Mid-week Mischief

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Remembering the day the world changed

I wrote this column eighteen years ago. It was originally published in The Nevada Appeal on September 26, 2001


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My Own Battlefields in This New War

“It’s awful here.  BUT I’M ALIVE,” our older daughter finally wrote in response to one of my frantic emails.  She had moved to New York City just six days before the attack.  Phone calls, even cell-phones were useless as all the other worried mothers around the world tried to get through.  The entire morning I anxiously imagined her protected in large God-like hands.  All the while, she slumbered in the arms of Morpheus, asleep 150 blocks away from the World Trade Center.

Maybe I had neglected that piece of her training:  In case of national disaster, call your mother.  But what precedent did I have?  Who could have imagined this?

And a week later, as I listened to President Bush tell us about this new kind of war, to be fought on different kinds of battlefields, my imagination ran to the places where we might have to fight.  I know he meant military actions, but what battles will we here at home fight? Where will I, a middle-aged, married, teacher, and mother in Carson City, Nevada, be asked to fight?

I will fight to keep my awareness of world events and this war in its proper place, in balance with my real, everyday life.  While I want to learn as much as I can about the situation and the sacrifices being made, I don’t want to become so paralyzed by fear and worry that my real life can’t go on.  I’ll need to turn away from the TV now and then so that the images will not continue to flood my psyche, desensitizing—or re-sensitizing—me to the horror.  People on every continent have endured horrific acts of terrorism.  We can survive.  Our lives, although forever changed, will go on.  Must go on.

As citizens, I’m sure you’ll agree that we will struggle to focus on what is really important.  We have been jolted from our complacency and have learned that there are some things worth fighting for.  Right now, that thing is to make our world safe again.  What happened to us was a shameful act.  I hope that our response will not make us ashamed but will prove us worthy of our place in the world.

My larger battle however, will be to simply feel normal again.  I’ll go through the motions of whatever “normal” is, hoping that soon my feelings will catch up to my actions. I’ll attend meetings, make appointments, plan birthday celebrations, and go shopping for the perfect shade of lipstick.  I’ll admire the fall colors.  We’ll take that raft trip through the Grand Canyon next summer.  However, the first big test of my trying to be normal will be to travel to the reading conference in Las Vegas this weekend.

“Not on a plane!” My good friend in California seemed incredulous.

“Yes, a plane.”

“Can’t you drive?”

“Drive eight hours each way for a two day conference?  I don’t think so.  I’m not giving in to fear.  I’m flying.”  We’ll see how I brave this citizen-soldier feels tomorrow night as she boards the plane.

As a teacher, I will strive to keep focused on my goals and objectives as well as to use this teachable moment to explore geography, history, and tolerance.  I will also work to counteract the violence and fear my students may have seen on television or the hatred they may have heard expressed.  In addition, I must be vigilant and protect my young students from ignorant, misdirected anger and hatred.  I’ll do what I can to prevent that bit of collateral damage.

The battle with my emotions will be a small, very private struggle.  I merely want to be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” without the tears and without the catch in my throat.  That California friend says she hasn’t dared wear mascara since that awful day.  “What’s the use?”  I imagine her with those black streaks running down her sweet, sad face.  The vision makes me smile.  I’ll need to laugh again too, out loud, with my friends.

We will all need to prepare ourselves for our own private battles in this war.   We’ll all need to find ways to keep ourselves focused, grounded and sane.  But how do we do that?

We can begin by doing what soldiers throughout history have done before going into battle:  Count your blessings; remember you’re not alone; gather your loved ones close; tell them you love them.

And remember to call your mother.

 

 

Book Report: To read or not to read

lincoln and george

Acceding to all the buzz about this book, I put it on reserve at my local library. Twice. The first time I returned it without reading because I fell victim to a case of “Overdrive overload.” All the books I’d been waiting for showed up on my Kindle in the same week. Aack! The second time I settled in for a challenging, yet beautiful ride.

In 1862 Abraham Lincoln is not yet a beloved icon. The Civil War has just begun. Lincoln is widely believed to be inept and certain to be a one-term President. When his young son dies of typhoid, Mr. Lincoln recognizes the grief that other parents are suffering in the still young war—a war that would eventually claim more than 600,000.

“So we have the dilemma put to us, What to do, when his power must continue two years longer and when the existence of our country may be endangered before he can be replaced by a man of sense. How hard, in order to save the country, to sustain a man who is incompetent.

But those historic events only set the stage for George Saundersnovel, Lincoln in the Bardo. Yes, I had to google “bardo” and learned that it is “(in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.”

The entire novel takes place in a Georgetown Cemetery where young Willie Lincoln has been laid to rest in a borrowed crypt. That cemetery is also populated by numerous and diverse spirits who while quite chatty, aren’t exactly certain of their condition.

This novel is stylistically challenging. Each of the fictional and historic characters speaks or relates the speech of another without much connecting tissue. Their contributions may only be a word or a few lines long, like listening in on the conversation at a large cocktail party. Or perhaps it’s more like a pointillist painting or a patchwork quilt. You may need some distance to appreciate the big picture. That being said, you’ll either get on board with the way the story is told, or you’ll give up. Author Saunders says that’s fine.

Here are a few snippets of the text that give voice to the Lincolns’ grief at the loss of their boy.

“Everything nonsense now. Those mourners came up. Hands extended. Sons intact. Wearing on their faces enforce sadness-masks to hide any sing of their happiness, which—which went on.”

“He is either in joy or nothingness. (So why grieve? The worst of it, for him, is over.) Because I loved hm so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the from of fussing and worry and doing, Only there is nothing left to do. Free myself of this darkness as I can, remain useful, not go mad. Think of him, when I do, as being in some bright place, free of suffering, resplendent in a new mode of being.”

“Mary Lincoln’s mental health had never been good, and the loss of young Willie ended her life as a functional wife and mother…Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.”

our town

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The whole “dead men talking” thing reminded me of the cemetery scenes in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Fannie Flagg’s The Whole Town’s Talking, but with a much darker, deeper, more poetic edge. If it were a movie, I imagined Tim Burton might direct it because of his darkly comedic style. However Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally have secured the rights and no director has yet been named.

Vanity Fair Oscar Party, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Feb 2017
Offerman and Mullally

Draw your own conclusions about reading it. It’s certainly not for everyone. The audio-book was available at my library this week, so I’m having another go. Now that I know the story, I’m enjoying the vivid voice portrayals on my morning walks and appreciating it much more.