Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reading and Remembering on Memorial Day

Wow.  Rarely has the A section of The Washington Post been such a roller coaster of emotion for me.  

Two front page articles had me in tears.  One took me by surprise with its goodness--the last place one expects to find good news, after all, is the front page of a newspaper.  “Honoring the dead to treat the living” by Lena Sun was the story of a ceremony honoring the families of dead people whose organs were donated to research.  The Georgetown University medical students carried candles creating a ribbon of light, and the ceremony celebrated the priceless contribution of both the dead and their loved ones.  The author interviewed relatives about the difficult decision to donate, and medical students about their respect for the people whose organs they had explored in anatomy lab. The beauty of it took my breath away.

The second article brought tears to my eyes, but this time tears of despair. “Homeless,not helpless” by Annie Gowen was at first glance an uplifting article about a once-homeless vet, Jas Boothe, who purchased a house in the Northern Virginia suburbs as a shelter for homeless female vets and their children. I am, as readers of this blog know, frequently and vocally in awe of the power of one individual to make a difference. But in this case that awe was overwhelmed by the dread that this house was a drop in the bucket of a problem that is a disgrace by its very existence, which is that we aren’t taking proper care of our vets who have served our country so bravely.  One of the issues is that many of the shelters created to support vets don’t accommodate children.

I have known about the link between homelessness and mental illness in war vets since the Vietnam vets of my generation, but heretofore only really made the connection regarding male vets.  I’m sure it’s not that every war hasn’t had female vets shattered just has badly of course, and I’ve read several stirring and disturbing books by female veterans, but this article brought these women, right now, in my community, to light.  Gowen writes, “Although the overall number of homeless veterans declined 12 percent between 2010 and 2011, the number of homeless female veterans is increasing, the VA said in a draft report this month. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veteran population.”  Gowen also shares the VA’s acknowledgement that female vets “are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems and to have suffered sexual trauma during their military service” (though the author doesn’t say whether the VA report notes the further horror that some of that is at the hands of their fellow American soldiers).

I set down the newspaper for a while, deeply disturbed and wondering how I could help this cause (which turns out to be through Final Salute, whose mission is to help homeless female veterans with safe and suitable housing).

When I returned to the A section a bit later it was another piece of good news that caught my eye—and sent me down Memory Lane.  I squealed at the first sentence of Olga Khazan’s “Kickstarter spies asunglass start-up” article as a familiar name jumped out.  Vincent Ko, one of my son’s best friends since elementary school, who he’d roomed with in DC most recently last summer, had a vision and is making it a reality.  The entrepreneurial 24-year-old used crowdsourcing to fund his startup selling sunglasses made of bamboo.  And if that’s not cool enough, he’s taken inspiration from the model of TOMS Shoes, which for every pair sold donates a pair of shoes to the needy.  Vincent and his co-founders have partnered with an organization that for every pair of Panda sunglasses sold provides an eye exam and eyeglasses to someone in need in India, Colombia or Argentina.

I read with growing excitement (the sunglasses will be selling in Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, and sales have already been responsible for more than a thousand eye exams), as puffed up with pride as if Vincent were my own. I did, after all, offer food and shelter to him and the rest of the bright bunch of tots-turned-teens that formed my son’s posse for so many years, and toted them to middle school dances and skating packed tightly in their gangly glory of pre-adolescence in my car, whose moon roof I had to open to let out the competing colognes. 

I finish reading the newspaper feeling a sense of connection to my community and the world, optimism that there is still a place for good writing and that journalists can be voices for change, and, after all, inspiration at the power of one individual to make a difference.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Coming Out the Other Side

I realize I have lost my voice.  Metaphorically, that is. I’ve been sitting here thinking it has been a really long time since I blogged, and beating myself up for that.  My last post was more than a month ago, musing about my then-impending move and my sense of loss and my gratitude for the place I had the good fortune to live for the past decade.    I have since then thought about my next post, something funny about the ridiculous things that happen during a move, or perhaps a vicious tirade against the hands-down winner for lousiest customer service during a move, Verizon Communications.

But I’m too exhausted, still, in the aftermath of my epic battle to procure working phone, fax, and Internet, and when the realization of the enormity of the change I’ve just made hits me. I’m too exhausted, still, by the fact that after my move, instead of the vacation I really need, I instead had to face going back into my draining job, now located claustrophobically in my dining room, six feet from the should-be sanctuary of my favorite chair perch in my living room.

I have had a lot of losses of late. I am struggling.  And I am sick of—and fear those around me are sick of, too—the gloomy story I’ve been telling for the last year or so at least about my struggles.  Blah blah blah blah blah.  

Now that the immediate chaos of my move has settled, I’m simultaneously searching for things I know are in my apartment but damned if I know where, and realizing that living in this smaller space--or more accurately both living and working full time in this smaller space--requires me being intentional about getting out more.   I won’t bore you with the things and places and people and animals I miss.  I’m pretty sure that in time I’ll build a good life here.  But right now, I can’t seem to sustain my wit or energy or optimism quite long enough to crank out a blog post.  This might be a Web 2.0 version of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it” message girls get, particularly girls of my generation got. Also quite some years ago I decided to stop being a person who complained or insisted on being right and be instead a person who smiled and tilted my head towards the sun.

So after all this, I will tell you that I’ve been exploring my new community.  I’ve found a new dim sum place that’s even better than my friends’ and my long-time favorite.  I’ve found a friendly coffee shop that supports live music.  I’ve signed up for local aquatic classes. I’ve found a drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts and good falafel take-out. I’ve got about half a dozen different ways to get to places I need to go.  I’ve stopped turning in the wrong direction off the elevator to get to my apartment.  I’ve had several family members and several friends come to visit my new place. And this morning I challenged my Pajama Sunday credo and corralled a friend on one of her rare weekends off to go with me to the Olney Farmers & Artisans Market opening day.  I can report that the omelet burritos at the Eat a Little Something tent are delicious and totally worth waiting in line, and that I need to stay away from all the booths where sculptors and creative jewelers ply their tempting wares.
I guess that’s not so bad for six weeks in.  And look at that, I’ve found my voice again.