Just showing up

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

September 11th–remembering the survivors

(I am participating in Project 2996. Follow the link to find other stories, or to help out with a tribute.)

It is right that we remember those who lost their lives on this day. Their death has had a huge impact on so many of us. But when I heard about this project, I felt strongly compelled to write about the “other” victims–better labelled as “survivors” . . . because they outnumber those we’ve lost, and yet we seem to sometimes forget about the ones that still live in the shadow of that day.

A friend of mine has posted several reflections on his experiences on and after that day. You can find his story here. I should warn you that it is NOT light reading, but maybe after reading it, you will better understand my frustration with those who seek to appropriate this day, with patriotic song-fests instead of solemn vigils, and with no-clue tourists who see “Ground Zero” as just another site on their list of  “things to do in NYC”.

(I know, I know . . . not every person who didn’t live in close proximity to NYC,  DC, or PA on that day deserves the “no-clue tourists” label–but there are some that do, and it is in large part for those people that I am writing this post.)

My friend Ken’s story is just one of thousands upon thousands. I have other friends whose lives were profoundly shaken by what they witnessed on that day,  and know others still who waited in vain for someone (or several someones, or MANY someones) they loved to come home.

If *I* (and I consider myself “lucky” to have experienced relatively few losses on that day) wince at commercials for a movie that “opens September 11th!”, and shy away from hosting a Tupperware party on this date because somehow that level of enthusiasm seemed horribly disrespectful to me (let alone the people in 2005 who chose that as their WEDDING date), then what do these reminders, myriad and subtle, do to someone who lost loved ones on this day eight years ago?

What does it feel like to those who walked down 84 or 52 or 12 or 112 flights of stairs and whose lives were spared, to those who made their way home through clouds of smoke and stench, or who watched, helpless and numb, from across the river as the towers fell?

Or what does it feel like to be the main character in one of those wonderful-yet-horrible stories of  “fate/luck” survival . . . like the friend-of-a-friend who overslept and was late to his job (at Cantor Fitzgerald) because he had attended a Michael Jackson concert the night before?

Or what is this day like for those who are watching their family members and fellow employees who are succumbing to  illnesses that are clearly related to their rescue work at the site? How do they feel about people coming and gawking at the empty hole where their own lives started to end?

Yes, I am willing to acknowledge that we were all changed on that day, but for some, this day is only sad in the way a celebrity’s death is sad . . . when you hear it on the news, you feel that sadness for a moment, but then you move on. For others, though, it is embedded deep within them, as if the smells and sights and sounds of that day have been embedded into their psyche.

It is these survivors that I want to pay tribute to today.

Yes, life goes on, and I don’t mean to suggest that we should curl up in a ball and stop living . . . those who have survived that day certainly haven’t done that, though they would have every reason to.

I just ask that we remember those whose hearts are raw today in a way that those of us who haven’t lived it can’t understand, and that those of us who are hundreds or thousands of miles away from the eye of this storm stop to remember and to reflect upon the damage that this storm left in its wake.

To do so is to honor the memory of those who live on, as well as those who were lost on this day.

Sunday blogging against racism–“I’ve got people”

(no, not THOSE people . . . )

Short and sweet. Ask me how much it pisses me off to see H&R Block (and they’re only one of many) already advertising the fact that you can get your tax return TODAY, even before you get your W-2.

Of course, what goes unsaid is that this requires a Refund Anticipation Loan that will sap you of 25% or more of the total amount you COULD have gotten if you had waited just a few more weeks.

And of course, these billboards are all over the inner city . . . (I’m thinking I wouldn’t see them on every street corner if I headed out to Ada) And where do you find most of the “Liberty” Tax Service offices? (I have a friend who paid them $350 for the “privilege” of getting her tax return three weeks sooner than she would have . . . truth in advertising–why don’t they call it “Slavery” Tax Service instead?)

Yeah, I know . . . it’s a class thing, not merely a race thing. But seeing as how race and class are inextricably linked in our society, I’m going to leave this blog entry right where it is. Tax preparers are now officially up there with the rent-to-own store on my shit list.

waiting for the other shoe to drop

This phrase has been on my mind lately, and so of course I had to look up the etiology (is that the right word?) of this phrase . . . pretty humorous, I guess. Kind of like these eighties shoes I spotted at the MOA last week . . .

now THAT'S neon!

But the reality? not so humorous. and I don’t know, I just don’t know, what to do with myself in the meantime.

do I try to play the “good” daughter, just to make him feel good?

do I pretend it isn’t happening?

do I pretend that all of the other stuff never happened?

does it even matter, when family 2.0 has completely supplanted any role I might have had?

and with all of that . . . why do I still feel like a bad daughter?!

but I know why.

it’s because she will think of me as such.

and yet . . . I still can’t bring myself to do the one thing that will at least partially redeem me . . .

because really? I don’t have anything else that I really need to say.

so maybe I am the worst daughter ever.

or maybe I just need to wait in silence for that other shoe to drop.

a (very belated) tribute

I can’t believe that it’s been four months since Norm Katerberg died.

[great. I’ve had this draft on hold for so long that now it’s been . . . more than a year. but there are other men like Norm that I’d like to share this with, and I don’t want to wait until they’re no longer walking on this earth to let them know how very grateful I am. so today it is, “finished” or not.]

At his funeral, people were invited to come up and speak about how he had affected their lives. I had that peculiar, yet familiar sense that I ought to get up and say something. The words were there; it was only a matter of getting my legs to move, of convincing my mind that it was okay. I held back, mostly out of fear that my desire to speak was more about me than about honoring this man and blessing his family. I don’t have any way of knowing if that fear was a valid one or not; however, it’s never too late to get it into writing, I guess, so here I am.

(I also played the, “I’ll get up after this person speaks” game, but that backfired on me also.)

At any rate, here’s what I would have said that day, and it’s still worth repeating now:

To help you understand what I am about to say about Norm, I need to tell you a little bit about my own early experiences that have formed my views about men. I do this, not because this day has anything to do with me, but because I hope it will give you a context for the depth of appreciation I have had towards men like Norm.

My father was not a gentle man. Not that he didn’t have the capacity to be gentle; towards me, he was almost always affectionate and loving. I always assumed that my grandmother had taught him that it wasn’t okay to hit women, although I’m not sure where I got that idea. What I know for sure, however, is that he had no qualms at all about hitting his sons, or rather, his son Michael in particular. This man who was capable of such affection towards me was also capable of turning into a furious, raging creature who was terribly frightening for my little girl eyes to behold. I feared him all the more because this person he became was so different than the person I knew him to be. i didn’t understand the bloody broken cutting board, or the shouting, or the sound of leather against bare flesh. I only knew that I was very, very afraid.

So I stand here today, knowing that I am not the only person here who has lost such a precious example of gentle godliness. I hope that I speak for others who come to this place, wounded and raw, and are almost incredulous that such men really exist . . . men who seem incapable of rage; men with their hands open to give, rather than balled into fists of anger. I was blessed by Norm, not directly, but by his example, and somehow the loss feels just as huge for me as I imagine it must feel to those among you who had the privilege of being a part of his family.

Norm never knew, I am sure, how much of an effect his gentle example had on me. I have found healing just by being in the presence of gentle men like him, just being able to see an example of a Christlike father, husband, and friend. And to me, this is the kind of healing that shows me the Body of Christ at its best.