Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Still away

Can't come back until I spend all of these, so come back next week to see how it went!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bon Voyage!

I've always wanted to see the world. As a child I didn't get to travel many places so it became a goal to see at least one place per continent. Finding a life partner with the same interest in traveling was an amazing feeling. Warren and I would often look at maps of the world and talk about what we'd do, see and eat in various cities. We planned trips together and sometimes apart to places like Panama, New Zealand, Spain and Dubai. Little was more exciting than when we planned a trip to a place we both wanted to visit, like the time we went to South Africa. It was beyond a doubt one of the best times in our lives. Yet, we almost didn't go.

Like many so often do, we thought about going, then backed out because we thought it would be too expensive and we didn't want to put that much on credit cards. It was too far away to leave our daughter behind. We thought that maybe we should put it off for when we were older, more financially secure, could take her with us, etc. But, it was the World Cup and Warren's love of soccer won out. We put ourselves on a strict budget, set up a payment plan for getting the credit cards paid off before the interest killed us, and secured child care. Thank God we took that risk. Some of the brightest and biggest smiles I ever saw on Warren's face were on that trip. Had we waited, we would never have shared that experience. Every time I pass by the framed photo of Warren on the field in Johannesburg, I am grateful that we decided to do it. In the end, not only was it one of the highlights of our marriage, but we were able to do so without going into lasting debt, and learned a lot about saving and planning in the process.

Fast forward two years. My desire to travel didn't die with Warren, but it felt as though my ability to do so did. I am living on a single income, raising my kid on my own, doubting myself every step of the way. How can I think of seeing another part of the world when it takes so much of me to keep this one going round? Warren and I had a plan to travel internationally every other year. We were due for a trip the year he died. While I went to Mexico to spread his ashes, it wasn't the international trip we had envisioned. We were supposed to go to China. Then, in 2014 we were off to Brazil to celebrate another World Cup and renew our vows for our ten-year wedding anniversary. Obviously, none of those came to pass. Instead, I grew angry that something that had been so important to me for so long seemed so far out of the realm of possibility. For so many reasons, international travel seemed like a part of my past, something else I'd lost. 

Image result for definition: wanderlust

Wanderlust is like an incurable disease. It gnaws at you constantly. For me, experiencing other cultures and stepping out of my comfort zone is like a drug. The more I do it, the more I want to. That feeling that life is fleeting, and there is so much of the world to see is building inside me. It's stronger now than it was before because there's a sense of urgency that I didn't feel when Warren was alive. I decided a few months ago that I was not going to give up traveling just because I had become a widow. 

Traveling as a single is different than traveling with a partner. It took some adjusting to see how it could work, but in March, I booked my first solo international trip. In my situation, the best option was to choose a place where I knew someone I could stay with. That limited my destinations, but that didn't bother me.  It would be a good way to ease into solo traveling. 

I'm excited and nervous for this new adventure. At the same time, I am careful to manage expectations. It won't be the way it was when Warren was at my side. He and I had a sort of push and pull when it came to travel. We'd both have agendas that we wanted to meet, exposing each other to things the other wouldn't have done on their own. It gave me courage to do them with him at my side, and his excitement often spilled over onto me, and vice versa. But on the bright side, I am visiting a friend, so I'll still have a sidekick for most of the trip. 

On Friday I will say good-bye to the western hemisphere and go to South Korea. It will be my first time visiting Asia and hopefully not my last. A friend I've known for about ten years lives there and will be my guide. She's fun and adventurous, and I have no doubt it will be amazing. I am a fan of all things Asian when it comes to food, so I am allowing myself to gain 5 pounds, but am hoping that we'll do so much sight-seeing that it won't happen.

Until Friday I am spending my time much like I did when Warren and I would travel together - worrying about all that has to be done before leaving, and making sure all ducks are in a row before I board that plane. What is different is that I am especially looking forward to the solace of being on an airplane for thirteen hours where I don't have to answer to anyone, and will be completely unplugged from the world. That in itself sounds like a great start to my vacation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sad For What Language Can Do

I've written about the power of words before. As a writer, I believe that words can be more powerful than a sword. That might have been a quote of some dead poet, and if so, I apologize for not citing him or her. Words can hurt in ways more lasting than physical wounds. They can shape a person's self esteem indefinitely. The potency of words have moved nations to war. That's a scary thought.

Words flood my head all day, but it's other people's words that have me on edge right now. In particular, I am pondering the affects of presidential candidate Donald Trump's words. I am asking myself how they contribute to an already stormy racial climate. According to, hate speech is defined as: 
Speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.
So often, that definition comes to mind when I read about Trump's words to the public. He calls Mexicans rapists and thieves. Not citing examples of actual criminals, but blankets that on the entire Mexican population. When an entire group of people is lumped together as something to be feared, as less than civilized, it is easy to make them targets, blame them for the woes upon the country, and in the end, believe them to be less human than you. It creates an "us" vs. "them" mentality. When mobs of people accept this as truth, it gives them license to treat them as such. This is nothing new. It is the keystone of the Holocaust and the genocide that plagues entire nations even to this day.

Often the United States paints itself as the modern example of a melting pot in which all who live here have the opportunity to thrive and be happy. The Statue of Liberty has come to symbolize this freedom and is seen the world over as what we stand for. Yet, when you examine us under a microscope, you find tears in the fabric of that image. For those of us who call this nation home, we know it is struggling to be that welcoming place that tells the world to:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! 

The sign on Lady Liberty should come with a caveat, an asterisks that clarifies that the United States only wants you to come to these shores if you can prove you are of value. This does not include people of color who don't speak English accent-free; who come from places fraught with war and tyranny; who feed their children dirt pies to stave off hunger; who have watched their families dwindle away from violence and famine. If you believe the hate speech Trump spews, these people are not of value to this country. Never mind that immigrants have contributed billions in ideas and revenues for generations. It doesn't take into account the millions who silently slave away in extreme conditions to make sure we can buy lettuce at less than a dollar a head, and stay in clean hotel rooms with beautifully manicured lawns. That mentality belittles the struggles our global neighbors face in countries where American foreign policies and greed have raped the resources and created a machine that cranks out chronic destitution.

When I think about the ails of the world, it is exhausting and desperate. I have to stop myself from dwelling on it for fear that I will grow too angry to make appropriate decisions, too upset to be at my best. But the sad reality is that I don't have to think about far off places to feel this way. I can think about my own back yard. The affects of Trump's words were felt at my Alma Mater on September 12, 2015 when Trump was scheduled to speak to fellow Republicans. Students prepared for his arrival with a peaceful protest meant to bring attention to how his campaign messages were directly hurting them. They made signs with cardboard and markers, and stood outside in the sun for hours holding them up, as is their right to do. Thousands filled Jack Trice Stadium to cheer for their favorite Iowa football team, fueled on adrenaline, too much beer, and the excitement that comes when rivals take to the grid iron. It started as a small group, and as tailgaters and fans saw what they were doing, some joined in solidarity. They made their own signs that reflected their beliefs. Everyone stood tall and peacefully held their signs, declaring their stand against bigotry.

To be expected, not everyone agreed with them. That is perfectly acceptable. What is not acceptable are the actions of those who disagreed. Trump supporters threw bottle caps and other items at the protesters. They called them names and told them to get the insert expletive here out of their country. One woman even grabbed an organizer's face and told her that she didn't belong here, even though that student is a US citizen. Their displays of intolerance and disrespect was not met with the same. The students continued to hold signs and did not react to the disgusting chants of "White Power" and racial slurs. For that, I am proud of my fellow ISU peers. They stood with dignity and integrity when they could easily have matched the negativity around them, sparking an incident or riot that would have ruined the festivities for all. 

Peaceful protesters at Iowa State U.
The fact that they had to deal with those reactions brings me back to my thoughts about how words can have lasting and powerful affects. People at the game reacted to the impression of immigrants that they had been told. I am venturing a guess that none of those Trump supporters had actually experienced an immigrant rapist or thief. They most likely interact with immigrants on a regular basis, but don't know it. I'm positive each of them has benefited from immigrants because you'd be hard-pressed to find an American who has not enjoyed a meal at a restaurant, or eaten a cut of meat that didn't come from the hands of an immigrant.

Because of hate speech like Trump's, people are spurred to actions that are deplorable and senseless. At Iowa State a young women ripped a sign that held a Martin Luther King, Jr quote, and then turned and giggled as though her impudence was cute, or humorous. It was caught on video and I hope her notoriety for her ignorant actions make her understand that nothing positive comes from lashing out at someone who is not hurting you.

The sign that was ripped at ISU student protest
The ignorance in Ames was mild in comparison to what happened in Boston, when two white men beat a Latino man and claimed they did it because they buy into Trump's hate speech. What was sickening was that Trump's reaction praised them as "passionate supporters". This reminds me of a certain dictator who offered accolades to those who helped him hunt, torture and persecute Jews, Gypsies, and other non-Aryan peoples of Europe in the 1930's and 40's. He was a compelling speaker who brilliantly painted entire peoples as undesirable, comparing them to vermin, making it easy for his supporters to target them for atrocities because they no longer deemed them as human. It is not different than what Trump is doing. He is using immigrants as scapegoats and it is translating to putting all Latinos in that category, regardless of citizenship. It puts us in harm's way every time he uses villainous terms to describe us. It inspires fear that gives the masses an excuse to perform heinous actions against us. People of color are already vulnerable in a country that uses law enforcement as a means to incarcerate and kill us. Now we have to worry about over-zealous Trump supporters, too. 

I suppose it comes with the territory that words have the capacity to breed hate, just as easily as they can inspire love. They can move the public to take up signs in solidarity, and rip them in a show of odious fanaticism. These are all sad truths that one cannot escape, especially someone like me who loves words and appreciates all they can do. I hope and pray that those of us who have the privilege of voice in this country will use our words to condemn those who use them to hurt and stigmatize others. May we all have the courage and grace of the student protesters who did not greet assault with violence, but stood bravely, taped their words back together, and held them up once more to make their point. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Widowhood is for life

A fellow widow blogged about how widowhood doesn't go away and referenced an article in her blog that touched a nerve with me.

I recall the day it dawned on me that I had a new title. I was sitting on the floor of my room, talking to one my closest friends. It was a few days after Warren's funeral. I asked her, "So, am I considered single now? Is that what I check on forms from now on? I don't feel single." 

She calmly said, "No, you're a widow."

She might as well have told me that I had just sprouted a new head because it felt like I was hit with a new identity. This word that I had never thought much about, was now going to be an adjective to describe me. I didn't respond because I didn't know what to say. I had been single and knew what that felt like. I had been married and knew that feeling as well. This was such a different label that it dumbfounded me. 

Widows were old. I was 31. Widows had grown children and grandchildren. I had a seven year-old. Widows hung out with other widows and reminisced about the 40+ years they got with their beloved. I only had seven years of marriage and hadn't met any widow younger than 60.

I didn't want that title. But, I wasn't single. That would imply a break-up, or perhaps a decision to part ways. Neither applied. I wasn't married, although I felt as much his partner as I had when he was at my side. So, I felt like I had no other choice but to accept this new entity. I was a widow. I am a widow. I will always be a widow.

Being a widow is the hardest, saddest title I've ever worn. It's not easy being a woman in a male dominated society. It's not easy being brown in a world that favors white skin. It's not easy being bilingual in a state that mandates English-only. But, those are a piece of cake in comparison to being a widow. 

In some societies we are pariahs, forgotten by in-laws, scorned by the rest of the community, seen as bad luck and suspect. Historically we have been cast out of our homes, forced to become another man's property, stripped of our possessions, children and human rights. I am beyond lucky that I don't live in those times or places. That's not to say I haven't felt like I carry a bad omen simply by being a widow. I've lost friends who couldn't bear the thought of their own mortality, and therefore see me as a harsh reminder that we live on borrowed time. I have been asked some harsh and incredibly personal questions that no one would have dared ask when Warren was alive. I get strange looks from older people when I use it to describe myself. It is usually followed by a look of disbelief, which is OK, or pity, which I despise. I have found myself reluctant to use it when I don't have the energy to decipher what kind of reaction I'll get from the audience. 

But, there's no way around it. I am a widow. It's part of my story. It has made me a different person. It will continue to be part of what shapes me. I accept that, but I am not defined by it. I am comfortable with being a widow because I know I am more than that. But, no matter what else I am, who I become, I am never not going to be Warren's widow. 

One Fit Widow said it best:
I don’t ever stop missing him or thinking about him.
People are not replaceable. One person does not replace another. One love is not like another love. They are different. Love is unique.
Even as I love again, or re-marry, I will always miss and love Warren. That will not be replaced by anyone. There will still be times when he is the only person in the world I want to talk to; days I will celebrate him; moments I will long for him; events that will make that anger rise up again and choke me in the way that only grieving can do. This will be my reality no matter who else is in my life, because it is the life of a widow.

I've learned a lot about how enduring love is. Also about how progressive it can be. It is ever-changing. The way I love Warren today is not how I loved him in life. The place he holds in my heart now isn't the same as it was before he died. The person who loves me next will not love me the way he did. I am OK with that. It excites me to know that all love is different because I look forward to loving with all I have learned about love.

Widowhood has taught me not to take love for granted. I notice it in ways that are subtle. I am kinder in my approach to love. I am more cautious, and for the life of me can't shake the thought of how fleeting it is. I know what it's like to feel like someone's world one minute, and like no one's second thought the next, and I know that's what love can do. I am careful about how I accept love, too. Mediocre won't do. I knew true love. That is all I will allow. I am not ashamed of this. Widowhood has shown me the reason it hurts so much to wear that title is because I was loved so well as a wife. 

While I don't go around announcing to strangers that I am a widow, I have grown accustomed to finding ways to reveal it in due time. I imagine that even if I become a wife again some day, I will still want to reveal that I am Warren's widow. It means that I loved him until death did us part, just as I said I would, and that his love is still a part of me. It's not something to be embarrassed about, or want to cover up. It's been one of my greatest and toughest teachers and no matter what other titles I wear, it will be one carried closest to my heart.

I leave you with words from Carole Brody Fleet, author of Widows Wear Stilettos:
Remember that you can and should bring along and integrate the memories and the beauty of your previous life with your beloved into your new life now. Your heart will expand infinitely to accept new love into your life; without limitation and regardless of what that "new love" looks like.
In other words, whether you have fallen in love with:
A new home;
A new career;
A new hobby or pastime;
A new person;
A new direction in life;
A new “you”;
Some of the above;
…or all of the above and then some…
Do not let anyone make you feel guilty about it - including YOU.
You are not dishonoring or disrespecting the memory of your beloved or the life that you built and lived together. You are simply embracing the fact - and the reality - that by being here, you deserve everything that life has to offer you and whatever it is that you seek…
…and that includes your happiness and your peace.

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