These Nights Never Go As Planned

vie immobile | via Tumblr

vie immobile | via Tumblr

The night starts in a burst of excitement. Your heart beats in a way it hasn’t in so so long, reminding you that all these years spent on a dream refuse to slip into the past in vain. What about all those nights, you wonder, when it seemed like things were going to go differently, like you weren’t just trying to convince yourself that it would play out in one way, but that another wanted it that way, too.

But still, you know you’ve nearly reached the point where you’ve  grown tired of wishing and hoping and just want something new to come along and excite you. The narrative of several years has exhausted you, the characters familiar, comfortable, and seemingly easy to understand, yet nearly worn out. Haven’t we been here? You wonder. Didn’t I let this other one go? Another part of you churns with anxiety to move on and forget.  It can hurt to hope, and you’ve been hurt before. Telltale signs turned into misconceptions. Encouragement from others into comfort that they were wrong. Are you willing to go there again? Are you wiling to risk so much pain?

And so, it begins to dawn on you, in a place where the lights are soft and the music is low, that this one thing you once thought you wanted so much is just not meant to be. Finally, it seems, you are coming to terms with months and months of evidence that the past is the past. Signs rush all around you, but another part of your soul desperately tries to ignore them, believing that your desire is enough, your wish is enough.

So the night continues. Stories are told, eyes locked, whispers exchanged. Your mind sways between the one side to which your instinct directs you and the other side to which your desire pulls you.

And with such questions swimming in your head, the night ends in a blur with an impenetrable confusion come morning. What you thought would solve it all has only confused you more. You wonder if it was worth it, or if your blind, impulsive wish can ever be anything more.

Maybe the confusion is clarity. Maybe the tension between instinct and desire can be reconciled.
Or maybe it is time to let it all go.

Oh, how these nights never go as planned.

#WHSocial: French Arrival Ceremony for Pres. Hollande

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Bienvenue President Hollande! Vive les Etats-Unis! Vive la France!

I’m not one to ever win things.  There was that one time I won a cake on a cake walk at a fair at my first elementary school, but I also remember on the day of my 8th birthday party, my father bought two scratch tickets and let me scratch one and my brother scratch the other.  I won $40 and my brother won $10, and it felt like it was the universe’s way of wishing me a very happy birthday.  But that’s the last time I ever remember winning something so random.  The universe seems to have finally come together again for me as last Tuesday, February 11, I was invited to attend an official ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House to welcome the president of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, for his State Visit to the United States.  There were all kinds of historical markers for this event, seeing as how it was just the sixth State Visit to take place during Obama’s administration and the first State Visit of a French president since 1996 (which was before my students were born…woof).  I had been scrolling through my Instagram while curled up the couch on a snow day when I saw a post from the White House account (@whitehouse) to apply for one of their White House Socials (wh.gov/social).  Launched by the White House Office of Digital Strategy, White House Socials aim to involve everyday citizens in major White House events and encourage those who are selected to attend to share their experiences via their social media channels, using hashtags like #WHSocial and #AtTheWH to track their experiences. I must confess I had never heard of this initiative, but clicked on the link thinking “Why not?” All I had to do was provide some basic contact info and a 140-character explanation as to why I wanted to go.  “How to wrap up such a desire in one post?!” I thought.  I settled on an abbreviated explanation of how I felt the experience would be incredible to share with my students, especially my tenth grade European history classes since the event would provide a great connection between what they learn this year and the history of the United States that they will learn in eleventh grade.  I clicked “submit” and seeing that the date of the event was just days away, on a weekday no less, I thought “Watch me get picked.” Imagine my surprise when I received an email the next day saying that I had been selected.

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Official invitation and my hotel key.

Getting the go-ahead from my boss to take a day off, (“Brianna, you HAVE to go” he enthusiastically declared after I expressed my uncertainty over buying plane tickets and being out for a day right before February vacation week), I got home that night and frantically searched for flights and hotels, weighing all sorts of transportation options and searching for flights that would allow me some extra downtime in the nation’s capital.  I settled on an evening flight on Monday into Baltimore and a 8 pm return the following day, allowing me a full afternoon of frolicking in DC. Since I had to leave right from work, the easiest, least expensive line of transportation was to drive to Alewife station on the Red Line, take the T to South Station, and jump on a Silver Line bus to Logan.  Once I landed in Baltimore, I had to take a bus to a MARC commuter rail station just a mile from the airport, ride the train to Union Station in DC, then transfer to the Blue or Orange line to reach a station just two blocks from my hotel.  It sounds complicated, but I managed it all without any complications, and I seemed to catch each connection in 10 minutes or less of arriving at each transfer point, very reminiscent of the “Founding Fathers are watching over us” vibe that my friend Tiffany and I got in our crazy Inauguration weekend adventures just over a year ago.  From the MARC train, I caught a quick glimpse of the Capitol building, at which point a felt a sly smile spread across my face. It would be just minutes until I would arrive in what has become one of my very favorite places.

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Perfect way to unwind.

My hotel was on Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the most reasonably priced options I could find and just half a mile from the White House, called the Hotel Lombardy. It was the most luxurious stay I have ever had, with a quaint shutter over the door to my room, a dainty vanity to sit and do my White House-worthy make-up that next morning, and a king bed to have all to myself. Once I checked in and settled into my room on the tenth floor, I headed down to the Venetian Bar and Lounge on the first floor, and relaxed in a tiny, dimly lit nook away from the bar where a group of Texans sat, and ordered a glass of Riesling, in keeping with the French theme of the next 24 hours. As I sipped on the perfect drink to end about 6 and a half hours of travel, I read up on President Hollande and the plans for his visit to the United States, thinking all the while that this kind of lifestyle suits me quite well.

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One of the many views that made venturing out into the cold totally worth it!

The next morning included an alarm set for 5:15, a pot of coffee as I did my hair and makeup, and a protein bar to last me until whenever I could eat next.  I checked out around quarter of seven and ventured out into what felt much like a typical New England morning…so much for heading south in February to escape the cold. All I knew was that I had to enter the White House Compound at the 15th and E Streets NW entrance. Coming upon the White House, the early winter morning sun rising to the left of it, I found it hard to believe I was really there.  Turning down the street, I had a gorgeous view of the sun rising over the Capitol Building and then soon after, I reached the entry point.  Each attendee had been pre-screened, so I had to have my name checked off and then had to proceed through a metal detector. Once I was cleared, I received an official program and small American and French flags. I followed the directions of the workers and found myself suddenly upon the South Lawn.  I quickly became concerned that my small stature would not allow me to view much, if any, of the ceremony, but noticed that I could see the top of the podium at which both presidents would speak, so I was relieved that I would be able to see them with my own eyes. At that point, there was still a good amount of time before the ceremony started. It was so cold.  Since I would be attending an event after, I had opted for a knee-length dress, tights, and flats – far from optimal attire when it was below 30 degrees.  I had purchased foot warmers, but despite those, I quickly lost feeling in my feet.  In time, a military honor guard marched past, many carrying the state flags of each state, others lining the South Portico with trumpets and banners.  Then, large vans parked next to me (I was on the edge of one section near a driveway looping around the South Lawn and passing by the South Portico), although I could not see who was in them – I’m now pretty sure that they were full of cabinet members and other officials, who would take their places on the other side of the stage and out of my view. Before I knew it, the recorded music playing from the speakers changed to live music, the military men and women were called to attention, and one key announcement was made: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President and Mrs. Obama.”  Since they exited on a ground level, I did not have good view, and just blindly held my camera high above my head and snapped pictures in their general direction, which turned out to be not such a bad strategy:

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President Obama and President Hollande then walked across a raised platform and onto a stage. The crowd of nearly 4000 were mostly silent, and someone near me whispered, “That’s him” and I got an instant chill at gazing at our president with my own eyes.  Both the French and American National Anthems were played, and it really was amazing to be in such a large crowd that recognized the importance of silence at such a moment.

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President Obama and President Hollande

Afterwards, both leaders gave speeches, pausing every few sentences for a translator to speak their words in the other language, which as someone who studied French for 7 years, I appreciated the chance to check my French-speaking ability.  As a history teacher, I greatly enjoyed how each spoke of the long history between our two nations, how we stand for the same values and principles. I had heard somewhere that a State Visit is not merely a meeting between two leaders, it is a meeting between two countries, and that was so apparent.  Sure, Obama and Hollande represent America and France now, but their partnership also represents just one chapter in this historic alliance.

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(L to R): Mrs. Obama, Pres. Hollande, and Pres. Obama on the South Portico porch.

Afterwards, Presidents Obama and Hollande, with Mrs. Obama following them, walked up the steps to the South Portico and paused on the porch to wave to the crowd. Of course, I started taking pictures, but when they turned towards me, I had to stop viewing it all through the screen of my camera, and just appreciate the fact that I was really there on the South Lawn, with two major world leaders looking in my direction and waving at me.

After the ceremony, I went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with the other 100 White House Social attendees to attend a panel discussion by White House officials. I listened to members of the White House Visitors Office, the National Security Council, the Office of Digital Strategy, and the State Department about the process of planning such events as well as the use of social media in government.

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In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

I was inspired by how easy it is to be engaged in government now.  The State Department representatives spoke of this concept of “public diplomacy,” which as they explained is the idea that diplomacy doesn’t take place just between diplomats, but between everyday citizens as well.  Social media has created an opportunity for engagement that we’ve really never seen before. You can sign your name on a petition you’re passionate about on “We the People” on the White House website, see snapshots of the preparations for a State Dinner on the White House Instagram account, or follow a U.S. ambassador on Twitter and hear about his or her work in a foreign nation.  In casually visiting any of these sites, you can learn about an issue or event that you may not have heard about on the news.  As a teacher, I view it as a tremendous educational tool, and from what the officials I heard from shared, it seems that an increasing number of government officials in all levels of government are realizing this as well.

I spent the rest of the day fitting in as much as I could in DC.  Seeing as how it was the day before Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, I decided to walk over to the Lincoln Memorial to reflect on one of my favorite presidents. On the way, I walked along the Vietnam Wall. As I slowly walked and gazed upon the names, I came across an older gentleman with younger men who appeared to be his son and grandson. The older man looked for a name, placed his hand on the wall, and became visibly emotional.  I watched from a distance, tears forming in my own eyes as well at this emotional tribute of one veteran to a friend.  I turned away, feeling like I was intruding in some way even though I was nearly 50 feet away from them.

I continued to Lincoln, looked into his stone eyes, read his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address on either wall, and silently reflected on what his presidency accomplished for our nation.  It was quiet and cold, and once a somewhat large tour group arrived, I continued on, choosing to walk by the Korean Memorial, and was struck by the individualism in each figure’s chilling face.  I then made my way along the mall in the direction of the Washington Memorial for next up was a visit to the National Archives, the one stop I had been anxious to make last year but had been unable to.  There, I viewed the  three founding documents of our nation that I have researched over and over and taught to my students: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  Exiting the Archives, I decided to walk towards to the Capitol to take more pictures, and realizing that it was before 4, decided to go inside to see if there were any more tours for the day.

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Apotheosis of Washington in the Capitol Rotunda

I caught the last 10-minute Rotunda tour, but that was plenty for me.  Walking through those halls, I couldn’t help but think of all the legislators who had walked the same halls. I gazed up at the Apotheosis of Washington, looked in the eyes of yet another Lincoln statue, as well as those of several other presidents, and spent time contemplating the various paintings and sculptures on the walls that depict how our nation progressed from an untamed wilderness to the symbol of freedom that it is today.

Finally, it was time for me to make my way back to my hotel to pick up my bag and then travel the Metro and MARC train to get back to Baltimore for my flight home. It was a whirlwind trip (from leaving to returning home, everything took place in just 32 hours), but one that I feel extremely privileged to have made.  DC has captured yet another piece of my heart.  Whether I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, standing on the South Lawn, or entering the Capitol Building, what struck me most about this day was how much history has taken place there, and how America’s identity continues to shift and change as time goes on.

The Loss of [Wo]man’s Best Friend

I will start this post by offering only this caution: If you are not a dog lover, you will probably not be able to understand what follows. It may be best if you do not read on.

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I have never loved anything as much as I loved my dog.

A week ago, my family and I made a decision that I have been praying for over a year and a half we wouldn’t have to: to euthanize our beloved collie, Teddy.  In October 2011, Teddy experienced a collapse that was linked to a heart condition, and in February 2012, he went into heart failure. At that time, we were told he would likely only live an additional three to six months, and understandably, we were devastated. However, at subsequent check-ups with his cardiologist at the incredible Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, his heart condition continuously did not worsen.  We were overjoyed with each positive report, but sadly, Teddy seemed to have developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to walk. When this condition suddenly worsened over the weekend to such a point that he could not stand, much less walk, leaving the only option of performing an MRI for which the sedation may kill him due to his heart or to catheterize him at home, we knew it was time.

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Sleeping next to my bed

An empty darkness now hangs in the house, a kind of impenetrable silence that is almost deafening.  We promptly disposed of his bed, food, toys, etc, but his infamous tumbleweeds of fur still lurk in corners and under chairs. The backyard seems to no longer have a purpose, as it was Teddy’s domain. My tiny bedroom looks so much bigger without his bed on the floor next to my own, and gone are the days of him crying at 6 am to be fed.  But as sad as I am, I try to remind myself that we were lucky enough to experience so much more time with him than even the best doctors in the region thought we would.  And as weird as it may sound, a part of me just had a feeling that this was going to happen this summer, that time was running out, that we couldn’t be that lucky for that long. Two days before he died, I woke up to let him out and he was having a particularly hard time walking. After falling several times, I just sat down with him on the front lawn and started crying.  He seemed to not be trying any more, and there was a certain emptiness in his gaze.  As bad as some of his weak spells had been, never before did I get an overwhelming sense that the end really was near.  But as that day wore on, he seemed to get a little bit better, making it appear as though I had overreacted, but that strange sense still hung around me. Thus, when my brother texted me on Monday to tell me they were taking Teddy to the vet, I was not that surprised and feared that this would be the last of such trips.  Nevertheless, the decision to put him down was the most awful experience of my life and I really do feel that my life will never quite be the same.

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My brother and me with Teddy, Easter 2013

Some may wonder why the loss of a dog is so painful, and as odd as it may sound, Teddy was more than just a dog to me; he was truly a friend who through his every move taught me so much about how to best live life. We got Teddy when I was in sixth grade. Since Day 1, he taught me about responsibility and how to have fun in the purest senses. From those same early days, Teddy showed that his health would always prove problematic, for he developed epilepsy before he was even a year old. The seizures were seldom frequent, usually occurring once every six to eight weeks due to certain triggers.  They were difficult to watch, as his body tensed and convulsed and he held his breath, and they even made me cry, for I so loved this dog that it killed me to see him in such discomfort. While some may have euthanized him then, my family and I knew that it was a condition we could manage with a little more caution and control of his environment, and he had several stretches of six month periods or longer without any seizures. Managing that condition required such a patience and love that has never been required of me before.

Having had him for nearly half of my life, Teddy was one constant source of comfort through some truly difficult periods.  I cannot tell you how many tears of mine the fluffy white fur around his neck held, as I would usually curl up next to him and bury my face in his fur when something bad sent me into such a state. He would usually sit and let me hug him or pet him until I calmed down.  Sometimes, if I cried by myself, he would come up to me and either lick the tears off my cheeks or just lean against me.  Other times, he brought a toy to me in an attempt to distract me and get at least a small smile to spread across my face.  Teddy added so much joy to my life, as we ventured on walks in the neighborhood and played in the backyard.  He always greeted me with so much joy when the bus dropped me off around the corner in middle and high school and when I returned from being away at college.  Teddy was a master of just being a silly dog who through wanting all the attention I had always brought some amount of joy to my days.  Road trips down to Long Beach Island, NJ meant it was just him and I chilling in the back seat of my mother’s Santa Fe for five hours, when on the way there he was an excited ball of energy and on the way back he usually snuggled up against my side as we both snoozed, exhausted from the fun in the sand.  It was this constant companionship, even in the toughest of times, that taught me what true love and loyalty is.

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Teddy and Kassy

I suspect that my family and I will grieve for a long, long time. But I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals in the world to have been blessed with a dog that served as a best friend for nearly twelve years of my life.  So much of my life and the life of my family centered around being dog owners, and to suddenly have that stripped away is causing a bit of an identity crisis.  In the days since, people keep telling me that they know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a more meaningful compliment.  To have it be widely known how much love I had for one creature speaks volumes, and if that is a trait that people easily equate with me, then I could not be more honored, and it makes me rest a little easier knowing that Teddy must have known how much I loved him, too.  Sitting here, sadness overwhelms me, but while the end was not peaceful like they say it’s supposed to be, the deepest parts of my soul tell me it was time to let him go.

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Rest in Peace, Teddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.
August 24, 2001 – June 24, 2013

What I Wish I Could Tell “My Girls”

If it’s one emotion I continuously feel while teaching, it’s that I do not miss high school. Not. One. Bit.

Why would I ever want to return to a time when I was painfully self-conscious, quiet, dependent, and stressed about the future?  I look back at pictures and scoff at how atrocious my fashion sense was, how my naturally curly hair was just a total frizz ball, and how strained my smile tended to be. I had a lot going on in high school, and where school was ultimately the place where I discovered my true passion, uncovered my talents, and made irreplaceable friends, it was nevertheless a place where I wasn’t really comfortable to just be myself.

Lately, I’ve had a few conversations with students that remind me just how difficult point in life can be. Students stressed over completing schoolwork and holding down a part-time job mix in with girls who fear what boys will think of their eating habits during a recent “Mix-it-Up” day where they were told to sit with new people during lunch in an effort to increase diversity awareness.  It’s moments like these when I wish that I could sit all my girls down and have a heart-to-heart about the bright light on the horizon where it is so much easier to be yourself, but that lesson is one that will surely come with maturity and experience.  For now, I’ll have to try to integrate the following points into my everyday interactions with them.

1) There will be a day when you aren’t self-conscious (or at least THAT self-conscious) around guys.

You’ll let them see you without makeup and tell them your darkest secrets.  They will be your best friends, and they will break your heart, but eating in front of them, my dears, will no longer be a concern.

2) Do not define yourselves through the perceptions of others

People are cruel.  They may talk behind your back or forget to call you or text you and not even realize what that does to your bruised and broken heart. But those actions are in no way a reflection of you – they are merely a reflection of another.  Yes, they can be an indication of what you may want to work on in the future, but no one is defined by their flaws.  Work on them, but cultivate your strengths as well – those are your gifts and it is an injustice not to use them.

3) Pursue your passions

Parents put unbelievable amounts of pressure on their children.  I’m sure many of them feel it is for the child’s benefit, but when that comes at the expense of them not exploring their interests, it does a huge disservice to them and their personal growth.  Find a way to explore something new – if nothing else, you will learn more about yourself in the process.  You being  a woman does not mean you can’t enter a field that tends to be more male-dominated.  You may have to work harder to make your mark, but the important thing is that whatever you do with your life makes you happy.

4) Find a mentor or two…or twenty

The opportunity for mentors can be difficult to find when you are younger.  But the more you have, the more you will learn what to do and what not to do.  I have so many teaching mentors, mentors for student leadership, and mentors in my major, as well as for everything in between.  Each has given me an example to follow as I become who I want to be.

5) Everything works out in the end

Fact: Life is one giant unknown.  You’ll sit and watch the successes of your friends and wonder why that can’t happen the same way for you.  But everything, EVERYTHING, works out in the end.  What seems like a perfect fit may pass you over, and you settle for what you believe is second-rate, but as the days, months, and years pass by, it becomes ever clearer to see that you are right where you belong.

 

Patience is a Virtue (and a virtue won’t hurt you)

Patience.  Lord knows I feel like I don’t have a whole lot of it lately.  I’m anxious for the next few months to go by so I can finally say I’ve survived my first-year of teaching (which, as my mentor likes to remind me, I only have to go through once).  I’m anxious to finish up my two grad classes so I can have a whole two months off, the longest break I will have had from academics in three years.  But what’s been on my mind most lately is how desperately impatient I am to become the teacher I’ve always wanted to be.  The kind of teacher who makes you realize that you have talents you have been too down-on-yourself to recognize. The kind of teacher who inspires you with her passion, who gives you experiences in the classroom that change what you want to do in the future. 

I want to be the kind of teacher who made ME want to be a teacher.

I’ve been so upset lately realizing that I don’t believe that any of my students share my same love for history. And it makes me feel like a failure. Now, granted, I don’t have any quantitative evidence those of us in education are so fond of analyzing, but it’s just a sense that I have.  Some seem to be interested, at least, but I feel like in failing to inspire them, I have failed all those teachers who have inspired me. Like the fifth grade teacher with a penchant for leopard print dresses who made me actually interested in science for a time, or the junior year history teacher who I always thought back to as I studied educational theories and instructional methods in college.  And then there was the high school band teacher who revealed the beauty of classical music and working as a team, and the thesis advisor who revealed the beauty of Shakespeare’s plays to me. 

But I have to remind myself that just because these educators made such an impact in my life doesn’t mean that they had the same effect on all the others who sat in those classes with me. Or that they were able to accomplish it all in their first year of teaching.  It takes time and practice. And patience. Lots of patience. Because with each failure comes a little lesson of what to do better next time. 

I remember how impatient I was to start teaching. My first day of observations in the fall of 2010 was filled with nerves as I got up at what is an ungodly hour for college students. I wore a dress and heels and practiced how I would introduce myself to a teacher I had only emailed a handful of times.  Several weeks in, I delivered my first lesson to a room full of painfully quiet high school freshman, a review on different religions that they had been studying. As much as my voice quaked and my hands shook, I loved it. I drank in every moment, reassured with a rush of giddy excitement that I was actually pursuing the right career for me, and lamented the fact that there would be no education classes for me take the following semester, thereby putting these experiences on hold.  

So what I was once impatient to begin I am now impatient to end, at least for a time.  So I must remember my inspiration, remember my passion, and remember my purpose, and remain patient that slowly but surely I will become the teacher I want to be.

Guest Post at Millennial Journal

Today, I’m a guest blogger for Millennial Journal, an online publication for young Catholics.  Their writers come from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences and their posts cover anything from pertinent Catholic news to opinions on what it’s like to be a Catholic Millennial.  Check out my post here and be sure to follow their blog and like them on Facebook: http://millennialjournal.com/2013/03/28/faith-reason-and-the-secular-perspective/

Strangers in the Struggle

The stained-glass window at my home parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough

It’s not every day that a stranger comes up to you and tells you that she loves you.

I’ve been struggling. I’ve reverted to the quiet and reserved little thing that hasn’t really shown her face for a few years. Loneliness seeps in between the phone calls and Facebook messages that dull in comparison to what it was to be in close contact to those who are so dear in my heart. And faith? That’s been weakening, too, peaking in small moments but then receding as if some kind of drought has struck it.

Last Sunday, my parish priest appealed to the congregation to take part in the four-night Lenten parish mission that was to start that same day. I had every intention of attending on Sunday but the day got away from me and I wasn’t able to make it. Monday and Tuesday brought other conflicts, but Wednesday I was finally able to make it for the closing Mass. I slid into one of the back pews and took note of all the familiar and mostly older faces that surrounded me. There is something that I really like about going to Mass on my own, especially at home – it allows me to reflect more and take in the words of the Gospel and of the priest. I should have known it would be an interesting Mass when it opened with “Here I am, Lord,” the perfect service song that always reminds me of my days at Assumption. I closed my eyes and sang the words, loud and clear, trying to recall what discipleship now means to me in this post-grad life.

The presiding priest, a visitor from a parish in Uxbridge, MA, gave a stirring homily about always seeking God and letting Him be there to hold us and take care of us. My eyes welled with tears at several moments, as so much of what he preached was exactly what I had needed to be reminded of.

But the real God moment came at the end of Mass. As the majority of people filed out of the church, I knelt back down and prayed for much of what I have recently neglected to. I could feel tears well in my eyes as I reflected on the themes of the homily and the desire to be more present in my faith.  As I absentmindedly gazed at a spot in front of me and mulled over all my feelings in a jumbled prayer to God, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a sweet voice say with so much sincerity, “We love you, Dear.”

I turned to see a very elderly woman and her husband, both fixtures of the parish who I have probably interacted with only a few times despite having spent my entire life as a member of St. Rose. I just felt a sense of shock. I smiled and chuckled a bit and thanked her, and she grabbed my hand and gave it a little squeeze and hobbled away with the support of her husband. The two had sat behind me for Mass and in the recent months, I have witnessed this towering man patiently help her in and out of the church as well as to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist as it has very clearly become increasingly different for her to move around on her own.  It’s really a touching yet sad sight to watch, and made it all the more meaningful that she turned her attention from herself, presumably away from the pain, and reached out to me, who evidently looked like I needed a reminder of love.

As her and her husband progressed past me, I turned back and finished my prayer, despite the renewed sense of tears in my eyes. It had to be a moment from God, a way for Him to remind me that no matter how discouraged and frustrated and hard I have been on myself lately, there is so much love around me, even from strangers.

Part 2: The 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States

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Bedecked in official inaugural buttons, bundled up in layers upon layers of our warmest clothes, and sleep-deprived, Tiffany and I ventured into the brisk Monday Morning that was Inauguration Day.  It was 4:30 am and we were armed with footwarmers, bagels with cream cheese, snack bars, bottles of water, a blanket, and wristlets. We boarded the Metro and as soon as we exited the station around 5 am, we found ourselves in the line of the Gold and Yellow ticket holders.  We knew ahead of time that our tickets guaranteed us a spot on a vast lawn that was right behind the reflecting pool in front of the capitol. Tiff and I stood in line with other excited people for approximately an hour and a half. I will be honest, I was cranky, I wanted coffee, and I was cold. Even though I had thick tights under my thickest jeans, wool knee socks, footwarmers, and boots, my feet and legs were still freezing. Tiff and I wrapped the blanket around our waists as we fumbled with all of our other belongings that a security notice had told us could not be in a bag over 6″x8″x4″, so we just stuffed our pockets. The line would advance at random points without any clear indication as to why. Finally, we were told the gates had been opened. We clutched our tickets and quickly progressed, knowing that the sooner we got to security, the sooner we would be at our spots. We hustled to one entry point where we emptied all our pockets and opened our wristlets and walked through a metal detector. Cleared, we continued our fast pace. We came across one worker who was about to direct us towards the left, but then said nine key words: “Wait, are those yellow? That makes a big difference,” and then directed us towards the right. It turns out that we would have been MUCH farther from the action if we had gone to the gold section. Tiff and I nearly jogged and realized that we would be in the FIRST ROW of our section!!! How the heck did that happen?? (Definitely the Founding Fathers – they clearly had our best interest in mind all weekend).

But it was only 7:10 at this point, still four and half hours away from the start of the ceremony. Little did we know, but we would be on our feet for several hours straight, as there were no chairs and we didn’t feel like sitting on the ground was the best option. We settled in and chatted with the people around us. One woman expressed her disbelief over the fact that this kind of cold was something we were accustomed to, as she was from the U.S. Virgin Islands and had been at the President Obama’s First Inauguration. Two middle-aged women behind us seemed to know everything there was to know about politics in DC and shared their excitement with us; they, too, had been to President Obama’s first Inauguration.

Finally, the musical prelude commenced at 9:30, which made the time go by much more quickly. We caught glimpses of the motorcade progressing up the road to the left of the Capitol, freaking out that the president and every one of our representatives would soon be present. The Oaths of Office were given, and an assertive address left me with hope that we will see the change the country so desperately needs in this next term. I found myself looking at either the Capitol or just at a point in front of me because looking at the jumbo-tron reminded me too much of when I watched the 2009 Inauguration on a projector screen in my college’s campus hub. I wanted to feel like I was there and to fully be present in the fact that I was at an event that has only happened 57 times in our nation’s entire history. It was remarkable.

One of the most moving moments throughout the ceremony was being with so many diverse Americans. When Obama mentioned women, a bunch of us cheered. When he referenced Latinos, a group behind us cheered. This pattern continued and there was something so moving to me in it. We clearly all had very different interests in what the next 4 years would do for us, but we were united on a lawn, cheering for the president that was elected by the will of a free people. It was nothing short of beautiful to stand there as a testament of what democracy can accomplish. 

At the end of the ceremony, Tiff and I had to trek about 15 blocks to where our tickets to the parade were. We hustled over there, eager to just sit down and relax.  Sadly, once we got there, Tiff and I got separated for the parade when she kindly went to get us food. Before our separation, though, we realized that our ticket seats placed us at the very end of the parade route and we expressed our hope that we would still be able to see the President and Vice President.

And we were.

POTUS Point

POTUS Point

I was overcome with excitement when I and those around me looked down just past our seating area and realized that the President had exited his car. Between the screaming and the cheering, I snapped several awesome photos.  The President couldn’t have been more that 50 feet away from me, and seeing him and his wife as well as the Bidens in person felt like a dream.

VPOTUS Point

VPOTUS Point

Did this really just happen?  Was I really present for all of this, an event that I said I would attend 4 years ago when I watched the 56th Inauguration on a screen in Massachusetts? 

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It was real, and it was something I will never forget.

I will never forget the feeling I had among so many of my fellow Americans, from all different walks of life, cheering for hope for the future.

I will never forget spending a long weekend with a friend who is so far away now, reminiscing on moments in the past and sharing dreams of an ambitious future.

I will never forget the conversation I had on the phone with my grandfather when I got home about the whole experience, when he told me in response to my description of the FDR Memorial about the time he saw Eleanor Roosevelt while he was on rest and recovery in the Pacific during World War II.

I will never forget the excitement I had to go back to my students and tell them all about my experience at a moment in history.

And I will never forget how proud I was to be an American that weekend while I was present for an event that shows the power of democracy, in a place that serves as a reminder that the protection of natural rights like those of equality and free speech enable people like Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for the rights that all people deserve.

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Part 1: The Founding Fathers are Watching Over Us

capitol at nightNote: This post is terribly overdue. But that’s what happens when you take a positively wonderful trip and then come right back to work and midterm grading and lesson planning. So sorry! But here it is, my account of my marvelously nerdy and fun-filled weekend in DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States.

I’m a nerd. If you haven’t picked up on that by now, then I don’t know what happened.  A few weeks ago, I took a fabulous trip down to Washington DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States. It’s an event that only happens every 4 years and is the culmination of years of campaigning and serves as a testament to the success of the American political system.  Months before the election, I said to my friend Tiffany, with whom I stayed for the weekend, that I would go to the Inauguration regardless of who was elected. I hadn’t been to our nation’s capital since I was in second grade, a travesty in the mind of this U.S. history lover. So when I looked at the calendar and realized that the Inauguration fell on a long weekend, I figured why not.

I arrived on Friday night.  My brother and his friends drove me to the airport (that experience is worthy of a post in itself, just because those are some crazy boys).  I’m pretty sure I was in traffic to Logan longer than I was actually on the plane to DC. Ah well, such is life. Tiffany and I had contemplated going out once I arrived, but after one beer on the plane, I realized I was in no shape to do so and opted to go to bed (even though, in typical long-time friend fashion, we were up late talking and catching up).  On the way to her house in Maryland, I was like a child in Disney World for the first time. Here we were, driving on the highway, and all of  a sudden, there’s the Capitol Building to my right, illuminated in all its democratic republican glory on a chilly January’s night. I warned Tiff that this would basically be my reaction every time we happened across a symbol of our fine nation, and she laughed and assured me that that would be quite alright.

jefferson

We set the alarms early for Saturday and headed into the city for a gloriously clear but chilly morning. We devoted the day to seeing many of the monuments. We started with the Jefferson Memorial, which was relatively quiet as it had just struck 10 am. I have mixed views on Jefferson based on what I consider to be his hypocrisy as the author of the immortal words “all men are created equal” yet was the owner of many slaves, one of whom he impregnated with his illegitimate children. But I digress.  The fact remained that here I was, gazing upon the likeness of one of our nation’s Founders, with his words etched all around us. Regardless of his personal flaws, his words would be taken by generations beyond his own and used to inspire reform and revolution the world over.  On our way out, Tiff and I noticed a small word etched into the wall to our left indicating that there was an exhibit to be viewed. We ventured into a sketchy elevator and found a small exhibit on the life and times of Thomas Jefferson – a lovely surprise for this history teacher.

After viewing the Jefferson exhibit, we continued on along the perimeter of the Tidal Basin and came across the FDR Memorial. It is impressive. Inspirational words of the nation’s only president to be elected to more than two terms provide the context for each stage of the Memorial, which are cleverly devoted to each of his terms that coincided with pivotal moments in twentieth century American history. We then set our sights on the MLK Jr. Memorial.  It is striking. It is so different from the other memorials, but it is inspirational. This memorial was one of the most crowded. Many visitors were visibly emotional as they reflected on the contributions of this champion of civil rights. The next big item on the checklist was the World War II Memorial, which I promised my family I would go to and take lots of pictures of in honor of my grandfather, a veteran of the Pacific theater who had lied about his age and enlisted at the age of 17. I was sure to tell him all about the experience, and  sent him many pictures of his trip, all of which he loved

The rest of Saturday found us walking all over the city, viewing the White House, chatting up Secret Service agents, and meeting our local representative so that we could get the tickets that he had secured for us for the Inauguration ceremony (it helps to have students who have parents in power who also happen to have the same alma mater as you…).  We then headed to dinner at Bullfeathers, a restaurant dedicated to my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. captiol I relished in the opportunity to dine under a signed photograph of him, while a large portrait watched over us from the adjacent wall. Tiff and I also enjoyed the Bullfeathers Amber, an exclusive brew that went perfectly with our savory buffalo mac n’ cheese and delectable fish and chips.

After dinner, we took a stroll to see a beautiful views of the Capitol building at night and the Supreme Court, and then returned back to Tiff’s house to ready ourselves to go out dancing, which ended up being another casual beer at a sports bar amongst several well-connected 20-somethings in their ball-attire.

Sunday brought us to the Lincoln Memorial. I have no shame in admitting that it was here where I almost cried. Like the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial also has a small exhibit on our awe-inspiring sixteenth president, as well as the actual history of the Memorial itself. In one corner, there is a video on a continuous loop that shows all different demonstrations that have occurred at the feet of the stone statue while a wise-sounding narrator delivers some of Lincoln’s most inspiring quotes.  My eyes welled with tears as I heard Lincoln’s words on equality and justice, paired with images of MLK, Jr. and women protesting for equal rights and young people demanding an end to war.  It’s democracy and progress, it’s what our nation stands for, despite its flaws. I looked at my friend, who had tears in her eyes as well, and we shared an appreciation for one another’s understanding. lincoln

We continued down the mall in the direction of the Capitol and stopped by a small memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence that had been dedicated on America’s bicentennial. When you have a chance, google men like Abraham Clark and Elbridge Gerry.  The vast majority of the signers were average guys at the time, who could have very likely been killed had they been unsuccessful in their attempt to establish a free and independent nation.  I have spent time as an intern researching many of these men and am continuously impressed with how after the Continental Congress, most returned home and carried on with their lives.  Many would be involved with the war effort in some way, but overall, life was normal for them, aside from taking part in such a revolutionary act. We then made our way to the American History Museum, where we expressed shock at the fact that we were actually looking at George Washington’s uniform, marveled upon the beautifully intricate dresses of the First Ladies (what tiny waists some of them have!), and learned about different little-known facts of each of the American presidents.  It was here that another friend from middle school, who had moved back to Taiwan but attended college here in the U.S., joined us. We dined at the Hamilton, named for my favorite Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. Keeping in line with my sampling of historically-themed drinks, I ordered the Hamilton’s Mule, a strong gin and vodka concoction that was quite delicious.

We turned in early that night, as we finally decided that we would have to leave for the Metro at 4:30 the next morning in order to get the seats we wanted in our section, an account of which shall follow.

Conversations with You

I wish You were closer. I wish that we talked more.  I wish that this life didn’t strain our relationship. I wish that I trusted Your plan more.  I have so many questions for You, most of which I suppose You will never be able to answer the way I want You to.  Telling others I’ll talk to You for them feels like such an empty phrase lately. And You being you, You know that’s true.

But then You pull through. Just last week I asked for Your help and You granted it.  It may have taken 9 weeks, but You seemed to listen to me about that young women who is so dear to me, too. And the other dear one with the recent broken heart. Yes, yes, maybe You did bring them the peace I asked for, the love I requested.  That had to have been You, right?

Though no matter how much I talk to You, You don’t seem to listen to me when it comes to him.  Maybe I don’t talk to You about him all that much though.  You know how I’ve always avoided it – the pain is too much but it sits on my shoulder, causing my shoulders to hunch over and the corners of my mouth to turn down.  Tears form at childhood scenes and one word floods my mind: “Why?” One question, pestering and festering like an illness without a cure. I hear it from her, too. He caused her pain, too, after all, and that question fills her mind with a never-lifting fog. I guess I’m not the only one who is sitting here with scars, however much they may have healed yet ache when the memories flood.

Can I come talk to You?  Will You listen?  Maybe it’s up for me to listen, to open my ears and accept Your Word and Your love.  Will You bring me the comfort I need, the peace that I seek for concerns for the future? Will You protect my heart? That’s what I need most – for You to protect my heart. It’s at such a risk for breaking and shattering and coming undone. From splitting open and never being mended.

So, will You.

Protect.

My. Heart?

Please.