Monday, April 23, 2007

What's the S. Korea Connection to my CCCP Jacket?

I'm dying of curiosity here. In the past couple of months, I've had close to a dozen hits on this blog from South Korea to the post I wrote about my CCCP jacket and the Goodwill Games. I have no idea if these hits are from the same person, or if there's just some S. Korean connection to my jacket.

What do you think?

And if you're my South Korean friend(s), can you drop me a note to let me know what the deal is? Thanks!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Post-Easter Thoughts

I think we've decided it was sixteen years ago. Somewhere along the way we lost count. That was the year that one of my husband's (now former) admin people said, "Wouldn't it be fun to do an Easter Dinner for homeless and low-income people?" Since we were senior high youth group leaders at the time and our church had the space, it was logical for us to pick this up. (His admin person lost interest after the first meeting, but we were already committed.)

Huge plans were made. We'd have a sit-down dinner! And Easter baskets for the kids! And different Easter baskets for the adults, with things like shampoo and toothbrushes and toothpaste! We'd get homemade desserts! And we'd get grants and donations from businesses!

We did all those things that year. It was a high stress event. One of our youth group kids went to several businesses and ended up with $1000 in donations. We notified all of the agencies in the area that served low-income residents. We did all the purchasing. And then we sat back and waited for the people to flow in.

And waited. And waited. We were hoping for 150 people that first year. We got perhaps 40. We served them graciously, sent them home with bags of stuff, and phoned around till we found other social service agencies that could use our leftovers.

It would have been easy to quit after that, but it felt wrong. We were already so far up the learning curve! A little tweaking and we'd be in business.

The following year we ditched the requests for grant money and asked church members to donate. They were thrilled to do it. My husband and I put together a sample Easter basket and stood outside the Food Bank for three hours passing out invitations. We had people sign up in advance, and then my husband phoned them the day before the event. (Somewhat entertaining to listen to, since so many did not speak English.) We added an ending time (4-6 instead of 4:00, so people wouldn't feel they'd missed it if they couldn't arrive on the hour.) We scaled down the adult Easter baskets and our expectations. The result: A steady stream of people over the two hours, totaling about 125. The following year it was close to 200, and we were terrified of running out of food. But of course we didn't. (Although there was one year that my kids had to sacrifice their Easter baskets, because we were exactly three short of what we needed. They were great sports about it, and of course we replaced them the next day when the stores opened.)

And that's how it went, year after year, 125-200 people. Until last year. We were both busy -- my husband had just started a new job -- and all of the things we needed to do in advance, like get the signup sheets out to the Food Bank, or mail order the Easter basket stuff -- kept getting put off. In the end, we realized that burnout had taken its toll and we decided to cancel. (It was not an easy decision.)

Last year was the oddest Easter ever. It felt unfinished. We had nothing to do. My husband eventually went down to the church to direct anybody who showed up to a local Mexican restaurant, where we'd opened a tab. One twelve-person family took us up on it. But at the end of the day, we realized that this Easter Dinner had become so much a part of our lives (my youngest attended his first one when he was eleven days old) that we couldn't NOT do it.

And so this year we started again. We again waited a little too long to hand out signup sheets. and we worried about the loss of momentum that would come from skipping a year. But our fears were groundless. Every table was full within 45 minutes. And everybody -- attendees and volunteers -- was happy to be back.

It's funny how things like this take hold of your heart. I'm thinking about this especially this weekend, as my youngest and I head down to the State Chess Championships, just like I've done with one child or the other for the past eleven years. He is a sixth grader now, and this will be my last year.

I'm almost sure of it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Heart Aches for the People At Virginia Tech

A month ago I would not have felt this so personally. It's on the other side of the country, and it could not happen here, so I would be distanced. I would feel for the people involved, I would look at their pictures, I would read their stories, I would hurt for them, yet at the same time I would be certain that nothing like this could affect me. It could not happen here.

Isn't it funny, human nature. With every tragedy that happens to someone else, don't we all try to compartmentalize, at least a bit? "She got in the car with a drunk driver," or "he was walking in a bad part of town," or "what were those parents thinking, letting that child ride a bike on the street?" It's awful, what we do, and yet we all do it. We all need to separate ourselves from tragedy, to separate our loved ones, to convince ourselves that we are safe. To convince ourselves that it could not happen here.

Except that it did happen here. In Seattle, two weeks ago, I was the parent frantically dialing a child at college. This could have been me, or you, or any parent who crosses his or her fingers and sends a child off to school where that child will be safe. And yet these children weren't safe.

I look at these pictures, these faces, and I see my daughter. I see my son. I see myself, years ago, sitting in French class like so many of these kids were when they died. I imagine their parents, frantically dialing, texting, e-mailing, saying "Call me! Call me! CALL ME!" and getting no response. My sympathy has been replaced by empathy, and I wish so badly that I could make my happy ending into theirs as well.

I have no words of wisdom. I have no intelligent conclusion. I just wish we could make this stop.

(Postscript: This NPR article includes the audio from my the brother of my son's chess teacher. Another reminder, another connection, that this affects all of us.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Hawk's Shadow Passes Overhead

I almost didn't open the e-mail. BREAKING NEWS from the Seattle Times. The e-mails are usually about politics, or crime, and I was on vacation, down at the Oregon Coast with my husband and youngest son. Why would I want to read about these things on vacation?

But I did open it, expecting to delete it. And the headline read: Two reported dead in shooting at UW.

UW. Pronounced U-Dub. The large (30,000+ student) university ten miles from my house.

The university my daughter attends.

I wasn't worried. Not at first. I mean, what were the odds? I would call, she would tell me she was fine, and life would go on. I'd fogotten my cell phone and my husband was spending the day helping his sister in Portland, so I picked up the hotel phone and dialed her number. Forgot the 9. Dialed again.

After five rings it went to her voicemail. Her cheery voice, like always, telling me, "Hi, this is Sarah..." I left a calm message: "I know you were a million miles away from the shooting, but could you call?" I couldn't find the hotel phone number, so I told her to call her dad's cell.

Okay, I'd called her. Now what? I was starting to get edgy. I called my husband. No answer. He was probably in the no-cell land between the coast and the city. I left a message on his phone: "There's been a shooting at UW. Could you text Sarah? That way if she's in class she'll still get it. Call me if you hear from her."

I went back to my husband's laptop and sent my daughter an e-mail. In case she didn't check her phone but was on her computer. Then I e-mailed my husband (on his BlackBerry) and asked him again to text her.

I paced the room for awhile. My youngest and I had been planning to rent three-wheeled beach bikes. I didn't want to leave the phone and computer. I called down to the desk and got the hotel phone number, then called my daughter's cell again and told her to call me. Against my will, my voice was starting to sound panicky. There was no chance this could be my daughter. And yet... Every day you read of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Call, Sarah. Call!!

I decided, at last, to click on the link and read the news article. Maybe the details would tell me this couldn't be her. I got an "Action Canceled" error message. The hotel internet had gone down since I'd read the e-mail.

I paced awhile longer. Tried to read. Picked up the phone and called my older son, at home alone. No, he hadn't heard from Sarah. Yes, he would text her from his cell. Yes, he would ask her to call me. Yes, he'd call back if he heard from her.

"Thanks, Michael," I said, and my voice broke.

I tried my husband again. Still no answer.

Tried my daughter. It went straight to voicemail. Which meant... She was on the phone! She was trying to call me! I hung up to wait.

It rang thirty seconds later. It was her. "Oh,Sarah. Oh,thank God," I said, trying hard to keep her from hearing how close I was to tears.

She gave me the few details she knew: Gould hall, murder-suicide. As far as she knew it was nobody she knew. We hung up. My heart felt lighter by a ton. I locked myself in the bathroom and wept with relief.

I felt guilty, of course. Because somewhere out there are two mothers who won't get that call. And I feel bad for feeling joy that their fate is not mine. But my daughter was alive and sitting in class.

My son and I went and rented beach bikes and zipped up and down the beach for an hour, feeling the kind of joyful, gleeful relief that you can feel only when the hawk's shadow passes over your head and continues on. For this day, at least, my family is whole and intact. Thank you, God.