15 January 2014

A Love Letter to My State

Dear West Virginia,

I love you.  This may come as forward, but I've been feeling this way for as long as I can remember.  I think my flirtation became an adoration when my parents packed myself and 2 sisters up in the backseat of the pickup truck and explored every majesty you have to offer on a week long discovery tour of this place we were blessed to call home. 

I profess my love with a Facebook photo album titled, "I LOVE WV," an iTunes playlist that exclusively has songs with your great name in it, my license plate that is proudly displayed in my apartment, and although a new state has had to take its place legally on my car's bumper I've added an, "I LOVE WV" bumper sticker to showcase where my real allegiance lies.  In short, if one has met me, they know I'm a West Virginian, so they know you too.

I played outside until the street lights came on, went to the drive-in with my friends, and collected can goods for the needy with my wagon door-to-door.  I didn't grow up in 1952.  I grew up in West Virginia.

I don't just love you because you're beautiful, although you are stunning with your copper leaves and majestic peaks.  I don't just love you because you're selfless, although you do give of your natural resources freely.  I don't just love you because you're fun, although you are a guaranteed good time with your ski slopes, rock climbs, and whitewater.

I love you because you hold everyone I hold dear.  I love you because when I'm lost in this big scary world, you make me feel found.  I love you because you will eternally be home to me.

Because I love you, I want to protect you.  I want to keep you safe from those who desire to harm you, and those who want to sell you to the highest bidder.

I want to prevent your mountains from being hacked off and thrown in streams, your rivers from being poisoned with chemicals, and your land from being fracked.  I want to prevent toxic waste from being stored in slurries above school houses, in leaky, rusty, unchecked containers near the river, and in the land under our very own homes.

I want the best for you West Virginia, because you've given your best to me.

Sincerely yours,


05 January 2014

My Visit to The Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum made me want to scream as loud as I could, sob in shivers, punch a wall, and stare in disbelief.  Oddly, I did none of these things and instead mumbled numerous times under my breath, "How could this f*&^ing happen?"  

What the NAZIs did, and said, and were, seemed so absolutely far removed from anything resembling our world, and yet it did happen, and not that many years ago.

In most of the museum, you use your sense of sight to read or watch about the horrifying acts that took place.  But the moments when they captured your other senses, are the ones that I remember most.  

I couldn't bear to stay in the train car for more than a brief moment.  Physically being present, my feet touching the wooden bottom of a train car where 100 Jews were packed in like cattle to be transported to concentration camps was almost too much to handle.  In another room there are thousands of shoes, and the stench of burnt leather immediately permeated my nostrils.  It was these sensory experiences that made it too real.

Then there was this quote which captured the feelings I had of helplessness, of being unable to do anything about it now…

The poem, "Babi Yar" was written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko about his visit to Babi Yar 20 years after the NAZIs slaughtered 34,000 people in just 2 days in this ravine outside Kiev, Ukraine.  He showed up expecting to see a memorial, but instead saw a garbage dump.

The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently, and, baring my head,
Slowly I feel myself turning grey.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
Above the thousand thousand buried here.

A soundless scream of what can I do, I thought.  Then I walked to the end of the museum exhibits where they document the horrors in Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, and Darfur in 2003-2005.  How can genocide still be allowed to exist?  Now I didn't just feel helpless, I felt hopeless too.
“When we say ‘never again,’ what does it mean?”
—Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor
In this exhibit of the most recent genocides there is a spot for visitors to answer a question on a piece of paper and place it in a large glass case.  The question asked, “What will you do to meet the challenge of genocide?"
I answered that I would share the stories I heard in Uganda from the women there who fled for their lives from Sudan, many whom lost fathers, brothers, husbands, and even children.  Those who were forced into sexual slavery or to become child soldiers themselves.
As I added my small slip of paper to the others watching it absorb into a case of well meaning intentions, one caught my eye.  It made my visit, and every emotion with it, feel worth it, feel validated, feel hopeful, feel like by only learning about the past can we learn to make a better future.
It was in a child's handwriting, and it said,
What will you do to meet the challenge of genocide?
I will not call people names because they are different.

What a perfect call to action for an imperfect world.  More love.

02 January 2014

I love airports

I love airports.  I had this thought tonight as I sat at Reagan National Airport volunteering at the USO there.

There's fantastic people watching, ample food options, the thrill of a new adventure and/or the excitement of a loved one's return.

I consider myself a skilled people watcher.  I enjoy creating vivid backstories for the characters I witness including their interesting accents, illegitimate children, and creepy resemblance to a SVU/Bones/Walker Texas Ranger episode I once saw.  I think my love of people watching was encouraged at a young age when my father and I plopped on a bench while my sisters and mother shopped for what seemed like at least 'three episodes of Reading Rainbow' long.

I love a 'no guilt' reason to buy a new book, multiple magazines, and junk food.  I'm Catholic I feel a lot of guilt about a lot of inconsequential things, so a chance to negate that thrills me.  (I've had a small can of soda in the office fridge for about 3 weeks now, and every time I open that damn fridge I feel pangs of guilt like I'm taking up unnecessary space that someone could use for their random full size expired cottage cheese container). Anyway, travel is the perfect excuse is to go crazy and get the KING size Kit Kat bar, with a side of People's Sexiest Man Alive…and maybe the latest memoir on some religious cult's former member for good measure.

I of course get excited about where I'm going, if it's new and different, or relaxing or exciting, or any reason really!  I also get intrigued to think about who sitting at my gate will be seated next to me.  I play a little mini version of 'would I rather sit next to that guy or that chick?" with all my neighboring chair mates.  And of course if any of them do happen to strike up conversation with me, I have a delightful array of 'well this one time on mil air' stories to completely one-up them.

Then of course the obvious, having lived in Afghanistan for almost 2 years, and then being in a long distance relationship for more than 1 year, I love airports for their arrivals!  After taking an 8, or 12, or even 15 hour flight to see the people you love, to know that someone is waiting for you half way across the state/country/world is a pretty awesome feeling.

And, I'm not the only one with a love affair for these transportation hubs!  There are entire climactic scenes of romantic movies dedicated to airports: Casablanca, The Wedding Singer,  Like Crazy, and of course the following transcendent, unparalleled whopper of a scene -

Next week a thrilling follow-up blog on the appeal of airplanes!
(Just kidding, I wouldn't do that to you…at least it hasn't come to that…yet).