Thursday, September 29, 2011

Morning bike ride

In Hawaii the sun is libertine
she kisses everyone-
the relentless roosters
The copious coconut trees
The brown-backed surfers
And me.

In Hawaii the sun makes the warm cloudy mist rise from the ground
Here the morning mist is the gloomy cold gripping greedily to car exhaust.
My skin is not kissed but freeze-dried
A brief stripe of warmth intermingles with the cold breeze.  Car exhaust?  Or the last fighting gust of summer?
Or perhaps my imagination.
The sun has given me the cold shoulder.

I look up
And realize
The sun has a different job here.
She is an artist
Who has painted the mountain with her morning light
Until it glows with pride in a hundred shades of orange and yellow.

I forgive you, Fall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Missing Grandpa Floyd

It was a perfect day outside, but I was wishing it would rain, just so I could know that at least the sky was crying with me.  The world seemed too happy, and I felt so sad.

I pedaled slowly and mechanically down the normally beautiful bike path, reflecting on the phone call I had received minutes before.  I had grabbed my things and raced out of my office before the tears came. I knew what my brother had called to say before he made it past an overly optimistic “Hello”: Grandpa had passed away.

I had a lot of time to think about him on my hour-long bike ride home.

One of my earliest memories is exploring the wonderland that was his farm.  There was an adventure around every corner: a piglet to hold close, a calf to lick my fingers, a giant peacock to trail for stray feathers.   Then there was his noisy, busy dairy, where I could always find him in his coveralls and cowboy hat putting in another full day’s work for the cows who knew him perhaps as well as we did.

As I grew older, I wandered the farm less and found myself visiting inside the old house more.  Both Grandpa and Grandma were always interested in my life.  They were always sincerely and immensely proud of me for what I understand now to be trivial accomplishments.  After Grandma passed away, our family would spend Christmas Eve evening singing and playing instruments and sharing our annual “talent show” with Grandpa in his living room.  He would read us the Christmas story from the Bible and share his most heartfelt gratitude for the birth of Jesus Christ.  Christ and Grandpa had a very close relationship. 

He encouraged me to serve an LDS church mission, and sent notes of encouragement during my 18 months there via my mom.  When I returned, I sat beside his leather rocking chair and held his hand while we talked about the people of Lithuania and my experiences serving them. 

When I got engaged, he had me sit beside his chair again, this time to give me his advice and his blessing for the decision I’d made to marry Kendon.  He wasn’t able to fly across the ocean for the wedding a few months later, but I could feel him thinking of me, proud of me for choosing eternity.

I was never too old to deserve the words, “There’s a special girl,” in his gruff farmer’s voice every time he saw me.  I was never too old for a whiskery kiss on the cheek and a giant hug.  Nor was I ever too mature to be shown his favorite “toys” each time I visited: from stuffed mice that jumped out of boxes to “baby rattlesnakes” in manila envelopes. None of his nine children or 61 grandchildren or 46 great-grandchildren or 6 great-great-grandchildren ever grew too old for these treasured experiences.

I thought about how much I’ve changed since those carefree days of wandering the farm.  Then again, at the end of the day, change is the only thing that’s inevitable.  Today change is causing me pain.  It’s taken away the greatest man I’ve ever known. But yesterday a change in his health was causing him pain.  For years change has been taking away his loved ones. Today change is giving him freedom.  It’s giving him health. It’s giving him back my grandmother, his mother and father, the bride that made him a young widower, and countless more friends and family members whose obituaries he’s been reading for far too many years. 

So the question is, will I let this new change go to waste in my life?  Or will I remember and revere him by applying the many lessons he’s taught me over the years?  Will I see the value and potential of every soul and love each person unconditionally?  Will I maintain an eternal perspective in the face of life’s greatest challenges?  Will I contribute every gift God has given me to every person I meet until I can no longer hear or speak or stand?

I made a resolve on that bike ride home to ask myself what Grandpa would do; to be the type of woman he would have me to be.  And then the cool autumn breeze gave me a big hug, the sun gave me a reassuring smile, and I wiped my tears away.  Everything is beautiful. Including change.

Yesterday a great man passed away. The greatest I have ever known. 
Thanks for changing me, Grandpa.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On marathons

We could see our breath, my sister and I, and the breath of dozens of others around us, all standing anxiously behind the rope and orange cones dividing us from the runners.

I made a note to self: Logan in September equals winter. I’d come to my parents for the weekend dressed in flip-flops and a t-shirt, so I was awkwardly dressed in an old brown sweater my mom bought in London in the ‘60s, a pair of oversized blue socks, and some moccasin-like slippers, two sizes too big. My stomach grumbled and I understood what it was telling me: “Me want more than poppyseed muffin for BREAKFAAAAST! RARRRRR!” I checked my watch. We had been standing near the finish line for the Top of Utah marathon for five long minutes, watching for Dad to come tearing heroically past us.

I started watching the runners. Some sprinted in with large grins on their faces, glowing rather than sweating, looking victorious and fit and ready to run ten more miles. Others looked pale and sick, limping across the finish line soaking with tears and sweat, tapping into their very last deeply embedded molecule of energy with every agonizing step. Another group fit somewhere in the middle: they looked somewhat happy to be finished, but were trying to conceal pain and emotion behind a smile or a tough face.

As I watched this sweaty parade jog, dash, and hobble past me, I made a goal to cheer for every person that went by until Dad appeared. Cari joined me: “Go pink lady!” “You look awesome, Nike!” “Nice finish, Michigan State!” My cheers got louder when we got an old person, a limper, or anyone that looked like living death. My voice got hoarser and hoarser, and I started warming up. In fact, when someone made eye contact and smiled because I was cheering for them, my heart turned into a giant furnace capable of powering the Boeing factory.

But I wasn’t the only one cheering. Everyone around me seemed to feel the same sense of compassion for these runners. Small old ladies were cheering for young shirtless men with long beards and dreadlocks. Children were rooting for other people’s grandmas and grandpas. Occasionally family members –including those just learning to walk – would step out from behind the rope to run the last leg with their loved ones. Race, age, class, religion, and appearances became meaningless against everyone’s desire to help each person survive to the end with kind words of encouragement. Everyday labels were replaced with uniform runner’s numbers on the back of everyone’s shirts. We became a family, all of us huddled behind the orange cones, and all of those persistent souls flocking their way to the sign that meant everything in that moment: “FINISH.”

We were complete strangers. But for a moment, it occurred to me that maybe we don’t have to be. In the marathon of life, why aren’t we screaming ourselves hoarse for each other? Do we not all deserve help in crossing our own personal finish lines, whatever those may be? Does not every hand deserve another’s – even a stranger’s – to be a guide and a strength for the last leg? If I learned nothing else from this run-down, soaking group of finishers, it’s that cheering for strangers of all shapes and sizes is cool. And pretty dang inspiring. And a great way to drown out a whiney stomach.

Oh, and my dad finished at around 4 hours with bronchitis, a strained Achilles tendon, and extra gray hairs. Everyone cheered real loud as he hobbled to his own personal victory.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In Memory

We were in the old, rusty, Dodge Dakota, bouncing on the potholes as I impatiently tried to do my makeup. I was late for school. Dad was late for work. The morning was brisk, and I shivered and turned up the heat. I braced myself for an argument as he reached his hand toward the switch to turn it off. Instead he flipped on the radio to his favorite: KSL news radio 1160. This was my cue to turn off my brain. I screwed on the lid of my tube of mascara after added some finishing touches, leaned back, closed my eyes, and thought about after-school plans.

My daydreams were interrupted by sounds of concern from my father next to me. “The twin towers? They did what??” He turned up the volume as if it would increase his understanding. I racked my brain. Had I heard of the twin towers? Was there an airplane accident? Planes crashed all the time… didn’t they? Then why did Dad’s face look so pale?

As the day wore on I realized that this event was far more important than I had initially realized. The twin towers, as it turned out, were big and important. They could fit a lot of people. And it began to dawn on all of us that this was no accident. Still, my 15-year-old self failed to internalize the fact that there were real people with real stories and real families in that building. And they were gone.

Ten years later, I again shivered as I drove to work and flipped the switch to news radio: this time on my own free will. In memoriam of the events of a decade ago, they began to play the stories of the victims’ families.

One man, with a thick New York accent, described his two sons: one a firefighter, one a police officer. He had talked to the police officer the night of September 10. His son chatted about his night shift thus far, and the father ended the conversation with, “I love you, son.” The next morning, the firefighter called to say that the twin towers had collapsed. He was going in. His father ended this conversation the same way: “Be careful, son. I love you.” In a gruff voice, this time-worn New Yorker said of his two brave sons: “I had one of them for 34 years, and one for 36. And the number stamped on both of their badges? 3436.” As if allowing the impact of this to sink in, the father paused before adding, “But how many people can say their last words to their sons were ‘I love you?’ This helps me sleep at night.” His gruff voice cracked as he said it.

Others told their stories too. A boy who was 5 when his grandfather – his “papa” – disappeared from his life inexplicably. A woman whose husband called to whisper “I love you” in his final moments, and to give his love to his three small children.

Walking through the doors of my work today was not unlike my walk through the doors of my high school ten years ago. I was late. I was listening to the radio. A tragedy was reported. The difference was my perspective. The picture in my mind was not of flying machines and smoke and collapsing buildings. It was of a little boy crying at night over the loss of his papa. It was of a father and mother praying for their two brave sons, who would not return from work that day. It was of a young widow with a resolve to help her children and the world remember this important event.

So, with a tear in my eye, I walked through the doors of my office today with a resolve of my own: To laugh harder. To breathe deeper. To allow myself to cry. And to express my love for those I care deeply about so frequently that they could never possibly forget.

The new me would have squeezed my father’s hand as he dropped me off for another day of 10th grade.