Awareness

Note: I took a break from this blog in order to document my journey across the US where I sang in all 48 lower states. You can read about my MelOdyssey here

I easily could have worked from home, but the call for structure and a desire for a warm, isolated cubicle brought me in. Awaking in the dark, still not having figured out how to work my new alarm clock that will help me pretend it’s not winter with its gradually glowing light. Record colds in Portland are nothing like the ones across most of the country, but they are enough to disrupt our daily lives and kill a man. I put on an extra sweater, my soft cream hat, and my new Christmas scarf and walk to the bus as the sun begins to rise.

The bus turns and we pass the same dead lilac garden on the same route as all the other days, only this time it looks different. Half of it is covered in ice, yet no rain has fallen for days. A sprinkler break, perhaps? It’s as though someone took a fire hose to the small trees in the middle of the night. A woman gets out of her car to take a picture of it, and I long to do the same. I can’t remember the last time I took any photos, even though I keep my camera with me at all times, just in case.

Work was slow so I bundled back up an hour earlier than usual and walked down the hill, ignoring the two buses that passed; it was time to be in the sun. I took the long way down so I could revisit the icy lilacs – had they melted in the day’s light? Though it stayed below freezing, it was bright every time I left my cube to appreciate the big yellow thing in the sky, a rare sighting this time of year. As I rounded the bend and reached the bottom of the hill, I saw the trees still shone. An older man was there, too, appreciating the beauty of the cold.

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Hidden in plain view

I asked him if he knew what happened. He hadn’t considered my sprinkler-break theory, and attributed this wonderland to the simple fact that the sun never reached here, In his mind, the lilacs have been weighed down by ice this whole time (several days, if not weeks). That didn’t feel right to me; have I been passing this very spot while on the bus for days unnoticed? I can’t believe that to be the case. The man continues on the path, careful not to slip.

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Had this been here the entire time?

A woman comes by, walking her dog. I ask her if the lilacs will be OK. She reassures me that the lilacs will be just fine in the spring and I’m relieved. Too much death lately whether it be from Mother Nature or carelessness or whatever causes death. I take several pictures, walking carefully on the iced grass and dirt, shining in its sleekness. There are no sure steps in this grove, an isolated mystery right in front of me. Is this what happens when something is left in the dark, without warmth? It’s beautiful but cold.

I head out of the park and onto the sidewalk where the sun does shine – at least for today, perhaps even tomorrow. Then the rain comes back. Or maybe snow first, then the ice, until the sky falls as a typical Portland winter – grey, damp, wet – behaving as it should. When that happens, the lilacs will lose their weight and become as I assumed they always were, until I looked out the window of the bus this morning and actually noticed what was going on.

 

3500 steps: A travelogue

It was spring and time to go home. I walked roads I had never taken to get to a place I had been many times before. One road led me to a tunnel; I didn’t really know what was on the other side, but had an idea. Even if I was wrong, it looked beautiful there, and the tunnel felt safe, with its graffiti and darkness . I came out the other side, slightly confused.

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Familiar/unfamiliar territory. Gigantic trees. Children playing in a park I didn’t recognize. Street names weren’t familiar. In the near distance, I saw downtown and made my way toward it.

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I crossed the freeway, rush-hour cars honking below, moving with purpose. Mt. Hood in the distance; a clear day in February is rare and cherished.

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Mt. Hood and Tillikum Bridge. Not too bad for a rush hour view.

I arrive at familiar territory; Portland starts to look like a city. There’s street art, food carts, and semi-tall buildings. I see an old friend, and we embrace; she has no idea what’s going on in my life, and I don’t know hers: social networking can only fill you in so much. A few hundred steps later, and I see a protest march across my path: “We work, we sweat, for fifteen dollar checks.” Graduate students demanding pay, possibly recognition: I wonder if they’ll get either. They make their way to our mutual destination, and march up the same steps that I planned to use. I sit back. Boos as the door is barred, as the marchers are met by police, not the university president.

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I know the building well and use the back entrance, underneath the building, hidden from the sun.  I see another friend,  and get my second hug of the day. This time, sorrow is expressed for my loss. I run my errands, and take the bus home to another completely different part of the city, this one more familiar.

Privilege

I sat at my kitchen table to eat some oatmeal

That I flavored with date syrup I bought in Oman.

I added flax seed because my doctor said it was good for my health.

Then I began to cut the tags off the 19 pairs of socks and 4 hats I bought yesterday.

I also got three pairs of gloves and a scarf.

I stuffed them into a purple floral backpack I borrowed from a friend

Who also gave me four toothbrushes and some tampons she didn’t need.

They went into the backpack too, along with two extra pairs of socks and a scarf I don’t need.

This sweatshirt doesn’t fit right, so I throw it in, too.

I pause to type these words on my computer

As I hear my washing machine come to a stop.

My towels and bathmats are clean.

I washed them after I got out of a hot shower this morning.

I toss them into the dryer.

Later I will get into my car that has a half tank of gas and drive downtown

To give away the things in the backpack to people living on the streets.

We’ll also serve hot chocolate

And then go back home to rest.
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Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.

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    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.
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    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.

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    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.

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    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
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    Strange bar decor.

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    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
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Compassion

The sun came out – just for a few hours – and I wept tears of joy. It’s been dark and flooding and heavy for so long, and I didn’t think I was going to see a blue sky for at least another week. Yet, there it was, waiting for me as I caught the bus to go downtown.

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The few hours of non-rain in days.

On the bus already was an old, frail, white man at the front in his wheelchair. Both legs were amputated from the knee down, khaki pants tucked neatly under stubs. He looked lost and confused, but then again so did so many others I shared the bus with every day as we leave “pill hill” and the myriad hospitals that fill it. Yet, this man seemed particularly distraught, and the others who say close to the front talked to him in soothing voices.

The hospital-issued wheelchair he sat in was the first clue something was the matter. The second was the semi-torn-out IV in his arm. He wasn’t supposed to be on the bus but had decided, on his own, that it was time to go. Go home. One of the men chatting with the escapee alerted the bus driver. A nurse confirmed that a man with an IV in his arm like that should not be going home, but going back to the hospital. The man soon realized his attempt to flee was discovered, and his distressed grew. He began to wail and cry as the bus pulled over next to the children’s hospital:

“I want to go home!

Move! Move!

Roll the bus, roll the bus!”

His cries became more frantic and became less convincing in his commands:

“I don’t want to go back to prison! They’ll lock me up. Don’t make me go back!

Roll the bus, roll the bus.”

The men at the front – one sporting a Veteran’s ball cap – told him it would be OK. The driver told emergency services to come quickly, please. She was calm, but adamant. She turned to reassure the man that help was on the way.

“No. I want to go home. Move the bus. PLEASE.”

He was crying hard, begging for his life.

I stood in the back and choked back tears.

The driver eased the man off the bus and stood with him until help arrived. She gave him a cigarette – forbidden on a hospital campus – and smoked alongside of him. Offering a small pleasure to a man who had none. Two policeman walked up slowly towards the two, doing their best to look gentle despite being visibly armed. The man was calmer now, and the driver got back on the bus.

As we pulled away, I heard the cries build again. Cries from the man who had to go back:

“I just want to go home….Please.”

His voice was weaker and less insistent. Defeated, but still with hope.

According to the man in the Veteran’s cap, the man’s home was a shelter on the edge of the city.

The bus made it down the hill before it stalled out. The driver stared ahead and said that it was her grandfather – mad at her for making her passenger go back. She said she was sorry. Passengers said she did a great job and thanked her. The bus started up again.

At the next stop, a woman got on, yelling at the driver for being so late. The driver smiled at said, “I’m truly sorry ma’am, but sometimes the unexpected happens.”

The sun was still shining.