Friday, December 21, 2012

A "moment of silence" meditation

For the bereaved parents of Sandy Hook Elementary

The whole world is thinking of you in your tragedy today. The flurry will one day settle down, and your lives will make their lurching way forward. I am on this road with you. You face your first holidays without your child. This year is the ninth without mine. Here are my wishes for you.

May you freely and fully inhabit your own lives.
May you feel perfect joy and delight when you think of your dear child.
And may you have the patience and resolve to grow whole again.

For the times when, temporarily, nothing at all seems possible,
rest in the great love that surrounds you today, and always,
until the flow of possibility returns.

Memorial Service for Simon, a boy who loved color, especially magenta
August 28, 2004

[For regular readers of this blog, I've made a related entry in Language & Such on the German word "Opfer", which means both victim and sacrifice.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the Death of Children

I have a child who died at the age of seven. Since Friday I am hearing too often in the news about twenty first graders, aged six to seven, eradicated in a moment's shooting at their school. It's news that hits all of us hard; I can't for sure say if it hits me even harder.

Simon Craig Vodosek
School meant so much to my son, Simon. He loved recess more than anything. He barely ate his lunch because he didn't want to miss a minute of playground time. When I picked him up after school, he'd be sitting on the school's front lawn, eating his sandwich.

He also loved his first-grade classroom: being with other children and doing all the different activities and tasks, like the morning poetry page to read and circle the rhymes, illustrate with a picture. I think his first-grade classroom was the place he came closest to forgetting he had cancer and to feeling he belonged, just like every other kid. He was truly jealous of his friend Thomas' perfect attendance on 180 out of 180 school days. Simon managed 120. He would have loved making it to second grade.

School was sacred. It was his sanctuary.

How can we imagine school as a place of threat and slaughter?

I feel deeply for the families robbed of their children in Connecticut. As deeply as my own colossal pain leaves room for me to feel. I'm pretty crippled. It is hard to be an "orphaned" parent or sibling or grandparent or cousin or aunt or uncle. In Simon's case, death gave us the courtesy of forewarning. The shock of sudden loss is one I don't know first hand, nor the anguish of knowing evil was deliberately inflicted by human hands.

We did everything we could to keep Simon from losing his life, but his cancer was a threat over which human effort had no power. I have no evidence that Simon's cancer was avoidable; I have to view it as a very cruel twist of fate.

I believe that everything about what happened last Friday in Newtown was avoidable. Is avoidable. Yet we are witness to so much sacrifice, so much gratuitous harm.

Cancer is a devious foe that will demand more sacrifice and loss before it is vanquished. But guns? Just get rid of them. Imagine that. No more people shot dead. If only it were that easy to eliminate cancer. Can anyone imagine that we would not take the necessary steps?

Gun violence is inexcusable. And it is fully in our human power to make it go away.

I am sad to know that so many other families face tomorrow without their beloved first grader. It's an unfathomable loss.

[Readers who would like to know more about Simon and his struggle with cancer are invited to Simon's Place.]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Time release culture shock

It's the Christmas season. Car-clogged streets. Multiple-light-change waits at intersections. Glass-ball-infested trees blocking shopping center passageways alongside racks and racks of goods for sale. Fa-la-la-la-la-la. This morning I needed to pop into a downtown bookstore for a completely non-Christmas book. 'Twas the opposite of a quick stop.

Nonetheless we've begun to find some holiday cheer. This Christmas will be our third since moving (back) to Germany. We're spending the holiday with family here this time, as we did two years ago. Last year we visited my family in Ohio and our friends and old haunts in Utah. Here in Germany it's starting to feel as though we know our way around. Last weekend we finally made it to the Bad Wimpfen Weihnachtsmarkt* (Baht Vimpfen Vie-nachts-markt, vie as in vie for something, and for the rest just say one consonant after another until they're all done). It's reputed to be one of the loveliest of the outdoor markets, and with its narrow streets, cobblestoned hills, and lights tracing the silhouettes of historic towers, it really is beautiful. My sister, Julie, was here for the weekend, and I think she took some photos; I'll ask her for one to post. I'm sure she tried the Glühwein (for "ü" make lips for "ooh" but say "ee" to get glü-vine)--we both did, in red and in white. It's a mulled wine the keeps the cold away while you wander from booth to booth, snack to snack.

A part of adjusting to living in a different country is learning where to find the stuff you need. Mayonnaise, for example, is only tolerable to my palate from a single source: the Kraft product I can find at only one of the grocery stores I shop at. Low-fat ground beef you pretty much have to ask a butcher to grind fresh for you (the standard around here is half pork half beef, but A) it tastes and acts different and B) my daughter refuses to eat pork). So we adapt and become strategic. With other items, I've found it's best to accept their temporary loss in our lives. I have been in abject withdrawal from Mexican food. Annaheim peppers? Jalepenos? Tubs of ready-to-go pico de gallo or guacamole or spicy salsa? Black and red beans? Mexican rice? Yeah, I can make some of this stuff myself. But Rico's, Red Iguana, and even Rubio's (all in Salt Lake City)… The yearning is extravagant. (Please do not ask me about the establishments we have located so far in Germany that use the term "Mexican".)

I guess I was taken unawares yesterday afternoon when I had the quick thought, while shopping in downtown Heilbronn, that it would be fun to crunch up a candy cane and sprinkle it on ice cream for dessert. We had a friend coming to dinner and were planning on a "mix-in" style vanilla ice cream with Markus' homebaked Lebkuchen (labe-ku-hcen)--gingerbread. So, I went to the candy section of a big department store. Chocolate. Santas. Chocolate. Santas. Lindt. Milka. Ritter Sport. Hachez. Ferro Rocher. And so on. All chocolate. I found one plastic tub on a bottom shelf with red-orange-yellow-white striped candy canes. They looked fine, but I was sure they weren't mint. The lady sent me to another store, where I found the same thing: a few candy canes in fruit flavors.

For the first time in my experience of Germany, I began to think about candy canes. I expect this means, in more than 8 years of living here, candy canes have never crossed my mind before and they have not been a primary need for me. Still it came over me like some sort of clarifying revelation of a family secret: Germans don't like mint candy. Now that I think of it, there's nary a dish with those small thick red and white pinwheel hard candy disks, twisted in clear crinkling wrap between two fan-shaped fins. No strips of miniature red and white candy canes encased in never ending plastic ropes. Or their green and white counterparts. Or green, white, and red. Not at Christmas, not any time. Mint must be toothpaste-ish or medicinal here. No wonder I ate chocolate chip mint ice cream in the US last summer--it might not be my all-time favorite, but some part of me knew I'd better store up.

Perhaps I'm not the hugest devotee of mint candy, but I really like do it now and then. Cheap, wrapped, visually interesting, they're everywhere, year round in the US. Candy canes in all sizes and variations appear for the Christmas season. Take a look at the images on Google. It seems these candies haven't changed since I was a child, and I'm guessing much longer than that. It's hard to imagine a world without those little round mint pinwheel candies, and suddenly I'm realizing that's exactly where I live. I'm having delayed culture shock, like some time release effect. I guess I just assumed that EVERYONE wants mint candy. Apparently not. Here's my festive mint candy fantasy for right now: Peppermint Bark from V-Chocolates (Salt Lake City).

If you're in North America, or somewhere else with the candy cane culture, take a look around you this Christmas season. Now imagine all of that not there. Sure, there could be a lot of really high quality chocolate in place of the candy canes. But still.

For those who might also be interested, I found a blog post that gives a history of the candy cane, including its roots in Germany. However, the introduction of mint flavor seems to be an American affair.

*Website warning. This is a godawful website: music you didn't ask for, ads in your face. However, if you find the "Media Galerie" link and locate the pictures there, you will get a look at a lot of aspects of the market, and the opening panorama zoom video gives you a lot to see if it doesn't make you ill.