A Crystal Blue Skies September Morning

That morning 16 years ago had the same feeling as this morning. Crystal blue September skies and a nice, cool breeze before the heat of the vibrant afternoon sun arrived. I wasn’t working that day, as I’m not today. However, 16 years ago, I was between jobs, as they say. I was still a kid, an adult kid, trying to find my way in life. Today, I’m off by choice. Needed one last three-day weekend before summer ends. And, I have lots of odds and ends to accomplish. I figure I’m more likely to do them on a weekday.

I woke up relatively early the morning of September 11, 2001. My significant other at the time was off to work, and I was off to develop yet another life plan. I fired up the old Dell desktop. You know the one – bulky, beige monitor and tower, clunky keyboard. (I still have the speakers and subwoofer from that thing.) I needed to check my Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail , or whatever webmail I was using in the early 2000s.

I’m pretty sure the homepage was set to MSN. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing on the screen… A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I assumed it was some horrible aviation accident. I switched on the TV and started watching CNN. I don’t think I changed the channel for days. I soon realized we weren’t talking about one plane, rather planes, and one was missing somewhere over Pennsylvania. In that moment, sitting alone in the living room in my PJs, the blue skies suddenly seemed surreal. Was I still asleep, dreaming? What would normally be a bustling, Tuesday morning fell still. I was glued to the TV and news on the Web.

I listened for planes in the sky. Nothing but silence. I felt a sense of relief, why, I’m not sure. The initial fear and shock I suppose. Even though we were an entire continent away, the city shut down. My significant other came home early from work. We decided to head downtown, to grab a bite to eat and wander around in the silence. The mall was closed, but lo and behold, Ross Dress for Less was open. I bought a black winter coat, with faux fur around the neck and wrists, a popular look in 2001. 80 degrees and I bought a winter coat. What is more American than spending money on something you don’t really need? I think I ended up wearing that coat once, maybe twice, before shipping it off to the Goodwill.

We returned to our apartment, turned CNN back on, and watched into the wee hours of September 12th. I remember falling asleep on the couch awash in the glow of the television set. I woke up later that morning, knowing nothing would be the same. Boy, was I right, and then some.

I miss not being able to walk right up to the gate and watch as a loved one boards a flight, fighting back tears as the plane slowly rolls away, down the tarmac. We’ve lost something as humans by not being able to experience this. I love traveling, but now getting there and back has become such a burden. Although, I was complimented by one agent on my superior carry-on packing skills. Oh, I studied that guide. Still, kinda sad that I had to.

The flying thing is a mere inconvenience, I know. What strikes me much more deeply is how so many people choose to live in fear these days. Fear of everyone different than them, fear of the world. I thought there would be a little backlash 16 years ago, but not to the extent I see today. Certain individuals have let that day change them, for the worse. Or perhaps it just emboldened them to express how they always really felt about the world and its inhabitants. Who knows? Maybe, with enough time, we’ll get past the fear. I hope.

This morning, I came across an article in my Twitter feed about the photo from 9/11/01 of The Falling Man. It was probably the most poignant and well-written article I’ve read about that awful day. On this day, I choose to remember the individuals who suffered, perished, experienced something no one should have to go through. I’d rather think of the individuals and who they were, their names, life stories, than frame the day as Us vs. Them. The crystal blue skies, vibrant sunshine, and refreshing September breeze make it easier to reflect and to have hope.

 

 

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Crickets and Starlight

Summer is winding down. How is that possible? It just started, yes? The weekend trips have come and gone. The weddings are over. The annual family birthday celebration, a Hawaiian luau this year, passed by in the blink of an eye. Oh, and, we still have Eclipse Day tomorrow, with the moon inconveniently placed between the sun and Earth on a Monday workday. Some clouds rolled in this afternoon. We’ll see how it plays out tomorrow morning. An eclipse in the Pacific NW is always hit or miss, even in August.

Eclipse mania aside, we are now in late-August. Summer is wrapping up. The crickets sing a little louder at night. The sun sets a little earlier. Not even 7 pm and the sun is blaring through my west-facing window. Every blade of grass is a crunchy brown. We had a horrid heatwave in these parts a week or two ago. Day after day of 100 degrees plus, or close to the century mark, followed by days of drenching humidity. Are our idyllic NW summers disappearing? Blasted climate change!

This evening, I pranced through the crunchy backyard grass and resilient dandelions, and picked a few blackberries from the blackberry vines hanging over the fence. Even with sturdy garden gloves, not an easy task. I came away with about 10 berries. Just something I had to do. A late-summer ritual. Makes me feel in touch with the Earth, even if I don’t end up eating a single berry.

Where did my personal summer go? I spent most of it working. That’s what happens when you start a new job in May. I have been taking lunchtime strolls along the river, which have contributed to my faint summer tan. That’s something, right? It’s just really weird dealing with the stress of a new job during the hazy, crazy, lazy days of summer. Although, how many summers did I spend working at a tourist attraction, ahem, museum, enduring the stress of the busiest time of the year? Perhaps someday I will know the feeling of a real summer – lots of days off and early exits from work. Or not. I tend to lead the road less traveled, if you know what I mean.

Alas, in the midst of all the dead grass, heat, humidity, and sweat, one of my favorite parts of summer emerges. Sunflowers. Tall and glorious, happily soaking up the sun’s rays. They’re also a sign that autumn is on the way. Along, with the various pumpkins and squashes emerging from leafy, orange flowers. Somehow, the heat of the late summer is easier to deal with than it was a few weeks ago, knowing that the season that makes me who I am is not far away. And that cricket soundtrack playing throughout starlit nights is pretty awesome, too.

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July 12, 2013

I call them life-i-versaries. Days, moments that are relatively benign to others, but deeply significant to you. I’ve been thinking about this day, four years ago. The day my little four-year trip into Wonderland began to end. It wasn’t a quick end – it took another two years to reach the final chapter. Today, I might still be in the Epilogue. Or, perhaps I’m really at the end.

That day was very similar to this July 12th. A typical, beautiful, yet bordering on a little too warm, midsummer day in the Pacific Northwest. Bright blue sky and golden sun, with soft evening breezes. (Fast forward four years… I now have a set of beautiful, melodic wind chimes hanging on the front porch. Life-transforming, I must say. They would have brought me comfort on that day four years ago.)

I had a long, hectic workday today, just as I did in 2013. Only, I’m at a different job now. You see, life-i-versaries or not, life does go on. Always. You might stop for a while, cuddling up with your memories. However, mighty life keeps trudging forward. The future is always there.

One of the biggest differences between then and now is how I feel. Back then, I was sad. Resigned to the reality of his departure, and hopeful he’d return at the same time. It wasn’t a dramatic goodbye – we’d had those before. It was simple and sweet, and I didn’t look back as I walked out the door, headed back into the world of me, myself, and I. He promised to write, which he did. A lot. I felt good about our future for once.

And then, it all fell apart. Even with an ocean between us, we couldn’t get past our usual implosions. Arguing via email and IM. So 21st century. Here I am today, a bit numb, a bit wistful, a bit bitter, yet a lot happy that I don’t have to deal with the stress of our implosions. I never wanted him to hate me, however, which he does – vehemently. Oh, and he returned. Just not to me.

As I continue to try to make sense of it all, I find myself moving backward down Memory Lane. I want to remember us when we hardly knew each other, twenty or so years ago. I’m always nostalgic for the 90s, but have become even more so as of late. That’s when we met, when I still believed in love, when he still had hair. Well, I guess I still believe in love. I know now that it’s much more complicated than a fairy tale would suggest, and not for everyone.

These days, my focus has shifted from my relationships to the places I want to see. As I said, life keeps barreling ahead at a rapid clip. Time to start seeing those far-off lands, or revisiting the near ones. I went to Seattle for a short trip a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t been there in eight years! Life had just been too busy, too much upheaval and subsequent introspection. Seeing Puget Sound was like visiting an old friend again.

Back to July 12th. I’m starting to see that I’ve truly moved on. Four years of hard work, a few ups, but many, many more downs. I was, for all intents and purposes, forced to move on. Now I see that’s just fine, whatever it takes. July 12th will never be just another day. However, I’m hoping I’ll reach the point where I give it maybe five minutes thought – tops. Life speeds ahead to the next July 12th, and the one after that, and the following year.

Healing

Just think for a moment how often we undergo the process of healing in our lifetimes. Whether it be simple, or complex, physical healing or deep emotional healing, perhaps even healing our souls, each and every one of us experiences it. Stop and ponder it a while. At first it seems like the pain will never go away. Then, over time, you notice the pain is disappearing. One day, perhaps when you haven’t thought about or noticed it in a while, the pain is gone. Biology plays a part in physical healing. Emotional healing takes so much more work because it isn’t as simple as a new layer of skin forming, not that I consider that simple!

I’ve been meaning to write about something, but haven’t had the energy to do so. A week ago yesterday, my hometown was the scene of an awful, disgusting act of hate and violence. I’m talking about the hate-motivated killings on one of our light rail trains, in the midst of Friday afternoon rush hour. By now, most know the details. What I want to write about is the emotional impact.

Horrible things happen to innocent people every day around the planet. Unfortunately, this seems to be an inescapable aspect of human existence. What touches me about this situation is, it’s so relatable. I ride those trains, through that transit center, just about every day. I know the Hollywood District well, as it’s close to my neighborhood, and family members land friends live and work in the area. It’s my part of town, my community. I also know what it’s like to hear hateful speech and want to stand up and speak out. Would I have the courage? I’d like to think so. I also know the uncomfortable feeling of being near a person who appears to be on the verge of violence. No one wants to be in that situation. Being able to face it head on and not cower, that is the definition of courage in my dictionary.

I think of those two girls, having to endure those hateful words, in public, in front of everyone. How frightened they must have been. I would have gotten as far away from that man as I could. What trauma they must be experiencing. With time they will heal. However, what they need now is love.

Of course I think of the brave men who stood up. Their actions restore my faith in humanity. The whole concept of good vs. evil is complicated. However, some people are just decent human beings to the core. The bright lights in dark times. People like that will never be forgotten – their lights will always shine. The bright lights are what keep humanity going, through the years, decades, and centuries.

With time, the community will heal. The survivors and witnesses will heal. Sure, a scar will remain, but life will move on as it always does, scars and all. I’ve been thinking a lot about another horrific, hate-filled event in my hometown’s history. In November 1988, Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant, was murdered by Skinheads on the streets of the Laurelhurst neighborhood, not far from where I live now. (Portland, and the entire Pacific Northwest, has a complicated history when it comes to racism and exclusion. I don’t know if a lot of recent, hipster, Portlandia transplants understand this. Please do some reading and research. It will open your eyes.) To this day, almost 30 years later, I think of him as I pass through Laurelhurst. As a young college student, majoring in Sociology, that crime shaped my worldview. I wanted to know what led to people feeling such hate. I longed to learn about the experiences of people from all over the world. I delved into learning about different religions, cultures, communities, all in the hope of understanding this thing called human existence. Why couldn’t we embrace our differences and find our common threads? I wanted the answers.

Not long after Mulugeta’s death, I participated in a march in his honor. We started at Laurelhurst Park, held a moment of silence at the location of his murder, walked across the Burnside Bridge into downtown, and ended up at Portland State. One of the most powerful and meaningful days of my life. I was interviewed on a local news station with my name and “College Student” displayed on the screen. I’m convinced I said something silly and dorky. However, it was heartfelt. As I said, I’ll carry that day with me until the end. He did not die in vain.

Last evening, I visited Hollywood Transit Center for the first time since that awful, heartbreaking late-afternoon commute. I’ve passed through the station several times this week on the train. However, yesterday was the first time I walked into the heart of the transit center. As soon as I stepped off the train, the air felt different. The sky was still blue around 6 PM. A soft, warm breeze carried the scent of all the flowers through the early evening air. The station is usually a chaotic, loud place. It was unusually quiet for a Friday evening. Messages of peace and hope were written in colorful chalk all over the concrete. People of all sorts – young, old, black, white, whatever – silently read the messages. Some in pairs, some alone. Oddly enough, everything felt peaceful. Part of the healing process…

I took a quick photo. As much as I wanted to snap photos of all the wonderful sentiments and beautiful flowers, I didn’t do so out of respect. I just absorbed the moment. To those who died, you did not die in vain. To the survivors, you will go on and be stronger because of this. To the community, continue to search for answers.

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Suns and Moons and Weekends

I needed this weekend. I needed the sunshine, although 90 degrees looms tomorrow. Eh, I’ll be at work, and the first 90-degree day of the year is not that bad anyway. I needed a warm, moonlit night, sipping rose. The end of last week was harried and not what I wanted it to be. I like to end the week on an up note, doesn’t everyone?

Now that I’m a regular employee, having given up my free-wheeling temp days, I’m starting to pile on the stress. Makes me miss wandering from one office to the next as a contract worker. I’m telling myself, “Keep the temp mindset.” Do a good job, but realize nothing is forever. That’s what the Buddhists say. The weekend spent living my other, non-work life helped a lot.

The other thing that has been weighing on my mind, and heart, is the way-too-early passing of Chris Cornell. I’ve written before about the role music has played in my life, as long as I can remember. I am a true music fan, through and through. I can hear a song and instantly be swept back to another place, another time, immersing myself in nostalgia for three to five minutes. A soundtrack to each stage of my life. So, when I woke up at four in the morning last Thursday, from an uncomfortable slumber, and read the news, I felt like the door had finally closed on my twenties. Nothing but memories now.

I will always cherish that Soundgarden concert in December 1996. Unintentionally getting stuck in the mosh pit. (People were still moshing in 1996?) Finding the perfect spot off to the side of stage, listening and watching Chris Cornell sing, wail, and be all-powerful throughout the night. OK, it wasn’t the perfect show. This was near the end of Soundgarden’s 90s ride, a few months before they broke up. However, my memories are perfect. I was wearing that vintage, pea green men’s shirt, which I found at Magpie. The one I wore everywhere, with everything – jeans, pants, skirts, shorts – in 1996-97. (The one I gave to him when he left for Germany, because he thought it was cool. Big mistake. I want it back!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can never truly know what is in a person’s heart and mind, what he or she is going through in the depths of his or her soul. Ironically, our ability to feel completely alone is what binds us together. Life is fragile. I suppose this is another lesson, teaching me to live in the moment, focus on what I can do today. Again, the Buddhists know a thing or two about life.

So, I cherished this weekend. Yesterday, I sat in the warmth of the late-afternoon sun, and enjoyed a dish of Passion-Guava-Orange-Limoncello frozen yogurt. I haven’t had soft-serve frozen yogurt out of a machine in a while. A nice, simple, calm moment with my thoughts and tropical frozen treat.

I’ve listened to a lot of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden over the past few days. The beauty of being a creative type is you leave behind a piece of yourself. Just as I became a Jimi Hendrix fan after he died, I’m sure generations down the line will become Chris Cornell fans. Something beautiful in that. Speaking of Jimi, his music is the perfect soundtrack for summer-like, lazy days. I think I need to listen to Castles Made of Sand.

And Spring Returns

We made it. We survived the long, dark, cold, seemingly endless winter. Although, this weekend has been rather late-wintery seeming. The infamous Pacific Northwest low, dark clouds and rain. Cold rain. I wore a scarf yesterday. In the middle of May. I was not pleased. The sun is peeking through today. We still have to get through our annual June gloom. Ah, but July 5th is less than two months away! (Tradition has it, after the 4th of July holiday, the idyllic weather starts.)

In any case, it is spring, and everything is green and vibrant, yet again. Even with the rain. The rhododendrons are extra fluffy and colorful this year, I’m guessing due to all that fall and winter rain. They are one of my favorite plants, native to the Northwest. In the forest, near Mt. Hood, you can see them all around.

The armies of ants have returned to their posts, the cracks in the sidewalk and the path alongside my house. We are engaging in our yearly battle. The flies zoom around like confused fighter pilots. They have an entire world out there to buzz around. Why do they choose my little, tiny bungalow?

Many blogs ago, I wrote several odes to the tall, old tree, which watches over my backyard. I thought those entries were some of my best pieces, almost poetic, a rarity for me. Alas, I had to delete that blog for ridiculous reasons. Yesterday, I glanced up at the sky from my window, and noticed the tree is becoming lush and green again, as it does year after year. The Spring Tree. So, why not start a new series of odes to the seasonal transformations of that beautiful, old tree. A pillar of certainty in an uncertain world. My steady friend, watching over me, listening to me, providing a shady spot on hot, summer afternoons. They’ll be here before we know it. Nice to see you again.IMAG0937_2

 

 

Don’t Look Back… Well, Maybe A Peek

I’ve been barreling head on into the future. At work, my contract position turned into a permanent one. I’m once again hyperfocused on work, for better or worse. Just means less time to write, or perhaps I need to make the time. The rainiest rainy season in forever is hopefully coming to a close. Tomorrow is supposed to be 80 degrees and sunny. Hm. Funny because this evening is very autumnal. Drippy rain, dark, and an autumn chill in the air, even though it’s May. In any case, I’m pretty sure we’re nearing the end. Long, warm, star-filled nights await.

After the past four years of ups and downs – nah, let’s make that eight – I’m feeling like a true survivor. I was hurt like I never imagined I would be. My heart was shattered into a million shards. I glued and taped the shards back together, on my own, with much work. However, my heart doesn’t feel as whole as it did. Life scars. Yet, I’m moving on. And I still have my sense of humor. No one will ever take that away from me.

I’m trying my best not to look back. The other day, I thought to myself, he’s part of my past and that’s it. Our pasts are made up of bits and pieces, and he’s just another bit or piece. As someone who can complicate anything, looking at something that occupied so much of my life in such simple terms, well, it’s calming.

I enjoy being in “I Will Survive” mode. I feel empowered, confident, ready to keep powering in to the future. Then I tell myself, “Why not just take a peek.” See what he’s up to. Social media grabs me by the hand and leads me there. Pictures of him being happy with someone else, which I already knew about. He would have never posted pictures with me. All his privacy yadda, yadda. No. It was just me.

As I examine the pictures, it dawns on me that I can look at them somewhat devoid of emotion now, as an innocent bystander. For a few minutes at least. I wonder if he pulls the same stuff with her as he did with me. Can she just handle it better, or is he a completely different human in her presence? What difference does it make? Does he think about me? Oh, of course he does. He just blocked me from one of his accounts, even though we haven’t communicated in months. I’m in his head, he hasn’t forgotten about me. Is it sad that I see this as a small victory? I mean, we all know he’s thinking about me in a negative light if he took the time to block me.

At a certain point, I find myself getting bored with the questions and wondering. None of it matters. He is a bit and piece of my past. Perhaps there is some benefit in taking a peek at the past. I don’t necessarily want to forget it. How could I? What I really want is to be bored with the painful memories. He knows what happened, I know what happened. I’m learning to take satisfaction in knowing he knows what happened. He knows.

I think I’ll get some superglue to repair those broken shards of my heart. Cracked, but staying together in one piece. This afternoon, I noticed Funtastic trailers and port-a-potties in Waterfront Park. Cinco de Mayo is the first downtown fun festival of the season. Summer is on the way.