Shadows, Sunrise

Sheets cover the lower half of my body. The nearby freeway hums and rumbles in the background. Light from streetlamps sneaks through closed blinds and diffuse the darkness. Turned toward the center of the bed, I watch; I listen. I realize I’m not breathing, not because I’m consciously holding my breath, but because of the little one beside me.

She takes my breath away.

Little lungs inspiring as deeply as they can, relaxed eyelids, the muted and peaceful glow of her face siphon happiness from places within I never knew and fill my heart that I’m still getting to know. There’s tightness, discomfort from contentedness. It is solid ground and a highwire. I teeter along the cognitive dissonance where happiness and doubt coexist.

The first eight weeks cast an easily darker shadow on my perspective. I couldn’t ignore hormones and just smile. I couldn’t ignore harmless comments or even generous offers of help and instead took offense. I couldn’t ignore persistent, pulsing cries pleading for simple needs to be met. I couldn’t help myself.

Objectively, months later levels are more even. There’s more smiling, fewer eggshells. We use the bathroom. We eat. We sleep. Fulfilling these needs reveals the complexity of her personality, the obvious need to be nurtured, guided, taught. Is it Maslowesque. Is it even a pyramid.

What am I doing. Is it good enough. Will it ever be good enough.

I allow myself to inhale her overwhelming beauty, her skin aubergine, opalescent in the wee hours. I continue watching her as the bedroom slowly brightens. The air conditioner and refrigerator harmonize in my subconscious, but her breathing completes the chord and finally lulls me to sleep.

It’s good enough for now.

There are still shadows, though fainter. They do not come from her.

Thinking about Brrrr

About a month ago I wandered around the Relief Society room during the third hour of church. I scanned the room of chatting women to see if I could find people who would offer the opening and closing prayers.

When I walked back to the front of the room I noticed the face of the woman who would be conducting the meeting. I remarked to her that she looked tired, and I asked if everything was okay. I expected her to respond with something about staying up all night with her toddler daughter. Instead she told me that her cousin had died the day before.

This completely caught me off guard but I told her that I was so very sorry.

Class was about to begin. She got up and conducted the meeting.

For the final 45 minutes of church I couldn’t pay attention to the lesson. I kept thinking about my church friend at the end of the row, staring blankly, trying not to think. I knew this person was hurting but I still felt vulnerable around her. I wanted to hug her and talk to her about her loss. She had to keep it together so that she wouldn’t fall apart in front of the class.

It wasn’t until after the closing prayer that a few women gathered around her to offer hugs while mournful tears streamed down her face.

I didn’t get to talk to her.

About an hour later back at home, I received a text from this lady. She thanked me for my concern. She said she couldn’t talk before the meeting because she was conducting and didn’t want cry in front of everybody. I told her that I understood and again I was very sorry.

She said that her cousin was found outside the day before, frozen to death.

I gasped then cried when I read this.

People die because of the weather probably more often than we are aware. Pets, too. Heatstroke. Hypothermia.

Since hearing about this incident, whenever I go on Facebook and see people who live in warmer climates poking fun at people who live where it snows or freezes over, it makes me sad.

When the polar vortex hit, all I could do was hope that everyone found a warm place to wait it out. Even the poor souls who have never before experienced weather sub-30 degrees Fahrenheit. Especially those people who watched from their yards the mercury plunge ever deeper below zero.

This lady from church is originally from Arizona, where I know she’d rather be during the wintertime. I wonder when she sees those teasing Facebook posts to actual people who live in snow and ice and constant frigidity, if she says to herself that she can’t be mad at them; they don’t know her. They don’t know she has a cousin who died in the conditions they’re making fun of. They don’t know they’re being insensitive. They may even have experience with cold weather, but it’s hard not to imagine their attitude that they’re superior because they’re warmer. I wonder if it’s even crossed their minds, a loved one dying in extreme weather. Do they know what it’s like?

This lady at church? She knows.

Some Old Time Religion

A young man referred to this song during his talk today in church. It’s one of my favorite old gospel tunes.

The young man’s talk was about gratitude, and throughout his remarks he expressed sincere thanks and appreciation for many blessings in his life. He demonstrated a positive attitude, and he inspired me to be more grateful more often.

The Eva Cassidy recording of this song is one of my favorites because she brings out a lot of the inherent emotion in the song. Like she truly can’t help singing about the Lord in her life. That’s an admirable condition to have, involuntary proclamations of gratitude.

Thankfulness seems such a conscious state of mind or being, but I imagine many of us develop an awareness of behaviors that become second nature. Can someone be grateful and not know it?

I haven’t blogged in a month. It’s time to catch up on a few things.

  • Vacation
  • Hikes
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Paula Deen
  • DOMA, possibly
  • Games
  • Weather
  • Art of conversation
  • Movie/Song/Book reviews

This week I have to prepare a Relief Society lesson to give next Sunday. Just thinking about it gives me butterflies. I have been thinking about the lesson the whole month, so it’s a matter of organizing my thoughts and hopefully teaching a few things my fellow sisters need to hear.

Neighborhood Sad

This past Sunday at church, the bishop announced from the pulpit that the son of a family in the ward was playing soccer last week and suddenly collapsed. The boy’s family took him to the hospital. The bishop said if anyone spoke Spanish in the ward, the family would appreciate a visit.

Wednesday nights, I go out with the Relief Society presidency to visit women who have recently moved into the ward. We introduce ourselves to these ladies, and we welcome them to the ward and reassure them of our desire to be their friends.

Tonight, while we were getting into the Relief Society president’s car to make some visits, the second counselor reminded me of the bishop’s announcement and said she received an email saying that the boy had passed away. She also said that because the family had spent so much time at the hospital looking after their son, both of the parents lost their jobs. It’s bad enough to have bills you can’t pay for, but for that to add another layer to a pile of grief and sorrow just breaks my heart.

The boy was 11 years old. It’s so much harder to get through sadness without answers or explanation. But I guess that the family isn’t really thinking about getting through it right now so much as feeling it. Feeling helpless, alone, crushed. Feeling angry, lost, numb.

I want to do something for the family, and going to the funeral doesn’t even seem an earnest effort at anything. Donate for the funeral or to a fund until parents can find work? Make them dinner? I want to show support. There has to be something more, something demonstrative, something that really matters. I’ll have to pray and ask for inspiration, an outlet for compassion or a way stretch out a hand; I need to see how One knows exactly what this family is feeling right now would do.

On Voting

My very first federal election is coming up. After changing my name and residence for voter registration, I looked up my ballot. There are a lot of names I don’t know. The only political commercials that air on television don’t even apply to my congressional district, and presidential commercials don’t even air around here because not enough Obama voters live here, so I guess Romney’s using the money he saved from Utah to campaign like crazy in other states where Obama has a competing influence. Which I know is Mitt’s biggest concern. I just wonder where he gets and how he keeps his tan.

Anyway, here’s what my ballot looks like. I’m about halfway done researching the list, which sort of helps, but it’s mostly overwhelming. I recognize some of the names from billboards. My votes may just boil down to whether I like the spelling of names or if I can write poems from the anagrams of names or if my favorite letter of the alphabet that day is A. It is no coincidence that the initials of my new married name are the same as Mitt Romney. So, I could vote that way. Also, I like the Yes or No questions for the judges. Nothing about voting in Utah, America is confusing in the least little way.

Reliability

A month is not
twenty-eight days.
On time is always
early.
The fifth of September means
October third then
thirty-first.
Whites of my eyes can bleed
twice in October.
Excuse for swinging moods.
Pressure that only
caffeine and a nap
lessen.
Excuse for insecurity,
inferiority, opportunity
missed.
Weakness.
Just an excuse.
Logic, charm, work, love,
strength,
with the clock
and her bell to chime
every twenty-eight
days as
a reason.
Indicate my sex–
XX marks the spot.
Eggs float
hot,
flow
red, unused.
Almost too eager,
never late.

I Took A Nap This Weekend, and I Called It Sunday

I’m looking out my bedroom window, and a mountain is looking back at me. It’s green and rugged and I’m in a valley, and I’m not very green anymore, though maybe I’m still a bit rugged. I’d hardly call myself refined.

So, there were pioneers. Many of my friends have ancestors who crossed the plains in crazy weather conditions and under the order of God’s prophet, in addition to being run out of the Midwest by state governments.

And they settled in Utah.

This is the place.

Apparently some of my dad’s relatives came on that trek, I think. I would need for him to retell the story. He was born in Salt Lake City. His parents were LDS, and he has a stepmother who’s a member of the Reorganized LDS church.

My mother was born and raised Catholic, in the Philippines.

I was born in the Philippines, and my birth certificate says I have a Catholic mother from the Philippines and a Mormon father from Salt Lake City.

I talked aloud to one person today, my roommate. I told her I wouldn’t be going to church, so she didn’t have to worry about giving me a ride. Then I read and slept. And read and slept.

There are people in Africa who populate remote areas of continent. Why do they roam, where do they wander, and how do they decide to settle in certain areas?

And, why are other people stuck? Is it a matter of pride? Survival? Circumstance?

What are frontiers, anyway? What goes unexplored in realms physical and metaphysical?

Now, I’m thinking about Norway.

How do we understand what and where people are trying to explore?

Who are the pioneers, anyway? Do we always agree with or understand what they discover?

I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.

Knee-Jerk: A Few Wonderings

“Whether the photograph is understood as a naïve object or the work of an experienced artificer, its meaning–and the viewer’s response–depends on how the picture is identified or misidentified; that is, on words….But one day captions will be needed, of course. And the misreadings and the misrememberings, and the new ideological uses for the pictures, will make their difference.

“Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feelings, is the conviction that war is an aberration, if an unstoppable one. That peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception.”

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I have been working my way through this essay for the past year. I’ll pick it up at random and catch a paragraph or two, and if I’m lucky, these moments will coincide with the phases in my life when I’m angry at particular aspects of the world. War photography and photojournalism that captures human suffering: How do viewers react to/experience it? (How) Do their feelings change as this form of expression evolves? What effects does the photographer intend? In what ways do s/he and the audience share a conscience?

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

“Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

–Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk

I wonder about God as a photographer, if what I see in the world requires anything of my conscience. I wonder whether captions are necessary, or if the experience itself provides sufficient commentary. I wonder how much of the experience I am in control of.

I Should Love Abdoulaye Wade

This thought kept crossing my mind during church today, all three hours, in between wanting to pull my hair out and silently disagreeing with everything everyone was saying. And, in between texts. Yes, during church. Judge me already.

This thought surprised me, and I struggled with it.

I’m struggling with it.