A feeling of settling

There are still so many things about this place that don’t feel like home. My room is essentially an 10×8 warehouse full of cardboard boxes. No bed has arrived, no pictures coordinated on the wall, no twinkle lights around the window.

Its freezing in the morning, and you have to go out fifteen minutes early to start your car up. These mornings are slow and frozen and pitch black. The drive to work is long, down a road that is still unfamiliar. The weight of my hands don’t pull the steering wheel around in a second nature sort of way yet. Every turn is a little unsure.

Their accents are strange and nasaly here. Their voice always seems to settle back in their sinus cavity somewhere before making it’s way out into the air.

There are still so many things about this place that don’t feel like home. And yet, for all of them, there are a hundred things that do.

Where there is a room with no bed in it yet, theres also a roommate who is willing to share her bed with you the first night you move in so you don’t have to sleep on the couch. The kind who puts on lavender scented humidifiers for you to fall asleep, and an extra blanket on your side.

For every freezing morning there is the sunrise over the mountains down an old mountain pass. And while the sun may rise with different colors and cloud shapes and hues, it is ever consistently the start of another day here.

And those nasaly accents? They are peppered with gut busting laughter, always asking my story, or giving me the MT survival tips a southerner could use.

So as I lay here on this couch, all wrapped in flannel quilts, a thousand miles from home, I can’t help but feel familiarity. There is so much more to a home than location. It’s like the difference in a home and a house. One is a building with doors and a roof and blueprints. The other is a living breathing thing, with warmth and a story and life lines.

Sitting around my kitchen table tonight, painting watercolor while my roommates drank tea and did homework, I realized that home is something you can take with you, anywhere. Because if it really is warmth and a story and a life line, aren’t those all things you can put in your pocket anywhere you go? Aren’t we, as Christians, almost obligated to? Whether it’s a mile from “home” or a thousand? I think the answer to that is an infinite and resounding yes.

So I slip home in my pockets. And when I’m standing in a group, as people chatter away with their Midwestern twang, I’ll cram my hands into my pockets and wrap my fingers around that familiar place. And when they’re not looking, I’ll sprinkle it around like gold, until everything i see is bright and familiar.

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A Lesson in Goodbyes

Today was James the Maintenance Man’s last day. If you don’t remember James, I mentioned him in a previous post when he dropped some serious knowledge on me. Today, with his goodbye, he managed to do so again. He always says the most beautiful things. They are simple, true, and spoken in a blues like rhythm. I’ll miss his life advice, which always seemed to find me at the perfect times.

“They said you had some pretty big shoes to fill, but you know what? Ya brought your own shoes to the party.”

“God said, ‘Stop working on everybody else! Stop tryin to change everybody. Let me change you, and then other people will see, and they’ll change too.”

“Some of the most beautiful flowers grow in the ditch.”

“I hope you can use your creative juices here. If not, they’ll get so heavy and you’ll have to go. And that’s ok.”

“When you fall in love and get married, you think you gonn wear it like a crown. Oh, you gonn have a crown, all right, but it ain’t for you. It ain’t never for you. It’s for him. And Him.”

“I got to tell these boys. You got a great woman? Serve her. Serve her and you’ll always be happy. Your the server and she’s the customer. If you start out with a bad attitude, you’re not gettin a very good tip. But if go above and beyond, see, you’ll get the reward right back.”

American News: Showing the ISIS crisis one murder at a time.

It is 6:00, primetime, and CNN is on. A smart looking young woman in black framed glasses is addressing the ISIS violence that is sweeping parts of Iraq, making it’s way closer and closer  to the capital. The regime, (which even Al-Queda has parted ways with due to a conflict of interest and the extremism of the ISIS-and that’s saying something) has been is making it’s violence as public as possible. They gained mass media attention about five days ago, when they posted a video of an Iraqi policeman’s head being sawed off. Videos have followed of equal terror, boasting mass executions of soldiers and civilians alike. There is no body count yet, but it is surely somewhere in the hundreds.

The smart lady then opens for the following footage. There is no, “this may be disturbing for some viewers,” preface. There is no, “the following content is graphic.” There is nothing about a mature audience.  The screen blacks out slowly, and opens up to the footage. There is a man’s voiceover, deep and smooth, as he describes what is being seen. It feels somewhat like a movie preview. There is suspenseful, instrumental music. There  are dramatic pauses. Behind all the fluff runs the footage, horrifying, as a row of men, kneeling and blindfolded in front of a ditch, wait. Behind them, the armed ISIS members pace back and forth. One of the ISIS pauses behind the kneeling man who is closest to the camera. He raises his weapon, and pulls the trigger.

Freeze frame. All the music stops, the picture darkens slightly, and a nifty little graphic highlighting the bullet’s trail (about half a foot) to the back of the man’s head is highlighted in orange, ending with a little impact graphic at the contact point on the victim’s head. “The following footage is too graphic to show you,” the voiceover man finally speaks up.

“Well,” I think as I sit in my living room. “That was close, good thing you didn’t show that extra .2 seconds of video. Now that would have been disturbing. Way to know where to draw the line.”

Cut to yesterday, as I plod slowly along on the gym treadmill for a warm up. In front of me, mounted on a wall is a flat screen playing Fox News, which is also talking about the ISIS crisis. A lady in a red jacket introduces new footage, much like CNN did. I can’t hear it, but I can read the subtitles, and there is once again no warning of graphic or disturbing footage. They proceed to show video taken by ISIS of a group of terrified men, blindfolded and on their knees. They target one man and begin to question him. He is speechless with terror. I can’t convey to you how horrifying it was to watch him being badgered as he tried to find his words, knowing these were the last moments of his life. The footage shows the terrorists toying the the man, placing the barrel of their weapons along his throat.

The video cuts. Back to the woman in the red jacket. “All four men were killed. Unlike previous victims, their identities are known thanks to their families. The man shown searching for words in the video is (insert name), he has a wife and three children….(we’re taking a dramatic pause here)…one of which, is a baby girl.”

Although I had been looking down for most of the video, glancing up to see when the footage would end, I feel completely violated. Not by the situation that has happened to that poor man, but by the exploitation of the media. Between CNN and Fox News’ coverage, violated is the only word that I can think of. The footage was shown to appall me. It was shown to shock. It was shown to capture my attention in a way that doesn’t let me look away, because humans are addicted to this sort of feeling. It gives them a mini adrenaline rush that in some way signals to them that they are alive. It’s been interesting to study sales and marketing, and find so much of it in the news.

I remember when news outlets were doing the same thing with the missing Malaysia airliner. The search footage was voiced over by a man worthy of doing Hollywood previews, there were dramatic shots of helicopter blades in slow motion as a man’s feet hung out the side of the chopper. They even titled it like a movie. And of course we are drawn to this. Human’s love anything they struggle to comprehend, and the mystery of it all makes us, once again, feel somewhat alive. It’s almost impossible not to get sucked in.

I know the arguments, especially when it comes to the ISIS videos being broadcast by the news outlets. The American people need to know. They deserve to know. It opens them up to the realities of what’s going on over there. But, to an extent, I have to disagree. I understand that it takes a whole lot these days to rally Americans to more than just letting out a “that’s terrible,” and going back their warmup on the treadmill. But I argue that it’s circular; that Americans are this way because they are desensitized. Part of that is the individuals fault, but the responsibility also falls into the lap of the media.

It’s not that the footage shouldn’t be shown, it’s the manner and extent to which it is shown. CNN could very well show the footage of the captured men, but did they really need to show the shooting, and freeze frame the end of this man’s life? And then to be so delusional as to think that they shielded their audience from the violence in the video by freezing his death, instead of showing it in real time. I even argue that Fox could have shown the footage of the four men, terrified as they were. But did they really have to continue the three minute video, as ISIS lay down the man on his back and terrorized him?

We as a country need to consider why it is that these news outlets are showing this footage. After a certain point, is it about information, or ratings? Is it about knowledge, or the cheap thrill of your being conscious of your own mortality through other’s sufferings? These are questions we need to be asking. Our nation has become so obsessive about what we put into our bodies (which is great), organic, paleo, green, local, preservative free, but when will we realize that the same should go for our brains? What you take into your mind is just as important as what you take into your body. The brain is even more powerful than the body, and yet we are ignorant to the harm we do by ingesting every little bit of information that thrills us, no matter how base or disgusting.

When it comes to journalism, it is preached to always ask “why.” We need to learn that this applies not just to the journalist, but to the individual absorbing the journalism, as well.

Madly

At 2:00am today, Sarah had Isaiah. I can’t stop staring at his little photograph. It’s like I’m glued to it. I can’t imagine how she must feel, this same feeling times a million, with him making sweet, helpless noises from her arms.

I’m so overcome with how full life is in it’s circular nature, and how beautiful. To think that we, we girls are becoming mothers. We girls who would muddy our tights up and dig traps for robbers with our tiny fingers. Who would squash berries from Gran’s garden and argue about who got to be which boxcar child. ( I always wanted to be Violet, even though I had never read a lick of the books.) The girls who grew up hundreds of miles away, but always stayed sisters, through handwritten letters, plane trips, and week long visits that always seemed to get sucked up into some time vacuum.

It still baffles me that the girls have grown up. I remember when I first began to feel it happening, small shifts in our little world that signaled to us: adulthood is coming. “I wonder what it will bring,” one of us said one year on a beach.

I never realized just how beautiful it would be, adulthood with you girls. And I never thought I could love anything the way I love your little ones. It’s so inexplicable the way you can instantly love someone to death, through and through, that you would do anything for them. It’s a love so innate, that begins the moment you hear that, finally, after nine long months, they are here. 
And just like that, without another word, without meeting, without any of it, you love them madly.
Madly.

Working for the Catholic Channel

Old people. Helping them seems to make up 99% of my job. Working for a local, Catholic television station brings in a very specific audience, as in age 70 to about 95 specific. Most of my conversations go something like this:

“Catholic Life Television, this is Collette, how may I help you?”

“Yeah this is Pauline.” (I don’t know Pauline.)

“Hello, Pauline.”

“Yeah, where’s your Closer Walk program?”

“Well today we…”

“I watch Closer Walk every day and I’ve been watching this channel for thirty years!”

“Well we appreciate that! Yes ma’am today we had..”

“I donate five dollars every month to see that show. Well I don’t send it myself, I live in a nursing home, but cousin Cheryl sends it in for me. That’s what she says, I don’t know.”

“Well ma’am we appreciate that donation but the Pope was giving a special mass this morning, so we showed that instead.”

“Well I don’t think I’m gonna send my five dollars anymore.”

I then proceed to tell Pauline or whoever that while she missed the show today, it will be showing a bazillion more times throughout the week. I then tell her she can even find an entire schedule of the show on our website if she’d like!

“I don’t use the internet.”

We hang up.

 

Even more interesting are the viewers who still live at home but are retired, and all they do, literally all they do, is sit at home and watch our channel. They probably know more about what runs than I do, and I schedule the damn thing.

“Catholic Life Television, this is Collette, how may I help you?”

“It’s Darlene.” (Darlene I do know, she calls me about once a month to complain about something, accompanied by her peanut gallery husband, Henry, somewhere in the background.)

“Hi Mrs. Darlene.” (Darlene sounds like she’s had cigarettes and black coffee for breakfast for the past 50 years.)

“Where was the mass this mornin?”

“Well we had a…”

"What's she saying?"

“She ain’t answered yet!”

I wait a moment for them to finish. “That mass comes from Boston, and we aired a local production of our own, instead.”

“Yeah I seen it. They’re always talkin’ about crazy things and little toys ain’t nobody knows what is. Ain’t nobody care to be seein that.” (She means she means smartphones and ipads…)

“Well we’re not obligated to air anything from Boston, Mrs. Darlene.”

"What's she sayin?"
"She says that mass is from Boston, and they ain't obligated!"
"They ain't obligated?! You tell her we obligated, we tryin'a be good Catholics!"

“Yeah, we tryin to be good Catholics! ”

"Tell her they ain't givin us what we need to be good Catholics!"

“Yeah, you ain’t givin us what we need!”

I can see them, sitting in an old house on stilts in the middle of the bayou, our channel one of the ten local ones they get. He lives out of his recliner, running a small commentary about each show, and she controls the clicker. When they catch something out of the ordinary, they both agree it’s a scandal and give me a call.

After about thirty minutes, most of which Henry and Darlene are talking to each other, I talk them down, until she hangs up with that sugary southern phrase, “Bless your heart.”

 

 

Johnsons to Johnson

There is a voicemail flashing red on my inbox.

I dial 500 and a weak voiced, old woman comes on. “Please have Mr. Felix Johnson’s name taken off your televised prayer list, as he recently passed away, and please replace it with my name, Mrs. Peggie Johnson. Thank you.”

In an instant I can feel your hand in mine.