Reading and Writing and Losing Time

There’s a story going around online called “The Last Taxi Ride.” It breaks my heart a little each time I read it. It’s about a cab driver who is picking up his last fare of the day. The woman he picks up is elderly, and tells him she is going to hospice, where she will soon die from cancer. She has no family left, and wants to take a scenic drive on the way to hospice. The cabbie drives her around for hours while listening to her memories of buildings they pass. The story ends with him dropping her off at hospice, and reflecting on how glad he was to have been the one to pick her up, to have been able to share that last beautiful drive with her.

So, I finished reading it this time, and instinctively started to go to snopes.com, so that I could find out if the story was true, or just another online fable that people had turned into fact.

Here’s where my personal magic happened – I stopped myself from checking out the story. There’s only two ways that could have ended: I could have found out that it was true, which I already believed it to be, or I could have learned that it was fabricated, which would have robbed me of the story I had built in my own head.

I’m still not sure what my lesson is here, or why this seems so important to me. I just know that, like most people in the world, my instinct is always to go online, check things out, find “facts” or other things that will validate or entertain or inspire or anger me…for what purpose? I have trouble just taking things at face value, just enjoying them in their singularity, without running to the internet to shove more information in my crowded head.

I’m disappointed at myself for not writing much (ok, at all) right now. I’m disappointed at not sewing more, reading more, connecting with loved ones more, genuinely relaxing more. And yet I throw time directly down the internet drain constantly. I justify that I can’t really focus on anything, since I’m caring for two very busy and wonderful and loud boys…but if I have 3 minutes to be online, I have 3 minutes to jot down some words, or sketch a pattern, or mail a card to a friend I have been missing.

It’s so clichéd that people need to unplug more…but clichés are clichés because they are true much of the time. I need to take control of my moments, each tiny little one, before they all add up to years that have slipped out of my hands. That’s not the life I want to live. That’s not the way I want to remember these early years of being a mom. I want to feel joy, not regret, when I look back on this time. I want to read stories like “The Last Taxi Ride” and be inspired to write, like I did here, instead of turning to the internet and getting my soul sucked out.

I own every moment of my life, and each one is precious. I want to start acting like it.

A letter to Creigh Deeds

Senator Deeds,

Three American flags, one of which was flown over Afghanistan by soldiers I do not know. At least one Virginia state flag. A dozen or so framed sketches, paintings, diplomas, plaques, and a retired high school football jersey. Stacks of newspapers and magazine articles, mostly from 2007. And, several hundred sympathy cards from all over the world.

I spent this past weekend at my mother’s house and with the help of my sister we put all of the above items and much more into what we called “Jarrett Boxes”. It’s been over six and half years since my brother was killed at VA Tech, yet my family has yet to figure out what to do with all the sympathy and memorial items we received. Nearly every room of the house has some sort of gift from a complete stranger or dear friend wanting to comfort us in the darkest days of our lives.

Somedays my grief seems stronger than God. On those days I feel that it controls my destiny and through a paralyzing power devoids me of purpose and will. Gratefully, love wins often helping me to carry on.

I’ve come to live with my grief, as I imagine people manage debilitating diseases. I do not believe it will ever go away completely, but I trust that I can find ways to life with it. (In fact, writing this letter to you is helping me recover from a weekend spent sorting things into Jarrett Boxes.)

A few of the others who lost a loved one on April 16, 2007 have been inspired to take up a cause. Somedays I wish I was the sort of person who could take up a cause. Maybe it could help me answer some of the millions of questions I have about my brother’s untimely death. And, I wonder if tying positive actions to a source that I could easily blame might lessen my pain. Not to mention, I’ve heard a rumor that if I can prevent the same act from happening to another person, then my brother’s death will not be in vain.

But, I am not that sort of person. At least not now.

My inertia doesn’t mean I lack believes. I strongly believe that each of us has a set of basic responsibilities to the people around us, especially those who need support, nurturing, and avenues to good health. We are all in this together, and when we fail to be accountable for one another life always loses.

While many of the April 16 survivors have taken up the gun control issue, I have a hard time relating. I’ve always been sick to my stomach at the thought of guns, and the images I have of what happened to my brother that day make it impossible for me to truly want anything other than a gun-free world.

And, also, a gun is simply a tool. A gunshot wound is listed on my brother’s autopsy report as the cause of his death, but that is not the entire truth. My brother was killed by people who failed to be responsible. By people who let fear and cultural pressures guide their decisions, instead of truth and courage.

Mental health is a topic that needs to be brought to the table. I’ve seen many people who let their ignorance of mental health and inaccurate social views dictate the type support to an individual struggling mentally or emotionally. The system is corrupt with fear, ignorance, and irresponsibility, and it has failed us both and our beloved boys.

Thank you for being the sort of person who can take up a cause. My heart falls to the bottom of my stomach as I try to imagine all that you must do to be able to take up this cause during your darkest days.

The only true pain-reliever I have found to make any headway on the pain of grief is love. May you and your family have moments to immerse yourselves in love for each other and your for love for Gus. Talk about good memories and seek out stories from his friends. And, may the world embrace you tightly.

With love,
Alicia
Sister of Jarrett Lane

A New Year and Revolutionary Self-Love

januaryAhh, the new year. The magical time when many people feel they have been given a clean slate, a fresh start, and a second chance at whatever it is they are reaching towards. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that we can turn the page of a calendar and leave behind any mishaps, hurts, or heartaches from the past year? When I was much younger, the new year made me feel a bit invincible, almost drunk with excitement.  I remember waking up many January 1sts believing in my heart that this was my year.

Now that I am (ahem) a bit older, the new year still fills me with hope, although in much more concrete ways. Instead of casually wishing for stronger relationships, happier days, and healthier living, I am more conscious of the decisions and actions that will lead me to these things. It’s easy for me to say “I want to be a better friend.”  But the truth of it is that being a better friend is not a choice to make on a specific day. Being a better friend, to me, means being conscious of the tiny choices I can make to work my way towards the friend I want to be. It means using a few spare minutes to send a card to someone who is important to me. Yep, an actual paper card, with ink on it and a stamp to get it to where it needs to go.  It means getting a text about a problem at work or a fight with a relative, responding, and also asking them about it a few days later to see if they need more support. Being a good friend means being conscious of what I can do to make their lives easier and happier and more wonderfully full.

Admittedly, taking care of myself often falls to the bottom of my list of important things when I think of the year ahead. I’m a friend, a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter…I have lots and lots of other people who clearly need me every single waking moment. I don’t have time to spend on me.  I can always take care of me later.

If you spotted the ridiculous truth I’ve told myself, and saw through it immediately, you’re probably already doing a good job of taking care of yourself.

You see, the truth is, no matter how much I want to love and care for and support and feed those around me, I’m pretty damn useless when I am feeling unloved, uncared for, unsupported and unfed myself. It’s been a long road, and continues to be a difficult thing for me, but I am starting to recognize and actually believe that I am worthy of my own time and love. Even writing that now, it seems like such an obvious truth, but it has taken me a really long time to soak it up in my heart. I’m not unique here, it’s something many of us struggle with.

My challenge to you, yes you – the one telling yourself the same story about how putting others first is alwaysalwaysalways the very best thing you can do – is to make a list of the people you care most about. It doesn’t have to be in any particular order, but it should include just the handful or so that are most important in your life. It’s a private list, just for you, so don’t worry about offending anyone by leaving them off. You can name it whatever you want: People I Love, Awesome Folks, The Ones That Matter Most.

Now stop reading, and go make that list right now. I’ll wait here.

Got it?

Ok, look back over the list. Did you leave anyone off? Include anyone out of feelings of obligations rather than genuine love or desire for connectedness? Go ahead and edit it.  Now you have a good working list of who you want to devote time and energy and love to this year.

Here’s the revolutionary act I am encouraging: Add yourself to the list. Write your own name right there with the other people who are most wonderful, most important, and most loved in your life. You are (and should be) one of those people. As such, you deserve the time and energy and love too.

I once made a pact with a dear friend of mine. We were sitting on my living room floor bemoaning our various body “flaws.” I was wishing that I had her slender hips, and poked at the (possibly imagined) chubbiness of my own. She pointed out her small chest, and wondered if boobs would ever appear. We were wallowing in our own self pity. And then something truly magical happened. As I was telling her how I thought she was perfectly perfect exactly as she was, I realized how unkind I was being to myself.  I looked into her lovely eyes and said “We would never say to each other the things we just said about ourselves. We would never be so mean.” We made a pact then to be aware of times when we were speaking or thinking ill of ourselves, and to ask “Would the other one ever say this about me?” It was a way of keeping ourselves honest in our quest to love and accept ourselves the way we were. This was over 15 years ago, but I am proud to say that I have caught myself many times thinking yucky things about myself, and then remembered the pact. Apparently, she has too.

So the challenge here is to add your own name to the list to keep yourself honest about loving and respecting yourself. I feel in my heart that you are so worth that, and so worthy of that. It’s amazing how much more and better we can love others and care for others when we are loving and caring for ourselves. If you still insist that everyone else is more important, consider it a gift to those you love to put yourself on the list. I am positive that you would be tops on their list, and that they want as many good things for you as you want for them. So do this. Love them with everything you’ve got, and love yourself right along with them. Make this your year.

Alisha K.

Photo Credit.