Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

I returned home late last night after spending an extended weekend vacation with my family at the “happiest place on earth.” At the entrance the kids stopped to gather around a street performance by Mickey Mouse, Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter and a marching band when the writer in me stepped back to observe.

Singing children clapped their hands then paused, only to raise them in the air begging to participate in the dancing celebration. Parents looked on with proud smiles, capturing indefinite records of the precious moments on camera. Some reconnected with their inner child, shamelessly belting out sing-along lyrics. All were living in the moment.

As the performance dwindled, people dispersed down Main Street with swelling anticipation. Music blared overhead as children everywhere grabbed hold of a parent and lead the way with pointed fingers. Oversized lollipops, trinkets and souvenirs were displayed near storefronts. The buildings were embellished with countless lights and intricate detail and kids passed with wide-eyed looks of amazement.

When we made it to the rides, I noticed that some children found ways to occupy their time while others waited impatiently in lines. Moms were reaching in handbags for snacks to appease their hungry kids while dads sought out their next destination on the map. Young couples took every opportunity to engage with one another but were frequently disrupted by the moving line. The screams and cries of tired and rejected kids competed with automated voices offering warnings and explanations of the rides. Loud laughter, cheerful music and clanking rides echoed all around. The smells of popcorn, cotton candy and churros combined to form the scent we all know as “Disneyland”.

This was my first time to the park with my nieces and nephews. While I was excited to share in the experience with them, there were definitely some things I was looking more forward to than others. I was surprised, though, by the renewed appreciation I had for the concepts relayed to the kids at the less-than-desirable attractions:

Despite the redundant melody and anti-climactic boat ride, “It’s a Small World” is a prominent representation of ethnic customs that exposes the kids to diversification. Despite the reality of racism the ride served as a small reminder of the strides we have taken toward harmony in this country. Evidence of this fact was displayed just outside the ride, by the multi-cultured spectators waiting in line.

In an address to the audience, Abraham Lincoln taught about the God-given right to liberty for each of those cultures represented, and the expense for which it’s been fought in this country. His presentation ended with a rendition of “His Truth is Marching On.” I was moved by the powerful message to never cease fighting for the protection of our liberty and to maintain the extreme value we place in it. I fought tears as I read the words “America, keep on dreaming,” displayed on the curtains at the show’s end.

Finally, as I soared above California at California Adventure, I was surprised at my stirred emotions at the recognition of the place I call home. Having grown up in the Golden State, I have often taken for granted the amazing things it has to offer. I realized that the places featured on the ride are in my backyard and that people all over the world dream of one day seeing them with their own eyes. How blessed I am to have experienced this lovely state—and so many others in this divine country.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Love is Everlasting

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929-1968); Minister, Civil Rights Activist

I am not one of those people that despise Cupid’s holiday. I support any and every excuse to confess and express love. However, I do detest the impact its commercialization has on participants and inactive observers alike. As a member of the latter category—and as a woman—I cannot help but believe the newspaper ads, TV and radio commercials, billboards and internet when their messages convey that I should have an enormous bouquet of flowers and box of chocolates awaiting me at my desk. I hardly care for chocolate and flowers—destined to wither—have never appealed to me. Yet at this time of year, I coincidentally find myself craving the robust flavors of melting candies and the aroma of a dozen red roses as I click away at my keyboard.

Do heart shaped boxes and vases of long-stemmed flowers satisfy the universal need for love? Compared to my daily experiences with proven unconditional love, the gesture seems quite empty and senseless.

A valentine is “what you call the boy/girl you’re temporarily ‘dating’ for Valentine's Day,” according to the increasingly popular The Web site, best known for its comical content, provides a sadly accurate depiction of the word. For some reason, society leads us to believe that our worth is displayed through inanimate objects while the commercial world capitalizes on this notion. I don’t aspire for temporary meaningless interactions with others and if Valentine’s Day gifts are representations of that, I am better off without them. I don’t want to be temporarily pacified. Like the rest of mankind, I desire lasting devotion. | Your Billboard Unconditional Love

Monday, February 8, 2010

Music, Love, Life and Loss

I took my place in mom's Buick, plugged my headset into my cell phone and began humming along to Norah Jones as we traveled south on Highway 99. My flickering eyes momentarily grasped a tree whizzing by, then briefly paused before fixing their gaze on another. Similarly, my unleashed thoughts darted between my music class, our trip south and the hundreds of memories I have created along that very highway.

Grandma was in the front seat practicing a “flipping the pancake” motion in the palm of her hands--a technique she couldn't master for her doctor who recently diagnosed her with mild-to-moderate dementia. With enthusiasm like a child and the memory loss of an elder, she quickly answered, “four,” when mom asked her how many quarters were in two dollars. She began to sing an old praise song, "I've got a river of life flowing out of me," struggling to recite the lyrics she once did with ease. The song resonated within me. Ironically, we were to attend her baby brother's memorial service the following day. As if to accompany her, the rain beat a shout chorus of death on the windshield. The wipers forced a retreat with a symphony of life, wiping away the raindrops, resembling tears. “Death—Life—Death—Life.”

Grandma helped raise Uncle Obie after her mother died, when she was six years old. She has recounted, many times, the story of when she took him into Oklahoma City while "Papa" was gone at work during the day. But when I went to visit her last Thanksgiving, she included some details about their “strolls through the city” that she never had before.

During my visit to the City, I was well aware of the renovations and destruction of the buildings in Grandma’s memory. They have been replaced by buildings with newer styles and architectural trends than those of her day. One dilapidated building, though, stood at the edge of the city and displayed the words “Farmer's Market” across the top. I shot a picture, confident that Grandma would likely have recollections of this building above any other. I forgot to take the picture to her, but at the mere mention of it, her eyes lit up, “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed with a grin. She began to tell the story I've learned by heart:

“Papa would leave for work and I would take Obie by the hand, 'C'mon Obie, w'ere gonna go to town,'" the story always began. She explained that she would cross over the North and South Canadian Rivers that ran through downtown; though this time she struggled to recall their names. They frequented this farmers market where trains would unload fresh produce onto the dock. Grandma and Uncle Obie would dig fruit, unfit for merchandise, out of the trash can for their midday meal. For the first time in my life, I became aware of the destitute conditions they faced as kids. “We were poor, poor people. Nobody should have to live that way,” Grandma said with tears filling her eyes at the memory. “But we made it through.” She recalled workers at the dock dropping fruit on purpose “’cause they knew we was orphans—almost.”

I sat directly behind Grandma at the funeral, amazed at all she has endured: an unfortunate childhood, infidelity, failed marriages, domestic abuse, single-motherhood, and the deaths of two husbands, three sisters, many friends and now her little brother. I pondered the amount of tears she must have cried, and how she has sustained. I yearn for the determination she learned as a girl.

My determination thus far has landed me my first interview. Tomorrow, I will meet with members of the USDA regarding an assistantship program. I want to tell myself that I am nervous, but I refuse. When I begin to feel anxious, I remember the opportunity therein—all that I will take from the experience, regardless of its outcome—and my anxiety turns to excitement.

JoAnn sent me a timely letter of recommendation attached to an email with all of her latest and yet another opportunity. A firm in the Midwest has a job opening that she thinks would suit me well. I recently told myself that I will walk through every door that opens as I pursue my dreams. I see this as an open door and am fervently waiting to see what is on the other side.

I have kept myself busy and that makes the wait easy. I have picked up a side job shooting photography for a local performance horse ranch, attend weekly meetings for the California State FFA Conference Committee, and make a point to go to the gym twice a week. The work load for class is minimal. But the requirements are nothing short of enjoyment for me. I spend my mornings getting ready to the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith are my motivation while I clean. Their music serves as a dual purpose. I receive therapy as I prepare for my exams.

Before we left town last Friday, I attended my music class. The instructor covered, in great detail, each of the aforementioned artists, sharing several pieces that tugged at my emotions. He ended our session by playing a Sinatra hit, “My Way.” Inspired, I kept my head down to hide the tears that filled my eyes as I packed my things to leave.

Billie Holiday also impacted me with her song, “Good Morning Heartache.” She captures the universal emotions that are all too often related to the loss of love. I remember something mom told me about my paternal Grandmother, from Missouri, after she died. The last thing Grandma Julie said to my mom on her death bed was, "You'ns love one another." The most important lesson we can learn from any circumstance in this life, is Love.

This concept has been a hard one for me to grasp, but I believe it is one I am learning. I wholeheartedly believe to love is to make a choice. True love is unconditional. It requires forgiveness. While I have been great at loving from a distance, I am in search for love that has no bounds.