Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Perspective in Ash

Today I wish we had television; Comcast cable with 23 different news channels to surf through. It is the first time I have thought such a thing in the 4 years since we abandoned television altogether.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who had never heard of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano before last Thursday. In fact, "hear" may be a loose term in regards to this volcano, as I have only heard one person actually try to say the name. I believe it is more commonly known as the "Icelandic Volcano".

I don't mind. American ears, much less tongues, just don't do well with that many oddly chosen consonants.

So there's the ash.
Then theres 96,000 flights canceled over the last five days.
Then there is me, sitting in front of my computer, checking BBC and CNN for updates every couple hours. My eyes sting. My pregnant body wants a soft chair. In short, I want cable news to pour over me while I lay on the couch stressing over
whether or not we will fly to Manchester England on Friday for Matthew to face the grueling ordeal of defending his doctoral dissertation.

There is a proportionate amount of uncertainty swirling about in the ethos, above our technology dependent heads, companion to those millions of tons of ash being spewed by a heretofore unknown fracture in the Earth's crust. Such dense uncertainty leads to chaos in absolutes.
Absolutely no flights.
Absolutely no way home.
Absolutely no idea in anyone's head when things will change.

All this exported from Iceland.
I liked it better when Iceland was mainly exporting woolen goods.

Had I not spent a good deal of money on plane tickets to England for dates so in danger of being terminally affected by all this, I would have the luxury of being a curious, and slightly sympathetic bystander - as I usually am - in regards to most chaos and catastrophe that comes to me by way of NPR - with variations on my level of sympathy. This time my stomach hurts and my head reels from only the potential effect awaiting me...not to mention my poor, doctoral defense bound husband.

My anxiety and "suffering" is a little bit inconsequential at this point. I am a person, in my home, with my family, enjoying a bed, not yet caught in the web over Europe. Except that web is invisibly large. When considering the domino effect of closing Heathrow Airport the web gains some visibility as a thing that consumes the world. The British Empire may have let go their purchase on many a foreign shore in the last century, but you close down London's airports and it is felt in every far corner of the earth.

Yesterday Caroline stood at my side asking questions about the video clips showing stranded people all over Europe and the UK.
"Where is the ash, Mommy? Are you and Dad going to England today? Where is your airport"
I pulled out our Great Britain Road Atlas A-Z, and showed her Manchester, and the parts of England that might be reopened soon. She flipped through the pages stopping on London.
It looks like this:

"Wow," she said, with appropriate awe. Declaring, "That's the world, kiddo."

That's Caroline calling me kiddo, not me talking to the four-year-old.

And she's got it right. London is THE World. It lies at the center of so much civilization and economy - even today.

But as I put Cecily to bed last night and said a prayer that consisted of just this phrase; "Heavenly Father, thank you for my family," I became so profoundly aware that this little house, with these five people (almost six) is MY world. England is a thing that has contributed in no small way to the development of my world. But it is here, with this family that I find I am untouched by any amount of uncertainty...or ash.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Friends"...but not "Come-Over-for-Dinner-Friends"

I have a strange relationship with Anna Quindlen.

The first strange thing about it is that she does not participate in our relationship beyond writing for a general audience. This is a somewhat passive role on her part. I don't blame her. I have never called her attention to my existence, so....
Plus, she could hardly be called passive in that writing she does for that general audience. Anna has something to say. In fact, she has many things to say, with vehemence and resolve.

My Aunt, Janice introduced me to Ms. Quindlen in 1999 with One True Thing, a novel that became popular enough to make a movie starring Renee Zellweger. It was in that book I discovered that, like Mark Helprin, Anna Quindlen was an author who would teach me new words.

I love new words.

Then I read Black and Blue.

Then I took a writing class at the Community College back in the long days of acquiring my eight year Associate's Degree. Anna Quindlen wrote an essay featured in my writing textbook in favor of abortion, given as an example of persuasive writing. I was not persuaded.

In fact, it was our first disagreement.
Which didn't amount to much as my novice pen could not begin to offer words in contradiction to one of such craft and intellect. My argument went something like this..."uh-uh" (in the negative, with my head saying "no", and my brows furrowed)...but unvocalized and without any supporting points.

Then I read Blessings.

Then I read How Reading Changed My Life.
Anna and I shared a love of reading from an early age. We even shared some of the same books, characters, magic of literature in the development of self.

But as much as I loved her words - her art, I became increasingly aware that we harbor different world views. Reading has taken us in different directions. This became more obvious when, after my first contribution to National Public Radio, I was offered a token of gratitude by receiving a subscription to NewsWeek. Anna Quindlen had an opinion column published every other week on the last page of the magazine. I read every one.

We disagreed on more than one occasion. But I couldn't give up reading her column. I wanted to know what she had to say about everything because she said it so well. If I had reason and confidence at my command, such as she does, I would write an opinion column too.

Ms. Quindlen is Catholic. Quite thoroughly so, and still practicing. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is impossible to discern if this creates more similarities or differences between us. We both believe in God. This is rather fundamental.

Then, in the midst of our differing faiths and world views, Elder Ballard of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke the name Anna Quindlen from the pulpit at the Conference Center during General Conference. Speaking about motherhood he quotes Quindlen speaking about her own mothering experience, saying ultimately, "I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less”

She is a generation beyond me, her children are grown, but I found that Elder Ballard's reference to Quindlen as mother created the most enduring link in our relationship thus far. Mothers - the universal sorority that eluded me entirely until I left the hospital with my first baby. Anna can argue with beguiling words in defense of all kinds of things that I work diligently in remaining unbeguiled. I still appreciate her voice.

And yesterday, when I turned the radio on to listen to the Diane Rehm Show, Diane was speaking to a woman I found a bit brash, opinionated, slightly too forward, but still likable. I get a little turned off by guests whose personalities are so commanding that they sort of "steal" Diane's authority. Diane rules.
But in the midst of speaking about whatever new book this bold woman had just published, she stopped the tide of praise in her own direction, and turned the spotlight to Diane in earnest sincerity. She announced to us listeners that our dear Diane has been recently named the recipient of the Peabody award.
It was Anna, whose voice I had never heard, but fit her perfectly in the revelation of her identity.

I would not have wanted to stand opposite her in debate club, but we stand together in our reverence for Diane. We stand together in a love of words. We stand together in a love of God, and an appreciation for motherhood. These are fundamental enough for me to consider us unthreatened friends.

Even if she doesn't know we are friends.

Monday, April 12, 2010

To Become a Person

This is a reminder that there is something beautiful in me.

She is NOT me.

But I made her...partly.

Cecily is number three. She is still baby, still smiles and snuggles, and funny faces. She is 21-month-old-precociousness. Everything she does is the delight of parent who wants to feel responsible for all things good about her. But she is showing signs - signs that while she is flesh of my flesh, she is mind of her mind.

Cecily has two older siblings - four and seven. So with a few more years experience in these two, I begin to wonder how much I am truly responsible for. Children choose their behavior, but is it not formed by what they see? I am afraid to think about what they see. Because it's pretty much all me.

I don't want to take the blame for a good deal of what goes on in my children's behavior. But I want the credit for what is pretty.

There is still a lot of pretty. In all three of them. I should videotape it for happy viewing after non pretty episodes.

With Cecily....I will close my eyes and inhale slowly these last few months of baby. I will miss her, as I miss all my children at every stage. But there is such thrill in meeting them again and again in the unveiling of new character as they become the self that is, eventually, entirely independent of me.