Saturday, August 22, 2015

Who'd have known how much I like hanging with Germans?

Greetings All,

Hope the summer has been treating you all well.  I write this freshly showered, newly shaved, garbed in clean/dry clothes and supremely happy to have slept a night in our glorious bed.  I love camping.  I really do.  I love getting into places that you can’t see and don’t find unless you get off the beaten path, and explore.

We have a place on the west side of the state (I sound like a bazillionaire saying that, like we own the place) that has no showers, no power, is slightly difficult to get to, has no cell coverage to speak of…and we love it.  We love it because we’re past the point where we want to hear anyone doing anything of any sort after 9pm, and this place is perfect for that.

However, I am a restless soul.  Extremely restless once we start getting closer to school starting, and ripping me away from all the things that are my scaffolding to help contain my restlessness.  I say all of this to bookend the experience of going camping with me.  Craving the connection to nature that listening to the waves rhythmically crash into the Lake Michigan shoreline, while also skittering around the campsite for something to do, stripped of computer/laptop/phone/PS4/games in general.  Ahhh, it must be so wonderful to be around me in late August…

Shelley sent me a few blogs that she was reading about grief the other week, and she said something I found really insightful and helpful to me personally.  Ya see, I feel guilty writing the blog these days.  Really and truly.  I feel guilty that I’m spilling out all these words about grief and us….when we’re doing fine, in all regards.  Yes, we have sad days all the time.  But, like my stamina in running, it’s consistently getting better and better with time, and use. (Yay!)

So, feeling guilty.  Yes, each time I write, it’s with the cloak of “who am I to sit around writing about grief when so many people have it worse, have it deeper, have it fresher, have it….”.  I combat that with the idea that if people don’t want to click through to the blog, they won’t, and it’s not my job to police what people care about.  But here’s what Shel said, based on some blogs she’d been reading:

People don’t read about grief, and click through to the blog just to see how we’re doing.  They do it to read about you making it through it, so that they can reassure themselves that they could get through it too, if they found themselves in a similar situation. 

(Disclaimer:  She could have said something far more profound, or altogether different…but this is how it came out of the tumble dry cycle of my mind, and was spit back out after a week or so).

I really enjoyed that.  Really and truly.  Over and over, across the last 3 years, people have emailed me and told me how specific things I’ve said have helped them, and that matters a lot to me, because it gives purpose to writing, to continuing to pour out the contents of my head to this blog.  That maybe when a person writes to tell me that I’m “strong”, what they’re really saying is that I hope I can hold up under all the stress and pressure of a future event.

The idea that I’m in some small way giving you the building blocks of a future ability to keep yourself together in the face of immense tragedy…that’s the stuff of gold, and gives me the permission to keep writing for as long as I want…which I frequently need.

Camping…  there’s another golden story that I need to tell.  We were immensely fortunate (yet again!) to have amazing neighbors, once again with little girls.  The first day we got there, a SUV pulled in, and out jumped two little girls, who seemed to bookend Anya’s age.  Their names were Meeri and Janna, and they were Germans, 7 and 9.  They quickly disembarked, set up camp, and disappeared for the beach while we were making dinner.  We didn’t get a chance to say hello until the next morning.

But the opportunity arose to say hello, I got a chance to pull out my German language from 1991, and Meeri’s eyes lit up.  They were fast friends from that point on.  We went to the beach together, sat for hours chatting with their parents, and even went on a massive 9km hike together the next day. 

The girls loved talking/playing with each other, but I got just as much enjoyment talking to their parents as well.  We had so many good discussions, but the one most pertinent, and I think most revelatory for Americans was this:  As a German, you have to be careful not to get too many friends.

Now, to elaborate.

I had asked Carsten (Dad) what was the biggest change for him when he took the job transfer from Germany to America.  He started talking about the friendliness of Americans at first, and how Americans are so much friendlier, externally.   His wife used the example of being in DC vs. being in Berlin.  She said that if she had a map open in DC, if she was staring for more than a minute or so, looking lost, an American would most assuredly walk up to her and ask her if she needed help finding something.  She said this wasn’t just conjecture, but it had happened multiple times.  In Berlin, she stated, she would have to be laying on the ground crying before a German would walk up and ask for help.  They said that it wasn’t a matter (for them, in their opinion) of kindness or rudeness, but privacy.

But then they flipped the whole thing on its head, and this is what blew me away…friendship.  They talked about how easy it was for Americans to call a person friend, and how un-German that was.  Each of them talked about how powerful that word was for a German, in that a German takes the responsibilities of friendship extremely seriously.  Carsten talked extensively about how when you find out that your friend has a problem, you do everything in your power to help them solve that problem …often spending hours and hours of your own time talking with them, strategizing with them, discussing pro/cons of the possibilities….and how this was normal. 

Sharing everything, all your problems, with your friends, all the time…and it’s normal.


The depth and trust and kindness and self-sacrifice that he was describing….I wonder how many people that I can say that I trusted that deeply, or have trusted me that way.  I’m not sure what the answer is to that, it just got me to thinking how much richer an experience that might be where I’m not trying to maintain so many levels of friendships, but making only a handful much, much deeper.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

A few pictures of us, of late, to fill this out….

Shelley saw this quote twice within 24 hours.  I think there's some severe wisdom located within.

The little girl is disappearing, and a new one is emerging.  Like a chrysalis before our very eyes, this summer has been the place where the girl has decreased, and the mini-tiny-soontobeyoungadult is emerging.  Wow. 

I liked this for a capstone picture for several reasons:
  1. Anya climbed on top of this for the first time that I've ever seen her.
  2. She didn't even blink climbing and standing on it.  No fear, unlike all previous attempts.
  3. Her attitude and stature are exactly representative of just how many moments she spends mourning all the things she's lost, all the curves that she's been thrown, and all the crap she's had to put up with.  If I could only be like her, in that regard. 

I'm hoping the next post I do I'll be able to show you the gravestone, and give you concrete directions on how to get there...for those of you who've asked.

Have a great week, y'all.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Done now. Posting.

Greetings All,

Firstly, I feel the need to apologize for the time since the last post.  I know I don’t, but well, I shall nonetheless.  Between the trip, getting back, getting things back together, getting Anya off to Special Days Camp, and then having time together with Shelley, alone, for the first time since Amie died…well…it’s been a heck of a summer, thus far.

So, yes!  A blog post.  Let’s do this. It’s always hard to get started, to build the momentum to do a post when you haven’t written in a while.  More about momentum later…

The trip seems to be the thing most pertinent thing to talk about.  It was fantastic, in so many ways.  The most obvious was the time spent together; doing all the normal trip things that could be done.  We truly enjoy spending time with each other, Anya loves to read for long periods of time (while driving between incredibly long distances to National Parks), and I don’t mind driving those incredibly long distances either.

It was also really great to see friends that we haven’t seen in so many years.  Watching them discover Anya, see that a truly great kid she is….so amazing.  Also, in 2 of the 4 places we stayed, they had girls Anya’s age…so watching Anya get to have surrogate sisters was another true pleasure of the trip.  First Amelia and Silvie, and then Dasha and Ksenia, Anya loved spending time with both sets, and talked about them a ton once we’d left.

Also, the National Parks.  Man o man do the mountains call to me.  But you know who else loved them?  My little mountain goat, Anya.  2 weeks before we left on the trip, we walked to the farmers market, and she had a hard, hard time with the 3-mile round trip walk (all flat).  By the end of the trip, she was cruising through 5-mile hikes with a 600 ft elevation change both ways.

Highlights of the National Parks:

  • Zion and Bryce Canyon were the hands down winners for places that made us want to return, and hike hike hike more more more.  Just knowing that Zion NP is just a quick 2.5 hour drive from Vegas makes us want to plan a trip next spring break, and explore it for a week during a less hectic time.
  • Great Basin National Park:  It was disastrous for us at the very start, with rain and accidentally setting up camp in someone’s occupied camp site, but by the end of the next day, as we’d hiked up to a grove of 3000 year old bristlecone pine trees, and then past to a snowy glacier, with a 6 mile hike starting at 10,000 feet….so, so damned cool.  …and to see Anya doing it with a skip in her step and nary a complaint?  It made my heart sing.
  • Caves!  We went to Oregon Caves NM and the Lehmann caves in Great Basin, and both were insanely cool.  I’ll never be a geologist (Jeff, Chris) and want to study them, but I still find it fascinating to see things that grow at 1-inch every 1000 years….and see them 10 feet tall.  A must see if you are anywhere in the area of any of these places.

Lowlights of the National Parks:

  • Yosemite:  We had originally been planning on going to the Grand Tetons as we left Oakland and headed to Denver, but I got the idea in my head to divert to Yosemite instead, as it was directly in the path of us heading out of Oakland.  TERRIBLE IDEA.  Here’s what I didn’t know, and my friend Art tried to tell me but I couldn’t hear…Yosemite in July is roughly akin to Cedar Point in July….insanely packed, and full of people you don’t want to be packed around for any amount of time.  Gorgeous vistas, but traffic jams as bad as US-23 on a Friday night heading north.  Amazing hikes, but the pathways as crowded as the Ann Arbor Street Fair.  MISERABLE.
  • Grand Canyon:  Still gorgeous…  but compared the accessibility of Bryce and Zion….  So underwhelming.  I guess we could have plunged down beneath the rim, and tested ourselves, but we weren’t ready for that in week 1 of our trip, and it was….  Crowded and ugh.

But the trip was 95% amazing, and so many stories I could type and tell, but that’s kinda boring for 99% of you.   But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t take a second to thank everyone who was ├╝ber generous to us during the last few years.  It was your generosity that enabled us to take this trip, to do it right, and to have this time of healing for us.

To talk about Amie for a bit, because heck, that’s why many of you come here, we’re quickly coming up to the 6-month anniversary of her death (next Thursday).  We designed her headstone, and ordered it this week.  It will be delivered in mid-September, and I think all of y’all will really like what we did.  It’s going to make me cry like a baby the first time I see it, I’m sure… but that’s part of the process, right?

I talked a lot after Amie died about the slideshow in my head, and how the negative images were dominating the space for so long.  I think that’s really starting to abate. 

I’ve had this image in my head for a long time.  I have all these jars on this shelf, some are these short old-school glass jars with rubber stoppered lids and metal latches, and others are taller, thinner, and open topped.  I see this as the shelf in my head, holding all the parts of me, past and current, good and bad, light and dark.

I had this mental image, after Amie died, of this one jar, pure black and dense.  So dense that it was this tiny jar, but it was causing the entire shelf to bow, possibly causing it to break in the middle of the night, spilling all of the rest of everything all over the place, and shattering the glass, creating havoc.

But as I think on this now, that shelf isn’t bowing.  The jar is still there…and at the bottom it’s still black as ink….  But the top of that jar has been transformed.  It’s bubbling, it’s leaking out, and it’s no longer black.  It’s a swirling mixture of reds and greens and oranges and yellows and blues and pinks ( but not green, I don’t like green <or sez the Amie>).  I wish I was an artist, as I’d love a drawing of what I just described.  :)

One last thing, before I call this good, and do another post next week, running.  Shelley commented to me about 10 days ago how she was really getting inspired by people in her life posting these Couch to 5k updates, and how she had really hated running all her life, but maybe she could give it a try.  I told her I’d love to do it with her, as a means to do something healthy together, to help her be more fit, to help myself be fit at all, and well…to give myself a challenge.  I ran A LOT in hs, but nearly nothing since.

We’re been running for a bit now, and both of us are really surprising ourselves.  We made concerted efforts to live far more healthily since the beginning of the trip, as things really got put aside (for good reasons) while Amie was really ill, and afterwards. 

For me, I’m really inspired by the people in my life who’ve really transformed themselves in the pursuit of fitness, mainly thinking of Sarah and Jillian.  Hoping we can keep this up, and stay on this path of wellness that we’ve been cultivating for a few weeks now.  Also, Jillian just had a baby today.  YAY JILLIAN! WOO!

Ok.  One last thing:  I got a great FB message today from a sister of a former student, talking about lots of stuff, but mostly (to me) about reaching out.  She complimented me about my reaching out and saying something kind to her Mom, in regards to a rough situation she was struggling with.  I responded with this: 

I think that other people also just don't know what to say, and how to say they just stay quiet for fear of making anything worse. I think, through our experiences these past few years, we know it's better to risk the awkwardness than leave the other person to their isolation.

So, that’s my request for anyone bothering to read this WALL OF TEXT (hi, joe!).  If you know someone who is struggling through something that is rough, that is painful, that is harder than you know what to do with… don’t stay silent, reach out and say hello.  You’re not going to make it worse.  You’re going to remind them that they’re thought of.

Done now.  Posting.

Ok, had to include at least one picture.  
Here's us, picking Anya up from camp.  
What a tall, lovely, confident, and awesome little girl we have.