The Realization

I wrote this quite a while ago, after hearing a story about a man who died trying to save fellow soldiers. Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual story; the hero who gives his life for others during a war. But this particular news article, it made me wonder. What was the man thinking? What would have happened if he had lived?

 

“A flamingo.” Coffee nearly flies out of my nose and I cough, trying to prevent myself from choking on the liquid mixed with laughter.

“Any animal in the world, and you choose a bright pink bird?” I wipe my mouth and look with incredulity at the man next to me. Corporal Anderson Tyler is a bull of a man, with the arms of a gorilla, the sturdiness of an elephant, and the unwavering focus of a viper. He sits next to me, cutting pieces off of a chunk of wood. I can’t tell what it is yet, but I know it will soon come to life as all the others had.

“Yeah, but it’s like the most popular bird. It’s the bird all the humans copy and all the other birds want to be.”

I nod. “So you want to be the Homecoming King of aves.”

He chuckles at himself but shrugs. “I guess that’s a yes.” I laugh and sip at the rest of my coffee. We sit in a large tent, soldiers and corporals and lieutenants buzzing all around us. Many of them are discussing the new rumors of the enemy that had reached camp, or trying to gain the eye of the general who is newly in attendance, but Corporal Tyler and I prefer to hang back and watch until given orders.

I lean back in my seat, eyeing the new general. He doesn’t look like much, just a thin man with a thick beard, but the stories I’ve heard of him are anything but dismissible.

Something dark moves in the corner of my vision. I turn my head and look to the opening near me. A man appears, one I knew well. He is a native, a translator, and his name is Hamad Usain. I look down at his hand. He sees me watching and closes his eyes, then his hands make a quick movement and he tosses what he’d been holding into the tent. It rolls to a stop just ten feet in front of me.

One second. Shock registers. I’ve worked with Hamad for three years and had never seen this coming. I know the names of his three little girls. He knows the name of my mother and the story of my first day in kindergarten. He’s played baseball with Corporal Tyler and several of the other other men in the tent. He loves his country and his god and peace.

Two seconds. I find myself on my feet. Everyone is shouting now, backing away and turning around. My sergeant stands in front of the general, attempting to shield him. I consider throwing it, but we are surrounded on all sides by soldiers and tents, going on for several layers, far outside my capabilities of throwing, no matter how many times it has been suggested that I be the pitcher.

Three seconds. Suddenly, I’m not on my feet. I’m curled up on my side near the front of the tent, squeezing my body as tightly as possible around a ball barely the size of my fist. I imagine my abs, my stomach, my spine, see in my mind how they will be ripped apart in milliseconds and I hope that it will be enough.

Four seconds. I see my mother. I see my sister and her son, lifted onto the shoulders of my father. I see the girl I’d kissed just days before leaving the U.S. I see the faces of men, women, and children, covered in dirt and cloth and blood. I see the gun that never leaves my side. I see the dream I’ve had since preschool of swimming through the Great Barrier Reef. I see the class I’d taken after high school, the one I’d liked but hadn’t studied hard enough for. I see the things I had done instead of studying. I see my favorite bar and my favorite burger. I see the piece of wood Corporal Tyler had been cutting. I see the general. I see the U.S. flag hanging above him. I see my second grade teacher, the one who first taught me about the army. I see rain. I see the picture of Hamad’s daughters. And then I realize: I don’t want to die.

Five seconds. I squeeze my body even tighter, squeeze my eyelids closed until I see stars. And then it feels like my whole body is on fire and I think, This isn’t so bad. I had thought dying would hurt more.

And then I realize that the roaring in my ears isn’t death. It’s life. I hold my position, wondering why the grenade hasn’t gone off yet, wondering just how long I’ll have to wait to die. I don’t want to die. I swallow. I count to three. I slow my breath. This is impossible. I count to three again. This doesn’t happen. I count to ten and I almost laugh, realizing the magic of reaching the number. I hear voices, at first garbled and then clear. “You’re okay. You’re alive.” I open my eyes. And nothing is the same.

A Year of Change

2016

I go to the grocery store with a twenty-dollar bill, because that’s all I have. I focus on my shopping list, food that will hopefully last me a week. I tell myself, “Don’t buy that, you can’t afford it.” I’m hungry, so I grab a candy bar because it’s cheap. I head to the self-checkout, so I don’t have to be embarrassed if I’ve miscounted and don’t have enough money. I leave for home, hoping the few dollars change will be enough for gas.

 

2017

I go to the grocery store with a hundred-dollar bill, because there are two in the “Groceries” jar. I focus on my shopping list, ingredients for a new dish I’m making for dinner. I tell myself, “Don’t buy that, it isn’t healthy.” I’m hungry, so I remember to buy a couple kinds of snacks. I head to the self-checkout, because there isn’t a line. I leave for home, hoping I didn’t forget anything.

 

Not Every Day is Sunny

Once you’re happy, you think that’s it. You’ll be happy forever. You move to a new place, start a new job, make new friends, and you breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, this is where I’m supposed it be. This is what everything was leading up to.

But that’s not always the happy ending. It’s a continuation and every day isn’t perfect. Every day isn’t great or happy, and sometimes you feel yourself sliding back into the grayness, looking for a handhold to hang onto to keep yourself out of it. Sometimes you find one. Sometimes you don’t. And there you are again, in the black hole of Why am I even here? Was this a mistake? Would it have been better if I’d stayed? I miss everything. I want something different. It’ll never be okay.

But then, one day, all of a sudden the sun is shining. Not the faint rays of morning in the spring, but the direct heat of a mid-June picnic. Everything is perfect, and as you scratch the itch that whispers its doubts, you think, again, that it’ll last forever.

 

幸せですか?

I Believe

Mom asked me if I went to church today.

I didn’t have the guts to tell her

I don’t have the faith to pray.

I know she just plain wouldn’t understand

She’d be worried, concerned,

Certain I’d be damned.

To her, there is only one right way.

There is one question,

and one answer.

There is one right

and one wrong.

There is one creator

and one world.

Her life must seem so simple.

Often, she will say how she doesn’t understand how some people don’t believe in God.

Never do I tell her that I don’t understand how some people do.

Because I don’t want to worry her, and I already know what she would say:

“In a world where a little boy can be gunned down

by a neighborhood police officer

for playing with a borrowed toy,

Where women are raped

by friends they think they can trust

and no one does anything about it,

Where men are accused of crimes

they didn’t commit and forced to pay

a price that they don’t owe,

Where individuals are still identified,

first and foremost,

by the color of their skin.

Where mothers are crying

and children are dying

and fathers are trying their hardest just to keep their families off the streets,

Where do you find your hope, if not in our Savior?

Where do you find your peace?

What do you believe in?”

I thought I dreaded that question.

I thought I had no answer because

I was taught that there was only one answer,

and if you didn’t know the right one,

you were wrong.

I saw a picture once that presented two ways to produce nine: four plus five or three plus six. I showed it to my father. He said yes, but there is only one nine. I said no, there is nine, neun, neuf, and nueve. He said yes, but there is only one meaning. I said, but it’s a measurement, right? So there are still different nines, just different kinds of nines being measured; whether it’s nine apples or nine oranges, whether it’s nine white men or nine black men or nine children or nine Arabs or nine Jews or nine Christians… So not only is there not one answer, there’s not one question.

“What do you believe in?” she asks.

I realized that I don’t dread that question.

I realized that I had an answer because

there isn’t only one answer

so you don’t have to know the right one

and you aren’t wrong.

Because, you see,

I do believe, I really do.

It’s just from a different point of view.

I believe in smiling, and sharing some brightness

with someone

whose day might seem a little too dark.

I believe in families; of blood

and of choice,

that give you their strength when you can’t find your own.

I believe in loving: loving hard,

loving deeply,

loving unconditionally, irrationally, uncontrollably.

I believe in music, the ultimate drug

that loses you

in it without you even realizing you’re gone.

I believe that you can find evil

in the soul

but you can also find goodness.

It is the home of a god but also of a devil and

the choice is yours

as to which you let run free.

I believe in heaven, not as a place but as a

state of mind

that can be found in yourself and in others.

I believe that the good outweighs the bad, and when that appears

to not be true,

the change may only come from one place: you.

I believe that truth does not

set you free,

that it proves that you already are free; from fear.

I believe that it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday because

it’s not today

and a fresh start is always possible.

I believe in tomorrow, and in the changes

it may bring

if you just give it a chance.

See, I believe in laughing,

in imperfection,

in people,

and in connection.

I believe in magic,

in passion,

in goodness,

and in action.

I believe in friendship,

in family,

in love

and in equality.

I believe in miracles,

in trust,

in hope,

and in us.

I believe in writing,

in truth,

in second chances,

and in youth.

I believe in experience,

in wisdom,

in peace,

and in freedom.

I believe in music,

in forgiving,

in happiness,

and most importantly, in living.

To me, there is more than one right way.

There are many questions,

and even more answers.

There is wrong and there is right,

but they aren’t always black and white.

There is so much more to believe in

than a man and a book.

It doesn’t need to be simple.

Because there will always be bad things that happen, but

We live in a world where a college basketball team wears t-shirts

in support of the lives and deaths of people they’ve never met

just because it’s the right thing to do,

Where policemen rescue shelter dogs

that would otherwise be caged and killed

and give them a second chance at life,

Where a man uses his last dollar

finding a meal and a bed for a complete stranger

who has nothing to give in return,

Where a teenager who can’t swim

jumps into deep water

to save the lives of three struggling children,

Where people on a busy street

help a woman give birth in the freezing cold

to a baby who wouldn’t wait for an ambulance,

Where a man pays for the meal of

a family at a neighboring table because

he overheard their discussion of a “diagnosis”,

Where a little girl donates her Christmas presents

to a charity that will give them to children

who don’t have any of their own,

Where a young woman shares her coffee

and offers conversation to a lonely veteran

who just lost his wife,

Where a nine-year-old boy

pushes and pulls his paralyzed younger brother

through a triathlon he would never be able to finish on his own.

Where mothers are caring

and children are sharing

and fathers are bearing the weight of problems for others who couldn’t carry them alone.

There I find hope.

There I find peace.

That is what I believe in.

Why a Semi-colon?

Moving to Nagoya, Japan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Life-changing. Life-saving? Dramatic semantics.

One year ago, I had recently broken up with the boyfriend I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. The one who was my best friend, who I could talk to about anything, who I shouldn’t have been with because he’d already broken up with me once to get back with his ex. And after that – the final break-up – I was okay for a while, because I thought it just hadn’t worked out but we’d still be close friends forever and I’d always be his “day one,” until I found out that he was back with his ex, again. The ex I’d worried about during our whole relationship. The one he’d sworn he couldn’t see a future with anymore. And it wasn’t even him who told me.

And then it felt like I’d lost everything. I didn’t have anything left; a direction, a purpose, a future. And for the second time in my life, I wanted to kill myself. Sometimes, you don’t realize a relationship is toxic until you end it.

I’d already decided to take the jump and move to a foreign country. But at the time of the decision, a thought in the back of my mind was that when I came back, he’d be waiting for me. And then I realized the only person he’d ever waited for was her.

So I broke down. I cried in front of my friend and played happy in front of my family. I got black-out drunk at a bar and went to work the next morning like nothing happened. And then I packed all of the pieces into two suitcases and a backpack and changed the course of my life forever.

It wasn’t perfect immediately. I went through ups and downs so quickly it terrified me. But, slowly, everything started to fall together. The job title of “teacher,” the one I’d sworn I’d never stand under, started to tattoo itself on me and I discovered that I loved it. The freedom and beauty of walking around my city instead of driving through it gave me air I didn’t know I hadn’t been breathing. I stopped working out with the purpose of looking good when I went out to clubs with boys who had no interest in knowing me for longer than one night, and I started running so that I could breathe and feel again. And I started to return to music.

Nagoya is a city most people consider a passing-through point. It’s like my home state of Kansas, known as a flyover state. But if you’re in either one long enough, you realize they’re so much more. People playing music in the park or close to train stations, small bands meeting and joining to play like they’ve always known each other, bars that welcome you in like you’re family, and people who listen to you play week after week and encourage the beginners just as much as the experts.

Last night, I went to a jam at the house of a couple I’ve only known for a few months. I was encouraged to sit at the piano, pick up a ukelele, belt out some Beatles, and go home with an extra pair of drum sticks and a Rudiments practice sheet. And I realized I have a reason to live again.