Monday, January 30, 2006

It's weird, because I don't know what to say.

I never intended to wax philosophical about my mom and her condition. I guess we all thought it would never interfere with her life. She refused to believe she had it, until it was too late. That is cruel, indeed - not being aware of what you know you will have until you are at a point where you cease to be able to be aware.

Death would be welcomed at this point, for what she is living can hardly be called a life. How sad it is to see her, for the vibrant and smiling woman is not there anymore. She has left us, little by little, without so much as a goodbye. People here ask if I want to go back home before she goes, so I can say farewell.

I've said bye 100 different times. In 100 different ways. The last time, over Christmas, I leaned down to whisper in her ear. This woman, who gave me life, leaning over in her wheelchair, staring off into the distance, a glazed look over her eyes, talking about a wedding she is about to attend. Talking about her children yet to be born. Worried about men in the corner trying to kill her. Glimpses of her life sputtering out of her mouth like a scratched CD.

I lean down, take her hand, and say, "I'm going now, Mom. I love you. I'll miss you."

Her head keeps nodding, her eyes looking past me. "Okay."

Every day that passes, the less I remember of her former self. We, her family, are losing our memory, too. Her memory loss, her entrapment inside a prison of her own making, creates a reverberation of forgetfulness for all those around her.

Nancy Cobb, in her book, points out that for most of us, our mind is what keeps us sane in the worst of circumstances. We can fly away on our imagination from whatever ails us. So ironic, it is, that what frees me is what imprisons my mom.

She is responding again, and woke up yesterday morning and ate a big breakfast. Part of me prayed that she didn't wake up at all. I'm tired of thinking of her like this. I know she would freak out if she saw herself.

Thank you, readers, for going with me on this journey. I expect nothing from you, and only appreciate the opportunity to write my feelings on this blog. To get them out of my head, so they don't stay embedded in there, going nowhere.

I didn't know what to do yesterday, and I waited for a phone call from my family. I went to the Y, I watched Gladiator. I felt nothing and everything at the same time. I wanted to scream, cry, yell, sleep, fall away.

I want to celebrate her life, instead of being surrounded by her death and her near-death.

I want my dad to not have to see his beloved like this anymore.

In December, I told my mom it was okay for her to go, if she wanted to.

I just hope, if she's ready, her mind will let her go.

May she find peace.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I always thought, when I was young, that my mom would be around forever. I think it's this feeling of infinity that creates an atmosphere of invincibility when we are teenagers. Nothing can touch us; nothing can hurt us. The world is our oyster, there for the taking.

Then it all drops from our stomach like a sudden dip in a plane ride.

My mom had what is called a "grand-maul" stroke Saturday morning. She lays in her bed, curled up in the fetal position, mouth open, head cocked back, unresponsive.

It's funny. I remember always curling up in the fetal position when I was really sick. Anytime that happened (rarely, as I recall), my mom would always be there. It's almost as if her very presence - even in another room - automatically calmed me. Let me know I wasn't alone.

This theory was proven when I first became really sick at college. At the apex of my sickness, I remember laying in my bed, in the fetal position, only wanting my mother. I felt like I was reverting back to my childhood. I was so dizzy and weak...I started to call out to my mom. But by this time she had already been diagnosed and was reverting back herself.

I wonder, in that moment, if we met each other - both as two young children, wanting so deeply to be gently touched on the forehead and told that everything would be okay. On that day, perhaps we visited each other in a surreal and spiritual setting.

I'm not one for omens or signs, but as I was driving my roommate's car last Sunday, I felt a me. I can only describe it as the absolutely certainty that my mother had died. I pulled over and started to lose it. But I knew what I felt. It was as if my mom had gathered all her remaining sanity - all her mental strength hidden so far away - and touched me for one second:

To tell me everything was going to be okay.

She is not responding as I write this. My sister and dad are preparing for the end. I think we have all been preparing for the past four years.

My sister, who sees Mom everyday, who has fed her and walked with her since she went to the home, is pregnant for the first time. What an interesting dynamic: death and life so near to each other.

I know she wishes Mom could see and know her grandchild. Mom had this way with children. Even we she began to revert back mentally, it was as if her grandchildren always understood. They seemed to get along even better as my mom declined. They got each other.

What a raw emotion death brings on. How numb I feel right now.

It was raining in Texas yesterday, for the first time in months. My mom told me once that she loved rainy days. Instead of being depressing, they gave everyone the excuse to be lazy. To enjoy the spiritual flavor that rain brings.

It would have been appropriate for her to die on a rainy day. It was raining in Minnesota, too. Imagine that - rain in January. I don't believe everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it's so hard to ignore. There's something at work here.

Something or someone who loves us. And wants to be present.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"The present administration has adopted a sort of official Christianity, and it obviously wishes to be regarded as Christian. But 'Christian' war has always been a problem, best solved by avoiding any attempt to reconcile policies of national or imperial militarism with anything Christ said or did."

The words are from an essay by Wendell Berry called A Citizen's Response to the Patriot Act after September 11th. It's part of a book I suggest every American read, called Citizenship Papers.

Okay, so I realize I have many pieces of work that I say 'every American should read or see', but I'm serious. It absolutely BLOWS my mind that our president received a second term. He invokes 'God' more than any other president in the history of our country, and it is inherently scary. Not because he's a born-again Christian. That's fine. That's great. I want conservatives to understand that all liberals don't hate any kind of spirituality (just as I'm sure conservatives want liberals to understand that not every conservative is a psycho like Pat Robertson).

What bothers me to no end is what happens when a head of state - especially one of a country so enormously powerful and visible as the United States of America - uses God in his speeches and in his actions. All of the sudden, we have someone who believes his actions are God-ordained. That is scary as shit. And I would say that no matter who was president.

And then, all of the sudden, we have made it another holy war. We - and I use the royal "we", which basically means George W. Bush, since he kinda digs that whole 'buck stops here' and unlimited executive authority shit - have begun to see the enemy not as terrorists from Saudi Arabia, but as a huge conspiracy of Islam in general. I love how Islam is now seen as an inherently violent religion, and Muslims who pursue peace are but exceptions to the rule.

Christianity, however, is the message of peace. So, obviously, Christians who commit sickening acts of terror - hmm...let's say...Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City - are just exceptions.

No matter how you look at it, that is incredibly hypocritical.

So, we continue to pursue war as a means to peace, just like killing people to say that killing is wrong, and we do it under the auspices of God. The Christian God, nonetheless. That is the most inane and sacriligious point of view I have ever heard of.

I want somebody - ANYBODY - to tell me where in the life of Jesus are we taught to kill, not forgive our enemies, not pray for them, and to say "fuck you" to anybody that disagrees with us. There are some stipulations, though:

1. You cannot use the Old Testament. That is neither here nor there, since I am talking about Christianity, and the main figure is pretty heavily illustrated in the Gospels.

2. Don't try and interpret Jesus' apocalyptic statements. You can't do it. No matter how you try and spin them, they are still only what you think they mean. And, I don't mean to be presumptuous, but I'm pretty sure there is only one way to interpret passages like, "Love your enemies."

3. Don't give me 'the God of vengeance' crap, either. God is a God of love. And that's not liberal, whiny, bleeding-heart mumbo-jumbo. It's biblical.

I'm sorry, but I am seriously amazed at the extent to which our government will go to justify its actions and do some serious re-interpretation of the Bible. In the words of Wendell Berry, again,
"The Christian gospel is a summons to peace, calling for justice beyond anger, mercy beyond justice, forgiveness beyond mercy, love beyond forgiveness. It would require a most agile interpreter to justify hatred and war by means of the Gospels, in which we are bidden to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despise and persecute us."

I'm just tired of having to mourn the loss of innocent lives. And no matter what your political stripe, I think we can agree on that. So how long before we stop going back to war as a solution, time and time again, to the ills of this world? Some say war has been around forever. I don't disagree. But since war still occurs, it doesn't take a genius to realize that maybe it doesn't work. Has peace ever been given a pure and decent shot? Have we ever poured our resources and talents and gifts into peace the way we have for war?

No. Because this world is ruled by those who stand for militarization, violence, and death. Peace is a fanciful idea, one for which only crazy people advocate. Yet we always say that the reason for war is peace. THAT one takes a little stretch of the mind, doesn't it?

And, far beyond that, our administration now fights a war on vague concepts, instead of merely on other nations and people. The war on terrorism abounds. The wonderfully pathetic message the USA sends is simple: If you hold horrible weapons or cause death to others, and you are NOT an agent of our government, then you have gone too far.

And, finally, to those who call this horribly un-patriotic, consider this: I could have just left. Went to Africa again and never returned. But I love this place. And I can't think of anything it deserves more than people to see what it is becoming, before it is too late.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Last summer, I spent two months working in the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the largest soup kitchen in New York. I was primarily stationed in the counselor's trailer, where we received guests who needed any assortment of things, from food to detox to just somebody who would listen to their story. I think about that time often, especially since I am now working in advocacy while some of my roommates work in direct action. Just like I used to.

The problem with this scene is that when I was in New York, I had one of the worst depression bouts in my life - I'd probably say it was the worst. I felt so alone, and the constant contact with people who lived on the street while I went to sleep on a couch, under a roof, every night, started to crack me wide open. I began to think of little else but the soup kitchen, and my normal touristy adventures on the subway and different trips all around Manhattan were seen through the lens of my work. I couldn't escape it, and often, while at work, I would come across some person, or some story, that would leave me breathless.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to stay. I just didn't know what was going on.

Those are easily the words I use to describe my situation now, even though I rarely pass by homeless people in the area I live, and never in the area I work in St. Paul. It's night and day from Chelsea in Manhattan. It's amazing that I would daydream about getting out of the city, congested and suffocating as it was (I even got on a bus to Atlantic City one Thursday, just to get out. That's when you know it's bad - you want to leave to go to a place as fake and freaky as Atlantic City). And now, in a sleepy little hamlet in comparison, I catch myself wondering what's going on at 28th St. and 9th Ave., and wishing I was there.


Is hindsight always this annoying? I definitely am finding it hard to make up my mind now, looking at next year and what is beyond Lutheran Volunteer Corps. The choices are all good, but that just makes me more nervous. If they're both good choices, doesn't regret inevitably follow? What if I had never gone to NYC?

Who knows. Will we always wonder 'What if?' Relationships long past, friendships lost and gained, college done and gone. Sometimes I am amazed at how much life I have led, and how little it is in the scope of things. I can't let these things go, though. People tell me I feel too much. "Get over it, move on." My mom always told me I was a part of the world, not just living in it, and that's why I was so 'into' things.

Either way, it doesn't help. I felt those people at the soup kitchen so much that I felt I really didn't enjoy myself in New York. But maybe that was the point. You have to set boundaries for yourself. If I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, I would have helped no one. The comfort I have had because of my relatively privileged life is something I can't help.

God, I think I outdid myself with this completely nonsensical free-flow discourse.

I'd like to believe my mom, though. For better or for worse - and it seems for the worse lately - I am passionately in this world.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm reading this book called In Lieu of Flowers, talking about death and a conversation with the living. Of course, the author had both of her parents die from Alzheimer's. I can barely read two pages without bawling for the next five hours. It's going slowly, but I think - in the end - it will have been a good idea.

It's interesting how certain things that remind me of my mom (i.e. the film The Notebook) and how I completely lose it when I'm reminded.

I used to take this as a bad sign - as if somehow I would be better off if I didn't feel the way I felt. But that just got tiresome. Is there a point where you say, "Too many tears"? I used to think so, but after four years of mourning, of grieving, I have to believe that maybe it will never go away.

I was talking to a pastor friend in Minneapolis about seminary. If I went, there would be a certain summer where I would work in a hospice or related organization as a chaplain. I would do this 40 hrs/week for an entire summer. He pointed out that I will most likely run into a 50-year old woman with Alzheimer's. How will I handle that?

Then, of course, it comes down to the fact that it's probably okay if I can't handle it. My mom's disease and the fact that she is dying shouldn't be a cause for me to chalk it up as a "well, this will help me deal with death in the future."

In the book I'm reading, she talks about the final eight days in hospice with her mother, and the final day, when she hugged her for what seemed like forever, matching her breathing with her mother's, bringing back what it must have been like when her mother was pregnant so long ago. Life and death, so intricately woven, so connected.

I sit with this book, on the bus going home, tears streaming down my cheeks. How long will I continue to lose myself in thoughts about my mother? How long will she stay alive with this disease that renders her virtually unrecognizable? How long will I devote my blog to this raw emotion that seems to grow inside me as the time passes?

Mourning is just exhausting. It screws with your mind. It tells you that you are just looking for attention. It makes you feel like you are crying too much, or not crying enough. All of the sudden, none of your feelings are valid. You are irritable, and feel bad for snapping at someone. Then you're happy, having a good time, and immediately you feel guilty for feeling happy.

It's like an emotional bitch-slap session.

I don't know. That seems to be the one thing I know for sure.

Monday, January 16, 2006

This Martin Luther King, Jr. day began overcast and murky in Saint Paul. I'm up early, can't sleep. My house is deserted. Figure I might as well go into work and catch up on my sick days.

Damn, I think. Do any of the buses run today? Well, other people have to go to work, don't they?

When I transfer to the 21 bus near work, I greet a black bus driver. I tell him Happy MLK day. I immediately wish I hadn't.

Martin Luther King dies in 1968, after having changed the American social and political landscape forever. Yet, as a memorial video pointed out on Sunday, most of King's fears have been realized. He was the great martyr of the Civil Rights Movement, and 38 years later, we have come as far as the streets that bear his name. (Which, incidentally, have been argued and fought in many cities.)

You know the stats, and I won't beat you over the head with them. But, suffice to say, I was taken to work today (I, a white person, privileged enough to hold off paying my loans to volunteer for a year) by a black man who has to work on a day in memory of a man who died on a trip to support striking sanitation workers. What?

Yes, many things have changed, and things have been for the better. But I have to say that in all the doom-saying rhetoric of the current government, they are remarkable at waxing so optimistic about race-relations in this country that even something like Katrina didn't really shake them that bad.

So optimistic to the point of forgetting the reality. Liberals are supposed to be out of touch with reality, right? We can barely hug our trees or get an abortion in a French-flag waving ACLU building without blood spilling from our bleeding hearts. We have no idea about what the terrorists really want (or, for that matter, what God wants, as God's plans have apparently been faxed exclusively to the Religious Right and Pat Robertson).

But, man oh man, we must seriously be off about the reality of race in America. Everything's fine! On with your business!

I have to go to work, now. Or, start working.

May peace be with you this day we celebrate a great patron of peace.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

So, the big drama this week: Should I purchase a new iPod?

Yes, this is as big as it gets in the Saint Paul...we are a crazy place.

I entered this year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps to work for social justice, live intentionally in community, and live simply. What does that mean, you say? Well, it's different for everyone. I specifically wanted to explore living simply this year, and try and understand what that means for me.

Then how the hell does an iPod fit in? To live simply is not to rank simplicity. People in LVC have cars, laptops, iPods, etc... The question lies with me and me alone. I use an iPod religiously, as music is - without a doubt - one of the most spiritual things in my life. My life has a soundtrack, no question about it. In fact, almost every little part of my life has music that influences it, colors it, and informs it. Music guides me, sometimes when I feel nothing else could.

On to the gritty specifics: iPods are $325 (with tax). I have $45 in gift certificates to a certain retail store known in some circles as "Best Buy". Now, $45 will give me two nice, brand-new DVDs. But, an iPod will be something I will use...well, like I said before, religiously. So, what to do?

Well, don't worry, I have argued that one inside my head long enough to make me wonder about having a split personality. If I buy it, that's 3 months straight of not spending money (aka illogical) in order to pay it off. In LVC, we earn $100/month spending money, as everything else goes to rent, food, and transportation.

And, I think to myself, what am I doing this year for? Is it to live on $100/month (or at least to try)? I think, for me, it is.

Man, it's so different that college, where my credit card was a saving grace. Nothing was out of reach for me then. But this society that keeps telling us we can only be happy by buying things is starting to wear on me. It's like a lunch at McDonald's: At first, it tastes good, but then after a while you get that horrible film in your stomach and your mouth tastes like crap.

I don't want to preach - this is what works for me, this is how I am seeing it all. But, let me say again, simplicity isn't about looking down on others for having stuff. We can't make it a contest, because nobody is Mother Teresa. And having money is not evil. It's all about how you use it, and how it affects you.

Maybe that will be the biggest lesson I take from this year of LVC - It's almost refreshing to not have money. You can, as a good friend told me, "finally exist."

I, of course, still want that damn iPod. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Do you ever feel like you are at wit's end? That nothing will work no matter how hard you shout at the top of your lungs?

Well, apparently my shouting wasn't loud enough, because shit's still hitting the fan, and I struggle to find the state of grace I talked about in the last post.

It's funny. Sometimes I will be walking along, riding the bus, or climbing the stairs of my work, and I'll think, "Holy crap, what am I doing here? Am I actually doing something, or am I just here until somebody above decides to hit the big red button and take me on a roller-coaster ride to somewhere unknown?"

I had a horribly awkward moment on the phone at work today. We are profiling congregations to see how open they are to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in their ministry. We do this so LGBT people who are looking for a church home can easily see, from our website, what each church does or does not do. Since LGBT people have been the church's number one shit target recently, and for a long time before that, they are understandably kind of hesitant to go to church even if that church is supposedly welcoming.

Right, I'm on a tangent. Well, fuck it. Tangents always go somewhere, don't they? Forget the horribly awkward moment. I'll survive it. I've had enough awkward moments on the phone from my puberty days to last me a lifetime.

Me and a friend are going to present a forum on LGBT issues at the next Lutheran Volunteer Retreat. We have to, as she says, "convince them that gays are more than just OK - we need to convince them that there's a reason they should get off their ass and do something." I think it's a growing trend. "Yes, I'm fine with gays, I have some gay friends, but why do you have to keep harping on about it?" Well, unfortunately, we have to in the same way the civil rights people of the 60s had to - 'tolerating' people and 'giving them rights' (as if we are much higher than them, and we should be all benevolent and reach down and pick them up to our level) is much different than standing beside them, in solidarity.

It didn't hit me until the already mentioned moment of phone awkwardness. I, as a straight male, am oppressed by what happens to LGBT people. Yes, I can say I am comfortable in my heterosexuality, but what if I had been taught my whole life that liking a girl was wrong? Everytime I looked at a girl and thought sexual thoughts, I would immediately be slapped by a socially-premeditated guilt. "Shit," I'd say to myself. "I need to get on the ball and find a guy for me."

Turn some of the questions routinely asked to LGBT folk on yourself (if you're straight) to get my drift.

"When did you decide you were straight?"
"Do you think you just haven't found the right [same sex] person yet?"
"Do you think your heterosexuality is derived from an unfounded fear of people of the same sex?"
"What exactly do men and women do??"

Yeah, okay, so I work for an LGBT organization. I get it, I'm just focusing on it because I work with the issue 40 hrs/week. But, still. I mean, c'mon.

Just as racism affects white people just as much as people of color, so does heterosexism (OH GOD!! WATCH OUT PC-POLICE!) oppress people who are heterosexual. We never have to defend our sexual views or partners or ethics. If a man beats a woman - exerts his dominance in a sickening male way - then it's not acceptable by any means, but it is what it is. Certainly it isn't typical of all male-female relationships.

But, man oh man, if you're gay, you could be the most amazing couple ever, routinely getting calls from Nelson Mandela, volunteering everywhere, active in the church and the community, but, c'mon, you can't raise a child. I mean, what would they learn from you? How to be a beautiful member of society and child of God? Hell no. They'd learn how to be gay, and dear sweet Jesus, you might as well tattoo a big "G" on your forehead and move to Antarctica.

Okay, is it a Jason rant again? Yes. But, I just get so ANGRY at how things are, that I just want to explode and take a bat to fine china sometimes. I mean, it's not just the oppressed that should have rage. The oppressor should be downright livid. They didn't ask for this, but it's been smacked on them anyways.

Like pineapples on a cheese pizza, it's just not right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"[Grace is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love - the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there."

So says Anne Lamott, in a book worth anybody's time, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. And as I was reading, this phrase came out of the woodworks and knocked me out of my seat on the bus (metaphorically, of course, otherwise I would be a much less happier mood).

This idea of grace takes hold of us, it seems, when we have nothing left. Well, speaking as a male in the American Dream society, I find it excruciatingly hard to ask for help in any fashion. If I admit to myself that I am completely out - done for, nothing left, sitting in a corner with the white flag waving - then I am admitting that I, basically, suck.

This idea has taken hold of me in the thirty minutes since I read that passage. I am scared of so many things since I graduated from college: what I am doing this year in Lutheran Volunteer Corps; what will I do in the coming year; what seminary to choose; will I even make a good pastor, etc... But the thing that gets me the most is that soft underbelly of all the defenses we put up to make ourselves seem invincible, untouchable, independent. I'm talking about the idea that we are nothing.

I don't know if you've thought about it, but I have. Kinda like life is a huge theatrical production, and I arrive on opening night and realize with horror that I have forgotten to memorize some of my lines. My stomach falls a million feet and I just know that soon the curtain will open, and my failures will be unmasked in front of the entire audience. They will call me a fraud, and I will wonder how I ever fooled them for so long. I will be revealed as a pathetically deluded person, and all of my faults and shortcomings will roll out on a long list of parchment while the judges in the balcony frown and write down horribly damning notes in the margins of their scoring sheets. And me? I just stand there, in the spotlight, fidgeting.

God, I am so incredibly optimstic, aren't I? Yet, this seems refreshingly honest, and I don't know why. The minute I put it out there, then at least I can deal with it head-on. I think this is where grace comes in. All of the sudden, I am not bound to get an 'A' at everything I do (though I still want to), but instead I am free to be who I am, without worrying.

And I tell ya, worrying must be one of the most blatant signs of evil in this world. Worrying about next year, worrying about relationships, worrying about changing the world, worrying about nuclear weapons. I'm not saying that these worries are unfounded. I'm just understanding more and more that the minute I'm OK with being less-than-perfect (i.e. myself), then all of the sudden I am open to take those risks and chances in this life that are there, in my path, on my journey.

Man oh man. To be OK with being crappy, with making mistakes, with fucking up. I still don't even know how that one works out. It seems sometimes that the exit from college is like constantly being bitch-slapped by a huge giant called "Real Life". But grace takes hold of you, and shakes you back into reality, like a mother shaking her child, making her wake up from a bad dream. It, again like Anne Lamott says, "meets you where you are but doesn't leave you where it found you."

Grace is an out-and-out gift, no strings attached (as Dr. Ruge-Jones says) and all we have to do is accept it. It's hard, because we don't feel like we deserve it, but that's the beauty of it. It doesn't matter whether we do or not. All that matters is that we are alive on this earth, and God has chosen us as God's own. Shit. That just blows me away sometimes.

So, back on that stage, horribly alone, with everyone watching you, jeering and laughing, God comes out from backstage in the form of your best friend, your mother, your lover, and turns your face towards theirs, and says, "I don't care about all that. I really don't give a shit. I love you, and that's all that matters."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Death seems to be all around.

People’s loved ones are dying, are leaving this world, and it seems like nobody knows what to do about it. I sure as hell don’t. I keep telling people that we are all amateurs when it comes to grief – we’re just making it up as we go along. I think there’s some truth to that.

I have neglected to tell people about my mom, not because I don’t like them, or feel uncomfortable telling them, but just because it hasn’t been the right time. These feelings are precious, and the situations that bring them about (i.e. a parent dying) are so sensitive and raw that they must come in their own time. I’m not going to bring her up out of the blue. She sits inside me, taking on the image of my own psyche, and I struggle every day to fully understand how she affects me. And maybe I never will.

In this society, I believe – as my roommate Ben pointed out – that we are not equipped to handle death. We are told we will live forever, and we are constantly coming up with different ways to convince ourselves of that fact. But when it finally happens, what do we do? It reminds me of the scenario in Brave New World, when the kids freak out when they see an old person. “You mean they actually exist??”

And then there are the loved ones left behind, and don’t even get me started on what to do with them. We find it hard, it seems, to know what to do or say to someone who is traveling along this dark path. I’m no expert, but I’m sure that – for me – there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to change either my mom’s condition or how I feel about it. But I do want people alongside me. People who care for me and are willing to walk next to me, if only for a short while. It’s difficult to answer the stock question, “How’s your mom?” Part of me wants to scream, “SHE HAS ALZHEIMER’S. HOW DO YOU THINK SHE’S DOING???” Yet I know this person asked it out of kindness, and probably is wondering how I am doing just as much as my mom by asking that question.

But this is what death does to you, it seems. It drags you around by your neck and never lets up. It brings up your worst memories and taunts you from the other side of the lake.

Death, though, can also highlight and bring about soft spots in the middle of this raging storm. It seems akin to sleeping through a freezing night, and finding that one part of the blanket or pillow that’s warm from a part of you sleeping on it for so long. You find it in the clumsy dark and instantly connect with it, not wanting to let it go. Then you quietly fall back asleep again.

Does any of this make sense? Because if it doesn’t, it’s probably right on. I know I’m preaching to the choir – more than likely not one of you has gone through your life without experiencing death. But it is different for every person.

I think a helpful metaphor comes from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events:

“Losing a loved one is like climbing a flight of stairs late at night, and thinking there is one more stair than there actually is. Your foot goes for that stair, and then there is a numb feeling as it falls through the air, into nothing, before it finally hits the floor with a sickening thud.”

May we all find peace in those situations that seem completely void of it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I was riding in the bus the other day to an American Orthodox Vespers service with my roomie, Ben. As we got on the 16 to downtown Saint Paul, we were again reminded of the amazing variety of people that frequent the mass transportation system in the Twin Cities. I can’t even venture a guess to how many different ethnicities were aboard that bus, but – my unabashed love for public buses notwithstanding – it was once again nice to be in a place where white people were definitely the minority. I don’t know if I always look for a chance to feel like I’m back in Africa, but I definitely enjoy the feeling, however muted it may be, of being somewhere besides where I am normally. Somewhere that I think is a much better indicator of what heaven must look like.

This nice little Hallmark moment I was having in my head was short-lived. I sat in the only seat I found, and heard a lady behind me cough. She turned to her friend – who was sitting directly behind me – and said, in a voice hard to ignore, “Where did all these white people come from? My daughter says they ride the bus now-a-days, but I couldn’t believe it myself.” Her friend silently nodded.

I glanced up at Ben, who was diagonally in front of me. I don’t think he heard the comment, as he continued to read his book. Great, I thought. I just know if she keeps talking, I’m not going to be able to pretend I’m reading Harry Potter anymore. And sure enough, she kept talking about this huge influx of white people on the minority-controlled bus system.

Why should I be singled out because I’m white? a voice inside me asked. I’m familiar with this voice: it’s the “middle-class, straight white guy” in me that continues to act in socially predetermined ways, ways I never asked for but was raised with nonetheless. Another voice quickly jumps to my aide, pointing out that this is the way people of color consistently get treated in their daily lives. I had the option of asking a friend to drive me to the church instead of taking the bus; most people seated around me rarely have that option. I feel white in the bus – everywhere else I get feel “normal”; the all-pervasive ‘neutral’ race. The boring “Caucasian” checkbox in the application. White.

So there I am, being white, thinking that I will not be able to read anymore. When I get nervous or anxious in any way, my first resort is humor. I’m almost convinced that my humor in these situations is not nearly as funny as I envision it to be, but I rarely regret what I don’t say…I opened my mouth. I turned to look at the woman, widened my eyes, and asked in an incredulous tone, “I’m WHITE??!!??”

She bore into me like my third grade teacher after she came back from a vacation and had a bad report of me from the substitute. (Who was I to know that we weren’t supposed to be smartasses that day?) She raised one eyebrow, and was definitely not smiling. My humor depends on people smiling and laughing in nice, jovial-like ways. Not so this time. “Well, whatever it is you people call yourselves.”

And he misses a defender….he shoots….HE SCORES! I turned back around, trying to fake a smile, and continued awkwardly pretending to be enamored with my book until we exited. She got off first, however, and gave me the same piercing glare as she walked past me. I told Ben about it on the next bus. I felt crappy for the interaction, but it never really is just one thing.

Is this liberal time? No. It’s just a story, with no clean or happy ending. No moral to make myself feel better. No socially-relevant statement to explain what took place on the 16 bus. It just is what it is.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I'm not a morning person. And I suspect I never will be.

But what doesn't help is a crappy morning. I took out the trash and recycling this morning, almost falling down the stairs. Then I went out in the cold and brutal Minnesota morning, almost biting it three times on the deceptively slippery slidewalk. Luckily I missed my bus, and had to walk to work.

My mouth is still slightly numb, so everytime I try to talk, I sound like I'm back in third grade with my lisp. Then again, nobody's at work yet, so I guess that's a positive.

It just hit me that it seems as if my post is just a rant on things that go wrong in my life. But, honestly, nothing could be farther from the truth. It just so happens that my life right now exists in Minnesota, and for some reason, MN has a vendetta against me. But it'll get better. As soon as the snow leaves. April.

Haha, just kidding.

...But no, I'm serious.

What will 2006 hold for me? For us? For the world? I've said that it HAS to be better than 2005, but who knows? And how terrible was 2005 anyways? Couldn't have been that bad. I graduated from college, after all.

And now I am working in the grind, 9-5, and I spent all my free days hopping, skipping, and jumping in Texas. I don't regret that decision at all. I just wonder what 7 straight months of working will be like.

This was a nonsensical subconscience flow from my brain. But I need to write in this more often, or else people will stop reading it, and I'll have to get ANOTHER one six months later when I've decided, yet again, to have a blog.

A New Year's resolution, perhaps?