It had been a pretty terrific Monday. I got to the bank, took care of payroll for the second to last time and had a reasonably productive day at work. Dinner was takeout, restaurant kitchen linens were in the washer (for the last time) and Quinn and I made it to the Spectrum in time for all the previews. We had flow.
Sitting in the dark theater next to him and watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was more fun than I expected. I had fallen asleep, more than once, to the first Guardians movie and I had imagined something similar happening tonight. Surprisingly, though, that didn’t happen and I remained awake for the entire 2+ hours. The movie was entertaining with a likable cast, great soundtrack and gratuitous shots of Chris Pratt’s chiseled abs. It was a great escape.
As the credits ran, I told Quinn I’d meet him in the lobby because I wanted to use the bathroom. I reached for my phone to check the time as I waited for him, post-potty break. The alert from the NYT was the first thing I saw: 19 Dead in Terrorist Attack in England My brain’s immediate response: For f*ck’s sake. When will this stop? Can’t we just go to a Monday movie or concert or sporting event or shopping or church without being touched by terrorism?
The closing credits song was still running in my head and I imagined those concert goers in Manchester. I pictured teenaged girls, some perhaps at their first live concert ever, their joyful exhilaration changing to fear and horror as violence and chaos became the evening’s show. Echoes of music are what one is supposed to hear when leaving a concert, not screams, not explosions. Jesus.
I’m left to wonder – who’s guarding our galaxy?
Consistency is not my forte, but there are a couple of little customs that center around my going to sleep and waking up that I find myself doing regularly. For as long as I can remember, I’ve read myself to sleep and my nightstand always has a stack of books lying in wait. When I pick up where I’ve left off in whatever I’m reading, it feels like I’m punctuating the day and I like drifting off to sleep with someone else’s tale in my head. Sometimes it just feels good to escape my own story.
Morning brings a different ritual. I generally wake before my alarm and reach for my iPad to ease into my day with a few rounds of solitaire. I’m probably deluding myself, but I feel like it helps wake my brain up and ease into a new day.
I usually play the 3-card version because it reminds me of a family I babysat for a long time ago. The dad had taught me the game explaining that in Las Vegas a player would pay $52 for the deck of cards and then win $5 for each card removed from the board and placed in Ace through King order. Yep, I’m a real hardcore gambler!
There’s a feature to the app I use called “Daily Challenge.” Sometimes I think this particular hand is easier than a typical random deal, but I won’t complain about that – an easy daily challenge is welcome in a world where there is so much difficulty present every day. Recently, I’ve gotten a little obsessed with the daily challenge. It’s almost as if I need to win the hand to ensure that I have a good day. Not rational at all, I know, but it seems a fairly harmless way to increase the odds mentally of my having a positive day.
There are days, though, like today when I could not get the cards to cooperate no matter how many times I re-dealt that hand. I kept trying other things – moving this 9 instead of that one, choosing another way to shift a pile of cards…all to no avail. I couldn’t win.
So, I’ll make my day a good one in a different way. I’ll consider all the alternative paths I can take to feel that my day was a success, even if it means just letting go of conquering a challenge. Maybe surrendering is just another way of winning.
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.
When Chrissy and I registered and participated in this race last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It wasn’t until after I committed to the event that I read online that this particular course is considered to be the most technical trail race in New England. It was probably best that I didn’t know that ahead of time because without a doubt, Seven Sisters is the hardest race I’ve ever run. My body literally hurt for days, including in previously unimaginable places like my forearms. (That was from holding my arms up at an angle to protect myself in case of a fall.) The course for those unfamiliar is absolutely insane. There are rocks to climb, trails covered in hunks of shale to maneuver and, thanks to all the recent rain, an impressive amount of mud to slide through. The morning started with rain, but by race time all that remained was a balmy humidity and quiet enthusiasm.
Unlike last year, I knew what to expect this time around. As I slipped and slid through a quagmire, I did so with a smile on my face. It struck me that this race was like childbirth – afterwards you forget how frigging hard it was and sign up to do it again. If you ever would have told me that I would willingly run 12 miles of muddy trails up and down mountains, much less pay for the opportunity to do it, I would have told you that you were crazy. Seeing that I’ve done this event twice now, I guess we now know who is crazier.
One of the more tame trails.
When you run trails as challenging as these, attention to the task at hand has to be focused. Seriously, you can not look around and check out the scenery because your concentration has to be on your feet. There are uncountable ways to break an ankle or take a finish preventing spill and I was lucky to escape with only a bruise on the top of my foot, an injury that occurred early in the race and was forgotten by the second mile. I managed to stay on my feet the entire race and believe, from the comments I received from my fellow runners, that had there been an award for grace and poise I would have been a contender. I certainly wasn’t in the running for any speed awards, but my goal time in this kind of race is “uninjured,” with a casual goal of beating our time from last year, which we did by 7 minutes.
On the top. Sort of.
Two days later, stairs are painful and I’m very much looking forward to my late afternoon massage. The intensity of the hills is beginning to fade, the mud has been washed from my clothing and I’ve joked that perhaps we need to do the race again next year with a go-pro to document how rugged the course is and what bad asses we are. Maybe we’ll even PR again.
We’ve been back for about 10 days and there are some really positive impressions from our trip that I thought to share. How about one for each day we were there?
1. Roads. I don’t think I’d mind paying a 19% VAT if the money went into highways and other infrastructure. We traveled a few hundred miles on the autobahn and those roads are beautifully maintained.
2. Groceries. In Berlin we shopped at Lidl which is similar to Aldi. For less than $9 I bought the following: a fresh pineapple (fair trade), a quart of apple juice, 2 croissant, a package of sliced gouda, a large plain yogurt, a small fruit yogurt and a pint of chocolate milk.
3. Beer. I almost exclusively drank hefeweizen, although I had the occasional shandy and in Berlin I drank a specialty beer called Berliner Weiße mit Schuss. It’s wheat beer with a shot of woodruff. Kind of sweet but a nice way to end the night, I thought.
4. Public transit. It’s available, easy to understand and cheap. A day ticket cost approximately $7.50 and my son rode with me for free.
5. Cleanliness. The streets, the bathrooms, the trains, with only one exception (a bathroom at a big tourist spot) all were immaculate.
6. Markets. The Munsterplatz is the place to be if you’re looking for produce, flowers, cheese, meats and prepared foods. We also checked out some markets that were more like American flea markets, also. Good deals were all over the place.
7. Flowers. Germans like their gardens and even in early spring, most homes have tended plots of land. The lilacs bursting open everywhere were lovely, too.
8. Ice cream and cake. There’s an acceptance level of these sort of items perceived by Americans as “treats,” and both were included in our afternoons.
9. Coffee. Dark, strong and delicious.
10. Punctuality. The only clock I’ve ever seen not tell accurate time in Germany was the battery operated one in our rented apartment. I love counting on the church bells and public clocks to keep track of time for me.
A bonus thing: DOGS! They were everywhere – restaurants, cafes, trains, stores, yet, not once did I see any piles of poop.
The only that I didn’t appreciate was the prevalence of cigarette smoking that still goes on. It seems like smoking is much more pervasive in Germany than in the States. I suppose I could complain that the weather wasn’t great either, but, really…spring is a crap shoot in Albany, too. At least the hail that fell on me was German hail.
This kid has flow like a river. Maybe that’s what you get when you give a child a middle name like Hudson. He’s got such a wonderful warmth to him, always generous with the hugs, and people simply like him. It’s charm at its most essential.
In a hundred ways he reminds me of me, but I just keep thinking he has things so much easier, so much better. There’s a security in his life that I never knew at his age. That probably doesn’t matter, though, when you’re a senior in high school and on the verge of what’s next. Cusp is a four-letter word.
Out of all my children, he’s the one I worry about the most, at least these days. They take me on their emotional journeys individually, just like the Mom & Me trips I take with them. There are turns. Fair enough, I suppose.
As a mom, I want my children to live truthful lives. The sooner they learn that being honest and direct works best most of the time, the happier we’ll all be. It’s a milestone just like learning to walk, which Griffin did at 9.5 months. Some things he gets quicker than others, but he’s always loved.
If you see him today, wish him a happy birthday. Then tell him to go home. He’s grounded.
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.