Thursday, December 29, 2011

Words Matter

The day after I vowed to be funnier, I read the book Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson.

I started the book yesterday and finished it today; it was delicious. Not in a sensory detail sort of way--as the sensory details in the text are quite sickening. But in a new-experience sort of way. In a way where you want to stop all else and melt into the words just like you would melt into a decadent piece of chocolate.

To say I know little about war would be an understatement; I know absolutely nothing. My grandfathers died before I was old enough to understand their experiences, and no one else I know has ever sat across from me and painted my imagination shades of sand and mortar and blood.

Smithson's account of enlisting in the Army as a teenager, enduring basic training and ultimately heading out for a tour in Iraq merely dipped my toes into the life of a solider, but this dip took me closer than I ever was before. I realize there are many stories about what has transpired over the last ten years, but I read his story, and his story changed me. It challenged me to think about the war from an entirely different perspective. It made me appreciate even the smallest inconveniences in my life because a blessing had to first be in place for me to have something about which to complain. His story inspired me to consider that despite the atrocities this war has caused, our efforts have helped some. They helped the kids he met. They helped the people he met. They mattered to the villages he saw.

I generally try to place little weight on the news, but I realized how greatly broadcasts have biased my views. The pacifist in me has objected to the war from day one, but Smithson's words have helped me to consider another view. His words have helped me realize that from his vantage point on the ground in Iraq, the people protesting US presence are a small percentage of rich people; the majority of the country is poor, and the majority of the country is a little better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone.

Of course that doesn't change the politics of the war or the rationale given for entering it, but it does give me hope that the thousands of kids who died didn't die in vain. It gives me hope the that millions of innocent Iraqi people who lost their life, will be redeemed by those who lived.

A year after he returned, Smithson found himself in a college composition class where he got an assignment to write about a time when he saw something destroyed. No one in the class knew he was a solider until he read his piece aloud.

Following the exercise, he wrote, "[i]t's funny, all I did besides sit in a dump truck during the ambush was write a story about it. It's funny, but the story is what matters. The story is what changes, at least for a moment, the way these people feel. And what an empowering sensation it is to share it...They are only words, words we use every day. But they are the words of a heart, the silhouettes of a generation. They are my silhouettes. In between these words, there's the resilient silence of humanity. This is my silence" (Smithson 300-301).

Through his words, Smithson not only complicated my opinion about the war, but his courage to tell his story captured the very essence of what we tell our students--that memoirs matter. That our stories matter. That words matter. Because they do.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Husband Thinks I'm Funny

My husband thinks I'm funny. I tried to explain to him that the very things he finds amusing were not really intended to be funny and would not be quite as entertaining to the masses as they are to him--but he still insists that I should embrace the humor he claims I possess.

I sigh.

He begins to list story after story and we begin to shed tear after tear laughing our brains out.

"See, you're funny," he claims again.

I shrug my shoulders and stare at a computer screen waiting for funny to come...but funny seems to come much easier in a company of friends. Funny things happen often, but not daily, and it would be a lot of pressure to have to think of something funny every single day. I suppose it wouldn't be a bad exercise; nevertheless, the more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that being funny ushers in a whole lot of pressure.

See, you can always dig deep for inspirational, or think hard about philosophical, or disconnect your mind and stumble upon creative. Humor is darn near impossible if you don't have a good story. I mean, after all, what would I possibly have to write about on the days I don't fall into the dumpster trying to reach for my keys--like I did on Christmas Eve--or when I don't try to run over a toothless man with his hands down his pants tapping on my car window one dark, Thursday night? I mean, after all, some mornings you wake up, walk out the door and your porch is clean--you don't have a tattered bag of belongings with a ratted piece of lingerie lingering on top. Let's face it, at least three to four days of my week are relatively uneventful, and on those uneventful days, what could I possibly write about to make people laugh?

"Let's make a list," J suggests. "You know, for those nights when you can't think of what to write about--let's make a list of all of your funny stories so you have a bank to use when you're stuck."

I pinched my lips to one side, cocked my head, and pressed my weight on one butt cheek--you know, thinking position. Then I acquiesced.

"Okay, what do you want me to write?"

"What about the time when you killed 568 flies and no one believed you so you kept a bag of them in your freezer to show as proof? Or when you packed a tub of Vasoline in your carry on bag, or when you tried to 'claim' a ham and cheese sandwich at customs? Or when you actually looked up the non-emergency line when someone was trying to break into your condo?"

He had a point.

And so we kept listing stories, I kept typing, and eventually I realized that a lot of weird things have happened to me. I might not be completely convinced that my voice is naturally humorous, but I sure do have a pretty lengthy collection of tales that certainly entertain the two of us. So for now I'm laughing at myself. And I'm not so sure if that's because I really am funny or if it because my life sometimes is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lucky Ducks

J and I spent our first married Christmas with both of our parents.

We were two lucky ducks.

We might not have been able to pull off a complete party of siblings, but we were able to spend that first December holiday with the four people who shaped, challenged and loved us through thick and thin. I doubled lucked out and also got to spend it with my brother, sister-in-law, aunts, uncle and cousins.

Now that the festivities have come and gone, and the cleaning up and rearranging are well underway, I am left with a checklist of chores and a bright bulbed Christmas tree. Our home, once filled with hubbub and conversation, is so quiet. J's gone tonight, and I miss the noise. He's moonlighting in an effort to earn some extra money so we can move out of our cozy 700 square foot condo and into a home.

I'm exhausted from our wonderful, busy weekend with family and friends, and all I have wanted to do the entire day, was veg out on the couch and watch a horrible Lifetime movie. But I couldn't do it knowing that J picked himself up by the boot straps and sacrificed a day of relaxation and hours of sleep tonight just so he could tap his foot one bit closer to our tiny little dream of having a guaranteed parking spot, enough space for both of us to be on the cell phone at once, and two bathrooms so we can each disappear and not worry that the other person is scampering around the living room trying to decide if he/I should run down High Street and directly into the first restaurant bathroom that catches his/my eye.

And so I worked. And I realized what it meant to be a partner. Last year, I would have grabbed a book and a glass of wine, or maybe even called a few friends and asked them to meet me out for a drink. This year, I cleaned. Scared of heights, I took small breaths battling the nausea of dangling my arms out the second floor window while I cleared away cobwebs and Windexed the grimy panes of glass I ignored for nearly three years because I was scared to pull them toward me. I also reorganized my closet, deciding what I could part with for a few months so I could fit J's clothes beside mine, and we could get rid of his makeshift closet, subsequently making our room feel a whole lot bigger. Then I scrubbed the tub--CLR, Mr. Clean sponge, Lysol, Norwex--the whole nine yards. We had some stains I previously hadn't been able to tackle, but I scrubbed them and soaked them for hours until my hands were soggy and nearly ever single "impossible" stain disappeared as much as is it could possibly disappear.

I also did the laundry, and as I sorted and folded, I reflected. Thinking through the course of my day, I realized that for the first time, I voluntarily--and subconsciously--did all of the things I LEAST wanted to do, because I knew J would have rather been doing a whole host of other activities on his day off. Instead, he chose to work so he could provide for me and for any little ones who may one day run through the halls of the home we save to buy. The least I could do was get on my hands and knees and make a sacrifice for us too.

This was a novel realization. In the past, I cleaned when I had time to clean. On days like today, days when I was tired and drained and wanted to do absolutely nothing, I always DID absolutely nothing; I postponed my chores because those chores didn't particularly affect anyone but me. Now that I have a partner, they belong to us both, and I suddenly had the desire to make our list shorter so we both could feel a little bit better about what we had to accomplish prior to prepping our place to sell.

It's funny how little moments strike you--moments when you know your life has changed. Nothing came swinging in on a wrecking ball, or tumbling in on a trapeze or barreling in like water plummeting from the clouds. Yet, as I folded the laundry, I realized that I have a teammate. I may not have been married before, but I know what it means to pull your weight on the ball field or out on the court. When someone dives, it makes you want to dive harder. When someone guts it out, it inspires you to fight the fight. When someone shows up, it makes you want to stand right along beside them. Those first few years after my college career ended were hard because I really missed having a team. But now I have one, and it feels incredible to realize I'm no longer going it alone.

J and I are lucky ducks--not just because we got to spend Christmas with both sets of parents--but because we have each other. We might be rookies, but we're a pretty good pair. And that makes me want to run a few extra sprints, throw fifty more pitches, take a dozen more swings--or simply brew some coffee, take him some dinner and then come home and tackle our chores.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


In the RSVP envelope for a baby shower I'm planning to attend, the hostess threw in a card for notes. Our instructions read: Please use this card to write a short message, a quotation, words of wisdom, or any other supportive message that will help J through her first few months as a new mom. You can even specify on the envelope when you would like for her to read it (during 2 am feeding, when her baby is one month old, the day she gets home from the hospital, etc.).

I sat and stared at the 2 x3 inch teeny, tiny card for at least thirty minutes. Paralyzed, I debated a thousand different messages, trillions of quotes and dozens of potential "times" she should read my card. Then I wondered if everyone else felt the same anxiety over this simple task. Do people actually sit and ponder before they write? Do they brainstorm first? Do they carefully eliminate ideas until they land on the one that seems most fitting?

I feel pressure when I see blank spaces calling for wisdom or advice--particularly when it comes to giving wisdom or advice about something for which I know nothing. I teach kids, so of course I understand the awkward teenagers. But I don't understand the intricacies of childbirth, or infants or toddlers. What could I possibly have to say that would be worthwhile?
I pulled out my trusty journal of quotes, and I turned to my friend, Rainer Maria Rilke. He always seems to pen perfect pieces of wisdom. Worthwhile musing saturate the pages of Letters to a Young Poet, and since it set my brain ablaze when I most needed it to find a spark, I figured I might find something in there for J too.


"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and...try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer" (Rilke 35).

I don't know much about mothering, but I do know that as a teacher, I always find myself worrying about what I cannot answer. I find myself desiring insight so that I might resolve my students' anxiety or fear. I want to heal the kids who hurt, and I want to energize the ones who feel deflated. I want to know why they make bad decisions and I want to know what I can do to help them make better ones. I want to know what makes them smile and laugh, and I want to know what I can do to help them become better people. And even though I'm not a mom, I'm pretty sure mothers feel the same desires tenfold.

I suppose sometimes we aren't intended to know the answers though, and most of the time, perhaps it is better that we don't. We just have to keep loving, we have to keep giving and we have to keep trusting that we will live into the answer we are meant to discover. And as we do our living, we simply need to enjoy it. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing to read at 2 am or one month in, so I decided not to specify, and to let J live into the answer

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Maybe we should put Santa in our car window...

Driving in December=insanity.

I conveniently forget this year after year. I'm not sure if it is because my near-death experiences aren't memorable enough, if it is because the intoxication of Christmas delicacies clouds my mind, or if it is because all of the lights and ornaments have sent my ADD into overload. Nevertheless, I forget--year after year--how positively scary it is to drive during the very time of year when we are regularly reminded to be kind and generous and selfless.

Yesterday, I actually contemplated the creation of a sign for my window. Annoyed--and slightly jarred--by the regular occurrence of seemingly possessed toy-seekers, I considered pulling out my marker, poster board and tape, so I could pen the following phrase in big, bold letters: "I do not want the toys or electronics or games you are determined to get at all costs. I just want art supplies and frames. Please don't hurt me."

In the span of fifteen minutes, I almost died twice. Nearly pressed flat into the concrete barrier along the left lane entrance ramp, a stream of six cars refused to let me merge. The lane beside them? Open, of course. Then once I got to my exit, the car beside me decided to come over--right at me. I had to actually swerve into the berm to miss him. No one was behind me of course, but he had to have my spot. He couldn't speed up or slow down. Nope. He needed come over right then. He was on the phone of course, approaching the red light, full speed ahead. As soon as I caught my breath, I causally pulled into the lane right beside him; his antics didn't get him an inch closer to his destination.

Once I finally made it to the Michael's parking lot, my bubbling anxiety fizzed out a bit--until someone tried to cut me off in the middle of my turn into a spot at the back end of the parking lot. I decided I would park as far away as humanly possible so no one could come near me--apparently this girl had the same idea, and apparently she didn't care who got there first. Unable to change course, I pressed into my turn, and pulled into the spot. She was so close to me, I would have hit her if I pulled back out and gave her the spot. Nevertheless, she screamed at me, waving her arms, forming curse words with her melodramatic lips. Then she peeled out of the parking lot and took off down the road to who knows where. Despite the fact there were at least ten other open spots, I took her's and if she couldn't have that one, well, by golly she wasn't going to take any of them.

Even in Michael's I encountered elbows and isle cutoffs, people approached the store like a heated battle on the gym floor. I can compete with the best of them, but I felt full of the Christmas carols on the radio, and just couldn't find it in my heart to elbow back. I simply grabbed what I needed, took the last remaining shred of holiday spirit up to the register with me, got into my car, and embarked on my brutal ride home.

Once I returned to my condo, I sat and stared at my Christmas tree, wondering why people tend to be utterly insane during the holidays. I'd like to believe some of it is our desire to give, but I'm not fully convinced. Anger and greed seem to emanate a bit too heavy from the lanes of the highway, and from the asphalt in the parking lot, for me to believe every single person is driven by the desire for good. I'm pretty sure toys and games can't save the world, but I'd like to believe people can. And because of that, I think it's pretty important to keep them alive. I don't know how many car accidents occur during the holidays, but based on personal experience, I have to believe we all enter into a crazy gamble each time we take to the road.

Maybe that's why I forget about the insanity year after year. Maybe I don't want to believe it. Maybe it's because the Christmas spirit has dug deep into my skin and forced me to believe--not in Santa Clause of course, but in all of the good things he represents. The silly guy in the red suit has a pretty respectable job, after all. He spends his whole life getting ready to reward the people who are good and kind and generous. Whether people believe in Christmas or not--that seems like a fairly decent motto. Maybe if I stick his face on my car window it will send out a reminder that he's still making his list, and checking it twice, and those naughty cars better hurry up and start being nice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

While I've Been Away...

It's been a while...and I missed it.

I thought about it each night, wondering what I would write if I had not have been immersed in the world of Lungas and Danu the lions, and Riley and Owen, their little cubs. Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the challenge of scripting a children's book, but this blog has gotten a bit under my skin. Time away has taught me that I am much better suited for essay writing, memoir writing and adult fiction writing, than I am for the intricate responsibility of packaging a moral lesson into a box of imaginative adventures.

Several months back, my husband and I made a promise though. We decided we would write a children's book for our brand new niece and nephew. With the days ticking past until Christmas, we knew this was our opportunity to act. And I knew there was no way I could avoid an all-encompassing immersion into the world of our little imaginary creatures; that's why I decided to put my blog on hold.

This was absolutely true, as Lungus, Danu, Riley, and Owen, as well as Finn, the baboon, managed to invade my dreams. I loved every minute of imagining their story, and everything seemed to be going perfectly until I realized the book needed pictures. I'm not sure why that didn't occur to me from the outset--after all, I've read a gazillion children's books throughout the course of my life. Nevertheless, as I stared at the black and white letters filling each edge of a word document, I realized our story about respecting differences, and meeting in the middle, seemed naked without appropriate images. My stomach churned with anxiety; drawing is not my forte--and to say it is not my forte is actually an understatement.

Contemplating my options, I ultimately settled on cutting out images from scrap booking paper. I found traceable lions online, and I made them out of unexpected patterns. I drew the outline of a less-than-identifiable baboon and I added him into the mix. Then I made a tree, I cut out a hill and I found the colors of my sky. Suddenly, I had something to work with. I laid out my images and I snapped photographs. Inserting them into the slots beside the words, my husband and I managed to make something that seemed to finally resemble a children's book.

Through the process, I realized how much creative energy it took to bring our idea to life. I found myself considering images in a way I never considered them before, and I came to appreciate an art form I've never explored. Any time you throw yourself into unfamiliar territory you are bound to grow, and I feel like my endeavor to produce a children's book pushed me in ways I didn't know I could be pushed. It also made me TRULY appreciate the efforts of all children's book writers who penned and drew the books I loved as a child.

Hopefully one day little Owen and little Riley will like their story. Their aunt and uncle sure had a great time making it, and we can't wait to fly across the country, hold them in our arms, and read every last page together.

And though I'm proud of our creation, I'm also pretty darn excited to be back to my world of blogging. Though still a bit unfamiliar, I think it's slightly better suited for my wandering mind.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It Isn't Their Fault They're Ugly

My students took a test over Beowulf on Friday and today, as I glanced through their essays, I couldn't help but recall our final discussion. After reading the story from the Danes' perspective, I asked my students to read an excerpt from
John Gardner's Grendel. Once we looked at the story through different eyes, we engaged in a lengthy, and somewhat heated, discussion. Spanning from the acceptance of varying perspectives to war, to what deems an attack as justifiable, to the ultimate effects of bullying, our discussion ran the gamut, sending heads spinning with ideas and curiosities and lots and lots of gray area.

As soon as one person asserted that people have no right to attack unless they've been attacked, someone else said that the US fights ethically driven--not self-defense driven wars all of the time. When someone said that bullying leads the victim to a destructive personality, someone else argued that it could very well inspire them to be a bigger person. When one student said that we all need to accept the fact that everyone has different perspectives and they are all valuable, someone else asked about the boundaries of destructive and malicious perspectives that could destroy a group of people.

By the end of the discussion, we came up with zero answers. No one seemed clearer on their stance; in fact, most of them seemed far more confused. They slowly came to realize what once seemed so simple--so black and white--was really far more complicated than they imagined. Suddenly, Grendel didn't seem as horrible or as blatantly wrong as they originally believed him to be.

I sat up front, hardly saying a word. The discussion took a life of its own and I sat back watching it. Just moments away from the bell, B raised her hand. Usually one for off-beat comments, I could only imagine where she was planning to take the discussion.

"Yes, B," I called out to her.

"When I try to kill spiders, my mom yells at me," she began. I could see a few smirks begin to bubble on the faces around her. "She gets mad at me because she tells me the spider didn't do anything to me--it isn't the spider's fault he's ugly."

Then, right on cue, she trumped her loud declaration with a thunderous cackle, sending the rest of the room into giggles. I doubled over in laughter, accepting the fact that I had no hope at all to pull the class together for the last three minutes of the period. Instead, I watched a thousand tiny debates regarding whether or not spiders deserved to die.

I know very well that part of B's declaration surfaced as an attempt to generate attention, but I also think the reason she thought of her story is rooted in the foundation of what our discussion entailed: the effect of killing without reason, of dismissing without understanding, of being cruel without any attempt at respect.

I kill spiders whenever I see them--as well as ants, flies and mosquitoes. I use sprays and swatters and my bare hands in an effort to rid the world of their creepy presence. Her comment made me stop and think. After all, much of why I kill them has little to do with anything they can control. I kill them because they get in my way, they inconvenience me, or they annoy me. Maybe the rest of life isn't all that different if you stop and think about it. I'd like to believe I handle bigger issues in a better way, but B certainly found my weak spot. Maybe I need to open up my heart a bit wider to embrace the insect community. I suppose her mother's right, it isn't their fault they're so ugly....but it is certainly my fault that my swatting is.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Held Together with Yellowing Tape

I can still see the sheet--torn and wrinkled, held together with yellowing tape. I can picture the battered box containing the limbs, and I can vividly recall the fire drill that ensued as we eagerly grouped them--long, medium and short reds, long, medium and short yellows, long, medium and short blues, and long, medium and short whites. My mom left the grouping to us, while she masterminded the kitchen, rolling, and stirring and icing, sending waves of cinnamon, chocolate and hazelnut throughout the rooms, rewarding our tree-constructing efforts the moment those scrumptious concoctions cooled. And as the four of us worked to transform the house with sights and smells, Christmas music hummed in the background--sometimes, Barry Manilo, sometimes, James Taylor, and if I got my say--sometimes, the Chipmonks.

Looking back, I'm quite certain my father probably didn't enjoy the tree building process quite as much as me, but he indulged us. Always pretending to be excited, always donning the spirit we so looked forward to seeing. I recall loving every single minute. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I remember loving it more than any other part of December. Christmas morning belonged to my early-waking brother, but calling out the arrangement, orchestrating the moves, finding the perfect branch for the perfect spot, and then adding the ornaments one-by-one--those directives belonged to me. I loved fussing with the complicated ones--setting Kermit's ice skates evenly on the tinsel, plugging in Santa's workshop, and hooking up the train--and I loved smiling over the silly ones I made in pre-school. I loved the satisfaction of seeing our tree rise from broken pieces strew haphazardly into a box, and I enjoyed the tingling that ensued once the long band of lights blared with the force of electricity and tenderness.

Though most of my friends had real trees, we had an artificial one throughout my entire childhood. Apparently, I broke out in a terrible rash as a child, so this artificial tree experienced every single move and every single Christmas with us. It never shed needles, it never rotted, and it never headed out to the trash once the holiday ended. This tree simply came apart, crawled into a box, and waited for us to call upon its brilliance the following year.

Even though I loved that tree, the moment my doctor confirmed that I outgrew my allergy and could function just fine with a real tree in my house, I promptly set aside my adoration for artificial constructions. I turned, instead, to Christmas tree lots and deep, damp, whiffs of evergreen, excitedly purchasing my first real tree three Christmases ago. Just as I enjoyed my childhood tree, I thoroughly enjoyed that one, decorating her with care, watering her with love, and sitting beneath her for hours, admiring every last needle.

Last night, at midnight, I gazed up at the tree my husband and I had just finished decorating. While it might seem absurd that we pulled into the Tremont Center parking lot at roughly 8 p.m. last night to find a tree, and it might seem even more absurd that we stayed up to midnight to decorate it, neither of us could let the tree sit bare. It looked so lonely in the corner, begging us to cover its wet, muddy branches with lights, balls, stars and dancing reindeer--and we just could not resist.

I went to bed thinking my compulsion was because of the "finisher" complex I seem to frequently battle, but today, I decided it was really something else. Today, I decided that I wanted to act for the same reason I loved the torn, wrinkled piece of paper held together with yellowing tape, and the battered box stuffed with droves of color-coded limbs. I wanted to see the tree rise, I wanted to watch it glow and I wanted to witness it wrap the entire room like a blanket.

Monday, December 05, 2011


"I dance because I love it. When you're out there, it's like nothing else matters. You forget the math test you did poorly on, or whatever happened at school, and you are fully present in the moment," L reflected during her flex credit presentation, sitting before a long table littered with our high school principal and a panel full of teachers.

Fully present in her moment, I listened to L's illustrative rendition of a summer time intensified dance experience. Gathering with students all over the country, she took classes day and night, pushing her skills beyond her own perceivable limits, all the while learning what it takes to dance professionally. Passion and grace consumed her as she talked about her greatest joy, and it was a pure delight to sit across the table and listen to her speak candidly about something for which she was so madly in love.

Once she skirted out of the room, and the final presentations ceased, I couldn't help but reflect on the moments she described--moments when I, too, have been able to remove everything from my mind so I could dive head first into the precious ticks of the clock, pausing inside each heartbeat, fully conscious of each breath. It doesn't happen often, and I'm not sure if that's because such an awareness would be far too exhausting, or if it is because I don't slow down enough to make it a reality.

Inventorying my own life, I see an array of moments imbedded in the canvas of memory. Individual moments--moments like standing at the World War II Memorial for Barack Obama's inauguration, gazing upon the Ponte Vecchia in Florence, sitting on a rock along the beach in St. Maarten growing certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with the man sitting beside me, walking down the isle toward him and dancing our first dance. I've also had a few activities through which I have felt that presence at a regular interval: pitching a softball, publicly performing my poetry and laughing with my husband. While none of that would surprise someone who knew me, I wonder if this is true for everyone.

Do we all have triggers that zap us away from the drone of daily tasks and dump us between the skeletons of time? Do we choose our paths by listening to whatever force holds us stone-still and allows us to be fully aware of our existence as a human being? Should we try to grip time harder, attempting to force the drip rather than the rush of living? Or are we fine just as we are, appreciating those moments when they come without attempting to manufacture them through a forced effort?

I'm not sure, but I do know that those moments of presence are the ones I most remember. They bleed a little brighter in my memory and they are buried a little deeper inside the ventricles of my heart. They are the memories that drive me, inspire me, and direct my course. They are the memories I most want to keep.

When I listened to L speak today, my heart widened with the joy she emanated, and though I sat fifteen feet across the table, when she got up to leave, I felt a bit intoxicated by her over-powering force, by the vapors of her passion. And even if I shouldn't attempt to control the moments that hold me, I'm feeling particularly inspired to have one. Pitching is out of the question on this rainy Monday night, so I think I'll have to sit my husband on the couch, pound out a poem, and giggle until we're both too tired to stay awake.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

$13,000 Suit

I hope someone returns it. I hope someone who embodies every stereotype that describes America's image of poverty finds the money in a suit pocket, and promptly returns the cash. I hope that every single negative comment I heard on the radio, and saw posted on blogs, gets stifled by kindness.

While listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, I heard about an elderly man who recently discovered that he mistakenly left his entire life savings of $13,000 in the pocket of a suit he donated to Goodwill. Sadly, his wife has cancer, and he needs this money to pay for treatment. Of course, Goodwill has engaged in a nationwide effort to look for the missing bills, but since he has no idea when he actually donated the suit, locating it is proving to be a daunting task. They don't know if the suit is in a warehouse of if someone already purchased it; further, they have no idea if the money is still nestled in the pockets, or if it has tumbled into someone else's pocket.

As with any crisis, kind-hearted people offered to contribute money to a fund. Too proud to accept donations though, this man says he doesn't want notoriety or support; he wants what originally belonged to him--the money he forgot to remove--and nothing else.

In a few free moments at lunch, I searched for the story online. There, on quite a few sites, I found comments that sank like a canon ball in the pit of my stomach. People repeatedly said the lesson was "that we shouldn't donate anything," or "that's what he deserves for donating something to those people" or "he'll never have a prayer to see it again."

In the midst of all our political finger pointing, social stratification, and life style marginalization, is that what we've come to? When a man nearing the end of his life only has $13,000 to his name and he still finds space in his heart to donate a suit to those poorer than him, the lesson we are supposed to take is that he shouldn't have done it? Are we supposed to slap him on the wrist and tell him that he deserves to have lost it because he gave it to the pocket-grubbing poor? And why would he have any less of a chance of seeing it again having donated it to those people than he would if it fell into the hands of the rich? It seems to me there have been quite a few white-collar thieves commissioned to time behind bars.

People are people and human nature is human nature regardless of how heavy someone's pocket happens to be. Truthfully, I don't think he would have had any more of a chance getting the money back if he left it on the floor of Tiffany's or if he accidently over-paid a misguided client. While I'm not an expert in statistics, I would venture to say that there are just as many honest poor people as there are honest rich people, and there are just as many dishonest, cold-hearted and greedy poor people as there are dishonest, cold-hearted and greedy rich people--or at least the numbers have to be pretty close. I just wish so badly we could stop lacing our society with the poison of stereotypes, and I wish more people could rise beyond the notion that certain "classes" don't do what's right.

While the media flaunts the trouble threatening our society, I find solace in the fact that most people wake up each day aiming to do what's right--at work, with their family, or in the public at large. While rotten hearts occasionally beat to the surface, there are many more good ones keeping our world alive. I just hope this man's suit caught the eye of one of the good ones, so he can help his wife, and we can watch a stereotype begin to crumble.