PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Page 2 of 165

Unspoken

Unspoken

The spaces between us
Pile up with words
The silence collects them
Filling the room

None pass our lips
They accumulate in time
From our hearts
From our brains
Fear and circumstance
Leave everything unsaid

For every word that’s unspoken
Lies a matching response
They stack up in pairs
Nouns verbs all their mates
Full sentences of expression
Longing for breath
For the fullness of speech
Longing
Crushing
Invisible but
Tangible in the
Ache of
Never being voiced

Truth
In its purest form
No fear of reaction
Reprisals
Rejection
Still remains

Unspoken

When Will It Be Enough?

We’re inching ever-closer to some of the movies we thought would never happen – I’m thinking specifically of Natural Born Killers. The frenzy climbs, and media attention – even posthumously – seems to be the currency of the day.

I watched part of a video on CNN, the live feed of the reporter & cameraman being shot to death today. I recoiled, horrified, and cried at my desk. I want nothing more to do with any more video. I want to know nothing about the man who committed this crime, who posted more video on his Twitter account before going on the run and eventually killing himself.

I thought 20 children being killed along with their 6 teachers was when enough would be enough. I don’t even know what the answers are? But something has to change. This is heartbreaking.

A Compassionate Man

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, most people will agree on one thing: former President Jimmy Carter is one of the greatest humanitarians our country has produced, and arguably, the most active and involved living president, working to make the world a better place.

So when he announced he has cancer (melanoma) in his brain, despite the long and productive life he has led, my heart broke into pieces. Because my father’s cancer went into his brain, and I watched him rapidly decline from treatment. Because my husband’s grandfather had melanoma in his brain – and everywhere else – and we watched him, but a year ago, decline so rapidly he, too, was gone before we could fully process the news. And anyone who has lost a loved one knows that these reminders may not cause us to sob in the kitchen while the water is running, or even in the shower, for that matter, but they unsettle us. A snowglobe, shaken. Reminders of the pain, the heartache, the loss.

I thought I’d blogged about this but couldn’t find it, so I’m sharing my story, the only time in my life I’ve met a United States President, and that man was Jimmy Carter. The year was 1979. He and his wife were aboard the Delta Queen, traveling the Mississippi River, and I can still remember my father, turning to my mother, and saying, “He’s going to be in Guttenberg tonight. We should go. When will we ever have this chance again?” And that’s exactly what we did. We arrived early enough to see the majestic paddle boat, and my parents pointed out to me the Secret Service agents, positioned on top of the boat, black suits, hard to even see in the gathering darkness (it was around 10pm, on a Sunday night.) We found a spot along the chain-link fence and waited.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter appeared, and then disembarked the boat. They made their way along the fence, and my father, thinking quickly, realized there was no way for me, age 11, to shake President Carter’s hand. He wanted me to have that moment, so he gripped the fence with both hands, and I stood on his forearms, reaching way over the fence as President Carter approached. He looked up at me, smiled, shook my hand, and also, realized there was no way a child could be so tall, and he looked down at my father’s white knuckles, hanging onto that fence. And he patted his hands, acknowledging him and what he was doing.

It struck my father so completely. It was the smallest gesture, and totally unnecessary. But it was a great moment for my dad, who couldn’t shake his hand, but, unprompted, got the attention of the leader of our country, and was acknowledged for it. That moment of compassion, right there, was what cemented him as a good person, in his head, for the rest of his life. And don’t get me wrong, one hand pat from Jimmy Carter isn’t newsworthy. It is nothing compared the countless homes President Carter has helped build, or the nations and villages that are better because of the humanitarian aide his works have brought to their shores. But it was a cherished moment for my family, because in giving up his opportunity to have an actual handshake, it elicited the core of who Jimmy Carter is, and that is a man who recognizes his power, and acknowledges the sacrifices, and how everyone around him has helped him along the way. May this next journey only underscore all the good things about you, President Carter. Your faith and belief in the sacrifice for a greater good will live forever.

True Martyrdom

In-between meetings today, I saw reports that the suspects in the Paris massacre were killed, just as they hoped to be. They had stated they wanted to die “the martyr’s death.” As I have done my entire life, I consulted the dictionary, because I have sat here muttering at my computer screen that these acts of terrorism have nothing to do with a deep sense of strength or pride, or the Muslim faith, and everything to do with cowardice, fear and a cult-level brainwashing.

The first two definitions are:
1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.
2. a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: “a martyr to the cause of social justice.”

There are two additional definitions of being a martyr, both defining one in that insufferable way, where you just want to tell someone to build a bridge and get over it (“it” usually being themselves.) That’s not what we’re talking about. You either suffer for a greater good, as an icon in society, or you believe so deeply in your faith that to do anything else would be a dissolution of self. But are these people, with their AK47s, killing people because they draw blasphemous cartoons, are they adhering to a religion? (RELIGION?) Is terrorism a religion? Because when I think of someone who died as a martyr, I think of Benazir Bhutto. A woman who knew she would die, just as her father did, but felt so compelled to help the people of Pakistan and bring them greater freedoms, that her ideals could live on, long after a bomb tore her body apart.

So I only ask that you think a little longer about it, and when you hear the reports that these men died as martyrs, to consider that those were their words, not necessarily the definition of martyrdom. Because – it is my opinion – this is the face of a martyr, a woman who gave her life to make her part of the world a better place, not through murder or destruction, but cared to the point she was willing to die if necessary so she could continue to work for the people of Pakistan. And her sacrifice should not even be in the same stratosphere as the terrorists who died today.

Benazir Bhutto

A Midwestern Musing

Tonight’s World Series game is of utmost importance. In order for the Royals to stay in it and to have a chance to win it, we must win tonight. Game 6. We’re nauseous.

Plenty of people around town are filled with excitement, enthusiasm and yes, even a little queasiness. Because we’re from the Midwest. Yes, we’ve trumpeted and written and shouted, “TAKE THE CROWN!” with all the gusto you’d expect from a drunken NFL fan. But what it really comes down to is this: we just don’t “take” things. We’re too damned polite.

Growing up in Iowa and my post-college years in Minnesota, I observed the humorous behavior around offering dinner guests dessert: It actually requires offering said dessert three times before it becomes ok for the guest to accept.

“Piece of pie?” your hostess trills.

“Oh gosh no, I couldn’t,” you politely respond. (We don’t want to create more dishes to wash, overstay our welcome, or in any other way inconvenience you more than our presence already has.)

“No, no, come now, you have to try a slice!” your hostess then will exclaim.

“Oh no, I am so stuffed on that amazing dinner! I can’t imagine another bite right now,” you murmur, because the second offering means the first one was genuine, and now you’re shifting in your chair and wondering if there’s whipped cream.

“I insist. Just a small slice? Say you will!” she says, and you then acquiesce, because now you are actually helping out, you have been offered pie three times now, so you know the sentiment is genuine, and you are ready and excited for pie, and sure you’ll have a cup of coffee if you’re making more.

This is us. This is Kansas City. We are proud of our city, proud of our roots in agriculture and industry, proud we finally got an IKEA and proud of our teams. But never TOO proud. Of course we recognize injustice and bias. We rant and rave and rage at the Joe Bucks of the world, the announcers who seem to equally marvel at and ridicule our cowtown baseball team, and seemingly heap adoring praise on the other team’s players. The sportscasters who mildly mix up Alex Gordon with Eric Hosmer (HOZ!) but don’t bat an eye while they recite reams of statistics about Madison Bumgarner’s history and pitches. But we’re nervous. If we don’t win, will all these people who seemingly look down their noses at us, for being less “Cosmopolitan”, for being less “Coastal”, will this just prove them right? Well, no, but it won’t help us prove them wrong, either.

And we WANT this. We want it so badly. We don’t want to wait and we don’t want to lose. We want to win. Because we exist in flyover country every single day, we know the metropolises on either side of the country don’t think about us and our contributions, that our fields provide food for the world, the fact our hustle and bustle doesn’t have high-speed trains or subway systems. Oh sure, we’ve got our foodie spots and our microbrews and we even have sushi. But we’re used to not hearing a lot of ringing praise, and truth be told, a whole lot of praise can make us look at our shoes and shuffle a little bit in embarrassment. And this is why we’re queasy. Because underneath all of this, we WANT THIS. We want it so BADLY. It’s attention but it’s also redemption and it’s validation of all the things WE know to be true and believe in.

So maybe we won’t TAKE the crown, in the sense we ride up on an Arabian horse, snatch it & gallop away, but we sure as hell want to EARN the crown, because our pride knows no bounds when it comes to our team and our city. GO ROYALS!

Grief, Take Two

James’ grandfather is dying. Stage IV Melanoma; it’s in his brain and lungs and a lot of other places, too. He had a doctor who put him into radiation immediately, but the 2nd opinion at KU Cancer Center confirmed everyone’s worst fears – nothing could be done to save him, and just live what life you have left. Hearing how kind the second doctor was brought my first tears, for he was so kind. So caring. Facing finality, with no good news and surrounded by family, this man took all the time necessary to convey the worst news of all: there is no hope. For hope is that tiny spark in the face of darkness.

Obviously this is painful and horrible and heavy and sad. It is hard to watch your partner struggle with the oh-so-many-faces and emotions grief brings when it moves in and settles down, right in the center of your chest like a boulder going nowhere. It’s hard to relive the memories it all churns up, images I’d pushed far to the back of the closet, the bottom of the box, the gray shell my father had become, a shadow of his former self, his body an empty sarcophagus that once housed a robust, vibrant, witty man. What those final moments were like and how months later they threatened to destroy me, crying at the night sky, anything to end the constant aching pain of loss.

Some of my own defenses kick in, and I don’t cry at home. I have to be strong and kind and gentle and understanding, because it’s some rough shit and it’s my turn to drive. My turn to be a rock. So I’m angry when grief still springs from the office ceiling or the backseat of my car, causing tears to slide down my own cheeks while I fight off old haunted feelings. The best thing I can do is just be here, be there, because if there is proof you can survive some of the greatest loss imaginable, I’ve done it. Still kickin’. Still pissed at grief for being an unpredictable demon, reminding us that with great love can also come great loss.

There are lost periods. Time passes in fits and starts. And where my world, 8 years ago, was filled with a jumble of crazy, of helplessness, wildly racing emotions and rage, confusion and denial, now there is … white static. It’s like that thing you hear in your ears, as though the air pressure around you has shifted, increased, and your head feels like its underwater, but you can still breathe, you just feel suspended by the buzz and hum of containment. It is an odd purgatory, this limbo, for it insulates somewhat against the pain, while you wait for the next verse to start.

White light. Open spaces everywhere.
The hum. Holding my breath.
Just. Waiting.

WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY?