My Dream is Dead

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All over the world, school children and staff members live under threat. Photographer unknown.

Today’s topic is horrific.

My opinion on it, however, is extremely generic.

I want to talk about it anyway.

Most of us have heard of the Taliban’s recent attack on the military school in Pakistan that left a reported 145 killed and over 100 injured. That 145 breaks down to approximately 10 staff members, 3 soldiers, and the remaining, children.

We have witnessed the Taliban commit shock-inducing crimes before, but that doesn’t lessen the sting of any new tragedy.

Here’s what I have to say.

Anyone who did not know God before staring into the barrel of a gun would never have recognized Him, given that example. Anyone who knows God is aware of the delicacy of which we should make assumptions and declarations pertaining to God’s Will.

Both groups of people are in agreement that God, whatever He make look like to each individual, does not condone murder. His love does not victimize.

There are families living with weary terror underneath bloody palms. They are experiencing nightmarish interruptions that are corrupt and undeserved. Their children’s monsters exist, and the imminence of this reality cannot be diminished by hopeful placations. A promise is not valid if uncertain.

As clenched and vengeful as I feel with these images laying playground in my mind, I force myself to extend reluctant forgiveness. I have to remember that people, as sick or evil or misinformed as they may be, were children once, too. They were raised with various ideals. They were threatened, they were happy, they are people who get hungry and cold, just like me. Whether due to mental disarray, dark possession, self-preservation or unprincipled influence, I have to remember that their crusades are, in their minds, just. They truly believe that what they are doing is right. And though my fingers feel trigger-happy, my heart hateful, I have no choice but to try my best to give them the mercy they never gave those children.

I have my own Jihad. It just looks very, very different than lanky children bleeding out on the floor.

“My dream was my son,” one of the deceased children’s father is reported to have grieved. “My son was my dream. Now my dream is dead.”

His words give me shivers. I may be physically distant from the situation, but my heart and mind reside next to those who have lost. 145 people dead. Over one hundred others sitting in hospitals, replaying the visuals of their friends dying.

Safety has been eradicated from yet another corner of the world, faith has been put to unnecessary tests, and knees find cemetery mounds.

One way or another, this needs to end.

I thank sound militaries, governments, activists,and supporters that dedicate their lives to causes like these so that others may thrive. So that children can learn freely, and live. So that parents don’t have to bury their dreams.

Guarantees

“I may never find the meaning of life

But for this moment, I am fine.”

-Rob Thomas

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photographer unknown

It have begun to come to terms with the way this life works.

Who knows? Maybe in a three days I will be blindsided by a fresh, unfathomable occurrence that will scatter seeds throughout my brain and make questions grow. Perhaps the insubordination that follows a commonplace disagreement between Life and I will result in a hazy arrest, where I will be locked in a cell until I’ve learned.

Learned what? My lesson?

Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing.

One of my friends lost her brother in a motorcycle accident last fall. She will wake up to a thousand suns, and that will not have changed.

A man in the newspaper the other day cursed the justice system for falsely prosecuting him and locking him away for 17 years until it was proved he’d been innocent, all along. This man will never get those 17 years back. No amount of anger or bitterness or sums of money will compensate for that.

I know people who were married for over twenty years before they signed divorce papers. They shared a house, kids, money, and a bank of memories, but none of that was enough to keep them together. When people get married, they can’t imagine divorce. When people get divorced, their conjoined hearts rip apart into two bleeding, broken ones. When people are brokenhearted, it is difficult remember the smooth hand of happiness. But both of them are happy again.

We are promised more pain and more delight than we think.

An elderly woman came into the salon I work at and told me that her grandniece had recently been born with half a heart. Every day, that baby straddles life and death. That baby made an entrance into this world, ad such a quick exit would make her arrival confusingly painful.

I catered a ’40s themed wedding three years ago. A few months later, the groom disappeared days. When they found him, it was reported he had committed suicide.

My cousin was in a car crash that made her dead to the world for months. Then one day, we got the news she had pulled out of that long, dark coma.

Nothing is guaranteed.

There is a reality to these situations that I have tried to anchor myself to.

I have come to understand that God’s prioritized mission is for us to have relationships with Him and to create strong soldiers. At all costs.

That makes me a little nervous. The humanist in me squirms, because a lot of people go through heart wrenching pain in order to further this mission.

It’s undeniable that we are God’s creations and therefore His to take, but it is frightening to know that nothing is certain but mystery and evidence.

Maybe, God doesn’t just love us alongside pain; maybe God allows—not inflicts, but allows—pain because he loves us. Because in the plight toward a greater good, we get caught in crossfire.

Despite earthly death and a cryptic creed, God came to give life.

In my earthly life I will never fully understand what the point of all of this is. Sometimes, it’s like God tries to drop hints when maybe something less subtle would be more appropriate for a message so important.

Sometimes, it’s like He plays “the game.” He puts himself out there enough to get people interested, then pulls back until we go crazy enough to pursue Him.

But you know what? God is God. And God is good. God is bigger than anything we can fathom, more complex than the intricate workings of the universe, and operates at different speeds and technique with stunning perfection. The world, and all the suffering within it, does not reflect Him. It reflects us.

There will be good things that I won’t deserve, because I am wretched, and bad things I won’t deserve, because I have been made right. There will be good things that I’ll do and bad things that I’ll do, and people will do the same unto me.

I will never understand why my friend’s brother died, or why this young woman’s husband killed himself, or why that divorced couple thought they were meant for one another when really, the ‘right ones’ would be found after an imperfect twenty years. I will never understand why babies belong in cemeteries or why innocent people have to wait so long for a freedom they deserved 17 years previous. I will never understand why we are given glimpses of opportunity that result in nothing.There are particular things in my life I can grasp and analyze and study as if for a test, but that answer key will always remain blank. No amount of frustration, consultation, or desire will change that.

Reality.

I can feel the way I feel, want the things I want, and pray all the time. I can love, I will love. I can dictate a lot of the things inside of me, but I own zero shares in the opinions, thoughts, feelings, and actions of others or the direction of the wind. It is infuriating, this lack of democracy, but it is exhausting to continually pursue control when that war is already lost.

More reality.

I am temporary, my soul is not. We will be given undeserved gifts throughout our lifetimes. We will lose things that won’t answer us when we call. The truth is something people will give, hide, or seek to destroy.

I know my desires as well as the creases on my palms.

It is possible to be happy on our own.

I can expect nothing. I can hope for anything.

Picking an Idea Clean

It is winter. Ravens are standing on a pile of bones—black typeface on white paper picking an idea clean. It’s what I do each time I sit down to write. What else are we to do with our obsessions? Do they feed us? Or are we simply scavenging our memories for one gleaming image to tell the truth of what is hunting us?
-Terry Tempest Williams, WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS

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Think of all the ticks. The twitches. The memories you thought you’d forgotten. The chill of a touch once felt, the smell of a time saturated with it. How hard it is to bury the past. We don’t trust it to the ground because we want to touch it, to feel it, to understand why it has ended and what could have been done differently to keep it alive. Or, we are more than ready to bury it. We have hauled it into the river and threw it in, but it keeps washing ashore. We have left it unmarked, but tread over the same ground. We want it no longer, but it wants us.

Think of the empty spaces. The tabs of silence. The wondering why people crave the quiet when relief and comfort comes with noise.

Think of the crowed spaces. The tabs of sound. The wondering why people crave the noise when relief and comfort comes with solitude.

Think of all the planning. The lists, the charts, the contracts. Pieces of green paper that get you what you want, when you want it, and define how giving, how stingy, how rich or poor you are. Pieces of white paper framed in offices, declaring how smart, how successful, how qualified you are. Pieces of paper folded up tightly in envelopes, added to journals, signed three times in reiterated agreement. Records of existence. Pieces of paper with prints detailing your birth. Pieces of paper in the news announcing your death.

Blank paper is nothing.

Marred paper is everything.

Think of the future. The future will be ______.

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

The future will be exciting, infuriating, tragic, hilarious, indefinite, horrific, serendipitous, rewarding, Russian Roulette, shameful, mundane, significant, surrendered. Stories we’ll tell. Things we won’t admit.

The future will be the present. It will also be the past. It will be buried. Sometimes it will be buried and keep coming back.

How do we cope?

The twitches, the gasps, the taps, the drives. Love songs and friendship. Coffee, our beds, cigarettes and plane tickets. Laughter. The crystalline mountains, the turn of a page. Watching the clock. The suppression of tears and smiles for strangers, all for the sake of the ghosts, the paper, the ones that got away. The inhale and exhale of sound and silence. The love of the ground and loss of the river. To matter, to disappear, to matter because we disappear, to be as permanent and temporary as a single piece of paper.

Limits

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The other day, with my arms elbow-deep in soapy dishwater, a random thought occurred to me: What if, every day, I sought out my limit?

We’ve all heard the encouragement, “Get out of your comfort zone!” Under the assumption that most of us have, at least once in our lives, toed the boundaries of what feels comfortable, we could all agree that doing so is easier said than done.

At a young age, I was forced to get out of my comfort zone continually. And by continually, I don’t mean run-across-the-border-for-an-hour-and-then-come-home-safe; I mean continually, as in pack-a-bag, we’ll-see-you-when-you’re-not-afraid, continually.

I hated it. When otherwise my life was padded with light, imagination, soft hope, hard love, and stories I was fond of, I hated every heavy-tongued ounce of fear, every silent war, every tick of time I lacked control or felt agonizingly ill, beaten up, and left out to dry.

Nothing prepares someone for the dreadful, black anticipation that descends when you see the storm coming, and aren’t allowed to run.

It takes a lot of strength to stay.

It is away from our varying sizes of comfort zones that change occurs. This applies to physical fitness endeavors, expansion of mental capacity, healthy openheartedness, and deep-breathed, close-eyed, God-bless-me spiritual plunges. Without exposure, knowledge stays unfounded. Without a willingness to breach the bounds of normalcy, the extraordinary remains dusty. Without stomach-dropping risks, the rich threads that make up our lives lose color. The story line lulls. The pause becomes an irreconcilable roommate.

Maybe it is a discontentment with silence. Maybe it’s because I am as restless as loose sheaves of paper near an open window. But, like an adrenaline junkie is addicted to risks, and fitness fanatics work to make their muscles scream, I’ve become addicted to challenges despite the universal hatred I feel toward discomfort. Even in the case of failure, it’s worth the beauty that comes afterward.

What if, every day, I sought out my limit?

I believe that my life would become fuller, more satisfactory and rewarding, if I continually ventured outside my comfort zone. I  feel like a healthy, non-possessive sense of pride may reside just across that line.

I use a variant of the word “seek” instead of “push” for a reason. Some limits stand as protective barriers in order to sanction us from dangerous ventures, attempts that will lead to failure instead of prosperity. The first instinct shouldn’t be to push our limits, but rather find them, explore them, become familiar with the marks on its face and the intentions burning at its core. Just like people, some limits exist with our best interests in mind; others are merely stumbling blocks with poltergeist-like laughter and bitter hearts.

If I make it my goal daily to make acquaintances with my limits, I will not only be fulfilling my adrenaline-junkie-like drive to push harder, go longer, try something new, or prove myself strong; I will have the potential to accomplish things faster and more efficiently and mold all my uneven edges into something smoother and well-lived. My experiences will multiply. My heartbreaks may hurt more and my bones bend the wrong way, but inconsistency is colorful and sometimes, one more risk is all it takes to open right door.

Sworn to Serve

I am assured on a regular basis that journalism is the career path I’m purposed to be in.

I was sent on assignment for the campus magazine a few weeks back to write a profile on a prominent figure in the University of Idaho’s ROTC program. I talked to Brad Townsend, the program’s Battalion Commander, who at the close of the interview invited me to observe a crash simulation him and the other seniors in the program were preparing for the underclassmen Friday afternoon.

I accepted.

When Friday afternoon came, I ducked out of class early with my camera swinging around my neck, my pocket heavy with a recording device, a pen and pad of paper, and a hot cup of coffee I knew wouldn’t keep my hands as warm as I hoped it would. The sun was already slipping underneath the folds of rolling hills to the west, as if it had done its job well that day and thought it could excuse itself early.

Unsure of the exact meeting location, I followed a pair of cadets running through campus in their boots and fatigues, rucksacks jiggling and breath halted in an attempt to get there on time.

When I arrived, Townsend introduced me to Professor Brad Martin, who has improved the Army ROTC program tremendously since his arrival. His attitude toward developing leaders is genuine and precise, and his recruitment tactics nearly doubled the program in size.

Martin’s attitude toward my presence was incredibly welcoming. He was unbelievably excited that the students before him were getting recognition.

I hope he found my attitude similar. I felt privileged to be observing.

Students were separated into three platoons and sent in three different directions for hour-long classes. The first focused on IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the second KLEs (Key Leader Engagements), and the third on how to apply tourniquets.

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The platoons rotated between the classes. I did, too.

As someone interested in pursuing military journalism as a career, I listened intently to every word said. I picked up on terms quickly, learned how to approach a given situation with responsibility, and scrawled down quotes from people I was lucky to get to talk to.

My pen quickly ran out of ink. Disgusted with myself for not remembering to bring an extra (one of the most classic journalism faux pas I could have possibly made), I admitted my mistake to Townsend, who slipped a black ballpoint from the sleeve of his uniform and handed it to me.

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Martin directed me to the pair of seniors teaching the medical course. Hands clasped behind their backs, they politely and humbly explained that on top of ROTC and a full-time university course load, they are National Guard members, brothers to separate fraternities, and work part-time jobs to compensate for the cut in scholarship money the ROTC program experienced recently.

I was baffled.
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As the classes ensued, Townsend led me through the forest and showed me the “crash site.” Two 200-pound dummies lay in the leaves, next to crates and large spools of thick rope. He told me that the goal of the simulation would be for each platoon to exercise the knowledge fresh in their minds from the three classes taught that afternoon through the course carefully plotted by him and the other seniors. They would stumble upon the site, treat any injuries, call in a Medevac report, and try to make their way to the “landing site” (water tower) without hitting any IEDs or upsetting the “civilians” (two seniors in tunics and turbans, having too much fun saying ridiculous things in questionable Afghani accents).

“They don’t know?” I asked.

I figured everyone had been told why they were required to stay in the  ’til 11 PM on a Friday night.

“Nope,” he said.

We forked in the opposite direction. It didn’t take long until my shins hit a tight, clear wire.

“Oh, you hit an IED,” Townsend said.

“I did?”

I looked down, hoping I hadn’t severed it and very thankful it wasn’t hooked up to a bullhorn yet.

“Yeah. But I did, too,” Townsend admitted.

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Before darkness fell, I drove to the local Co-Op and downed a bowl of thick, steaming soup. I went to my sister’s dorm room and put on an extra pair of pants, a flannel, and gloves. I knew that the cold would eventually seep through the  layers, and that the rain wouldn’t let up anytime soon, but neither would I. I was determined to make it the full eight hours.

I parked in the same spot I left and scrambled out of the car. I tried to snap a shot with my camera, hoping the flash would enable me to capture the platoons in action, but my lens wouldn’t even focus; it was simply too dark.

I shoved my camera back in my car and trudged down the steps toward the crash site. A small, bright light, accompanied by the crunch of boots on uneven ground, approached me.

“We’re just about to start the first walk,” Townsend said under his breath.

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Suzanne Avery is a girl I’ve known since elementary school. Because of mutual friends, we attended the same birthday parties, sleepovers, and went to a Vandal basketball game before we were Vandals ourselves.

The First Platoon Leader that night happened to be her.

I stuck close to Townsend and the path of light his headlamp cut through the dark as First Platoon came across the crash site, was held up by their first IED, conversed with the civilians pertaining to KLE standards, and huffed up the hill with pounds of equipment strapped to their backs and carried in their arms.

Suzanne took initiative and pressed forward with persistent strength. Though I had spent time with her before, I had never seen her working in her element. And though I had assumed her spirit was colored with the blacks of practicality, blues of a communicator, and yellows of a fighter, I had never seen it as clear as I did that night in the dark.

At the top of the hill, with the water tower in sight, I felt a strange contentment.

The cold felt refreshing. My mind felt clear. The air in my lungs came and went with gratefulness.

Splayed beneath us were the warm lights of Moscow. Little bulbs in a sea of darkness. The fraternity house at the base of the hill probably had one room heavy with an alcohol-laced breath of relief. I imagined the white house in the distance had pajama-clad children curled up on the couch, watching a Disney movie. Downtown, people were most likely already weaving in and out of the bars and coffee shops, clasping hands with friends and listening to local musicians.

I didn’t envy the lights below me. I liked the lights beside me, streaming from the headlamps of future militants. I liked the glow stick whirling near the massive silver legs of the water tower, symbolizing safety and the relief of a job well-done.

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The simulation holds as my favorite assignment yet. Because of my deep fascination with the path and resilience of the human spirit, I am feeling, every day, more and more called to making military journalism a section of my career.

Last weekend, one of the ROTC members asked me if I would be willing to go somewhere dangerous. Somewhere in the line of fire. Somewhere journalists are getting beheaded.

I told him that if he’s in, I’m in.

Why should I play it safe when safe doesn’t serve, or reap purpose? Why should I keep my pen and paper to myself when there are lives swollen with hurt and joy and perspective that need to be recorded?

Words. Communication and information are just as threatening as a gun barrel. People die trying to get word out, and people die trying to keep things classified.

Sometimes, writing is less about bringing characters to life than it is making sure people live after they die.

It’s amazing, how lives can be changed by a story.

Look for Brad Townsend’s profile and complete coverage of the University of Idaho’s Army ROTC’s simulation in the next issue of Blot magazine.

Heather

Heather graduates from Washington State University in the spring of 2015 with a degree in French.

This beautiful language is much like Heather herself: authentic and gently spirited, tied to an array of cultured dreams and a history all their own.

Heather hopes her degree is a ticket to another land, where her bright eyes may land on new faces speaking the language she adores. However, like the rest of us, her future is currently a fringe of starting points and hopes, uncertain in its reach toward an unknown reality. Instead of being afraid or resistant toward the future, I pray Heather grabs onto this new ribbon of life with confidence and excitement.

The unknown may be good, may be bad, but it’s always thrilling.

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Sweet Sixteen

It isn’t every day a girl turns sixteen.

I was honored when a family friend left a message on my phone, asking that I photograph her daughter, Chloe, for her sixteenth birthday. Her mother was willing to pay the dues in order to ensure that the image of Chloe be documented at the fresh beginning of this pivotal age.

I had a wonderful morning with Chloe dodging the rain, dreaming about Boston, and driving around Moscow to photograph Chloe in each autumn-tinted location she desired.

There is nothing like a good photograph to make someone feel beautiful.

I pray Chloe felt beautiful that day. I pray she feels secure in her body and her habits and her mistakes and talents, because being perfect is impossible, but being joyful in a way that touches surrounding hearts is not. Chloe, at age sixteen, owns that gift. She is able to project her originality and authenticity in a small Idaho town that doesn’t always condone uniqueness, all the while humbly displaying a respectful, open-armed disposition that gives others permission to be themselves and experience the kindness that lines her adventurous heart.

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