Things That Shift - like priorities.

Sometimes all of the things you thought were important, really aren't. I had a list of 37 billion things to do this morning. I had an hour and a half of waiting on a certain Irish dancer to compile my lists and get organized. 

But then I saw it. And at this point, it's gone beyond "I should do this." And even past "I NEED to do this." Right up to the point of "I'm doing it. Now." With the last $30 I borrowed (before my big juicy fire check), with hands covered in green paint and a smashed finger. With the list of things I need to do squished back in my brain behind the Importance Of Remembering. 

Next December is 20 years from when a sweet and innocent 16 year old left us. For no other reason than it was Her Time. Through no act of malice. No drunken foolishness. No thoughtless risk. Just... Accidentally.  Like Junha. It just happened. In spite of all of our protests and anger and sadness and debilitating grief - Erin Christine Hoops, 16 and beautiful, giggly, intelligent... She left us. 

I was pregnant with Halle when the accident happened. The next year, I had a little red headed blue eyed girl and I named her MacKenzie Erin, because it was beautiful, like her. And to remember how short life is. How fleeting. 

Almost 20 years later and every time I come to that intersection I remember. And it makes me think. My MacKenzie Erin is 17 now. I have been able to have her for a year more than Chris and Gail had their Erin. Things aren't perfect. She's not perfect. But she's here. And she's beautiful. And we can sort through the imperfect, as long as she is here. Which is more than enough reason to stop. To set aside my list. To get my hands green and smash my finger. To remember. 

We only have the days that god gives us. And all we can do is our best. And when our best sucks, or wears down, we get to get up and do it again. Put on a fresh coat of paint. Green and alive and reminding. 

And when it's all done, suddenly the things that seemed So Important, and big enough to sink me, are really not. Not the list of things for the marriage counselor. Or groceries for the kids when I leave for my next fire. Or Radar's long overdue puppy shots. It's all easy cheese, really. Compared to Forever. And No More. And The End. 

 I drive through Kettle Falls a couple times a week, and every time I think of her. I'm sure I'm not the only one. And it seemed important that Someone Knew that that Green Cross on the corner still matters. It still teaches and reminds, just like Erin Christine does, that we have A Whole Lot to be thankful for, and we'd better quit wasting time. 

PS - my haphazard (as per usual) paint job is not enough to salvage the brittle plywood for long. I'd like to find somebody with better resources than me to help me with a more long term fix... If anyone has ideas? 

Things That Are Relaxing

It's always so good to come home from 14 days of being dirty and sweaty and tired to a clean house, well behaved children and a big, welcoming bed, and just unwind.

I can imagine.

This time, coming home from an assignment, I was pleasantly surprised by a semi-picked up house. It's been worse, and some days, that's all you can ask for. For instance, compared to the bathroom, the rest of the house was immaculate. I am not sure how they got in, but I am fairly certain there were at least three ogres using my bathroom while I was gone. It was truly shudder-worthy. Instead of a shower-beer when I got home, I had a shower-softscrub with bleach. It was about 37% as gratifying.

I was also UNpleasantly surprised with some news that filtered in, oh, you know, Straight From The Source, that certain ones of my offspring where up to unsavory, illicit and even illegal activities during my absence. As soon as I got done blaming their father, God and half of the world for these grievous lapses in character, I decided to just avoid dealing with them and pamper myself with a homestyle spa day.

I started out my homemade relaxation routine with a sweat lodge/sauna type experience, as I peacefully laundered Every Towel I Ever Imagined Owning, the blankets from my bed that my dog peed on in her excitement to see me, and a few smoke-laced odds and ends from my fire bag. I performed meditative tai-chi while I washed, switched, dried, hung, folded and delivered all of these items to their rightful places. It was invigorating and refreshing. Like a rush-hour commute in LA.

Next I did some deep bending and stretching yoga, vacuuming at least 60 lbs of dog hair dust bunnies from various and assorted corners of the house, as well as rearranging my bedroom which had been artfully decimated by four lonely dogs and the same amount of visiting teenagers. This was a good preparatory work out for the upcoming procedures, since the Deep Stretching activated Massive Back Spasms, which I channeled into muscle strengthening work in my head. I am hypnotic like that.

After these purging activities, I loaded my four angelic daughters and two volunteer canines into the car for a joy ride out to my buddy Christy's beach, where the cathartic and cosmetic aspects of my spa day came into play. I started with  a therapeutic Heavy Metal Black Sand micro-derm abrasion facial, right on the beach, which Dagny helped with by digging her rocks into the sand near my face. After several exfoliatory sessions, I performed Swedish Hot Stone massage on myself, by laying on the smoldering river rocks that make up "the beach". Feeling my spasms give way to Total Agonizing Pain, I countered the intensive treatment with some frigid water muscle confusion, which seemed to numb the pain. Literally.

After a productive therapeutic outing to the beach, we came home, where I delved right into some serious acupressure work - wherein each one of my four children and five dogs found EXACTLY the right button to push to make me just lose it. After successfully BBQing Blackened Chicken (secret gourmet recipe that is extra fun for kids because they can feed the charred outside of their chicken breast to eagerly waiting dogs) and broccoli-rice-a-roni pilaf for my consortium of therapists, I decided to finish off my day of ecstasy with a nice long shower. For most of the 7 minutes I was in there I was treated to a temperature fluctuation massage, competing with the clothes washer and the kid doing dishes for hot and/or cold water. I recapped the exfoliation and moisturized with my homemade coffee scrub, which both made the shower look like someone had murdered a tar baby AND nearly clogged the drain when all of the coconut oil began to coagulate in the freezing water. I also indulged in a citronella paraffin hand dip, when I had to save the drowned wick of a mosquito repellent candle from the bottom of the completely melted can that had been sitting outside in direct sunlight. I brought it into the air conditioning and pulled it out so that it could float on top of the rapidly hardening wax, which at that point was also all over my fingers, the counter and the top of Emmy's head. Refreshing citrus aromatherapy, and my fingers feel like a baby's hind end. It might be because I scalded all of the nerve endings.

All in all I couldn't have asked for a more zen-filled day of total relaxation and overall therapy. I capped it off with half a bottle of chilled Trader Joe's Sav Blanc, which may have had floating fruit flies in it. I wrote that off as an addition to my high-protien diet (which I am starting tomorrow), thereby redeeming the caloric intake of the glorious liquid. Plus, as I rationalized to myself, given the statistical amount of spiders a human being consumes in a given year, what are a couple of fruit flies? I know tonight I will go to bed, thankful for the not-dog pee covered blankets, still smelling like coffee and tinted a little brown, and a twinge or two of Total Muscle Tension in my lower back. Nothing a little BioFreeze won't fix. But for the record I did not kill any of my children or dogs. No one went to jail. And I didn't even call the clinic to find out about voluntary self-admissions to psychiatric facilities. Ok, maybe that last one happened A LITTLE.

Things that I complain about.

I just realized that it's been a few posts since I really whined, and before you start thinking that I have elevated to a new level of superhuman gratefulness and piety, I thought I should do some public complaining. 

I probably didn't tell you that I had an MRI a couple weeks ago - actually two, in the same day, which was kind of cool because it gave me twice as much opportunity to have a near death House-esque MRI tube experience wherein I begin to spontaneously bleed out of my eyes, seize uncontrollably, and/or go into full blown anaphylactic shock. The technician named David who stuffed me in the tube asked me a lot of questions like "are you claustrophobic", which I considered answering yes to, just because I'm not sure that I'm NOT claustrophobic, and the idea of small spaces makes me very uncomfortable and also I hear you get Valium if you are claustrophobic. But I decided to be brave and go drug free, even though it killed my back to lay flat for that long. David did give me a wedge pillow for under my knees, which I envisioned mostly as an impediment to my rapid escape in the event of a massive power outage that left me trapped in the windowless fuselage-like tunnel. He also asked if I had ever had an MRI and I answered that I had not, but I've watched enough episodes of House to know exactly what goes on in there. He chuckled nervously and asked me not to get any eye-blood on his pillowcase and pushed me into the tomb-like machine. 

It really wasn't too bad. My BFF's recent warning to not fall asleep and do the dream-twitching thing because the technician would yell at me, helped me remember not to breathe or make any other perceptible movement. Do I visualized zombies invading the imaging rooms of the hospital and clawing at my feet, dragging me out of the only access portal inch by inch. It kept me awake.  I was beginning to wonder if eye-bleeding is merely a side effect of hypoxia from not breathing during the procedure. 

David pulled me out of the tube just as I was fighting off dream-twitch land, which was somewhat disapponting, but he rolled me right back in after he affixed a white plastic terminator like armor apparatus to my left shoulder, so I settled in for a little twitchless sleep, and no more zombies. 

All in all the MRI was an enjoyable experience. Mostly because I couldn't feel guilty for not moving a muscle, and there was nobody asking what was for dinner or swearing at me about anything. Plus I got new hospital socks and a gown that didn't show my underwear. 

I was surprised two days later when the doctors office called to tell me there was nothing at all wrong with me and all of this pain is just in my head - because they didn't. Actually, they called to tell me I did indeed have a partial tear to my left rotator cuff (HA! I knew it!) AND then a bunch of words like "advanced degeneration" and "stenosis" and "nerve displacement" all referring bitterly to the L5-S1 region of my back. Then they told me I needed an orthopedist and a neurosurgeon. I knew it. Just like on House. You go in for a simple MRI and suddenly you find out you need brain surgery, a prosthetic hip and your spouse cheated on you during his last business trip to Guam. At least it wasn't a rare flesh-eating bacteria. Or a tape worm in my brain that had worked it's way up through my bloodstream. 

Anyway, I'm saying all of that so that I can complain justifiably about how bad my back hurts, and you can pat me on the back, or head, if you wish, and tell me how tough I am for being totally weaned off of painkillers since my last surgery, in spite of all of my exotic and apparently even REAL injuries. In fact, I have taken three doses of ibuprofen on this fire. That's it. I'm off all pharmaceuticals except my thyroid medicine. And a really mild muscle relaxer when I go to bed. No hydro codone (ok, I forgot to pack them), no sleeping pills. No anti-depressants. That's probably why certain people close to me are questioning ALL of my behavior - because Lord knows how I act with no personality altering substances CAN'T be legitimate. Or is it? This is me, messing with your head!! 

I feel good. Except my back hurts. (Enter whine) But even my back isn't bad every day. All day. And when I compare that to what it was like a year ago... Holy Moses. I'm like a new person. Can't complain about that! 

Things About Guilt

I have to say that feeling guilty is in the top 3 of the list of Things That I Am Really Good At. I have mastered the art of feeling guilty, acting like I feel guilty, performing to appease said guilt and taking on inappropriate guilt. So much so that I make a pretty easy target if you're looking for someone to make feel bad. Some of the people in my "inner circle" over time have figured this out, even without me telling them, and have used it to their advantage. I can imagine how nice it would be to live with someone who is willing to take responsibility for anything. And everything. You wouldn't even have to try hard with me. I jump at the chance to feel guilty and find a way to recompense whatever perceived perpetration. 

A long time ago I heard a sermon or read a book about two types of people in this world: the Adams and the Eves. In the Garden of Eden, when the serpent offered up the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, and the Primary Couple take it and eat, they are confronted by God. When pressed, Adam's response is "it's not my fault. The woman YOU gave me gave it to me, and MADE me do it." Adam is especially awesome because he has TWO layers of blame shifting in his historic first excuse making speech. Eve, on the other hand, responds with: "Yes. The serpent made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I took it. In your face. I disobeyed and ignored your warnings. And I gave it to that pansy over there who is a sucker for me 'cause I'm naked. I am guilty." The polar opposite of Adam's response. Eve is a self admitted rebel. And as god hands down the Curse on All Mankind, I can't help but feel like Eve got the flipping short end of the stick for her blatant honesty. I mean, I haven't seen any men doubled over with menstrual cramps or shoving small humans out of their entirely too small pelvic openings. So, really? What. The. Hell (literally)? After I heard this whole Adam/Eve distinction of response to sin, I knew right away I always have been and will always be an Eve. Not that I haven't cranked out a pretty awesome justifications from time to time, or an excuse or two for my frequently bad behavior, but as a rule, I'm an almost unapologetic line-crosser who takes more than my share of responsibility for the Bad Things in life. 

Apparently I've been doing it wrong. If I couldn't glean that from how easy Adam got off (i.e. You have to be a farmer now?), shame on me. But after 37 years of trying to own my own crap, I think maybe it's time to take a different approach. So here goes:

Mom and Dad: It's all your fault. If you hadn't homeschooled me. If you hadn't been so strict. If you hadn't spanked me or kept me from dating or kept me from marrying The Handsome Prince with the Heart of Stone, if you had only told me about things and exposed me to more and let me "find myself"... By now I'd probably be... In jail. With 6 kids and 8 baby daddies. I'd probably have set a world record for food stamp consumption and welfare fraud. I'd probably never have even gotten a GED and definitely wouldn't have gone to college, let alone finishing it. Or maybe I'd just be living in your basement knitting doilies and dating onljne, if you would have just taken it easy on me.  So thanks a lot. It's all your fault. 

Ex Husband: I blame you. If you hadn't shown me bitter disappointment and dysfunctional love, if you hadn't broken my soul into a thousand pieces. If you had just been a good man with integrity and self control, I would definitely be living in an unfinished shack, barely scraping by with 6 kids and no money and no hope and no adventures. I would be continually attempting to toe the line of acceptable, submissive wife behavior. If only you hadn't been such a jerk. 

To The Church: you know who you are. If it weren't for you I'd have a healthy perspective of God's Holiness. If you hadn't controlled me and worked me over I would still be able to believe that One Pasty White Guy with a beard is the only hope for billions of human beings that God created in thousands of different variations, and I would probably be campaigning on the Bearded Dude's behalf, telling the wretched world what is wrong with them. If you hadn't manipulated and condemned me I could still be a submitted woman. I could be modest. And silent. As Women in The Church ought to be. If you had just embraced me with the love of Jesus like all Christians should, I could be a shining light of useless piety, damning the beautiful and unique hoardes that rebel against a judeo-Christian value system that will surely save us all. 

And my kids: why did you have to ruin my life. Get in my way. Slow me down. If it wasn't for you I could have nice, peaceful holidays at a pristine resort. I could have a clean, quiet, anti-septic house and life. I could have no pictures cluttering my walls and refrigerator. No boring band concerts, track meets, dance recitals, volleyball games. No tears of pride to stain my cheeks. No panic attacks when I feel like I can't protect you. All would be calm. Serene. Dead. Why did you have to make my life, life? 

Best Friends: (you also know who you are) If you hadn't continually reminded me how strong I am. How brave. How capable. How WORTHY I am, I could still be in a soul crushing marriage. A mind bending church. I could be painfully unaware of Everything I am Missing. If you hadn't held me together when I fell apart, or stopped my hand when it was bent on destruction. I could be resting in peace by now. If you hadn't awakened the parts of my soul that had been bled to unconsciousness with a steady infusion of unconditional love and support, I could be numb by now. And not know the difference. 

I don't think this is working, y'all. Everybody that screwed me over actually helped me out. And everybody that helped me out helped me out too. Maybe because I chose to take responsibility for my choices, all of the things that "happened" to me were actually ABLE to be for a purpose. Maybe Adam got a better deal, but I'm pretty sure I'd take menstrual cramps over not being able to live with myself. Or anybody else. But who knows. It takes Adams and Eves to make the world turn, doesn't it? Victims and perpetrators. Guilty and justified. Rebels and pacifists. With any luck we can find a balance in the accountability that we bring to each other. Because really, in the end, it's everybody's fault and everybody's purpose, the things that happen. And hey - we're all in this together. 

Things About Growing Up

I have two real regrets in my life. I've worked very hard to make sure that bad decisions in my past can be easily rendered into lessons about life that were much needed, therefore not having to classify said mistakes as regrets, only "part of the process". It's been a good process. A hard one at times. But good. The two regrets that I do have (and no, they aren't any of my children) involve me inflicting a great deal of pain on someone that I loved very deeply. Twice now I've done it. Someday when my body has outlived my foolish pride, I will tell you about them in glorious and gritty detail, because they are stories worth hearing, if only to prevent the Rest Of You from doing what I did. But for now, I'm still too prideful to put words and names and shameful actions out there for the scrutiny of the masses, because I can't handle the inaudible gasps that I guarantee my mishaps would garnish from your lips. 

Grand mistakes, regrets, or valuable learning curves, on the winding path of this ever-evolving life, I find myself once again at an intersection of faith and reality and fantasy and hope. And I'm not sure which is which. But I can look backwards, at what is quite obviously reality, and move ahead accordingly. 

MacKenzie turned 17 yesterday. And it made me think of when I was 17 and I hadn't "ruined" my eyebrows (thanks Hannah) by plucking them yet. I was "in love" with a man I didn't even know. But from afar, in my lavender walled castle tower, I imagined him to be a bohemian gypsy knight sent to save me from mundanity. And truth be told, he did. I thought about what advice I could give to a 17 year old clone of my very passionate self, or what I would have tried to shake into my own head at the time, and for all I have learned, it was surprisingly difficult to think of words that would have any weight on my flighty soul. This is all I could come up with:

Dear 17 Year Old Me (or carbon copy thereof [ahem, Kizzie?]):

Remember these things in every decision you make:

1) Your gut is usually right. Not your pitter-patter heart or your analytical mind. No. Your instinct. The first impression that flashes through your body. Like a chill or a snap or a warm sensation of Knowing.  Do what you know is right, even when it hurts like hell. Be the person you would want to have for a friend. Go with your gut. 

2) You will mess up. Thank goodness. It's ok. Enjoy your messes. Don't ever, ever, ever deny them, blame them on someone else, or leave someone else to deal with them. Messes make us human. They seperate us from Cylons. They make us beautiful. Like Starbuck. She was so much cooler because she WASN'T PERFECT. And in the end, wasn't SHE the real angel? Enjoy life. Enjoy your humanness, Your imperfection and that of other people. There will be consequences and sometimes they will seem unbearable, but for people like me and you, the consequences seem more worthwhile than the Not Knowing, Not Doing. Seek joy in everything. Seek to bring joy to everything. Be imperfect. And clean up your messes. 

3) You will love many, many, many times. You may experience a love once that is deeper and stronger than any you have ever or will ever know. It will become the standard by which all love is measured for you, and that's ok. My greatest hope for you is that you land inside of that love and live there forever. But if you don't, be grateful you tasted it and that you know it exists. But don't discount the other loves. They are real. They have their places and reasons and meanings and they teach you. Enjoy them. Don't despise them. Don't regret them. 

4) Never Ever Settle. Maybe that last one sounded like it's ok to settle for a less than perfect love. But really, there is no perfect love. Even the best love is imperfect. But do not settle for infatuation. Do not settle for lust. Don't settle for conditional relationships. Do not settle for practicality and convenience or for social acceptability. And never, ever settle for unkindness, for cruelty, for manipulation, for control. Never settle for anything that makes you feel like less than you know you are, even with all of your messes and flaws. 

5) Chase what you love. Chase it hard. Relentlessly. Go after it. Work hard. Sweat. Cry. Fight to make it BE. Life is so short, and yet it goes on and on and on furiously without letting you take a break to get oriented to your own destiny.  But you must take risks to make it worthwhile. Do the things you have to do, but find a way to make the things you HAVE to do the same as the things you WANT to do. There is a way. Fight for it. See #1 & #4


Things About Being Stuck In Camp

For some reason (or many reasons) I have spent most of this week in the medical unit at the Incident Command Post, which is a fancy name for fire camp. Ironically, our med unit is set up in a Special Ed annex at the Entiat School, which is equipped with all of the comforts of home for me and my buddy Christy, who is here as a medical unit manager trainee. The SPED room here in Entiat has been entirely taken over by fire maps and radios and stockpiles of medical supplies, gold bond, cough drops and oxygen kits. It's an odd mix of both mine and Christy's professional worlds, life skills picture flash cards and counting charts and division medical assignments all mashed up in a confusing vortex of color and detail that would make any preschool teacher have a seizure. The students have a little garden bed in front of their classroom, and right now there are towering sunflowers just beginning to bloom - kind of like the ones I planted with Eddie would be, if I hadn't killed them of dehydration. My boss Steve is insistent that all the flowers must be named and labeled and monitored for adequate flourishing, since apparently we are lacking human patients (this is a good thing, no?).

They're saying this might be the last day I am bouncing off the walls of this room, which is good, since I am kind of running out of ways to cure my boredom (again, a good thing?) and the willpower to avoid the 3000 delicious cookies that my Aunt Lynn sent for us to gorge on. I need a hike. I am entirely lucky to be working with one of my besties (Christy) and my husband, and other Concerned Individuals who are aware of the back issues that I am having (oh, BTW, my MRI last week identified advanced degeneration, particularly in the L5/S1 area, as well as Stenosis [narrowing of the space between vertebrae] and nerve displacement, which as far as I can tell, is due to the stenosis.), and are handling me with kid gloves, which is really awesome for my body but somewhat damaging to my pride. Again, I need a hike. And probably another snicker doodle.

The beauty of being stuck in camp is A)air conditioning B)wireless internet C)proximity to a flushing toilet, all things at which one simply CANNOT turn up ones nose after trying to find someplace to cop a squat in a treeless, dusty wasteland in front of 347 men of questionable moral integrity (mostly referring to my paramedic partners)(you know who you are). Also, I have all day to take a shower - which sometimes doesn't happen for days on end when I am stuck on the line. All in all, it's a pretty good gig.

Things That I Learn

When Josh and I got married, one of his best, oldest friends, a girl I like a lot, said to me "Hey. Everybody's got baggage. The important thing is whether or not your baggage matches." It resonated with me, and kind of stuck with me for almost three years - in fact, I even made a meme about it and put it in a blog about Things That I Have Decided.  But then I started to feel like maybe our baggage wasn't matching anymore - and that maybe baggage evolves, or we change it out periodically for more fashionable baggage. Either way, the resonation that made it seem like getting married to someone with as much glorious retro baggage as I had was a good idea, no longer resounded. And then today, a friend of mine sent me a different meme on Facebook that I thought for a second was the same sentiment but it finished differently. More like this:

In an instant, when I was riding in the back of a rental car on my way from a fire camp in Entiat to Wenatchee to get more rental cars and cookies from the Best Aunt Ever, I had a complete paradigm shift. It isn't about matching our baggage. It's about unloading it. Unpacking. Settling in. Coming home to stay and not holding on to the temporariness of lugging around, well, vintage luggage. Because no matter how whimsical and quirky it looks, that crap gets heavy.

So I sat there and I stewed. Almost literally since it was like 137ยบ outside and the guy up front seemed to have difficulty running the AC with pictures on the buttons, but mostly I stewed theoretically about how successful (or not) I have been in helping Josh unpack his baggage, or him mine. Or has that even been our goal? Maybe we have been comparing baggage so much to make SURE it matches that it has turned into a competition instead. Who has the worse sob story. The most drama. The biggest justification to be a poop head. Unfortunately, on all of those fronts, we both win. But instead of unpacking that junk and airing it out and folding it up and filing it where it can be useful, we drag it around and beat each other over the head with it like a couple of dumb apes. Or the three stooges. But only two of us. Dude. WE'RE DOING IT WRONG.

The problem is, unpacking it takes some things that we are both a little short on. Maybe because that damn baggage has been so heavy for so long. We're low on things like patience, because we're all on edge and crabby from sore shoulders and backs. And humility, because look how buff we are with our big old steamer trunks of bad luck. And empathy, because nobody took our baggage for us - so grab yer own bootstraps and suck it up! And gentleness, because we're just gol-darn tired. How do you help somebody unpack their baggage when your hands are jam packed with your own? How do you learn to set aside all of your aches and pains and help to take off all of someone else's? It takes a lot more strength to do that then to just cling to your own baggage and trudge along bitterly. For a minute there, you might be stuck balancing ALL OF THE BAGGAGE, while he catches his breath and realizes that he'll be ok without it. And that is terrifying. Because we all know that I am buff - but that buff?????

All I know is that is was a good day for Aunt Lynn to make 37 dozen cookies for me to bring to fire camp. Because cookies make most things better, especially Mulling Over Large Thoughts,  And snickerdoodles fix EVERYTHING. And with all of this baggage flying around -  and I know Aunt Lynn and some of my very special cousins can relate to some of this, but with all of this flying baggage, there's nothing more important than family. The kind you are born into and that love you unconditionally and inconsistently, and the kind you chose and sometimes almost wish you hadn't. There is no way to balance the load of ALL OF THE BAGGAGE if you don't have those people saying "sure you can. YOU'RE BUFF. it's only for a second. it will be worth it." There is no way to find the humility and patience and empathy and trust and hope to start unpacking. Without the life preserver of Somebody Who Loves you. No Matter What. All of The Time. For this I am eternally thankful. Because of this I am mostly hopeful. And with this I believe that I can suck it in and take on a few extra bags of STUFF, so that we can move in and be home. And all those outdated suitcases and trunks become nothing more than nostalgic decoration to remind us of where we have been and who we are.

Things That Are Happening

It's fire season. And my computer is fixed. (Thank GOD). This means several things: you can begin to prepare yourself emotionally for my annual review of books, which is shaping up to be QUITE eclectic and... practical, this year. Also, it's time for happiness. It's time for working my buns off to be better. To be whole. To be me. The one that my kids need and my family needs and my friends need. So, I changed my blog layout. To be happy. To be loud and tottering right on the brink of obnoxious.

All those Facebook quizzes can't lie. When they say that I am 51% good and I am Destined to Be a World Changer. And that I am supposed to be blonde, and we all know that blondes have more fun. And the fact that TWO (2) little girls in the elementary school wrote tributes to me as a Person Of Positive Influence in their lives has to mean something, right? It's hard to speak self worth to four gorgeous, intelligent, hilarious daughters when I am continuously questioning my own. I have so very much to be thankful for, and, in all humility, a lot to be proud of. Nothing that I have done on my own, without the immense support of an amazing, if quirky, family, a supportive husband and crazy awesome friends. At this moment in time I am under the strong impression that for my own sanity and that of my kids, it is time to regroup and reclaim our awesomeness. Even in the moments that we don't feel like it. Or want to try. We must. Remember the awesomeness that doesn't require money, or the absolute assurance of success in every endeavor. Just the confidence that we CAN DO IT. Because we have.

Things That Feel Unbearable

I have had several thoughts rolling around in my head like snowballs, gaining momentum and growing in size and cohesion until my brain overheats and the whole thing melts down into an unidentifiable puddle of mismatched ideas, nothing to paint a page with, even though they are all things that must be expressed somehow. How do you come up with words to describe something so awful. Words that don't become narcissistic or gossipy? How do you speak words of love and sympathy and grief without sounding like a hallmark card or a church of christ preacher? I don't like writing in questions, but some circumstances are so answerless that they call for it.

Last week our little town took a blow that it will not soon recover from. When you live in a population of 280 and you lose one, even a transient one, it's noticeable, especially when that one is young, and vibrant, and his loss is unexpected. Today is Junha's memorial. And I am not able to be there. It breaks my heart a little - and I hope that my love for all of them is felt from where I sit under this smoke and heat in the middle of the state.

How can you wrap your mind around the death of a young, healthy person? Especially when you have watched helplessly as his life slipped suddenly, haphazardly, and quite literally out of your hands. If I, as an adult, an EMT, struggle with the thought that even 20 minutes later that I could have, should have dived in to the cold, black water and hunted frantically for him, that maybe with the temperature of the water, maybe there was something I could have done... How can a 16 year old, 17 year old, 11 year old, cope with the reality that Junha is just gone, and there was nothing more they could have done.

It's been a week now since I got a scratchy phone call from another responder - painfully, also the host parent for Junha, that there had been a possible drowning at the boat launch in Northport. I was on my way home from Colville after Irish dance practice and an MRI and seven billion errands. I turned on my flashers and I drove fast. My mind was sorting through the possibilities. I had been down at the boat launch several days over the last week, with kids and dogs, and without fail, there was always a handful of highschoolers there, hanging out on the dock. It's tradition. They all do it. Every summer. For some reason on this day, the water was a little higher, or Junha was a little out of his element, or who knows what fatal combination of factors came in to play, but he went under, and he didn't come back up. He went under fighting. Fighting against the panic of being overwhelmed by cold, dark water with no tangible bottom. Fighting against his peers that struggled to pull him in to safety. His own panic ultimately overcame all of them. Three strong, healthy teenagers, who swallowed and tried to breathe water as they refused to give up until they were spent to their last. Knowledgeable adults who knew exactly what-to-to. But the what-to-do didn't work. And sometimes, even if it's exactly right, it doesn't work. I arrived 20 minutes after he had gone under. Already a boat was circling the area. The kids who had gone in with him were still shivering and dripping. The kids watching from the shore were huddled with their mother, who's lifeguard experience wasn't a match for the opaque and frigid water. The other responder gave me a name. One of the names that had flashed through my head on the drive up. A name that was the most impossible. Because he was only here visiting. From so far away. He'd been with our community since January. He played Peter Pan's shadow in the production we had done this spring. I coached him on his mirroring and how to disappear into a stage floor. He took Washington State history with me and two of the my girls. He played soccer. He came to my house to play Just Dance and eat birthday cake more than once. He was smart. And funny. And inquisitive. How could he have just disappeared into the giant peaceful river? Like a camouflaged monster that awoke and swallowed him whole. It was just impossible. 20 minutes ago. The water was cold. If I just dove in, right there. straight down. Maybe I would have found him. Maybe we could have done something. Maybe... Maybe... Maybe his parents, thousands of miles away would not have gotten that phone call from the consulate. Maybe half of the high school wouldn't be standing on the bank of the river, staring into the blackness, weeping. Maybe this would be a nightmare that we would all wake up from. I waded up the side of the river and back down, up to my waist. What if he just floated downstream a little and crawled out into the brush, exhausted? Maybe he was fine. I tore through chest high shrubs just out of the water, back and forth from the parking lot. Maybe he pulled himself out. Maybe. Maybe they missed something, and he was just fine, over on the other side of the bay. Everyone came. Everyone. To help. To snorkel the edges of the inlet. To kayak furiously down the river. They came roaring in with jet boats and motor boats. Fisherman and neighbors. To hug the kids on the riverbank. To just BE THERE. All staring intently into the water while the sun fried the backs of their necks and the tops of their heads. They brought food for the officers and divers and everybody who was looking. They brought water and ice and sunscreen and offers of everything and anything. Everybody came. Everybody hugged and prayed. Everybody stared at that black spot of water. The same black spot where Junha still sat serenely, quietly waiting to be found. The same spot that most of the town of Northport will never look at the same way again. So close to shore. So impossibly reachable. How could it have happened? What could we have done? Why?

Junha was a gift to our community. As imperfect as he might have been, he was a joy, and he taught us so many things. About our love for each other, even visitors. Even our "temporary" kids. About our community as a whole, and what we will do for each person in it. As the days go on, we learn about the weight that we can bear as a whole community, like we did ten years ago when little Allison died. That we can see each other around town and say: "how are you?" and there's no doubt in all of our minds what we're talking about. To say thank you to the responders from around the county seems trite and inadequate. Thank you for coming, and for looking, and for doing what you do, because even if it didn't fix it, you made us feel better. Like we did everything we could. Exhausted every resource. We tried. Hard.

Already people are talking about the life preservers that we need to have down there at the park, and how to keep them from being stolen. People are brainstorming about what things should change to never, ever, lose anyone again. People are talking about being more involved. Becoming EMTs, becoming part of the fire department, so that somehow, they could help. There is no answer to why Junha is gone. There is no peace for the ones who couldn't save him. Not yet. But with time, it will come. And with hugs, and with softness and openness and learning. There is no why. But there is a WHAT we do with the grief. What we accomplish and change and become. And we can thank Junha for it. And remember the unthinkable suffering of his parents and his friends and his would-be rescuers. And we can try to rescue them. And love them. And cherish every moment, because life is short, and the unbearable things must be borne.

Junha Lee, overlooking Northport and the river.

Things About Being Mean

One of the earliest things I remember learning (or being taught, at least) from my parents was that it is important to be nice, or to not be MEAN to other people. Specifically my sister. It took me almost thirty years to get that one straight (the sister thing) but I would like to believe I have almost mastered it. I am fairly certain I am still MEAN to other people from time to time, like my kids (just ask them), and that jerk Gabe at the Northtown Buckle Store who wouldn't take a brand new scarf back because it "smelled weird", and of course, my husband. I am meanest of all to him, and sometimes I really get angry at myself because I just. can't. help. it. So, being a wallower, I wallow about this. I ponder and wallow, or wallow in a pond of thoughtfulness and ponderance... and I wonder WHY it is I gotta be SO MEAN. Being a good homeschooler and approaching the subject principally, we all know that the first step of dissecting any problem is to define. So I did. I MEAN, I could spiel off a pretty cool definition of MEAN and have you convinced that Daniel Webster himself wrote my version of what MEAN MEANS. But in case I was missing something obvious, I looked up several definitions of MEAN and took the MEAN average and most applicable one for my MEANING.

MEAN is a weird word. It refers to intent. It refers to Purpose. It represents representation and defines definition. MEAN can MEAN the MEANING of a thing, or it can MEAN small, insignificant,  and lowly. Or, as an adjective, it refers to the behavior that makes somebody feel small and insignificant and lowly. I was mostly concerned with this last intention of the word, and although the other definitions distracted me along the way, and I spent some time mulling over what MEAN MEANT in correlation to the other MEANINGS of MEAN, and it was kind of interesting. But here is the pertinent definition:


2  [meen] 
adjective, mean·er, mean·est.
offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious: a mean remark; He gets mean when he doesn'tget his way.
small-minded or ignoble: mean motives. contemptible, despicable.
penurious, stingy, or miserly: a person who is mean about money. niggardly, close, tight,parsimonious, illiberal, ungenerous, selfish.
inferior in grade, quality, or character: no mean reward.
low in status, rank, or dignity: mean servitors. common, humble; undignified, plebeian.

MEAN is bad. It's ugly. Or it's the relegation to ugliness that one human being can put on another. That's the kind of MEAN I wasn't supposed to be to my sister. And probably the one that my husband and I are proficient at dealing out to each other. Shame on us. 

MEAN is the little jabs we throw at each other when our wills our crossed, our pride is compromised, or our spirits are wounded. The words we know just how to say and when to say to inflict the most depreciation to the ones that we "love". Human beings are much less often MEAN to someone that we don't know. We are the MEANEST to the ones we know the best. But really, when you look at the definition of the word, being MEAN really MEANS that our offensiveness reduces us, the inflictors of the MEAN, to low in status and ignoble (great word, BTW). MEAN people are really the small people themselves. Seeking to bring everyone around them (and often successful with those in closest proximity), down to their level. MEANNESS is born out of the same inferiority that it deMEANS others with. And how much of that is rooted in deep hurts that have never been healed. Never been calmed with the salve of kindness, the opposite vital lesson that I was taught simultaneously to the importance of being not-MEAN. 

Kindness is the antidote. It is the only cure for the contagious illness of MEANNESS. It fixes it coming and going. MEANNESS met with MEANNESS just breeds even lower, nastier levels of MEANNESS. MEANNESS met with kindness is stopped dead in it's tracks and reprimanded for it's foolishness and uselessness. Kindness delivered against MEANNESS back fills the swampy, hurting muck of a soul with clean, solid earthy goodness. Gives it something to step up on to. Kindness is the antidote and inoculant and answer for all MEANNESS. Kindness is my goal. And good Lord, do I fail. Miserably. But it's my goal. And every day I bite my tongue and speak kindness in return for MEANNESS. And even if the MEANNESS continues, I haven't gotten down in the muck with it. Except for the times that I do. And then I have to go out of my way to be really super-duper kind at the expense of my pride and my ego and give myself a foothold out of the pit. Thanks to my parents I learned how to do that. Some people's parents just didn't know that teaching your kids to be not-MEAN is the first most important lesson that they can learn to be a bigger person. Kindness makes up the difference. Accommodating, nice, generous, open, high-quality, dignified, GOOD. I'd like to be those things. And I'd sure like to be kinder. 

Things I found.

...and then the lightening flashed, and the wind ripped angrily through the shuddering forest of emotion. 

And my soul stood along, violently twisted around the agony of shattered delusion. 

And the rain poured down over the jagged crevasses and unforgiving caverns that stood gaping in the dark expanse of my desolate heart. 

And then the clouds parted, and a supernatural light stole through the bleak landscape that was my mind. 

It crept over the rough terrain of my heart, discovering every hidden cave and crack of darkness, every shrouded bit of reminiscent hope. 

And then at last the darkness yielded to the light which it could not overcome, and painfully, the twisting kf the storm began to twirl it's way into the wonder filled colors of a rainbow...

(Written 7/29/1998 at Marble) 

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