Friday, October 22, 2010


This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.
~Walt Whitman, "A Clear Midnight"

This week I've been thinking a lot about death and life. When a friend or family member dies, it forces you to decide what you believe in. Are you going to see that person again? Where are they now? What do they think, and what are they doing? Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon), I've been taught things about life and death since I was a child. Still, when faced with the crisis, I now decide to accept or reject the things I've been taught. I accept them, for several reasons. Here I will give a few of the main ones.

I guess the first reason would be because it sounds great. LDS believe that after someone dies, that isn't the end, but the spirit lives on, reunited with spirits of ancestors and friends, and waits until the final moment when Christ returns to the Earth and everyone is resurrected. We believe that this spirit world is very similar to our world, and that spirits there can continue learning. For example, if they never heard about Jesus on earth, they can learn about him there, and accept or reject his gospel. So anyway, it's comforting to think that death doesn't just mean lights out, the end. To think that I can see my loved ones again makes me happy, and I want to believe that I will.

Second, it makes sense to me. With my belief in a loving God who is actually a Heavenly Father, I believe that he would not make us just for this earth life alone. Such an existence would not be very meaningful to him, and why would he put so much effort into teaching and schooling us if there is nothing after this. It makes sense to me that if there is a God, then there is life for us with him at some point after this life.

Third, I believe because I trust the people who have taught me. My parents are honest people, and they have shared with me the most personal moments in their lives, when the veil that separates this life from the spirit world has become so thin that they have seen for themselves that there is life beyond mortality. To deny it would be to call them liars. The same goes for prophets, both old and new, who have testified of life after death, which becomes possible because of Christ's atonement for our sins and his resurrection. I believe the prophets, and I believe in Jesus.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I believe because I just do. There is a spiritual part of me that asks questions, seeks, feels, and receives answers. Many others believe in the Holy Spirit, by which it becomes possible to receive inspiration, answers, and comfort from God. To some it comes as a voice, to others just a warm good feeling. For me it is a good feeling, a clearness of thought, a burst of happiness from deep within, and a confirmation inside of myself that answers the question I'm asking. It's very hard to explain this sometimes, and I know that for others it can be much more of a struggle to receive answers and feel faith in things they don't understand. Death is very hard to understand, and separation from a loved one is painful enough to cloud the mind and heart for a long time.

However, I know that after winter comes the spring, after trials come blessings, and after hard work comes reward. Thus, somehow, after death comes life again.

I was thinking the day most splendid, till I saw what the not-day exhibited,
I was thinking this globe enough, till there sprang out so noiseless around me myriads of other globes.

Now, while the great thoughts of space and eternity fill me, I will measure myself by them;
And now, touch’d with the lives of other globes, arrived as far along as those of the earth,
Or waiting to arrive, or pass’d on farther than those of the earth,
I henceforth no more ignore them, than I ignore my own life,
Or the lives of the earth arrived as far as mine, or waiting to arrive.

O I see now that life cannot exhibit all to me—as the day cannot,
I see that I am to wait for what will be exhibited by death.
~Walt Whitman, "Night on the Prairies"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There was no one in the world like her. Seriously, is there anyone else who hates cinnamon? She loved dance movies, dance television shows, and we shared a huge crush on the American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis. She loved Las Vegas, the color red, the Bob & Sheri radio show, sushi, grilled peaches, and bald tattooed guys. She had a passion for helping others, especially children. She worked with sight-impaired kids, and knew sign language and could read braille. She was always where there was work to be done. The last time I saw her, she was helping prepare a meal for over 400 people, just because she wanted to help a friend out. She was so excited about my wedding, calling it "the event of the year" but at the reception she rolled up her sleeves and helped out in the kitchen. She was faithful and religious, but so funny. She would gripe about having so many church responsibilities, saying "if only the Jewish side had won!" but I took great strength from her testimony and dedication. I had immense admiration for her, so much love, and enjoyed her friendship so much. I never thought there would be a time when I couldn't make plans to go to Shiki Sushi with her and the gang, or chat with her about the latest funny thing we'd heard on Bob & Sheri. In your thirties, you don't expect your friends to die. I'm going to miss her so much.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The days were getting shorter and colder, and I begged to turn on the heat in the house, but instead my husband just put two more wool blankets on the bed and offered me a selection of fine aged flannel shirts to wear. I drove to my parents house and got all my sweaters out of their attic, and put away all my summer dresses and skirts. Then, a few days later, it was 87 degrees again and I found myself chasing the ice cream truck down the street because I thought I was going to die if I didn't have something frozen to eat. Such is the fickle nature of the Southern autumn.

Sunday was a warm and gorgeous fall day, and C and I decided to explore our neighborhood. We had heard tell of a new renovated pedestrian bridge that crosses a major highway near our house, and so we set out to find it. An hour later, sweaty, dirty, and clutching our knives (we have to arm ourselves in my neighborhood--or at least we feel better if we do) a seemingly dead-end street on the wrong side of the tracks led us to our destination, and we stood atop the R. Kelly Bryant, Jr. Bridge, feeling the refreshing breeze from semi-trucks speeding below us, and gazed at the romantic Durham skyline. But we didn't cross the bridge, because on the opposite side there was a sketchy looking man with a bottle in a brown bag, just loitering. The main reason for renovating the bridge, I heard, was to make the walls transparent so that people couldn't get mugged and beaten up on it without being seen by cars below, but we didn't want to test things.

Now, I may be painting a negative picture of my neighborhood and town, but I actually really love Durham, and I loved exploring my neighborhood with my husband. Walking, you see so many things you would never see in a car. We passed a cement factory with amazing huge cement-rendering vats protected by cement fences. We saw what used to be a huge train yard, where the depot is now a "green" flea market space. When we passed it, dozens of Mexican families were packing up what must have been a huge food-oriented gathering. We walked down shanty-lined streets, where the poorest tobacco-factory workers lived back in the 1930s and 40s, and where things haven't gotten much better. And we traversed streets of once-gorgeous Victorian houses, bedecked in crumbling gingerbread trim, now with broken windows and gaping holes. Someone's carefully constructed quartz-studded sidewalk is now cracked and edged with overgrown weeds. Some places in the middle of town felt like we were in a rural setting, the vines had so taken over. A red and white stucco church we passed made me feel like I was in a Mexican village, but the watchful eyes of a guard dog living on a tight leash under a porch brought me back to reality. People don't have much here, but they protect it fiercely. C and I both love to see the decay, the layers of time and weather, even though we wish things were better for the people and places on this side of town. We are fascinated with our neighborhood, even while alert for the danger it holds.

The pinecone-strewn trail leading away from the bridge brought us to a busy road, where a tattoo parlor vied with a beaux arts church for attention. A tattered awning fluttered from the side of the next nearest building, abandoned and caved in, but still bearing a trademark feature of this town: glass block windows, half broken, half gleaming in the brilliant autumn sun.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Playing Games

Note to self: Never play Scrabble with an ex-con. My brother was in prison for a little while, and one of the things he was allowed to do in the clinker was play Scrabble. So of course he decided that if he was going to play, he was going to win, and he memorized all the two-letter and a lot of the three-letter words in the official Scrabble dictionary. If you challenge his words, he proves you wrong and you lose all your turns, until he plays nonsense words and you're too scared to challenge them. Sigh. I guess I'm not the Scrabble champion in my family any longer. But that's okay. I'm really happy that he has gained his Scrab-fabulous skills, and I think he ought to go compete at the Scrabble Championship games, which I'm sure exist somewhere.

"So why won't you play with him anymore then?" my husband asked me. "Just because you aren't going to win, you aren't going to play Scrabble?" Sigh... What fun is a game that you know you can't win? I'll stick to Scrabble Beta games on facebook with E and Peter (not that you can't beat me, E! You have many times), and long Sunday afternoon Scrabble games with my husband where we go to look up a word in his gigantic unabridged dictionary and end up poring over diagrams of battleships or beetles.

And maybe I'm a word snob, but I just think that if you play a word in Scrabble, you should know what it means. Half the fun of playing an obscure word is the look on faces of people who go, "What does tripe mean?" The rest of the fun comes when you reply with, "Oh, you know, a cow's stomach." It's funny 'cause it's true.

Anyway, maybe I'll play Scrabble with my brother again sometime. I'm really happy for him because he and his wife are expecting their first baby and they just found out it's going to be a girl! I'm happy because it's so much more fun to sew things for girls than boys. Dresses are a hundred times easier to make than collar-shirts, I discovered recently. In fact, I think I will have a hundred dresses made before I figure out how to fit the collar to the yoke on the shirt I'm trying to make for my nephew. What's a yoke, you ask? Well, you'll have to play Scrabble with me to find out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Inadvertent Love Note

Book club was last night, and the next month's reading selection was chosen, but it's too soon for this fast reader to begin it. Instead, I pulled a book of my husband's bookshelf and dug in. A few pages in, a bookmark fell out. It was a small Christmas card with a message... from me!

"Promise me you'll let me read these when you're done. Merry Christmas! Love, H" it said.

The book I was reading was one that I'd given C for Christmas about five or six years ago, when we were just coworkers and friends. I'd completely forgotten about it. Now, looking back, it filled me with awe to think of myself those years ago, ignorant of the future, and tenderness to think that C saved the note, not knowing we'd be married someday.

Then I thought, "Hey! How come he never let me borrow the books?!" and laughed.