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A girl who rose from the ashes...and now is trying to make sense of this complicated world through her writing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pieces of Paper

Pieces of Paper

It is human nature, or perhaps Jen nature, to think that we are fully in charge of our lives. We plan, we coordinate, we study, we work, we network...all because we know exactly where we are headed and precisely how we are going to get there. And yet, if you really stop to look at the path of our own lives, how often does it really go as planned? Not so often, would be my guess.

I recently had the opportunity to make a new friend, a friendship that as it turns out may be the shortest I have ever experienced. I was out of town on business and, because of my own social inadequacies, sat at the bar for dinner as opposed to getting a table for myself. Because really, let's be honest, if you sit at the bar alone you look like much less of a loser than if you sit at a table alone. Really. Everyone knows that. Duh.

Anyway, the gentleman next to me at the bar, clearly embracing this same "cooler at the bar" mentality, struck up a conversation with me. Over the course of the evening we played a 3 hour verbal game of "I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours." We cautiously, then bravely, then joyfully swapped stories of jobs, families, moms, irritations, passions, falling in love, falling out of love, hopes, dreams and the beauty of a clean slate pursuit. Okay, so maybe it sounds like the beginning of a tawdry novel inclusive of a steamy love affair, or perhaps more astutely as my friend Kim would say "a great way to end up in a Hefty bag on the side of the road." But I assure you, it was innocent, and wholesome, and heartwarming, and a great reminder of the connectedness we can have as human beings if we are just willing, even if only for a moment, to step outside of our comfort zone.

And in talking to this guy--a guy I never knew before and may never know again--I learned something. From him, I learned that a little piece of paper can change your life. Now, I suppose we all can come up with pieces of paper that changed our lives. Divorce papers, sitting on my car seat one dismal April morning six years ago, certainly come to mind. But really, our lives are so inundated with information and papers and posters and flyers and post-it notes and memos and reports, who really pays attention to every piece of paper that crosses their path? But this guy did, and it has changed the the trajectory of his life forever.

As a teacher, my new-found friend noticed that someone had posted a flyer on a door in his school that simply read, "Teach in China." And you know what? He did. For three summers he went to China to teach for the summer, and he said that even though he had been to 45 countries previously, the moment he stepped off the plane in China he felt like he fit in--he knew that he was home. So, after some soul-searching and consulting and worrying and planning and hoping and selling his stuff and breaking the news to his grown children, he decided to spend the rest of his life teaching in China. Boom. Just like that. Picking up, moving on, starting over, building anew. A new chapter, a new adventure, a complete revision of his life story....all because of a flyer that most everyone else would have ignored or maybe used to swat a fly.

I spent the evening enchanted by his courage and wondering if I could ever do the same. Probably not, I surmised, and then when he told me that in previous trips he had eaten things like chicken intestines ("probably not cleaned" mind you) and duck heads, I was certain the answer was no. Nevertheless, I was reminded of the importance of having an openness and an awareness of everything in our lives. A piece of paper--a meaningless, mindlessly placed, graphically lacking, stupid flyer, on white paper and probably typed in Comic Sans or some equally offensive font--can change your life forever. If you let it, that is. Will you?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dear Mom

In honor of Mother's Day, I am sharing a letter I wrote to my mom for Mother's Day four years ago. Happy Mother's Day to all of you who have the hardest job on the planet.

Dear Mom,

This weekend marks the 20th year that I have endured a motherless Mother's Day. Twenty years is a long time --more than half my life--and a lot has changed since I last saw you and you assured me that everything was going to be all right. I think there are some things you should hear from me.

First of all, I want to say you picked a really shitty time to leave me. Granted, you didn't have a lot of say in the matter, and I know it's not how you expected things to turn out either. But the time you left this earth was shitty because I was in the midst of what was perhaps my most imperfect state. Sixteen, and had it all figured out. Sixteen, and full hormones and stupidity and false confidence. Sixteen, and angry that you had the audacity to criticize my foolish ways. Sixteen, and unable to see that I was turning out to be you.

But I have turned out to be you, in the strangest and most unexpected way, and I think you would either be immensely proud or completely annoyed. I have your wicked and sometimes bizarre sense of humor. I have your thick, stubborn head (unfortunately topped with Dad's fine, lifeless hair). I have your big brain filled with big ideas. I am sometimes misunderstood just as you often were. Like you, I believe in all things just and right, and like you I am painfully aware that life rarely offers hearty helpings of either.

I know there are a lot of things about my life that would make you proud. I've made a life for myself that is filled with laughter and selectively chosen loyal friends. I have been called and have risen to a life's work that is more meaningful than almost any other I can imagine, and have made an immense difference in my corner of the world. I am responsible in ways you would have never thought possible. Really and truly, I am.

And one of my proudest accomplishments, one that I know would warm that sometimes steely heart of yours, is that your baby--my baby sister--has become one of my most trusted, cherished and sacred friends in life. The same baby sister I loved the first day she was born, and by the second day figured out she shamelessly stole my spotlight. The same baby sister who I resented for choosing the same cereal as me every morning, and the same baby sister who was the inspiration for the limited-time, one-act melodrama, "Stop Playing With My Makeup You Fucking Little Brat!" The same baby sister I couldn't comfortably relate to until I could safely assume she'd had her first beer. The same baby sister I look at now and think, "Damn, how did she get here from there?"

You have every right to look me in the eye and confidently state, "I told you so."

Even if your sudden departure wasn't expected, it turns out the cosmos were right. Right in the wrong sort of way, right in the way that makes you say, "What the fuck?" and then strap on your cajones and confidently trudge forward to unknowing greener pastures. Right in that, I was afforded the lesson early on that I have the capacity to rise above even the most miserable of circumstances triumphantly. I've carried that lesson with me everywhere, and have used it over, and over, and over again.

The truth is, Mom, you may have left the party too early, but before leaving you left many gifts behind. Trust that each gift has been accepted and used in the spirit with which it was intended. And know that even though your stay at the party was too short, it was really great that you were able to show up at all.