Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Ocean and You

I've always liked the sentiment of this quote until I realized it doesn't make sense because it isn't true. For as vast and powerful as the ocean is, the thing it does not have is power over itself. It is completely at the mercy of outside forces. It's temperament is dependent on the weather and the winds and the pull of the moon. So here is a truer statement: like the ocean, you can give yourself up to the storm you are in and let it toss you around relentlessly, knowing that it will eventually pass and the waters will be calm again. Or, truer still, look at the immensity of the ocean and know, despite its size and strength, you can do something it can't: choose how your circumstances will affect you. The ocean can only be calm after the storm's end, but you have the ability to be calm amid the storm simply by knowing there is an end. Isn't it nice to know that you possess more power than the ocean? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To The Unknown Soldier,

             I was working the first register, the closest to the door, when I felt someone come up behind me. I turned my head to see a man in his 60s, face tanned and weathered. You asked me where you could find French bread. I pointed to a rack at the end of the aisle and you nodded your head and walked towards it. A few minutes later you were on the other side of the counter. I rang up the bread and read the total. You quietly pulled out your debit card and swiped it through the machine. You stared at it for a couple of seconds and then moving your face closer, you slowly lifted your finger towards the buttons. You looked at me and apologized, “Sorry, I’m blind in my right eye.”  “It’s okay,” I assured you. “I lost my vision in Vietnam,” you went on, offering more. “I was on Hamburger Hill.”

My faced winced with sincere sympathy, and I hope you know that. But “Oh. I’m sorry,” was all I managed to get out.  Time was up, the receipt printed out, the next person was waiting. I handed you your receipt, and tried to force all of the apologies that I couldn’t say into a smile and told you to have a good day. You left and I felt ashamed at not having said more.

What I should have said was that I was truly sorry. I’m sorry that you had to fight a war you probably didn’t believe in, a war that has stayed with you for over 40 years; a war that took not only your vision, but probably your innocence as well. A war that continually haunts you to the point of needing to acknowledge it in the grocery store checkout line. I’m sorry that you will probably never not know what it feels like to stare death in the face, to kill a man for survival, or to see a friend die by your side. I’m sorry that you undoubtedly still have flashbacks that find you in a sweat late at night. I should have said that I’m sorry about how people treated you when you returned, being blamed for not having a choice, for being punished for surviving. And even though I may not have been alive then, I feel that you deserved more than my silence. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you this.

And more importantly, I should have said thank you for enduring a war, no matter how senseless, simply because it was your duty. Thank you for surrendering a part of yourself in the attempt to help others, be it comrade or foreigner. Thank you for your selfless service.

 I want you to know that you are respected and appreciated, and even two years later, I still think about you often. I’m sorry I couldn’t get myself to say this to you when I had the chance. Please accept my apologies. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Prescription of Prayer

I sat on the table in the doctor's office, cold, shaky, looking down at my wrist where I could see the faint scarring of the words "I Am" etched in my flesh. The permanent reminder of God's permanent presence. Where are you now though? I thought to myself, feeling defeated and hopeless. I was on my third straight day of pure anxiety-- it felt like something had set off a bomb inside me that made it impossible to function. I had already called in sick to work two days straight, embarrassingly telling my manager, "I think I might be having a nervous breakdown." I was exhausted from waking up at 3 am like clockwork every morning only to not be able to calm myself down enough to go back to sleep. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't turn my brain off. I couldn't eat. I couldn't even brush my teeth without dry heaving over a trash can for five minutes afterwards. And the whole time my poor heart had been running a non-stop race. I kept telling myself it had to stop eventually, but it didn't. I didn't know what else to do, so I went to urgent care, knowing that they probably couldn't do anything, but half hoping they would look at me and immediately send me to the hospital, admit me, give me a feeding tube and pump me full of sedatives just so my body could fix itself without me getting in the way with my stupid anxiety that sabotages everything. I kept thinking of that Hemingway quote, "I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?" Yeah, I did know.

The doctor, an attractive male in his 30s, walked into the room. Great I thought sarcastically, this isn't embarrassing at all. But I was desperate, and all I wanted was for someone to help me. So when he asked me what was going on,  my eyes watered as I told him everything. I told him I couldn't calm myself down, that I was scared my body was becoming malnourished and probably shutting down from not being able to eat, that my heart was probably going to stop from the constant surges of adrenaline. He sat there listening to me, handing me tissues and nodding sympathetically. He assured me that my heart wasn't going to stop, that I could live the rest of my life in a heightened state of anxiety and it wouldn't kill me. I asked if it was possible there was something wrong with my adrenal glands. He looked at me very seriously and said, "it is possible to have an adrenal disorder, but people who have it are usually walking around with very high blood pressure and bleeding from the eyes, so I think we can rule it out." It was the first time I'd laughed in days.

"Nothing's going on where you're scared for your physical safety? Nobody's trying to hurt you?" He asked.
"Okay, good. And you have a good support system in your life?"
"Where do you get your support from?"
I thought for a second before answering. "My family, my friends... my faith."
"Yeah I noticed your earrings," he said, referring to my ichthys fish earrings, "are you a Christian?"
"I am."
"That's good. Faith is just as powerful as anything I've ever read in any book."
I sat there kind of stunned, is this really coming from a doctor?
"If you'd like, I'll pray for you," he went on."Please, I would really appreciate that," I said, genuinely touched that he would offer to remember me in his prayers. But before I even realized what was going on, he clasped his hands, closed his eyes and bowed his head and started praying out loud. Right there in the doctor's office. A long, thoughtful, personalized prayer, asking God to help me find my strength in Him, to give me the assurance that everything happens for a reason and to trust He will give me His peace, which transcends all understanding. I listened to him with tears going down my face, my head bowed, but my eyes going back to the tattoo on my wrist that 15 minutes earlier made me question where God was in all of this, and how now he was using a medical doctor praying for me to answer me, I'm right here. 

When the doctor was done, I didn't know how to properly thank him or express how much it meant to me that he would do that, but I think he understood. I felt this kind of relief and calmness on the drive home, this hopeful feeling that I hadn't quite been able to grasp on my own in the days prior. I knew that I was not, nor would I probably ever be, miraculously set free from my anxiety completely. I am still very much in my broken flesh, and the weeks following the doctor's visit proved that. My anxiety still came and went, yet not as strong or with the same feelings of hopelessness. And never again with the question of God's presence.

I still sometimes wonder about the why, though. Even though He might be here, why does he allow it to happen? And the only real explanation that I can come up with that makes sense to me is to reiterate Proverb 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" and Isaiah 55:9, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." If a doctor were to take an x-ray of me, and then report that something inside myself was broken or not working properly, and the only possible way to fix it was surgery, I would trust that the doctor knew what he was talking about. I wouldn't try to convince him that taking some aspirin would be just as effective nor would I look at the surgeon in the middle of the procedure and say, "Are you sure you know what you're doing? I don't think it should hurt this much." Because I would trust that the doctor knew what he was doing, and that his knowledge and qualifications far exceeded mine. It isn't that the doctor isn't aware that surgery is painful, and the recovery unpleasant, but he knows that it is necessary in order to get things working right. He knows that the end result far outweighs the temporary pain you feel in the process. And if I can trust that a doctor, despite inflicting pain and discomfort, has my best interest in mind, how could I not trust that God is doing the same? Of course it hurts, he probably wants to say to me, you're undergoing an operation! But God isn't heartless, He offers the pain killers of trust and prayer, because He knows it hurts, but He also knows that the pain is inevitable. Because the only way to get inside of you is to cut you open.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On Sharing Too Much

"Are you sure you want to be telling me all this? 
All What?...What am I giving you? I am giving you nothing. I am giving you things that God knows, everyone knows. ...It seems like you know something, but you still know nothing. I tell you and it evaporates. I don't care--How could I care? I tell you how many people I have slept with (thirty-two), or how my parents left this world, and what have I really given you? Nothing. I can tell you the names of my friends, their phone numbers but what do you have? You have nothing. They all granted permission. Why is that? Because you have nothing, you have some phone numbers. It seems precious for one, two seconds. You have what I can afford to give. you are a panhandler, begging for anything, and I am the man walking briskly by, tossing a quarter or so into your paper cup. I can afford to give you this. This does not break me. I give you virtually everything I have. I give you all of the best things I have, and while these things are things that I like, memories that I treasure, good or bad, like the pictures of my family on my walls I can show them to you without diminishing them. I can afford to give you everything. ...We will die and will have protected...what? Protected from all the world that, what, we do this or that, that our arms have made these movements and our mouths these sounds? Please. ...These things, details, stories, whatever, are like the skin shed by snakes, who leave theirs for anyone to see. What does he care where it is, who sees it, this snake, and his skin? He leaves it where he molts. Hours, days or months later, we come across a snake's long-shed skin and we know something of the snake, we know that it's of this approximate girth and that approximate length, but we know very little else. Do we know where the snake is now? What the snake is thinking now? No. By now the snake could be wearing fur; the snake could be selling pencils in Hanoi. The skin is no longer his, he wore it because it grew from him, but then it dried and slipped off and he and everyone could look at it."
--Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Sometimes I feel like maybe I share too much. On my blog, on social media, in my writing. That I get too personal, divulge too much information. But then I think of this Eggers quote and I'm reminded, what am I really giving away? The other night, I was thinking about how long I've had this need to write and I realized that I've had some sort of online journal since I was 13. I've been writing about my life, my experiences, thoughts, feelings, opinions for the last 14 years. But what have I really given away? A look into different parts of my life that at best someone can relate and identify with, and at worst, won't even be remembered?
I think a lot of people are hesitant to reveal anything at all, which I understand, but like Eggers says, you will die and have protected what?  Tell your stories. They're all in the past anyway, they aren't who you are now. They're just a relic of what you used to be, of where you were at one point, even if they happened yesterday or an hour ago. And more often than not, there will be someone out there who will read it and think I thought I was the only one.

Dress Normal

I must have watched this Gap commercial at least 15 times already. I'm usually not a sucker for advertisements, but there's something about this one. The song, the car, that guy, that girl, the slogan... everything about it. And to top it off, it was directed by David Fincher. And the message: let your actions speak louder than your clothes. What a concept, eh?

Monday, September 8, 2014


It seems that everyone's favorite day of the week is Friday. But I love Mondays. I haven't always liked them, but in this season of my life, I do. I didn't like them when I was in school because it meant the weekend was over. Now that I work retail, it means that the weekend is over, and everyone else has to go back to work and school. Everything goes back to normal. Everything is a little less crowded, a little more quiet. After the morning rush, the streets are a little more bare. It goes back to the regular TV schedule. We go back to the routine of life. Or at least, everyone else goes back to the routine of life, and I don't have to worry about beating the crowds during my middle-of-the-week day off. It's a shame Monday gets such a bad rap. There's so much beauty in beginnings, in starting again, in making the world a little more quiet for a few hours for the rest of us.

photo via seventeendoors

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Leading Ladies of My Life

I remember one morning when I was around nine, sitting on the lid of a hamper in my mom's bathroom watching her get ready for work. "Do you ever, sometimes watch a movie," I asked her, "and want to be like the person in the movie?" She thought about it. "No, not really," she answered. That's the moment I knew I was weird and was probably the only one that did this. Maybe not, but at nine, what do you know?

If I had to think who were the most influential people in my childhood, they would all be fictional people. And the top three would be Roberta from Now and Then, Cher Horowitz from Clueless and Rose DeWitt Bukater from Titanic. All three of these movies came out between '95 and '97 when I was 8 and 10, respectively, and at my most impressionable. Not surprisingly, I was an extremely shy child. But I found it easier to come out of my shell when I was able to pretend I was someone else. Being myself was too awkward and vulnerable, I would rather be someone that already came with a well-shaped personality. I was in 3rd grade when I first saw Clueless. Cher was like that older sister who was really popular and wore cute clothes and that's what I wanted to be. I remember buying feather-topped pencils from Claire's and searching every Mervyn's for knee-high socks (to no avail, but probably for the best) and always wearing a tiny backpack. I never tried setting any of my teachers up, but pretending to have Cher's confidence and sense of style helped me get through that year.

I was in 4th grade when I first rented Now and Then from the local grocery store. It was everything. I made my mom rent it for me every single time we went to the store. It was about a group of girls who were close to my age, did exciting, adventurous things, and lived in 1970. Not only was I obsessed with the 60s as a child (The Beach Boys was my first cassette tape), I was also quite the tomboy, always playing with the neighborhood boys growing up. I gravitated to Roberta immediately. She was strong and tough and didn't take crap from anyone. I started wearing knee-length jean shorts and Keds without socks and carried a picture of my very-alive mother in my back pocket. I rode my bike everywhere and sass-mouthed boys. It was refreshing and empowering and I basked in the persona Roberta helped me create.

Then when I was 10, Titanic came out. I was obsessed. Rose isn't that different than Roberta. She's a strong, resilient woman who didn't take crap from guys. She just did it in pretty dresses. I wanted to be as elegant and self-assured as Rose was. So I pulled out my fanciest dress from my closet, it was floor-length with daisies on it and I wore it with my white patent leather one-inch Payless heels. I would just wear it around my house, imagining myself to be Rose in her luxurious cabin aboard the Titanic, but it gave my life an air of elegance and prestige that it didn't have otherwise.

I stopped trying to be other people when I was around 13. Which is probably around the time my life started to fall apart. Joking, of course (my life didn't start falling apart until I was 18), but it did become increasingly harder to cope with things as myself than it was to hide behind the persona of another person. I always liked who I was in my teens, but I have to acknowledge that the people I tried being like in my childhood probably had a part in shaping my personality later on. Just like you start to become like the people you hang around the most, these characters were who I spent a lot of my time with. And they helped me get from where I was to where I wanted to be.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Which is good advice because it's true. But it doesn't hurt to try to take a piece of something you admire about someone and emulate it in your own life as long as you don't lose yourself in the process. After all, aren't we all just beings made up of small pieces of everyone we've ever met? Til this day I still find myself looking at others that I admire and asking myself what they would do in particular situations, except now instead of it being Rose or Roberta, it's people like Irene Opdyke and Corrie Ten Boom. People who were not only real but strong, caring and humble. People I want to be like, to take a small piece of, not because of the clothes they wear but because of the characteristics they possess. Because we're never really done evolving or adding new pieces to ourselves, at least I'm not, nor do I want to be. And while I have no desire in being anyone other than myself, it's inevitable that the people you surround yourself with will rub off on you, good or bad, so it's vital to be around people that will help you become the person you want to be, and will lead by example. The most important thing I've learned from all of this, and can pass on to you, is to be sure to choose your friends and movies wisely, for that is what you will become.

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