What Are You Looking At?

driving landscape

Remember to think and drive responsibly.

I was feeling bad about a difficult family situation as I was driving home and then it just struck me. The problem wasn’t evil people, although they certainly are a problem. It was me. I was the one who chose to allow my body to curl up into a tense little stress ball. I was the one who was feeling dark and crafting scenarios in my head where the perpetrators would be in peril. Isn’t that one of the great things about being a writer? You can enact whole revenge sequences in your head that never make it to the real world. The pen is mightier than the sword which also reminds me that intention and imagination still carry power in my soul. This too, is mine to protect.

Beware of hatching dark plots.

Beware of hatching dark plots.

There’s a verse that people like to throw around when these feelings come that reminds us that vengeance belongs to God. He will take care of it. Again, those creeping thoughts come up imagining just what God might do. Isn’t there a heavenly suggestion box? Man, would I pack that sucker full of ideas. Let me tell you what I’d like to see.

That, too, comes with consequence… for me. It’s like when I was on that turbulent flight to Mexico and had made good use of the barf bag. When deplaning, the others in my group asked me why I was carrying the barf bag with me. Didn’t I know I could leave it behind? Even the stewardesses gave me a questionable glance. You don’t want to take care of this. I can clean up after myself is what I thought.

He will make the crooked paths straight (and deal with the crooked people, too). I must remember that God is a Creator, a Restorer, and a Deliverer. The broken things will be healed, the barren lands will grow fruit, and all will be made stronger because of these current trials.

If God isn’t your flavor, think of it this way. Would you rather get all funky playing in the shit pile that seems to be covering your every waking place or instead dream of a nice bubble bath that awaits at the end of the day? It’s all a matter of perspective. Do you get caught up in the disappointment of today or can you hope for something better?

Garbage in, garbage out is a programming concept that applies to the rest of life. If you waste your time thinking about bad things, eventually you, too, will become bad and start acting on that. Why bother? Then the bad ones you were trying to avoid rejoice because now you resemble them when you look in the mirror.

The good things still bloom, even after you're gone.

The good things still bloom, even after you’re gone.

The day to day may not change — at least not as quickly as you would hope. Leave the barf bag behind. Relax those fists and jaws and put your mind on better things. Focus on becoming a creator of better things rather than trying to destroy those things that are unproductive and harmful.

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My September 11th Story

After my aunt died in 1984, I remember this number had popped into my head, a series really. 9-1-1-0-1. It seemed to me like some variant of binary code at the time, so I asked my mom, a computer guru, what it could possibly mean. She corrected me, binary means two, there are only 1s and 0s. Nothing else. So I prayed about it and that still, small voice told me those numbers meant the something bad was going to happen, like the world was going to end. And for about 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, their time here on this planet did end. Let’s take a moment of silence for them now. 

9-11-memorial-new-york-3

 I was running late for work the morning of September 11, 2001. The season of construction was in high gear on my walk down Bryn Mawr to the express buses. When I walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts before the train, Latino music blared from trucks and scaffolds. I came out and it was like I entered another world. I kept looking around for the movie truck. All of the radios now played the same thing. They seemed to be announcing the the World Trade Center was hit, it was on fire. Now the other tower was hit by an airplane (both of them were, I only witnessed impact via radio for the second structure) and the structures were on fire. Then they collapsed. The horrors of the atrocities coming out of the radio were too much to take in.

There were only a handful of people on the extended bus. At first we spread out, enjoying the space on the normally packed bus. Then one woman on the bus kept freaking out because she worked in the Sears Tower (not Willis yet!) and couldn’t reach anyone in the office. A man with a Palm or some other early smartphone looked up the news and read the headlines to try to calm her fears. We gravitated together to listen. Lake Shore Drive was empty. So this is the condition needed to get down from Hollywood to the Magnificent Mile in 8 minutes. I’ll take busy any day.

Few people even made it into work. The small company that shared the suite with the small publisher I worked for was in the process of closing up and going home. The owner of the other business told me I should go home, too. Who knows what the day would bring? My boss was out of the office and her husband told me I was probably safer staying where I was. I had just moved and didn’t have a working phone at home, so I agreed.

The employee of the other company decided to stay with me. The phones were sometimes available, but mostly busy. Downtown was a ghost town. Starbucks had even closed. People had been stopping on their way home and forming long lines which was blocking key intersections. We spent our time watching the small TV we had in the office and talking about the state of the world we lived in.

At some point during the day, our favorite building employee came into our suite and asked us in a pleading voice if we could just go home. He didn’t have to stay until the building was empty, but his personal duty to our safety wouldn’t allow him to go home. He wanted to be with his wife and four kids. I’d never heard him sound like that before nor since.

I started to panic after considering that I would be alone without a phone. Andrew told me to come home with him. His partner would likely be waiting for him there. County buildings had all shut down much earlier. I didn’t want to be a bother, but the promise of company and a likely working phone convinced me.

The bus to Andrew and Jose’s was surprisingly busy considering the emptiness of downtown. Jose was home and welcomed me in. He apologized for their lack of a stocked fridge, yet produced a nicer snack plate than I have eaten for some meals. Andrew and I sat in front of the TV and quickly became entrapped by despair. Those images are forever burned into my brain. Again, Jose came to the rescue. He turned off the TV and beckoned us to the back porch. We could share good stories and enjoy the nice backyard. Wise man.

So we talked, laughed, and enjoyed the life that was and thankfully, still is. Remember the loss. Live for today.

Sharing Personal Space

My perspective on life was put in place in part by a woman who passed from this world more than seven years before my birth. If no one told me, who knows who I would be right now. Oral tradition and story sharing are art forms that are slipping away in our instant age. So I write to pass the stories down.

My great-grandmother used to say that miracles are all around us, we just need to learn to see. I am certainly not there yet, but I try everyday. There are stories I have collected both of my own experience and the orations of others that I feel compelled to document. It would be nice if this organic process of sharing and documenting would attract others who would like to read along and perhaps even do the same. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading. Now go share a story with someone you love.

Wrestling With the Spirit Bear to Escape a Watery Underground Grave

It’s fun, they said. Just get in the boat and travel down the river. It’s on Indian protected land, you can connect with nature. Some friends did it drunk in high school, you’ll be fine. I was better than fine at the end although there was quite a journey to get there.

We had to sign a release before starting. Our Indian guide explained that there is a place where the water is clear like glass and the current is strong like a suction cup. If you end up in the current, you will be sucked through a hole in the rocks that looks like an alternate path which leads to an underwater cave that none have escaped. Cave of the Spirit Bear, they called it. After so many deaths, one of their tribe was posted on the opposite bank to document the dead. If he stood, you’re in trouble. If he waved, better move fast. If he raised his camera, you’re as good as dead.

Our group paired people off according to perceived ability. They thought it would be funny to put me with one of the kids from our urban church, I’ll call her B. B had never experienced nature before and had no knowledge of rafting. I am a disaster in the water. Once I had to be towed in from the bay to shore while fruitlessly paddling a row boat.

We fared better than some of our groups in the beginning. A husband and wife were unable to stay in the raft over any bump in the course and ended up with a variety of scrapes, bruises and back strain. Two friends and siblings in Christ stood in their raft and yelled at each other the entire trip. Some of their language was far from godly. B and I took water at every turn and had to jump out of the boat after each dip to empty our boat.

About three hours, or halfway through our trip, the water stilled to a glass-like smoothness. Where the sun hit, you could see right to the bottom. Members of our group ahead of us kept yelling, but I didn’t hear what they said. Then I saw Brother Shoots-the-Dead standing on the opposite bank. Even the arguing pair were silent as they watched.

I saw the space between the rocks. It was just big enough to fit a raft. Someone had spray painted Keep on one side and Out on the other in bright red paint as if you had a choice by the time you could see it. I briefly wondered if it was a victim’s family who did this as this was protected, unaltered land. We hit Keep and I threw my oar up to prevent us from going through the chute. Pushing the oar against the rock wasn’t getting us anywhere, which was good and bad at the same time. The Indian with camera looked like he was doing some kind of tribal dance as he went through a hopeful cycle of jumping, waving, and holding up the camera. It felt like he cared more for us than our own “tribe.” He was just far more demonstrative, that’s all. WASPs worry in silence, I suppose.

I jumped out of the boat. B, who had been alternately screaming and waving her oar, wanted to follow. I screamed back that I intended to save her, myself and the boat and to just sit still. Except for the oar waving. That was a big help as she had given the boundaries a couple of good whacks that kept us above ground. The water level that year was lower than normal and my feet easily touched the bottom, allowing me to walk the boat to the safe zone. We rejoined our group and  easily navigated to the lunch area, where we switched boats.

Instead of understanding the powerful woman of faith who stood among the rapids fighting against the current that threatened to pull her to her death in a watery underground unreachable grave, I look at the possibility that all of me somehow did not make it back. That the mighty spirit bear robbed me of something and dragged me spiritually into his watery dungeon. But God is bigger and has no boundaries so could easily have protected me and even regained what I had lost.

A quick survey of Native American symbolism gives a more encouraging outcome. Consider that I had battled with the mighty spirit bear and won. With this, I gladly accept the bear’s blessing.

Whats-Your-Sign.Com at http://www.whats-your-sign.com/native-american-bear-meaning.html defines the bear symbol:
Because the bear is cautious, it encourages discernment to humankind.
Because of a fierce spirit, the bear signals bravery to those who require it.
Because of its mass and physical power, the bear stands for confidence and victory.
Because it prefers peace and tranquility (in spite of its size), Bear calls for harmony and balance.

Welcome, Fellow Travelers

Although you may be bare, you can still reach up to the sun.

Although you may be bare, you can still reach up to the sun.

 

You can go home again. There’s something comforting about going back and seeing that everything is right where you left it. Sure, the small lines and added pounds may be there, but the container still holds the same essence. All the glitchy goodness of imperfection I once thought I wanted to escape. There’s no escape from that — we all have problems. The difference is whether those around you are willing to accept you no matter what weird thing you do. Acceptance is a powerful thing. Welcome home. You belong. We know you and still want you. Your place at the table is still open. Don’t worry about being late. The light is on.