Freedom

March 2, 2017

Dear Chris,

“America, to me, is freedom” – Willie Nelson

It is an oft proclaimed quip from strangers and friends alike around here, over the low rumbles of an AC-130 or oscillating hums of a hovering CV-22, that these powerful sounds of air domination are the “sounds of freedom”. Some say it with a smile, many with pride, and depending on the hour of night, with a hint of frustration. There is an intimidation factor to military aircraft, both in form and function. It only takes one observation of a tilting Spectre or Spooky II gunship, slow and precise while unleashing side-firing weaponry, two 20mm Vulcan cannons at 7,200 rounds per minute, a 120 rpm 40mm Bofors gun, and a 105mm howitzer with thunderous, destructive 6-10 rpm in the case of the Spectre, for one to be keenly aware that these mechanical feats bring freedom through annihilation.

The operators of these aircraft, like their counterparts in uniform across all branches of American military service, awaken every morning to regimented duties. Time is coded, attire is mandated, grooming is strict, training is precise, and in the case of modern service, personal freedom is voluntarily deferred for obligation to the constitutional duties of national security and most assuredly in the hearts and minds of those that serve, for the greater freedom of American citizens and ultimately the world. It is never too far from the thoughts of these men and women, even when threat is not imminent, that they have promised the nation freedom will be protected with their lives. Like soldiers before them, they will die if need be so that we may be free. This is the ultimate sacrifice.

Ingrained in the human condition is a stirring to sacrifice. Reflexively, it seems, we put ourselves between those that we love and imminent danger. The love of a stranger pumps through us like adrenaline in our veins when a crisis is upon us. Not so evident in the calms of daily life, but a powerful force of shared humanity becomes hands to pull one from sweeping waters, the multiplied strength of quick acting men rescuing victims in fiery crashes, and innumerable acts of every day heroism. You would be hard pressed to find one of these actors boasting of their actions. If anything, they are quick to say “I am no hero. Anyone would help if they were in my shoes”.

Humility is a hallmark of sacrifice. Risking death may come naturally when the stakes are high, but the power of a sacrifice made in blood is correlated with the motives, and the most powerful motive is love. We are unable to avoid the harsh truth that not all death for cause is noble or blessed. Wars are a balancing act of neutralizing evil without becoming a malevolent force in turn. We are all called to discern as “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel” (Sirach 15:14). This requirement is not merely personal, but also permeates our societal obligation. We must form our consciences and temper our hearts when offering up our lives for that which is greater. Let it not just be for an ideal of freedom. Our annihilation at death is accepted by Christ, He having walked in our shoes, and transformed beyond the ultimate sacrifice into renewed freedom. A freedom no man, no war, no imprisonment can take from us. It is the freedom, seen in mere glimpses in our most humble human works, to love as God loves.

“Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good.” – CCC 1744

God Bless,

Misty

(To read Chris’s excellent epistolary letters please visit his blog: Black Ribbon Award)

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On Death

My first memory of death like many people is of a beloved pet. Our family was moving from a rundown trailer to a house at the end of the street. The move was not far so my father let me ride in the back of the pick-up truck seated on a recliner. I asked if my puppy could ride with me. I wish I could recall the pup’s name, but I couldn’t have been more than three years old and although I can recall his chocolate coat and warm affection I am at a loss of his name. I remember my mother trying to explain to me that the puppy was ill and not to get too attached to him. I had no idea what she meant, but I soon would. After the move my puppy passed. I was devastated. I moped about his tiny grave in the tree line for weeks.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand death, I just didn’t understand why my love didn’t die with it.

Over the years, I’ve watched cancer take my family members. At first I lived with panic. Cancer is cruel, there is no doubt. However, I’ve learned to accept that it gives you time. It will teach you that even the healthy among you may perish without warning so be kind.

I’ve held my own child close to death, with a pragmatic nurse whispering “sometimes babies like this don’t make it”. It’s odd how a short statement can wipe out everything you hope for. Words are powerful. It has long since been over a decade and I still look at my daughter like a blessing I was not supposed to have.

Years ago my cousin lost an infant son. When I arrived to their home before the funeral I was greeted by my aunt. She took me back to a small room where the baby had been at his passing. She had been watching him. He was only 6 weeks old and she had accidentally left a fitted sheet draped on the rail of the crib. The baby had managed to grab the sheet and wrap it around himself, ultimately suffocating. There are no words to describe the guilt and anguish of a grandmother’s pain at making a mistake that took her grandson’s life. There are no words of comfort when she cries out she should be dead instead. Laying an infant to rest requires a resolve to not buckle under your own weight or run and keep running. It is one of the times in your life that you curse the Earth for its wretchedness in full understanding of its cruelty. Be tender to the mothers and fathers that have lost children. Be so tender.

I have learned to pray for a holy death but be prepared for a spectacle. I have watched a priest die in the streets while corralling sweet, concerned church ladies out of view. I have watched the giant of a man that accidentally hit the priest regress to infancy in tears. Pray for first responders. Their angels must be impressive.

I’ve had my brushes with death. Each one carving away at the fear of the unknown a bit more each time. I’ve felt the panic of a breath that brings no life to the lungs followed quickly by the understanding of how easy it is in the last moments to let go, if only it is your time to let go.

I think I have made peace with death. I find it arrogant that I think I deserved any of the time to work it out.

I’ve stayed up late nights whispering prayers and lullabies into ears I’m unsure can even hear. I’ve had the favor repaid. A patient nurse whispering ‘say Jesus help me’ while I slipped away not knowing if I would wake up but feeling her hand squeeze mine in comfort. Pray for nurses. They work on a battlefield between two worlds.

It is in my belief that love is stronger than death that I keep the deceased always upon my heart and consider them in my prayers. Comfort the dying, pray for the dead. Tragedies will come, but let them not shake your resolve to face death with love.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” – Sophie Scholl

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I Will Not Go Slowly Into That Good Night

I am drifting down the metamorphic escalator of aged irreverence:

Taco Bell is disgusting (it’s delicious). We all know that. But I still eat it and since I had so much schoolwork to finish I decided to get the kids Taco Bell for dinner on Saturday. Because of dietary needs I figured the app would be better for asking for substitutions. The app is actually great for that. The youngest of course was a champ with it because her mind is a sponge. We order all the food and I pay for it. The app says you have to tap in store or drive thru when you arrive. The problem is we don’t have mobile data on our crappy Sprint plan near Taco Bell. Forgetting this I ride over with P. and start to panic. Being a moron and not realizing they could probably pull up our order from the confirmation number, I tapped that we were at the drive-thru and then panicked more when the damn thing said I had no connectivity. Having no idea if the order went through P. proceeds to drive us around close to stores that might have Wi-Fi and in a last ditch effort I demand that he drive “north, out of here, to the lands of cell reception”. Finally, we’re five minutes past the time I tap the pick-up option, I get service, but it show no orders in my history. Now I’m pissed and frustrated. P. pulls into some random Mexican restaurant and says “We’re here.” After a good laugh we head back to Taco Bell. I decide to brave the drive-thru. I scream over P. because he is in the driver’s seat. I tell the guy this long complicated story about how I wasn’t sure our order went through and I’m confused about the app. After rambling for awhile the disembodied voice over the speaker sheepishly just asks, “Misty?”

It sounded like even he was surprised I showed up. P. was convinced they had a tracker on my phone that watched us drive around in circles while the staff laughed and laughed. I imagined it was a little taco that represented our vehicle frantically maneuvering about, confused by all the technologies. Of course it was Taco Bell, so they screwed up the order. All’s fair.

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Writing About Restorative Justice

Because I currently do not have much time to keep up with writing and have found myself somewhat shedding the exoskeleton of pains that lead me to be rather introspective on this blog, I have decided to begin writing about Restorative Justice. This is part class project but mostly a labor of love that I will continue beyond a grade. I believe a few of you may find the content of interest and I welcome your dialogue. Please join me at restorativejusticeflorida.wordpress.com.

As time permits I will be back here more.

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Vortex 

In the alcove, just outside the vestibule doors, you form regularly. 

Scooping the smallest of leaves into no more than a set of ten rotations. 

Sometimes you break upon the western wall and form again and backtrack. Today, you caught the hem of my dress as I headed back into the office. Delicate ligustrum petals that hopped around your base rose up to meet me, their pungent aroma reminding me that summer will be here soon. 

The quiet in your corner is always a peaceful transition from work or from home. I hope you greet me each day because you remind me of September in the corner of my grade school playground. Big maple leaves were strewn across the fields and a dirt devil formed and sauntered into the grass where I played alone. As it gathered up the leaves around me it crossed over me and I was just the right size to fit inside. Leaves rushed around me, the vortex growing taller. Looking up I could see the bluest of skies peeking through this wind swept dance. I held out my arms and thought just maybe for a second I could rise up and you could take me up into the sky. You see, I assume it’s still you visiting me. Not so wild and free as on the side of that mountain years ago in that field. Like you, I have also become the consequence of structure, but when you greet me and tug at my dress it’s as if you are trying to remind me that sometimes the sky comes down invisibly to dance amongst the leaves, and with me. I wait for the dance of the one I cannot see. 

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Cheap Toy Irons and Humility

In first grade a few days before Christmas break our teacher announced to the class that we would have a gift exchange and party before going home for the holidays. I remember the sinking dread as she explained what kind of gift to bring and the details of the party. Later that night after dinner I told my mother that we needed to pick up a small gift that I could exchange for the party. As we climbed into the car to head to the only store for miles I could feel the anxiety build up. I knew we really couldn’t afford a gift, but with the never ending hope of a child I imagined picking out something wonderful that every kid in my class would want.

It became apparent that my mother and I were in two different worlds as we snaked through the toy section. I ran my hands across the pricier items and she pensively picked through the bargain items. I became more resigned as she talked me into a cheap little ironing set that contained a plastic iron and a poorly sewn doll outfit out of scrap fabric. I said yes to it because there was never really a choice for me to say no.

Driving home I pulled the package out of the shopping bag and stared at it. As the lights from the street lamps washed over me rhythmically I imagined the package changing during the dark gaps into any and every other toy I wanted. At home I wrapped it with care and crawled into bed. A deeper dread sank into me as I fell asleep.

The next morning it was cold and brisk but the classroom was warm and comforting. The teacher had rearranged the room so that we could all sit in a circle. We held our gifts in our laps and waited for instructions while stealing glances at the different shaped packages under fidgety hands. The teacher played music and we handed the gifts to the right of us, speeding up and giggling. As the heavier items went by we all tried to hold onto them a little longer hoping the music would stop because the assumption is the heavy present is the better present. At last the music stopped and I had the heaviest gift. I was so happy I remember my cheeks hurting from smiling. Then I surveyed my classmates to see who was holding the toy I had brought. I suddenly grew sad and disappointed. I knew they would hate it and it dampened my excitement. Right before the teacher gave us instructions to open our gifts she asked if anyone wanted to trade. There were a few exchanges but I held on to mine. There was no way I was giving it up.

Seconds before we tore into our presents the door to the classroom opened and one of our classmates came in. She was late and disheveled as always. She was always quiet and kept to herself. She had on a beautiful dress that day which was a rarity. It made me more self conscious about my patched corduroy overalls. I only had dresses for church and didn’t wear them to school as they had to last all year, but I knew she had even less than me. In her hands was a gift but since we had already gone through the group exchange the teacher asked if anyone wanted to swap with the late student. I grew uncomfortable. No one spoke. I held my heavy gift and prayed to become invisible. Time seemed to drag on forever. I sighed heavily and just couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t have any friends in the class and her mother stood next to her, anxious as she witnessed the exclusion. I stood up and offered my gift. It seemed like time stood still. I did manage to muster a smile as she gleefully took what was now clearly the coolest gift in the circle. As I took the gift from her hand a new sense of dread swept over me. The feel of the package was all too familiar. We opened our presents and I looked down to see that my suspicions were correct. She had brought the same cheap toy iron set. The only difference was the color. Next I watched her open what could only be described as a crayon metropolis. This circular display must have contained hundreds of crayons. Colors I had never seen! I tried to hide my disappointment. Then it hit me. She probably felt just as bad for having to bring that stupid iron to school. She knew whoever got it would probably be judgmental toward her. I turned to her and gave her a sincere thank you for the gift. I didn’t want her to feel like I did. I didn’t want her to think she did anything wrong. As for the poor kid that got my cheap iron, I can’t say the same. He was a boy and the disappointment was understandable.

We ate cookies and all jealously eyed the cosmopolitan crayon center. It could have been my gift, it should have been my gift! But I saw her tear up a little bit when she opened it and that was a way cooler gift.

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