The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

“There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another,

and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.”

Lee van Laer

jkLGW

On Friday, when I learned of the shooting, I wanted to drive to the elementary school in my own town and retrieve my son.  It wasn’t that I was afraid.  We live over a hundred miles away from Newtown, CT.  I just wanted to bring him home. Because I could.

Instead, I let him finish the day and enjoy his long-awaited “Friday Free Time” with classmates. While I endured the wait, my heart broke for the parents who wouldn’t welcome home their children that day. Or any day after.

When my own son finally walked through the door, I exhaled, and drew him onto my lap to explain why I had been crying. His tears silently joined mine, and then so did his anger.

When we had exhausted both, I suggested we light a candle…
but instead of one, Aidan dashed around the house to collect a candle for each child, for each life lost, including the prinicipal. He loves his principal too.

Even as far as Pakistan, fellow school boys were lighting candles for the lives stolen.

The President reflected on this global mourning during the Prayer Service in Newtown last night:

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart.

He went on to say that our first job is caring for our children:

If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

But we aren’t getting it right. And to be honest, I’m not sure we can, especially when I witness us reach back for the comfort of Mr. Roger’s words or when we over-reach toward heroes.

It’s time to sober up with the facts–not only about guns: 94,871 people shot in this country this year, but also about ourselves: We believe in killing. It’s part of our national fabric. We celebrate it in history, in video games, in theaters, and in warfare around the world.

And yet, I don’t believe the situation is hopeless; because I don’t think that we have the right to collapse into such self-pity after first-graders were murdered during morning circle.

Yes, it is complex. It is terribly complex. But one component is simple. Let’s start there.

Compare the U.S. to Japan, where almost no one owns a gun:

In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides while Japan had only 11–about half of how many children lost their lives in a few moments in Newtown. Incidentally, 587 Americans (including children) were killed in 2008 just by guns that had discharged accidentally. (Read more.)

We don’t even need to go anywhere near the extreme of Japan when it comes to fireaarms. We can look at Australia, where they only banned assault weapons.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings – but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect.  (Read more.)

I know that some in our country are too afraid to give up their rights to weaponry. They cite a history of domination by dictators in the face of unarmed civilians around the world. I feel their fear. I understand it. They want to protect us.

What they won’t face is that our greatest enemy is–within. We are actually killing each other (and ourselves) with the weapons we claim as our protection:

  • A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home.
  • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.
  • Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest household gun ownership.(Read more.)
  • More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (Read more.)

So the real question is this: Will we stop pretending that this is about our right to protection?

Or are we prepared, as President Obama asked, to say this:

Such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom.

“NO!” my 12-year-old cries out to his President.

Aidan isn’t interested in “freedom” that takes his life at the school and at the mall and in the movie theater and at the mosque; nor does he want the the honor of meeting the President of the United States in response to the random death of his little sister or mother or grandmother or teacher.

This freedom for violence disgraces us as a Nation:

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

Isn’t it ironic how many uniformed men, with impressive weaponry, appeared at Sandy Hook–too late.  How devastating to be prepared–for nothing. My heart breaks for them and for the fathers who weren’t there to protect their daughters. For the mothers who couldn’t comfort their sons as they lay bleeding. For the first-responders who found almost no one there to rescue.

Though dozens of ambulances raced toward the school, only a few departed with such purpose. The hospital was readily prepared to care for massive casualties, but only two adults and two children arrived–the latter pronounced dead inside their doors. There was nothing for the highly trained doctors and nurses to do.

Contrast that with what happened in Central China on the same day: 22 school children were attacked by a man wielding a knife. Some of the injuries were serious. The act of violence despicable. The terror horrifying.

While this readily points to the truth that madmen can always challenge our resources, this doesn’t mean that we can’t limit theirs.  The bodies of those 22 children are being cared for–in a hospital–instead of deposited–in the ground.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

“You GO!” my son hollers to his President.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Can we admit to ourselves that this kind of violence has become routine?

By the end of this day, two-hundred and forty-four people will have been shot; an average so common place as not to receive national attention.

The massacre in Newtown simply brings to light what happens in the land of the “free” every day:

There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

“Yes…” my son whispers back, as he embraces me.

(Kelly Salasin, December 17, 2012)

More on guns and the USA:

Batman & Bullets

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

Batman & Bullets

“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

—Bertolt Brecht

Batman’s Mirror

I’m only mildly anxious that my teenager is heading out to The Dark Knight. Colorado is 2,000 miles away and security is heightened–everywhere. Even as far away as Morocco, Facebook friends are talking about it.

Some say they’ll keep their kids home from the theaters. Others say that gun laws must be tightened. Warner Brothers cancelled their red carpet Paris Premier.

I get to wondering about Christian Bale. How do all those working on the film feel? Their efforts marred; their celebration stolen.

My heart goes out to the community of Aurora (a place I lived as a kid) and to all those whose loved ones were hurt, terrorized or stolen.

The newspaper explains that scenes of public mayhem are the hallmark of Superhero movies which begs the classic question: Does art reflect reality or does reality reflect art?

Ever since the first Colorado massacre in 1999, I began to examine violence in my own life. I gave up shoot’em up films, and redirected violent play among my boys–explaining that we didn’t have toy guns, not because they were “bad,” but because make-believe had become real.

Tragedies such as these are complex beasts. There are gun issues and mental health issues and all kinds of responsibilities to explore. The Director of “The Dark Knight Rises” expressed sorrow on behalf of the cast and crew for such a “senseless tragedy.”

But is it truly senseless? Aren’t we beginning to “sense” a larger pattern? Or will we continue to call these acts of violence random?

Kelly Salasin, July 2012

For more writing on guns, violence & culture, click the links below:

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

My Favorite Republicans

(On election day, I can’t help but think back to our 2008 canvassing in neighboring New Hampshire.)

A tall vibrant man in a flannel shirt held back his dog, but only slightly, asking if we were Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons. When the four of us answered “No”(on both accounts) from behind car doors, he told us we could approach his house, a neatly built log cabin with a long view of distant Vermont hillsides.

He softened a bit at the sight of Lloyd, 13, and Aidan, 8, dressed in Obama “Change” t-shirts (the ones they bought in Unity) before telling us that someone had already been to his house–twice that week–from the campaign.

We apologized for the intrusion, explaining that we weren’t meant to be duplicating efforts, but he countered that the others–a young couple and two college students–had said the exact same thing.

More apologies followed after which he stated, “I’m a lifetime Republican–40 years,” and then he added: “Until this election.”

There was a collective exhale.

Thirteen-year old Lloyd jumped into action with his clipboard, asking the man if he’d be voting for the NH democratic candidate for Senate. The reply? A firm, “NO.”

When he told us that he was voting for Obama however, we all smiled. He shared how nervous he was about the election and asked us if we thought Obama stood a chance.

“Watching the television is making me crazy,” he said.

We commiserated with him. We didn’t have tv.

“You could call your friends or email them,” we suggested, “Especially if they live in Pennsylvania or Ohio.”

“That won’t help,” he explained. “They’re all like I used to be… making six figures. They just don’t get it.”

8 year old Aidan offered him some campaign materials which he politely refused before we said our goodbyes (on “almost” friendly terms.) Just as he stepped back onto his porch, he turned and asked if anyone needed to use the bathroom.

There was a pause, and then a “YES, Please!” from me; my bladder had been full since the first road of houses where we began this afternoon.

He then invited everyone in to see the house which delighted my husband who had once dreamed of building his own log cabin.

The man’s unsuspecting wife was in the kitchen emptying groceries when four strangers poured in through her mudroom. “Just some Jehovah Witnesses,” I joked before slipping into her bathroom.  I let her husband explain.

She winced when he offered to take Casey and the boys upstairs. “The bed isn’t made,” she said, but he headed onward, engaged in a conversation with my husband who had appreciatively noticed his collection of antique pistols.

By the time I was out of the bathroom, she was giving the kids handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and he was pouring everyone lemon-aid.

“It’s so great you’re doing this, especially with your boys,” his wife offered, almost guiltily. “My own sons are grown, but I called them and reminded them to vote. My oldest works on Wall Street,” she added.

We continued to chat, while her husband invited Casey downstairs to see his WWII machine gun. The boys quickly followed behind.

“His brother gave them to him,” she explained, as we went on to discuss how far we both had to travel for groceries and how much we liked the Obama website.

When the men returned, we said our goodbyes, refusing even kinder offers for lunch, and they walked us to the door and watched and waved as we pulled down the road. “Good luck,” they called after us.

The next stop was a horse farm across the road. A man in coveralls grumbled that it was his cidering day so we offered to make it quick as we watched him drop apples into the grinder. He politely but firmly refused and his young daughter stared as we drove away up the dirt road.

The split level a quarter mile down was the next house on our list and we were almost turned away there too. It was a nice day for early November and as we pulled into the driveway, the owner was strapping a kayak to his Subaru. We hadn’t stepped out of the car before he complained that he had already been visited that week, twice. We apologized once again and explained that we didn’t know why they’d send us to the same places. This was our first time canvassing.

Checking the democratic polling sheet, we asked if we had his name correct, only to discover that it was his son’s name that was listed. “This household was divided up until a month ago,” he explained with angst. We’ve always voted Republican. Then he added, “My son’s out at sea.”

“Oh,” we replied cautiously, figuring we were heading into tender territory with a son in the military.

“Not in the service,” he said, reading our faces. “He’s out on a ‘Semester at Sea.'” He pointed to his baseball cap that said, “SEA,” and then told us all about his son and how he had gotten interested in Marine Biology after a childhood visit to Sea World and how he had combined Psychology with that major to work with dolphins. My other son’s in college too. “We’re all voting for Obama now,” he told us.

“What changed?” we asked.

He spoke of McCain’s age and Obama’s ability to relate to the people, of Sarah Palin and of the economy. “My friends and I all owned businesses during the Clinton years and we did really well for ourselves, really well. None of us are doing that well now.”

We shared that we had heard a similar shift from a neighbor up the road.

“Who, Stan?” he asked, taken aback. We didn’t recall the name and didn’t feel right saying. “The guy with the shooting range?” he pressed. My sons’ heads bobbed before we could stop them.

“My own boys used to go up to his place and shoot,” he said, shaking his head. “Wow, Stan’s voting for Obama, who would have thought!”

He turned back toward his car with a sheepish grin, before saying, “You know, one of the last things that kept me from voting Democratic was that I didn’t want to loose my guns.”

“Did something change?” we said.

“Oh, yeah,” he answered. “Biden said that no one is taking away his Glocks. ”

He went on to reiterate that he wanted a President that could relate to the world and to our day to day lives. He said that Americans needed a wake up call. He thought we all needed to reconnect with what makes this country great.

Guns aside, we all agreed.

Kelly Salasin, November 2008

Late Summer Collection

One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer.  I hope you  find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome.  Read a post, share a comment/connection!

Pissarro, visipix.com

Summer’s Harvest

~This Vermont Life: The Dog Days of Summer and Until I Moved to Vermont, a tribute to the summer sun in the Green Mountains.

~The Motherless Muse: Days Like ThisThe Writing Cellar and Namesake.

~The Marriage Journey: posts from My Sister’s Wedding.

~The Empty(ing) Nest Diary: The Running Away Thing, Last Days of Summer Panic, and The Wisdom of Fatigue.

~ Two Owls Calling (and the Life Purpose Path):  Thought Anthropologist, Dis-Orient Me, Life’s Debris, The Stream of Love, The Path of Women, The Yoga of Teeth, The Party Gene and Weeding My Life.

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2010

In Unity with Inspiration

(this piece was written following the appearance of candidates Obama and Clinton in Unity, NH)

Democratic Candidates Obama and Clinton, Unity, NH 2008 (LLoyd Salasin-Deane)

~for the children

4:30 am
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Marlboro, Vermont

Dear Community of ALL,

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a political rally in Unity, New Hampshire. I use the word “privilege” because I could afford the time, the energy and the gas it took to devote an entire day to this journey. I also had the privilege of the company of my two young sons, Aidan 7 and Lloyd 12. It was their enthusiasm that fueled this endeavor for me.

Despite being born in the sixties, I grew up with little inclination to participate politically. As a young adult I found politics disconnecting and depressing. When I moved to Vermont at age 30 that changed.

Suddenly things were on a small enough scale that I could manage the attention and faith it took to begin to get involved. Vermont’s Town Meetings were my springboard. Political humans like Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords were accessible and worthy.

I still wasn’t hardwired to fully engage in the political process, but I began to hope for my own sons. They attended town meetings with me, ate a chicken supper beside Bernie, and participated in walking with his senate campaign down Main Street in the 4th of July parade.

Lloyd and Aidan showed more interest in politics in their short lives than I had in my entire life. In fact, much of their sand play with peers at South Pond was politically based.

When I went to tell my boys that Obama and Hillary were going to be in New Hampshire–less than 2 hours away–they gave an enthusiastic, “Let’s go!” That was all I needed to take the next step to get the tickets and pack us up for my first national campaign event.

I don’t have the poltical savvy to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been inspired by Senators Clinton and Obama, and I never will. My mind just doesn’t operate that way. I am much more interested in the internal politics of our own hearts and spirits than I am driven by what happens on the outside with others.

That said, I do want to be part of the change. Like Gandhi, I want to “be the change” that I want to see in the world… rather than just complain that it doesn’t exist. And though I have never been politically minded, I have always had a passion for history, and a deep fascination and regard for the spirit of this country–for our Declaration of Independence and the freedom we created in it.

9/11 was for me and for many others the spiritual “bottom” of my political experience. It left me wanting to disown this country once and for all; and it also caused me to realize just how much I loved this big bully. I grew up, politically speaking, around 9/11. I began to realize that my participation or lack of it played a part; and that for whatever reason, I was tied up in this country–in its identity and actions.

On the drive to Charlemont, New Hampshire where we boarded shuttles to Unity, I explained to my older son–and to myself–what a “leader” was all about.

“It’s like one of those amazing teachers you hear about,” I said, “like that guy in Los Angles that took that poorly performing class and made them math wizards. Those kids were disconnected, self-absorbed, criminal, disenfranchised–and rightly so…

“And it wasn’t as much about the teacher’s greatness–but that inside each of those students was greatness and he helped them find it,” I continued. “He lead them to it. He created a place of belonging for them. He believed in them. He inspired them to their own strengths and greatness. That’s what this country needs in a President.”

I looked over to see that my son’s nose was back in his graphic novel. But once at the rally, under the bright afternoon sun, surrounded by trees and fields, Hillary and Obama echoed my voice–albeit in their political speech writing ways.

She said that it wasn’t about one person, that it was about the change we wanted to create.

He said that his hope lies in the faces of all of us, in our basic decency and caring.

Balance (Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

For me–seeing them together like that–two leaders–male and female–black and white–I felt complete.

I don’t know if these two beautiful people have the answers, but I do know that the answers lie inside of us–inside each of us. I discover that every time I work with someone in my role as a life coach.

My hope, and the reason why I bought my very first bumper sticker (that says “HOPE”), is that these two people can lead us to our own inspiration to change.

It pains me and I know it pains each of you that we live in a world where children are hungry. It brings me to tears that I don’t know what to do about it. It anguishes me that great suffering is happening on “my watch” while I eat my organic cereal and type on my laptop to you.

“NOT ON MY WATCH!” I want to scream, but I don’t know where to direct my voice and my energy and my passion.

So many of you have that clarity. I see you act on behalf of others in so many ways.

Social and political activism have never had the clarity for me. But I am a writer and a thinker and connector; and that is what I have to offer to make the change.

We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to be good at everything…”You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ” (Thank you dear Mary Oliver for planting that seed.)

That’s why there’s so many of us, to make it easier. Our talents and interests and gifts blend like circles on a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Let’s get stitching so that we can cover this world with a blanket of warmth, and food, and protection, and safety.

I know I am idealistic. That’s how I came. And I know that many of you know much more about the process because you’ve actually been participating for a lot longer.But maybe there’s a place for me to inspire you with my innocence and heartfelt conviction.

I know our leaders are imperfect, but is that where we want to focus our attention? How would this country and its ideals ever been born if we had focused on the imperfections of our forefathers!?

And I know this country isn’t perfect either. There’s history books filled with our sins against humanity.

But there’s also a light, and that’s what I want to follow and help grow.

I see the light of hope in my children. They each wanted an Obama t-shirt that showed his face in red, white and blue with the word, CHANGE, below it. My oldest wondered why I didn’t buy the “CHANGE” bumper sticker. I explained that I couldn’t put one man’s face on my car–but I could put the word “HOPE” out about him–appreciating that my sons’ would be the change.

That morning, ahead of the rally, the three of us stood under a hot sun in a parking lot at a race track in New Hampshire–waiting for the school bus that would take us to UNITY–to the playground of an elementary school–where the groundskeeper in suspenders was crowned “honorary mayor” for the day, and introduced not one–but two candidates, that I had respected for President.

Unity’s “Honorary” Mayor (the school custodian) introducing Obama (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

Behind us in that shuttle line of hundreds, stood two elderly women, who looking around them at all the young people, said with pride, “This is our future.”

On the return bus ride to the racetrack after the rally, I looked at all the folks around me– in front of me and behind me–and I thought, This is my country:  the elderly man with Parkinson’s beside me, the college students laughing in front of me, and the family, behind me.”

Obama/Clinton Rally Attendees on the bus ride back to their cars. (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I’m not writing to tell you to believe in Obama or even that I do; but I believe in us, and I know that we need a leader to bring the change that we need in this world—not cheaper groceries or gas prices for us–but provision for all and stewardship for the blessing of this earth.

At the end of this long day, the boys and I raced home to the pond. I wished Hillary and Barack could join us. I’m sure they needed the swim more than we did, and I would have liked to see them out of their suits enjoying the gift of Vermont.

But alas, they have a different dharma…

No doubt, they’re off on a plane to do more of what they did in Unity–more speeches, more politics. God bless them.

Obama and Clinton leaving the podium; Unity, NH 2008 (photo: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I find myself praying for Obama and his family, that they would be safe from the dangers of this world so that our country might be led by a man who I saw to be “good.”

Obama stood, not more than 6 heads in front of me, and I took him in–not his words or his plan–but his spirit. That’s what I went to see.

Barack Obama~Unity, NH 2008 ~photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I had to wake my boys before 7 in order for us to be there on that field when Clinton and Obama stepped out of the newspapers and into the world. Now that it’s summer, Aidan is the hardest to wake. But when I said to his shut eyes, “Aidan, today is the day we go see Hillary and Obama,” he jumped out of bed like it was Christmas.

By noon, under that hot sun, in a crowd of thousands, he broke down in tears, begging to find any way to get back home. Lloyd and I created a little world under a beach towel for him and he found his strength to go on.

Though they were only 15 feet ahead of us, Aidan could only see Hillary and Obama when I lifted him up on my shoulders. He spent most of the time on the ground, half the size of those around him–but he said that he was glad he came.

And when we got to the pond, he told his cousin all about the rally with pride.  And to my surprise, my older son’s classmates were enthralled that we had gone to the rally and ran to find him to see these photos he took and to hear about it.

My popularity index as a parent immediately rose, having plummeted the week before when I was not among those many Marlborians who made sure their kids found a television to watch the night-long Celtics win. “You put us all to shame” said a father about the journey I made with my boys.

“They were our community representatives,” a mother clarified.

I have great hope that this beautiful man of color and character might be our country’s representative.

My husband tells me that both Michelle and Barack Obama made the maximum individual contribution to Hillary’s indebted campaign the other night, and that Barack has asked his supporters to donate what they can to offset her great debt.

Today, I’ll make my first ever direct financial contribution to a political campaign at a national level to both Hillary and Obama. I like the feeling of supporting his campaign and supporting Hillary with hers that has ended. I like the spirit of it.

That’s what drew me to Unity, New Hampshire yesterday morning–the spirit of it.

And did you know that the school groundskeeper that introduced Hillary and Barack, was a Republican?

United we stand, divided we fall. My greatest hope is that we can co-create a world and a country that we are proud to call our home–and that when our time comes to leave this place, we can say that on “our watch” unity and beauty prevailed.

Do I believe a political leader can provide the change we want to see in the world?

No.

But I hold great hope that we can co-create it with his leadership.

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

-May Sarton

The Gift of Christmas “Presence”

If we are forever yearning for ‘more,’ we are forever discounting what is offered.” Julia Cameron

You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.” – Stewart Emery

Kelly Salasin

I remember the morning that the Christmas “train” took my son on the journey from innate graciousness to maniacal greed to absolute dissolution.  He was three.

Since becoming parents, neither my husband or I got much sleep on Christmas Eve with the anticipation of our son’s joy.   That first Christmas, he was only a few months old… so it wasn’t exactly what we’d been waiting for.

His second Christmas was much more satisfying–though fleeting.  After unwrapping a handful of presents, our one year old simply refused to look at any more.  He shook his head “No,” to each pushy request from his parents, finally exiting the room to make his point– teaching us about “too much.”

By his third Christmas, however, our two-year old had fully joined the culture of gluttony. He never left the room once until everything was opened, upon which he said very matter of factly, “I want Santa bring more.”

The turning point, from graciousness to greed, came at our son’s fourth Christmas. Like a train wreck, we watched  it unfold right before our eyes.  The morning started out sweet enough, as he played with each “present.”   But soon his pace began to quicken, and he began ripping apart paper without even looking to see from whom the gift came; and then he began opening one after another without taking notice of what was he received.

Ironically,  we had once begged our son to keep opening gifts, while now, we scolded  him to slow down.  But he couldn’t stop himself.  He just kept plowing through the present(s) until there was nothing left– at which point he collapsed into tears, completely unsatisfied with his bounty of gifts.

We” had created a monster!

After that year, we encouraged the relatives to send less– and since that was mostly a hopeless cause– we bought much less ourselves, even re-gifting things from year to year.  That same Santa Moose showed up each Christmas along with holiday themed books, films and toys.

By 5 years old, our son had so many things that there was no need to buy more once our second son came along.   So we kept re-gifting–wrapping up forgotten treasures each Christmas.  Eventually, what was found under the tree was much more of what was needed~ new bed pillows, a ski coat, a sled to replace the broken one. The few toys that our sons did receive were treasured more and more.  Last year’s gift of digital cameras were played with for days on end.

Each year, we reigned Christmas in just a bit more–even cutting back on feasting and celebrations to create the space needed for the feelings we treasured most~ magic and grace and generosity.

But it’s still a slippery slope–for me.  I begin each holiday gently just as my son began that Christmas morning that transformed him from gracious to greedy.  As the weeks progress, I begin to need “more” and anxiety grips my stomach with both desire and fear.  Will I have enough?  How will I pay for it?  Am I missing out on the experience of abundance by not buying?

Soon the addictive aspect of consumerism kicks in and I reach the maniacal turning point of just wanting to shop and spend, spend, spend.

That’s where I found myself last night— coming out of the beverage store with a costly bottle of Baileys Irish Creme. I don’t even drink it anymore, but it was the holidays, and I used to love it, and everyone was buying fancy liquors, and it was the season, and I wanted to be fully part of it–even though I had just bemoaned that that I had just spent most of my budget for the month on fancy foods for the holidays.

I joined the throngs of shoppers at department stores in last minute shopping and filled my cart with things I wanted to give and to get.  I was rapturous with desire, craving the feeling of plenty!

And then I remembered my son.  I recalled how his rapture turned to dissillusionment –and I felt my own within it.  I restrained myself from a big covetous purchase and I returned another.

I began to soften.

I let the need for “more” go… and today, I sink into a slow pace with Christmas carols and cookies and writing about the gift of “presence” that needs—plenty of empty space— to be received.

~

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”~Wayne Dyer

Cat Scan 3:00 a.m.

Upon rising after three hours of sleep to sun streaming through crystallized trees in a tinsel-like forest, the late night trip to the Emergency Room seemed like a dream.

Morning After, Kelly Salasin, Vermont

When our eight-year old woke just after midnight with a throbbing headache followed by vomiting, we were scared. He had fallen at the ice skating rink that afternoon and whacked his head hard. I checked his pupils, tracked his eyes and asked him questions.  It was probably just the stomach flu–which didn’t seem fair either.

Handing him over to his father, I grabbed a flashlight in search of the computer to see what the Internet could tell us. As a last resort, I would wake our family doctor.  The phone line was dead… again.

If it hadn’t already, this three-day weekend now seemed solidly stacked against us.  We’d been without power since Thursday and our water supplies for washing and flushing were spent. Through each moonlit night, I imagined the welcome sound of appliances clicking back on.  My husband and I were “ready” the moment it happened. We’d run to flush the toilets, start the dishwasher–at least the rinse cycle– and refill the water jug and tub.  With trees still falling, we couldn’t count on the power to last.

But this was all a fantasy.  No electric truck had been to our road or any of the back roads of southern Vermont where the storm hit the hardest.  “It would be a week,” they told us. But they couldn’t mean that.

When I returned to our bed, I took my son from my husband to try and make some sense out of this predicament.  Watching him hold his head and writhe, made it hard to think. “Maybe you should run next door to the neighbor’s for their cell phone,” I suggested so that we could call a doctor.

“We won’t get reception,” my husband countered.

“What about driving into town for a phone?” I retorted.

Countered.

Reluctantly, I resigned myself to waking the rest of the family to make the twenty-minute drive to the nearest hospital.  It was 1:11 am when we pulled off of our road and onto Route 9–dodging trees and power lines along the way.   My husband sat in the back holding a trashcan under Aidan’s mouth while we marveled at the palace of ice that surrounded us.

The admitting nurse at in the ER was from our town and we commiserated about the condition of our roads while the boys watched ice hockey in the empty waiting room.  A half an hour later, a doctor examined Aidan before calling in the technician from her own deep sleep and tree strewn road.

At 2:30 am, she asked me to lie down on the special “bed” first– in front of a space ship like donut hole that would scan my son’s brain.

“I’ll use the lowest dose I can,” she assured me, giving me something new to worry about. Together we draped Aidan with heavy “pink frosting”– his favorite– to protect his body from the radiation– and then we left him alone with the machine as it carried his tiny, trusting body into itself and hummed, enjoying this late night snack.  Aidan looked delicately angelic and I forced myself to smile at him through the glass window.

“Stay perfectly still, Aidan,” the technician reminded him.  I watched her for any signs of concern or relief as she monitored the images on the screens. “Any history of cancer or brain surgery?” she asked, “No,” I gulped, as I tried to discern what the cloudy shapes appearing on the computer might mean.

In an attempt to shift this experience from medical to educational, I casually asked if we could get a picture of his brain for school the next day.  Aidan joined us in the computer room and we watched as it sent the scans to a radiologist in some country where there was one awake.  “See the two sides of the brain, Mom?” Aidan pointed.  “I learned about that at school.”

Before wheeling him back to the ER, the technician offered Aidan a stuffed teddy bear and some snowman stickers which made him very happy and gave me an eerie “children’s hospital” feeling.  “I’ll stay until the results come back,” she offered kindly, alerting me even more.

We rejoined my husband and teenage son in the curtained examining space–and settled in to wait.  To pass the time, I suggested we resume the family game of “Christmas Carol Charades” that we had invented on our first night without power.

During these evenings without power, we found ourselves turning to bygone pastimes like this, from music making to singing to simple games.   Once the sun would set, both boys would gravitate to the candle-lit warmth of our bed where I would read the next chapter of Three Cups of Tea before sending them off to their own rooms.

The doctor reappeared just after my husband guessed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  With a smile, he pronounced that Aidan’s scan looked, “Great!”

With a collective exhale, we left the hospital a little after three, but not before we all enjoyed the convenience of a restroom with running water and flushing toilets.  To savor the good news, we took the long way home through the hushed town of Brattleboro, taking in the lights before we arrived at our road where the only glimmer was that of the bright full moon reflecting in each prism of ice.  My husband reloaded the woodstove and we were all tucked back in bed before four.

Upon waking with the sun a few hours later to the sound of icicles crashing to the frosted forest floor, Aidan immediately launched into recollections of the evening.  He pulled out his snowman stickers and hugged his new, snow-colored bear.  ” I like going to the hospital!” he said, a little too enthusiastically.

“You know you can get a job there someday,” I offered in the hope of channeling his pleasure.

My husband headed out to the pond for the morning ritual of chopping through the ice tofill a trashcan with water so that we could flush our toilets another day.

Rather than feeling victimized by the sleepless night and the demands of a fourth day without power, I began to see myself as a heroine on a Winter Storm version of “Survivor”.

It was a Sunday, so I ordered us all into “house blessing” mode despite the chaos that surrounded us.   Lloyd swept the floors and Aidan emptied the trashcans.  I cleaned the toilets and the sinks with the new waters.  Afterward, we all gathered to decorate the tree as Christmas carols finished off the last precious minutes of the computer’s battery.

(2008)

Related posts:

Survivor Sours

And Then There Was Light

Sarah Palin & Me, Part II~ Choice & Healthcare Reform

Earlier this fall I was surprised to find that one of my readers was referred by the Sarah Palin Information blog.  But then I discovered that this link of her conservative voice to my own (progressive one) was a simple slip of the Net–joining two voices on health care–albeit opposing ones.

This time, however, it is me who is initiating the link,

and here’s why…

I just found out, on the family grapevine, that my grandmother had two illegal abortions in the late 1940s (after giving birth to four children.)

My uncle (a fundamentalist pastor), was her fifth child (following the abortions) and it was he who shared this information with me on Facebook after a flurry of posts in which I attempted to solicit an understanding of the infuriating connection between healthcare reform and abortion.

This shocking news about my grandmother, followed my reading of:  Sarah Palin: Abortion Is So Bogus.

According to Salon,”The former Alaska governor gave a speech to Wisconsin Right to Life this past Friday, where she relied on words like “bogus” and “awesome” to make points about healthcare reform and abortion.”

Said the ex-governor, “It is so bogus that society is sending a message right now and has been for probably the last 40 years that a woman isn’t strong enough or smart enough to be able to pursue an education, a career and her rights and still let her baby live.”

It must have been 60 years ago that my grandmother had her illegal abortions (which she and many other entitled women referred to as their “miscarriages.”)

The first time she found herself pregnant was at the age 19, after which she dropped out of college to become a mother to my father (and a wife to my grandfather,)  giving birth to three more children before she choosing abortion as a means of birth control.

My grandmother never returned to her education or embarked on a career, although she had always dreamed of serving at the United Nations as a translator.  All those hours spent working with me on my French at her kitchen table now make even more sense.

I wish I had known about her abortions. It would have softened the harsh solitude of my own choice, 40 years later. Discovering this link now, opens a million doors in my understanding of women, and I feel a renewed connection to those who have come before me, and to the challenge of our choices-or lack of them.

My own mother was sent to live in a home for unwed mothers when she became pregnant with my older sister who she gave up for adoption.  The following year she met my father and became pregnant with me, resulting in a sudden marriage.

Raised Catholic, my mother gave birth to 9 children and never chose abortion, though she accepted my choice with understanding, and often said, “If you ever get pregnant, don’t make a second mistake. You don’t have to get married.”

Both she and my grandmother became alcoholics who never fully claimed their education, their careers or their rights despite their shared and differing choices.

My uncle (who is a fundamentalist preacher) explains to me on Facebook that he was my grandmother’s 7th pregnancy–the one she didn’t tell my physician grandfather about until the second trimester– when he wouldn’t have allowed her to have another abortion.

This implies that perhaps she hadn’t wanted any of the abortions. But whether she did or not, I have compassion for the choices she faced.

I tell my uncle that I’m happy he wasn’t aborted, that I love all babies–and I do.  I love the ones who have come into my life and the ones who haven’t– including the grievous loss of two early pregnancies in my  thirties before I became a mother of two wonderful sons.

This contradiction of love doesn’t take away my understanding of a women’s desire to choose when she brings another child into the world. And it isn’t always as simple as a decision about education, or career or even rights, as Sarah Palin exclaims.

Whether Christian, Jew or Muslim, Pro-Life or Choice, Conservative or Progressive, a mother of many or of none, the choices that we face as women are unique to us.  And when we sit across from each other at the kitchen table, our separations fall away, and what remains is what is also unique to women–compassion, understanding and acceptance.

In this spirit of understanding, I have compassion for how it is that Sarah Palin chooses her career over caring for her children full time, how she leaves her tiny baby in another’s arms while she runs a state, or a national campaign, or embarks on “rogue” book tour–While I, on the other hand have given up everything to be at home in these vital years when my children need me most–particularly my teenage son, who will soon be making decisions about his own sexuality, as Sarah Palin’s daughter did.

What I don’t understand is how Sarah Palin, the politician, works to protect unborn children, while preventing legislation that would support them once they are born.

What I can’t accept is that she and others take this so-called “moral” stance for the sanctity of life without wanting to provide for it and without taking responsibility for many of the harsh choices that many women face.

Framing the provision of health care reform around the issue of abortion is the most immoral act of all.

If Sarah Palin is “America’s Conservative Conscience,” as the t-shirts worn at the Right to Life Rally proclaimed, it’s time we go shopping for a new look!

Kelly Salasin

The 48 Hour Christmas

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played–for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2006

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