weirdest thing I kept in the drawer? Well, my mom had really long hair, and after she brushed it she would clean out her hairbrush, roll the hair up into a neat ball between her palms, and throw it away. I was fascinated by these hairballs. Obsessed with all kinds of miniature things, soon I discovered that I could shape the hairballs into tiny hair nests. I imagined that a delicate bird had shaped a hollow for her eggs inside them. And, yes, I kept a couple of these pretty little nests of hair in a corner of the drawer.

After I left home, however, I ended up moving at least once a year for five or six years. This made me get a lot better about throwing things out. No more secret stashes of hairballs for me! I stopped keeping every little note and letter, mercilessly recycled clothing and shoes, and even frequently culled my bookshelves (by far the most painful part). Things with sentimental value stuck around longer, but after packing and unpacking something three or four times without using it for anything in between, I became ruthless. Yes, I know I got this from a dear friend, but our friendship won't suffer if I pass on this candle holder/necklace/picture frame.

Journals are a different story. I've been an obsessive journal-keeper since sixth grade, and I won't throw out a single one of the twenty journals I've filled. It's a little pathetic, but I justify that collection by pointing to the fact that my memory is atrocious.

But there's one thing I've kept through all those moves, and it's never going away. My sister and I had a small collection of dress-up clothes--mostly castoffs from our aunt and grandma, ridiculous dresses they hadn't worn in twenty years that we would bunch up over our t-shirts and jeans and sashay around feeling glamorous and grown-up. At some point our collection gained two fringed shawls: a black one and a glimmering silver one. My sister took the black one, but I fell in love with that silver shawl. I told myself stories about how it was woven from starlight and spun by moonlight, sprinkled with fairy dust and shimmering with magic. I was very strict about letting myself play with it, reserving it for extra-special storylines in which I needed a flash of mystery draped over my shoulders. Every time I whirled it around me, I thrilled to the cool secrets I imagined woven within it.

When I left home, I quietly dug the silver shawl out of the closet where all our stuffed animals, Barbies, and dress-up clothes had been banished over the years, and took away with me. It usually stayed in a drawer or a hatbox in a closet, always out of sight. I never wore it, but I never quite tossed it out in any of my anti-hoarding fits, either.

And then a few years ago I ran out of magic. I stopped looking up at the stars and couldn't bear to keep a journal. It was a very long stretch of drab monotony. God died, love lied, and I never wanted to get up in the morning.

I remember three things that happened around the same time a little color started to creep back into my world. I had utterly neglected my only houseplant. It was completely dead, I thought--nothing but dirt left in its container. I started hopefully watering it anyway, and after several weeks I was delighted to see tiny green leaves emerging from the soil.

I had a favorite bracelet with a broken clasp that had languished in my jewelry box through those months. One day I sat down and carefully fixed the clasp so I could wear the bracelet again.

And I pulled the shawl out of the drawer and draped it around a lampshade. Of course I knew it wasn't actually a magic shawl. It hadn't been able to make me invisible, or let me tame unicorns, or transform me into a stunning princess. But all the playful storylines had woven themselves into it over the years, and something of its fantasy still seemed to twinkle at me through its silvery threads.

I've moved a couple more times since then, always keeping the shawl draped somewhere prominent in my bedroom. For a while I had it arranged high in a corner, hanging so the light from my lamp sent lacy patterns onto the ceiling and walls. Usually it's just hung awkwardly around a lampshade, fringe swaying below the light.

If a fire broke out in our apartment, I would first scramble to grab as many journals as I could sensibly carry. I would rush to pull clothes from the closet and the box of important documents.

And then I honestly think I would snatch that shawl.

Friday, June 11, 2004

A Niece is Nice

Reason Numero Uno (and, so far, Numero Solo) why I want to be a Cool Aunt:

"Cool Aunt Thel" reads Winnie-the-Pooh with her niece.

Yeah, I want to be a Cool Aunt. I want to be the Cool Aunt who always picks out the perfect gift--I think I made a good start on that, as apparently every night at bedtime she insists on reading the book and listening to the cassette recording of Abiyoyo that I gave her for Christmas. (Yes, I did start my covert campaign to help make her a voracious reader before she turned two--why?) I want to be the Cool Aunt she can vent to if she feels the need when she hits adolescence and her parents (who are much cooler, in reality, than I could ever hope to be) seem unbearably dorky and embarrassing. You know--the Cool Aunt who won't freak out if she lets fly with a "damn" or a "shit."

Anyway, she's adorable. Hey, I'm not a parent, so I had to bust out a cool picture of my beautiful niece to brag about. ("Yeah, she's brilliant! Already loves books, and she's not quite two!")

Just one more reason to move to Alaska, really.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Granddad and the Gipper

(Well, now, I can't skulk through this week without some sort of reference to Reagan's death, can I?)

The first President whose tenure I can recall, Ronald Reagan was President of the U.S. from my earliest awareness through the middle of elementary school. Not that I had more than a fuzzy idea of U.S. government; I suppose I'd learned the basics of U.S. government by fourth grade (President, not King; elections, not tyranny) but I don't think I'd been taught much more than that during the Reagan years.

I do remember spending long summer days at Grandma and Granddad's house in 1987. I collected rocks from the dry creek bed, ate blackberries by the fistful, and watched the horses graze. I ran around tossing my head and pretending I was a horse, coaxing my younger sister and brother into pretending they were horses too. I didn't know beans from Contras.

But I remember Grandma making us come inside for lunch, fixing us snack trays and letting us sit in the living room to eat while Granddad watched the TV--a real treat for us, not having TV at home. I ate my bologna-and-cheese rolled on a toothpick and half-watched the man in the uniform who was on the TV all summer. Granddad always watched the same channel, totally engrossed in the things the uniformed man was saying to the other stern men. The uniformed man had a name like Popeye's girlfriend. Ollie, ollie, oxen free.

Granddad grumbled at the TV a lot that summer. I knew Granddad had been in the Navy in WWII, though I didn't know yet what Iwo Jima meant, or what a kamikaze did. I knew Granddad had worn a uniform and assumed the man on TV, wearing a uniform, must be on the same side as my granddad. So I guessed that Granddad was unhappy with the way the stern men kept asking Ollie all those questions. Learning that Ollie worked for President Reagan clinched it in my eight-year-old head: President Reagan kind of looked like my Granddad--leathery, dark-haired old white men--so of course they must be on the same team.

Well, I know a little more about those Reagan years now than I knew while getting my fingers muddy and wearing out my sneakers. I found out about a few of the things that went on in Central America while I was in elementary school. I learned who the Sandinistas were, and the Contras. I read about Oscar Romero. I found out about the young men sent to Central America by Reagan and his underlings, and I've seen a few scars of which they will not speak.

Still, I knew my parents were Republicans, so I figured everyone else in our family must also be Republicans, as a kid. And since politics and religion were the twin no-nos at family gatherings, I never had any reason to think differently. Granddad died five years ago, and we'd never had any reason to talk politics.

Then one day last year my Grandma mentioned a recent speech by Al Gore. "Wasn't it brilliant?" she said.

"Yeah!" I said, surprised. "Uh...I thought you and Granddad were Republicans?" Maybe the present administration had changed her mind, I thought.

She recoiled as if I'd questioned the legitimacy of her birth. "Land sakes, no!" she exclaimed. "We were Democrats even before FDR. You know, growing up in Arizona, I remember knowing miners who were beaten and even killed by 'company men' just for trying to form a union. No, we've always been Democrats. Your mom switched her registration when she married your dad, but not your granddad and me."

Delighted, but still a little confused, I asked, "Didn't Granddad like Reagan, though? I thought he was pretty defensive of Ollie North during the Iran-Contra hearings..."

"Your granddad couldn't stand Reagan," Grandma said. Turns out all that grumbling at the TV was aimed at Ollie his own self, not at his questioners. I guess their vague resemblance, to an eight year old, just wasn't enough to endear the President and his policies to my grandfather.

So RIP to Ronnie. Not my favorite President, he'll still always be the first one I remember, the one whose existence as President had nothing to do with politics in my mind, but seemed synonymous with the USA.

And every mention of Reagan will forever remind me of my Granddad, and of one misunderstood summer TV drama. RIP, Granddad. Wish we could've talked politics, after all.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Change it? Engage it? Get a bigger box to encage it?

In 1998, while defining their vision for the 21st century, the Christian university I attended was proud to announce their slogan: "Engaging the culture, changing the world." Their comprehensive plan proclaims, "Separation, detachment, or self-indulgence can never be our path... We exist to serve."

While there are plenty of places where my ideas diverge from those officially advanced by the institution of my dear ol' alma mater, I can't argue with their stated passion to help students "understand what gives shape to our appreciate the fruits of culture: music, art, theater, poetry, film, literature." It's an idealistic slogan, and sounds ridiculously hokey after you hear it eight hundred times in four years, but (after some years of not hearing it every day) I appreciate its brand of idealism. It's borne of a thoughtful, appreciative approach that often seems lacking in some Christian circles.

I was just reminded of that slogan when I visited Slacktivist. Today he links to a transcript at Christianity Today of a little chat George W. Bush had last week with some supportive religion writers and editors. He has a different idea about what Christians should do with "culture." The headline of the article, and a main point of Bush's statements? "Bush calls for 'Culture Change.'" He said, "At home, the job of a president is to help cultures change. The culture needs to be changed."

"Engaging the culture..." I was lucky enough to participate in a volunteer trip to Ireland, arranged by my university, just after I graduated. A church in Ireland asked for volunteers to help staff their summer youth camps, where they brought together adolescents from Ireland and Northern Ireland for week-long summer camps. The first thing the camp director did when the six of us volunteers arrived that summer was to take us up to Belfast for a week-long course on the history and culture of Northern Ireland, to give us a more nuanced understanding of the background to the conflict there. It was, among other things, a reminder that we weren't sent there to change their culture. We were sent to understand it, to engage it, even, and to lend our services to those local people with what they sought to accomplish in the cause of peace and reconciliation in their communities. They were seeking change, no doubt about it. But they sought the change that would come through increased understanding and engagement across community lines (as well as increased opportunity for the impoverished residents of West Belfast in particular...but that's another rant), and not necessarily through artificially imposed changes.

"Changing the culture..." Sadly, there's an ever-growing strain of Christians in the U.S. who are leery of that sort of engagement. For them, culture change is the important part, not the engagement and respect that precedes it. That connection and mutuality are suspect to them--a potential source of corruption. My teenaged brother said to me in a heated moment last year, "If you aren't a Christian, I don't know if I should talk to you anymore." His reason? If I'm not a Christian, my opinions are of course groundless and absurd, but they might nevertheless coil their godless tentacles around him, whisper their sweet siren song in his ears and tempt him, lead him astray, make his feet stumble and eventually hurl him into the pit of everlasting fire and torment.

Okay, he wasn't that dramatic about it. But his point was the same: other people's beliefs are not a valid part of his culture to be listened to and understood even if he continues to disagree with them. They are a threat, a challenge, an affront to the stark purity of his own beliefs. Life, for him, isn't "glorious, fascinating, rapidly times terrifying," as my alma mater's comprehensive plan says. It's just a constant war between cultures, a war he believes must be won and can only be won by force. There's nothing glorious about other cultures; they are a challenge to be withstood and overcome. They are there in order to be defeated and changed.

"Engaging the culture, changing the world..." I watched Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Sunday, and I loved it. I watched those Australian drag queens make their way across the outback and loved it, loved my glimpse into a completely different world. Maybe that's the thing--how much I enjoy that "engagement," on screen or in a book or (best of all) in reality. I thrived on the time I was privileged to spend in Honduras, in Ireland, in the classrooms with struggling readers in Seattle. It has never felt like something ponderous enough to describe as "engaging the culture," and I don't know that I changed anything except myself.

But I've made some new, unexpected friends. I've learned and grown and been stretched tremendously. I guess I have engaged me some culture. Maybe I've even changed the world a little. I'll probably never know, one way or the other. Still, I'd like to think it was a more productive process, both for myself and for the people I met, than it would have been if I'd gone in swinging a club of self-righteousness and duty, asking indignantly why these silly people couldn't just shape up and learn to get along. More fun, too.

So, see what I've learned: I like the slogan more than I thought I did. I think I might just go on doing this subtle "culture-engagement" for a bit longer. George can let me know how his method works out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Pro-family--unless your family is different from ours...

Via Unqualified Offerings comes an impassioned, eloquent letter. It's apparently four years old, but could have been written yesterday. I got a little bit choked up while reading it, and feel compelled to pass it on.

I wish more of us could understand and practice love the way this mother does.

Letter to the Editor
by Sharon Underwood, Sunday, April 30, 2000
from the Valley News (White River Junction, VT/Hanover, NH)

As the mother of a gay son, I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be.

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda "could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

Monday, May 24, 2004

Scents and Scentsibility

I haven't really got my blog-legs under me yet, obviously. In March I had a burst of longing to have an outlet--and then once the outlet was established I got shy. I want to figure out how to make it feel more natural to post my own words on this page instead of just linking to everyone else's words.

However. Some people's writing I so admire that I must link to it from time to time, and I hope you can understand. Melanie at Althaea Officinalis is one of those. She's been doing a series of essays about the year she turned ten, and it's pretty powerful stuff. Do check it out.

The multi-talented Melanie has also started making some very appealing herbal soaps (see them at I'm trying to be increasingly frugal, but next week when I get paid I don't think I'm going to be able to resist buying a sample bar pack. I've never been a big perfume person, and a lot of lotions nauseate me in large doses, but herbal love 'em. In fact, my wedding bouquet will have mint and rosemary in it, and my fabulous groom will be wearing a boutonierre of lavender and rosemary. And I love supporting, in my tiny way, a one-woman enterprise with such excellent products.

I'll do my best to put up some more of my own words later tonight for those one or two of you who actually visit this page. Although I'd be doing this even if you weren't, I do appreciate it that you visit my little strand of the world-wide web.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Pyjama Power

This ten-year-old is a wonder:

Ten-year-old Shane Ellis says some things in life are worth the embarrassment of being seen wearing pyjamas in public.

Yesterday he walked three kilometres to and from school in his pyjamas to make a point.

Horrified after seeing a photo in of a naked Iraqi prisoner cowering in fear as he was about to be attacked by dogs at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib Prison, Shane decided drastic action was called for.

"I thought, 'Poor guy, he must be scared. I wanted to share his humiliation'," said the young activist.

To do that, he turned up for class at Pauatahanui School yesterday in his flannel PJs.


Teacher Craig Stevenson applauded Shane's actions.

"It's a great statement. It's very exciting. Political statements aren't made every day, even by adults."

And how did his classmates react? "They thought he was a dick."

However, views changed after Mr Stevenson held a classroom discussion on the Iraqi situation.

"They've now got a better understanding of what's going on. They are now looking at it from both points of view."


Shane had suggested going to school in his underpants but [his father] insisted on his wearing pyjamas.

So here's this kid in New Zealand, this ten-year-old kid, who read about the Abu Ghraib situation and was upset by it. And with that emotion he crafted a way to help his peers see into it more clearly. He knew it was about bullying, on a large and horrific scale, and he brought that home to his classmates. Walked to school in his pj's in order to be made fun of, in order to gain empathy for the prisoners--and ended up helping his class gain that empathy and that understanding, that stunning insight into the heart of the matter, the dynamics of power and oppression:

"Bullying behaviour is unacceptable anywhere."

Man, that kid is so sharp it isn't funny. I hope he grows up to be president.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Fun spam

An email in my inbox today promised me an "imponderable anabaptist honeymoon heyday."

I'm not sure what it is, but I'm getting married this summer, and I think I'd like to look forward to having an imponderable anabaptist honeymoon heyday immediately following the wedding ceremony.

That is all.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Bloody Thursday

Last Thursday morning I was running late for work, a sadly frequent circumstance for me this year. I was still dragging as I parked the car and walked up the residential street on which our clinic has stood for sixty years, grumbling to myself about my lack of caffeine and debating whether I felt exhausted enough to justify leaving early in the afternoon.

Just as I reached the entryway, I heard a voice calling, "Help me, help me." I looked around and saw a woman lying on her back in a steep driveway across the street. She waved and called out again.

I waited for an opening in the busy traffic and ran across the street to her. She struggled to sit up as I approached. "Are you all right?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "I just fell while I was walking down the driveway."

"Oh, do you need a hand back up?" I asked her.

"Well, I think I broke my ankle," she said. "Could you take my shoe off?"

"Ummm..." I hesitated. The last time I took a first aid course was four years ago, and I tried to remember what to do. "I don't know much first aid," I said and crouched down at her feet.

Then I saw the unnatural way her lower leg was bent. I'd never seen a broken limb before, but the skin a few inches above her ankle bulged out where her tibia had obviously broken. I cringed. "Oh, dear, I think you're right," I said, briefly noting that at least it hadn't broken through the skin.

And then, of course, I saw the blood. A pool of it in shadow beneath her twisted leg. More dripped rapidly, audibly, into the growing pool. I couldn't see the wound, just the growing pool of blood beneath her. More blood than I'd ever seen before. I managed not to say, "Oh, Shit," out loud.

Stop the bleeding, I thought, I think that's right. I carefully wrapped my hands around her leg, far above the break, just below her knee, and squeezed hard. I talked the whole time, telling her what I was doing, telling her she was bleeding "just a little" and I was going to put some pressure around her leg to try to stop the bleeding.

Well, stupid, what are you going to do, sit here with your hands around her leg all morning? I kept one hand pressing behind her knee, hoping it was doing some good, and reached for my purse, telling her I was going to call 911 to get some help.

"Oh, no," she said, "let me get my card and you can just call my hospital, that won't be as expensive." She started to raise herself onto one elbow, reaching for her backpack.

The broken bone in her leg shifted audibly, grating on itself. "No, no, that's all right, try to keep still," I said, horrified. I fumbled in my purse with my free hand and pulled out my cell phone, thanking the gods that I'd finally given in and bought one in November. "I'll just call across the street and have them send our nurse over to give you a hand while we wait for the medics to get here."

I dialed my work number with my thumb, smearing blood across the numbers. I started talking as soon as our secretary picked up--"Hi, it's Thel, I'm right across the street with one of our neighbors, she fell down in her driveway and her leg is broken, could you call 911 and also send Tia [our nurse] over if she's around?"

P. assured me that she would, and I put my phone back in my purse. I started jabbering away to the woman. She answered calmly, but that just made me worry that she had lost so much blood that she was going to pass out on me. I asked her name (Lucy), how long she'd lived here--"Oh, twenty years," she said. "Goodness," I answered, "I've just worked here for two and a half years; you probably know more about the clinic than I do!" I think she chuckled. I wasn't really paying attention to what I was saying.

My hands were slippery around her knee. I pulled loose one of her backpack's webbing straps and tried to cinch it tight around her leg instead. "Is that too tight?" I worried.

"No," she said faintly. I rested my elbows on my knees as I crouched there. My hands were sticky with blood. I tried not to look at them or at the ground beneath her leg.

I sat there talking with her for a hundred years in the three minutes between the time I called and the time I saw Tia with our Executive Director and Assistant Director all hurrying through the rain towards us. Giddy with relief, I stood up and introduced them. Tia had one of those foil shock blankets which we unrolled and draped over Lucy. Our Assistant Director put his jacket under her head. "I think I'm going to be sick," Lucy said.

They said the ambulance was on its way. I stood awkwardly for a moment, shaking and holding my bloody hands out away from my body. My three coworkers had it under control--Tia had also brought a bandage with her and started unrolling it--so I wished Lucy well and walked across the street. I scrubbed my hands three times in the sink, then scrubbed the sink and blotted it dry with wads of paper towels.

I spent most of the morning in a meeting that didn't require much participation from me, which allowed me to sit quietly shaking until my adrenaline shock wore off. I ended up leaving early after all, having worked late earlier in the week.

I was always a little proud of the fact that blood didn't faze me, especially around friends who go queasy at the mere idea of a bloody nose. I guess I can still claim that the sight of blood doesn't make me sick, but my pride in that fact has vanished. I spent most of the morning feeling vaguely ashamed, actually. I kept thinking about these guys. I thought of their friends who watched them die, who may have held them as they died, helpless to save them.

My heart aches for those men and women who have died, and for the grief faced by their families and friends, lovers and children. But I also grieve for their living friends, who watched them die and whose minds will never erase that memory, who will carry those moments with them every day and night until their own deaths. I want to find some place where I can kneel and wrap my hands around that ceaseless pain, clench my fingers around it and forcibly staunch the flow of those bloody memories.

And I can't do a damn thing but grieve.

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

Thursday, March 25, 2004

"We are prophets of a future not our own"

Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Electrolite reminds us that yesterday was the 24th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. I learned just a few years ago of the circumstances surrounding Archbishop Romero's assassination. It was one of the key points in my increased awareness of appalling U.S. interventions in Latin America, and around the world. This article in the Guardian notes that the men who killed Archbishop Romero were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Romero wrote the following prayer. I will honor his life and the lives of others like him by letting him speak for himself, and praying with him:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny
fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s
No set of goals and objectives includes

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that
they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a
step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


Jeanne at Body and Soul helpfully points to a free book of Archbishop Romero's meditations available for downloading (free!) at Bruderhof Communities.

Monday, March 22, 2004

My roots are tangling with my branches.

I received the following story via email yesterday. The sender is a woman I have known my entire life. She and her husband are my mother's best friends, and are two of the most wonderful and caring individuals I know. And yet I received this email from them yesterday, a story they read and wanted to share with their friends:

Allah and Jesus, by Rick Mathes

Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths who explained their belief systems.

I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say.

The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers.

When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked: "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world. And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"

There was no disagreement with my statements and without hesitation he replied, "Non-believers!"

I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?"

The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, "Yes."

I then stated, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Pat Robertson or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!"

The Imam was speechless.

I continued, "I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?"

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.

I hate, I abhor, confrontation in all its forms. Mostly because I'm not very good at it. But I couldn't justify letting this awful story go unremarked, so after I calmed myself down I spent quite a long time formulating and researching a reply.

More on that later.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Heavy Duty...huh?

My parents didn't own a television from the time I was about two years old. Their old set abruptly died one day, and they decided with a shrug that it was probably a sign of just how useless the thing was anyway. Nevertheless, I still managed to pick up a few useful slogans from the TV at my grandma's house.

My mom loves to tell how I took one particular laundry detergent commercial to heart. I honestly have no memory of this, but apparently for several months around my third birthday I often shouted my adopted slogan, much to the amusement of relatives, church ladies, and assorted strangers in restaurants. I would hide behind a grown-up or under a table, then pop out suddenly for dramatic effect, plant my fists on my hips, and shout, "I'm Rebecca Lynn Johnson,* with Heavy Duty Power!"

I had a hefty dose of the Heavy Duty Power. I don't remember having it. I don't know where it went. I became a shy, self-conscious girl afraid of too much attention. I am reluctant to rock the boat, startle strangers, or rouse any rabble. God forbid I offend a friend, or make anyone too uncomfortable.

I am in danger of becoming a spineless nodder.

Enough, I say. The Heavy Duty Power is severely atrophied after two decades of timidity, but surely it's recoverable. With enough exercise I'm sure it can be revitalized. That's the reason for this blog: to get back my Heavy Duty Power. To practice setting my jaw and speaking my mind. To opine, declaim, rant, and pronounce. And in time I hope I can remember exactly how to toss my cape back from my shoulders, straighten my pose, and declare, "I'm Rachel Lynn Johnson, with Heavy Duty Power!"

It's going to be great.

*Not, of course, my real name.