The Reach Out Project

[Originally posted on May 5, 2013]

Death does strange things to a person.

My father passed away right before the 4th of July in 2009. We were never close, but we didn’t have a strained relationship either. Years prior, I realized what our relationship was, and I was fine with that. Yet his death changed me. It came at a time when I was growing apathetic to my faith. It also came at a time when all of the walls I put up around me over the years left me with few people in my life. I had no problem moving on and not keeping in touch; it was easy.

After he died, I went through what Chris and I jokingly called “The Existential Crisis.” It was the first time in my life I really confronted the idea that when we die, That’s It. Prior to my father’s death, the thought would briefly enter my mind in the darkest part of night and I’d quickly push it out. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit. After he died, the idea consumed every “quiet” moment of my life. I’d lie in bed at night and look outside the window, nearly panicking at the prospect of ceasing to exist. I’d think about the science of it all; how my previous view of the afterlife made no sense, but I believed it like a kid believes in Santa Claus. If there was an afterlife, what would it be like, really? Would we just be this floating soul in the breeze, unable to touch velvet, hear Schumann, or watch the sun set ever again? Unable to interact with the world we’re trapped in? It all seemed so dismal to me, and yet it consumed me for months.

I wanted to fill my mind with other things, so I began doing little 30 day experimentations to challenge myself. One of them was as simple as watching no more than five hours of TV a week (basically, watching the Daily Show and Colbert, plus an hour for Sunday news shows). Another was using no electronics (TV, laptop, phone, etc) from 7:30pm until bedtime.

As I did these experiments, my previous decisions began to look different. I began to see the walls I put up around me as a faulty time capsule. Those imaginary walls were a way for me to act like I could preserve My World, protecting myself and everyone in it. Yeah, that doesn’t work. The walls now looked like a crutch and I began to desire to step out of that time capsule and enjoy the gifts of the Present. From this desire came the most important change in my life: The Reach Out Project.

Despite my social anxiety and natural tendency towards introversion, I decided that every day for 30 days, I was going to reach out to someone in my life. Whether it was emailing or calling an old friend, sending a meaningful message on Facebook to someone I didn’t normally chat with, asking a co-worker out to lunch, or inviting people over to the house, each day I had to do one thing to reach out to someone. See, part of what made those walls was my taking a passive approach to friendship. I assumed people didn’t ask me out to lunch, or didn’t email me because they didn’t like me or just didn’t have room in their life for me. Rather than my typical wallowing in self-pity/self-loathing, believing I was completely unlikeable, I instead gave a good, hearty, “oh what the fuck?”, threw caution to the wind and started reaching out to people.

I emailed, called and invited people to things and I accepted invitations to things – even things I didn’t want to do – with my heart open. Sure, I missed a couple days here and there, and sure, initially I still felt that nervousness and discomfort that accompanies my shyness and insecurity. But I persisted, and gradually I made new close friends and reconnected. I began to see that I had an incredible group of people around me. Inspiring, funny, quirky, caring…the people I allowed into my life lifted me out of my Existential Crisis (which is now in the current and likely permanent state of Existential Conundrum). Through them I realized that a lot of adults take a passive approach to friendship – we feel uncomfortable taking that initial step or we don’t allow ourselves to take the lead in setting things up with people. But someone’s got to do it – why not me? And why not you?

Fast forward a couple of years. This past March, a few of my friends put together a “Girls’ Night Sleepover” as a sendoff to me before I left for California. Girls’ Night was one of my later Reach Out ideas: once a month, invite the ladies in my life to a restaurant for a night of drinks, food and conversation. No boyfriends or husbands allowed (with the one-time exception of my friend Steven, who is the kind of friend you can count on when you need a chaperone and let’s face it – sometimes you do). For Girls’ Night Sleepover, my friend Jennie made a killer butternut squash risotto and we all brought wine and an insane amount of booze and snacks. Before we devoured the risotto, my friends toasted me. In summary, they thanked me for organizing things that brought people together – Girls’ night, Le Nom…and said Chris and I created quite the network of friends in our time in Arizona. I looked around the table and smiled at these wonderful people I was so grateful to have in my life. We proceeded to eat, drink and laugh so hard at each other’s stories our faces hurt. That’s what I live for.

I can point to the moment my Existential Crisis lifted. It was in a dream: I looked outside my bedroom window at night, watching helicopters flying overhead, shining spotlights on the ground in search of a Dangerous Man. I looked over to my pool and my heart stopped – the Dangerous Man was lying on one of my lounge chairs. Rather than retreat, I knew I had to talk to him. I walked through the wall and approached him. As I got closer, I saw that the Dangerous Man was an old man. He looked at me as if he knew what I was going to ask.  I asked anyway.

“What happens when we die?”

“I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”

“They’re looking for you…” I pointed to the helicopters.

“I know.”

We talked about death and the importance of living for the moment. I wasn’t afraid of the Dangerous Man. He got up and looked at the back wall of my property. “It’s time for me to go now.”  As he walked towards the wall, I remembered the most important thing I wanted to know.

“Wait! I don’t know if there is a god or not. If I live my life the way I know in my heart I should live it, and it turns out there really is a god, does it matter if I have doubt?”

The man turned around and he was a beautiful young Spanish woman with long dark hair. She laughed as if my question had an obvious answer. “He won’t care.”

She hopped the wall, and I woke up. No, I don’t think it was God speaking to me. That doesn’t matter – what matters is the common sense presented in the dream: be the person you know you should be, surround yourself with goodness, and experience love wherever you can. Nothing else matters beyond that, does it?

Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

London Calling: The Religion of Nationalism

For the past week and a half, I’ve been soaking up the sights in London. This is only my second trip overseas, and once again I find myself longing to do this more often. London is an amazing city teeming with excitement, diversity and history (and pubs). As someone who loves art history, it has been a feast for the eyes. I particularly enjoyed exploring both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey – these two houses of worship are very different from one another, but have a common thread which runs between them. As I walked through them, I found myself thinking about politics and religion in the U.S., and how the concept behind the Anglican Church influences us today.

My first stop was at Westminster Abbey. While it was built over multiple eras and has a variety of stylings to show for it, the Gothic signatures are the most dominant – flying buttresses, an enormous rose window, and my favorite – stunning, stretch-to-the-sky rib vaults. The nave is particularly breath-taking; I kept looking upward as I walked along it. The abbey is beautiful and at times seems to defy gravity.

Unlike the churches in America or the cathedrals I’ve seen in Italy, there is an unmistakeable secular feel once you are inside of the church. As I later joked to Chris, who couldn’t join me for the excursion, “anybody who’s anybody is buried in Westminster Abbey!” There are so many tombs here, you are practically tripping over tombs to get to more tombs. Images or statues of the crucifix are lost or forgotten when placed next to these often grand monuments to the rich and the powerful. When I think of the history and evolution of the Anglican Church, I find it interesting to see the theme of placing images of royalty in the church where one would expect to find a Biblical figure.

The Lady Chapel, housing the tomb of Elizabeth I (and is also the burial place for her half-sister Mary I) is an area of exceptional beauty, filled with natural light and elaborately carved pendants and fan vaults. According to the Abbey literature, the room is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but the architecture and positioning of the tomb make it clear that Elizabeth I’s tomb is the main focus of the room. I would even make the argument that there was a conscious effort to equate Elizabeth I with the Virgin Mary in this space.

There is a celebration of the humanities at Westminster Abbey as well, with the famed “Poet’s Corner” as well as monuments honoring Purcell and Handel, who were both buried here. It is only when you enter the older portion of the church – the undercroft – where you feel a sense of piety and quiet spiritual reverence through its simplicity.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, its current iteration constructed in 1675-1711 after the prior cathedral burned in the Great Fire, has a different character than Westminster. It’s built in the English Baroque style, with a Romanesque approach to it’s arches and vaulting systems. Aesthetically, it’s a “heavier-looking” building than Westminster and is more of a celebration of massiveness achieved through an open, rounded horizontal design versus the celebration of the vertical displayed in Westminster. It has a far more religious feel to it than Westminster Abbey, with images on the dome telling the story of St. Paul’s life. Again, though, there is a secular feel on the main floor with the statues featured. The religious iconography is out of reach and at times difficult to see (in part because much of it is so high up on the ceiling of the massive dome), but the secular figures are large and at arm’s reach. This isn’t to say it is a primarily secular space – the high altar, chapel and quire are all very traditional in design – it is just more focused on the secular than one would see in the American churches or Italian duomos.

As I walked through St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, I kept thinking about using art as a way to connect leaders and religion. In these two grand spaces, you see a governing body that intertwined itself with religion to encourage people to equate their nationalism with their religiousness and vice versa. The role of St. Peter and subsequent popes are replaced with a nation’s leader and subsequent leaders, in a way that encourages people to believe their leader has the “keys to the kingdom,” that is, the direct line to God. Supporting your leaders is supporting your nation, and supporting your nation is supporting your God. In return, God will bless your nation, which blesses your leaders and by association, you. God Save the King.

When you look at American history, you see a similar trend of equating nationalism with religiousness, particularly when the nation’s ideology is challenged. Consider the phrase “In God We Trust.” It appears in the fourth verse of The Star-Spangled Banner, which was written during the War of 1812. When we were a nation divided during the Civil War, the Union added “In God We Trust” to coins as a way to indicate God was on the side of the Union. In the 50s, as a response to the anti-religious sentiment of communism at the height of the Cold War, we changed our nation’s motto from “e pluribus unum” to “In God We Trust” and added the phrase to all paper money. Finally, following the September 11 attacks, posters with the phrase “In God We Trust” filled the schools, again suggesting God is on the side of the United States. Once again, supporting your leaders is supporting your nation, supporting your nation is supporting your God. If we all are patriotic enough, God will Bless America. Whether you believe this or not is entirely up to you, but the parallels in history are fascinating (to me, at least).

There is one noticeable difference between the U.S. and the U.K.: when I look at the reverence placed on kings and queens in Westminster Abbey and the similar VIPs buried in St. Paul’s, I notice a certain secularism to the Anglican Church and to England in general that we don’t have in the U.S. The effect in England seems to give the religious areas a more secular feel, whereas in the U.S. the effect gives our secular areas a more religious feel. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m interested in reading the various theories people may have explaining it.

As I come across other notable things while in London, I’ll share them with you – most will likely they be far more fluffy and touristy than this post. I’ve seen many amazing things here and have a few suggestions to those of you who are considering a visit. Until then – cheers!

Remember the Ladies

“I long to hear that you have declared an independancy – and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
- Abigail Adams, 1776

As I watched the election results roll in last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think of this quote by Abigail Adams.  While Tuesday was not what Abigail Adams had in mind with that quote, the 2012 election is definitely the election that remembered the ladies.  Over the past couple of years we saw overreaching laws against women’s rights emerge at the local level and attempts by lawmakers to redefine biology, rape and take away a family’s privacy in the form of explaining/justifying contraception usage to employers.  As I’ve mentioned previously, we are witnessing Evangelical politics’ extinction burst before our very eyes, and it is wrapping its mangled claws around anything it can to stay relevant and keep women “in their place.”

Judging by the election results, I was happy, relieved, proud and hopeful to see not only a push back against these ideas, but to see an unprecedented number of women elected to federal office with a number of “firsts.” Some notables are:

  • Consumer watchdog and Daily Show favorite Elizabeth Warren replacing Scott Brown in Massachusetts. This is the first time Massachusetts elected a female senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Republican Deb Fischer in Nebraska are also first-time female senators for their respective states. Baldwin will also be the first openly lesbian senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Duckworth from Illinois will serve as the first female member of Congress who was injured in combat.
  • The two wins in New Hampshire by Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter mean New Hampshire’s entire delegation is made up of women.
  • Arizona’s own Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly-bisexual member of congress, and personally one of my favorite Arizonans. Anyone who has seen Kyrsten in action knew she was going to go places. I can’t wait to see her take on Washington.

I mention these women because I hope this indicates a trend where these wins will no longer be notable, but commonplace.  We have quite a way to go but this seems like a big step in the right direction towards diversity.

Beyond electing a diverse group of women into Washington, voters sent a message to candidates who proved to be apathetic and uneducated on rape and women’s rights: The man who said women’s bodies had a way of “shutting down” a pregnancy from rape, the guy who equated rape to having a baby out of wedlock, and the guy who said a pregnancy from rape was a gift from God were all defeated.  Exit polls indicated that 61% of those who voted against Akin attributed their vote to his comments about rape.   It would appear that men and women in this country who believe in both science and the separation of church and state understand the dangers of electing those who believe in neither.

Does this mean “we’ve won”? No; this fight is far from over.  When dealing with ideas that people hold dear to their hearts it would be foolish to think that they would simply put their tail between their legs and hide in a corner.  History shows that quite the opposite occurs – the belief becomes stronger and the voices become louder.  We saw this most recently in 2008 with the fanatics who screamed, protested and accused the president of being some Kenyan-born, Muslim, Hitlerwannabe extremist, Manchurian, OrlyTaitified, Militant Christian Extremist, Witch Doctor, Angry Black Man, Middle-East Apologist, Abortion-Loving, Drug-Dealing, Intellectual, didn’t earn his admission to Harvard, unAmerican, vegetable-growing, NOBAMA, OBAMINATION, dictator freak with big ears.

Did I miss anything?  Wow, that seriously felt like I just performed a seance and was possessed by one of the superPACs recently killed in this election cycle. Shudder…

Anyway…point being, history and psychology show when someone’s belief system is challenged they don’t fold, they double-down.  What does this mean for the ladies? Expect to see more ballot measures and bills introduced on the state level limiting a woman’s right to choose or access to contraception.  Expect to find additional ballot measures and bills disguised as one thing (“protecting women’s health” is a popular red herring) but have an underlying effect of achieving these goals.  This is what is going to happen, and for those of you who “sent the message” last Tuesday, know that your work isn’t done.  Smaller off-cycle elections are coming up to try and undo some of the work of this election.  Additionally, states like Arizona and Mississippi simply do not have the votes to stand against these intrusions. What can you do? My advice? Be loud, be active, educate yourself and provide support in whatever way you can to continue the efforts you believe in.  Whether that is for reproductive rights or simply for rape education is your choice.  Whether it is donating your time or your money to causes that align with your views is also your choice. These things sneak in when we are complacent – the only way to fight successfully is to never be complacent.

Remember the ladies.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking Inventory of Beliefs

The events over the past week have left me largely speechless.  Like many of you, senseless tragedies like the shooting in Aurora remind me of how little I understand in this world.   As someone who is agnostic and will remain agnostic until the day I die, the beliefs I hold and do not hold are sacred to me.  This weekend, I’ve found myself taking inventory in these beliefs:

First off, I believe there is nothing wrong in believing in God or an afterlife.  If you can believe, I may even be a little envious of you.  The fact of the matter is, I simply cannot believe in those things.  My brain is no longer wired that way.  And I believe there is nothing wrong with that, either.

I believe tragedy provides us with an opportunity to be better people.  I don’t believe in fate or predestination, but I believe in us.  I believe that we are wired to survive.  We are wired to do better and be better, and there is something in us that keeps us pushing and persevering no matter the odds.

I believe we only live once.  We only experience this world once – and whatever becomes of us after death, be it afterlife or nothing, we never experience what this world has to offer ever again.  We can only feel the warmth of a kiss, see the setting sun turn the sky into a masterpiece of oranges and reds, or listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos a limited number of times.  The idea that an individual can rob another of those experiences is beyond tragic and sickening. There are no words to describe it.

I believe it’s times like this where we have to reach down and cling to our sense of humanity rather than our sense of vengeance.  I absolutely believe in the importance of justice, but with all the sensationalism and politicizing, we’re losing sight of the future.   At what point are we going to take mental illness seriously and connect those in need to the help they so desperately need before something horrible happens?  When are we going to remove the stigma and the red tape that keeps friends and family from finding help for their loved ones?

Right now, I don’t have the answers for the things I don’t understand.  I usually try to find answers and possibilities and present them to you on this blog, but I simply have nothing today.  All I can offer is a few links to help you if you or someone you know is in need of help.  Maybe at some point in the future I can do more. For now? This is all I’ve got:

Suicide Hotlines by State (http://suicidehotlines.com/)
60 Tips for Living with Schizophrenia (http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/60tip.html)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org/) [This is a very good general resource on coping, support and recovery]

Grief Recovery Support Groups (http://www.griefshare.org/)

A Coffee Love Story

by postmormongirl

I was raised to believe that drinking coffee was a sin.  No one in my family touched the black liquid; to bring coffee into my home would have been sufficient to spark a small war.  Having never been exposed to coffee, the very smell was enough to make me feel queasy.  Even after leaving the church, I stayed away from drinking coffee.  Sometimes, when I was cramming for exams and needed the caffeine, I would drink large cups of badly brewed coffee, which was sufficient to convince me that coffee wasn’t anything to get excited about.  If I needed the caffeine, I stuck with my standard Diet Coke.

And then I met a boy.  I was at a party when I struck up a conversation with a grad student in engineering.  He was funny and smart and we talked for hours as the party slowly died down around us.  He gave me his number and I resolved to call him again.  Which I did.  I called him, we talked, and we decided to meet for a coffee.  He picked me up after work and took me to his favorite coffee-shop.

This was not just any coffee shop.  This was a special coffee shop, with some of the highest standards in the industry.  The beans are ethically sourced and roasted locally by a master with years of experience.  The coffee is then prepared by baristas that have gone through months of rigorous training in order to pull a single shot.  The result is an espresso that is rich and earthy, with a beautiful caramel crema.

We talked for hours as I savored my coffee.  My horizons opened up, both by this new realization of the art of coffee as well as my conversation with a man who was raised by a single mother in India.  He told me about the trials of growing up in a highly orthodox Brahmin family while I told him about the trials of growing up in a highly conservative Mormon family.  We discovered a commonality in our experience that transcended cultural barriers.  Here was another person who had challenged his up-bringing and in so doing, had become more open-minded, more tolerant, more aware of humanity in all its glorious diversity.  I sensed I was on the verge of something spectacular.

Six years later and I find myself married to the same man that introduced me to good coffee.  There have been challenges of the sort that are inherent when two stubborn, strong-willed people from two very different cultures choose to get married.  But in-between these struggles have been a lot of good times.  We have shared a lot of laughter and had a lot of conversations that have challenged my view of the world around me.  I have a partner that makes me laugh, that reminds me to stop taking life so seriously, whose smile lights up the room.  More than that, I have a partner who understands the trials of walking a different path in life.

This article was originally published on the excellent blog,  A Post-Mormon Life. Do you wish to appear on The Menacing Kitten? Email us at submissions@themenacingkitten.com

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When a Grandma Isn’t of the Cookie-Baking Variety

Despite not growing up in a religious household, I was a pretty spiritual kid.  I was baptized as a Catholic, and that was the only time I was in a church until I was 15.  I’ve always had an odd relationship with Christianity.  I was out of the traditional fold of religion, but tended to be very religious and spiritual nonetheless.  As a child, I wanted to be in that fold.  When my grandmother lived with us, there was a period of time where I would hold a “Sunday Service” in her room.  I’d bring my stuffed animals into her room to act as parishioners, we’d sing a few hymns from my grandma’s hymnbook (“Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were my favorites, likely due to Little House on the Prairie), and I’d read a random bible entry.  My grandma got a kick out of it.

Grammy Gene was an interesting part of my memory.  She lived with us from when I was in Kindergarten until some time in second grade.  As an adult, I have snapshot memories of her.  After my grandfather died, our family offered to care for her and we all moved to a more accommodating house closer to where my father worked.  She had two rooms in the house, even though she never spent time in her second room.  She had MS and stayed in bed all day.  She’d use a walker to get up and go to the bathroom.  Before she lifted herself up from her bed,  she would often curse her legs, slapping them to the point where they would bruise.  She could be what my adult mind would define as “histrionic,” and she could be very nasty to people, however I had a pretty good relationship with her as a child.  She’d happily tell me we were both Pisces, and I think she saw a connection from that.  When I told her about a parrot that had a black tongue, she told me it must be a liar.  I’d spend a lot of time hanging out in her bedroom with her, watching TV shows on her Zenith.  Occasionally, we’d watch the 700 Club together.  There would be a segment where they’d tell everyone to hold hands and pray.  I’d place my stuffed animals in a circle and have them all hold paws as we prayed for something I didn’t understand.  I could never put my finger on it, but the 700 Club scared the crap out of me.  The praying part was the only part that didn’t seem scary.

Grammy Gene had a kind of mystical belief in Jesus.  Next to her nightstand, she had metropolis of pill bottles on a tray table – fat bottles, thin bottles, tall bottles and short bottles.  Some of the pills were pretty colors.  Some I never saw her take, but they sat there like trophies, souvenirs of every ailment that ravaged her body over the decade.  Among Pill City there was one resident that didn’t fit in – a relic that looked a little like a pearl.  One day she showed me the relic and told me it had a piece of the cross in it (or Jesus’s hair? I can’t remember).  She said whenever she had an important prayer for Jesus, she would hold it tight in her hand and pray.

“When your dad had to kick the winning field goal against Villanova, I held this tight and prayed hard to Jesus. He made it!”

Wow, I thought.  That is some powerful stuff right there.  My greedy little mind thought of all the stuff that could swing my way with that relic. The Power!

When Grammy looked away, I grabbed the relic and held it tight in my hands.  I closed my eyes and prayed in my mind.  Dear Jesus, how are you doing?  How’s your dad? Please bring me a pony and a…

“PUT THAT DOWN!” She hissed at me.  Apparently, the relic had limited juju, and she didn’t want me to steal it from her.  The Pisces blood only goes so far, I guess.  And for the record, all childhood prayers to Jesus from me involved buttering him up, then asking him for something as if he were Santa.

Things deteriorated over time with her living with us – I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but it wasn’t as much fun hanging out in her room over time.  She was unpredictable, like a game of Perfection where you know everything is going to blow up on you at any moment.  As a kid, I didn’t understand it; I was always sensitive to people yelling at me or around me, and I decided to hide away in other parts of the house.  I stopped having my church services with her, which I think disappointed her.  In part, I could never find a good story to read for “service” – I’d hit the begats and even the stuffed animals seemed to nod off.  Also, her unpredictability scared me. My entire family struggled with her – she was mean, demanding, thankless, and a hundred other things my childhood brain couldn’t comprehend.

When my mother told me Grammy Gene was going to move out of our house and into a place where people could take good care of her, I was both sad and relieved.  It was an odd combination of feelings to have at such a young age.  I loved her and I feared her.  She was at times grandmotherly, other times so full of anger.  I don’t really remember the day she left.  I wish I remembered it a little better, because it was the last time I saw her or spoke to her.

As a grew older, I’d wonder about her.  There were a few times I was tempted to write her a letter, but never did.  As you can imagine from the circumstances, there was a huge rift between her and my family that I still don’t know the specifics of.  It seemed like she had rifts with everyone in her life – she didn’t speak to my dad’s sister, either.  I didn’t know if she would even want to hear from me.  I couldn’t decide if it would be better to communicate or to remain a memory.  Typical for me in adolescence, my indecision made the decision for me.

When I was in high school, our phone rang off the hook in the middle of the night.  I finally answered, and someone asked to speak to my dad.  I told them he was sleeping, and they told me to wake him up.  I knocked on my parents door, and let my father know someone was on the phone for him, and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  It turns out it was my father’s uncle, calling to tell my dad that my grandmother passed away an hour or two earlier.  I had an odd feeling of guilt.  I thought of our little Sunday services and what I learned about being what people call a “Good Christian” – a version I most certainly did not learn from the 700 Club. I realized that my fear of her unpredictability was selfish.  I regretted not writing a letter to her. While I have no doubt my family was justified in never speaking to her again, and it was apparently mutual, I personally never had that justification; I was a kid, and somehow others’ experiences with her became the expectation for what my experience would likely be.  It was very likely for history to repeat itself, but I’m disappointed in for not developing my own experience to judge from.

As an adult, this is a theme that has lingered with me.  I think about that regret when I am tempted to pass judgment on people.  I do my best to reserve judgement until I’ve established my own relationship with someone and I try to keep an open mind when a negative person from my past reappears. Judgement can be very tempting, because it functions as a protective shield.  There are times I fail at suppressing it, which disappoints me; thanks to my experience with my grandmother, I at least try hard.