a case of social injustice.

Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.

Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.

Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.

In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.

Makayla Rain Sault

Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.

This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.

The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.

Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.

Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.

To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.

Race

A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.

Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.

In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.

There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.

How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?

Knowledge

Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.

We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?

Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.

One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?

Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?

The Right to Choose

But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!

out of body, out of mind.

While waiting for our dinner to be served at the Titlow Tavern and Highland House, my family and I started reading “The Titlow Times” with a supposed 1940 copy of Mr. Titlow’s obituary on it. As I read it, something struck me funny.

Mr. Titlow came by to chat with the judge.

Mr. Titlow said not to forget the reunion next month.

Mr. Titlow fell to the floor, dead.

The body will be returned to the Johnson Chapel…..

Hmm, the body.. Is that not the weirdest thing? How the instant we die we are no longer us? So what makes us us must truly be the spirit and not the body, or whatever makes up our thoughts and decisions.

Kind of like in a past post when I mentioned our bodies rebuilding themselves. How we are still us when our bodies are completely rebuilt. Why is that?

So I am who I am while I am and no more? Scary thought. And now onto dinner.

feeling so small.

I’ve shut out some friends lately who have become damaging. I noticed their absence more than ever today when I sat alone in a frozen cow pasture.

I just got back from two weeks overseas, but I filled my weekend with travel and distraction from what’s been eating me alive. Well, last night I had four hours of sleep before finding myself driving towards Wheeling, WV, Frankie Ballard blasting, then the stillness of a hilltop field as I waited for my subcontractors.

No one. Anywhere. Just the birds and the frost and some lonely cows. I could have been home again.

That freeness reminded me also of the vastness of the world, the humbling sensation of feeling pathetic which travel often instills in me. Like when I hiked the Calanques solo last July, emptied my canteen, and realized how easily I could die in that desert and no one would know. Or this month when I stood on the Bettmer alp and beheld the frozen cruelty of Swiss altitudes and how small I am.

So small, in fact, that what are my woes? What are my complaints? Who are the tiny people who hurt me and bring me down?

All those people I left behind when I drove to the cow pasture, they could stand before me and still be as distant and small. I am small and so are they. And there are so many more of them because this world is full of people who could treat me better or worse in the snap of a finger.

I am small, and not just because my construction clothes in XS short are still too baggy and long on me. I am small because I represent so little of the matter on this planet, so little of matter to a stranger. But I can control how much I matter to someone just as much as I can control how much someone matters to me.

And now I’m in Columbus traveling towards the Indiana state line and I’m still as small, but my accomplishments are big. My strength is bigger. And those mean, selfish pains in my side I left in Cleveland are diminishing with my distance and my apathy.

It is so humbling being small.

Heaven is for Real.

hifr

I remember going to the store to look for one thing and always seeing this bright, yellow, silly-looking book jumping out at me: Heaven in for Real by Todd Burpo.  It was actually on one of my long, hidden lists of books I wanted to read.  I only wanted to read it because I knew of people who were wanting to read it as well, and I wanted to know what everyone was raving (both positively and negatively) about so much.  I finally grabbed one of several copies from the library and found myself done with the thin book in no time.

First, I’ll explain the premise in brief: a dad sits down to write this book with an author after a few years of hearing his small son tell stories about heaven.  Little Colton became incredibly ill and, according to the book, was a miracle of survival.  Over time, he starts revealing more and more about an out-of-body experience, telling bits about heaven that sound like scripture he wouldn’t have been able to know by 3 yet told in the way a child tells things he doesn’t quite understand but has seen (“rainbows” to explain the jewels all over the kingdom, “red markers” on Jesus’s hands which would be his wounds, etc.).

When I first starting reading this book, all I did was scoff at it.  It seemed so stupid to me.  The book was mostly about the dad and his family’s financial struggles and connection with his church.  Every time Colton revealed something he had seen, I just dismissed them with things like “well it took him 2 years to say it” or “his dad is a preacher, he could have heard that from anywhere” or “maybe he just wants attention” or “maybe this dad is a total phony” or “his dad prompted him to answer the correct way” or “how convenient, that he didn’t write down the names of the kids Colton had met in heaven”………..

I’ll admit, I still have my doubts.  But there was one point during the book when some switch just flipped inside of me.  Things started to feel a little weird to me when Colton became very strongly expressive about Jesus and how Jesus just loves everyone.  I kind felt this melting feeling and began to realize I have never doubted Jesus’s existence or that he made sacrifices for what he believed in, I only doubted who is actually is/was.  To hear that someone so tied to worldly martyrdom would still be worshipping the innocence of children (which I value highly, too), it made me feel even better about standing up for goodness.  In that moment, I decided I really love Jesus, whether he is the son of a god or if he’s just a guy.  He is, if nothing else, a perfect role model, isn’t he?  With Colton’s description, I formed a very comforting image of Jesus in my head.

Then Colton starts talking about his dad’s grandpa.  I was a little dumbfounded when Colton seemed to legitimately recall his long-dead ancestor and even more impressed when Colton only recognized pictures of the man when he was in his prime.  He claims that, in Heaven, “no one is old and no one wears glasses” which is a cute kiddie way of saying we are in the best of health.  Yet I was still bouncing it back and forth, the idea that Colton could have overheard his dad talking, that he could have somehow imagined everything,… except for the visual recognition part, if that really happened as it was told.

But it gets weirder.  Colton’s mother had had a miscarriage, yet Colton hadn’t been told.  Sure, he could have overheard about “losing the baby” or something.  But for him to come out and say he met his sister in heaven that he didn’t know he had, and to describe him as looking like his mother unlike the other children who are like their father – those things just seemed to real to me.  I find it hard to believe that a young child could process those kinds of concepts unless he had some incredible dream that streamed those thoughts together with no assistance other than his own intelligence.

Yet the moment that I suddenly found doubt in everything I had come to believe came when Colton began identifying problems with paintings of Jesus.  The day then came when Colton was shown one image, one that I have since looked up and which looks exactly like I had pictured in my mind what Jesus is like since Colton’s description… Colton, for the first time in years, found nothing wrong with the painting and said that it was “right”.  Little did he supposedly know that the painting was made by young Akiane who claims to have had a similar experience, seeing visions of heaven.  I was like, what?

(Enter: Mixed feelings.  Feelings that there can’t not be heaven mixed with feelings that maybe this is all a scam.  But how can such a young girl paint so well?  Were her parents really atheists?  So much confusion…)

Regardless of what all of this really means to me, the book made something very clear to me: You can love Jesus and be religious and be “Christian” without being Christian at all.  That’s not saying that there isn’t one singular answer about the existence of a god and that you shouldn’t accept a god that controls your life and is the reason why life exists, it’s more like I began to see the family-ness of religion.  Too often it gets a bad rap and people who aren’t religious like to pin evilness to those who are because those people stand up for their beliefs.  Reading this book made me realize that religion is not meant to shut people out or hurt them, it’s more like fulfilling a duty to a god and to each other.  It’s using “community” as a vehicle for discovery, self-improvement, reflection – with or without religion being the inspiration.

I suddenly realized that all of those people who ever tried to help me follow my grandma’s footsteps or who feared for a non-Christian in my family or who wanted to “spread the word” were really, the whole time, doing nothing but trying to help.  I’ve seen enough non-Christians react to this help to know that they see it as sabotage, unaccepting, backwards, closed-minded…but, in reality, I think there is some hypocrisy in that interpretation.  This book made me realize that people who whole-heartedly believe in something feel like that they have the key to all the doors you need to open and here they are trying to hand you those keys.  It’s like they know something already that you don’t know but they’re helping lead you to it.  It’s not such an evil thing after all, if done kindly.

So, although I’m still not 100% sure where I stand with the book, I did order a used copy of it to keep as a reminder of how it made me think – and I want now to spend a moment on the mixed reviews I have read regarding Heaven is for Real.  These reviews are seriously split down the middle, between adamant Christians celebrating how god has touched the family and the son and aggressive atheists denouncing Todd Burpo and calling the whole thing a scam.  Well, isn’t it only pleasing when we hear only what we choose to hear?

To the Christians in love with the book, I wonder if they ever raise any doubts?  To the atheists who detest it, do they seriously read it with nothing but cold-hearted conviction?  It would be like a Christian reading an atheist book, insulting its ignorance while the atheists revels in its accuracy.  That’s why I prefer to sift through everything and, regardless of spiritual context, take away some sort of meaning that I can use to better myself.

For all of the people who complained about the Burpo family being like the Flanders family in the Simpsons, well how is that such a bad thing?  I don’t think it is at all.  A little funny and strange that people could be so happy all the time, but I wish the world was full of more Flanders.  There were also complaints about the author being the same author as Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue and how it was like Palin, too bubbly and sugar-coating or ignoring the bad stuff.  Again, what is so wrong with that?  (Although, I have to say I disagree with Burpo when he says, on page 84, that you might as well tell God what you’re thinking since he already knows what you’re thinking [when you’re angry, for example].  Yes, but what about filtering it to show him your control and respect?  That passage stuck out oddly to me…)

Regardless, I think the point of the book is something I can really agree with: that a child is innocent and pure due to “lack of guile” (74).  That’s why Colton’s Jesus loves the children, why Colton is so idolized in the story for his unfiltered thoughts, why this telling of heaven is so powerful – because it is meant to be pure visions retold by a guileless human.  So, if nothing else, that and my new appreciation for the concern of others is what I will take away from this book – and perhaps much more.

Remembrance, Emotion, and Human Follies.

I love referring to emotion as the greatest folly of mankind.  I believe that our intellectual capacity increased as a compensation for our physical ineptitude in the realm of survival, thus we tend to “outsmart” other creatures in order to overcome them by means other than one-on-one combat.  It helped us survive up until this point.  However, that intelligence fosters the ability for us to overanalyze, hesitate, and even remember things not crucial to our survival.  This mental clutter, to me, is a flaw rather than a blessing.  I like to think very pragmatically, so I see emotion as being a hinderance to instinct.  Yet that doesn’t keep me from remembering things.

I look at my cats and I wonder how much they remember, think, and feel.  I believe they do feel emotion because they express love and fear and gratitude.  I’m not so self-centered to think that is some superior quality that only humans have, to feel.  I used to think that cats really didn’t remember too much, like they had some kind of short-term memory.  When I moved to Ohio and their crates opened for the first time in my new apartment, they had total fear in their eyes and suspected everything because it was unfamiliar territory.  I expected the same thing to happen after they got used to my place and we visited Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving.  I was wrong.  I opened the crates and they came pouring out and ran to their favorite baskets or scratching posts as if they’d never left months before. I confirmed that cats do remember over at least a span of several months.  However, also I do know that cats have a lack of attachment, and memory is certainly different from emotion.  I’ve seen cats meow after their lost kittens for a few hours, then move on as if nothing happened.  It’s life.  They don’t intend to have another litter because they probably aren’t conscious of how they end up with one, but, when they do have another, it’s the same instincts that take over.  It’s all about survival.

The only creatures not fixated on survival appear to be the humans so enamored with the idea that Mother Earth is living hell, that God will save them, and that they’re only getting by here to reap everything in heaven when they’re done.  Because humans think too much.  Because animals live in the present.  Animals inherently and naturally understand what it takes to be a successful, integral, non-destructive part of this planet. I try to imagine what my life would be like if I could have more animal-like thinking patterns but still live in this artificial human bubble of protection where all it takes is a turn of a dial to change my room to a comfortable temperature setting.  I can confirm that I’d have less personal growth.  I would be less transfixed on intelligence and self-improvement because those would get me nowhere as an animal and somewhere only as a human functioning in a human-made society.  I would essentially live the life of an innocent child who speaks without thinking, tells no lies, and sees things for exactly what they are, albeit everyday murmurs or something completely jaw-droppingly amazing and inexplicable.  I wouldn’t search for reason; I would accept and move on.  I wouldn’t question why I am here, what that moment means to me, or where I should be going.  I wouldn’t contemplate right or wrong because those things would be null to me, completely moot to survival.  I would just live.  Aren’t we all just meant to live? Instead, I am stuck with a crippling ability to feel.  I overanalyze, I dwell, I suffer.  I cry when I am not physically wounded.  I cry just because I haven’t cried for a long time and I feel like my body needs it.  BUT WHO DOES THAT?  Humans, yes, but only humans?  I think only humans.  My cats don’t cry.  My cats don’t miss their family.  My cats don’t go to funerals.

I think that’s when I started thinking the most about remembrance, when my cousin died this week.  It made me start to recall memories of my family and all of the things I’ve done this year and all of the people I may never see again, whether they’re alive at the time I post this or long gone.  I try to think of the “purpose” to all of these moments and then I try to decipher whether or not such things have “purpose”.  What is “purpose”?  Is it only a spiritual thing?  When my agnostic mom tells me things happen for a “reason”, what is the “reason” of which she speaks?

I don’t have many memories from my family outside of my direct line.  My cousins have never played a large part of my life, but I do keep cousins whose families haven’t had common ties with mine since the 1700s – because we are few, far-flung, and in need of someone who understands us.  Too many family quarrels have limited even my most direct ties so that, essentially, I am left with siblings, parents, and grandparents to go to.  That means I have my grandma and little else.  But that wasn’t always the case.  And so in recalling my cousins who I knew less than I’d wished, I start to think about those moments I don’t have any longer, the moments of remembrance that define me as a human.

I can’t imagine who I would be if I didn’t have either houses of my grandparents’ to visit.

On my one side, I used to have both grandparents – and many of their siblings – but that all drastically changed in the course of just one year.  Without those grandparents, I wouldn’t have my grandma’s perspective on religion, my grandpa’s indifference, the obvious love that glued them together, their passion for the outdoors, or even that community spirit where we need to work together to improve ourselves and search for something more.  I would say those grandparents made quite a life out of what they were given.  The gardens, the knowledge of how to live off the land, long bike rides through thickets of trilliums (my grandma’s favorite flowers), singing hymns, watching the 8’o clock flowers bloom, sipping sweet tea on the gazebo with a mason jar of lightning bugs, a day of fishing, making salad from grandma’s homegrown loveage, swinging on the same tree mom swung in, feeding the birds, writing poetry on the typewriter, making crafts in the cellar with the musty smell of dried flowers and moss, putting giant magnetic spots on grandma’s car (because she was, after all, “Lady Bug”), listening to grandma storytell, PapPap grouching when we tell him to leave the football game in the TV room and go mow the lawn, his “jungle” garden and train set, the smell of their air-conditioning in the summer (they were the only elderly people I knew with air-conditioning), trying on grandma’s square dancing dresses, playing Pass the Pigs on the porch, the smell of grandma’s homemade biscuits in the kitchen, imagining my mom, her brother, and her sister living in the same rooms, falling asleep to the sound of distant cars and their headlights flashing on the ceiling (the only house I knew near a road), running out to meet the mail woman when she came down the lane, realizing I never saw the attic, wandering through the greenhouse and trying to remember the outdoor garage when their horse Bootsy lived there, crates of Coke bottles, Christmas and Easter when it actually had a meaning, skiing in the front lawn, the mantel clock that chimed a hymn, all the things that we could have done and they could have seen if only we had had more time…

On the other side, the farm.  Driving until we were in the middle of nowhere, then taking a turn into nothing and driving some more.  The lane that wasn’t a driveway but supposedly a “road”.  That road splits into four, and I still go there when I visit home.  One lane now jogs over to a temporary home for our friends.  Another shoots off into the forest, having once served the oil companies.  A third lane runs along the bottom of grandma’s garden and splits, one side going to her garage, the other continuing past a series of buildings that make up the abandoned pump station she bought years ago.  That lane continues through a cornfield until it dissipates from lack of use.  The last lane also splits again, heading up towards grandma’s house and then going either left to the dog pens or right towards the brick-layed yard that divides grandma’s two large barns.  I remember years ago when grandma still lived with her half-brother and how he was always mixing concrete in a trough between the barns and feeding his pigs.  My brother and I would play on the play set he concreted into the ground, then jump on some old rocks surrounding the chicken coop, toss rotten apples that fell off grandma’s tree into the well beside the house that had a broken plywood cover, chase each other through the pastures catching butterflies (or lightning bugs, at night), go “bale surfing” (when we would run across the tops of hay bales and try to get them to roll), run across steel beams Uncle Mike had laying around the barns for his new construction, chase kittens and stray cats that grandma feeds daily in her barns, climb in the hay loft to look for kitten holes or make “castles”, poke the corn bin in search of a black widow, stir leaves and sand in a giant rain catcher every time it rained, paint any window we could find with a Rose Art kit, draw grandma’s dogs with chalk on the patio, climb a tree that we didn’t realize our great-grandfather had planted in the sixties for our dad, roll down the hill in the front yard, sneak around the abandoned buildings in search of treasure, follow our parents to the open dump and jump on piles of tires and furniture before we realized open dumps are actually illegal, walking food over to our neighbors a few miles down the lane, hearing Joel come over to crank up the tractor or a bailer, listening to the crickets at night, grandma flipping on the lottery at 7 each night so she can interrupt the Wheel of Fortune and write down numbers in a book she keeps in the candy door, the clicking of the fan, the smell of the old rooms with furniture dad used when he still lived here, photos of a grandpa we never knew, pierogies, nut rolls, chicken noodle soup, coco-wheats, coffee with cream and sugar, corn flakes with sugar on top, motorcycle helmets for our toy bikes that we took racing down the gravel lane, grandma’s stash of Coke in the basement, feeding the dogs “dog lasagna”, cooking in both the upstairs and the downstairs ovens, filling buckets of water during hurricane season and lining the halls with them, boiling water in kettles to wash my hair because the heater was broken, stories of all the cool cars grandma bought while she worked the factories, trips out to Uniontown and the mall, those sweet summer nights with dogs and bubbles and a setting sun,…

I even remember the days when I would go to grandma’s sister’s.  It’s not the way it used to be.  Now her husband has died and her son has moved back in and my brother and I no longer play at the baseball field in the summer.  But we used to.  And we used to stay after games, watch our uncle do crosswords, sneak Skittles from his dispenser, watch TV on my aunt’s 4″x4″ black -and-white kitchen screen, eat Fudgesicles from the basement freezer, throw powder in the fireplace that made the flames blue, do puzzles, ride the stationary bike, lay on the tweed couch, play Don’t Break the Ice on the red carpet, poke at the overweight dog, sit on the porch pouring too much pepper on our fresh and local ears of corn, tying up tomatoes in cages in the yard, trimming the bushes by hand while dressed as the Ingall sisters in sunbonnets and dresses, climbing the backyard tree, watering plants out of the rain barrel, doing something that earned a spot on my aunt’s photograph-littered cabinet, pushing wheelbarrows of mulch, sitting at the bottom of the drive with a cardboard sign that said “vegetables for sale” and selling the vegetables, the feeling of the grass when we rolled down the bank just after it was mowed, the hot asphalt (and the only asphalt I knew), playing computer games for the first time (the only old person I knew with a computer!), the squishy toilet seat, packing my “Going to Grandma’s House” suitcase for my aunt’s house and her forgetting that I wasn’t actually her granddaughter, being called my mom’s name, the neighbor kids’ awesome new shed (I had never seen a store-bought shed before, so I would hang out in it with the neighbors and my brother), sloppy kisses, the smell of my aunt’s onion for breakfast, chocolate Nesquick milk, the Clap-On lamps, the Russian doll set, the impossibly white carpets, getting TY Beanie Babies for Christmas, family visiting from Virginia and North Carolina,…

These memories make me remember the little things so that I always appreciate them.  I don’t want a big, glamorous city life.  A small life where I can remember vegetable sales and the way a couch feels is enough for me.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a summer night of playing catch, jarring lightning bugs, and sipping homemade tea.  That’s a good thing, when those memories make me appreciate silly things.  But it’s also bad.  Because now I’m stuck far away, out-of-state, with people who don’t understand my background and who don’t have the same country experiences that I do.  Baking, cooking, farming, gardening,… those are all huge parts of my family time.  A lot of people here, in this drab city, don’t have those things in their past.  They look forward to a much different kind of thrill, the kinds that you don’t get in the woods, on a hunt, just being outside.  I think about that a lot and I convince myself that I cannot stay here, in this urban Ohio.  Not permanently.  But, in the meantime, it will make me appreciate what I left behind.  The mountains, the freedom.  And as for the people, many of them gone, I can’t forget those times – I doubt I can ever forget them.  As much as I could let it bring me down, maybe I can also let it pick me up.  I can hope for a future that will be filled with those same emotions, with people that I can share those times with in another place and another generation.

Memories can bring us so quickly out of the present.  It makes me wonder, where are those people now?  Those times?  It’s so easy to say those people are in heaven and those times are never forgotten but, in reality, I say neigh.  Those people are gone, there is not heaven – that is wishful thinking.  They are gone, and that realization is what makes us appreciate them the most heart-wrenchingly way possible.  You cannot take the present for granted because it is so fleeting.  To think there is redemption, that is foolish naïveté.  To hope for something better when you’re done here is greed and a wholesome lack of appreciation.  Things are meant to be seen simply and fully, like the animals around us see them.  We’ve been granted with the ability to perceive perhaps even more and so we need to use it.  That perception can help us define ourselves and better ourselves whilst we are so transfixed on how we are perceived and how we are changing our own lives. So not everything on this planet feels as much as we do, but we do feel it and we have to learn to live with it.  In the meantime, we can practice remembering those things that we want to carry with us and use them to spark us for the better.

There’s no use in trying to forget an integral part of your past, but dwelling on moments won’t progress you either.  You have to strike a balance.  For that reason, I’ve decided I need to accept what is here and what is gone, take away from it what I can while I can, and then continue to withhold my traditions because that is, in essence withholding a deep part of myself, the static part I want to keep as I continue to grow.

Broken Plans and Goodbyes.

Yesterday was full of a lot of emotions.  I was supposed to meet up with a group of friends but that almost didn’t happen.  I hate not having solid plans in advance because it can stress me out to spontaneously schedule something or to change my plans of doing nothing.  But it also stresses me out a lot when people bail.  Well, last night, a lot of people bailed.  But then a lot of new faces came too.  I was up for a really long time so I could take my friend to her train out of Ohio.  I was also up for a really long time watching friends possibly flirting with and getting the number from the guy I like, which they know, and whom I invited last minute.  Finally, I learned that a cousin I don’t know as well as I wish I had – and whom I missed seeing at our family reunion this year – unexpectedly passed away while we were out.

Broken plans (accompanied by overanalyzing the situation, per the usual) and goodbyes.  That was my night.  It’s hard to realize the good moments of a night when you keep dwelling on the moments that almost ruin it.

Maybe it’s good that it’s almost the weekend.  I feel like I have a lot of sifting through thoughts to do.