I’ve always been the vigilant type.
Not in many ways–as a kid I’d read while walking across the street–but in terms of looking out for others, emergency preparedness, being ready to act when needed, I strive for that. I self-identify as a person who is constantly working to be a protector.
I have too much maternal instinct or something.
By the age of 12 I was taking care of younger kids. I paid closer attention in my Red Cross babysitting class than in most of my college courses six years later.
My first job was as a lifeguard and swim instructor. I never fussed too much about form except as it affected function. In my mind, my job was to teach the kids to overcome fear and be safe. I aced every first aid quiz, but was so proactive and, frankly, hardassed that I never needed to use those skills.
My second job was working in a nursing home. More medical training? Sign me up. I’m a doctor’s daughter–I want all the skills I can collect.
In high school I started thinking about volunteering with the local EMS crew. After college I joined a fire department, and I threw myself into it. Those of you who’ve read between the lines on here know that didn’t exactly end tidily. But I still think like a firefighter. I’m out of shape and out of practice now, so I feel like a lousy firefighter, but the way I look at the world has changed, and there’s no undo button.
So far this week, two bombs went off at the Boston marathon, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded, and a gunman is loose on the MIT campus as I type. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t needed. It wasn’t my thing. But God help me, when e.coli hits the fan in my district I want to be ready.
The one that gets me is Texas. It looks like they lost 10 of our own–5 local firefighters, four medics, and an off-duty fire captain from a nearby city.
It sort of burns, this awareness, that I will never quite be a civilian and that right now I am not fully useful. So long story short I put in an app with the Red Cross for disaster relief. I’d prefer to be on a fire department, but I’m not ready yet. I’m not in practice, I’m not in shape, my response time is slow, and my skills are rusty.
So I found a gym. I’ve been mentally running through scenarios and keeping my eyes open in my daily life. It helps that one of my best friends is a nursing student, so she thinks in a similar way. I’m getting my head back where it needs to be.
I will be useful. I will be a protector. It’s not optional.
Someone decided it was a good idea to start a Siblings Day every April 10. This is the first year I’d heard of it. As someone who has never met her brothers, I find myself rolling my eyes. But perhaps that’s just because it’s easier to be bemused than sorry.
I have two. The older one’s passionate, intensely political, a bit brilliant, and not especially concerned with being polite. I can respect that. He’s a fantastic writer, witty and wry and sharp. The younger one’s a gymnast, also politically-minded, insightful. I love how Dad sounds when he’s talking about them.
Out of respect for my father, I have not contacted them. I’ve written a few unsent letters, paid attention when they made the news, cheered them on, prayed for them. When I was a little kid my imaginary friends were my brothers, as I imagined them to be.
There’s no etiquette for this situation. I have snippets of a family. My older brother’s blog, thirty seconds of video of my father as an extra in a movie, a few photos, a radio interview with the younger.
I sent them books for Christmas once, when I was in high school. I have no idea what Dad did with them. I never asked, and I never did it again.
Dad and I email, text, and call. It’s wonderful, and it’s not enough.
I have a wonderful, quirky, caring family on Mom’s side, and a fantastic mother. One of the greatest gifts she gave me was never speaking ill of my father. I can remember her gently saying that boys need their fathers. It didn’t occur to me to ask why he had to choose.
So Dylan was Native American, and he and his sister were adopted by a white couple who went on to adopt a total of 13 kids. All of the kids had special needs of some kind, whether because they were a sibling set, had health issues, or something else.
We’ve known this family for over 20 years, since before they adopted their first kid. When Dylan died last month, Mom and I flew back for the funeral and spent a couple days hanging out with the family.
Because Dylan was a native kid, the tribe wanted to hold their memorial and funeral ceremonies. His parents knew he’d have liked that, so they released his body to the tribe for burial and also held a Christian memorial service.
I missed the first memorial service, though I heard stories about it. But I made it to the tribal funeral and Christian memorial.
The tribal funeral began (hours late) with his dad putting on Dylan’s moccasins for him. When he returned to his seat he whispered, “How many times did I do that when he was growing up?”
After a long pause they blessed the room by burning sage, paused for a while, then passed out tobacco for ritual purposes–Marlboro cigs and something from a pouch–and then paused for a long while before saying a few words in their tribal language and gesturing for everyone to light up. Most people took cigarettes, and non-smokers took the bulk tobacco out to a fire which they’d kept burning for over 4 days.
I had my little Charatan rhodesian in my purse, so I took some of the bulk tobacco and put it in my pipe. The tribal elders sat at the front of the room and alternated between smoking cigarettes and an enormous clay or stone pipe.
As throughout the rest of the funeral, people were talking and seemed very relaxed. They smoked and chatted and it seemed like yet another looong pause.
I’m not by nature a terribly patient person, but I had my pipe and was content to sit and wait. And how often do I get a chance to smoke indoors? Tasted like crap (dry plain RYO on top of two-day-old Nutty Irishman is not a blend I’d recommend, though it stayed lit and cool with minimal effort on my part) but I wanted to honor Dylan. Finally I realized that I was the only person left smoking and the tribal elders kept glancing at me.
Oops. Put my pipe in my lap–I wasn’t done and thought I should probably make sure to finish, but knew I could finish it later. They gestured to ask if I was finished, and I said I was.
Then they got up, said a few more words, then invited Dylan’s immediate family to share a small meal in front of the casket while they opened up the buffet for everyone else to share a few bites. There’s something significant about having one last meal with the person who has died.
While Dylan’s dad was up eating, the tribal elders gestured to me. “You really smoke a pipe?” one said. “Where’d you get that?”
“Yes, this one was a gift.”
The other elder looked at me for a moment. “Shows strength,” he said.
We had to leave shortly after that in order to make it to the other memorial, but that’s not something I’ll forget.
A woman–in the space of four hours–told me I have plenty of time to get married because at 22 I’m just so young, wondered why my friends aren’t married yet, suggested I was called to monasticism, and told me I was perfect for her recent ex-boyfriend.
An ex and his current are having a one-year-anniversary potluck with all their friends. Who used to also be my friends, but who (as a whole) no longer talk to me.
And my father called. We had a nice chat. When I hung up I told him to “give my love to…you know what, let’s just skip that part.” Because seriously, “give my love to everyone who knows about your secret love child” just doesn’t have the right ring to it.
Yeah. I’m gonna break out a bottle of wine and take a looooong hot bath.
Edit: never mind, apparently I’m going to go for a drive with one of my friends and make sure she’s okay.
Today, I won.
I’d forgotten some things, you see. I’ve made some hard choices, been in tough situations, and was blaming myself for not handling it all more perfectly. What I was remembering and agonizing over wasn’t the real story, but the messed-up version playing with my head was so close to reality that–for a day or two–I was convinced.
But, thank God, I admitted my insecurities to a friend, who laughed and reminded me of the things my demons had left out. Why I’d made my choices, the reasons and what I’d had to protect. What I’d been fighting for.
Consider this a Public Service Announcement: it’s worth having a close friend, Father Confessor, or parent you can turn to in time like these. It’s worth investing in a relationship with someone you can trust, with someone who won’t forget. Who won’t let you lose reality to lies.
The cleverest demons fight with the shards of the truth. Don’t be fooled.
The last few days have been hard. Thanks to good friendship I’m okay, today.
Tomorrow, we shall see.
Because of Orthogals, my cowriters and I were invited to guest post on a splendid blog and be on the radio
I got to see some wonderful people (including an 8-month-old with “no corners on him”–chubby babies ftw) this weekend
Work is awesome–pray for me, this is going to be a huge week
Every area of my life that is mainly under my control is going splendidly. Cf. work and spending time with excellent people.
I want a husband.
I want a child.
One of my not-exes (someone I considered & vice versa, but didn’t date) is getting married this weekend
I can’t control the fact that I don’t have a partner.
I can’t control it. I am sad about it. That’s okay.
I go through spells where I’ll listen solely to country for a few months and then to nothing but NPR and indie bands. Since leaving Washington last year it’s been NPR and Mumford & Sons. Before that it’d been a steady mix, but lots of country. And then I just couldn’t take it any more. I changed the station when I left.
But there’s a couple of new country songs I like, both written by Kacey Musgraves. A little harsher, more honest than most. There’s no small town glorification here.
Merry Go Round reminds me of…oh, everywhere, why I keep moving, why I keep striving. The tiny Wisconsin town–we still can’t sell that house–where the two only options for entertainment are drugs or theatre, so my mother moved us out as soon as I was old enough that walking to the grocery store was no longer an exciting adventure. I can laugh about that one.
The Washington town where it all fell apart.
Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.
I don’t think I’m quite over all of that yet. I wonder if I will be. It doesn’t ache like it did, rarely stings, it just sort of…echoes once in a while. Echoes are a step up. I’m glad I left.
Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay
Brother’s hooked on mary jane
And Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.
Same checks we’re always cashin’,
To buy a little more distraction.
The endless battle against boredom, the need to be entertained rather than to create, the same dramas played out year after year, like the stage sets the script and the people aren’t so much actors as marionettes. There’s no easy escape. And so many people who leave end up settling in the doppelgänger town fifty miles down the road.
Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go,
Where we stop nobody knows…
And it ain’t slowin’ down, this merry go ’round…
Life is good here, in Indy. Beautiful, even. I have friends, hobbies, a home parish, a charming apartment. I love my job. I’m happy, but I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied. So many things I never thought I’d have–the home, the friends, the job, living houseplants–but as ever, I want more. A house, a husband, children, creation. A garden. Someone to dance with in the evenings, just because.
Mama’s Broken Heart is pretty damn funny as a break-up song. The singer’s going for…let’s say authenticity. Her mother’d prefer she aim for dignity.
Go and fix your make up, girl, it’s just a break up
Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady
‘Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart
But there’s one line I love.
Powder your nose, paint your toes
Line your lips and keep ‘em closed
Cross your legs, dot your I’s
And never let ‘em see you cry
Truth be told, I agree with Mama on this one. Pass me my bobby pins and pearls. The world’s hard enough to survive without losing it in public.
Saint Bridget was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Bridget drove
The family mad.
For here’s the fault in Bridget lay:
She Would give everything away.
To any soul
Whose luck was out
She’d give her bowl
She’d give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She’d borrow from a relative.
Her father’s gold,
Her grandsire’s dinner,
She’d hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister’s and her mother’s.
She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little niece-
‘s christening mug,
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.
An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
Put on her name,
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Bridget.
Well, one must love her.
In thinking of her
There’s no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
Unto her kin.
The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
WHO had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Bridget? Or her near and dear?
(from The Love Letters of Phyllis Mcginley, New York, Viking Press, 1957)
With thanks to my friend Charli.
So last night I came home from a weekend away to find my apartment clean. I’d done some housework earlier in the week (vacuuming, tidying, scrubbing porcelain) to prep for my house blessing, and I had done the dishes and taken out the trash before I left. I looked around, hung up my coat, and sat down to spend a few guilt-free hours catching up on the internet goings-on and finishing Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace: Revisited.
I went to bed when I began to get tired, did the postural/reflex exercises I mean to do every day, was struck with inspiration, and spent a few minutes writing a first draft for a post on Orthogals. Then I turned out the light and got 7 hours of fairly peaceful sleep.
In the morning I was woken up by the UPS lady delivering a copy of the Orthodox Study Bible from my mother. So my morning began with reading bits and pieces of Luke, and flowed into saying the full set of morning prayers for the first time in years. I did the reflex exercises while my hot water boiled, tidied up, poured a cup of lemon-ginger detox, folded some clothes, made breakfast, read some research for work and took care of my plants. I’m dressed, I’m alert, and my hair’s up in the sort of chignon that implies I know what I’m doing with my life.
Most mornings I drag myself up around 9:30 after having checked email from bed for the last hour. I sit down at the computer in my pajamas without so much as a cup of water because what is wrong with you, Brigid, don’t you know you have work to do. And most evenings I work late til my vision goes a little bleary and I can’t remember if I mean to type neuroscience or nuke a seance. Then I stay on the couch puttering on the ‘net feeling guilty because I didn’t properly meet my quota and hungry because how am I out of groceries again blargh.
This isn’t like that. It’s 10:18 am, I feel fantastic, my house is a pleasant place to be, and I’ve been more productive in the past two hours than it feels like I’ve been in the past two weeks. In the past two days I’ve finished two books I’ve been meaning to read for years. I set a high goal for the day (complete with rewards), I’m heading to tae kwon do this afternoon, and I’m feeling great about myself and the day ahead. Glory to God!