Like a horror film…

An unsettling fog has descended upon the world, as viewed from outside the window of my office. Michael had warned me that such was occuring in Wadsworth at just this moment, but I figured it was an Akron/Cuyahoga Valley thing and it would not affect me up here in Mayfield Heights.

Yet, here it is, engulfing the gloomy day like something from a horror film…

It’s days like these that I really miss Colorado. Not that it never gets foggy in Colorado… But it’s this whole lack of sun thing… and forcing myself to go to the gym in the morning instead of having the luxury of riding my beautiful little bike… I’m all meloncholy and missing the cycling season, for one of my boredom activities today has been to look up the TOSRV and MS 150 sites to see if any of them are doing online registration yet… These are for rides in May (TOSRV) and June (MS 150).

Desire is a nasty thing!

Just in time for Christmas: Mall shootings, church shootings

I apologize in advance for the simplistic argument presented in this post. I realize I sound like an emotional flake. It happens sometimes.

What have we become as a society when, struggling with some internal psychological conflict, we take up arms and start shooting innocent people? I’m not trying to make light of this situation (despite the title of this entry). I can’t imagine what is going on in the minds of these people (though, the latest “church” shooter seems to have had some serious mental problems… duh…). But I’m worried about this trend in our society of people — sometimes children — taking out their frustration and madness by violently picking off the lives of innocent people.

This last round of shooting really got to me because it left me to ask, “Is there any place that’s safe?” The latest assissin was a crazed, angry ex-missionary-wanna-be who shot people who were attending church services on a Sunday morning! He got taken down and is no longer a problem, but who else is out there? Who is so mad and upset and hurting that the only solution he/she can see is violence against people who have nothing to do with the source of anguish? Where did this “solution” to our problems come from? When did guns go from a means of protection to an equalizer for one’s emotional issues? Could it really be violent video games?

I’m just at a loss to understand it. I wish these people, if they are feeling so miserable, would take out their own lives instead of bringing everyone else down with them. I don’t condone suicide. I just wish that when these people reached the conclusion that death is the only way out, they would just quietly chose it for themselves. Of course, I’d rather someone seek professional help and find a way out of their own internal mess. But if they’ve reached a point of no return with themselves, why can’t they just keep the death and destruction confined to themselves?

Being a tree-hugging pacificist liberal, I have my qualms with the Second Amendment. I personally think the law is antiquated in modern society when your life is not constantly threatened by “savages,” rogue cowboys, and wandering wild animals on the prairie. However, since there are other rights on the the Bill of Rights that I’m bound to protect for fear of them becoming altered in horrible ways (mainly, the First Amendment) so I will always argue against amending or rescinding any of the original ten rights. Therefore, I have to allow that citizens — only those without felony records — can bear arms and I just have to grin and bear it. I personally don’t want to bear any arms (can’t take them into most buildings anyway), but I won’t take those rights away from my fellow citizens and Charlton Heston (he’ll need the guns to defeat “those damn apes” someday anyway).

Still, part of me questions whether or not the easy access to guns also contributes to our violence. I’m told — but admittedly do not have facts to verify — that other countries, who do not allow citizens the free and easy right to bear arms, do not have the violence problem we do in the United States. Also, no other film industry in the world provides images of violence in such gory, graphic detail as the U.S. And aren’t all these video games generated in the U.S.? These Grand Theft Autos and the such, these games that teach kids that killing is easy and free and without consequence and in such glorious, mind-blowing detail. Does the blood desensitize us? (Or those of you who don’t faint in the middle of gory movies or at the sight of real blood, as I do?)

Whatever happen to Space Invaders? Tetris? Solitaire? Centipede, Pac-Man? Pong?

I wonder how my mom would have raised us with today’s technology seducing our senses at every turn. My mom was not one to sensor much what we read, viewed, or played. But she did have a stopping point. I remember she wouldn’t let me watch The Day After because of the graphic detail in which the T.V. movie depicted citizens of a small town battling for life in a post-nuclear war. (I snuck into the hall and watched anyway… I have always had a sick fascination with nuclear war fiction.)

She didn’t permit us to watch any of the Porky’s movies (they were always on HBO, it seems). When accidentally exposed to violent or sexually explicit content in a movie, my mom always pulled us aside to discuss why these particular behaviors were unacceptable in everyday life or for kids. I may not have understood death as I do now, but I did understand that when someone was shot, they could die, which meant to my childlike consciousness as “no longer here.”

Given her conscientious parenting, however, would she have been able to combat so easily the vivid images thrown at kids daily in the world today? My dad always says that he would not want to raise kids in today’s society, and I always poo-pooed his statement as being old and cranky, but now I consider his point may be valid. We’ve reached a level in our society where school shootings are commonplace. Maybe I need to rescind my comment of a few days ago that claimed things have not changed. Maybe they have. Or maybe parenting has become lazy…

I think what’s really unnerving to me about this particular shooting is the fact that it happened in what has always been defined to me as a “safe place.” I’ve always offhandedly joked when locking my car in a church parking lot, “Oh, who would steal something at a church?” I guess I overestimate my fellow human beings — I’m sure people steal things from church grounds more frequently than I’ve ever bothered to investigate. Why would the grounds of a church stop people with an inclination to steal, anyway? Silly assumption on my part. If God is everywhere, he can see you steal whether you’re in church or at the grocery store. So being at a church is not any more threatening. Still… you’d expect people to innately have respect for church grounds (in much the same way that I always dress nicely at church, whether or not other people do). You’re expected to behave better than yourself on church grounds.

Schools used to be safe, too. When I was a kid, I never had to worry about being shot by a classmate. Maybe beat up in the bathroom if I ran into the wrong group of bullies smoking between classes in the stalls, or on the bus, or at the bus stop. Perhaps I never really did feel safe at school, for at any given moment, a girl might threaten to punch out my teeth or a guy would try to grab my bra strap. However, I was fearing a black eye or a bloody nose or the humiliation of being overcome physically by bullying girls seeking a reputation and a-hole hormone-raging boys. I won’t understate my fear of these sort of encounters. I was scared to even walk around anywhere in my hometown after school hours because of a chance encounter with a bully (and believe me, they did threaten you outside of school… it happened all the time).

However, I never had to fear my death at school. (Even if being beat up were as bad as death to a young girl who never experienced death.)

Of course, I probably fit the profile of most school shooters: outcast, unpopular, different. I wished horrible fates on my classmates (I don’t think I ever said “death”) and cursed them out in my diary, one by one. I had a lot of anger and rage towards them that carried me into my first year of college, before I fell into my own. It never occurred to me to shoot anyone. But then, I wasn’t raised in a world of violent video games and my mom stayed at home to raise me.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. These recent shootings have just got me a little rattled. People are getting shot by crazed assassins when going about their normal, daily routines — schools, malls, churches.

I pray for the two teenage girls who died at the hands of the gun man. They were 16 and 18 years old… and coming from church… when their short lives were extinguished by a 24 year-old, possibly mentally ill, young man with a lot of anger and sadness in his heart. Maybe I should pray for his soul too… he may be the one who really needs the healing the most…

Making fire with sticks

Okay. Paint my face red and call me an ass… It turns out that tonight was one of the best, most emotional nights I’ve had in a long, long time. I’ve reconnected a part of my past and I felt as though I were a Hiram College student again, for just an instant, with some of my favorite former professors praising me — Joyce Dyer, David Anderson, Jon Moody, and Dave Fratus (though Fratus couldnt remember my name and said to Diane, “Is your little friend here?” which was supposed to mean me… and I told you in the last entry that “Di & Hei” were inseparable at times during our senior year!)

Let me just say that I no longer care that it is an essay I wrote ten years ago… It gave me the ticket to see some people I have not seen and laughed with in what seems like forever. I saw Joanna and Marnie and Shannon, my Martian comrade (she was the other, younger Martian on campus).

I inhaled a breath of fresh air today that was almost more spiritual than all the churches I’ve attended in the last several months. Wow. Hiram was the place where the Martian was born. And now I remember why. The support group I had there made me blossom into the person I always wanted to be. Going back there like that stirred a fire in my veins, reminding me that I’m still alive and I’m not done yet with my life.

I am so emotional right now all I can give you is cliches. Needless to say, it was a good night. And I think my mom finally saw the payoff for all those college bills — why that place was so important to me. A few months ago, my dad left a box at my house that was supposed to contain the last of the stuff I left with them. In it, I found a cards from my parents to each other for birthdays and anniversaries and pictures my brother had drawn and some cards I’d given them. I also found a stack of bills from Hiram. On them, my mom’s handwriting meticulously accounted all the money, checking off the amounts that would be covered by loans or grants to find out the actual amount I owed. When I looked at those, I realized all the time my mom had put into making sure my college was paid for, that I didn’t get behind on payment, and keeping track of the loans I would get. Meanwhile, I lived almost carefree in college, without a worry.

I thought of those bills tonight and I remembered that I should thank my mom for making sure my education financing was handled, and that I could still attend — for the entire four years — the college of my choice and the only place in which, I feel, I could have excelled. Thanks, Mom. Now I know that it’s not only Dad’s butt I need to kiss in payment for my general bad behavior from the ages of 12-18. =) (See why I don’t want to have kids? It takes 15 years for someone to realize all the good you’ve done for them and thank you properly for it. Man, kids are THANKLESS!)

Thank you, editors of Hiram, U.S.A, for giving me the reunion that Alumni Weekend didn’t quite provide adequately.

Thank you, Hiram College faculty, for giving me an education I can be proud of…

Playing with sticks

An essay I wrote as a sophomore in college is being published in a literary magazine my college’s professional editing class is releasing called Hiram, U.S.A. Tonight, we’re having a sort of banquet and dessert reception at which the writers were invited to read three-minute selections from their essays. Stupidly, I opted to read since, sadly, nothing I’ve ever written has ever been published and this probably the only time in my life when I ever will be recognized for my writing (not entirely my fault — my fear keeps me from submitting anything for publication anywhere). The thing is, I absolutely abhor public-speaking and I’m an even worse oral reader. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked to be passed up when invited to read a passage for an audience — even a small class in which I knew all the attendees — because I am so horribly self-conscious about how bad I sound when I read aloud.

I think I noticed I was a horrible oral reader when I went on the campus radio show of a friend at the University of Toledo. “Poetry Rodeo” was a show my friend hosted weekly, featuring various poetry and literary selections. Once in awhile, he would invite a friend (or his girlfriend) as a guest to the show to read some of their personal favorite literature. He invited me once and I stupidly accepted, thinking that it was no big deal to read something out loud to an audience I couldn’t see. I couldn’t be more wrong.

What made it worse, I suppose, is that I brought in the writing of an author I’d recently studied in my Natural and Cultural History of Trinidad and Tobago class (a class that concluded with a trip). Though the natives of Trinidad and Tobago speak English, it’s not an English that is readily recognizable to the ear (often in TT, I forgot completely that people were speaking English). The poetry was beautiful, but it included a lot of idioms, cultural references, and speaking rhythms, which just made it worse for me to read aloud.

I became embarrassed as I listened to myself feeding back through my headphones. Did I really sound this horrible? Every stutter, every too-long pause, every mispronounced word was amplified in my ears. And I wasn’t imagining it either because I could tell from the look of panic on my friend’s face that he was a bit worried about the quality of the show. By the time he got to asking me questions about the readings, I was absolutely terrified, so much so that my tongue just became one huge mass of immobile lead in my mouth. Everything I said sounded garbled and my words came out as sloppily strung together ends of incoherent thought.

Unfortunately, my friend also taped the show. I still have the tape and I refuse to listen to it. Add to it the fact that my voice on recordings always conjures this vision in my head of a little nerdy boy with curls, horn-rimmed glasses, and zits, I just have no desire to hear the follies of my ineptness. (I remember I let my ex-boyfriend, Frank, listen to it and within the first few minutes he was patting my back and saying, “Oh, you really shouldn’t have done that.” The friend who had the radio show tended to be a little bit arrogant and Frank claimed that “the friend’s” arrogance increased the worse I got. He sincerely felt bad that I’d put myself through that.)

If you know me well, you’re probably surprised that I’m such a coward when it comes to public speaking. I’ve been described as having a gregarious, social personality (though I’d probably disagree with that assessment). However, I do think of myself as somewhat of a socialite. I enjoy getting out and talking to people and accumulating more friends than I could possibly have enough time to hang out with. Because I’m so comfortable in social environments, I’m fairly certain that I’d make a good grief counselor.

It frustrates the heck out of me that I always hear myself speaking in my head better than it comes out before an audience. I would love to be one of those people to deliver great, motivational speeches that inspire people. But as soon as I see that all eyes are on me, my brain just spasmodically blanks out. I never stutter unless I’m on the spot. My palms sweat and my face burns.

I know this isn’t that unusual. Most people are uncomfortable when speaking before an audience. I think the difference with me is that I actually kind of want to be good at public speaking, even though I hate it. Maybe I just self-indulgently think that because I’m a good writer, I should be a good speaker too.

I did make an honest attempt to overcome this fear by taking a job as a software trainer. For awhile, I was fairly descent at it, though, I never stopped feeling all that fluttering in my stomach. And every time a student forced me to deviate from my standard “script,” my fear symptoms would increase. It was a relief when I left that job for a quiet desk position as a tech writer (though, I’ve come to realize, this is too anti-social for me).

Anyway, I’m nervous about tonight, almost to the point of feeling ambivalent about the whole event. I know I should be excited — something I’ve written is being published. Yet as I read the paper over, deciding what I’m going to chose to read for my three-minute segment, the super-critical persona in my head keeps saying, “This is not even worthy of publication. It sucks.”

I wish I could shut that voice out. I have trouble not agreeing with the voice because I see places where I could have added so much more to this simple paper. Because I suddenly feel like the work is crap, I’m almost embarrassed to be praised for it. My mom’s going to be there — I invited her.

My friend, Diane, also got a paper of hers published and she’s ecstatic. As well she should be. Her paper outlines a night of karaoke at the local pub/hang-out we frequented throughout our senior year. That particular pub is no longer in business there, so it’s very much like she captured a piece of the past that warms my heart. Her paper reminded me of how college was the best years of my life until I met my husband. To add to the embarrassment, I’m mentioned all over in her paper. That’s really no surprise. After our sophomore year, it always seemed like Diane and I came as a unit everywhere… Not that either of us didn’t have other friends because she’s connected more closely to other classmates I’m less connected to these days, but there was a period of time in which “Di & Hei” seemed to be inseparable. Maybe it was because we toiled through our the madness and anxiety of senior seminar together (at Hiram, senior seminar is the final, last big paper that English majors complete to get their degree).

I guess I’m a little nervous about the big to-do nature of the whole thing. To be perfectly honest, I just don’t know how to react when people are congratulating me or giving me compliments. I get embarrassed and humiliated at the same time. I don’t understand why this is. Maybe it’s that little negative voice in my head who’s always telling me that my writing sucks. On some level, I probably don’t feel that anyone should praise me for anything. After all, I’m no William Shakespeare or Kurt Vonnegut or F. Scott Fitzgerald. My thoughts aren’t grand or original or anything that inspires one to live life differently. I guess, though, you’ll always lose when you try to compare yourself to the greats.

I think I’m a lot like my dad… He can be pretty negative about himself. I don’t know what motivates his chagrin, nor can I even attempt to speculate. When I hear myself responding to people who are trying to give me a compliment, my words echo in chorus words I’ve heard him say. I guess we all become our parents, good or bad. I think my parents were trying to teach me humility and I took the idea to its most extreme. What they were really telling me was to not praise myself; I heard “You are never good enough to take the compliments people try to give you.” I know that’s not what they meant. I have a bad way of exaggerating most of the things I’m told.

For example, as I was growing up, my mother (rightfully) told me not to play with matches because they could start a fire and I could get hurt. On numerous occasions, she recounted the story of my uncle, John, who burned himself severely while playing with gasoline and matches when he was a kid. The idea terrified me (rightfully!).

So this one time, my cousin, Jimmy, and I were playing with sticks in my backyard. My dad opened the window to talk to us, and he said, jokingly, “You could rub those together and start a fire.”

WHAT?! my little brain exclaimed. Start a fire? With sticks? I immediately tossed the sticks to the ground and refused to pick them up. I was afraid that merely holding them would start a fire. Dad and Jimmy tried to explain the difficulty in starting a fire with sticks, but I refused to return to my blissful world of playing with sticks.

It actually wasn’t until I was at least a sophomore in high school before I allowed myself to light a match. I’d been afraid of matches all my life, much to the frustration of my girl scout leader who had to deal with my flat-out refusal to use them to light fires and, sometimes, the crying fits that would follow when she tried to make me do it. I would experience the usual set of nervous symptoms — sweating palms, pounding heart, panic. It’s almost funny when I look back on it.

I remember sitting at the end of the cement porch in our front yard with a box of matches. This location was strategic because cement couldn’t catch on fire if the matches suddenly behaved in a manner I’d never witnessed and a fire burst out of control before me. My fingers would get numb out of fear as I struck the match to the side of the box, trying to light it. It took a handful of broken matches on the ground before I finally had to nerve to strike one hard enough to ignite the tip. I held the match in my hand and watched with amazement as it first flared, then toned down to a medium size, and then put itself out when it came to the end of its energy source. I repeated the process a few more times just to ensure I would over it. I never feared matches again, though I will admit I still hold somewhat of a reverence towards them and to all flammable chemicals and electrical equipment. (We won’t even get into my fear of lightning here…)

That’s just one example of a well-meaning lesson from my parents gone so horribly wrong. I can now see why my dad always accused me of being so serious. I guess in my early years, I was.

So… here I go tonight… facing yet another one of my fears… one of the ones I can’t seem to conquer… If I can just tell Ms. Critical in my head to shut up, I might do okay…

Atheism does not equal Satanism!!

I’m getting so tired of the local yokels calling the Bob Golick show (a very simplistic man, ex-football star who answers everything with the majority of the people) on WNIR and making uneducated, asinine statements about atheists. These people fear atheists–or the absence of religion–so much that they are overeager to sling whatever insult upon them their weak, feeble minds can comprehend. Today, I listened to a numb-nuts call up and make the broad, factless statement, “I could interview a whole buncha atheists and they will tell you they believe in the Devil and demons. Why can’t they make the leap to believe in something as positive as God and Jesus?”

HELLO, out there, Mr. Akron-Idiot, let me enlighten you with the definition of atheist, per our friends at wikipedia.org, so that we’re all clear here: Atheism is the absence of belief in deities. This entry goes onto say, “Many self-described atheists are skeptical of all supernatural beings and cite a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities.”

As a former atheist (who still isn’t quite a “believer” either), I can say with confidence that most people who define themselves as atheists do not believe in God, including all the mythos surrounding God, such as Jesus, the Devil (in his multitude of names not listed here), demons, angels, Adam and Eve, the Bible — NOTHING. The closest an atheist comes to faith is their steady confidence in all that is discovered through science and the ferocity with which they will cling to believing in nothing, even if a counter-argument is brought up to which science does not provide an adequate answer. (Often the answers to these questions no one, not even a religious person, is quite sure of and faith takes over… I mean questions like, “What came before the Big Bang?” and “What happens to us when we die?” No one really knows the answers to these questions — both sides are left to speculate in their respective faiths.)

I personally have never met a Satanic atheist. There may be some out there — I haven’t seen everything in the world, I’ll admit — but I doubt someone who believed in Satan and/or demons would define themselves as an atheist. Someone who is Satanic, actually, could be called religious because you can’t believe in Satan, the evil, without believing in the flipside, the good. If you believe in ultimate evil, you believe in ultimate good. There’s no two ways around that one… or else, who are you rebelling against?

Not that I really want an actual Satanist to respond. I think anyone that would chose to worship the evil part of a religion has some serious, twisted issues and I just don’t need to deal with these kinds of people. That’s why I get so frakking hot under the collar when ignorant Akronites call up local radio shows that I listen to and make basely false statements about a group of people with which I identified myself for years. Many of my closest friends are atheists. Heck, my own mom is an atheist. None of them have committed any Satanic acts that I’m aware of (other than, I guess, turning “away from God” as one of the religious sort might suggest, but that doesn’t put you in league with Satan).

Atheists believe there is nothing more to life than what we see and experience here on Earth in the physical form. They don’t believe in God and they don’t believe in the Devil either. You can’t believe in one without believing in the other. They believe in neither. (Thus, threatening them with eternal damnation rarely works. As I stated in my high school poem, “Don’t Pray for Me”: Since I don’t believe in the image of paradise you tell, / what makes you think I’m threatened by Hell?)

The dispute that brought up this argument on WNIR was, yet again, another round of the eternal “remove ‘In God We Trust'” from the dollar bills debate that’s been going on forever now. I’ve become so ambivalent about this debate. Keep it on, take it off — I just don’t care anymore! However, I do have to ask a few valid questions of the religious majority in our country:

1) Isn’t it kind of an oxymoron to have language referring to your God written on money? How many times does it say in the Bible that money and material things are not to be idolized? These are things of the earth. They don’t matter. And, quite often, they lead to the type of moral degradation that God wants you to avoid.

As far as that goes, I back God all the way! Money does seem to get into people’s brains when they have too much of it, and then they just seem to loose all sense of their spiritual center. Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, Lindsey Lohan. Need I say more? These people have totally lost the magnet in their internal compasses, and they are running around in an endless night of alcohol and hedonism that just makes me sad. I don’t think any of them will ever know the kind of love I had with my husband… I’m not saying this in a superior, “I’m better than you” sort of way. It just hurts me to see any human being running around lost, using other things to try to fill their empty lives as these girls show us with their desperate acts. It seems to me that a lot of famous people with lots of money lead empty existences and they try to fill the holes in their souls with material pleasures, which we all know are fleeting. And not one of them seems capable of maintaining a single romantic relationship.

2) Is your faith so feeble that it needs constant reassurances in the form of religious writings everywhere, such as on government buildings and on your money? Do you honestly believe that if God’s name is not painted on every material person, place, thing that God will truly forsake you? What about those things you do to worship him in your own home? At your churches? In your thoughts? Why do you need to plaster his name like graffiti over everything unholy?

In talking to people from various backgrounds, I’ve come to learn that religious people often view the liberal’s struggle to remove religious words and symbols from public buildings as “shoving our liberal beliefs” down their throats. I never thought of it that way, so it kind of shocked me the first time I heard someone accuse me of that. I always thought I was leaving the public arena clear of any particular religious leaning so that all who live in this country could worship as they please without being offended. I mean, let’s face it: Christians are the majority in the US, but they aren’t the only ones here. The same reason Christians came to the US is the reason many people of other faiths seek refuge here: to escape religious persecution, to be allowed to worship (or not worship, as I always try to remind people) as they chose. Isn’t that what this country was founded on? I don’t see anywhere in the Declaration of Independence where it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Christians were created equal, and everyone else be damned.” The United States was formed as a place for people seeking freedom. It’s not God’s country. It’s not Allah’s country. It’s not L. Ron Hubbard’s country. It’s our country — those of us who have chosen to live here or whose ancestors chose to live here.

I wonder, too, if it has ever occurred to the religious right how it feels to a non-Christian or a non-believer to be affronted daily by religious quotations and symbols in public arenas. Would you not say that that is like getting an idea shoved down your throat? What if the dollar bill had a quote of Buddhist wisdom? Or praised a god from a Native American faith? What if a judge of another faith posted his religion’s rules to a sanctified, godly life on the wall of your local municipal building? Would you feel that your rights, as a Christian, were being infringed upon? I can tell you that I would argue just as hard against this public infusion of faith as I do against those exhibited by Christian faith.

I’m not talking about anything as ludicrous as, say, passing a church and getting offended. I certainly do not get offended by simply passing a decorated church and none of my sane atheist friends do either. Heck, I’m always reading the little statements written on the church billboards as I pass (sometimes they are amusing, such as the one that baffled me all summer that read “If God is your co-pilot, you better switch seats!”).

I have no problem with people hosting a religious event in public or professing their faith in public. I would even argue that it’s okay for the JWs and Mormons to come a-knocking at my door, as annoying as it is, to attempt to convert me because that is their way. My beef is with government and public-run organizations, which are supposed to be secular in structure, advocating and professing a specific religious leaning. Let’s say this again more simply: I’m not taking away your rights to profess your religious beliefs, I’m just advocating removing them from events that are secular in nature that involve the participation of a group of mixed affiliations. (Okay, that wasn’t very simply put.)

One of the biggest arguments from the religious right on this issue is always, “Well, ‘god’ is a generic term. It could mean your Allah or the Jewish god, or whatever you want.”

Let’s be frank. “God”–though a generally generic name for a supernatural deity–is largely a Christian term. And when the name of God is invoked, we all know which god is being referred to. So it’s really a flimsy argument. Or else we just would leave a blank for people to insert the name of their god into.

Another argument I’ve heard about the Ten Commandments being posted in that municipal building (I can’t remember what state that was in — somewhere southern) is, “Well, those are good rules for everyone to follow.”

Yeah, okay, but still, they come from the Christian dogma. And when you have a government building bearing language from a specific holy book, aren’t you kind of implying that said government is promoting one religion over another? Also, there are quite a few of the Ten Commandments that are actually kind of Christian-specific (such as “Do not take God’s name in vane”).

I don’t mean to stir the pot here and cause an onslaught of religious debate. I see both sides of the issue more clearly than I ever have. I myself may have found religion. I may have found myself a god (the God?) that I can — or really just want to — believe in. But I’m still liberal. I can’t help it. My leanings religious-wise may be Christian in nature simply because that is the religion in which I was raised, the one I’m most comfortable with, the one that surrounds all of my yearly holiday participation. I can say that no matter what religion I am, I feel no compulsion to shove my beliefs down anyone’s throat (except for what I write on my blog, but hey, that’s my First Amendment right… and you don’t have to read this blog!). I guess I just wish other people would extend that courtesy back to me.

On the same token, I’m not going to get mad if someone says “God bless you” to me or offers to say a prayer for me because some stressful thing is going on in my life. These are words of kindness meant to be helpful and supportive, I would never turn them away. I myself have prayed for myself and other people; or, as some of my New Agey and/or pagan friends desire, I’ve sent “positive energy” towards others (any positive thought is positive energy to me). It’s the thought that counts, right?

As much as I feel lately that I’d like to shout my religion off the rooftops to let the world know the joy it has brought me to have faith, I know that my beliefs are personal. They are between me and my deity, my god — however it is that I see him/her/it. I don’t have the right to push my beliefs onto other people. Nor would I want to. I know this is not how every religion sees it; in fact, it seems that most religions require of its practicers to go out into the world and spread the good news. The best way to spread the word, though, is to show by example. Didn’t Jesus himself say that acts were better than preaching?

I don’t feel threatened by other people’s beliefs or lack thereof. The thing about faith is that you’re supposed to feel it despite outside influences. If you need God’s name written on your money or emblazoned across your flag in order to feel safe from those forces or people that wish to bring you harm, then I think your faith is not as strong as you would profess it to be. If a simple prayer makes you feel safer, or gives you some other comfort I don’t understand, then by all means, say a prayer when you feel it is necessary. However, if your means of safety includes forcing an entire stadium of people (of possibly mixed faith) to participate, then you need to check yourself. Prayer alone is not going to save the world from harm. It’s the hard work of caring individuals (even religiously inspired and motivated good people) who can change this world. If you believe, perhaps God will help; however, it ultimately comes down to us. The
Humanism movement of North America
is an example of a group — comprised mostly of atheists and agnostics — who also care for humanity as a whole. If these people are Satan-worshipers, there’s a whole lot about my earthly existence I still don’t understand!

O Tannenbaum

On Friday night, I convinced my dad to help me find a suitable live Christmas tree for my house. I’ve been wanting a live Christmas tree since the year my mom bought an artificial tree, putting a sad end to the tradition my dad and I had made each year of going out to buy a tree. We used to go to McDonald’s afterwards so that I could buy a milk shake. (In my memory, it was always a mint milk shake for some reason, but that doesn’t make any sense because McD’s sells eggnog shakes around Christmas and the minty shake — the Shamrock shake — is a St. Patrick’s Day thing, so my memory must be a little hazed there.)

My husband and I lived in a small condo with barely enough room for the furniture we had in it so we used to put up a little 4′ tree on our breakfast bar and then put the presents underneath it, out of the way between our couch and the breakfast bar. It was all we could do, so it was cozy. But I always told Mike that when we had a bigger house, we were going to make a tradition of buying a live tree. Not to make my mom the villain here. I mean, she was perfectly within her rights and probably quite wise to buy an artificial tree. But, still, I always felt like it was the abrupt end to a wonderful tradition my dad and I shared — one that my brother only got to participate in for one or two years. It was one event of the Christmas holiday that I looked forward too, like the annual trip to the mall my dad took us on to buy my mom presents. I remember that my method of selecting clothes for my mom was to find something purple. It has always been my favorite color, so I imposed my color scheme on her. At least she always could tell who selected a particular item of clothing.

Well, each year since Mike died I’ve reluctantly put up the little 4′ tree after convincing myself that there was no need for me to buy a real tree just because I had room for it. Living alone, no one else would see the tree to appreciate it, I always reasoned. Still, since I had accumulated more ornaments than I had for a tree, I would deck my living room out in lights and ornaments, even though I was the only one to see.

This year, I countered that little voice in my head: Who cares if I’m the only one to see it? It would make me happy. I resolved to ask my dad if he would like to help me find a tree.

As serendipity would have it, my dad e-mailed my brother and me on Thursday this week, explaining that he wanted was available for dinner plans with anyone who wanted this weekend because my mom was out of town. I took this opportunity to follow up on my idea — and forgetting the fact that I’d just paid a $140 speeding ticket and really didn’t need to spend more money — and asked him to help me find a tree.

After all this time, father and daughter got to spend an evening enacting an old tradition. As he had so many times in my early years, my dad inspected the prospective trees for glaring holes and imperfections, also weighing these decisions with the price of the tree. I decided I liked the trees with the long needles. We found a great tree and I happily paid for it.

My dad was pretty patient going to a series of stores — first Target, then Marc’s and finally Lowe’s — to find stands for live trees (they seem hard to find these days!). I bought some of those new LED lights I’ve wanted to get for years — new tree tradition, new lights, I reasoned.

We brought my new tree home and set it up in its stand. Already, I could smell the wonderful aroma of pine filling my living room. Dad and I shared a beer and admired the tree.

I spent the next several hours, after my dad left, decorating the tree. I’m a bit anal about the placement of ornaments, ensuring that all the “like” ornaments were not too close together. I was amazed to discover that I really had accumulated enough ornaments to fill an entire tree! (Who kept giving me ornaments for Christmas?) I even have room to buy another set to add some additional symmetry to the tree.

I’m so happy with my tree, despite Saturday morning mishaps where the tree slumped sideways in its stand. I ended up having to cut some branches off the bottom row of the tree because the branches were preventing the tree trunk from touching the bottom of the tree stand bowl, which, in turn, made the pegs holding it in place less stable. It’s been over 24 hours since the tipping incident and the tree seems to be firmly in place.

My cats were only mildly interested in the tree in that it was a new object in the house. Now that they’ve sniffed it and it’s been there for a day, they’re unimpressed by it. It won’t pet them or give them food, so they find it uninteresting. I even have a few ornaments hanging toward the bottom of the tree and they don’t even seem to be interested in those. I guess it’s nice to have my geriatric cats — they are no longer interested in those “silly” games of the young. (Although, Nicki did decide to attack some beads I was wearing today…)

Since none of my reading audience will probably be able to come by to see my tree during this season, I have posted some pictures. One picture was taken with the flash and features my little Nicki sitting in front of it; the other picture was taken without a flash to show the beauty of the lights.

Will I do this next year? We’ll see. For now, it’s just nice to return to a little bit of the tradition of my youth. This year especially, it seems somehow important to reconnect with those special traditions. I feel like I’m learning everything all over again, seeing my world with new eyes.