Recently the news has been filled reports about the YA book turned Netflix miniseries, 13 Reasons Why. I’ve read quite a few articles about the series and understand the potential for the program to “trigger” a reaction in those overwhelmed by depression and other issues that leave them vulnerable to the suggestion that suicide is a resolution to their struggles. I’ve already expressed my thoughts about suicide and the impact on those who are left behind to carry the weight of loss. That’s not my topic today.
I want to share something that happened yesterday that I can’t stop thinking about.
Each year at “my” library we are fortunate enough to schedule an author visit for our students. In the past we’ve targeted a particular grade, carefully rotating things around so that no class graduates without having had the opportunity to listen to a published author share their work and life story. This year we “split” an author, Ben Mikaelsen, with another suburban school district. Mr. Mikaelsen lives in Montana and being able to divide his expenses with another district made it possible for us to meet his honorarium and travel costs. It was kind of a big deal for us to have such an established author visit and we maximized our time with him by scheduling three individual presentations. All of our students would be able to listen to our special guest, and some would even be able to have lunch with him.
Lunch seems like such a simple thing, but I’m now convinced it can be so much more.
The presentations were engaging and the students were a great audience. Mikaelsen shared stories from his own childhood about being bullied and being a bully himself. He talked about the inherent weakness of bullies and the importance of writing our own stories, life stories that we create and reside within. He implored students to begin writing their own life stories the very minute they walked out of the auditorium and I could see the kids mulling the weightiness of his words.
Midday we had a couple of dozen students join the author for sandwiches and conversation in the Library Media Center, including one last minute addition that our principal sent down because he felt it would be a positive and meaningful experience for the child. After we ate, students filtered through getting their books signed until only one student remained, the one selected by the principal. The student approached Ben Mikaelsen and quietly said “I have a question for you.” After receiving an encouraging nod from the author, the child continued. “When does the bullying stop?”
I stepped away, tears in my eyes, to give them time to talk. Their conversation lasted a few minutes, enough time for me to grab an extra copy of one of Ben’s books, Touching Spirit Bear, and my camera. Ben signed the book for the child and they posed together for a photo. I’d like to think that young person left the library with far more than they had when they had arrived. And a book, too.
About 30 years ago a friend of mine committed suicide. His name was John and he was sweet with a mop of messy hair and jeans that sagged years before it became the trend. He had a kind and strong heart, along with a sense of responsibility that once found him driving behind his cousin and me one night after we had all been out far too late, just to make sure we got home safely. I’ll never forget him.
It never fails to make me sad when I think of him. So much living has happened since that day he took his life with a gun, living that he has missed. It would have gotten better, I think. The disagreement or sadness that caused him to believe his only option was to depart would have become less overwhelming. I just know it.
Since that first suicide there have been others, none however to anyone I was closer to than John. The distance between me and those other, more recently lost souls only provided a single buffer – I was exempt somehow from the guilt of feeling as if I could have done something to prevent the ultimate outcome. That being said, there’s no escape from witnessing the pain of those who are left behind and that’s my biggest issue with suicide – the neverending question of what we survivors could have done to convince that person not to end their life.
After having read the book years ago, I’ve been watching the Netflix series that folks have been talking about, 13 Reasons Why. I binged out on a number of episodes, although my attention sometimes wanders. I think the characters are a little too self aware for high school kids and the tattoos and drugs seem unrealistic. I have, though, been impressed with some of the acting and the creative way the plot and characters were developed to provide material for 13 episodes. The music is pretty good, too.
Regardless of the presentation of the material, the take away for me is this: the pain of the person who takes their own life ends with their last breath. That’s the moment for those of us remaining, when it just begins. Our lives are not better without them, but they continue. We miss them eternally and their absence is a void we’ll never fill.
Even thirteen reasons will never be enough.
As is usual for me and television, I’m more than a little late to the game on one of the buzziest new series, This is Us. I needed something to follow an embarrassing number of binge watched seasons of Project Runway and was pleased to see that TiU was available on Hulu. A single episode in and I was hooked. Talk about rich. What characters! Such dialogue! The soundtrack! I’m obsessed.
Episode 2 reached into my head and my heart simultaneously and I haven’t been able to shake it yet. There were two scenes involving Mandy Moore’s character, Rebecca, that have stuck with me and they’ve been both inspiring and grounding. The first was a conversation between Rebecca’s husband, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas). Miguel tells Jack that Rebecca is “…like the gold standard of wives. She’s smart, funny, beautiful, great personality…”
It was a line that made me want to be Rebecca. That’s the kind of woman who I want to be.
The other scene was between Jack and Rebecca. As they sat on the floor next to each other, after a night of sleeping apart, Jack said that when he first met her he finally knew what he wanted to be when he grew up – the man to make her happy. Ugh. Shot to the solar plexus.
That’s the kind of man who I want.
This is Us feels, to me, something like who we hope for.
When I finally sat down on the couch last evening, I couldn’t help but exclaim “I’m sitting down!” It seemed like a long time coming. It had been a wonderfully, full and satisfying three-day weekend and I felt well-prepared for what promises to be another overflowing with appointments, meetings and commitments week. Monday was an awesome bonus, without which I would have most certainly been overwhelmed instead of merely contentedly tired.
The day began with breakfast and the completion, after three days, of my reading of the Sunday paper. This feat was followed by some Lark + Lily work – editing our new fall menu and updated wine list along with payroll. There’s no holiday from payroll! Once the business responsibilities were met, for the moment, household chores moved to the forefront. Three loads of laundry, bed changing, a quick vacuum, and a shuffling of sheets and wardrobe to accommodate the new season. Then it was off to the bank, the optician (Quinn’s glasses mysteriously turned up broken) and Hewitt’s for (more) mums.
Nine pots of mums ensconced in my car, I got lucky and found parking remarkably near to the restaurant and took on the task of replanting our four window boxes to reflect autumn. An hour or so later, sidewalk swept and flowers watered, I headed back home to meet one of the Lunar b*tches for an afternoon run. It was such a treat to run in shorts that we stretched our loop into 7+ miles. These warm days are definitely numbered, but there is consolation in the anticipation of cross-country skiing.
The early evening was a flurry of boy energy – lots of physical contact and guffawing all around. I finally cooked up those dumplings and we all enjoyed a tasty and easy dinner. And then things finally started to slow down…
I watched an episode of Chef’s Table, followed by an episode of Transparent and some quality time with a pint of Haagen Daz Swiss Vanilla Almond. I had a moment with my foam roller, followed by a hot shower, and then crawled into bed. Days like this may be exhausting, but I prefer to think of them as fully and well lived. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to shout about on a day known as the feast of trumpets.
Over the summer, I did a little more than my usual television watching. It was too hot to do anything else, people. Don’t judge! I binge watched the entire Breaking Bad series, finally finished Downton Abbey and, on my chiropractor’s recommendation, blew through Grace and Frankie. I don’t regret the hours I spent on the couch with the remote nearby, but I do wish I had devoted more time to another Netflix series, Chef’s Table. I mean, if I had, I could have spent longer mooning over Massimo Bottura…
Despite working in restaurant for decades, I’ve never dated a chef, (hmmm, maybe that’s because I’ve worked in restaurants for decades?) but this Massimo guy is absolutely dreamy. He’s handsome, funny, beyond creative in the kitchen, appreciative of his employees, generous and madly in love with his wife. Pretty much the ideal guy.
Read this article, preferably with a hunk of good Parmesan-Reggiano and a glass of wine. I think you’ll like him, too. Do you have a chef crush?
Isn’t it pretty to think so?
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time or are acquainted with me in real life, you know I don’t watch a lot of television. I just don’t have time for sitting around, especially during the academic year, and really only justify indulging myself with a couple of hours of viewing when I’ve got a basket or two of laundry to fold. Except for last week, that is.
Last week I took solace in the ugliness of methamphetamine and drug cartels and the harsh desert landscape of America’s southwest. I fled our world of black people dying at the hands of police and police officers dying by the guns of black citizens. I successfully ran away from a truck filled with hatred at a time when dozens failed to make the very same escape. I avoided the ugly rhetoric of politics, complete with bigotry and racism and ignorance, by immersing myself in a society devoid of political parties. I chose, for more hours than I’d like to admit, to reside in a place that somehow, perhaps because of its very distance from my own personal reality, seemed safer than the world that I find myself currently living in.
Years after most Breaking Bad aficionados, I watched the series finale. Loose ends were tied up, comeuppance was dealt out, closure was achieved. It was satisfying. I’m going to miss it.
I grew up during a time when house parties were the rage. Going out was something rare, but adults gathering for cocktails, pinochle and televised boxing matches was a big part of my childhood. I loved those nights filled with Lipton onion soup mix dip and chips with a side of ginger ale and grown up laughter. Knowing my place as a child among adults was incredibly comforting and I was careful to never misbehave and threaten my admission to an evening that I could only interpret as being sophisticated.
I have one particular memory of watching a heavyweight boxing match, the Thrila in Manila. Manila, naturally, being a place I had never ever heard of prior to the bout. We were at a home that I also don’t think I ever had been in before. The house and the enclosed front porch were made from big cold looking stones but it was cozy in a way that a new place doesn’t often feel.
The television everyone gathered around was big for the time, probably 27″, and color, something that was not necessarily a given during my youngest years. In my mind’s eye, I see rabbit ears, but I may be embellishing after 40 years and a collection of memories too large to properly sort. What I know for certain is that I fell in love with boxing that night.
The hype for the match was nothing compared to the media blitzes to which we’ve all grown accustomed, but I know I was aware of the fight, even as an elementary school student, because it was going to be an event. And it was. Ali was swagger before the word existed. He fascinated me with his larger than life persona and I was spellbound. He won – the match and my eternal interest.
When I learned more about him, about his radical anti-war activities and steadfast conviction to his beliefs, I could only admire Ali more. He and Jimmy Carter will always somehow go together in my mind – the era, I suppose. Like Carter, Ali was an ambassador to worlds not yet in existence, peaceful places where priorities were more about taking care of people than taking people down and out. It sounds like a nice place. I hope the Louisville Lip is enjoying it as we speak.