Hero and Leander

Two towns there were, that with one sea were wall’d.
Built near, and opposite; this Sestus call’d,
Abydus that ; the Love his bow bent high,
And at both Cities let one arrow fly,
That two (a Virgin and a Youth) inflam’d:
The youth was sweetly-grac’d Leander nam’d,
The virgin Hero ; Sestus she renowns,
Abydus he, in birth; of both which towns
Both were the beauty-circled stars ; and both
Grac’d with like looks, as with one love and troth.
– Musaeus Grammaticus

First meeting
First meeting

The last twelve months has seen us bid farewell to our feline companions of the last decade, renowned Tiberius of doughty strength, ineffable charm and unquenchable mischief and lovely Data, the sweetest cat ever to be worn as a scarf. Thus ended our second generation of cats – the first being Justice and Magic. But for us, a house without cats is only a house. It is the tread of paws which transforms it into a home. We gave Data a due period of mourning. We completed our adventures and camping – brainstorming cat names as we drove the sylvan road from Frankfurt to Strasbourg.

We had many pairs of names for boys: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Two girls were much harder, perhaps Tigris and Euphrates? Boy/girl we were spoiled for options: Tristan and Isolde? Abelard and Heloise?

Driving back from camping for Labor Day, Adam spent the entire trip filling out online profiles for adopting cats. When we adopted Data and Tiberius, there were probably 40+ adoptable cats in the shelter. But we were finding that there was no “stock” of cats, and they were getting adopted wildly quickly. We got a call on a way to the adoption appointment on Sunday night not to bother – there were no adoptable animals. But there were, she gave us insight, a bunch of them going through the process of being checked, neutered, etc. And we should watch the listings. On Monday late night, 10 adoptable cats were added. I fretted – Tuesday we had soccer and bass lessons and I didn’t know how we could go. But then the rains came and the field was flooded and the bass instructor got food poisoning and all of a sudden signs pointed to cat. By the time we got to the shelter at 6:15, there were only five of those ten cats remaining, and only three within the criteria we were looking for.

Sterling, now known as Leander
Sterling, now known as Leander

The first cat we met was a handsome long-haired tuxedo called Sterling. He fearlessly permitted himself to be picked up and handled, and purred under adoring fingers giving him pets and scritches. He was five months old, and just a wee little kitten. Data was a tiny light cat at the end, and this little critter was half his weight. Sterling had extremely long and dramatic whiskers, ridiculously hirsute (or firsute?) and hairy ears and the most adorable socks – the ones on his back legs being extremely decorative. We learned that he was out of Virginia – and just a baby with no history. We pretended not to have decided that we were adopting him when we put him back, but it was all pretense.

Violet, aka Hero
Violet, aka Hero

The second cat was a tortie – mostly black with orange highlights except for the very tip of her five-month-old tail which is vibrant orange. Violet, as she was called, was lithe and powerful like a tigress, and ardent in her affections to the hands which stroked chin and shoulders. She’d been returned along with another cat after a week, with no reason given, so we don’t even know where she hailed from. She is DEFINITELY trouble, but that is the nature of a cat. She’s also sweet and affectionate and snuggly and has cat ADHD (in my very professional diagnosis).

Feline mischief, right here
Feline mischief, right here

They were not bonded, nor did they come from the same place. (Massachusetts usually imports stray animals from parts of the country with lower spay/neuter rates.) But they were both charming, friendly, affectionate and definitely coming home with us.

Very Dignified Cat
Very Dignified Cat

We’ve had them for a few days (each in a different attic room, slowly getting used to each other and each other’s smells). And so far they are very much kittens with so much kitten energy. They’re affectionate and funny and noisy and all over the place. They do have some epic zoomies. We’re totally in love, and can’t wait until we can unleash them on the house, and looking forward to many fine years of their soft and silly company.

Floof tail
Floof tail

Is it I, Lord?

Today’s scripture in church was 1 Samuel. If you were a frequent Sunday School go-er, you know this story. Samuel was a late baby. His mother, Hannah, felt her infertility as you only can in a culture that values women for their baby-producing powers. She prayed HARD and promised God that if she only had a baby, she’d give it up to his temple. Well, she had a son and handed him over as soon as he was weaned (likely 2 or 3) to the priest Eli in keeping with her promise.

Two chapters later, we have an old Eli with a young Samuel sleeping nearby. Samuel keeps hearing his name called and keeps going to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. But Eli finally figured out what was going on, “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” (1 Samuel 3:7). Today, the pastor encouraged us to find the Eli’s in our own life, who would help us hear what we are called to do.

But this raised a really great question for me – how the heck do the sages, the mentors, the old men and wise women who populate ever hero’s journey… how do THEY learn how to be the wise folks who stay home, tend fires, and wait for really obnoxious adolescent heroes to come to them? We all know the story of Samuel, but how do you become an Eli?

I can think of many, many stories with these wise, old folk. There’s Gandalf. And Dumbledore. Mr. Miyagi. There’s the Oracle in The Matrix. Uncle Iroh in Avatar. Star Wars has a battle of the mentors: Emperor Palpatine vs. Obi Wan. I bet you can come up with a dozen more. Almost every story that tells the tale of the hero, there’s the sage. The same is true in real life. The advice given to women is business over and over again is to find a mentor or a sponsor.

The other day I heard a story about Millie Bobby Brown (the actress who plays Eleven in Stranger Things). She went to some acting classes and “they” were so blown away by her talent that “they” said in the strongest possible terms that she and her family needed to get to Hollywood, stat. (I mean, “they” were right.) We’ve all heard this tale of the talent discovered (or missed). As kids, we all waited and hoped that someday some mysterious “they” would tap us on the shoulder and tell us that we had heart. Or skill. Or that special something. As I heard the story of Millie, I felt deeply uneasy.

You seem, I’m heading into wise old woman territory, and I’m not sure I know how to do the role. How did that acting person know that this one girl required all the stops to be pulled, and needed to go immediately to Hollywood? How does Mr. Miyagi know how to teach? Where did Uncle Iroh learn the humility to listen to his charge and not explain at great length why he knew better (which he did)? How did Dumbledore control his fears and desires to give Harry enough space to grow into himself without micromanaging? So often these teachers are abandoned and insulted by their charges in fits of pique. The kid goes, learns the hard way, comes back with new humility and the teacher (who was usually deeply hurt) is always gracious and never lashes out or sulks.

I do think that I’m probably the Gandalf-variety mage – meddling, and wants to hang around for the action and not let the kids screw it all up. Please note: Gandalf dies halfway through book one and doesn’t get to come back until book two at which point he’s finally learned to quit meddling so much.

These are very real concerns for me. I’d like to be a sage and mentor to those around me. At work, there are people who have 15 years less experience than I do, who are trying to navigate tricky waters. How do I help them? How do I learn to make it as little as possible about me? (What great sage went on at length about their accomplishments? The crappy ones!) How do I help people at church hear what God is calling them to do? How do I find the greatness in others, and then help them find it?

One last note on Samuel & Eli. If you read the lectionary and the Sunday school stories, you hear about Samuel’s call. What you don’t get is the full picture of Eli. The priesthood in those days was inherited. And Eli’s sons would be priests after him. And they were really bad boys doing bad things and abusing their authority. And Eli? Was an ineffective father. He tried to correct his sons’ behavior, but they were not swayed. So the same wise man who knew that God was calling Samuel couldn’t get through to his own kids about what the Lord expected of them. In fact, the prophecy that God gives Samuel in the dark that night is the destruction of Eli’s family, “His sons blasphemed God and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (1 Samuel 3:13&14)

How do I make sure that, if I cannot be that sage to my own sons as Eli was not, I have put them in those places where the wise ones will see them and know them and guide them, when I cannot?

Have you ever read a great story about becoming an oracle or a sage? What does the journey of the wise one look like? What about in real life? What are some of the ways that we can change our life expectations from hoping someone will notice us, to trying to make sure we notice & help the heroes growing behind us?

Running towards danger

During Monday’s Marathon bombings, my friend Caitlin Rivet was working as a volunteer EMT at the Boston Marathon. I’ve known Caitlin since she was about 12. I taught her and her churchmates in Sunday School, youth group and confirmation. We’ve been close ever since, even as she moved into adulthood.

At church this morning, Caitlin was there. Her face has a strip of abrasions from shattered glass from the explosion, and she shies away from talking about her Monday. It’s too close, and too hard to put in words. But she wrote this narrative about her day, and gave me permission to share it.

When the marathon was just a fun sports event.
When the marathon was just a fun sports event.

4.15.13 – A Reflection

The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s premier sporting events. This year it was marred by two bombs that were detonated close to the finish line. During a time when most marathoners are finishing, the first bomb was set off in
front of a sports store along the spectator sidewalk. While hundreds of people were cheering on family and friends to the finish, they experienced a horrible act of terror. The first bomb went off feet from the finish line and only about 12 seconds later, the second went off less than one block away.

This is my reflection and memories of my day there.

It was a cool morning starting in the dark at 5am, my first major marathon volunteering experience about to begin. Despite having worked until 11pm the night before, I was a giddy person excited to see what the day would entail. With my clothes on that I had laid out the day before, I set off to the train station. Surprisingly, I could see my breath and I was happy to have my hot chocolate. As I waited for the commuter rail to pull in, I began to think how this marathon might be run compared to the Bay State Marathon, which had been my only experience in major sporting events. I was eager to get my directions, I was volunteering as medical staff, as an EMT. So as the train rolled into North Station, I followed my plan to the green line, ending at Arlington Station. From there I found my way to the Back Bay Event Center and my group meeting area. I was assigned to transport bus #5. I was the only EMT on my bus and surprised, it being my first time and all, but nonetheless, off I went. I gathered my volunteer jacket (score!) and supplies for the day, boarded the bus and so it began.

As the morning went on a few runners were unable to complete the race and we picked them up, making the trip to the finish line to drop them off. On our second run into the finish line, I realized I needed additional supplies. So after all the runners had made their way off the bus, I headed down the street to re-stock. On my way, things took a complete u-turn.

I was walking by the stands packed with friends and family cheering on their runners, when the first explosion occurred. It was a loud pop, suddenly my ears were ringing and I was off balance. As I re-gained my balance, saw the smoke and debris flying through the air, I knew instantaneously this was not normal. What I didn’t know was that it was a bomb not an accidental explosion of some sort. I later found that I had been scraped in the face by some of the glass flying- nothing major. As I began to run to the sidewalk, the second explosion occurred less than a block away. I stopped, saw it was similar and proceeded to the injured people.

From flying glass - she's not included in the count of injured.
From flying glass – she’s not included in the count of injured.

As I looked around, people were running with me towards the smokey, debris- filled sidewalk to assist those injured. What we found was beyond imagination. Blood stained the sidewalk, ran down the curb and sprayed against store windows. Glass flew through the air from windows blown out. In an attempt to gain access to the injured, everyone began to rip the staging apart; through metal scaffolding, marathon tape, the nation’s flags, wooden fencing: all with haste to reach those in critical condition. Suddenly, those of us who began the day volunteering to help with hypothermia and dehydration found ourselves making tourniquets of belts, tablecloths, clothes from the stores and marathon tape. Using clothes to cover wounds and many other makeshift items we found solutions. We entered a scene of horror, trepidation, mangled bodies and cries for help. Moving as quickly as possible for fear of additional attacks, we evacuated the injured over our shoulders, carried them by the extremities that were still intact and eventually stretchers and wheelchairs. As the police cleared the scene, the remnants of a nightmare were visible: an event of great personal achievement turned into a mission of many.

I found a few moments to txt people close to me and post on facebook that I was ok since cell towers were shut down.

This was such a relief to hear
This was such a relief to hear

The medical tents quickly filled, the grassy areas used for the less critical and ambulances began lining up to take patients to every available hospital. Police and volunteers began to stop runners, asking if they were medical staff and worked in Boston area hospitals; those who answered yes were quickly transported to begin the hard work extending the need to use their previously exhausted bodies.

We continued clearing the area, treating and transporting people until 7:30pm, only a total of 4 ½ hours after the explosion. Around 170 people were treated and transported, in the biggest MCI (mass casualty incident) Boston and
most medical staff had ever seen.

Around 8pm, it began to wind down. I gathered my belongings once I had been cleared to leave and took a look at the medical tent, the scene was one of peace and serenity. There was plenty of proof of the day’s events, but instead of chaos, screams and debris, it was filled with used supplies, sweat poured out from everyone’s best efforts and hope.

A great sense of accomplishment preceded a large feeling of the unknown. What’s next? Is there anything else I can do? Has everyone gotten what he or she needed? Did I miss someone? Did everything we do work? Do I go home now? Can I get home?- the MBTA had been shut down. What do I do when I go home? I’m exhausted – will I sleep? As much of the unknown crowded my mind, a sense of disbelief and numbness settled in. I proceeded to the nearest open station guided by troopers since most of Boston was still shut down. I took the train home, calling my Aunt on the way home and stopping for a burger – my first meal since breakfast.

I sat on the train and couldn’t think about what happened, how does one process an event of such magnitude? I am very good at compartmentalizing and focusing on the job, will that carry over to today? I texted a few friends who had been trying to get my status, knowing I lived in the area but not that I was actually at the marathon. As I responded to them, I was in awe of how many people had heard and thought of me- some people I hadn’t heard from in a while. Then a thought crept in: what will I tell people when they ask? Do I give details? Can my friends and family handle the details of my experience? What does my Mom know/think- she’s in Spain? Should I give a summary, if you will? Will I be ok talking about it? How will I be at work now? And what the heck will I say to my Dad? In conclusion: I needed space to see how this will play out.

The next day I woke up feeling well rested, then my memory was jogged and I remembered what had happened. Should this effect my day? Let’s see how it goes. I got more info, though I felt no need to look at the pictures since I had plenty in my head. I heard the number of official fatalities and injured. Amazingly much to the tribute of a city’s teamwork, the fatalities were extremely low for an attack of this caliber and most survivors will have the opportunity to overcome their injuries and flourish in spite of the attackers intentions.

I did go to work the next day; things went fairly well. Besides being a bit jumpy and nervous at doors shutting, sirens blaring, basically any loud noise, I was able to do my job and finish my shift. When I brought patients to the hospital, my friends offered their support and checked to see how I was. Staff that had never really interacted with me, suddenly knew me and were interested in my well-being. I was shocked at the span of knowledge that I was there. Wednesday, work went well, somber and numb still, but well. Thursday I had a non-violence interventions training, I attended with a few friends and the class was better than expected. Somewhere in the first portion of the training, we were instructed to shut our eyes and picture our happy place- I did not do this, then out of nowhere, the instructor
screamed. I was overwhelmed and had to leave the class to gather myself. This was really my first time not able to keep it in control. I realized that things were starting to become less numb. My boss asked me to take the evening off, though I did not want to and call the crisis team. I did and got a counselor, basically my thinking was – dude, this is normal, it’s going to take a little while to re-adjust and comprehend. I got a few good tips and went to work Friday. Friday the hospital chaplain approached me also, and the rest of the shift went well.

What I have realized is, the effects are probably going to take a while to subside. I am sleeping through the night, I wake up sweaty in the morning, but it’s a complete night sleep. I get startled easily by noises such as car doors, things being dropped and the lock on the hospital stretchers. When I know they are coming, I can brace myself. I keep cough drops in my pocket because the crisis counselor suggested that when I get trapped in a moment, sucking on a strong flavor stimulates the senses and brings you back to the present. Very true, whoever figured that out is genius!

I cry occasionally without warning. I am not totally in my usual easygoing personality, but it peeks through sometimes.

The only thing that has truly saddened me is that while thinking of those I needed to notify immediately that I was ok, I thought of my grandparents. My grandparents passed this fall. I feel it speaks to our strong connection and the love that still exists. I know that they would have been so proud and enjoyed my story.

Time will go on, people will ask, things will scare me: flashbacks or whatever you want to call them; will occur, but overall, I am comforted by the fact that I did everything in my power to improve the circumstances for many. I will most likely never have the opportunity to make such a large difference/ impact in my lifetime. I am grateful that I was there. Although I struggle at this time, it is nothing compared to others and my struggle is warranted by the actions I took.

It has been a truly profound experience and when I have trouble, I picture the tent at 8pm; quiet, serene and peaceful: the perfect ending to a tragedy and the best display of humanity in its essence.