Posts from the ‘Touching’ Category

My missionary: On being left behind.

So, as you’re well aware right now,  my baby brother, Elder Moose, is on his mission for the LDS church to Brazil.  He’s thousands of miles away.  And he only gets half an hour per week to write e-mails, which need to respond and go out to the entire family.  The next time I hear his voice will be on Mother’s Day, the first of the three phone calls over two years that he will place.  (That’s not me complaining, by the way.  That’s me letting you know why thousands of miles away feels a little more real than it usually does.)  So, mostly, I write letters.  I only have one response from him thus far, which is fine, but makes the distance seem . . . pretty big.

Of course I miss him.  But not like you’d expect.  It’s the sort of missing that you get when someone you love moves away, but you still talk on the phone EVERY NIGHT or e-mail EVERY DAY.  It’s the sort of missing that barely feels like missing.  I miss my best friends more than I miss my brother.

Now, lest you think that sounds terrible, that’s about how he feels, too, so far as I can tell from his e-mails.  Mostly, we just feel this incredible outpouring of love for each other and do our best to communicate that.  The love overwhelms the missing BY FAR.

Perhaps I would have been weirded out by how gone my brother is and how little I miss him if I hadn’t been through this on a much larger scale some years ago.

From 2008 to 2010 (with a short foray into the spring of 2011), my FIVE best guy friends were on missions.  I still had a couple girl friends around (and I got much closer to them in that time period when the boys were gone), but my rocks were away.  Three were on missions in the US (not that that made them any more available) and two were foreign.  These were the guys I had the best relationships of almost any of my friends, that I had invested in emotionally in a way I don’t think I ever will again (partially because it was that unhealthy .  And all five were leaving within about seven months of each other, to be gone for two years each.

What was I going to do?

I quickly found out that, well, I was going to do nothing.  Except go on living my life, that is.

The Lord provided.  In so many ways.  Those two years, from the outside, looked like possible the WORST YEARS EVER for my support system to be swanning off to foreign lands . . . or states (though one could rightly call Utah a foreign land – I certainly wouldn’t object and I don’t know many who would).  They were my last two years of college.  In fact, these five best male friends, one of which was Monkey, missed my graduation.  I was the first of our group and the first of my siblings to graduate.  It was kind of a big deal.  And they weren’t there.  I had just quit cutting in February of ’08 – partially because I knew my friends were leaving and I didn’t want them to be worrying they were going to get the letter that said, “Joie is in the hospital/killed herself.”  But, I was still struggling when they started going off into the mission field and we all knew it.  I think one or two of them still feared that letter would one day arrive.  Worse, my grandmother died.  Nine days after my birthday, eight days before Monkey’s.  It was NOT the time to be away from home, nor was it the time to have very little support system at home.  Perhaps the worst part of the worst situation was that I was ANGRY with my grandmother.  Spitting.  She chose to go off treatment, you see, so we were in this limbo the entire summer waiting for her to bite it and trying to pre-mourn and I hated her decision SO MUCH.  I just didn’t think about it because, if I did, I could barely function.  I had no one to talk to about that anger, really.  I was so exhausted I could barely call my best friend and I was worried about talking to my family, as they were working through this decision themselves.  From the outside, those seemed like the worst possible two years from my friends to be gone.

And yet, I was fine.  I had the panic attacks, I had the anger, I had the crying and emotional exhaustion and the isolation.  And yet, I never ONCE felt like I was alone.  I was left behind, but I was not friendless.  I found better friends.  I found that the Lord was there ever so much.  I was blessed to wake up one day from a dream, no longer angry with my grandmother.  She died later that afternoon.  I’m not sure I would have had that with the five men there!  And yet, somehow, even far away, they were.  I did not mourn alone.  I was blessed to have so many friends congratulate me on graduation.  I did not celebrate alone.  I was blessed to have friends who came home and still loved me.  I did not go through those years alone.

So, fast forward to now.  I’m having a really rough year.  REALLY rough.  2013 is shaping up to be nasty, no bones about it.  And that’s okay.  Not because the five men are back.  The only one I still talk to and can claim closeness with on a regular basis is Monkey!  In many ways, my friends group is even smaller than it was back in 2008 when the boys started leaving.  In many ways, these next two years could be considered the second WORST YEARS EVER for Elder Moose to be gone.  He and I have a special bond, a very tender relationship.  Of all my siblings, I think he understands and responds to my needs the best.  If there were years I needed him, certainly this one would qualify.

And yet, I am fine.  I have the panic attacks, I have the anger, I have the crying and emotional exhaustion and the isolation.  And yet, I have not ONCE fell like I am alone.  I am left behind, but I am not friendless.  I’m closer to my friends and finding some new ones.  The Lord is ever in my life.  I was blessed to suddenly have a bunch of people express a love and appreciation for me I didn’t know existed in a twenty four hour period.  Just as I was starting to feel like I wasn’t wanted.  I’m not sure that would have happened with Elder Moose here!  And yet, somehow, even far away, he is.  I wrote a desperate and scared letter and, the next week, I got a private e-mail that let me know I AM NOT ALONE.  That Elder Moose is in my corner, even from Brazil.  I came out in January.  There was a letter in the mail assuring me that he supports and loves me and was thinking of me on that day.  I did not face my uncertain future alone.  I will not go through these years alone.

This is what it is to be left behind by a missionary, be you a sibling, a parent, or a friend.  It is to be loved, to be watched, to be supported, to be blessed, to NEVER be alone.

So, while I wish I were able to see him or hear his voice more often, I just don’t miss my brother.  He is there.  I am here.  We are NEVER alone.

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The best feeling in the world.

Tonight, I attended an informal get together of a large group of friends. In that group, there were three children. One of them happened to be one of the kids I teach every other Sunday in church.

Mid-meeting, I saw him climbing over people out of the corner of my eye. I made eye contact with his grandmother, who mouthed that he wanted to sit on my lap. I mouthed back, “Absolutely,” and nearly threw my sewing project off my lap. The only reason I didn’t was because of the needle.

I found out later that without invitation, without prompting, that little boy–a boy who just two years ago had been too shy to say hello to me–had announced he wanted to sit with me and had been terribly disappointed when there were no seats available to my left or right. When his grandmother had suggested maybe that I might left him sit on my lap (as if there were any doubt), his eyes got wide and his face lit up and he scrambled over to see me.

When he did arrive and crawl onto my lap, placing his hands on top of mine, all I could think was, “I want this.  Child in my lap, hugs and love, trust.  I want this.”  Perhaps it was selfish, but for a while it was all my mind would concentrate on.  It took some time to focus, to concentrate on giving this love and trust back, to pay attention to what the child needed from me.

And thankfully, by the end of the night, I had remembered that because of the love of some of the world’s most amazing children, I do have what I want.  These children may not be mine biologically, I may not take them home at night, I may not get angry with them as often as I love them, but they still give me that unconditional love.  They announce to their grandparents and parents that they want to go sit on my lap, they tell me they love me over the phone, they look at pictures of lava and proclaim it to be cheese in a hilariously inappropriately loud voice, they send me thank you notes signed in big letters (half of them backwards).  I’m learning not just to want to inspire that love in others, but to want to give it, too.  These children give me what I’m re-learning to give.

And as I give it, that same warm feeling of home and comfort that comes with a child on my lap fills me to overflowing.  It is the best feeling in the world.

Unexpected

As I look forward to the new season of Doctor Who (oh my goodness, that Christmas episode!), I’ve been looking back and thinking about how wonderful the past one was.  There was much to love, much to miss.  I will admit, a girl never forgets her first Doctor, nor does it seem that I’ll ever forget my second.  Tennant was truly brilliant in his goodbyes.  As I look back on all his seasons, it seems he was forever saying goodbye and that’s part of what I missed.

But what hellos we were treated to in this new season!  I was blown away.  Amy Pond is a completely different kind of companion than those I have seen, which I love.  Spunk without bitterness or stupidity, room to grow without being entirely at rock bottom, intelligence and humanity without awkwardness or the inability to stand up for herself.  And yet, she is not perfect.  She makes mistakes.  Like Moffat said, she’s the type of person everyone would want to be. 

Even the concept of Rory is new, because as many secondary companions as there have been, I’ve never seen one who was so useful.  I was so afraid he’d turn into a Mickey (ugh), but the minute he stepped into the TARDIS, Rory knew what was going on before it came out of the Doctor’s mouth.  He’ll never be on the level of Amy.  He likes the quiet life, Rory, but he’s not stupid.  Hooray!

Many of the resurrected monsters, as well as the new ones, feel different from seasons past.  The actions and reactions feel less cartoonish and darker.  In many ways, I appreciate that.  I always preferred Moffat’s monsters and I was pleased to note that I did not tire of them after a season’s worth.  In fact, I was extraordinarily pleased to note that I loved Doctor Who, though not necessarily the Doctor, even more.

Of course, the new Doctor.  I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about him in relation to Eccleston and Tennant, but I also know that I absolutely ADORE him.  He’s fantastic!  I’m sure I couldn’t have asked for more from the new Doctor, and so I cannot say whether I like him more or less than Doctors Nine and Ten, I am positive I like him bundles.

Possibly my favorite episode was “Vincent and the Doctor.”  Shows that deal with mental health have been and will always be near to my heart, and this one managed the feat of also being dear as well.  There were so many small and beautiful moments throughout the episode.  The episode highlighted the tragedy of Van Gogh’s illness as well as the small moments of happiness without making a mockery of his sadness.

My favorite moment, however, was after Amy ran into the museum, convinced that they had made enough of a difference in Van Gogh’s life for him to live much longer and learned that, in fact, they had not.  Disappointed, heartwrenchingly so, she very nearly gives up on herself and any good that she can do–after all the good she has done!–when the Doctor takes her face in his hands and explains that life is full of good bits and bad bits and they definitely added to the pile of good bits.

As simple and childish as the explanation sounds, it felt just right.  There have been many times when, childishly, I have listed off the good bits and bad bits so that I might not lose my perspective entirely.  It’s the simple things that help me process at the worst times, not the complicated ones.

Honorable mentions were the moments when the Doctor brought Van Gogh to the museum to see his paintings displayed as one of the greatest artists who ever lived, when the Doctor was freaking out living in “normal time,” and when Van Gogh helped Amy and the Doctor see the world as he did.

Now, BBC1 could have left the show as it was.  They could have let it speak for itself, because it could.  They did not have to make the episode into anything other than a beautiful piece of art that doubled as family entertainment.  But they made a choice that so very impressed me.  At the end of an unexpected episode from an unexpected season, the station put an unexpected announcement: they put the number for a mental health hotline.  I don’t know if it was concern for their viewers, for content, or for liability, but the station did it!  It was touching.  I was moved to tears. 

That sort of thing doesn’t really happen in America.  We have content advisories and little letters that warn for a multitude of sins.  We have suicide hotlines that only get exposure late at night (because mentally damaged people a) are the only ones up late at night and b) are only awake at night) and we almost never get acknowledgement in a positive light.  Crazy people will ever be crazy in the media.  There are no good bits and bad bits.

I’m sure there are similar issues in Britain.  This may be one shining instance in a sea of idiocy and prejudice similar to the US.  But someone noticed.  And if I noticed, maybe someone else did.  I can only hope.

Of course, all of this was made possible by writers who were willing to take a chance treating a subject, a person, who is not well-known for his better days.  I appreciate the writer who trusted that his audience was not so addicted to the happy ending that we couldn’t handle a subject that was guaranteed, in some ways, to end badly.  It’s not often I see that on TV.  Or anywhere in pop culture.  And, as much as I loved “Vincent and the Doctor,” the best part of all of this is that this phenomenon was carrying all over the season.  Best one yet!

Here’s looking forward to another unexpected season.  Can’t wait until Spring!

Papi, I love you.

I know Father’s Day is a week away, but I’m going to be out of town next week.  I’ll be writing next week’s blogs early in the hopes that I will have internet access on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there’s no guarantee.  And I did NOT want this blog to be late.

When I was little, my father worked at home.  We knew better than to disturb him unless it was an emergency.  However, as a young child, my definition of “disturb” was undeveloped.  Whenever I had the chance, I would go down to his office and sit on the loveseat.  I’d look at magazines that were way over my head, or play with the tangram set (which has since been lost, unfortunately).  Sometimes I’d talk to him, but more often than not, I spent those afternoons with my father in companionable silence.  I know I distracted him those days, especially when I threw one of my specialty tantrums (“There’s nothing to reeeeeeeeeaaaaad!!”), but I always knew he was happy to have me around.

I remember running upstairs when he announced he was going back to work in an office.  I hunkered down in my bathroom, lay on the floor, and cried.  When my dad came after me, I grabbed my knees and pouted.  Despite my behavior, he knelt down on the floor next to me and explained to me, as if I were an adult, why he was going to work in an office away from home.  I didn’t really understand everything, and I still vehemently hated the idea, but I knew Papi cared.  Even after he went to work in an office, I would go down to the home office, sit on the love seat, and play with the tangram set.  Without Papi, I was really bad at tangrams, but this was my quiet place.  It was our place, even though he wasn’t there anymore.

Just recently, I got him a tangram set for Christmas.  It was a calendar that offered a new design every day.  When I was home from school, I got to try some of them out.  I was delighted to find, years after I had spent hours playing with the seven shapes to no avail, that I was now decently proficient.  Papi was pretty happy, too.

That’s not the only thing that I inherited from those years of afternoons in Papi’s office.  I still prefer companionable silence in a quiet room.  I can identify my best friends by those who I’m comfortable “just sitting there” with.  I still go to my father when “there’s nothing to reeeeeeaaaaad,” though I’ve thankfully overcome those tantrums when I find myself without a book.  And, without a doubt, I still adore that room.  My sister moved into there not long after Papi went to work in the office, and now when I need someone to talk to, I find myself in that room once more.  I’ve been lucky enough to have one of my best friends live in that room, not once, but four times.  It all started with Papi.

There are other sweet memories I have of my father, hundreds more.  My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast, as much for the faerie tale that I love as for the memory of grabbing my father’s hand when the Beast burst on screen.  I didn’t have to be scared with him there.  My father’s favorite Disney movie is The Little Mermaid because that’s the first movie both his little girls enjoyed themselves.  Many of these tender moments are my strongest childhood memories.  Luckily, these tender moments still continue today.  I don’t know what I would have done without my father last summer.  I don’t know what I’d do without him now.

In many ways, my father is my hero, but he’s so much more than that.  He’s not some unattainable role model, someone I’ll never meet.  He’s the hero I live with and who I love and adore because I know that he is the same man at home and in public.  He’s not perfect, but he’s my papi.  I don’t need anything else.

Happy Father’s Day, Papi.

A Tribute

To this day, the following piece is one of my favorites that I have ever written, but I have long hesitated to share.  Somehow it seemed too personal and private a thing, to display my affection for the amazing creature that is my best friend.  But due to recent events and even more recent revelations of the constancy of true friends–even with horrid amounts of time apart–I feel I must.  This was written two years ago, and is my small tribute to one of the most beautiful souls I have ever had the pleasure of coming in contact with. Across the Ocean, as it is called, is my attempt to introduce you to something inexplicable.  Forgive my fumbling.  Across the ocean is a world of love, and I want to share it.

Love to my darling best friend, Bex.

Transcendental is a word I am entirely too familiar with as a literature enthusiast who is trying to get through her undergraduate degree in English–especially since one of my professors is a self-proclaimed Christian Transcendentalist.  I constantly hear about the movement in classes and read about it in assignments.  As much as I enjoy literature, this is not a literary or religious movement I enjoy at all.  To be entirely honest, my high school American literature teacher engendered an antipathy in me for the transcendental movement.  So, as familiar as I am with the word, I loathe to use it.

But lately, I find I need to.

I’m finding increasingly in my life I need to use this word about love, of all things.  To me, it seems to be an odd context to use the word in; I see love in very concrete, realistic terms.  But no more–I can’t afford to.  You see, recently I came in to steady contact with someone I respect enormously.  I’ve come to love this person across the ocean dearly, and all of a sudden the lines are getting blurred.  Where is the line between deep platonic love and something more?  Is there even one?  I’m beginning to suspect that lasting love, truly lasting love, is entirely devoid of passion or romance, but is “merely” a deep platonic bond–a meeting of personalities and minds and that sexual attraction is generated by the two minds that are already so connected.

I know, you’re thinking something along the lines of, “How utterly unromantic.”  My reply is: “Yes, isn’t it wonderful?”  I don’t believe in romantic love, I never have.  I believe that if the world tried, we could turn love into something logical and clinical.  Lust is uncontrollable and ‘romantic’, love makes sense in my world.

Or, at least, it did.  On some level it still does, I always know why I love someone, but I don’t understand the limits or the lines anymore.  You see, my friend across the ocean is female as well.  I have never been remotely gay or even vaguely bi–out of lack of attraction more than any personal repugnance for the lifestyle.  However, I love her more deeply than I do most of my male friends and can see myself spending a lifetime with her built into it.  Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be looking for in a romantic partner?  And, believing as I do about love and the non-romanticness of it, I could very well be looking at a person I might be able to create a life with.

This is not a confession of sexuality, or changes in it, but rather a proposal of the transcendental nature of love.  Across the ocean is a woman who constantly amazes me, who I respect and love dearly, and the miracle is she loves me back.  It has nothing to do with gender or sexuality and everything to do with a perfect meeting of minds and personalities.  This is not to say that we or it is perfect.  Perfect love, in reality, comes nowhere near perfection.  Rather, it is an equal friendship, both of us giving and taking love from each other and loving every moment.  She is everything I want, and hope, to be.  For the first time in my life, I want to be transcendental.  Without that mindset, I don’t think this love could exist inside normal boundaries and strictures.  The lines are dangerously blurred.

That is a danger I am more than willing to accept.  With everything comes a price, and if I cannot pay the mere price of definition, I am unworthy of the love I feel.  Though an ocean and daily life divides us at the moment, our love runs strong.  There is nothing in it that indicates failure.  If it ends up that my life ends with this friend as my only close relationship, I won’t be unhappy.  In fact, I would be gloriously happy–because my friend across the ocean and I enjoy a love that is truly unique.  No one can touch it, or take it from us.  It is as close as anything I’ve experienced to what I imagine perfected love to be.

It might even change my mind about the word transcendental.

Caught up in the experience of “Falling”

Contemporary BalletLast night, I attended my first professional ballet since I was a child.  Performed by the Missouri Contemporary Ballet, “Falling” was certainly a perfect way to come back to a world I had long since abandoned as out of my reach.  There were four pieces in the program, three short pieces and a full ballet.  It was gorgeous.  I loved every minute of the show.  There was a light-hearted piece that told the story of two sets of lovers, ending with catchy music and playful choreography.  The second piece was based on the physical and mental wear on a dancer.  The costume concept alone was brilliant, and the dance itself was technically demanding.  The third dance was inspired by an artist’s depiction of the sex slave trade in Japan in WWII.  The lighting was truly spectacular, and the men shone.

The intermission was even an experience in and of itself, because it gave me a chance to explore the theatre.  Let me tell you something about this theatre: it’s two theatres shoved into one space.  The lower half, where we sat, has a very low ceiling, almost too low, that has stained glass set into it.  The lighting behind it is soft, low light, reds and greens, but the effect is stunning.  I’ve never seen it before and don’t expect to see it elsewhere, though I hope to return to see it again.  Once out in the foyer, you naturally look up because you can.  It’s a good thing, too.  There’s a set of mirrors that opens up the small space across from the walkway above.  Also, there’s a sitting area above, too.  The edge of it has been cut to shape the half-ceiling like a piano.  There’s also a restored tile water fountain.  On the upper level itself, the mirrors reflect you as you walk to the stairs that will take you to the balcony.  If you ever go, take these stairs slowly–let the second theatre creep up on you.  It’s stunning.  The upper half  of the theatre is completely open where the lower half is closed.  There is a giant chandelier hanging from a curved inset in the ceiling, painted in graded shades of sky blue.  The coat of arms is carried by cherubs, and the entire upper level is gilt with red velvet.  This theatre is grand and full of history.

At the end of intermission, I returned to the intimate theatre to watch the final performance, the full ballet.  It was the title piece of the show, and clearly the baby of the artistic director.  Curtain up.  The set transported me home, specifically to a singular room in my favorite aquarium, 2,000 miles across the country.  The set was system upon system of overlapping strips of translucent white cloth, about twelve feet tall, nearly touching the floor.  Then above the systems of cloth, hanging along the proscenium, were several more pieces of cloth, this time bunched like crumpled paper, hanging in lines of three.  I really could not tell you how perfect it was–but if you’ve ever been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to the room with the Dance of the Jellies, you might get an idea.  The Dance of the Jellies exhibit is a large hallway of tanks filled with jellyfish, and every surface that isn’t tank is mirror.  You’re surrounded by blue and white, drifting softly like stars.  I love it.  “Falling” not only looked like that room, but also began with ocean sounds.  From the first moment of the ballet, I was home.  Not only because of the place I was emotionally, but because I had returned to the world of dance.

Part of the beauty of live theatre is the experience of it.  Not just what’s on stage, but what’s going on in your heart and head while the music plays and the people move.  I miss that more than anything when I go a long time without attending the theatre.  And I pity the poor soul who has never felt the joy of the experience.  Because it is beautiful, wonderful, and makes you feel alive.