“You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans.” ~ Tom Robbins

An Evening in Berkley by Vagelisf (deviantart)

                                      

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullen Bryant

Autumn Mirror by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

It’s been a week of perfect autumn weather: brilliant skies, mild temperatures, and vivid colors everywhere. I love days like these as they tend to fill me with a sense of calm, a rare and delightful treat for my psyche.

Fall used to herald boots-and-sweaters season for me, but not so much any more as I no longer need to get dressed for work, the one aspect of a full-time job that I can sincerely say that I miss terribly (probably the only aspect)

I’m back home full-time now. I stop in on my mother after taking Brett to school each day. She is slowly retaking her house, which is to be expected, and she spends more time sitting than lying down, a sure sign that she feels better. The next big step is driving, which she says that she is ready to do; I know that she is eager to be out of the house on her own, but I don’t think that she’s considering what might happen if she has to slam on her brakes. Just saying.

“Our world—don’t you just feel we’re becoming more fragmented? I used to think that when I got older, the world would make so much more sense. But you know what? The older I get, the more confusing it is to me. The more complicated it is. Harder. You’d think we’d be getting better at it. But there’s just more and more chaos. The pieces—they’re everywhere. And nobody knows what to do about it.” ~ Rachel Cohn, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

This Fall (Part II) by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

Corey and I are working on the house (in the house?). For several weeks he has been shampooing the remaining living and dining room carpet (as in the carpet yet to be ripped up, revealing the hardwood floors that need to be refinished). I’m not sure how cleaning the carpets could turn into a month-long endeavor, but somehow my charming spouse has managed to do just that. I’ve made him vow to have all of the furniture back in place by the end of the weekend as I cannot begin a holiday week with everything in such disarray.

In the meantime, I need to switch t-shirts for sweaters, and summer night shirts for winter pj’s,  and sandals for boots, which (of course) involves several other steps and lots of shifting as our home has 1950’s closets, i.e., not even close to walk-in. And when I came back from my mother’s house, I pitched a pile of hanging clothes on one of the dining room chairs that is currently sitting in the middle of the living room, and I have yet to sort through that morass as just walking through the obstacle course that is my house is too daunting.

In other words, our house is completely wrecked, and it’s making me very stressed and a wee bit testy. While I was at mom’s, I got in the habit of keeping everything very clean and tidy, which is easier in her house as she is not in the midst of a major home remodeling project that had to be abandoned when Corey lost his lucrative tugboating job—over two years ago. So I have become accustomed to neat and tidy, and the return to chaos is more than a bit unnerving.

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”  ~ Lemony Snicket

Yellow by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

Of course, the complaints about chaos are completely gratuitous as I would not recognize my life if it were not constantly imbued with chaos, disorder, and entropy.

But speaking of Corey and jobs, he is still waiting for his contact at Company X to get back to him. I know that we’ve heard this story before, but this time, there actually seems to be a hint of truth to it. Company X did buy a new boat and land a new contract, so we’ve moved beyond the this may happen stage into the we’re definitely interested in having you on one of our boats stage.

The best aspect—the one that makes this situation so much better than the Vane Brothers wait-and-see situation—is that Corey went from the introduction phase to the two-hour interview phase in a matter of weeks.

No hope-pinning, but hopeful waiting, at least.

“Time folds you in its arms and gives you one last kiss, and then it flattens you out and folds you up and tucks you away until it’s time for you to become someone else’s past time, and then time folds again.” ~ Margaret Atwood

A Moment in Time 2 by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

                  

So here we are: Brett’s first semester of college will be ending in a month. Eamonn is thinking about joining the Peace Corps (I know. Surprised the hell out of me too). Alexis is still not working and does not appear to be ready to return to work anytime soon, something I try not to ponder too much as my mother is doing enough fretting over the situation for the both of us.

I am approaching December without fulfilling the one goal that I set for myself for 2010, and I am totally unsurprised by that. I am trying to get back into my habit of writing daily and hope to have my own computer back in working order before 2011. Of course, having said that, Corey’s computer is now dying, and we are unsure as to what it needs to be healed. Could be something as simple as a graphics card, or could be something more . . .

We are hoping to have Corey’s truck fixed as soon as Ford gets back to us with the Windstar recall package (don’t remember if I mentioned this or not, but the Windstar was found to be hazardous because of an axle problem, so Ford had to buy it back from us). Meanwhile, they are paying for a rental and we are pricing rebuilt transmissions.

And so it goes. More waiting and hoping and hoping and waiting. Meanwhile, the world spins madly on; the seasons creep into each other relentlessly, and time morphs from second to second, seemingly dragging its heels one moment only to metamorphose in the next instant into a nimble-footed fellow, fleeing from invisible fire.

The only constants remain my unflinching capacity for seeing only the bad in myself, the deep love of my dysfunctional family, the continued delight I receive from my dogs, and my surprising ability to still be moved to tears by nature’s breathtaking beauty.

More later. Peace.

Music by Chris Mills, “Such a Beautiful Thing”

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“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

                   

I was fortunate enough to come across a posting on tumblr that featured selected passages from an exemplary essay by Rebecca Solnit. The subject? Hope.

I am  not reprinting the entire essay here; rather, I have chosen passages from each of the essay’s five sections, passages that I felt were particularly well written, but more importantly, passages that really struck a chord within me. The link to the original article is included at the end.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

From “Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage,” by Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Victories of the New Peace Movement

In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways.

Not Left But Forward

This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that.

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.

“Dum spiro, spero” (Latin, ‘While I breathe, I hope’)

“Snow at Montmartre,” by Hippolyte-Camille Delpy (1869, oil on canvas)

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucius

Well, the clock is ticking down (not that clocks tick any more), and the end of 2009 is upon us. I have so many things going on in my head, so many thoughts about this past year that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin, so I thought that I would begin with the following quote by Frederick Buechner as it seems so appropriate:

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

I imagine that many of you out there are thinking about this past year and the new year that is only hours away. For our family, 2009 has been a year of extremes. The things that have happened have all been intense and for the most part, not positive. I lost a favorite uncle and an aunt who had been like a grandmother to me. Corey spent another year without being able to find a job, but not for lack of trying. Eamonn graduated from high school and seemed to become even more distant emotionally. Brett had a very rough year in the beginning, but it has seemed to get better for him. Alexis, too, has had a hard year, and I’m not sure exactly what changes she needs to make so that she can find some happiness.

"Rooftops Under Snow," Gustave Caillebotte (1878, oil on canvas)

Our financial situation is no better, and after Corey’s unemployment ran out in September, things got much worse. We are still renegotiating the mortgage, and don’t know when to expect any word, especially since they have lost the paperwork twice. I am on my third appeal to the Social Security administration regarding my disability.

My other mother-in-law, Yvonne, seems to be getting much worse with her Parkinson’s disease, and my other father-in-law was admitted to ICU two days ago with pneumonia. My mother took a tumble down the stairs right before Christmas, but she seems to be doing better. Watching those you love age before your eyes is more painful that I ever could have anticipated.

Friends have fallen by the wayside. I don’t hear much from Jammi, and Rebecca has a new man in her life, so I haven’t heard from her in ages. Mari is still living in Massachusetts, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again. My friend Sarah has been going through terrible times with her own family. I don’t remember the last time I actually spoke with Kathleen.

Tillie had a couple of seizures, a new development. Alfie escaped from the yard and was picked up by Animal Control. As a result, he had to spend the night in doggie jail, but we were glad that he was safe. Shakes developed some kind of skin rash that makes him chew at himself all of the time, but otherwise, he is still fat and happy.

Corey’s truck died this past summer, and we know that it needs a new transmission. The Trooper died on the side of a mountain on the way to Ohio in July. We still don’t have the gas turned back on, and our credit rating is completely in the toilet.

“And if you ask me whether I regret starting out
my voice rises like flocks of finches at dawn
and blows across the deep blue sky.” ~ from St. Nadie In Winter by Terrance Keenan

"Morning Light," Walter Elmer Schofield (1922, oil on canvas)

Of course, it hasn’t all been bad. Corey’s parents really came through for us this past year. They supplied us with a Ford Windstar van and paid for repairs. They have sent us money for gas and supplied us with food from Angel Food Ministries. Corey’s brothers rescued us when the Trooper broke down in Maryland, drove six hours one-way to get us, and then drove us back to Lima with the Trooper in tow. Their generosity has been overwhelming and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal year.

Kindness has come from unexpected places, as well. Sarah’s church donated some gift cards and a bit of cash, which came at a moment when we really needed it. My mother helped out as much as she was able.

Alexis did manage to find a job after being out of work for quite a while. Eamonn did manage to graduate even after missing way too many days of school and was accepted to the local community college. Brett did survive his junior of high school even though his mental state was precarious. Corey and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. In other words, we all had our personal victories, some smaller than others, others more significant.

But probably one of the best sources of support has been from the readers of my blog, who write me constantly, support me, and help me to keep things in perspective.

So it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, far from it. Sometimes, it takes putting things down on paper (screens) to be able to weigh the past more accurately, assess issues more clearly.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ~ T. S. Eliot

So that leaves 2010. Wow. It’s weird just typing that number. I remember in 1999 being completely overwhelmed at the thought of a new century, a new millenium. I never thought that the end of the world was going to come or even that my computer was going to explode. But 2000 seemed like such a milestone.

"Winter Twilight Along Central Park," Paul Cornoyer (1900, oil on canvas)

I rang in that new year on a friend’s boat, docked in the harbor of downtown Norfolk. There was a whole group of us who were celebrating together, and I had a great time because I parked my car in the garage, left it, and slept on the boat. We watched the fireworks, which were more amazing than any I had ever seen, and I went to sleep wondering what 2000 would bring.

Well, 2000 brought me Corey at a time when I was looking for no one. It brought me a change in jobs, also something for which I was not looking but should have been seeking. It was a year of many, many changes, and the past decade has brought more changes than I can possibly list.

Honestly, though, I have a good feeling about 2010. I’m not sure why, and if you pressed me, I couldn’t substantiate it with anything more than a feeling in my gut. I mean, our luck has been so bad for so long that we must be due for a change. If Karma works in the way in which it is supposed to, then our family should be about to move into a new, more peaceful, less tumultuous period. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

I feel re-energized about my writing. Eamonn is about to begin college. Brett is entering the second half of his senior year. Alexis, well, I don’t know what changes are in store for her, but I hope that they are good. And Corey? Well, his new job was supposed to start at the beginning of the new year, but his last conversation with the man from Van Brothers was a bit more vague, as in sometime in February. But we’re not giving up hope.

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” ~ Oscar Wilde Hope.

"Garden Under Snow," Paul Gauguin (1879, oil on canvas)

Hope—that small word that carries within it so much weight. Hope helps to bring the soldier through the battle. Hope wends its way through the heart looking for love. Hope is the wisp of smoke that eludes the individual keeping watch over a loved one who is gravely ill. Hope is the reflection of the stars in the night sky when everything seems without light. Hope is the sound of the wind and the rain, the birds and the ocean, affirming that life does indeed go on beyond the realm of our lives. Hope is the northern star that guides us when the path is unclear, and the anchor for our ships when we feel adrift at sea.

It would be so easy to give up, to say no more. It would be a relief not to fight against the machinations of the bureaucracies that threaten to overpower us. It would be less taxing to just sit back and say whatever, do your worst. And I admit that there have been times when these options have floated through my mind. But I do not succumb. I have a good man who loves me, cherishes me, respects me. I have three tremendously talented, intelligent children who are just beginning to find their way in the world. I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. And I have the love and support of family and friends who never let me forget just how much they care.

Whatever 2010 decides to throw my way, I will face it, whether or not I am ready, whether or not I feel able, whether or not I feel beaten down. I have no choice because hope does not abandon the individual, rather, the individual who abandons hope gives in to hope’s fouler relative—despair. And my friends, I refuse to give in to despair.

May you stay safe on this New Year’s Eve. Remember to be smart out there because not everyone else will be. My very best to you and yours for a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

More later. Peace.

From “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

. . . Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

“Same Old Lang Syne,” by the late, greatly underrated Dan Fogelberg . . .

Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” ~ Dorothy Thompson

Barack Obama 10-2009

President Barack Obama, Winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Manners people, please! 

“Manners are of more importance than laws . . . Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt  or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.” ~ Edmund Burke

Sometimes, I really think that I must be living in some kind of fairy tale world, one in which individuals treat each other with respect, one in which the office of the President of the United States still commands respect, one in which the failures of a nation, as in the ability to secure hosting of the Olympics, would not be turned into a sabre-rattling challenge of President Obama’s abilities as Chief Executive.

I also believe that puppy dogs are cute, oatmeal is good for you, a flat tax is the only fair way in which to tax people, national healthcare is a good thing, Asian horror movies are better than English-language horror movies, cotton candy is only good for the first half of the cone, and you don’t yell out of turn on national television during a presidential address. You wait until a maroon from Fox News asks you what you think, and then you open your mouth and let the drivel pour forth.

I know, my liberal bias is showing. But not really. See, if by some strange stretch of the imagination W. had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I would have been amazed, dumbfounded even, but I still would have considered it one in the bonus slot for the country. That’s just how I am: I may not respect the man, but I do respect the office. And I’m pretty sure that I didn’t coin that phrase, that someone years ago came up with it first.

american_flag I would think, given that I consider myself to be pretty patriotic, that having the President of the United States win the Nobel Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration, elation, and a groundswell of that old proud to be an American feeling. But once again, I find myself to be hopelessly clueless in daring to consider such nonsense.

Apparently, there is a group of people out there—composed of both liberals and conservatives—who do not believe that President Obama deserves the much-honored prize because he “hasn’t really done anything.”

According to one article that I read, Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com contends that the President won in part because he is black:

“I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news,” Erickson wrote. “There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period.”

That is just a vile and ignorant thing to say, and I am not going to lower myself to respond because my blog might get censored.

Fortunately, some Republicans were more gracious. Senator John McCain commented in the same article, saying that while he “could not divine the Nobel committee’s intentions,” he did think that “part of their decision-making was expectations.”  McCain said that he was certain that the “the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.”

Look, I will admit, as I have done before, that Obama has failed his supporters on some promises. But at the same time, I try to remember that it is only his first year, not even a year actually, and it takes time to get things done in Washington, D.C. I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he follows through on more campaign promises than he lets fall by the wayside.

Having said that, I would like to point out that this is a pretty big deal, folks. Only two other sitting presidents have been awarded the very illustrious Nobel Peace Prize: Woodrow Wilson won in 1919, predominantly for the formation of the League of Nations, and before him, Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 for his role in helping to end the Russo-Japanese War.

peace-earthSince its inception in 1901, Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize has been awarded to 96 individuals and 23 organizations, including ex-secretaries of state, journalists, priests, writers, ambassadors, professors, the 14th Dalai Lama, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, to name but a few. All with differing backgrounds, viewpoints, countries of origin, and accomplishments.

President Obama may not be the man you cast your vote for in November, but he is the man who holds the Oval Office, and the naysayers should remember that regardless of their politics, the person in the Oval Office is due the respect of this country’s citizenry.  Winning a peace prize of the calier of the renowned Nobel brings with it a great history of tradition and enormous recognition. Not to mention that it could go a long way in enabling the POTUS to mend international fences after years of eroding relationships with many countries around the world.

No, he hasn’t ended any wars. No, he hasn’t brokered any peaces between nations as President Carter did between Egypt and Israel. But by awarding him this prize, the  Nobel committee gave President Obama a show of support for his policies, for his far-reaching vision regarding diplomacy, and for his hopes for a brighter future for the citizens of the world. 

Let us stop to consider those reasons for a moment, shall we? If the reasoning behind the award is the belief in a man for what he may be able to do for people, a desire to show support for this man’s values, then that is quite a statement. A reflection, if you will, of not just mine, or hers, or my friend’s  or sons’ desires, but a desire on the part of the world’s citizens to make tangible strides towards stopping the leaks before the entire ship Mother Earth has to be scuttled.

 I, for one, am still willing to believe.

“We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is a patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one’s country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others . . . Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognises justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with . . . the other nations of the world.” ~ Lord Baden-Powell

peace activist posterIn case you would like to know more about why, I have included the entire text of the committee’s announcement:

OSLO — Following is the text of the announcement Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee giving the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama taken from the National Post:

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

“For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Now, more than ever, Peace.

 

Reflections on Hope (part 2)

 Reynard 8-2009

 Fox by Brett Sutcliffe (August 18, 2009)

The Possibility of Hope

Maybe im still searchin
But I dont know what it means
All the fires of destruction are still
Burnin’ in my dreams*
 

Corn Queue Henry County Indiana Julayne
Corn Queue, Henry County, Indiana, by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I’ve sat down at this “add new post” page for the past four nights. I’ve sat, waited, and then closed the page. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; more, it’s that my mind seems to be in recovery mode still after so long away from this forum that gives me a voice, as if I’m in the same room with a long lost friend, and we are still in those first few moments of awkardness, when there are a million things to say, but none of them seem to be the right way in which to begin again.

I love this blog. I appreciate the people who stop by just to read and even more, those who leave comments and words of encouragement. I love being part of a bigger blogging community, filled with people who sent me messages over the past three weeks, letting me know that they were out there if I needed them, that they would wait for me to come back.

But my last post was so full of despair that it actually left a physical pain in my heart. To put into words all of the bigger things that have happened over the last two to three years somehow makes it more real, and therefore, that much harder to reconcile.

That post also did something else to me: It made me a bit nauseous. It smacked of poor, pitiful me, and far too much navel-gazing. So let me just pause here to apologize for being so maudlin. Admittedly, though, wearing a virtual hairshirt every once in a while does seem to help.

But time to move on.

I wanna come in from the cold

Tree Frog at Rest
Tree Frog at Rest by L. Liwag

Last night, as I sat here, I heard the wonderful chirrups of the tree frogs in the backyard, and then as I was walking through the dining room, I looked out in the backyard and noticed that a strap on the pool was vibrating. A tree frog was inside the little tunnel, and every time he sang, the strap vibrated.

He was too far inside his shelter to get a picture, but I could see his small green body peeking out. Unfortunately, my invasion of his space made him cease his calls for a bit, but in about half an hour, I could hear him again.

And make myself renewed again

Uncle Melchors Trumpet Flower
Uncle Melchor's Trumpet Flowers

My uncle’s funeral was Saturday. He never regained consciousness. I wanted badly to go to the funeral, but the family lives almost 800 miles away in Florida, and this just isn’t the best time to rent a vehicle and get a hotel room.

So I stayed in touch by telephone. My aunt, who retired only last year, told me that all of the people who used to be in her department came over one day and did her yard. What a wonderful gesture. My uncle loved his yard and would send me pictures of his flower gardens when they came into bloom.

To hear about people who cared, taking the time to care for one of the things that he so enjoyed made me smile. A happy remembrance.

It takes strength to live this way

Tillie Happiness b&w
Tillie Happiness

Today, I braved the brightness of the sun to play ball with Tillie and Shakes in the pool. I think that I must have done a good job because both of them are sound asleep.

Tillie is a ball hog. The only way that I could get her to release the ball in her mouth was to tease her with the other tennis ball. Wanting both, she would drop one while I threw the other ball, and then I would throw the ball that Tillie dropped for Shakes to retrieve. Quite a complicated system for a simple game of water tennis.

I found myself relaxing, though, and just enjoying the moment—something that I do too rarely. I didn’t think about anything of consequence, and I just focused on exercising the dogs and looking at the birds flying overhead.

The same old madness every day

Captain Corey
Happy Birthday Corey

Tomorrow is Corey’s birthday. He is none too happy. It’s all well and good for me to try to point out to him that he is hardly old, but he doesn’t hear me. I know old. He isn’t old.

When I told him to go ahead and flirt with someone while he was at Costco, he said that he couldn’t because he was losing his hair. What bollocks. He has a head of beautiful, healthy hair, and he is losing a few hairs a day in the shower, undoubtedly because of the stress. My husband is too funny.

We won’t be doing too much of anything to celebrate this week, but with any luck, maybe we can have sushi sometime soon.

I wanna kick these blues away  

On other fronts, Brett is trying to gear up mentally for the school year. It looks as if they have set up his schedule for him to go every other day, which is wonderful.

I’m hoping the day off between class days will allow him to rejuvenate and to feel less pressure. If this works out well, he should miss less school and be able to stay more caught up with his work.

I’m very grateful that the head of the program at his school, as well as his guidance counselor are working with us and trying to come up with a way in which Brett can succeed this year.

Unfortunately, Eamonn was not able to start fall semester, as I had feared. Even if we had come up with the funds, we don’t have a second vehicle at the moment, and the fate of Izziethe Trooper is uncertain at best.

I feel really terrible that we weren’t able to get everything together in time, and to make matters worse, my ex called me up last week and cursed at me for three minutes for not getting the financial aid taken care of. It was a short conversation that ended with me saying something along the likes of, “If you’re so freaking concerned, why don’t you do something about it.”

Talking to a brick wallHis (my ex’s) reasoning that I needed to take care of everything and was falling down on the job was that his schedule is so full, and if that my computer was broken, why didn’t I go to library or something to use a computer? My pointing out that the financial aid was just one part of the equation didn’t matter. When I tried to tell him that even with the tuition taken care of, there was still no vehicle.

He actually asked me what happened to the Trooper, this after I had a conversation with him over two weeks ago about the Trooper dying on the way to Ohio. That’s the problem with trying to have rational conversations with someone who has an alcohol problem: You never know their condition when you tell them something important, and then they claim they were “never informed.”

Of course, I thought of a really good rejoinder after the nasty conversation ended: He lost the right to speak to me when he moved out of the house . . . This from the man who never took a day off to take any of the kids to the doctor. I did it because somehow I let him drill into me that it was easier for me to take a day from work.

Then I thought about it for a minute. He should have never had the right to speak to me that way. Why did I give him that right? Too often, verbal abuse isn’t recognized, even by its victims.

I wanna learn to live again . . . 

Butch Edentons Sunset
Sunset by Butch Edenton

Which brings me back to the subject of this post: the possibility of hope. I won’t pretend that Corey and I have a perfect relationship, but we have a really good relationship, and he doesn’t verbally abuse me. He doesn’t belittle me for my weird habits, and he loves me, imperfections and all. As do I him. Immensely.

Life has sucked lately, a lot. We run into walls, and we seem just cannot seem to get a break. But as I have been reminded of all too much with the loss of my uncle, we live in minutes and hours, not days and years.

I will make certain that Eamonn is ready for college next semester. I will take extra care to watch out for Brett’s signals that he is overwhelmed. I will enjoy the joy that my animals bring me.

I will remember to tell Corey that I really do appreciate everything that he does for me, even something as small but caring as making sure that I have Pepsi in the house. And I will appreciate the fact that I have a partner in life who could belittle me if that were his way, but it is not. His way is to tell me that he loves me every day of my life, to lie to me when I ask if I look fat, to tell me the truth when I ask about my writing, and to love and care for Eamonn and Brett unstintingly, including taking both of them to the doctor more times than I can count.

They are my shelter, my comfort, my great joy, and my peace of mind. With them, I really need nothing more.

Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

Thank you for allowing me to be self-absorbed and for your kind words. But thank you more for continuing to visit here, for reading my words, and through your own words and beautiful images, for reminding me of all of the good and wonderful things in this world, one of which is this poem by one of my favorite writers, Langston Hughes.

Goodbye Uncle Melchor.

More later. Peace.

*Lyrics from “Dark Road,” by Annie Lennox

Mother to Son

by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Reflections on Hope

Dark Angel

Dark Angel of Forest Lawn, by L. Liwag

The Loss of Hope (August 5, 2009)

“We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
How sad it seems.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Angel Face
Contemplating Angel by L. Liwag

I have been considering the whole concept of hope and its opposite, hopelessness, and in the considering, I realize that my entire life has been a constant vacillation between the two, a relentless movement of highs and lows, and the harrowing realities that bespeak such an existence.

Please do not pity me. It is not pity that I seek. Rather, I yearn for the type of even existence that seems second-nature to so many. I ache for the idea of normalcy. I crave a life that does not encompass such valleys and zeniths—one that has the steady beat of a second hand on an old, reliable watch.

“We must take the measure of our own days and bear them out with a truthful eye.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Just Open Your Eyes”

 I have tried to pinpoint the exact moment when our lives began this slow descent into a waking nightmare. It’s hard as there is no certainty, and my loss of hope began many years before Corey’s personal crisis.

Infant Angel
Cherubim by L. Liwag

I have mentioned many times the loss of my daughter Caitlin. And that loss changed everything about me, even the ways in which I allow myself to feel. For a long time, I did not allow myself to feel anything, and then I did, but cautiously. I worked my way back into an existence that I could tolerate and even at times, enjoy.

When Corey and I came together, I was able to feel pure joy for the first time in memory. I found myself daring to hope that the darkness that had cloaked me was finally receding. And it did, in so many ways: I began to have dreams again. I allowed myself to invest myself totally in a relationship that sustained me. I felt within myself the ability to trust life again, and with that trust, came hope.

But then things began to happen, small, seemingly inconsequential things at first. I had a run of bad luck with jobs. Nothing seemed to fit, or perhaps, I did not fit. That I felt like a failure is a vast understatement. Why could I do nothing right? Perhaps it was because I did not believe in myself enough.

Then, I lost my father before Corey and I had shared even our first anniversary, and I was heartbroken. That my father did not live long enough to see me pull myself out of my personal abyss always dismayed me, but now, part of me is glad that he has not been around to watch my slow slide into stagnation.

And then there was a betrayal by Corey, a lie of such consequence. But we were new in our life together, and Corey did not yet know the weight a lie would place on my heart, and I was trying to learn the concept of true forgiveness, something that had eluded me before. So we were willing to work through this major rift as the prospect of what we could have far outweighed the wound to my heart.

A few years after we were married, I lost my left ovary to a tumor, and our dreams of children seemed to be snatched from us with one small cut. Still, we prevailed, never losing hope in the possibilities of things to come. So we coasted through a few more years together, making our way through normal dips and peaks, like the naturally-occurring lines on an EKG.

But somewhere in 2006, something seemed to break somewhere—a subtle shift in the continuum, so subtle, that at first, we did not recognize it for what it was and what it would come to be: a continual struggle with relentless events so injurious to the psyche and diminishing to our existence that it seemed that we had walked under a dark cloud and never moved away from its paralyzing shadow.

“Looming, the Fata Morgana stung my eyes 
crept into my dreams   
offered only a cruel discordance,
falsehoods in the night where only truth should reside” ~ Lolita Liwag, “These are the only truths I know

I made a change in my career in September of 2005, a position on which I had stumbled quite by chance, and fate seemed to be on our side. Corey, too, decided that he wanted a change in his career, and made the fateful decision to return to the Coast Guard Reserves.

While trying to retrain in the reserves, Corey had a freak accident that almost demolished his knee, one misstep, and his knee was torn. His hopes for a new, more fulfilling career were gone in one afternoon. The training that he had done so far was for naught as the Coast Guard would never let him work in his desired field.

Angel of Fire
Angel of Wrath by Lita Liwag

Our finances also began to crumble as Corey was out of work for several months while he recuperated. But still we rallied.

Then soon after, yet another misstep, and Corey found himself felled by his own carelessness, and this error of judgment affected the entire family for quite a while in several different ways. However, Corey went back to work as a merchant marine, and our lives seemed to be getting better, but this lull was short-lived.
 
The increasing pain in my back was not responding to ongoing physical therapy and treatment, and so I made the fateful decision to try surgery.
 
I had a back operation in March of 2007. By July, it was apparent that the operation had not been successful, and I found myself in constant pain. However, I was not willing to stop working. But it was not a decision that I was allowed to make.

In September of the same year, I made a discovery that literally sucked the air from my lungs and left me broken and completely disillusioned. I had been betrayed again, and my emotional pain had reached a point at which it melded with my physical pain. I was so spent as to be completely ineffective.

I left work full time in October 2007. Corey was laid off in January 2008. Our downward spiral has continued unabated to this moment—unpaid bills after working so hard to gain ground with our finances, continuing health problems (emotional and physical), a constant battle to keep the utilities on, sometimes unsuccessfully.

But we have not succumbed.

“ . . . then you would never have to move into that next second when you know for certain that all possibilities have ceased to exist and that the pain—a pain that you have never felt before, are unfamiliar with, are not used to assimilating and reacting to—that pain has only just begun to consume you.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Last Possible Second”

In the past 20 months, we have become two shells of the people we once were: both of our lives defined greatly by our careers, the loss of first mine and then Corey’s was a full frontal assault on our sense of worth as individuals. We have floundered about, steadily sliding down a precipice leading to an almost numbing loss of hope.

Angel in Clouds
Angel of Reflection by L. Liwag

And each time that we rally, something else seems to happen to weaken the already strained fabric of our existence: another bill in the mail demanding full payment, another snide comment from someone on the outside about not trying harder. But worse, the unkind cuts from those who should have more understanding.

And then, in just the past two months, we have come within a hair’s breadth of losing our home, the only place in which I feel safe. We do not answer telephone calls from area codes that are unfamiliar as we never know who will be calling to threaten us because we have not made payments.

First the truck and then the SUV have failed, until the most recent complete breakdown of the Trooper on the side of a mountain in western Maryland.

We have depended upon the kindness of our families and even strangers for help. I have depleted the minuscule amount available to me in my retirement account. There is nowhere left to turn for help, and it both frightens and disgusts me that we have reached this point of hopelessness.

We cling to each other, but there are times when being together is too painful, each of us consumed by our own feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and despair, neither wanting to let proximity cause grief for the other.

I have tried prayer, pleas to anything out there that will listen, and I have cried deep into the night at the injustice of it all in one instance, and then in the next second, I weep tears of hot guilt for failing to live up to everything that I promised my father I would be.

“I think that you’ll understand
if I tell you
that Barber’s Adagio for Strings
makes me weep.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “Finding My Way Through Our Friendship”

And then once in a while, perspective kicks in, as does reality, and I am faced with more truth than I can bear: My uncle, my father’s brother with whom he was very close, is very ill, possibly dying, and another wound has been opened. My uncle is one of my last surviving ties to my father.

Blue Angel
Blue Angel by L. Liwag

Corey’s family is filled with a kind of despair, knowing what we face, and being able to offer only so much solace. My own mother is in denial, moving between blame and worry. The few friends who know offer kindness.

My eldest son wants to begin community college in a few weeks, and I know that this is an impossibility, but I do not know how to face him with this news. And even if somehow he is able to begin classes, we no longer have a vehicle for him to drive.

It’s as if we are caught in a kind of endless mobius strip, chasing our tails, catching up long enough to fix one thing only to have two more crash and burn.

There is a chance of Corey being able to get a job with a shipping company, but we must await his certifications from the Coast Guard for his most recent training.

When we returned from our ill-fated trip to Ohio, Corey received a letter in which all of his certifications were kicked back, prolonging the review process and diminishing the chances of getting a job. Another injustice: the reasons for the denial are all based on incorrect facts, a lack or loss of paperwork by the processing center, as all of the documentation has been submitted at least twice. Yet still they persist in holding out what we so badly need.

We are living a nightmare that will not abate, a living purgatory from which there is no release, and I have to ask: Are we bad people? Did one of us do something, somewhere, at some point in time to warrant this hand that fate has dealt us?

“How did you know that it was time  
I didn’t. I still don’t.” ~ Lolita Liwag, “The Final Loss of Hope.”

Is hope not merely a wish, a whim? Do we not invest in hope our deepest, fondest desires to make something that does not exist come into being? And if that is the case, then what is the point of hoping, really, if we know that something is not possible? 

Sleeping boy angel
Sleeping Cherubim by L. Liwag

How do we continue to hope, to hope for hope when the possibilities now seem impossible? 

And in the end, is not hoping for something that is not possible the worst possible betrayal of self, a delusion that can only wound to the very core of our being?

Or is continuing to hope a fool’s errand, that attempt to wish into being something that rests just beyond the reach, futility by its very definition?

Then what purpose, hope?

Peace be with you and yours.

What Makes Me Happy or makes me cry tears of joy

Tillie
Tillie

These are some of the things that makes me happy in life (in no particular order):

Brett’s laugh
Playing ball in the pool with Shakes and Tillie
Pepsi over crushed ice
A great mix of music that I have created
Knowing that I have just captured a great shot with my camera
Sharpies in new bright colors
A really great thunderstorm when the lights go out and the lightning is wild
The feel of Eamonn’s hair
When our bed turns into the family bed again because everyone piles onto it at once
The smell of Corey’s skin when he is wearing my favorite cologne
Pictures of my dad
Finishing the last twenty pages of a book without anyone interrupting me
Finding a new author to add to my collection
Discovering a new brand of ink pen that writes smoothly and isn’t too thin
Pepperidge Farm Chess Men cookies
When Corey wears jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt with the sleeves rolled up
Watching Tillie have a tantrum when she wants to get away with something
Floating in the pool and listening to the birds sing
The smell of fresh cut lilacs and gardenias
Waking up without too much pain
Getting a card for no reason at all
Having a good hair day
Finding the perfect pair of black boots
Watching The Lord of the Rings (again) with one of my sons
Taking Alexis shopping and being able to buy her anything she wants
Fresh peaches with just the right amount of juice running down my chin
Rolling over in the middle of the night and finding Corey’s arm
The feel of clean sheets on freshly shaved legs
Listening to Corey sing “I Cross My Heart” to me when we go to sing karaoke
The smell of fall
Seeing a perfect sunset over aqua blue water
Looking at old pictures and reliving good times
Looking at Alexis’s beautiful eyes
Thinking about Caitlin before the hospital
Writing a poem that I really like
Watching a movie that actually holds together and I that I wasn’t able to predict the ending of
Hearing from old friends and knowing that they really still love me in spite of time and distance
Seeing my exhusband and knowing that I don’t hate him, that I’ve made peace
A good vanilla bean milkshake
The fact that W will soon be out of the White House
The smell of 4711 and everything that it evokes
Wrapping Christmas presents and getting the house ready for the holidays
Going on a cruise with my husband and discovering new places
Feeling safe
Learning new things
Watching my dogs sleep, even if they do hog all of the space on the bed
Being outside in the mountains at night with nothing else around except the stars and the sky
My beautiful computer screen and its uber high resolution
Listening to the bird song just before dawn
Knowing that even though we have our rough patches, my family is what saves me
Ice cream
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
Reading a book that is so good that it leaves me gasping when I’ve turned the last page
Looking at all of the beautiful gardens that Corey has created around our house
Slow dancing with Corey
Having Corey wash my hair
Getting my nails done with Alexis and stopping for slurpees on the way
Having long talks with either one of my sons
Sweater weather
Knowing that I’ve nailed it when I sing “The Georgia Rain”
Driving over a bridge and seeing the water when it’s particularly beautiful
Taking a long bath with all of the candles lit
Painting my toenails
Finding pictures of old doors or arches
Making love in front of the fireplace
Getting a foot massage
Corey’s tequila salmon over rice
Memories of my mom and dad getting dressed up to go out to the club in London
Memories of dancing on the table at the Christmas party when the Beach Boys played
Finding seashells on the beach after a storm
Watching the sun go down from the pier with Corey’s arm around me
A big kiss on the cheek from one of the dogs
A big hug from Brett when he knows that I need one
Listening to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”
and finally, for now, faith, hope, and belief when I need it most.