Remembering

Some Saturday mornings, you really should be packing for your SAR overnight training, but you find yourself at your husband’s volunteer fire department, wiping wax off the rescue truck.

And when a 9/11 Memorial truck pulls into the bay, you stop what you’re doing and you struggle to hold back tears, right alongside the husband-who wouldn’t cry if you dropped a Halligan bar on his toe.

So you stand there, surprised by all the emotions you feel as you read the names on the doors, the men who knew they could die that day, as they knew everyday, but probably didn’t think they would. The FDNY baseball hat the lieutenant tossed onto the seat as he geared up and left the cab is now encased in glass, a monument to a moment long ago.

You back up and watch the guys, and girls, of the Albion Fire Department, all volunteers, wash and wax that dented truck with greater care than you could imagine. You watch a young guy, who was probably about 5 when the towers came down, climb underneath it with a brush, and hand-scrub the road grime from the mudflaps, covering himself with it. You swallow the lump in your throat as you watch your husband, who spent last Sunday on a roof at a house fire, go over the chrome and the steel with a soft cloth. You can’t imagine what is inside his head.

But you know what’s inside yours, as your search dog lays obediently in an empty bay next to the truck. You know that this rescue truck, FDNY Rescue 4, was put back together with pieces and parts from other trucks, like Rescue 3 from Harlem, which also didn’t make it back that day.  You know that this is not just your legacy as an American, as a human, but as a search professional.

And you know that you are on holy ground, so you pray the Orthodox prayer for the departed, you make the sign of the cross and you venerate the shield on the door.

You pray too, that we could one day understand that we are all the same, we bleed when we die, we cry for our dead and our souls live forever.

When you go home to pack for your overnight, gathering your SAR ready pack and your kits, your ropes and your PFDs, you take a little more care than normal.

Because everything matters.

2016-06-11 09.14.09

Pieces

We’re 22 months into our SAR journey, Helo and I. It feels like a lifetime. We’re getting scuffed and dented, the shiny-newness wearing off, hidden under the disappointments and the constant fight for growth. It’s a steep, steep learning curve. And it should be, because lives depend on it.

And how’s this for fun. There’s still no guarantee we’ll get it done as a team. Even if we successfully clear the certification hurdle, on which we have stumped our toes and stumbled a few times now. I never thought I would want to quit this, but days like today require an actual verbalized promise to my teammates that I’m not going anywhere.

All the other stuff comes so easily to me: the medical, the navigation, the survival skills, working with agencies at scenes.

But training a dog? Oy. Turning a pet dog into a working dog? Ohmygooodgolly.

Training a working dog like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle.

If you’re doing it from scratch, i.e. a handpicked puppy, a 10-week old blank slate, it’s hard enough. But the edge pieces are kind of all set out for you, placed in their own pile. You can see and arrange the limits for the dog from the beginning. “No, we’re not going to spend our free time chasing rabbits. We chase people now.”

However, taking a pet dog, a 2-year-old running buddy who thinks chasing squirrels is awesome and who was heavily obedience trained (largely by coercion) into a free-thinking, good-decision making working dog. Well, that’s been hard.

Really hard. And a constant boot to the face of the ego. Oh, you thought you had it? Well, aren’t you cute.

Add to it my tendency to push to perfection, to win every fight, every ball, and to then mull over, dwell on, and worry about every little misstep, let alone the big problems we still need to fix, and well, that’s just a hot hot mess.

Our thousand piece puzzle is one of the crazy-ass black-and-white photos of a steam engine. And I damn well know I haven’t even found the edge pieces yet. We’re starting from the dead center.

It’s hard to explain to those who do not do THIS what THIS entails. How do you describe the heartbreak of a dog so tired and frustrated, he just can’t bark when it’s time?  How can you get someone to understand the very parts of your personality that make you competent and successful, that have served you fairly well for most of your adult life, are now the parts that stand in your way, that make you question him too much, that make you get in your own way?

He can’t tell me what it will take to make it all clear for him. He has the edge pieces, probably, tucked up in his furry little head.

So I’m going to have to walk behind him, the leash off and draped over my shoulders as he pushes forward. I’m going to have to figure out how to shut my mouth, or mumble the Jesus Prayer, so much that my desires for perfection, for the flawless dog, the easy search, the simple solution, the thing that makes me successful and looking good, disappears from his view.

 

Hopefully, in time, (how much longer I shudder to think) the edge pieces will reveal themselves.

Handsome SAR dog
Handsome SAR dog

A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

Memory eternal!

I read something last night about the two kinds of people who help you through trauma: the firefighters and the builders. The firefighters come in quick, get you out of whatever jam you’re in and help you deal with the immediate crisis. The builders come in a bit later, and do the restoration work, helping you start anew.

It’s a rare thing to find someone, a friend, who is both.

I finished college. I have a stable job in a community I care deeply about. I married a good man because my mother had a friend like that, a woman who was so extraordinary that her gifts of friendship and love to my mother extended on to me and saved my life in nearly every sense.

The life I have I owe to her, a willing and cheerful instrument of God’s love, Jesus-with-skin-on. A woman willing to walk through my mom’s divorce with her, to defend her, to cry with her, to make her laugh, to cheer her on.  A woman so committed to that friendship, to whatever is whispered between college roommates, to enact that verse in the Book of Ruth–where you go, I go — that she opened her home for YEARS to a skittish and often angry young woman (me) so I could breathe, and grow, and live.

When I dropped out of college in 1994, 18 months before I was to graduate, I honestly never thought I’d go back, probably exactly because my father said I’d be back in the fall. After my mom kicked my father out of the house, our family’s survival was in doubt. Our future and, specifically my future, became a concern to this old friend of my mother’s, to Jan. And she never, ever let it go. I have no idea why. She and her husband had two of their own children. She had a fulfilling and busy professional and personal life 60 miles away in Fort Wayne. Jan and Jack could have done what so many people do, what so many people did, to say “oh, I’ll pray/let me know if there’s anything you need/oh, there’s my ride.”

“Becky needs to go back to school. There’s a Taylor campus in Fort Wayne. She’s going there. She’s living with us.”

For two years in the late 1990’s, I lived in their home. I never worked. I never paid a cent in rent, bought any food. I watched their cable on a big screen television. I parked my beat-up old 87 Honda in their driveway. I brought boyfriends over for dinner. I never ever felt like anything less than one of their own. I watched Jack treat his wife with respect and patience. I watched her love him with laughter. There was nothing I needed more than that, right then. And it had nothing to do with my degree.

When I got the job at the Journal, I moved back in with them for another six months, paid off some credit cards and bought a newer car. I was now “Rebecca S. Green,” but every night I’d come home to “What’d ya do today, Becky?” from Jan, sitting on her reclining sofa-end, reading every single page of every piece of mail and periodical that came to the house and eating some random thing from the pantry as a snack. (editor’s note: she was one of the last people allowed to call me Becky, just FYI)

I had a second mom and dad. How lucky is that?! I still have a key to their house.

Jan died today after a two-year battle with cancer. My mom and I went to her hospital room Sunday to say goodbye. She was unconscious and I cried. Jack told her he still had not been able to collect a cent of rent from me, the deadbeat daughter that wandered into their lives nearly 20 years ago. Had she been awake, she’d have laughed and told him to give it up, that I owe them nothing.

That’s not true, though. I owe them, I owe her, everything.

Jan and my mother, at my wedding, exactly one year ago.
Jan and my mother, at my wedding, exactly one year ago.

Thanks, Jan.

Emmanuel

So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

Lap 41: A few scattered thoughts

I am eight days into my 41st lap around the sun. Weird, huh. I told a friend the other day we are who we are in the eighth grade. She argued with me vehemently, but I stand by that. In fact, the older I get, the more I seem to be that person, albeit a more secure, self-assured version of that person. I liked that person. She was competent (working at an animal hospital at 13) and teaching herself the 8th grade (homeschooler!). She was curious. She was a good sister. She was brave, in ways I see now, but am not going to go into here. She loved well. I see nothing wrong with being that person again, though this time with a driver’s license, a good chunk of student loan debt still to pay off and business cards with a title on them. If I brought all that I liked about that girl into life with this woman, I could do a lot worse.

Fort Wayne has had a blue million homicides this year and apparently it finally got to me. Early this morning, I woke up deeply disturbed by a dream involving a young black man walking around with a bullet hole in his head (he was dead and walking around) and I could do nothing about it. I tried to draw attention to it, but nobody paid any mind. I couldn’t help him in anyway. Maddening and nauseating. The timing is puzzling to me, though. In April, I stood at two homicide scenes, feet from the bodies. No problems. I covered a couple homicide trials this year, and had no issues there either. Why I woke up panting and disgusted with myself and all in the world at 4:30 this morning, in a hotel room after four days away from it, I have no idea. I can only guess the trouble is cumulative: too much death in too few days, too much controversy, too much feedback from the public (they can take a step back at any time and it’ll be fine with me).

I notice, though, I’m getting a lot more cynical and a lot less tolerant at the same time. It seems counter-intuitive, but even though my gallows humor functions quite (inappropriately) well, I am prone to feeling more sad in the courtroom, much less able to separate the victims’ emotions from mine by distance. I blame age. I blame an ever-deepening realization of consequences, of loss, of anguish, of love, of all that makes life here so completely miserable and amazing all at once. People I love with my whole heart have lost so much in the past year, and it is maddening to be so completely impotent, so totally incapable of doing anything more than walking along beside. And I just am not any good at that. (see above reference to incapability and know that makes me angry). If we have another case like Plumadore in the next few months, I very well might find myself curled up on the floor.

This all sounds very depressing, I realize. I’m really not though, just feeling a tad introspective. Maybe it’s Bach on the headphones, maybe the darkened library in this fancy-pants resort we’re staying in for A’s work conference, maybe it’s the rainy November weather. No worries, though, it’s all good. My blessings are frequently counted these days.

My writing location
My writing location

And they are many.

On a totally unrelated note, I really like wedding rings. As you know, I’m big on symbol (connecting the spiritual reality to the physical realm) and they definitely are that. I like the wedding ring on my finger, I love the one on A’s and I just think it’s a fabulous tradition for a kinesthetic type like myself who is always in need of the concrete and the tangible. (I married Mr. Concrete and Tangible because I need it so much)

 

60 words left to use

How shall I use them?

I am trying to read and write more…not writing for public consumption, and stuff I have no intention of ever showing anyone. Feeling like I need to, so I tried to write 1,000 words tonight.

I still have a few left.

I’m on my porch, listening to the crickets and sipping some very good bourbon. I don’t know why, but tonight, I decided, was a special occasion. Helo’s sitting somewhat contentedly at the edge of the porch, listening too. I’m sure he hears so much more than I could even imagine. His ears are like little satellite dishes, always going, always listening, turning this way and that. So cute.

I miss my family–my nephew and niece and the one that’s not yet born. I wish I was at the country home with the boy, who’s probably been in the hot tub and looked at the stars. You can see stars there. You can’t from my house–too many lights. And the sirens are drowning out the crickets right now.

The city’s been a violent place lately–lots of shootings, fights, etc. I joke that I don’t care till someone’s charged, but it really has been noisy on my end of town.  The boy spent Sunday on a manhunt in another county, looking for a murder suspect.

World gone mad, I guess.

But for now, I am sitting on my porch, sipping Van Winkle bourbon (told you it was the good stuff). The sirens have faded a bit and I can hear the crickets again, and my CD player has shuffled onto Jakob Dylan (preceded in the lineup by his father, of course).

Helo’s laying down now, and I’ve used my 60 words and then some. Hope you didn’t mind my sharing.

Night, ya’ll.