Icons, part the infinity

(This is the theme of my life. This is apparently what I am to always remember, to never forget, to paste to the front of my consciousness.

The Icon and The Human. The Image of God.)

It’s another December with a sad story about a girl gone missing, albeit one a long time ago. It’s also that time of year when my heart feels heavy for a variety of reasons unconnected to anything obvious. I feel dark.

Helo and I have been busy with searching, seeking out those who are not with their people at the time of their passing and to return them to where they belong in some form or fashion. That can add to the darkness, even when there are answers, because the questions themselves are heavy, and block out the light.

So I need very much the Advent, the arrival of The Word and the dawning of the Light.

We’ll start at the end, with the sentencing Friday of the man guilty of modern Fort Wayne’s original sin, the first girl missing and killed near the high Holy Days.

My new job, back in news, takes me occasionally back to the courtroom, though I have much more control over the what and the when. (It’s nice to be the boss.) On Friday, I spent the morning at the sentencing hearing, and helping my reporter craft her story on the matter, while I put a written version together for our website.

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The courtroom was filled with the image of the little girl, a picture I could conjure in my sleep having seen it so much for so long. On Friday, it was all over the t-shirts of her family, an innocent image reflecting nagging grief. I saw how tired they were, and heard their exhaustion as they spoke of what he took from them. I observed the still-smoldering rage of those who hunt the monsters. I saw, again, the ripples of the Fall, spreading out and contaminating all that it touches, breaking and distorting on its way through time.

I cannot reach this time of year without thinking of the other A-named girls: Alejandra and Aliana, whose stories intersected mine through journalism and drove me to search work. I will likely again light candles in their memory, pray for peace for those who miss them, those who hunted their killers and all of us impacted by their deaths.

My church has new icons up, a magnificent project with the Theotokos and infant Christ above the altar. Before court, I listened to a story my arts reporter did on the project, her interview with Fr. Andrew as he discussed the importance of the image to us who worship in this way, the Icon as connection of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Scriptures without words.

I thought about all I’ve seen in recent weeks in both jobs, my heart heavy with the thought of what those families carry in the waiting, albeit 30 minutes or 30 years.

The recovery work, like the journalism work, is so intricately connected to Orthodoxy I do not believe they could exist without each other. Every time I unclip the leash and tell him to “Search”, every time I uncap the pen to capture the story, I feel like I am chasing icons, chronicling the image of God as it presents itself around me.

I don’t mean this to sound too holy, but I think it might. I’m sorry about that. I just cannot seem to shake this feeling that I need this hunt to remind myself of my own nature, to aid in my recovery from the fall.

I have often wondered if the thing our cadaver dogs detect, what distinguishes human remains from all other organic material, even that of other mammals, is this strange thing, this image of God we carry. I wish Helo could tell me, but he only tells me when he finds it. I still don’t know exactly what he’s sussing out. I’m sure some will cringe at the spiritual way I approach such an odd and grim task. I am not sorry about it though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the meandering. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. There’s been sadness and success since my last post. I guess I needed to process. Thanks for listening.

Advent is upon us. The light is dawning soon.

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The long way around

How Helo makes me a better person, part the infinity.

A little over a week ago, my fuzzy little partner and I passed our certification test to allow us to be deployable as a human remains detection unit with our SAR team. I’m already a SARTech II, or a certified “ground pounder”, so I have been searching and backing up our other K9 units for a few years. But now, as my nephew put it, someone will do that for me.

Those of you who know me, or follow this space, know this has not been the easiest of journeys. I do not have one of those dogs who is strong enough, or who functions in such high drive that he is immune to my weaknesses as a handler. I have a dog who is in tune with me, always, for good or for bad. As I struggled, he struggled. As I failed, he floundered. As I grew, he grew. When I sorted it out, he settled in. It took a while, much longer than I would have liked or could have dreamed, but we got there.

And I am grateful.

It took me eight years to get through college, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t settle into my career until I was 26. And I didn’t get married until I was almost 40. For whatever reason, it takes me longer. I find the longer, circuitous route and that’s the one I choose to travel, or the one the universe picks for me.

This one could have looked a little different, if we’d gone out and picked up another dog, found a creature so independent of me, my anxieties, my lack of knowledge, my need to control would have been overshadowed by its drives and its gifts. But we didn’t do that. The boss in The Job That Doesn’t Pay didn’t give up on the dog, and didn’t give up on the partnership.

Helo and I remained tethered together for the duration.

He did everything I asked him to do. He learned how to show commitment to the target odor. He barked when he found it. He pushed through heavy brush, stuck his head in thorns, hollow tree trunks and ran his little nose along the thresholds of the doors. He worked.

And he waited for me to change. He waited for me to get myself together. So I did more work on myself. I learned how to study dogs. I learned what his different ear positions meant, what his footsteps looked like when he was in scent. I found ways to manage my anxieties, my cursed need for perfection and control. I got my poop in a group.

I’m not sure why I don’t get to take the easier way. And I know that every single person knows that their ways aren’t easy either. Our journeys are always unique. Their distances and their clocks vary. Sometimes that has nothing to do with us, or any lesson we are to learn. Sometimes it is just difficult. It just sucks.

But this one was about learning and about growth. And it is on me to fight to maintain it, to keep the cobwebs out of our partnership, to keep him engaged and comfortable and safe with me as his handler.

And now we get to go to work.

No job that pays

Tomorrow is the first Monday in forever I won’t have anywhere to go. Nowhere to be. Nothing to do for anyone higher up the pay scale.

Last week I was fired when the non-profit job-that-paid eliminated its entire communications/marketing department. Conveniently, they let me come into work Monday morning (45-minute commute) and work for a couple hours before they did it. My coworker and I were unceremoniously tossed out, putting the contents of our desks in whatever bag or box we could find. I felt like I’d did something wrong, and still do, in spite of the lovely letter swearing to the contrary in my severance packet.

I understand the business decision, and in fact believe it was probably the right one for the organization at this current moment. And I wasn’t in love with the job. After a career, it was just that– a job. I was grateful for it, however it didn’t scratch any itch for creativity or exploration. It is also the height of irony since I left newspapers because of the increasing risk of having my job disappear. Life is hi-lar-eee-ous.

So now I sit here on a Sunday night, not sure what to do with my planner, my to-do-lists and my time. I have at least a few weeks and then whatever or whenever something presents itself that pays the bills. I am fortunate in that we are financially stable because my husband is good at that kind of stuff. And we have health. That makes all the difference and has nothing to do with us.

At 2 a.m. the morning after I got fired, the SAR pager went off. I was out the door in five minutes and a few miles up the road when the disregard came through. But it was enough of a reminder that with The Job That Doesn’t Pay I am beyond blessed for meaning and raison d’être.

I’ll be fine. But it is weird. I expect the house will be cleaner than it has been in years, I’ll plague you a bit more here. Say a prayer for my coworker and dear friend who was marched out of the building with me. She has kids and pre-existing conditions and all of that. Things are scarier always with kids.

All ya’ll going off to punch the time-cards in the a.m., good luck, have a great week and I’ll be thinking of you. 2017-02-20 10.06.01.jpg

I’ll be looking around for a job for a professional badger because that’s what I am to my core.

And I need a new place for this kick-ass mouse pad.

Unpaid. Professional.

When volunteering is more than not being paid…

Last night, I spent about 90 minutes in a crowded town council meeting room, sitting next to my husband and his volunteer fire department. I was there for defense. (Or offense, depending on your perspective.)

Over the course of the past few months, the town’s all-volunteer fire department has been experiencing increasing tension with their town. The tension seems to be traceable to a 20-something town manager who does not appear to understand the difference between a town employee and a volunteer. He does not seem to grasp that the relationship rural communities have with their fire departments (and many police officers if they rely on reserves) is not contractual.

It is relational.

For reasons known but to him, the town manager escalated the situation by taking the matter to the local paper and involving the council after the fact. His statements cast doubt on their character (they have done nothing wrong) and it made a bad situation painful.

It was humbling to sit among these men and a few women, many with tears in their eyes as they spoke of the work they did, as well as the profound cost of that work which cannot be measured in tax dollars or hours.

In fairness to the child town official, I did not understand the difference between the contractual and the relational in public safety until I moved out here, in the middle of nowhere. I understood it even more when I too decided to don a uniform and carry a pager.

There are volunteer opportunities: delivering Meals on Wheels, tutoring children at a school a few hours a week, answering the phones at a social service agency. Those are valuable and those are necessary. They are, as all services, the rent we pay for life on this earth, to quote Muhammad Ali.

The VFD, EMS and SAR service is something entirely different. The level of training it requires is different. The level of commitment it requires is different. And the motivation is often much more complicated. It has to be to sustain it through the constant inconvenience and threat of injury; to get you to respond every time regardless of the weather, the time of day or what you are doing. The hours of training and studying and physical work put it in a different class: unpaid professional.

Much of America, geographically, is protected by volunteer fire departments, or hybrids of volunteer and professional departments. It is a red state thing, to use political language. When I lived in the city, we had fire stations all over the place and I largely viewed it as a service, the price paid by my tax dollars. I respected them for their work and training, but they were “civil servants.”

That is not why these men and women do what they do. (It’s not why the paid professionals do it either, but that is for a different time.)

By the time the meeting ended Thursday, many of the firefighters were struggling to contain their emotions, so fed up with the unnecessary and the ridiculous.

The work emergency services personnel perform, paid or unpaid, is wearing physically and emotionally. Tearing apart a piece of farm equipment to remove an injured man, tromping through cornfields for hours in the heat to look for the body of the missing, or performing chest compressions on an infant: these are not the typical volunteer opportunities of Americans. But they are the experiences of my loved ones and myself.

We were exhausted by the end of this week. I picked up a pizza on the way home and as we slid slices on our plates, his pager went off.

Twenty-four hours after the fight before the council, he found himself in the dark on a country road, cutting a driver out of a vehicle while his chief prepared a landing zone for the helicopter.

He spent over an hour in the cold alongside his crew and members of another department.

When he got home, and reheated his pizza, he had a smile on his face.

He said the timing of the run was perfect. It reminded him of why he did what he did: serving and helping others.

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A’s chair and dinner awaited his return.