There is no ‘Other,’ There is only Us (finding small hopes)

There is far too much darkness in our world these days; too much hate, too much pain, too much anger. We lost track of the common threads that bound us together and now we are lost, traipsing through an unfamiliar place. I grew up believing in a world far better than the one we have made for ourselves; and let there be no mistake, we have created this poor broken thing. I grew up believing in the heart of the words spoken by great humans like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. When we come into this world our souls are soft and unhindered by the rules and stereotypes that society places on us. As we grow we begin to believe these false narratives that we have been given, seeing the world through a very specific set of eyes and that are not open to the whole picture. We refuse to let ourselves grow because change is always so damn scary. So we lock ourselves into our chosen worldview and close the blinds. We demonize those we call ‘others’ because we do not understand them; after all, they are not like us. Or are they?

We are responsible for the world that we create, for the narratives that we contribute and consume. In the coming weeks I’ll be tackling this topic a lot from a multitude of angles, but today I will start with just this one. There are far too many voices out there to only be listening to ones that are similar to our own. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in one of her beautiful speeches, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” If we only ever listen to one story, to one narrative, to one side, then we rob ourselves of the beauty that is lost in the unknown. Ignorance is a dark and dreary place in a world that holds so much promise.

In 2017 we saw people rise up and stand together, we saw the opening of deep wounds in a hope to extract the poison, we stood, we clashed, we fought. We saw backlash, we saw anger, we saw fear. I was deeply moved and deeply troubled at the same time. It is true that every important societal shift came to us through a painful struggle. We celebrated one of these battles yesterday when we recognized a man who lost his life in the pursuit of a better world, for tolerance and love. We are living in an interesting time, and we are the ones who control what kind of world we pass on to our children.

It does not always take grand sweeping gestures to invoke substantial change. Sometimes all it takes is turning the tide within a single heart. We are not often aware of our biases and prejudices. The first true step to change is one of brutal honesty coupled with an open heart. To understand what is different from us requires us to step outside of the walls we have built and expose our souls to something new.

In the spirit of change and hope, in the spirit of great men and women who have fought this battle before us with words instead of swords: in this spirit I challenge myself, as well as you, if you are up to the task. Go out and explore the world- do something new, talk to strangers, explore cultures, read books by authors you have never heard of, watch movies you would never see. Discover what is ‘other’ to you and make it familiar.

I am going to start this challenge with something simple: I challenge myself to read about places I have never been to and lives I have never lived. I will immerse myself in their words until I see I see my own truths within them. My diversity reading challenge starts now. Any and all suggestions will not only be welcome, but will guarantee a future post to discuss them. So please- if you have any books, movies, videos, songs- anything at all that inspires diversity or speaks to your own soul- please share.

We owe it to ourselves and one another to hear all of the stories that the world is trying to whisper in our ears. It is only with a view that encompasses the full human experience will we ever find the peace within ourselves that we have always been looking for.

New Year, New Promise, and Welcome Back

I missed this place, I missed writing on these blank pages, I missed talking to all of you. I miss reading all of your words and finding a connection in the infinite digital cosmos we have here. It’s been far too long, my dear friends. It feels good to be back. I hope 2018 finds you all well and full of hope for the coming year.

This past fall I decided to finally plunge headfirst into something that scared me- that’s why I wasn’t here as often. Life has been so busy and full, I was trying to keep myself from being too overwhelmed. Although in hindsight, I missed this too damn much. I decided to go back to school after nearly a decade of talking about it. The stars aligned, I was so sick of spinning my wheels, I had a little bit of money saved up and I was finally ready to leap into it. I was terrified- I work full time and decided to take classes full time in the evenings as well. I learned very quickly that you are always capable of so much more than you ever realized. I did it- every single day was planned and regimented, every waking moment had a schedule attached to it- but I did it. I walked away from my first quarter with all A’s and an unhealthy addiction to energy drinks.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore something happened, something that shook me to my core. My dad got hurt the day after Thanksgiving while hanging Christmas lights. We beat the ambulance to the hospital and watched him get wheeled out on a stretcher, pale as a ghost. We heard the call for an emergency surgical trauma team over the speakers in the ER and wondered if it was for him. They put us in a separate waiting room before telling us what his condition was. I remember sitting there wide eyed and counting the tissue boxes piled up on every end table- 12. He had fallen from his second story balcony while putting up Christmas lights. By the time the ambulance made it to him his lung capacity was down to 20% and he was making peace with his maker. I met the doctor that sliced a hole in his chest and put a tube into his lung when he was reaching the point where he nearly stopped breathing. In spite of everything, we were lucky. He broke five ribs, punctured his lung, broke his collarbone into five pieces, cracked his scapula and fractured his spine in three places. But he was alive and, miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed. We were lucky. Three days in the ICU, nine days in the hospital, a month of in-home care provided mainly by myself with a little bit of help from siblings, two trips to the emergency room, a plethora of doctor visits, and a long road ahead of him, but he is alive and he can walk.

It’s a strange thing to see your parent walk for the first time after an accident that nearly left them in a wheelchair. There’s an odd sense of pride that kept me wondering if he had felt the same way when I took my first steps. It’s an odd moment when you take care of a parent that once took care of you, when you learn the struggles and frustrations that come with care work. It’s a terrifying moment when you realize how easily life can change, how little control you have over the things that happen to you and the people that you love. It’s a liberating feeling when you decide to use these dark moments to inspire you to be better and to live more fully.

2017 taught me many lessons. My family had far too many ‘almosts.’ We almost lost my childhood home to a fire, we almost lost my cousin to the Las Vegas shooting, we almost lost my dad. With every single ‘almost’ we were reminded that there is still hope that comes with every lesson. There is no time to wait to tell someone that you care, spend quality time with a person you love, read that book on your wishlist, go back to school, chase that dream- if all you have is right now, then you need to make ‘right now’ count. That is what I am taking with me into 2018. A hope and a promise that this is the year I won’t hold back.

I don’t want to wait until I am ‘less busy’ to write. I don’t want to wait until I’m done with school before I start climbing towards my other goals. I don’t want to take tomorrow for granted anymore. So here I am, doing something that I love simply because I love it, not because I’ll get anything else out of it.

To all of you, I hope you don’t take this new year for granted. I hope you feel the world so very deeply. I hope you laugh and cry, fall in love with others and yourself all over again. I hope you push hard, fight for what matters to you, strive to reach your goals. I hope you find more than you did a year ago. It won’t be a perfect year, you will face challenges and struggles that you never expected, but I hope you find something beautiful in each of them. In 2018 I will be looking for hope and living a life that I can be proud of if I don’t get to see another sunrise. I want to be excited about the life I have lived, not just the one I am striving for. Happy new year, my beautiful friends, it’s good to see you all again.

Praying for Vegas, Crying for Us All

My cousin survived a mass shooting. But not all of the people standing beside her did. She stood trapped in a sea of panicked people as bullets rained down, ending lives with no rhyme or reason, not knowing if one was meant for her. She kept asking herself if this was really happening, how was it possible. Would she die like this? She thought of her three year old son back home, thought of how he might wake up in the morning suddenly without a mother, untethered from the soul who gave so much of herself to him. She thought of her little boy and swore that she would not die, not there, not yet. But no one in that crowd was granted the luxury of a choice.

People fell beside her, people screamed, people cried out in fear and pain, and people died. But she lived; my cousin survived the worst mass shooting in modern United States history. Her and her friend managed to make it to a barricade, climb over and run like hell, praying they would not be the next to fall. She made it out, but not everyone standing beside her did.

This morning I was able to talk to her, I was able to tell the world that my cousin survived. But there are many others facing a stark reality that their loved ones will not be coming home. Call it divine intervention, call it luck; I can’t make sense of it anymore. I cannot fathom what could have possibly led that man down the path he chose. I cannot comprehend what compelled him to take those weapons up to the 32nd floor and shoot to kill. These people were innocent. My cousin is innocent. She is a beautiful young woman with a 3 year old boy. She works hard and has a genuinely good heart. She did not deserve this. None of them did. 59 lives were cut tragically short. 527 people were injured. And for 22,000 others, their injuries may not be physically visible, but the scars will still be felt, changing them from the inside.

We are no strangers to violence, it seems our society is built on it. Yet we usually view it from the distance that our television or cell phone screens grant us. The pain and fear are palpable, but dulled through the lens of the media. We hurt, we decry the senseless actions, and yet it doesn’t actually touch us. The reality does not soak in. When I woke up that morning it was just a devastating news story, one in a long line of the hatred and pain we have been seeing for years. When I woke up I read the headline to my fiancé, commenting on how sad it was. I didn’t know until I was at work that she had been there. I didn’t know that she had stood in that crowd and feared for her life, picturing her child as bullets sliced through a peaceful night. I didn’t know that I had almost lost her, a piece of my family. I didn’t know until a few hours later. And then I cried. I cried and I panicked, I was scared and I raged inside as she told me what happened, what it was like, the way they were trapped, left at the cruel mercy of fate. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t process it; my family, it touched my family- the terror sliced straight through my heart. I tried to be calm, but all I could think was that as I got ready for work that morning she could have been laying in a dusty venue in Vegas, staring sightlessly as the sun rose into the sky, ushering a new day she wouldn’t belong to anymore. So I cried. I sat at my desk and cried messy tears at what so many had lost.

My soul hurts. I can’t make sense of this tragedy. I wish I could say that I was not angry, but I can’t. I am furious at the senselessness of it all. My heart is pounding against my ribcage in a rage. This anger is driven by fear. I am terrified of losing someone that matters to me. Hate will not solve this; love is the only light that will show us the path we must follow, but how do we find it? Tonight I am exhausted and lost, floating through a world I wish I didn’t recognize. The truth is that it looks no different than it did yesterday. To most people this was just a sad, senseless story. We know this world all too well, we’ve heard this story time and again. The difference for me is that I have never been so close. I know we will never make sense of something like this. We will never find a satisfactory reason to explain away what took place that night. We must learn to be content with the knowledge that some things will never be understood. But that does not mean that we ignore it, that does not mean that we must shrug our shoulders and accept that this is the world we will raise our children in. A world where their mother can go to a concert and never come home. I do not want to live in a world that witnesses this violence and looks the other way after the headlines have ceased.

Tonight my heart is broken, my soul is worn and frayed. Tonight I sit here with no more tears left to cry, trying to make sense of a world that will never look the same to me again. Tonight I ache for all of those hurt, for every person who won’t be able to come home, to hug their children or tell their parents that they love them. Tonight I grieve for what we have lost. And yet I must remember that there are still small miracles to be thankful for. I’m thankful that more people were not hurt. I’m thankful that my cousin is at home cuddling her baby boy right now. Tonight I hold on to small miracles because I know that I will fall apart if I don’t cling to them. Tonight I am thankful because she lived.

Thank You to My Everyday Heroes (Phoenix in the Fire)

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

-Gandalf

The fires are still burning; the west is still awash in flames and blackened embers. And yet, with this devastation, a phoenix was born, rising from the ashes that fell from our skies. I have found hope and love in a world that has gone dark. I found a common urgency for kindness and community as our fears grew. Yes, the fires still burn, and yet our hope has not been extinguished.

California, Oregon, Washington, Montana; all are ablaze and in desperate need of help. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the acreage lost to the actively burning fires stands at 1,652,402- and this number continues to grow every day. That’s not the total for the year thus far; that is simply the large scale fires that are still burning.

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where we are still fighting the Eagle Creek fire on the Oregon side, which has consumed over 33,000 acres of land in the scenic Gorge area. I have friends who were evacuated from their homes a week ago and don’t know when they will ever be able to return. My dad’s house was threatened by a spot fire that erupted when an ember flew from Eagle Creek and landed on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It landed on the same night my dad stayed awake with a hose protecting his home from the embers that fell where he lived. Archer mountain, 4 miles from my childhood home, was dry as a bone and lit up the sky. It’s still burning. It’s tiny in comparison to Eagle Creek; a mere 209 acres at the last update. But it was in my backyard, and when your neighborhoods are being threatened; it doesn’t matter how small that threat may appear; it’s still a natural entity that has more than enough power to consume and destroy everything you care about.

That first day was terrifying; the fire kept growing, the evacuation alerts kept coming, and the damn wind would not stop blowing. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the fire itself barging down the door- I was afraid of the live embers that were dancing through the air for miles around and erupting into spot fires where they landed. I was terrified of losing my neighborhood, the place that stored all of my fondest memories of the world when it was far less complicated. I was scared of losing my childhood home; the only place that ever truly made me feel like I belonged in it. But most of all, I was petrified because my dad is stubborn as hell, knows enough about fires to be confident (he’s worked for the fire department for over 30 years), and he didn’t want to leave his home. He lives at the end of a dead-end street out in the middle of nowhere; and if the fire came, it’s projected route would cut off his only exit if he hesitated too long.

There’s something insidious in the simple fact that there are situations where you will have no control. There is something poisonous in the knowledge that for those life-altering moments, you might only have enough power to watch the news reports, to follow the weather and pray. This is something our poor friends in Texas and Florida know well. You might have to go to work and explain to your boss why you can’t really concentrate and why you are checking your phone every five minutes, or why you are jumping at unexpected noises- you will explain that you set up evacuation alerts to let you know if your dad needs to leave his home- to let you know that you need to make him leave. That powerless feeling; it burrows deep into your soul; you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t think or talk about anything else. You function under the sole motivation to collect more information. Because collecting is the only thing you can do. It’s a cruel twist of fate for us humans who have a deep desire to play the puppet-master of our own lives. So you pray- you pray to anything and everything you have ever believed in. Because what else will you do?

We’ve had good news this week; our first responders are amazing- there are truly no words for the appreciation and love we all feel towards them right now. They have been everything; our sun, our moon, our stars. They remind me why we all wanted to be like them when we were little; they remind me why heroes claim the name that they do. They saved our homes, they saved this little community of ours. They dug in their heels, they gritted their teeth and they fought with every ounce of energy they possessed. They fell asleep where they sat- for only a few hours before getting up and doing it all over again. It’s because of them that my friends still have their homes. It’s because of them that my dad’s home is still here. It was their hard work that allowed a young mother to finally bring her children back home after their evacuation alert was lowered. It’s because of them that I can finally start to breathe a little bit easier. The fire has grown; but they held the line and ensured that it didn’t grow towards our homes. Since the last time I wrote, they’ve managed to reach 15% containment on Archer Mountain. That’s pretty amazing, given the terrain and less than ideal weather. They’ve been stretched so thin that there are fire burning in our state without crews attached to them- because they can’t afford to sacrifice the resources. They’ve been here fighting for us instead.

There was a shift in the wind that was good for my little piece of the Gorge; but bad for my friends across the river. They have just shy of 1,000 firefighters on their side, including several hotshot teams (think navy seals of the firefighting world), over 100 engines and a small fleet of helicopters; they sit at 7% contained, and expect to be fighting this blaze through October at least. They’ve done an amazing job; over 33,000 acres, and only 3 homes lost. I know I say that like it’s nothing, but I can feel the shot through my heart with those words. 3 homes; 3 homes like mine full of memories and beloved items; a symbol for your life, a safe place that you will struggle to find again. Every loss hurts. Because we’re all here enduring this together; every loss is a reminder that all it takes is a change in the wind or an errant ember to drastically alter our fates and the lots of the things we love. We walk a hairs width out here, but we walk it together. And we have the bravest warriors to protect us. I say only 3 because without these brace souls with their spot-streaked faces, we would have lost entire towns. They did that for us.

There is something that arises from the darkness that we endure; there is a quality in all of us that only seems to show in these moments of distress. While there are still some who will take advantage of the darkness, ones who will do horrible things; like stealing the vehicles and gear of our firefighters- these lost souls are rare. Most people come together, remembering what is important at the end of the day. All of our differences and disagreements fall away. None of it matters anymore when you walk into your personal hell, you cling to anyone near you; even if you were shooting daggers at one another the day before. The world has gone on around us; the news reminds me everyday of the battles we are all waging, the ideologies we are fighting for, the hopes that we cling to. But for just a moment; those things don’t matter- they do- but, our different don’t matter. People don’t ask you who you voted for when you are reaching out for help. They don’t wonder what you posted on Facebook an hour ago, unless you were begging for an update on a loved one, or looking for a place to stay the night. My daily interactions now include people asking and volunteering information about themselves, their homes and their families. It’s found in the traditionally cut-throat litigators at work asking for a continuance on their case because opposing counsel has been focused on protecting his family and his home, which are on level 2 evacuation notices (level 2 means ‘get set’ and be ready for level 3- 3 means go now).

I found hope in places I didn’t expect it, from people I didn’t necessarily see as being as selfless as they were. This is probably a flaw of mine that I need to work on. On the first day a girl I knew who wouldn’t be caught dead out of her designer clothes and makeup was driving up and down the evacuation zones helping people get their livestock to safety. Neighbors would show up to help each other with trailers in tow. So many items were donated that they were running out of places to store them. At some sites simple things like coffee turned into gold. Businesses offered free food to emergency responders and those displaced. People you hadn’t talked to in nearly a decade would reach and ask how you were- because they remember where your parents lived when you were friends back in school. Strangers spoke words of comfort and compassion to me; they shared the stories of those impacted and brought an overlooked issue to people’s attention. I will forever be grateful. People cared. People helped. And they still are.

It’s just like what we saw with Harvey; when it mattered, we showed up. We reminded each other what we are truly about. When everything is done, I am sure we will go back to squabbling about politics and debating lifestyle choices and generally causing discontent on social media. But there will still be this experience between us; these common things that we endured together. We will still remember those unexpected heroes who showed up when we were in need, the ones that remembered where we were from and took the time to listen when we were scared. Personally, I will try to remember that most people are made of tougher stuff than I realized. We found a small patch of common ground; it might be burnt, and blackened, but it is still our ground, it is still the path we have walked together.

Tonight I pray for everyone who’s struggling, who’s fighting, who’s scared. Tonight I pray for our first responders and our everyday heroes who just showed up. I pray for the west with our fires, for Texas who has a long road to recovery, and for everyone being impacted by Irma. I pray for India and the flooding they’ve been fighting. We might be facing different foes; but it’s the same battle. No matter how far apart we are, no matter what we each believe; we are all in this together. We are stronger when we stand as one, when we reach out, when we put our differences aside and look at each other as humans. I will never turn away, I’m still watching, and when the moment comes- my hand will be reaching out to help you the way others have helped me. Thank God for these everyday heroes; they are the best we could ever hope to become. I strive everyday to live up to what they do.

Praying for Rain in the Pacific Northwest (another modern day apocalypse)

This beautiful green haven I call home is burning down. We are choking on smoke and watching as the physical reminders of our past and our adventures sail away on the wind, nothing more than ash when it departs. My home, this place that I have spent my whole life, is awash in flames. We are fighting; our first responders are working tirelessly, using every method available to save the gorge. But we don’t know how long it will take or what we will lose in the midst of this battle.

A forest fire is burning 4 miles from my dad’s home. Yesterday I spent my day driving through the smoke and the ash to get there. I went through my childhood home to determine what was worth saving and what wasn’t. Something you never realize until you are in that situation: very few things actually matter at that point. You grow numb, clinical. You have to if you want to get the job done, if you want to find the family photo albums and the afghan your great grandmother made that used to sit on your favorite chair in your bedroom. You will not cry about the baby ornaments and childhood stuffed animals; you won’t cry about the knee-high carved bear you named Otis- the one that stood sentinel over your front door and was dressed up for every holiday; you won’t think about the memories and keepsakes you left behind until later. No, you will not cry, not now.

But eventually the totality of the situation will strike you, eventually you will feel it all. You will cry; in a few hours, in a day, in a week- it will hit you, what you had to do; you had to take a lifetime of memories and condense them down into a little box. You had to get in the car and leave behind everything you ever worked for. You turn your back on your home and wonder if it will be the last time. You flee the only place that you ever truly felt safe- because it can’t be that anymore. You ache and you hurt, but you put your foot on the accelerator, you square your jaw and you drive. Nothing has ever felt like home since I left there; no house has lived up to that name. It will always be my home, the place I grew up, the sanctuary where I keep my heart tucked away.

I went to my dad’s house and talked about evacuation plans. I forced promises about timeframes and warning signals, routes and procedures, back-up plans and defensible spaces. Because he wasn’t ready to leave, not until he had to. In that moment; I didn’t give a damn about the house. I would individually burn every single picture myself if it would guarantee his safety. He’s a firefighter; he knows this world, he belongs to it. Fires are in his blood, and this is his home. He wasn’t scared; the fire hadn’t jumped the ridge yet- he was still safe. His home was still safe.

The night before he was outside with a hose spraying down the house as ashes and burning embers fell from the sky. He had sprinklers going on the roof. He even managed to jury-rig the pump from the pond to keep the sprinklers on even if we lost power. He took every precaution to ensure that the house had a defensible space, should that need arise. Those aren’t words you ever want to hear. The argument about leaving is not one you ever want to fight. Not while the smoke is burning your lungs, not while the ashes are falling around you, not while you pack up the car with those few things you don’t want to lose.

My heart is breaking. I can’t stay away from the news, hoping for an update as the fire grows. I’m deciphering wind reports like they contain the secret to the universe. I’m scared. That’s what this is; I’m scared and I’m broken inside because this is my home; these forests are my memories, these trails are where I grew up. These people are my past. And for me: this is real. This is the fear that we all pray we will never experience. Your home is supposed to keep you safe. But what do you do when you can’t keep it safe?

I watched my neighbors calmly pack their horses, their pets, their belongings into whatever trailers they could get their hands on. I watched them drive away, hoping they would be able to come back.

I’m angry and I’m hurt; this whole thing started because of a couple teenagers playing with firecrackers. The first day 153 hikers were trapped on Eagle Creek trail. They had to shelter near a waterfall overnight. The next morning they had to hike 14 miles to get out. Every single one was rescued. We got lucky. But the fire kept burning. An entire town was evacuated. And then another, and then then another as the flames burned out of control, taking this beautiful country with it.

Monday night it did something that sent shockwaves through my soul; it jumped the Columbia river and nestled itself within Washington’s borders- quite a feat by its own right. At 2:00 in the morning, while my dad was running around putting out embers that had managed to burn all the way to his home; four miles away one of those embers fell from the sky and landed on a wooded mountain. It caught. The flames grew, and people were forced from their homes without warning in the dead of night.

Two states are on fire because a couple of 15 year olds didn’t understand that it’s bad to play with fire in the woods during a dry summer. It seems every time I check the reports, I’m hearing of a new area being threatened, another place I’ve been in gone. Wildfires live up to their name; they are not easily tamed, no matter how hard you work.

These are a few pictures of Oneonta Tunnel, a historic tunnel that was originally built for vehicle use back in 1914. It had since been reopened for pedestrian use only and is along a hike I did with friends a few months ago. The bottom photos are what it looked like that day I was there. The upper right photo is the night that it burned. The upper left is the charred remains. It’s gone, and so are the beautiful forests that surrounded it.

So far, in spite of all of our losses, we are lucky. We are fortunate because of the men and women who have responded to our calls for help. They have come out and they have worked without complaint. My dad’s house is still safe as I write this because of the 75 men and women who have held the fire line at bay and protected us. It is safe because of the people out on patrol for spot fires that they can extinguish before they take root. I am thankful. I can never repay this debt.

Our amazing and historic Multnomah falls and lodge are still standing because of the tireless efforts of these people- many of them volunteered to help.

this is a picture before the fire; few photos are circulating of what it looks like now. All reports describe a tough battle that the firefighters ultimately won. I hear there is even still some green left, a phenomenal fear, given what they were up against.

They have been doing an amazing job against a tremendous foe. We are sad for what has been lost, but without them our pain would be far greater. So to them I say thank you. From the bottom of this grieving heart, I say thank you. My dad is a firefighter, I understand that sacrifice, I understand the struggles of your family. And today I finally understand the people on the other side; today I am one of them.

To my beautiful home; I’m sorry. There will be more memories, there will be recovery. Thank you for what you gave us. Thank you for this beautiful place I have been privileged to call home. I’m crying for you.

If you’ve ever watched the movie ‘Wild’- this last picture might look familiar. The Bridge of the Gods in where it ended; watch those last scenes again- it will be many years before it looks like that once more.

This is not how I remember you; full of fire and heartache. To all of my beautiful places; I know some are gone, I know some still stand, and others I have yet to hear about…you’ve helped me soothe my soul more times than I can count…you are my home, forever and always. This is how I will always remember you…

Falling for Change

September is officially here, ushering in the prospect of change that I have been so desperate for. I carry the excited hope in my heart: fall is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe right now; we are in the midst of yet another 100+ degree heatwave. Our forests are dry as a bone, and instead of our usual rain, I have ash falling from the sky into my backyard. The forest fires are raging and we are getting desperate for our summer to come to a close.

I tend to change with the seasons; following an internal rhythm that dances through my veins. I get anxious when I try to fight it, when I become too complacent, too comfortable in my skin. My restless spirit begins to pace; it feels like my soul itself will break through my skin if I don’t do something new. And so I must heed the song of the Pied Piper playing music in my heart, I have no choice.

Some decisions are reckless and poorly thought out; like when I couldn’t stand catching my long hair on everything, so I convinced my fiancé to chop off three inches with kitchen scissors as we stood on the back patio. I simply couldn’t wait a moment longer; I was frustrated and just done with it all. It felt amazing, actually. He did a good job. That was the first change. As it turns out, it was a bit symbolic. I’ve always been one of those people who is all or nothing, zero or a hundred; I’m in or I’m out. Well, my friends, I’ve glanced at the cards, and I am all in.

I took a leap and started the process to get back into school; I stopped before finishing my degree a decade ago. It’s the decision I have always regretted, the one that makes my heart sink every time I think of it. I love my job, but I’m not living up to my potential, I’m not finding the fulfillment that I once did. The problem is, that I don’t really have the tools in my kit to make me competitive in the job market anymore. I grew too comfortable in my niche. It’s time to fix that. It’s time to do what I was meant to do with my life. I have to stop handing out excuses like they’re lollipops. It’s time to invest in my own future and do what needs to be done. I’m older now, I have the wisdom and motivation to do it the right way. It’s terrifying; I haven’t been in school for ten years. But that’s exactly why I need to go back. These regrets I carry; they’ve turned into monsters that hide under my bed and lurk in my closet. I will never be at peace until I turn on the light and confront them.

I’m learning to invest in myself again; to find the core of my personal dissatisfaction and face it head on. It’s painful to shine a light into all of your dark corners. It’s uncomfortable when you turn a critical eye on the choices you have made and recognize why you made them. But it’s necessary if you ever want to grow beyond the person you are today. I’ve found that I get lost in cyclical thinking; breaking these habits is hard, finding the right headspace for change is not meant to be easy. But it’s worth it. I’ve been lost in the usual patterns, treading water in my daily life. I’m not really sure what changed, but I just grew sick of it; all of it. Something inside snapped and I just couldn’t watch myself living the exact same day over and over again. I wasn’t happy with the way I was spending my time, I wasn’t happy with work, I wasn’t happy with my body. I just wasn’t happy. And I wanted to blame circumstances for it. I wanted to point the finger and rid myself of the guilt that was weighing me down. After all, it couldn’t be my fault. I wanted to be happy, it was the world that wasn’t letting me. There just wasn’t enough time in the day, I would say. The muse isn’t with me. I’m too tired to work out. Eating healthy is just so expensive and time consuming. My coworkers take too much time off and I’m burnt out picking up the slack. School is too expensive, it’s been too long, I don’t have time. I had an excuse for everything. And yet I knew that the real culprit was me; I was being lazy. I was depressed and would rather curl up into my rut instead searching for a way to climb out. I went into hibernation and didn’t notice. I made excuses and I let myself wallow in them. Because for a while it was easier. It was easier to stew in my melancholy than to change. I was accustomed to my complacency, it was the easy way out. Until it wasn’t.

My soul grew restless, I felt my heart pulling me towards change, willing me to do something, anything out of my routine. I couldn’t sit there complaining to myself anymore; my words were useless. So I got up, and I did something. I cut my hair, I applied to school, I started working out, I bought fresh groceries, I went and hiked through a cave with my two best friends. I started writing again.

The first few steps were the hardest; getting up to put on my workout clothes was tough, but when I felt the sweat on my arms, when my legs were shaking and my face was beet red; I felt amazing. Because doing something- even something painful- will always feel so much better than sitting there thinking about it. My tummy is still chubby, my muscles are still weak and my arms won’t be ready for tank tops anytime soon; but I’m doing something, I’m trying. And right now- that’s all I need to do.

The world is slowly changing, and I must follow. The leaves will soon wear their masks of bright colors, dressing up the trees in their season’s best. The air will grow cold, crisp and fresh, the morning frost will stain the grass a sparking white. The rain will come and wash away the scorched earth that this summer has wrought. The world will find the gentle peace that comes with the coming season, easing away from the ravenous passions of the last.

Change can be so beautiful when we are willing to embrace it. This is going to be a gorgeous year, built for new adventures, I can feel it in my blood, pounding through my veins, breathing life into my soul. I’m falling in love with this new life I’m creating, I’m falling in love with the season that has always helped me find myself again. I missed this old road, I feel enriched to have found it again.

May you find all that you are looking for, my friends. May you peer fearlessly into your own soul and find the road that will lead you where your heart belongs. This life we were gifted with; it is pointless if we stand here stagnant. Never be afraid of those winds of change. Never be afraid to travel down that road. Success or failure- it doesn’t matter- the point is that you walked that path, you found where it led, and you learned from it, simply because you dared to brave the risks of taking that chance. Embrace the change, enjoy the season; because none will ever be quite like this one.

The Sun, the Moon, and Stardust

I remember hearing a story when I was a little girl about the sun and the moon; two cursed lovers who were destined to chase one another across the sky. I heard stories of how one would hold its breath and sink to the other side of the world just to ensure its dearest love could dance across that wide expanse. Forever they chased, whispering their sweet nothings in the flickering of the light they shared. And yet- once in a great while, the gods granted them mercy. In the rarest of moments, their chasing would cease, they would meet in the sky and share a long kiss, a deep embrace; and all the world would stop, staring in awe as their love eclipsed this lonely place; so powerful it could turn day into night, if only for a little while.

Of all of the stories, the myths and the legends; this is the one I love the most. The years of searching, of chasing, of running across the sky; culminating in a moment that can still steal the heart and take the breath away.

Yesterday I experienced my first eclipse, and it was as magical as I had hoped. My hometown fell just outside of the zone of totality; we sat at about 99%, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to those dreamed-of areas where the viewing would be perfect. But I had an hour, my glasses, and good company. I’ve always been a bit of a science geek, and fell in love with the beauties outside of our planet when I was just a girl. I used to hide under my covers and read textbooks about the stars, sneaking peeks of articles talking about water on mars and what could be found on the moons of Jupiter. At eight years old I was convinced I would go there someday- or at least our moon, that dear little beauty. Losing that dream, stifling that sense of wonder and adventure for the sake of ‘realism’ and ‘pragmatism’ is perhaps one of my biggest retreats. You don’t realize unto you have stomped the budding plant under your feet that it had the potential to grow into a towering oak. That spark inside may have dimmed, but it still flickers. So when the eclipse came, I was prepared, giddy with excitement I didn’t even attempt to contain.

When I woke up, I tried looking out at the world and sensing a difference; were there any cosmic signs that today would be different than yesterday? Was the sun a bit brighter, or was that my imagination? It just felt like a regular Monday. At 9:06, I excitedly peeked up into the sky, wondering if I could see a difference- it looked like a regular day to me. And yet peering through my glasses, there was an entirely different story to tell. Just barely crossing in front of that bright orange glow- there it was, a beautiful orb intersecting in a delicate dance.

Walking outside, there was a buzz of excitement as people stopped every few feet to stare back up into the sky. The shadows themselves grew longer; the light cast between the beaches changed shape, looking for all the world like slivers of the holes you punch out of paper.

The world grew dim, an eerie twilight in the middle of the morning. And the thing that really struck me- it got cold. You don’t realize the power of the universe that we find ourselves in until right in that moment when the moon gains the upper hand and even the sun itself cannot stop it. It was beautiful, inspiring, and somehow managed to remind you of how small you really are. There’s something empowering in that moment, right there when you realize how bold and magical this world really is- and you are right there, a living and breathing part of it. You belong to it just as the sun does, just as the moon, just as the trees cast in those shadows- you belong to something so much bigger than yourself. It was powerful, it was amazing.

As I stood there in the false twilight, I couldn’t help but wonder how our ancestors handled this rare phenomenon; the stories that have been passed down tell a far different tale than my own. Many were fearful of this mysterious force that could turn day into night. The Incas believed that a jaguar was attacking the sun- and they would make as much noise as they could to scare the beast away from their beacon of salvation. Luckily for them- they won that batter every time. The knowledge that science bestows upon us has power. It can turn something that would traditionally inspire fear and uncertainty- and casts it into a new light of understanding. It can empower you, and remind you of your place in this world.

Have you ever heard the quote by Lawrence M. Krause? He said, “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: you are all stardust.” You can call yourself a child of God, or a child of the stars; it is no matter to me- the point is that we belong, right here. We belong to this universe, the this solar system, to this planet, to this dirt and this water- we belong to each other. We all stood in amazement yesterday staring up into the sky as the sun and the moon shared a loving entrance before traipsing back across the blue expanse. We shared a moment that had nothing to do with ideology, political viewpoints, no sparring between us vs them, no suspicion and no hesitation. We shared a wonder of this world- and in that moment we were finally united, even if it was only transitory, a tiny little breath of time. Strangers were sharing glasses and smiling towards the heavens, thanking one another. Defendants and Judges stood on the sidewalk with rapt attention and shared a moment, all of their differences cast aside as they smiled at one another. Perhaps if we stopped to explore the wonders of this world more often, we would remember what we have in common with it and with one another. We are not so different; we are all stardust. We are all just the moon chasing that beautiful sun across the sky.

These last three photos are all courtesy of NASA- thank you for making me feel like I belong to something much larger than myself.