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Memories of September 11, 2001

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MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

If you were alive and old enough to comprehend what was going on, you have your memories. Here are mine:

Hearing about the first plane strike on NPR as I got ready to leave for my office on Capitol Hill and thinking, “That wasn’t an accident.”

Arriving at work, turning on the TV, seeing the Pentagon in flames and thinking, “We are being attacked. This is a war.”

Huddling around the TV with a dozen others as we watched the tower fall, and saying over and over, uncomprehendingly, “Are there people in there? Are there people in that building?”

Standing on the deck outside our office and seeing a plume of smoke rise into the air beyond the Capitol building — the Pentagon burning.

Frantically trying to get my coworkers to move away from the windows, fearing that the Capitol would be next. They laughed at me, none of us realizing that at that moment, the heroes of Flight 93 were taking down the plane that was aimed at the beautiful dome just a few blocks away.

The weight of making the decision to send everyone home, even though we weren’t sure it was safe. Walking to my car and passing hundreds of congressional aides milling around dialing their useless cell phones. All systems were down.

Battling evacuating traffic and finally reaching my neighborhood just as the NPR reporter signed off his long and painful shift.  His voice was cracking and wavering with emotion.

Pulling over to the side of the road and wailing like a bereft child.

Stopping at the sub shop because I didn’t want to go home alone. Nobody speaking. An older woman looking at me and shaking her head, over and over, as if trying to expel the images.

A friend came over that night. I don’t remember much of what we said as we tried to process the day, but I remember telling her that I felt like I’d lost an innocence I hadn’t even known existed, and that I would never feel safe again.

In Memoriam

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The Loss of a Beloved Companion

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I am writing this for myself, but maybe also for you in case you need it someday. I am in that dreadful netherworld that you may have visited if you’ve ever been owned by a pet: The death watch.

It is nearing the time when my sweet Eliza Bean will move on to somewhere else. I don’t know where my kitty is going, but I know she won’t be here with me. All I will have is my memories and her ashes, which I will store on the closet shelf with the ashes of two other cats and my dog. (I know, I know. I have a hard time letting go. But I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one with a collection of ashes in the closet.)

In this netherworld, we make the gut-wrenching decisions of when and how our beloved companion will die. We wrestle with impossible questions like, “I’m going on vacation and I know my pet is not long for this world. Should I put him down now or stress him out in a kennel? Or not go on vacation?”

I met a woman and her daughter at the vet the other day with a cancer-kitty like mine. The mother wanted to put the cat to sleep because it had become incontinent and was soiling the carpets. Her teen-aged daughter was scandalized that her mother would be so cruel and heartless. I don’t know how that one turned out, and I sure didn’t know that just a few days later I would be facing the same dilemma.

The girl’s horrified face is in my mind as I clean Eliza Bean’s mess off the floor. This just started yesterday. I’ve been googling feline diapers — that’s a thing, you know. Not a thing I would buy, but a thing. Regardless, my twenty-year-old “little girl” will be gone before Amazon Prime could deliver those diapers.

I don’t see that she has more than a few days left.

And so now I have to decide. I’d like to let her go on her own time. “Let nature take its course,” as they say. But is that cruel? At what point am I keeping her alive for me, rather than for her? That’s the only question I need to be asking.

The. Only. Question.

She has no chance of recovery and not even of a small bounce-back. It’s lung cancer, and it’s constricting her organs. I won’t go into details. I don’t know if she is in a lot of pain, but I do know she is really, really miserable. And her comfort is my responsibility.

So I guess I’ve made my decision. Thank you for listening.

I will likely be re-visiting this netherworld again soon, as Eliza’s sister Mayasika has mammary cancer that has metastasized. So if you have words of wisdom that have helped you through, I could use them.

Blessings.

Eliza Bean, a.k.a. Loopy Bean, Liza Loo, Loo Loo, Beaner Reaner, Beanie, Little Bean, Lucy Bean.

Love Flowers

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LOVE FLOWERS

Tomorrow when I walk into work, I will be greeted by the smell of roses and fresh greenery and the laid-back reggae beats of Bob Marley. I’ll spend the day reading encouraging, funny, sweet sentiments while chatting with friendly people.

I can’t believe somebody is paying me to do this.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a substitute teacher and a writer and a pastor. Also an office assistant for my housing cooperative. I also have ADD, which helps explain why I’m perfectly happy to be working at half a dozen different pursuits. This keeps my brain bathed in feel-good chemicals. To me, boredom is the ultimate terror.

But this job — this job.

When a friend of mine posted on Linked-In that her florist shop would need extra help during the Valentine’s Day rush, I messaged her right back. I have always thought that working in a flower shop would be the bee’s knees.

(I just had to know, and now you will, too: Turns out, “the bee’s knees” was part of a bizarre slang fashion in 1920s America which consisted of animal/attribute pairings, including elephant’s adenoids, cat’s meow, ant’s pants, tiger’s spots, bullfrog’s beard, and eel’s ankle. So there you have it.)

As I was saying, flowers. 

Being surrounded by flowers is just as wonderful as I’d imagined — it’s a big warehouse bursting with every kind of bloom you could name and a lot you couldn’t.

But even more wonderful are the loving messages that accompany each flower order. I get to print out each one and slip it into an envelope that will be received with love and gratitude. My day is infused with positive, caring sentiments. Congratulations, sympathy, encouragement, apology, new house, new job, new baby, new school, and of course declarations of love for Valentine’s Day.

I love reading people’s pet names for each other. (So far, “Poop” is my fave.) What makes it all even sweeter is the number of messages from husband to husband and wife to wife. Love is love.

I suppose part of what makes this job the eel’s ankle (I just wanted to use that one) is that it’s temporary. Knowing I’ll only be there for one week, albeit working ten to twelve-hour days, makes me appreciate it all the more.

I am grateful to the Higher Power that aligns my stars for me.

Happy Valentine’s week!

 

Cherishing Christmas

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This Christmas Day I cherish my friends. I am so grateful to the many who have invited me into their Christmas festivities after I lost my Mom and brother.

I cherish my family: my nephew, his wife, and his four children. There can be no greater joy than to be smothered in hugs of greeting and cries of “Auntie Mel, Auntie Mel!!”

I cherish my sister and my niece and her family, and I cherish my cousins from Connecticut to Canada, from Florida to South Africa — those I rarely see but to whom I am connected by that magical thread of history, memory, and love. Together we hold the memories of those who have gone before.

I cherish my old friends, high school and earlier, who have known me at my worst and love me still. Being with them is like soaking in a bubble bath of love and acceptance.

I cherish the gentle, generous hearts of my church family and the twenty-plus-year journey we have shared in search of the ineffable.

I cherish our beautiful planet and the millions of activists who give their time and heart to protecting her.

I cherish creatures and plants great and small, each of which reflects the glorious divine imagination.

I cherish this country I live in, broken as it is. I cherish the ideals and hopes on which it was founded, and I cherish the dreams of justice and compassion that “keep hope alive” in dark times.

I cherish the little community I’ve been blessed to live in for thirty years, a small cooperative founded by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and based on the ideals of cooperation and volunteerism.

I cherish my life, my one-time-in-all-history chance to add love to the universe. I pray that I would get better at that.

I cherish YOU, blog friends, and I pray that you will experience gratitude more and more each day in the coming year.

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Cedar Ridge Community Church

Thanks to WordPress for the prompt — yep, cherish.

On Meeting Jesse & Margaret

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I run into Jesse and Margaret at the spring, or “down to the spring,” as they would say here in the Granite State. And a more perfect New Hampshire couple I have yet to meet.

Jesse is tall and lean, wearing well-worn blue jeans and a dingy white knit cap. His shirt is even more worn than his jeans. It’s one of those generic green shirts with his name over the pocket that he probably wore back when he worked at a garage or service station.

At eighty-three, he’s not working anymore. “Me and Margaret, we like to go for drives,” he says. “We went up to the Weathervane in Lebanon yesterday — had our Thanksgivin’ dinner there. Ayup. That’s almost an hour away,” he informs me.

Margaret nods her bundled-up head. Her blue eyes are clear and shining with delight at the prospect of befriending a new person. “We get out as much as we can,” she says enthusiastically.

She is a particular type of older woman that you meet up here, the kind that exudes health. Her skin’s as deeply wrinkled as a peach pit from the sun, but it’s got a fresh glow to it and her cherubic cheeks are rosy pink from the cold. She is beautiful, actually.

We chat as Jesse helps me fill my water bottles from the spring. It turns out that they used to live on the same back road that my grandmother’s house is on. In 1955 —  the year I was born and started spending summers here — they moved to the next town over, but they know my house and call it “the old Tainton place,”** as all the old-timers do.

We share stories about long-gone neighbors and agree that Hattie Bunker was the sweetest woman we ever knew.

Hattie and her husband Arthur lived in a little tar-paper shack down the road and were a big part of my childhood. Hattie was twelve years old when she got married, and she carried a childlike simplicity well into old age. Arthur always looked like he was at least a hundred years old. He was struck by lightening multiple times while riding his tractor in the fields. One bolt stole his power of speech. I never heard him utter a word in my whole life.

I tell Jesse and Margaret how I spent hours listening to Hattie’s stories while we milked her cows and harvested veggies from her garden. I ask if they have a garden.

“Not anymore. Our daughter liked to garden, but she’s gone now,” Jesse says.

“Cancer, like my mother,” Margaret says. “You probably knew Carolyn. Didn’t you? Carolyn Wheeler — she was at Prudential for thirty-two years.”

“Thirty-two years,” Jesse confirms.

I nod and say yes, I think the name does ring a bell, which of course it doesn’t but they really need it to, and so I give them this small gift.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’m really glad you have each other,” I say.

“Married sixty-one years,” Jesse proudly tells me. He hoists my crate of filled water bottles into my car and invites me to stop by if I’m in their neighborhood. He shakes his head and laughs because for a minute he can’t remember the name of the street they’ve lived on for sixty-two years. Margaret doesn’t remind him; she lets him remember for himself.

“Center street!” he finally declares. “That’s it. Right across from the old saddle shop. Come by anytime, we’re always there unless we’re out for a drive.”

Down to the Spring

** Not wanting to broadcast the most common security query, my mother’s maiden name, I have substituted my grandmother’s maiden name.

 

Making the President Irrelevant

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I like to pretend that the President of the United States is entirely irrelevant to my life. I’m sure many disengaged Americans have always felt this way, but I’m not normally one to ignore current events. I’m a social justice activist at heart, a bit obsessive about politics, and I think it’s our responsibility to pay attention and speak up when, say, a president threatens to blow another nation off the map.

Still, in the interest of my own sanity, I am trying to detach, to pretend that everything is normal. Sometimes I can manage it for hours at a time. I plant herbs in my garden, chop up broccoli and carrots for dinner, scrub the bathroom floor, read a gothic novel, all without a thought to the unspeakable cad in the Oval Office (a term my mother reserved for the most despicable of men and which I think fits exactly).

But then I’ll knick myself with the kitchen knife and wonder if I’m going to lose my health insurance, or I’ll notice how fast the basil and cilantro go to seed in the record-setting heat and then I’ll wonder how on earth anyone could possibly deny climate change, most especially the people in charge of our environmental and energy agencies, and I’ll say out loud to my cat that the only person in this gd administration who seems to accept climate change is the former CEO of Exxon who has no business being in the Cabinet anyway.

I try to reel it back in, to let go of the string of anxious thoughts, to focus on the smell of the mint I’m chopping for the cucumber salad, but all I can think about by then is a mushroom cloud rising somewhere in the vicinity of North Korea and I scream at my cat, “Who threatens to ‘totally destroy’ a nation of millions of innocent people??” and my cat says “meow” and I continue my tirade, “Who, WHO goads a madman with nuclear weapons??”

“Another madman,” my cat answers, only of course she doesn’t, but I think she’s sympatico; anyway she’s seems perturbed.

A couple of world leaders at the United Nations referred to President Tweet as a rogue.

Nail on the head.

And everyone knows that a rogue elephant is never irrelevant.

Was This Teaching Thing All a Mistake?

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WAS THIS TEACHING THING ALL A MISTAKE?

The closest thing I can liken it to is that feeling you get when you’ve been in a car accident and you step out all wobbly, gingerly testing every part of your body. You think you might be OK, but then again you might be missing a limb and not feeling it because you are in deep shock. Everything seems vivid and clear and surreal. You are glad to be alive.

You take deep gulping breaths and blink back tears, tears that have been lurking since you ate your PB&J sandwich at noon and waited for the kids to come back from recess.

Today you have been sad, mad, and despairing, but mostly just powerless.

Over first and second graders.

My first day as a substitute teacher might have been better without the second grade boys in the mix. In fact, it most definitely would have been. The paper airplanes wouldn’t be stuck on top of the ceiling light fixture and the four-foot-tall stack of plastic tubs would not have careened to the ground and scattered all the regular teacher’s folders and papers all over the floor.

I just thank God that the head of the school did not walk in at that moment. With two boys denying responsibility at higher and higher decibel levels and a third boy sobbing his heart out and the rest of the class staring at me with saucer-sized eyes, wondering if I was going to hit someone.

The girls mostly got into fights with each other over sharing toys and where things such as rocket ships and flags were supposed to be stored. There were raised voices, there were tears, there was one who sat in a corner and sulked for ten minutes. I asked her if she wanted to talk and she shook her head so I left her there. She seemed to bounce back.

I don’t know. Was this whole idea of substitute teaching a massive mistake?

My Facebook friends were so encouraging! “You’ll be amazing . . . you’ll be great . . . you have so much wisdom . . . you’ll change lives!”

Not so much.

There were moments. Helping a little girl learn to read the words “ice cream and cake” was cool, and reading Horton Hears a Who to an exhausted class at the end of the day with one small child cuddled next to me was five minutes of well-earned bliss.

A little red-headed girl who was only with my class for an hour of spelling and writing came running in to give me a hug after school.

And A, despite being in tears several times during the day, presented me with this:

A’s Gift

I don’t know whether that is a TV or a couple of aliens coming in through a window, but it matters not. I will keep this picture as a reminder of my first day as a teacher. Someday I hope to laugh about it all. Right now, my stomach hurts. I have to go back tomorrow.

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