From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Jacuzzi in the Fog

That will forever be my strongest impression of Thanksgiving 2009 in McMinnville, Oregon. Every single night, after a turkey dinner with nine relatives, a walk downtown under Christmas lights, or a nose buried in a book on Orientalism for my thesis, I'd hop into a 104 degree jacuzzi with my mother. The air around was never more than 40 degrees. Around me were our wood fence's mahogany pillars and the spidery trees that grow around our yard. The waxing moon was usually visible between the branches and behind all the fog.
I am absolutely convinced that every human being capable of such a thing should either own a dog or a jacuzzi (or, if you're in the cool club like me, both). How else could such utter relaxation be possible?
Other Oregony stuff I did this break: being silly with my cousins in our front yard, making sangria, exploring fall leaves. I found one tree amid a bunch of green with bright orange leaves that hadn't fallen yet...and named it the Heather tree :).

Hoping your Thanksgiving was equally fantastic. Good luck to students with the rest of the semester; good luck to humans with the rest of their lives. Haha. Hasta pronto.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Random Thanks

Family, Faith, Friends, Food, Home, Education, Health...these are always on my Thanksgiving Grafetful list. But I was sitting at LAX enjoying the squirt as my spearmint gum molded to my mouth and realized that the list could be so much more longer and random than this. How many things you consider mundane are actually amazing gifts, for which today is the day to be grafeful? Examples:

the juiciness of the first few chews of gum
dancing on hardwood floors in extra large socks
the pronounced click of a laptop keyboard
a real toilet
sense of smell: dish soap, deodorant, fall Oregon leaves, cornbread for stuffing, sweetsweetsangria
the goosebumps when your skin unexpectedly touches someone else's
(naked dip in) the jacuzzi in my backyard
plush pillows

Your own examples?
Something further. This morning I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a copy of The Last Lecture on the office bookshelf. I've never actually read it, but I didn't have to. Something else to be grateful for today: life itself, and that we have more of it. Every moment, every single moment, is absolutely precious. ENJOY IT!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home is where no heat is?

My spunky roommate laughed at me as I left the apartment in a brown raincoat, boots, and a Palestino, in 80 degree LA weather. I didn't care, I was headed north (said with an adventurous twang). For those who haven't heard, Oregon is my new default. Faced by unemployment and the realization that Monaco is cheaper than California, my parents moved to McMinnville, Oregon, which, so far, I associate with three things: fog, farm, and trees. Here's my proof, taken (today) Wednesday morning, when I went out for a "run"="a-fifteen-minute-need-warmer-pants-give-up".
That's home! Whadya think? I'll be honest. I'm inclined to get bored here; it reminds me too much of Greenfield, IN, my home for 8 years where I met one black person and drove a half-hour to get anywhere (though I did meet incredible people I will never forget; so don't any of you reading this think you didn't make it worth it for me). The differences (so far) are that there may be less plastic and more wood.
But FOOLED YOU! My overall impression of being here has nothing to do with the temperature. "It will be so nice to breathe fresh air again," said my friend James, who was on the plane North (zarathustra music) with me. And the landing in Seattle, WA got me feeling just that. We landed as the sun was going down, leaving a laser orange hole. I felt like I had flew into a raindrop. The city was gray and peaceful and it sparkled as the sun went down like my Irish scarf. In addition, as James duly noted, "there are trees in a city. It's fantastic." It's not just that there are trees in the Pacific Northwest. It's that they are pre-eminent, all-encompassing, and somewhat menacing. Portland exudes the aura of healthy mud, crawling with evergreens and rain and nature. I LIKE IT. And a few days ago while taking a walk off-campus, my new friend from Irvine asked me, "So you're going home to the Pacific Northwest for Thanksgiving right?" Keep in mind I am not friends with him on facebook, and had never told him where my parents lived. I remarked about how that was weird and he said, "Oh, well, you just give off an Oregon vibe."
It's true. People think Oregon and they think green, hippie, liberal, raincoats, colors, um...and when people think of me, 7/10 times "green" or "hippie" or "colors" is part of the description.
In other words, this is meant to be. Wish me luck. Today I'm going for a bike ride through downtown, to buy a new phone, get my haircut, and thrift store shop. I will take pictures of the middle of nowhere and post them with much love.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Happiness Hierarchy

There have been multiple occasions during the last two weeks when I have been so happy that I lose impulse control and start screaming, dancing, or hugging people (which I never do otherwise, of course). That is, I am at the top of the life roller coaster, and some of these things have helped:

  • Feeling more certain about post-grad service: I haven't felt such passion (or fear, which pales in comparison) for anything in a long time.
  • Having fun: taking my newly-21-best-friend out to bars and to the best dance club in LA, being Mary Poppins for Halloween, playing a game of King Frog in Campus Ministry that I will never forget
  • Forming new friendships with incredible people on campus whom I never before had either the time or guts to meet...and the relieving realization that it's never too late!
  • Singing at the Vatican in June?? So I recently realized that next semester will be my last opportunity to be in choir in a long time, and I wanted to re-audition. I sent the director, Dr. Mary Breden, a letter of inquiry about joining up again, and she responded:
  • I was so pleased to hear from you and would love to have you singing in the Women's Chorus. You do not need to re-audition--you can simply register. Just a heads up in case you haven't heard, the choruses will be traveling to Italy next June for a wonderful number of performances in Venice, Lucca (Tuscany) and Rome, including singing a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. We are working to fund as much of the trip as possible. If you want more information on the tour, please stop by my office. I look forward to having you back singing!
  • Making fitness a part of my daily regimen, and feeling better about myself because of it
  • Preparing for a silent retreat and service trip to East LA in December and January
  • Going back to Oregon, but for the first time calling it home (also, beginning the endeavor to turn my bedroom into Middle Earth)
  • Christmas approaching...

I have never denied how grateful I am for my life (though I sometimes forget). But as I finished this list, I became my pensive self. I could write an entire page full of exciting possibilities like these. But what if I wasn't 21, if I didn't live in Oregon, if I wasn't going to Italy, if I didn't put together a hard-core Halloween costume? Then what would I be excited or grateful for? The list simplifies a bit:

  • Health. Being able to see, eat, swallow, breathe. My heartbeat.
  • Having food to eat and money to spend every day.
  • An education at a fantastic institution which has opened my eyes.
  • A family who never says no. I love you, Mom and Dad.
  • Intimate friends who would jump off a bridge with me if I asked them (though I am not planning to test that theory)
  • Being myself: tenacity, intelligence, curiosity, humor, expression, depth, even strawberry blonde-ness (trust me, the world is so much more exciting with that going for me)
  • Existence Thank you!
  • God

Writing and re-reading the last few entries to this list calms my sheer excitement into awe. Look at what I have, what all of us have, if we take a moment to process it. Then tell me you don't have a reason to be happy.
I remember my facebook status a year or so ago being "Heather has too many reasons to be happy. Anyone want to share?" That sentiment has returned. And now that it has, I wonder if there was ever even a moment when it wasn't true.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Turn-Around

Today was a 1.5 hour dinner with volunteer coordinators from ten different service organizations that recruit recent graduates. I focused my attention on Working Boys' Center in Ecuador and the Peace Corps, the only two international programs present. As I left a conversation with Jeanette from Peace Corps which left me in panic-excitement attacks during the walk back to my apartment (no really, I couldn't stop screaming; ask Jess Vega), it struck me how I was all growed up. The transformation is annoyingly near completion.
In 5th grade and 8th grade (or 4th and 6th? does it matter anymore?) I took fieldtrips to summer camp and Washington D.C. On both occasions I had a terrible time because I missed my parents so much. I cried every night for almost two weeks at summer camp, the only kid to do so. Everyone wondered when I'd grow up, probably. I was the cutesie girl-next-door who still needed her mommy (and I LOVE MY MOMMY STILL; don't ever doubt it).
Now my first choice for post-grad is to not see my family or friends for two full years.
Okay, that's an exaggeration. There's skype, 48 days paid vacation however I choose to spend it, and emergency leave. But seriously, Heather? What happened? How did girl next door become the 6-month to 2-year studier-abroad, bored to tears by routine, so utterly disconnected from almost everyone?
Other examples. My high school revolved around music performance: choir, musicals, a cappella groups...I was named "most likely to star on Broadway." HA. The only singing I do now is every other three weeks at a Taize prayer service, and that's not about singing; it's about chanting and praying and blending in. I suppose this instance is a bad example because I utterly miss musical theatre; I don't think I grew out of it. It was one of the few activities that set me on fire inside. The bottom line, however, was that it wasn't the only activity that did so, and I heard music/theatre majors continue with their art because it's quite obviously their heart and soul. For me, it was an exciting hobby, not a way of life.

Better example of my turn-around: faith. Cantoring at Church, Confirmation class, praying to the old-man-with-a-beard God: these were all staples. I gawk at them now. My certainty has become questioning; my givens have been taken away. And though frustrated and isolated, I am so thankful for that. I am seeing outside the box. I am grown up.
The examples go on: socially, physically, romantically...I am older, wiser, sadder. The platitude I've pulled out of all this bothers me. Life goes on. NO REALLY. Here's all this going on in my head. Here's my cousin getting surgery tomorrow, my great Aunt dying, my friends' lives thin with hope, and the big wide world rife with calls to serve beckoning me. I can't press pause, or rewind, and go back to childhood. Life goes on.
Then why am I smiling right now? Jess Vega, my post-grad service buddy who never fails to churn my noggin and soul, put it this way today: "I think life gets harder. I don't know how we're supposed to deal with that. But it also gets better."
My brain can't tell me that's true. But my heart does.