Better and Worse

Last month my husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. When I sat down an hour before our dinner date to write out a card for him, I had wished that I would have written the note a couple days earlier when I was in more of an appreciative, lovey dovey mood rather than the funk that I was in at that moment. This predicament inspired me to reflect on love, marriage, funks, and how the three interact.

I’m pretty sure when I stood in that white dress nine years ago, hand in hand with my husband-to-be and promising to take him for better or for worse, that I naively thought the ‘better’ and the ‘worse’ had to do with external factors. Like there was some conglomeration of worsts through which I had to be sure I could promise to love Brian before I committed to marriage – I will still love and cherish you if you lose your job, if our house burns down, if your leg is amputated by a chain saw during a freak Christmas tree cutting accident… I don’t know if I really considered the internal or personal aspects of ‘better or worse’.

Of course I figured marriage would bring moments of frustration and bickering over petty things like chores or directions or flatulence. I suspected that there would be conflict when we couldn’t agree or were just out of sync for whatever reason. Beyond these seemingly trivial issues, at the age of 22 I couldn’t have predicted all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual highs and lows that I would experience as an adult, wife, graduate student, female, human. When we made this vow though, we promised to love each other even when the other person is at their worst. When I am aggressively impatient, my spouse vowed to love me. When I am depressed and lethargic, my spouse vowed to love me. When my focus is off track, Brian vowed to love me. When I have shamefully messed up, which I have, he promised to love me, which he has.

Brian is so good at it. Other women may be able to say the same thing about their husbands, but for me, I have never seen such a wonderful earthly example of unconditional love. When I feel like I am at my ultimate worst, he makes good on his promise to love, honor, and cherish me.

This past weekend we attended a wedding at our church and the pastor said to the couple, “God brought you together to do what you could never do alone.” It is so true for so many reasons that I am a stronger, better person married to this amazing man. Both individually and as a couple we have been able to accomplish things that we couldn’t have accomplished alone. I know that this is founded in the freedom of the vow to be committed for better or worse – this vow that Brian and I have made to each other…and that God has made to us.

Progress Report

Last year my mom and I worked on a photobook project and, as a result, had spent hours and hours looking through boxes of childhood memories – pictures, report cards, class projects – that were anything from hilarious to sentimental to cute to outright pathetic. We had a good laugh at my brothers’ and my school pictures from the Awkward Years and our silly handmade Valentine’s Day cards. Amidst the scholastic archives we found a wish list that I had contrived in second or third grade. Number three on the list read “I wish I will be able to gradeuate from high school on the first try.” Mom laughed until she cried reading that list, but I knew she wasn’t laughing at me. I knew those tears really meant “I couldn’t be more proud of the beautiful woman that my daughter has become.” Although she might have been thinking, “Thank you, God, that Michelle finally learned to spell ‘graduate’ before she left high school.”

We also stumbled upon my mid-year progress report from kindergarten. Kindergarten and seventh grade have been my strongest academic years to date, so I was looking forward to reading the report. After only half of a school year in her classroom, my kindergarten teacher described me as though she had known me for years…

Michelle has done very well this first half of the school year. She is in the high average reading group, and is one of the better readers in that group. She is using her phonics well enough so that she is able to unlock many words on her own, and those she can’t she remembers once she is told. She handles her seatwork very well. She does her work carefully and neatly, and if she doesn’t understand, she asks for help. Michelle is a child who is really ready for first grade, it is coming to her easily and she is enjoying it.

She is doing equally well in Math. She is remembering her math facts and is not often dependent on a numberline for help. She understands the concepts back of math and does very well at problem solving when something is presented that has to be worked out in a little different way.

Michelle has many friends and often is the one to initiate something and take the leadership. This trait sometimes gets her into trouble as she gets carried away with something that she is doing. She is not so much misbehaving but exuberant. She shows many qualities for leadership and is not easily discouraged in what she is doing.

Michelle is an interesting child, one with lots of potential. Her mind is always working. I have enjoyed Michelle in the classroom and find her a real challenge.

Mrs. Hufman

I couldn’t help but fix on the second half of her note. Gets carried away with something that she’s doing. Mind always working. A real challenge. Wow, that’s me.

I looked up “exuberant” in the dictionary. My favorite definitions are “effusively and almost uninhibitedly enthusiastic,” “abounding in vitality,” and “extremely joyful and vigorous.” I wonder if I still have the uninhibited enthusiasm that Mrs. Hufman saw in me over twenty-five years ago. A quarter century of life sure can callous the joy and vigor in our hearts…IF we allow it. Oh burdens and cynicisms and hurts of the world, I have to cordially decline your requests to dull my inner child. Failures in my life, I pledge to resist your attempts to squelch the hope and fervor of my inner child – that child with potential. That child who is often the one to initiate something. That child who is not easily discouraged.

Five-year-old Michelle, in some ways you know so much more than what I know today. So go on, show your stuff, Girl. Exuberate!

In the Spirit of the Olympics

It is impossible to watch the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing without evoking a sense of nostalgia for my Olympic experience over a decade ago. As college sophomores, three of my girlfriends and I worked as security guards at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Yes, security guards. Not so much the gun and cuffs type of guards, more like the crowd control type of guards armed with walkie talkies and hip sacks.

The crowds we managed usually took us seriously, though we did not look or feel serious. Our uniforms screamed FOREST RANGER! more than security guard, and as our Ranger Rick hat and black Reeboks went on each day, we tried so hard to transform into no-nonsense guards, but never made it much past giggling teenagers.

At first we worked eight-hour days, but during the second half of our stint our shifts increased to twelve hours. We had a whole lot of thick polyester going on for our company to expect us to withstand twelve hours in Atlanta in August, but somehow we endured. Well, I know how we endured…

…Walkie talkies. Our supervisor reprimanded us repeatedly for abusing our walkie talkie privileges, but the urge to update each other with famous people sightings, event scores, and A Few Good Men quotes was too tempting. In our minds, seeing the Dream Team, Dennis Hopper, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc. were legitimate reasons for walkie talkie usage.

We also endured the long days by trading sponsor pins, an extremely popular hobby during the ’96 Games. Fortunately for us, three stations to which we were frequently assigned were located at the entrances to the Sponsor Village in Centennial Park (the town square of the Olympics). Manning the entrances to Sponsor Village in a sponsor pin-trading world would be equivalent to striking oil in your backyard or finding a Dorito in the shape of Elvis, which you know would sell for millions on eBay. “I need to see your credentials before entering, please. Ah yes, you are with Kodak. And do you happen to have any extra pins today, sir?” In the picture below, Tracy and I had exchanged pins for a gourmet lunch while on duty at Post 33. This station was much tamer than the ones surrounding Sponsor Village and it also had seating, which was not the case with all posts, so we capitalized on these little luxuries as they came our way. (Note my neck garment, a cooler that you could fill with water and freeze.)

But not every moment as an Olympic security guard was bliss. Sometimes the masses leaving a venue were nearly riotous, swarming at us like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds. Sweaty, smelly people angrily pecked at us for denying them permission to take the short-cut through Sponsor Village to other venues. Additionally, the same day Tracy and I enjoyed our shrimp cocktail at Post 33, we regretted turning our walkie talkies to channel 3 (the police channel) as incoming reports warned policemen about a bomb threat in the kitchen immediately behind us.

Then there was the actual bomb. Until this point in our Olympic adventure, our gravest perils were 1) the punctured water bed at my brother’s (Cliff’s) apartment and 2) the non-friend of Cliff that stayed at the apartment for several days during our stay despite Cliff’s demands for him to leave. This non-friend closely resembled Cliff’s cat, Pookie, in that he laid on the couch all day and left one of the bathrooms gritty and smelling of something in the same genus as kitty litter. The water bed and the loitering non-friend were such minor inconveniences though, really arousing more laughter than aggravation. Cliff’s apartment was otherwise ideal. It had the frill of leather couches, yet the environmentally-friendly flare of cardboard coffee tables – perfect for scribbling phone numbers, messages to roommates, and haikus without wasting unnecessary paper.

And Cliff (and his roommate/best bud, Bill) were incredibly hospitable.

Surely I didn't deserve this

On the night of July 27, 1996, however, we encountered peril on a different scale. Off duty and in civilian attire, a group of about ten of us visited Centennial Park to enjoy the sights and live entertainment. As rockin’ as the Jack Mack and the Heart Attack concert was on this stage…

…after about twenty minutes of Jack Mackin’ we were ready to call it a night. Just as we were leaving the park the bomb detonated near this concert sound tower (far left in photo).

We estimated being less than fifty yards from the explosion, a distance that could have easily resulted in serious injury if we were in the explosion’s line of fire. Providentially we did not exit at the same end of the park that we had entered, which kept us away from most or all of the shrapnel. The two people who were killed and 100+ who were injured could not say the same. A couple people in our group suffered from minor scrapes when mass exodus induced mild trampling, but generally we were all safe. We all handled the crisis differently – tears, panic, humor – but each one of us felt blessed.

When we showed up for work the next day, Centennial Park was closed and wrapped in police tape. This pulsating, dynamic time square had become lifeless and eerie overnight. It was a relief to be assigned to stations at other venues for the several days that the park was closed. I spent some time working at the Olympic stadium that hosted the track and field events. I appreciated having the liberty to walk on to the field if I so desired. You know, in case U.S. star sprinter Michael Johnson needed a pep talk or a high five or help carrying his gold medals.

We saw many different sporting events on our time off. The most exciting moment of this volleyball game was sneaking over to the gymnastics side of the building during the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team practice and receiving a friendly wave from the team, including Kerri Strug (pre-broken ankle). The second most exciting thing was discovering that Dippin’ Dots were served at the venue. Not to say that the volleyball game itself was not a thrill, but this was a time when Dippin’ Dots were starting to come alive in popularity. Ice cream of the future?! That’s a big deal!

During a free day reserved for shopping, we stumbled upon a rare opportunity to hold the torch that carried the Olympic flame first from Greece to Los Angeles, and then across the United States…

…before it was passed to Muhammad Ali so he could ignite THE Olympic torch and thus commence the 1996 Games.

It is unfathomable what kind of experience it must be for athletes to participate in the Olympic Games, but I have come to learn that the life-changing experience belongs not just to the athletes and the teams competing, but to anyone who has the opportunity to participate in an event of this magnitude in which the entire planet participates, sometimes with intense competition, but almost always with peace and sportsmanship. It is no wonder the Olympic theme song stirs such nostalgia within me – the tune carries a piece of the world’s history, but it also carries a piece of my history as well.

Newbie

The last weekend of June my family and I traveled to Idaho/Washington for a Cousins Reunion. My mother was looking forward to sleeping in her first morning in Seattle after a long, exhausting day of travel from Ohio to the West coast with my step-dad and grandmother, both in their 80s. Mama did not get her wish. Grams’ memory has been deteriorating for the past five years or so. Alone in her hotel room, surprised that she had slept in until 9:30, Grams called my mom’s room at 6:30 in the morning and spouted, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know why I’m here.” Whether she knew it or not, those were profound words for a jet-lagged senior citizen.

I can identify with this mantra – not so much in my existence on Earth, but more like in situations that I thrust myself into, big or small. Whether I’m pushing my limits, responding to a divine calling, or just living life with reckless abandonment, I sometimes stand aghast in new surroundings thinking I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know why I’m here. Like when I found myself swimming in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Like on the first day of my doctorate program. Like when I was asked to take a quiz on Facebook to find out which Disney Princess I am (Cinderella, by the way). And much like now. I have thought about running my own website for quite some time. I eventually want to create a website that has several features in addition to a blog, but taking my first step with a URL and a blog leaves me feeling a bit sheepish and confused. Right now I’m not sure of my place in this cyber world, or exactly why I chose to be a part of it for that matter.

But here it goes…