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.

Beautiful Souls Create Beautiful Worlds

She was 32 years old, her favorite color was purple. She was a waitress and a paralegal. She lived in an apartment with her chihuahua, Violet. She loved people and wanted the best for everyone she encountered. She felt the world so deeply that any story of hate or oppression could bring her to tears. She stood up for the things that she believed in. And because of this, she was killed- one week ago today the world lost a beautiful soul to the hands of hate. Her name was Heather Heyer; she was murdered when a car intentionally plunged into a crowd of counter-protestors who were ensuring that their own voices would drown out the hate spewing from the white supremacists who had charged into Charlottesville.

I didn’t know her, but I’ve known countless like her. Her death strikes a deep chord with me because she could have easily been one of my friends, my family, myself. She was one of us; she had a compassionate soul which left her no choice but to feel the beauty and pain so evident in this world right down to the core of her being. She was one of us; she never hesitated to stand up for those who couldn’t, give help and strength to those in need. She was vibrant and beautiful, inside and out. She followed her heart, even when it led to her death; she was one of us.

She was only a few years older than me. She worked in the same field as I do; and anyone in legal will tell you that it takes a very special type of person with a very odd sense of humor to handle what you see. She got the job because of who she was, because of how hard she worked- she got the job with a high school diploma and elbow grease, as the saying goes; just like I did. She wanted to help people, she went to rallies and protests and gave a voice to the things that mattered to her; it could have been me standing there, it could have been my sister, my mom, my friends. We have all marched in those lines, we have held our signs and chanted those words. We have all looked at this world of our and tried to make it better. She was one of us.

Some days I feel like I’m lost in Oz, in a land full of tin men who have lost their hearts and scarecrows who don’t know how to think for themselves. The only problem is that they don’t realize it. I remember when relatives and friends were posting sentiments to social media about ramming cars into crowds of protestors because “if they are in the street stopping traffic, they deserve it.” I remember being shocked (and from a girl who has spent ten years in the court system, very little still has the power to shock me). I remember trying to have conversations with them about it- every time they deflected with jokes that they thought were so damn funny- until now when they’re not. Jokes and laughter can be an outlet, but they can also normalize behavior and give people ideas that they are better off not having. My heart broke back then, and it’s breaking now because of the silence exhibited by these same people. They were so quick to laugh and makes jokes at the idea, and yet now that it is once again a poignant reality- they view the subject as too serious and taboo to touch. So they are silent.

The other day a woman who I have known and respected for years made a snide comment about the death of this beautiful woman. “You can’t get killed in a protest if you are at work.” I am still in shock at the callous response from someone who claims to be a good, religious woman, someone who is an involved member of her community, someone who used to bring bright smiles to my day when I was running short of my own. How do you respond to that kind of hatred? How do you react when someone shrugs their shoulders and points the finger at the victim? What happened to our hearts? If it had been me- someone she has known for years, I wonder if her reaction would have been different. I wonder if she would have been sad, or lit a candle in my memory. I wonder if she would have decried the hate that took the life of someone she had known for a decade. Or would she have shrugged her shoulders, thinking I was partially to blame for simply being there. Would her response have been different? And if it had- why? Why would one life matter more than another?

People keep telling me that you can’t look at Charlottesville as if it is a microcosm; you must view the whole picture, and the whole picture isn’t full of that much hate. They tell me that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that these people- the ones who marched through a town carrying torches and screaming Nazi slogan- they are rare, and as such should not be given the attention that we have shown. While I agree with this to a degree- I am still too cautious to nod my head and look the other way.

You see, there were lessons to be learned from Charlottesville, and yet a lot of them were ones that did not present themselves until days later. I agree that most people will denounce the type of open racism we saw last week. And yet in the days that followed I still saw a lot of shoulder shrugging, a lot of jokes, a lot of excuses and red herrings, a lot of people who turned away and found something else to distract them. In the days that followed I saw our bigger problem; and it is in the subtle actions that decry our lack of compassion, our biases that reside just below the surface, our heartless responses to moments of pain and fear. It is etched into the complete lack of empathy for anyone who is even remotely different from those we view as being a part of ‘our tribe,’ whether we chose religion, race, sex, philosophical viewpoints, etc- as the markers for that tribe. We have lost our sympathy and our compassion for anyone outside of our bubble. The river does not need to become a tidal wave to cause damage; it is usually the calmly flowing stream that can erode the banks and change the flow of the river entirely. Our problem is not solely with the blatant hate and prejudice that we saw last week; it is the more subtle daily interactions we have with one another. It is the way people respond to someone different, in the way they so easily dismiss another’s concerns. It is in the fact that members of my own family thought it was funny to joke about how satisfying it would be to ram their car into a crowd of protestors knowing that I have been in those crowds. It is in the fact that I can bring this to their attention- and they will dismiss my words and my concern. They will refuse to have a simple conversation; they will dismiss me and say they were only joking. It is a cold world that will find this funny.

There’s this interesting concept in the world today where people seem to think that they can dictate how others should interpret the world around them. You don’t get to tell someone that what they experienced wasn’t racism. It’s not your job to roll your eyes and tell her she was mistaken- that wasn’t sexism. You don’t get to tell people what lenses they need to view their life through. Your job is to ask a question, to open a dialog and figure out why they feel that way. Perhaps both parties will learn something new about the other. You see, our backgrounds, our appearances, our modes of speech and residence will create the life experiences that shape the lenses we view the world through. It’s easier to be blind to racism or sexism- or any other ‘ism’- if you do not have to experience it yourself. It was easy for people to tell me that sexism wasn’t a problem- and yet I remember when my friend’s boss openly told her that they almost didn’t hire her because she was a woman. People rolled their eyes and said that age discrimination wasn’t a thing- but I still remember the day that a customer refused to let me help him because I ‘looked too young to know what I was doing.’ So instead he waited for the older woman next to me to be available- ironically, she was the woman I was training at the time. It was easy for people to tell me that racism wasn’t a problem; and yet they never stopped to listen when I repeated the stories from my biracial cousin. We share the same blood, we were raised the same way- and yet the world treats us in very different ways. The last time a cop stopped me it was to ask if I was okay and if I needed anything. And yet when he would get stopped, he would be questioned and treated with suspicion- every time. Just because you do not see something through the same lens as another person does not give you a right to discount their experiences. That is not a decision for you to make.

Tonight I am angry, I am sad, and I am at a loss for what to do. There has been so much hate; some more blatant than others, but the subtle kind has been just as dangerous. The problem with our problems is that people want to remain blind. Admitting that there is an issue means admitting that we all have a part to play in it. I’m exhausted with the perpetual hate. I am so damn tired of everyone pointing the finger in a hundred different directions instead of where it belongs. We did this, and we have to fix this. We have to look within ourselves and confront our own monsters and biases. We have to own our experiences and accept that there are a million different viewpoints out there; each one as credible as your own. We have to stop dismissing one another and turning our backs to the problems that we believe don’t directly effect us. We have to find our hearts again, we have to have compassion and empathy. We have to start wearing each other’s shoes and walking for miles through their complex and beautiful lives. We have to stand up and speak out when something is wrong. We have to be patient enough to have meaningful conversations, and above all we have to learn how to listen. We have to share our stories so that people can begin to see the world through another lens. We all have something valuable to add to this conversation, we all have a responsibility to one another to speaks our truths.

Tonight I ask two simple things; if there is nothing else you ever take away from me or these words I’ve tossed out into the world, I pray you take these to heart. First: remember those brave souls like Heather Heyer- those courageous lions who got up every single day with their hearts on their sleeves. Remember the people who felt compelled by their own compassion to go out into the world and attempt to make it better than it was yesterday. Remember them tonight- these real flesh and blood people who deserved more than what they got.

And the next thing I ask: emulate them. Just because the world can hurt you, just because the pain can be so overwhelming- please, don’t ever stop feeling. Don’t ever turn your head away- witness this. Both the beautiful and the painful deserve to be seen and remembered. See this world for what it is and also for all of the potential that it holds. Be kind, be compassionate, tell stories and listen, please for the love of all that is good- listen to the words of others. Don’t dismiss them, talk to them. Be kind. Be human. It is a blessing and a curse to feel the world so deeply- never stop feeling it. That is the only thing that will change all of this. We owe it to ourselves and to one another to throw some kindness back into the world, to shine a light into all of its dark places. Be a lightning rod for change, use your own kind words and gentle actions to force others to see you and what you are doing. Remind people that there is hope and good still exists. Don’t ever let them forget.

I’m a Writer, I’m a Runner (and how they are the same damn thing)

I am not a natural runner, never have been, never will be. This is a fact that used to make me rage internally. I wanted to be that girl; there's a version of myself that I envision in some alternate reality in a galaxy far, far away. She's fit, lean, and ready to jog a marathon on a whim with a smile on her face and a light glistening of sweat that makes her look slightly magical as opposed to gross and smelly. The reality is far less appealing. I huff, I puff, I scrunch my brows into pained concentration. My hair jettisons out into a frizzy halo and the color of my face could rival the ripest tomato. I don't have any real form to speak of and could probably be confused with Phoebe from Friends as she's rushing to Central Perk. I am not a pretty runner. I don't say that to be modest or cheeky, it's true. When I was younger I even stopped for a while after being made fun of for it- my brittle self-esteem at that awkward age could not quite take it, so I avoided partaking in the activity for years- at least not when other people might see me.

phoebe-running-style-o

And so everyone who knew me was quite shocked when I agreed to take part in a multi-day, two-hundred (ish) mile relay race. I was dreading it, if I'm being honest, but I had a team of eleven other people who were depending on me- peer pressure can be a truly motivating force.

A few things happened that I never expected while I was out there on those roads, pushing through mental roadblocks and physical limitations, taking a pounding from the relentless sun and basking in the beauty of a star filled sky. I fell in love with this difficult challenge that forced me to find a sense of grit we lose in this world of modern convenience.

I didn't think I could do it- I went into the challenge simply hoping to survive long enough to cross that finish line. But there's something refreshingly human in the desire to prove yourself wrong; when you dig deep and find that resilient spirit you tucked away so many years ago. There's something empowering when you stand there staring at your own expectations of what you are capable of, holding your weaknesses in your hands and smashing them to the ground with a war cry of your own invention. There is something invigorating when you find a shard of strength you didn't know you had embedded deep your soul; that moment when you realize you actually did the one thing you always thought would be impossible. You become a fighter, you become more than you were yesterday.

There is something that we always seem to forget about grit and strength; contrary to what Instagram would have us believe- it is not always pretty, it does not always look empowering, and things do not suddenly become easy simply because you have changed your frame of mind. You don't suddenly morph into Mulan and start kicking ass without an ounce of trouble. I did more than I thought possible- but I still looked like a burnt puffer fish running down those roads. I was still in pain, my muscles screamed, my lungs went into panic mode. I still had to fight for ever inch of ground I gained, and I had to keep up a constant dialog with my own brain to convince it that my body could keep pushing. Success does not come easily, it does not always look like those inspirational pictures with the cliche captions on Pinterest. Life is messy, it is hard, and you will have to fight for all of it.

When you are out there pounding the pavement with no other distractions to steal your precious attention; your mind starts to wander into places you don't often visit. You find yourself searching for inspiration, for a reason to keep on moving forward. As I was out there on the road I thought a lot about life and what I wanted from it (apart from surviving to the finish). I thought about this past year and all of the steps that I have and have not taken towards my dreams. I thought about school, about work, about my writing. And I realized how similar my running and my writing actually were; it made each step a tiny bit easier when I realized that I already knew how to do this. I find my grit when I'm writing, I push myself, I battle with my inner critic who wants me to quit- I silence that voice. I knew how to run because I knew how to write. Knowing the patterns of the struggle reminded me that I know how to overcome them.

They say that running just entails putting one foot in front of the other, and writing is merely stringing words in a row. And yet to those who love them, they are so much more than that. These two completely different hobbies require the same frame of mind. You have to want it, you have to push, you have to fight for every advantage. And the enemy you are going up against isn't some scary monster- all too often it is that little voice in your own head saying 'you can't do this, you aren't good enough, why bother? Just stop.' You have to fight that voice with everything inside of you even when you don't believe your own inspiring words, even when you start to fall for those lies that little voice tells.

I'm a master of excuses. I can come up with ten thousand three hundred and thirty two reasons not to do something- each one more creative than the last. I do this on days I should be writing, and I especially do this on days when I'm supposed to hit that pavement. And yet with both the real struggle is simply beginning. Once you start- the world is fine, and you might as well keep on going. You have to fight the urge to be comfortable, you have to be willing to push yourself when you don't want to. You have to want it more than you want the bubble you hide in.

You have to be willing to put in the work if you want it to look effortless. I wrote a lot of horrible pieces when I started- and sometimes I still do (a lot of times). I had to keep practicing, putting words to paper as a foundation. I knew that I could sculpt it later, but I needed something tangible to work with. I had to start if I wanted to get better. It's easy to read a book and say 'I will never be that good, I am not that talented.' It's easy to forget that you are witnessing merely the tip of the ice burg that author has carved. There were months of awful work behind that. There were first drafts that were painful and difficult. There was editing and redrafting and polishing- all to create this little collection of pages that look so effortlessly beautiful.

Running is no different; it does not come easy to most people. When you see them on the road cruising along like they're floating on air- that's because they worked for it. You didn't see all of those months when they were gasping for air and pushing to reach the next telephone pole. You didn't see the struggle, you are witnessing the outcome of their hard work. They had days where the road kicked their ass, they had a time when the idea of running an entire mile without stopping seemed impossible. They had weeks where they didn't feel like they were improving at all. They would push just a little bit farther every day. They had to fight to make it look so easy, and truthfully, inside they are probably still waging that war as you watch them. These big rewards were not meant to be easy, these dreams are not ones you will accomplish unless you truly and deeply want it.

You will have to work hard, even when every piece of you is resisting. Writing when the muse is with you; that is the most beautiful time for any author- when the words flow freely like a raging river and the characters transform into living being right before your eyes. Writing is easy when the stars align just for you. But the truth is, this won't happen often. Most of your time will be spent pushing through the mental roadblock, and that fickle little muse will be off indulging some other wayward fancy. You will have to carry the story on your own. You will have to find something inside of you that pushes you forward, something that will keep you sitting there stringing one word behind another. Out on that road you will find the same thing. There is a period where the steps are easy and the pace is fast; you could go in for miles- so it seems. You feel great and your mind is keenly in tune with your body. Perhaps you have someone near you to keep you motivated; I do my best running at the beginning of a race when you are surrounded in a pack of likeminded individuals embarking on the same adventure- I beat personal records right in that sweet spot. But it doesn't always feel like that. In fact, a lot running (for me) consists of an inner dialog that I cannot turn off. It's my voice yelling to reach that next marker, to push it just a little bit farther. Most of it- for me- is hard work. A lot of really hard work.

When I did that relay- about eighty percent of the time I was not pleased with being there. It hurt- my muscles ached, there was a stitch in my side that would not go away, the sun left me parched, my face was so red police officers were actually concerned for my safety, and I was breathing like an elephant in need of an inhaler. It was not glamorous, it was not this magical moment that the fitness vloggers out there would lead you to believe. Pixie dust might sprinkle itself on them when they hit the road with their running shoes on, but not this Princess. But I was still out there. I was still fighting for every step, every inch, every mile with every fiber of my body. I didn't quit. Just like I don't quite writing when it's hard and the muse is gone.

The thing that I love about these two very different adventures; they both make me feel alive. They both push me to do things I would never typically attempt. They force me to see things from new eyes and to turn that gaze back on myself, to see me for who I truly am when my shell had been broken open and I am just a girl losing her way through life.

I am a writer; I spend my time telling stories, weaving together inspiring tales of flawed people. But this time- just this once- I got to be the character in my own story. I got to be the one to push myself, believing I was crazy the entire time. I got to have an adventure. I ate at a place called Bob's Burgers (if you've seen the animated show, then this might make you smile- they were delicious and the waitress was amazing). I also got locked in the restaurant after closing on accident. I stood in the Puget Sound as freezing cold water lapped at my knees watching the sunset with five amazing people. I walked to the dock in the middle of the night and sat on the stairs that lead to nowhere, drinking in the sights of the lights glinting from the opposite shore. I danced in a phone booth wearing a sloth costume. I ran to the Canadian border and set foot in another country (albeit fleetingly). I slept on the floor of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I crossed Deception Pass at two in the morning (albeit in a van- running it was not my challenge to face this year). I listened to my shoes hit the pavement as I ran through fields in the middle of night with nothing but my thoughts to keep my company. I found peace in a crazy world during one of the most exciting challenges I've been privy to in a long time. I cheered for strangers and had those who've never met me shout out words of encouragement (and the cowbells, oh how could I forget the cowbells). I crossed that finish line. And when I was done I stood on the back of the ferry and watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen- I immersed myself in it so much that I didn't even stop to get a picture (sorry friends, but I suspect it's something that just wouldn't have come out quite the same when you weren't in person). I celebrated with wine from a can, like a classy lady.

I fell in love with something that scared me. Just like with my writing, I was reminded how important real adventures are in this short time we have on earth. I was forced to truly look into myself and ask if I was the person I wanted to be- and how could I reach out to that girl? My stories taught me how to be inspired and brave; but it took a real adventure to show me what I was capable of. These two things are not so different. When used together, they can help one another thrive. My stories helped my running, and my running is helping me live more stories. I have more grit than I realized. I am stronger than I thought. Writing an adventure can be a beautiful thing, but do not forget to live them as well.