Just Keep Swimming

I posted this on social media two days ago: Monday, 6/24.

Just keep swimming.

This past Saturday was three weeks since Nana’s passing; two weeks since her funeral. June 22 is Nana and Papa’s wedding anniversary. Z woke up, and she led me through her morning routine. I asked what she wanted for breakfast.

She looked at me and said, “Nemo.”

I very deliberately paused. “You want to watch Nemo? Ok, let’s go turn it on.”

We watched about 30 minutes of the movie when Reilly got home from the gym. After pausing the movie, we went upstairs and started eating the donuts he brought. Then Z headed back downstairs to finish watching. I followed her.

While the movie was playing I had my laptop open, writing and reviewing some personal thoughts. Then I heard Dory sing, “Keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

I stopped typing. This was the motto Nana had applied to her own struggles and afflictions the past couple of years. No matter the procedure, the pain, the fatigue, nausea, heartache: she pushed on. With a smile, even.

As Dory sang, I cried. As Marlin guided her through the swarm of Portuguese Man-o’-Wars stinging her, and Dory fought to stay conscious, she sang: Keep swimming.

After Finding Nemo, Z asked to watch Finding Dory. Young Dory sang “Keep swimming” when a current swept her away from her parents. She sang it throughout her search for her parents. That was how she survived. And succeeded.

I cried again.

It had been a while since Z watched either of these movies, and Reilly suggested she was feeling nostalgic. I agreed, but not just for the movies, but for Nana. I know she misses her.

Z knew what the day was. It wasn’t a coincidence she wanted to watch those movies.

Then while we were in Payson yesterday for dinner, Cousin Jessica made and brought these dogtags for all of us. A reminder of Carla; a talisman for how to live our own lives.

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We’re gonna just keep swimming, Nana. We love you.

It Was A Beautiful Day

June 8, 2019

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This was two weeks ago. I don’t know how that happened, where the time went. Not that it passed particularly quickly or slowly, but that it . . . moved.

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The service at the church was beautiful. Poignant music. Heartfelt words. A lot of tears. Some laughs. Many hugs. There are a million stories that could come from that hour and a half at the church. And a million more that could come from the hour-long viewing beforehand.

Graveside. Sunny, mid-60s.

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Z could not have been been better behaved. She understood the day.

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Carla would have loved these flowers. A coworker relayed that Carla actually chose her spray. Her colleagues were more than eager and happy to oblige her. For this day. This one wish. Something in the way her coworkers regard her is particularly touching to me. They were also her friends, but there was something about their relationship that somehow resounds with me.

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Two weeks sometimes feels like a million years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. These perceived lapses occupy the same space. Or maybe they’re layered on top of each other. Or interwoven. I don’t understand it. Maybe a part of me wants to believe that understanding it will help me feel better. But what I should understand is that I’ll feel better with time. Whether that time is in slow-motion or warp speed.

And “feeling better” isn’t a singular event. I’ve felt pretty darn ok in certain moments. Laughed, even. I’ll take what I can get.

I’ll give what I can, too.

Today is Blake and Carla’s 41st wedding anniversary.

This isn’t an easy month right now.

We’re all going to watch Reilly’s brother play in the Utah Symphony as they accompany a screening of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire.

Should be fun.

Smoke and Reflection

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On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.

People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.

To see. To see, and to breathe.

The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.

This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.

How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?

Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?

What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.

Desuppression

Seven hours of sleep, and the alarm sounds.

Seven hours of sound sleep. I could keep sleeping.

I press snooze.

Anticipating the snooze alarm.

I do not keep sleeping.

Waiting.

I could sleep like this every night.

Coughing gets in my way. It feels like a month of coughing, my abs punching my lungs to expel air at random times, at inconsistent forces. Attempting to tame a lingering tickle in my throat.

Coughing annoys, distracts. Steals sleep. I feel the tickle right now.

Breathing has been shallow lately in this past month. This morning I exhale deeply, and my ribs tighten. Sometimes the spaces between the ribs cramp. Like I have been running and I get a stitch in my side, but I cannot run through the pain until it subsides.

I am not running. I just lie here. Not sleeping.

But the cramps. Am I out of oxygen? Has it been so long since inflating my lungs through deep, meditative breaths? Have my ribs forgotten how to expand, to compensate for my body’s deficit in breathable air?

What is breathable?

Winter sits on the air, spits in it. Sometimes she brings snow and wind and chilled rains and replaces the air.

Winter is heavy and often merciless and stingy, not only with the air but also the sunlight.

I realize more than one cause facilitates my suffocation.

This early in the morning headlights slide across closed blinds: One thousand one, one thousand two. I try breathing again, and it still hurts.

Darkness penetrates the room. Darkness is space, but it does not expand. It constricts. I cannot breathe the space, but it breathes into me, occupying too much of my lungs. The pressure also surrounds me from the outside, hugging my ribs tight.

Darkness leaves just enough air in my lungs to cough. Cold medicine suppresses the cough, helps me sleep.

Now, if only I could breathe more than a teaspoon at a time without pain.

Yet when my child and my husband cough, all I want to do is absorb their coughs. They need to be cough-free more than I.

Ten minutes later. The snooze alarm sounds. I turn it off and sit up. I could keep sleeping. I could keep overthinking this cough. I slip out of bed and begin getting ready for the day, grateful at least to be breathing, albeit heavy, dirty winter air.

Grateful for the full night’s sleep.

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Disclaimer: Obviously I’m rusty with writing, but bear with me. I should be doing this more often and finding my voice. Beneath the coughs. Fingers crossed.

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.

My People from the Land of My Birth

This morning I looked at my newsfeed and out of over 120 articles, 20 of them were about damage or relief or something about the typhoon that struck the Philippines.

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I’ve been thinking about my mom’s family who still live there. Because they’re my mom’s family, they’re also my family, even though I haven’t met very many of them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve been worrying the past few days if everyone is okay.

The LDS Church issued a statement that all its missionaries serving in the Philippines are accounted for. Definitely good news.

But I’ve been thinking more about the 10,000 or so who are missing or did not survive. This morning I called my mom and asked if she heard anything about her family. Mom lives in Florida, but she spoke with a cousin who keeps in touch more often with our relatives in the Philippines. Mom said that everyone is fine; they live in a more northwestern part and the typhoon did most of its damage in another part of the country.

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Mom said she’s sure her family got a lot of wind and rain, since the typhoon was as big as or bigger than the country itself, but she’s relieved that her family are safe. I’m relieved, too.

One of the things I found encouraging about the headlines above is the clarion call to the world to get moving and help the Filipino citizens. Times like this remind us that we know how to reach out and be good people. These times motivate us to think about humanity and nudge our hearts to beat again, three times bigger.

If I could fly over there and start separating debris and hugging people, I would. I’ll have to find another way. Find your favorite organization, and see what you can do to help.

Keep praying.

Manalangin para sa Pilipinas.

Keeping Warm this Wretched Winter

When I got out of work this evening, there were actual puddles on the relatively snow-free sidewalk, evidence of molecules moving, releasing heat. Wispy clouds veiled parts of a blue sky, and the air didn’t make my teeth hurt.

Yet I looked at the forecast earlier in the day, and Saturday’s weather promises “areas of frozen fog.”

Weather, what the HELL is that? I chatted with a friend today, and she said frozen fog sounded dementoresque. She said I should catch a dementor. So that’s what I’m going to do on Saturday. I’m going to tame it and give it a clever name.

The air has been frigid these past couple of weeks. Near zero degrees. Sometimes it rises all the way up to the 20s, sometimes a warm winter front comes through and dumps two easy feet of snow, dragging a hawkish train of more bitter coldness.

I do not get along with this weather. I fight it, stand up for myself. Here’s how:

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  1. Thermals under my pants. My coat isn’t quite long enough to cover all of my legs, so these help.
  2. Two pairs of socks, because there’s nothing I hate more than cold feet. I can’t sleep or work properly when my toes are frozen. I get mad at Frontrunner more easily when my toes are frozen.
  3. A wool layer is good for shielding the cold and trapping heat. I’ll wear this over a shirt, which I’ll usually wear over thermal tops. When I say I like being warm, I don’t mess around.
  4. TWO scarves. I unfold one and wear it like a cape over my shoulders. I’ll wrap the other one around my neck then over my head so that it covers my ears. I also hate when the cold pierces the insides of my ears.
  5. Another layer, usually waterproof and looser-fitting, over my pants. It helps to shield the wind that tries to wrap around my legs. In your face, winter weather!
  6. High, insulated, waterproof boots. These come just below my knees, and I pull my snowpants over them. This combination prevents my feet from getting wet. I’ve had to plow my way through foot-high snow on the sidewalk next to my work building.
  7. The coat is the final layer. I zip everything up and seal everything in. I’m ready to wait for the bus and/or the train. This picture looks like there’s an alien creature pushing through my stomach, but no, it’s other layers that keep me nice and warm.

Not pictured:

  • Gloves: Having cold hands is almost as bad as having cold feet.
  • Earmuffs: Again with the ears, but they ache if they’re cold. And then I cry.
  • Aliens keeping me warm from the inside.

The ultimate goal is to layer up so that I’m like Randy from A Christmas Story and I have to say, “I can’t put my arms down!”  and Reilly will say, “Well, put your arms down when you get to work.”

So far this system of layering has worked this winter. I haven’t yet gotten sick, and it seems that my fist just now shot out in some sort of reflexive action to find the closest wood-like surface to knock on. Bring it, January. I’m ready. Dementor, I’m coming for you.

I hope everyone else is keeping warm.

Open Letter to … Oh, Who Cares

To Whom It Does Not Apparently Concern,

I know that no public transportation system is perfect. Things happen. Trains break down or even get stuck on the tracks in the “narrows” between Draper and Lehi like the southbound train did this evening. I don’t even know how that kind of a thing happens, but I’d like to understand why it did. Because seriously, if trains were running every hour southbound all day without incident, I wonder what happened. Was there a snowdrift? Could the train’s momentum not push through a snowdrift? I guess I could just jump onto a news website and find out what happened, but it’s so much more fun right now to vent.

The conductor did say that “bus bridges” would pick us up from the Draper station and drop us off at the stops farther south. I was fine with waiting at the stop, because I texted the situation to my husband, and he offered to pick me up.

I was fine waiting in the warm train, away from the frigid air, until the conductor announced (and apologized) that the train would have to go back north. He said that everyone would have to get off the train and wait for the bus bridges. I even bundled up and felt prepared to wait in the cold. Somewhere between zero and ten degrees Fahrenheit. Reilly found the address to the station online, and he texted me that he would pick me up soon.

That text came at 5:44pm. We got kicked off the train at 5:58. Draper’s not that far away from Orem, and northbound rush hour traffic isn’t as busy as southbound, so I guessed Reilly would arrive in about 20-25 minutes, which meant 6:05-6:10.

The wait went beyond that range of expectation, which means that I got that much colder for every minute that I waited past 6:10. I was perfectly cozy in my many layers before then. And then somehow my toes froze inside my insulated boots, which means the insulation worked the wrong way.

So Reilly didn’t get to the Draper Frontrunner station until 6:27, which means it took him 43 minutes from Orem. The station looks to be quite in the middle of nowhere, and I wondered if people who’ve never been to the station could easily find it. The answer is easily no.

Thing is, dear Emersonian eyeball of public transportation: Just because you name a road “Frontrunner Boulevard” doesn’t mean the Frontrunner Station is automatically easy to find. Online, the station location is 12800 S 500 W, but the street names do not follow this grid address system near the station. That extra 17 minutes in the cold really isn’t anything to whine about, but if public transit in Utah is to be efficient and comprehensive:

  • Mark Frontrunner (and bus) stations with signs at the freeway exits
  • Use signs en route (from the freeway exit) to clearly direct public transport commuters to Frontrunner stations
  • Provide better online maps/links for Frontrunner station locations
  • Update the website immediately with alerts or route changes

It could have been worse, definitely, but no one should get lost looking for a Frontrunner station, especially if so many people rely on Frontrunner to get to and from work, and especially if another situation like today happens and people don’t want to keep their friends and lovers cryogenicizing out in Siberia because uncoordinated or lacking streets signs have caused the station to David Copperfield. Poof.

Things could be worse. I could be in Florida, stuck on Blanding Boulevard or the Buckman Bridge. I could be in Manhattan, in a Zipcar on the Westside Highway on the Friday before Labor Day.

But things are better now. My feet are warm again, and I can feel my toes.

So, I guess as long as the mercury doesn’t freeze, there will always appear to be a silver lining.

Thanks for letting me vent,

May

The Scary Storm

There’s a profound metaphor a-brewin’.

While scrolling through my Facebook feed and ignoring the happy, oblivious posts of those who aren’t being affected by Sandy, I came across this photo. Click on it and say some prayers.

Winds are howling, lights are flickering, transformers are exploding. Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. There are reports of green electrical arcs in the sky, a scary form of the Aurora Borealis. I doubt New York has seen many hurricanes, and it probably hasn’t received the Noreasters that Boston has, but it seems that the Big Apple finally gets to enforce a lot of its emergency preparations. I know my friends are prepared.

The island would seem different than a mainland hit, because it’s an island. Two and a half miles wide by 12-13 miles long. The tunnels and bridges are closed.

Yet, no man is an island.

But I also don’t want to downplay the rest of the Northeastern shore. They also have floods and fallen trees and power outages. Leaky ceilings and floating cars.

Hang on to your hats.

My friends are prepared. I’ve seen their statuses of the provisions they’ve gathered. Lights, food, batteries, water, cheerful souls and prayerful hearts. When the winds stop whipping and the water subsides, they’ll use their optimism to clean up their towns and get back to their usual lives. Which happen to be extraordinary.

I believe John Donne.

Sandy Dunkin New York

Right now I imagine a former home of mine is receiving a lot of rain, lightning, and high winds. Many former homes have been part of those circumstances.

I was born during a typhoon in the Philippines. This may be why I don’t really freak out during big rains. My birth versus the storm: I won, but I’ve also always made sure never to get too cocky. Don’t stand in an open field under lightning clouds. Don’t play in puddles and get ringworm.

I lived in Guam. Seems if you live in the Pacific Ocean, you have to expect the whole range of tropical weather. Which would include earthquakes. And if volcanoes were nearby, those, too.

I lived in Key West. Consistently warm weather often compelled my brother and me to stay inside with the air conditioning. But I played a lot outside, too. But I mostly blame Key West for making me break my brother’s arm.

I lived in Jacksonville. Hurricanes mostly miss Jacksonville. The city often catches the fringes of the swirlstorms, and it receives a lot of rain, but Jax has had its share of lucky breaks when hurricanes decide to turn northward toward the Carolinas. And that’s not so lucky for the Carolinas.

I lived in New York City. That damn town greeted me with a blizzard, and it rained when I left it nearly 7 years later. That place brought out my allergies and gave me a true glimpse of depression. Rain, snow, strikes, sweltering and stifling heat. I miss that place.

I live in Utah. The sun is out, I can see the mountains that still hang on to the turned leaves. I walked two blocks through wet and heavy snow the other day, and I felt nostalgic. Today, nary a trace of that white stuff. But the mountains cling to that, too.

New York, I know you’re prepared. Candles, flashlights, water, food, batteries. Board games, radio. Dance parties. Storytime. Quality time. Run to the Hills. Or Washington Heights. I’ll be praying for you.