Any Other Day?

Ground Zero - Nat GeoEvery year I wonder if this is the year I will forget. Every year I wonder if this is the year it stops feeling so fresh. Every year—as September 11th, 2001 slips further into history—I wonder if it’s strange it still haunts me like it does. And every year, as the anniversary of that fateful day approaches, I wonder… Is this the year it starts to feel like any other day?

Yesterday I tried to remember what September 10, 2001 had felt like. What was it like to wake up in a world where September 11th was just another non-descript day on the calendar? What did it feel like before the words nine-eleven lingered bitterly on our lips or hung heavily in the air like an acrid cloud of black smoke?

Try as I might, I can’t recall. I remember the weather was beautiful. People always talk about the weather that day. Have you noticed that? Sunny, warm, and cloudless… Everyone says it was the sort of late-summer day that makes you happy to be alive. In fact, everyone seems to marvel at just how extraordinarily perfect and “normal” that Tuesday was when it began.

As most people do, I still remember the day so clearly. I remember what I wore, what I ate, where I was when it happened, what I said, how I felt and how I didn’t sleep at all later that night. I remember experiencing a sensation that the sky was falling because a nameless, faceless enemy had brought the horror of war to our doorstep. And I remember wondering if anything would ever be the same again.

I don’t know when it will feel like just another day on the calendar, or if it ever will. I hope it never does. I do know that so far every year—like picking a scab off of an old wound—I still remember. I know that so far every year it feels as though it only happened yesterday.

So I guess I have my answer.

Tonight when I turn out the lights to go to sleep… I will close my eyes knowing that this was not the year that I forgot.

We Are Not Boulders

agnes-vaille-falls11Every now and then something profound happens that makes you realize how fleeting life can be. Something reminds you how fragile your existence is and sharpens your awareness of the fact that no one is immune to the fatal flaw that is simply being human…

On an ordinary autumn morning, six family members were hiking along an easy trail in the central Colorado Rockies to bear witness to one of the state’s beautiful natural gems waiting for them at the end. It would truly be a breathtaking reward for such a brief mountain stroll. Except that this excursion would ultimately be anything but rewarding.

Carved into the side of towering 14,000 ft. Mount Princeton and surrounded by sheer rocky cliffs, evergreen trees and quivering golden aspen, the ice-cold waters of the AgnesVailleFalls tumble over the rocks thundering and crashing as they emerge from the mountain. Perhaps the recent rains or dramatic changes in temperature had caused the boulders to shift from their perches high above and the giant monoliths began sliding and falling to the observation area at the bottom of the falls… and onto the family watching below.

Of the six hikers, only a 13 year old girl survived. It is indeed moments like these that make us newly aware how quickly life as we know it can change. However, for me personally, this struck on a whole other level. You see, I did not know the family, but I did know the falls. I used to visit them frequently, hiking that very trail many times while living and working just a few miles down the road. It was a place I went to watch for wildlife, or to sit in quiet meditation and write.

I have stood where they stood—where they perished—and looked up in awe and wonder at this towering, rushing spectacle time and time again and marveled at its strength, endurance and majesty. I have climbed up high amidst the boulders to catch a better glimpse of a mountain goat and eaten my lunch surrounded by the rolling mist coming off the water when first it broke over thrusting rocky ledges. And although I thought I appreciated the power of nature and I’d like to think I respected it too, I felt perfectly safe and secure inside my mortal shell.

We human beings have an incredible knack for thinking of ourselves as boulders. We consider our life, our stature, our “situation” to be immovable and permanently grounded… as though life, like water, should flow around us but never actually MOVE us. We think if we root ourselves in the soil of whatever we deem important that everything else will get out of our way. We believe that illness, death, loss and change cannot happen to us.

How humbling it is to be reminded—in times like these—that we are not boulders. We are breakable and fallible and nothing in this life is certain. I don’t know about you, but it is during circumstances like these that I want to hold my loved ones tighter… keep them closer. Watch what I say and how I treat the people who matter most. Enjoy the beauty of a crisp fall day or the musical sound of pure unadulterated laughter. And I want to bask in thankfulness for all that I have experienced and been given. I want to put away the cares and worries of tomorrow… Living only for today.

Written in honor of the Johnson Family of Buena Vista, Colorado. And dedicated to some dear friends of mine who’ve recently found themselves in battle against forces beyond our comprehension.  

The Apron

By Tara Canestraro

The following was written by my friend Tara who lost her mother four years ago. Late one night, filled with deep emotion, Tara stayed up and penned the following about her mother, the relationship she had with her and the special kind of love that exists between a mother and her children.

the-apron

Anyone in my family can tell you what the words “go get my apron” meant. For as long as I can remember my mom always had an apron she wore to work. I used to think this apron was magical because so many things came from it.

From this “magical” apron came groceries, utilities, clothing, house payments, wedding dresses, car payments, college tuition and even toys. And the most magnificent thing that it could produce was a Christmas beyond a child’s wildest imagination.

Her apron was not only used for her own children — it was carried on to the next generation. It provided school clothes, more prom dresses, lunch money, Beanie Babies, books, coats and shoes. With her smooth tone of voice—never condescending—we were always told, “It’s in my apron.” Oh was this apron magical!

As the years went by, what I always knew to be “the apron,” had lost its shape and became the pocketbook. The pocketbook could take on the same majesty as the apron. It could provide for anyone in need without question. Even if was something as simple as a piece of gum, the pocketbook miraculously provided.

As an adult I now see that the apron/pocketbook helped a lot of people, and wasn’t really magical after all. I realize now that deep inside the pockets of this apron were things like sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. What came out of it were things like patience, loyalty and love.

She, like many, many mothers, was very dedicated to her children and worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything we needed and then some. Patience and loyalty were given without hesitation, and love and sacrifice provided expecting nothing in return.

Although I cannot repay all that the apron gave to me, I truly pray that my children will see her wisdom and virtues through me. I hope I can provide for my own family in the same way she did — without hesitation, without questioning, always loving, always putting their needs first.

Losing her has been the hardest thing in my life, but I have learned so much from it. What you have is material, but what you need is love. The most precious gift I can give to my children and my children’s children comes from my mother’s apron — self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

I hope in all my years, the contents of that “magical” apron will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

Tara

Tara Canestraro

You Look Richer / Prettier / Happier / More Interesting on Facebook

Wealthy Woman Served Champagne in Bubble BathWhile at a concert the other night I saw a balding, middle-aged man wearing a white t-shirt that simply read: “You look richer on Facebook.” My first instinct was to internally ridicule the man for wearing such a dumb shirt and elbow Lee who was sitting right next to me. Which I DID do… I know, I can be rather catty and shallow at times. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true the statement on this guy’s shirt actually was.

We really do put our best digital foot forward when it comes to social media. ALL social media… This isn’t exclusive to Facebook. It extends to Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc. Why do we do this? Because we can. And thanks to the Orwellian world in which we now live, it has NEVER been easier. Most of us, I believe, use the platform of social media to carefully craft the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Am I wrong?

The “Class Reunion” used to be the vehicle by which we attempted to show off our “best” selves for one night. We’d diet, buy a new figure-flattering outfit and color our hair. We’d fluff up our job titles and descriptions. Brush up on our awareness of current events or the latest juicy bits of gossip. And season our conversations with snippets from the family highlight reel. But now we need not limit our narcissistic indulgences to once every five or ten years.

Now we are out there 24/7, baby! And in tandem with the convenience of the “24/7 All Me, All the Time” channel comes the convenience of “hiding” behind glowing screens day and night. Sorting, cropping and color-correcting our photos until they show nothing but our best sides. Our darkest secrets now cloaked in our ability to choose whether or not to click that “Share” button. C’mon. Admit that you do it.

OK… I’ll go first with the confessions… As far as “negative” things go, I might post that I am getting a migraine or slammed with a sinus infection but that is all fairly innocuous “above the neck” stuff, if you will. Not to mention, there is some cyber sympathy that comes with that sort of suffering minus the need for embarrassment. But no one, I repeat NO ONE puts the crappy, nitty-gritty stuff of life that really goes on out there for the world to see.

For instance, we don’t mention the fight we had with our spouse or kids the day before. You know the one that ended with the slamming of doors and muttering of expletives? There is nary a word about the gas station burrito we gobbled in haste that later kept us up all night, chained to the bathroom fixtures, experiencing the sorts of digestive horrors nightmares are made of. We’re mums on the “mysterious rash” some new medication is giving us. And there isn’t a peep about what you suspect the weirdo next door may or may NOT be doing with a chainsaw in his garage at 3 a.m.

I mean, sure, there are always going to be a few of “those” people who are willing to hang ALL of their dirty laundry out there… Lamenting the choices they’ve made in life… Or the number of times they’ve been rejected, how much they hate their friends or social life, feel lonely or have suffered financial ruin. I, for one, stand in curious awe of these individuals. One can only assume that these perverse pixel people are sadists, masochists or hypochondriacs in search of some commiseration, pity or affirmation.

However, it is their right and freedom to do so. Personally, I would rather hide my shame. I prefer (as I suspect most people are likewise doing) to disguise the less-than-stellar-stuff-of-life in the fanciful façade of a funny picture or clever observation… My life… According to me… made up of millions of pixels… arranged precisely the way that I want YOU to see them.

Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Clearing the Cobwebs

cobwebThis blog is collecting dust, I know. And the time has come for me to address it. There are cobwebs in the corners and dust bunnies burrowing beneath the banner. Never have I been away for so long. Never have I neglected my own little slice of cyber real estate for such an extended period. And it’s beginning to show. And I feel terrible about it! And I miss it! I miss writing and I miss interacting with those of you who visit.

Truthfully, the reason for my obscenely excessive absenteeism is simple. I have not had the brain cells to spare. Or at least it feels that way. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been working at a new job since January while taking evening classes and it is consuming every ounce of energy that I have. I love the job. And I’m learning so much in my class, and I am ever-so-grateful for all of it. But lately—when it comes to sitting down and writing—I have found myself tapped out creatively.

A few of you have been so kind as to send emails telling me that you miss me and asking where I’ve been… checking my vital signs and encouraging me to continue writing. I hope you know that I’m not abandoning this effort by any means. I plan to keep writing for as long as I have things to say that people might enjoy reading. But I do hope those of you who like stopping by, will indulge me this brief hiatus… for now. I hope to be back at it this week or the next, but I promise I WILL be back.

Deep Freeze

ice-crystals
Like armies taking to the fields in battle, the ice marched steadily onward. Starting at the edges and meeting in the middle, its frozen grip grew briskly downward crystallizing all movement and solidifying that which was fluid mere hours ago.

Once again I stand in awe of nature and the uncanny way it has of taking over. It gains control of everything without ever having checked with us.

So too, life goes on without regard for our plans, our ideas, our dreams, our schemes. Time advances on us, like a freeze to unsuspecting open water, and we have no choice but to withdraw… to surrender… to survive… and to wait.

We wait—with overwhelming anticipation—for the sweet, sweet mercy of the thaw.

Belonging

three swansThree white swans inhabit the waters of the quarry stretching beneath and beyond my new office window. The other morning, the aqua expanse awash in the warm, bright sunlight of a new day, I watched the trio glide across the water just as they did the very first time I saw them.

They swim in a unique formation and always the same. Two of them remain close together while one trails slightly behind. They are graceful and lovely and a welcome distraction from the busy computer screens blinking and beeping at me with email and meeting alerts for the majority of the day.

Normally, I would think very little of the fact that there are only three. But a co-worker pointed out to me that a year ago there were four. Two pairs, consistently swimming together and doing whatever it is swans do. Over the course of time, however, the group had lost a member.

For an animal lover like me, it’s sad enough as it is without the regard for one important detail… Apparently swans mate for life. And this was a tiny bit of avian intel that I did not know. It wasn’t just that the “group” had lost a member, but one of these creatures—the one who trails roughly a swan’s length behind—had lost its partner for life.

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve found myself obsessed with them. I look for them every day, hoping they will grace me with their silent presence. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that one of them has lost its partner, often causing me to wonder if perhaps he or she is sorrowful or lonely? Or whether or not it’s the fascinating fact that the other pair allows the lone swan to remain a part of the group? But something about this unconventional bird bunch intrigues and inspires me.

Such has been my preoccupation with them that I have tried to figure out the source of my quite-possibly-borderline-unusual curiosity. And I think (after some excessive reflection) I’ve nailed it down. I think it’s because the behavior is so human. Their bond reminds me so much of us with our innate desire to connect with others and to forge relationships that will stand the test of time.

The mating for life thing is cool… Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of critters in nature who do this. But I think what has captivated me most is how consistently they stick together. The three of them… The odd number of them.

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that the need to belong stretches far beyond me… far beyond my peers, family, friends and fellow human beings… and farther still beyond the edges of the quarry outside my window… and infinitely beyond any of the natural world that I can touch, feel and see.

What’s In a Year?

holding handsKisses were exchanged as the clock struck midnight and one by one the couples announced their plans for 2013.

“We’re gonna pop out a kid, honey!” Said the couple excitedly expecting their first child in the spring.

“We did a pretty cool thing in 2012 and it looks like we’ve got an exciting year ahead of us.” Proclaimed the pair of newly-minted parents whose baby girl arrived the previous fall.

“Here’s to the first year in our new home.” One of the two newlyweds seated on the couch replied to the other.

Looking out across the snowy landscape in the wee hours of a brand new year, we couldn’t help but consider what 2013 might hold for us. “2013.” Lee said as he navigated the snow-covered roads back to our house at the conclusion of the party. “Twenty years ago…” We began to say at the exact same time. Twenty years ago we graduated high school together before heading off in two very different directions. “It’s just so hard to believe.” One of us exclaimed… preaching to the proverbial choir.

We will get married this summer. That much we know. The planning has begun and as a picture of our wedding day emerges, our excitement grows for the anticipated date. But beyond that, it is unclear where we will go and what life will look like. We have a home and friends and belong to a community. He has a real job and I am hoping that the new year brings permanent employment (beyond contract work) my way. But for the most part, we are settled. Much of our picture is already colored in.

“So I suppose they’ll have their own little club once they all have babies.” I announced over lunch today while referring to the growing enclave of which we are not a part. “There’s no one else like us, you know.” I muttered with a mouthful of food while considering what the words “like us” meant exactly. I decided I was referring to couples in their late 30’s who don’t have children and aren’t sure they want any. I suppose it is as simple as that.

“I like us.” Lee stated very matter-of-factly as he shrugged his shoulders in a perfunctory but decided sort of way.

And I was reminded—all over again—why I love him as much as I do.

“I like us, too.” I said and reached for another slice of pizza.

…and to the Republic for which it stands…

TitleI was driving to work yesterday saying hateful things to my uncooperative hair, getting stopped at every, single red light and growing increasingly impatient as I secretly cursed the slow-moving guy in front of me for consulting his dashboard GPS on his EVERY move because he was clearly LOST… when I looked out my driver’s side window toward the shopping plaza across the street. On the corner I noticed the flag flying at half-staff and thought to myself with a lump suddenly lodged in my throat: “Oh. Yeah. That’s right.” And just like that, I remembered Sandy Hook. Suddenly none of my petty “issues” mattered AT ALL.

I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… people are deeply hurting. They are grieving instead of baking cookies and shopping and considering what to stuff inside the stockings. On the week before Christmas—a child’s most cherished holiday—parents are burying their babies instead of reading them stories and tucking them in for a brief winter’s nap. I remembered that somewhere, not too far from here… a community is drowning in devastation as they grapple with the largest, most difficult questions anyone will ever ask.

The flag, flapping silently from it’s revised position only half-way up the pole, was a solid slap in the face forcing me to gain the proper perspective about something as minor as slow-moving traffic. Yet it was an even harsher reminder that so much of what I worry about on a regular basis is utterly futile. But there won’t always be a flag flying at half-staff to serve as such a wake-up call. Eventually the flag will be raised again as we attempt to move forward and the evening news will begin to cover something else.

And while we ought not remain mired in the darkness that so often spreads from unspeakable tragedy, it IS worth pausing to remember that whether we see the flag raised high with pride or lowered with respect in mourning… it’s fabric wraps all the way around us… All of usEvery day. And well, if we can remember that we’re collectively covered by the same cloth… maybe we can remember that this life is about so much more than ourselves. And maybe that’s a start.