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.

One Year

One seems such a small number.

One year began with a day. But what about what came before?

One day before the day that began the one year, two lives crossed with one meeting. A single meeting of two single people. That single meeting turned to one date just a few days later. Then another date. And another. As the number of dates increased, the singularity of the two single people became more ambiguous. They no longer considered themselves single.

Look at this cute couple!

This became even more evident to them after the one first kiss. There was the only first one, but there’s always a first second one, and a first third one, and so forth. A proper tally during this one year would add up to the first kiss for the ten-billionth time. The first kiss on the first anniversary morning of the wedding would be the first ten-billionth-and-first kiss.

Almost smoochies!

It’s a little bit mind-bending, this whole issue of two single people who no longer consider themselves single. One year ago today, they vowed they would not only be not single but would always be together. One unit. A single entity. They promised to love each other, to bring each other out of a single status as two people to be married into one. A single status.

In this past year, they have already experienced so much. There is a certain intensity of depth that comes from cleaving unto each other. There are even terms that derive from such cleaving. Moments in books, movies, or real life that somehow relate to the marriage cause more poignant, even clevimental tears. Moments that are more lighthearted and cause the two people to share a secret wink or smirk or cause them to laugh at the same thing are full of clevity.

Yay, us!

In this past year, this single couple have shared so many singular yet infinitely precious moments.

  • They have traveled parts of the United States and hiked various parts of Utah.
  • They have experimented cooking various meals and desserts.
  • They have decorated their apartment and added to their book collection.
  • They have met different family members.
  • They have attended concerts and other various cultural events.
  • They have gone to theme parks.
  • They have attended book clubs and readings.
  • They have played with babies and laughed at kids at church.
  • They have danced together. Like, a lot.
  • They have sung to each other.
  • They have spent time with friends in many ways and played weird card games with family.
  • They have watched a lot of television and many movies.
  • They have told each other how cute they are.
  • They have talked about their respective jobs with each other.
  • They have gotten accepted to grad school. Yes, both of them.
  • They have prayed together.
  • They have talked about their future.
  • They have expressed how much they love each other, which makes them even more excited to keep talking about their future.

They are happy that talking about their future is part of their future. The meta-commentary becomes part of the metaphysical that will eventually become part of their reality. A singular reality.

They stand one year ahead of when they were married for time and all eternity. Two souls, one year. One year will turn into two, then three, and so forth. Those years will come.

For now, together, they look back on this one year.

It seems so huge.

We can't help it.

New Year’s Reduction

86,400 seconds starts over at midnight. That’s the way it worked 366 times last year, and on the 367th time, another year began.

We’ve had a recurring — or maybe chronic — problem that’s carried over from last year. Yesterday came and went uneventfully enough, but it’s taken all the energy I have to not tell today to suck it. Truth is, though, it could be worse. It could always be worse.

It’s symbolic for a lot of people: A new year, a new leaf, a new resolve. I’m not guiltless; I start thinking about resolutions months ahead, probably around the 25 billionth second of each year.

I don’t start a lot of new things, though. I carry over a lot of things from the previous year, much like the way the seconds tick forward.

1. There’s this concept called Clearing to Neutral that I find very useful, because it helps me enjoy waking up, cooking, going to work, and keeping my friends. It helps me avoid the stress of procrastination. I’ve applied this concept to most of my life, but I consciously want to implement it in other areas, such as laundry, vacation planning, and my non-introvert social skills. Let’s hope I can use it to ease some of my social anxiety.

2. I wake up every morning with the intention to read my scriptures, and I go through phases where I’m really diligent, but other times I just go to friends’ websites where they contemplate the scriptures. They do the thinking for me. It’s time to stop piggybacking. The youth Sunday School curriculum is new this year. It aligns more with the way I prefer to study the scriptures. I think I’ll use it, because this change seems a cute little tender mercy.

3. So, maybe 37 books last year is the most I’ve read in a year since 3rd grade, when I read 40 50-page books in a month to get a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut. I’d like to continue the trend (not the 3rd grade one). I don’t know how many books I’ll read this year, but a goal of at least 30 pages a day seems reasonable. Some days I’ll read more, but 30 is the hard minimum, even if it takes up to 3600 seconds.

4. They say more reading makes better writing, so I’m going to push writing as well. This does not include writing that is related to work. No, thank you (except that I really enjoy writing for work (see #1 above)). Well, do I write at least 30 minutes or 300 words a day? Sometimes I write as slowly as I read (or vice versa), so I’ll just give myself the flexibility of going between those parameters.

5. Sometimes if I’ve been sitting for a long time, my lower back gets stiff and it hurts to stand up. That makes me feel old. I do not like that feeling. I like feeling limber and spry, so I’ll be stretching my body 5-10 minutes every day. Not only will that help loosen my joints, it will help me feel younger in other ways, other married-activity, hubba-hubba ways.

Other things, like being kinder, smiling at old people, removing clutter, being an awesome wife, only cussing 3 times a day — those go without saying more than the five things I’ve mentioned. But they also help me to keep from telling days like today to suck it, as much as days like today deserve it. The seconds — 86,400 of them — will tick into tomorrow, and we all get to start again. Who needs new years? We have brand new days.

Have a Wonderful Christmas

Cool lantern

(More photos at Flickr.)

Let Earth receive her king

For unto us a Child is born

Come, adore on bended knee,

Christ the Lord, the newborn King

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Joyful, all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies

Let every heart prepare him room

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance

En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

And he shall reign for ever and ever.

Hallelujah.

At Church Yesterday

All the children stood in front of the congregation and sang two Christmas songs. One of the little boys standing near the pulpit caught my attention. He looked to be around 7 years old. He wore a lime green dress shirt and a dark, pin-striped vest. His lime green striped clip-on tie was slightly askew. He was cute. As his mouth moved while the music played, it became apparent that he didn’t know the words to the song. He just opened and closed his mouth to the beat, ba ma ba ma. It was a little bit funny at first, but then I admired his effort.

During Sunday school, an elderly man stood up and made a couple of seemingly unrelated comments about the Christmas lesson. He’s probably in his 80s, he only comes to church every once in a while. The teachers always do a good job of tying in what he says into the lesson, and yesterday was no exception. He usually talks about his childhood, his time at war; yesterday he recounted the history of man since Adam, and I realized that his comment wasn’t that far off. When we think about our origins, our history, our universal family, Christmas has as much to do with the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark as it does with December and eggnog and gift exchanges. More, actually.

The young and the old. Those who are most childlike shared themselves with their fellow church members yesterday. I am grateful to have experienced it. They reminded me of the spirit of Christmas.

Churchery and Blogs I Read

It’s a little weird when someone you don’t know all that well approaches you and says that they’ve been reading your blog. Then they say something about your life that you know you didn’t tell them, which is pretty jarring until you realize that they read it on your blog.

You get to know people through their writing, and you feel a certain closeness to them. They recount experiences that you can relate to. They help you to remember that you’re not alone in this world. Even though you haven’t met them, even though you’re not friends, they understand that parts of life can be especially hard.

I faithfully follow the blogs of two people who have been married for 10 years. On Monday they announced through their blogs (here and here) that they are getting a divorce. Over the years their blogs have shown what a great couple these people are. They’ve expressed love and appreciation for each other, and they’ve written about how they support each other in situations where they have struggled with mental health.

They announced their separation a few months ago, and when they announced their divorce, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of sadness for them. It made me think back to my parents’ divorce, and I guess I felt like lending a little bit of support and sent Dooce an email. Here’s part of it:

I didn’t understand my parents’ divorce when it was happening. They announced their separation in 1997, during my junior year at BYU. Everything finalized sometime in 2002. My mom was an immigrant and worked a minimum-wage job, and my dad’s lawyer somehow convinced him to sue Mom for child support for my then teenage brother. Dad came out looking like the bad guy.

But Dad has always seemed like the bad guy. Navy man. Almost draconian in disciplining us. We were spanked (belts, switches, whatever he could get his hands on), we were afraid of speaking up or forming original thoughts or developing our identities. He never listened, and he was always right. So I guess he felt he didn’t have to listen. The more I thought about it, and the more I talked it through with a therapist, the clearer the reasons for the divorce became.

They say that sometimes divorce works out to everyone’s happiness. Mom has since remarried, and my mental health has greatly improved. But my brother has stopped talking to my heartbroken dad, who has recently developed dementia and now convalesces at a Veterans Affairs place in Oklahoma. (When the house emptied, he moved from my childhood home in Florida to live closer to his sister.) I say “but,” but maybe Dad has found a little soothing in his blurry moments, like white noise or static on a tv screen. And maybe his lucid moments–when he recognizes his sister, when he and I have a good phone conversation–provide a little peace, too.

I see my dad in a different light.

Dad’s dementia has been an interesting extension of my therapy, an added reason to forgive him for the physical, sexual, and mental abuse I received as a child. He never remembered the sexual abuse (two isolated incidents), and I’ve debated confronting him about it for so many years. But now he’ll never remember it again, so why should I keep clutching a hurt that’s healed? When my aunt called with the diagnosis, it was like the tide came in after 25 years, and the sand I was holding in my fists magically washed away. I could finally swim.

Not that the divorce caused Dad’s dementia: causation, correlation, blah-blah-blah. Yet the divorce did seem to allow other events to unfold. And everyone in my family has learned to take varying degrees of charge of their lives. The happiness has been hard to find sometimes, but it has been there for the finding.

Today in church we talked about forgiveness, and one of the points that people kept mentioning was that many people don’t even realize they’ve offended you. They don’t set out to hurt you, but somehow it seems easier to assume maliciousness, so that you can take the high road and forgive. Which seems silly. The most sensible thing is not to take offense in the first place, because you don’t know the lives of those who may have hurt you. The better thing is to try to be more understanding, because forgiveness sometimes is so unbelievably hard.

Then again, if an offense is committed and your feelings are truly hurt, the other people may need your forgiveness as much as you need to forgive. It depends on the situation, I guess. So maybe my point here is not to let the grudge fester. Don’t let your refusal/unwillingness to forgive hinder your ability to see and the best in people, to understand them, to see them in a different light. Forgiveness can bring out the best in us, which is what the Lord always sees.

The happiness is there.

Not a Concussion, but Maybe a Slight Butt Bruise

The past four days have knocked me squarely on my rear. Three flights, up and down, up and down. My things, my books. His things, his books.

His friends. My friends. Family. Lots of help.

My bike, his shelves. Bags of clothes, boxes of DVDs. Different copies of Catcher in the Rye, American Gods, The Shipping News, The Road. Same copies of Norton. That’s what you get when English majors fall in love with each other. Conversations about Harold Bloom and Stephen Greenblatt. Also about Mad Men, Buffy, and the Utah Jazz.

And also about how we’re going to play basketball against his brother and sister-in-law and win. Of course we’ll win.

His Spanish books. My French ones. Comparisons of the forthcoming lune de miel/luna de miel.

And maybe blushing a little.

Putting together three more six-foot shelves. Lining the walls in the guest room. We’ve called it the study. But there are also his guitars and amp and my clarinet.

Thank goodness for cheap particle board. Precedes first-anniversary paper, which becomes appropriate in a year and 32 days. My bike tool with several types of screwdrivers and miniature wrenches works with a former roommate’s hammer. The books now have a home. They didn’t like the floor. I didn’t like them on the floor.

Someday they’ll actually be organized.

I threw away four boxes of school papers that were not appropriate for a first anniversary. Much easier than I thought it would be.

My diploma cover waits for a BYU diploma. It waits to sit next to a diploma from the University of Utah.

The irony of his blue Snuggie and my red one.

We have his television. His Playstation. My Wii.

My spices. His boxes of cereal.

When we run out of food, at least we’ll have books. We can eat those, but most likely the mass-market paperbacks first.

People have been so generous with the registry. Thank you.

Newly developed photos of a recent bridal shoot. His black suit and purple tie. My white dress and purple bouquet.

My Reilly. His May.

His past stories, mine. Share now to make future ours.

More conversations, more time together. More love and acceptance than I have ever known.

Sitting upright, legs out like a doll’s, disoriented. Sore. I shake myself present. The moment comes into focus. These past four days, damn.

Our happiness. All ours.

“Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

We were maybe a little shy toward each other for a few minutes. But they looked at you and something touched your heart. Besides, they don’t really care if your French isn’t perfect.

At the Koranic school, the girls sat separate from the boys, and that one boy recited only some of the Koran but he had memorized the whole thing by the time he was 11 years old.

I looked around and wondered who to talk to, there were so many youth, and the room became very noisy quickly. I took a few pictures, smirking at the stark contrast between my fair-skinned classmates and the rich darkness of the young students. The smiles sparkled the same.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. A group of young women looked at me. Their leader asked me my name. We talked about school and what they might do when they grow up. They all say they’re going to university, and a lot of them want to be teachers. A few girls ask me to take pictures with their cell phones.

They wanted to teach me a dance.

Every girl wanted to teach that dance to all the Toubabs. And they laughed every time we did it.

That first evening in the village near Saint-Louis, the kids were all dressed in traditional clothes and makeup. One of the teachers played a metal bowl as a drum, and little ones took turns dancing in front of the crowd. A few of us danced, too. A bunch of us watched a little boy wearing a green boubou with a white turban. His eyebrows were painted white. He fought sleep while we laughed at him.

A young woman made eye contact with me and we smiled at each other and exchanged names. I asked her about school and what she did during the day. She told me that she helped her mom make dinner and take care of the siblings. We took pictures and we look like friends.

All the village kids sang and clapped, and the rest of us clapped along.

One day in Saint-Louis, Natalie and I were on an errand to buy some bug repellent, because mosquitoes had attacked me the week before in Dakar and it was only a matter of time before malaria ravaged my body. We stopped by a pharmacy that told us to come back in an hour because they didn’t have any in stock at the time and were ordering some from another store. That was convenient because we wanted to go exploring that day. We crossed a bridge onto the fisherman’s island, photographing just about everything we saw. It was a bright, sunny day, like most of the days there. We walked to a less busy part of the island toward some houses along the beach. As we neared the coast a group of kids saw us and we started playing with them. A family invited us into their yard within a wall, where we got to look at their water well and talk about what we were studying. For the most part, I avoided the adult conversation and continued taking pictures of the children. There was a little boy wearing a yellow shirt with a puppy on it, and he made angry-looking, monkey-froggie faces and somehow immediately became one of my favorites.

One day at the village we got to teach the students. I sat at a table of 10-to-11-year olds, and their teacher instructed them to draw a cylinder with a length of 5cm and a radius of 2cm. So, that’s what I taught them. I used a can to demonstrate the height and to show them that they needed to double the radius. Reaching back into my basic geometry days was hard enough, and having to do it in French was an especially fun challenge. But I repeated myself three times, and when I asked them if they understood, they said yes. So I believed them.

Whenever I asked the girls if they were married, they always giggled. Then I asked how old they were and some of them were 13 or 14, and maybe I met a 15-year old. They can get married at 16, and it’s no more being a kid after that.

After class at the village we were standing in the courtyard and some of us were swinging the kids around. Two little girls were hanging off the arms of one of my classmates, and we couldn’t explain that they needed to take turns. One of them didn’t talk, but I took her and swung her around in a circle until I got dizzy and let her land gently in the sand. She let me spin her about five times until it was time for us to leave. It was cool knowing what she wanted without her having to tell me with words. She just took my hands, and I whirled her around.

There was another day of teaching the kids and there was the best recess I’ve ever had, with relay races and balancing water on one’s head and potato-sack races and wrestling. They taught us a few things about running in the sand, but I think they taught us more about how to be gracious losers and entertainers at the same time. They made us laugh, and through our follies and falls and spilt water and goofs, we returned the favor.

Then there was the evening our guys (and Britt) played soccer against the village team and while the village kids chanted and clapped in solidarity for their team, we bit our nails and winced and cheered whenever we got even a little bit close to scoring a goal. We lost 4-1, but we sang and danced together afterward and maybe I taught some boys how to wink.

The last night at the village we watched all the boys strip down to their underwear and tie their t-shirts around their loins like a sumo diaper so they could show us wrestle. It happened so suddenly and it shocked us, but it was all business to them.

It was during this last night that I noticed more kids had runny noses; I noticed their clammy hands and remembered a few kids with conjunctivitis. There was talk of bedbugs and lice, but it seemed that those were the least of the problems they were better off not knowing. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know about them.

I cried on the way back to the bus that evening. A young lady walked with me, and we talked about her family, that her dad was working in the Ivory Coast. She was 14, and she didn’t have to say she missed her father; that she even talked about it was enough of an indication. I asked if he visited often, and she said every month.  We hugged goodbye, and I told her to go to university and become anything she wanted. I told her I’d miss her, and I thanked her for being friends.

It was sad to go, not so much because I didn’t know if I was ever going to see them again, but I wondered how many of those children would live to see the next year. What’s so inspiring is that they weren’t even worried about that. They gave us hugs and showed us how disciplined they were and sang anthems with great pride. They searched our souls with sincere eyes and reached out to us. They trusted us when we weren’t so sure about ourselves. I was so concerned about their future, the conditions of their country, but they focused on their present circumstances. If they could smile and laugh and cheer, so could we. They lived in the moment, and we were blessed enough to have them share that moment with us.

A Year: Inventory Time Again

The anniversary of my leaving New York City is this next weekend, and I can’t believe I’m still whining about transitions. I’m profoundly disappointed in myself.

I have a lot to be grateful for, no doubt. I’ve made a few good friends here, which is more than I could have ever expected.

I have teachers who really like me, who open up a phenomenal world of thinking and writing, and through their perfect balance of scholarship and passion and faith, motivates me to just keep going.

There’s always the church, its trueness, God at its helm, directing with an exalted balance of omniscience and omnipotence and love. Despite who I’ve tried to be or what I’ve done, this too, keeps me going.

Technology lets me remember family. My family has grown in the past few weeks, and I now have four new siblings, with in-laws and 10 nieces and nephews.

Hopefully these things can bump my attitude out of the shadows, and I can learn to be happy where I am. Hopefully these things will trump my bitterness about feeling left out and removed from everyone else’s lives. Hopefully these things will help me accept how friends and family are moving on, because I should be able to keep up anyway, right? No one has any excuse not to share what’s going on with one another.

Not wanting to share is different, though, which I can completely understand. Regardless of these things, I’ve managed to alienate myself from people I love and consider my best and closest friends. Even with the technology, the distance makes it more palpable. I’ve managed to create a comfortable little pocket of misery, and I’ve never felt more alone, and of course no one wants to be around or hear about that.

So what do I do? Do I behave like a proper Mormon and fake it ’til I make it? That should be an easy enough thing to pick up, as hardly anyone here makes it apparent that they’re suffering or having any difficulty. And I get that living the gospel helps makes life easier to deal with, but it does not cover up the hard knocks.

I’ve also found that not a lot of people like to listen (anymore). They say they’ll always be there; they say I can talk about anything. It’s not true.

Choosing friends has always been one of my strongest points. Knowing what they need; figuring out what they can offer me.

Thanks to those who sent concerned texts or emails or facebook messages this past week. I know I normally don’t privatize my blog or turn off my facebook wall or lock my twitter account, but I just got overwhelmed. Thanks for noticing. It really means a lot.

Back to the drawing board.

It’s not a bad thing. That’s the beauty of the gospel, the potential to progress, the ability to heal after life knocks you down, leaves you tender and with a few bruises.

I’ll get through this.

Time for another round.