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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Moment


Did I think about it? Of course I did. Unless one lives under a rock and/or is brain dead, it's impossible not to. Since neither of those scenarios apply to me, yes, it was on my mind. Like millions of others, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened. I can do that with all of the more defining moments in my life.

Those kinds of memories don't have the grainy, aged film look that many other memorable moments do. They are high definition and they are larger than life. They are so big and so well defined that not only can I see the peach fuzz on a face, but each individual hair that makes up the peach fuzz.

I know each line on the back of my father's massive hands as the tremors of end stage lung cancer shook them. Shook them so much that he couldn't unzip and re-zip his pants when he had to use the bathroom. So he asked me, his then teenage daughter to help. I did so willingly, but with a tremendous, painful lump in my throat. I understood all at once what it must have taken for him to ask for my help. No man should ever have to ask his daughter for help zipping his pants. In the few short seconds it took me to help him, his hands trembled at his sides. And I remember every line on the back of his hands.

I remember the way the sunlight hit the dust on the monitor the day I clicked open an email from a friend only to read that a beloved mutual friend of ours had died very suddenly. Six words stole the air from the room, "I'm afraid our girl is gone." As the world spun away, the dust and the sunlight and the monitor remained, and only those three things. Jesse was gone, dust, sunlight, monitor, Jesse gone, sunlight, dust, monitor, how can that be, monitor, dust, sunlight. I watched as the first chuff of a sob broke free from me and made the dust dance in the sunlight.

I can see the reflection of my office building in his black truck. The building number above the door is backwards. I approach the driver side window with a smile. He's early. I'm happy to see him. Then I see his face, the streaks of gray in his mustache, the way his lower jaw is working - he always did that when something troubled him deeply. I stop short at the look on his face. "What." I say it not as a question but more as a definition of some great heavy beast standing between us. His look is one of mixed shame, fear, and almost anger. He knows he's going to break something in me as he answers with one word, "Cancer." I sigh, and then I can move forward to grasp his shoulder. "Oh, my love." It's all I can say. It's enough. I look down and notice that the backwards number is wavering. I don't want him to see my tears. Not yet. He has enough to deal with.

September 11, 2001. I was finishing an early morning workout on one of the treadmills in the small gym that was part of the apartment complex where my late mate and I lived. There was a woman on the other treadmill. I think she had blond hair. We had TV turned on to the news chatter of local weather, traffic, blahblahblah... "We interrupt your regular broadcast... breaking news..." We both watched as the first plane hit the tower. "Oh, my god..." the woman next to me said softly. "That didn't look accidental," was my response. I finished up and went home to shower and get ready for work. I walked in the door and told John to turn on the news. "A plane just ran into one of the World Trade Center towers," I said. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. I heard the tell-tale click of the TV as John pushed the on button of the remote. The image of the tower, smoldering in the middle, filled the screen. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed. "I don't think it was an accident," I repeated. I couldn't shake the heavy feeling in my chest. I was taking a sip of coffee when the second plane hit. I quickly set down the cup and propped myself on the edge of the sofa. I remember thinking, "Smoke and ashes... oh the people... smokeandashesohthepeople..." as if I was about to write a poem. There was nothing poetic about it.

Yes. I thought about it this morning, the same way I often think about those clear, hard-edged moments of my life. The moments that show me how easy it is to feel wounded and how tough I can be despite that. I thought about it and proceeded with my day in the only way I know how give credence to those unthinkable times and to honor those people who have suffered agony that I can't completely understand - the people I've loved and the people I'll never know who have been taken in death.

I thought about it. I thought about it and then and set about living deliberately. Bringing honor isn't so much in a totem or a memorial or a moment of silence. Honor is in living anyway. Honor is in living well and fully.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Inundated

What the Night
by Barb Black

It’s not often that I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel things deeply and forcefully, but it rarely leaves me at a loss for words, at least not for long. Even so, this is where I find myself now, and as I’ve learned, writing it out helps. In my life, writing is where the hidden words come to light.

Unless you’ve been unconscious this past week, you know that Texas got the shit beat out of it in a fight with a guy named Harvey. Yeah, that’s my glib way of saying those guys got walloped by a hurricane - huge loss of property and property damage, lost lives, lost jobs, lost pets. But you already know all that.

I barely watch the news. I can’t take it on an ordinary day, and when tragedy strikes, I find it even more difficult to endure. When tragedy strikes, I also pare my social media glances to a minimum. I become so emotionally pained and weary when people are hurting that I just don't need to see constant reminders. Most of the time I feel that way because I’m a helper; I like to help people feel better. If I can't do that, it has a profound effect on my general outlook.

So, there I was last Wednesday, checking out the weather forecast for my area on The Weather Channel on TV. Naturally, as my forecast scrolled across the bottom of the screen (more stupid sun and hot weather in store for the NW), the anchors were covering the devastation Harvey continued to wreak in Houston and surrounding areas. I felt the energy drain right out of me despite the 83 or so cups of coffee I’d had. How could I go about my day when so many were hurting? I had no “extra” money to give and I’m not physically able to do much of anything, and yet I ached to do… something.

So, I did nothing. I moped, which means I watched episodes of something and had snacks and traded banter with Facebook friends. I finally went upstairs to my studio. I marveled again at how nice it looks since I gutted it and rearranged and organized things last month. I looked at the group of paintings I had leaning against a wall, half wondering if they’d ever find a loving home, half wondering why I was keeping them at all.

It hit me. “You silly woman. You have a tremendous resource - quite literally at your fingertips. Why don’t you sell these things and give that money to help with Harvey relief?” My other voice, the voice of my petulant, unsure 14-year-old self spoke up, “Pffft… who’d want that stuff? You think an awful lot of yourself. And how would you market it? Bigwigs are donating huge sums of money, and it’s not like you’d make much and….” That was when I duct taped her mouth shut. Sometimes that chick needs to shut the hell up.

I thought about it. I wrestled with ideas, even as I slept and dreamed that night. And then, during my 47th cup of coffee Thursday morning, the Aha! burst into view. I’d auction it off online with a simple Facebook album post and a "have at it". I floated the idea by my Facebook tribe and it was met with good reception. So, I went right to work, set up the album of artwork, complete with instructions and minimum prices and such.

You know what? I built it and they came! Within seconds of posting it, people were bidding. Honestly, I sat here in tears watching the notifications come in. So much generosity. So much love. The bidding ended at noon today, and I’m beyond thrilled to tell you that my humble little art auction raised $1000 that will go toward helping folks in Texas.

(*Cue Ron Popeil voice*) But wait! That’s not all. It didn’t just raise $1000. Here’s what else it did. Least of all, but so needed, it validated what I do. As an artist, that validation is gold. We sit and pour our hearts out into whatever we do, and when someone comes along and says, “I’ll buy that.” Well, we just about can’t handle it. (I say “we”, but it might only be me - I don’t think so, though.) It also made my heart swell to see how generous my friends were with their donations and their encouragement and their good-natured banter as they “fought” over pieces. I feel proud of my fellow humans (as a collective) for the first time in a long time. It has also sparked my creative energy to jump back into the pretty colors and make things magically appear. Finally, the overall action of it has had me grinning non-stop - I was doing something and they were doing something. Together, we were doing something! Action always defeats despair. Always. Always.

So, yes. I am overwhelmed. Once again, I have found beauty that is anchored in something horrible. I’ve come to learn that it’s where true beauty lives. It’s how Life balances her little ballerina toes on the head of a pin. “Look at me! Precarious and scary, but so pretty!”

I won’t hesitate to do this again. Art counts for something and as artists, we must stand and be counted. For now, my heart is full. I thank all of you who participated, whether all you could do was lend encouragement, whether you won your bids or not, you made it better. You changed my life… and I never even saw that coming.