"In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away." -Shing Xiong *** "Do not go where the path may lead; instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson *** "Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget." -G. Randolf *** "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -E.M. Forster *** "Imagnination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world." -Albert Einstein *** Defintion of Suburbia: A place where they cut down trees and name streets after them. -(Unknown, found on sticker) :p *** "A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." -Winston Churchill***"Love is the irresistible desire to be desired irresistibly." -Louis Ginsberg ***"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." -Martin Buber

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In the Moment (a short story)

In the Moment

They had predicted good weather this week. They had said it would be so warm out we would forget it was fall.
I don’t think I had ever heard a bigger lie in my entire life.
The three of us trudged through the sleepy neighborhood, our heads down against the driving wind. Small snowflakes gusted into our faces, gathering on our eyelashes and stinging our skin with icy coldness.
My hands were stuffed under my armpits, but it did little to keep them warm. I didn’t have gloves. Valerie and Erica did though. I’d never been more jealous.
“Just one more house,” Valerie said, her teeth clacking as she looked down at her clipboard.
I looked up ahead, my eyes falling on the house looming at the end of the street.
It was small, but quaint, more like a cottage than a house, and puffs of smoke were rising from the chimney. Oh, the things I would do to be huddled by that fire…
The house was painted a forest green, with natural-looking wooden and doors and shutters. Vines covered almost one entire side of the house, reaching all the way up the chimney. A pretty hedge bordered the property, lightly dusted with snow. Leaves fluttered across the yard in the wind.
As we approached the driveway, I heard Erica say; “I hear she’s a witch.” Valerie’s eyes widened.
“Who?” I called over the wind.
Erica simply nodded to the door we were nearing. It was adorned with a wrought-iron dragon knocker.
The three of us gathered on the doorstep, huddling for warmth.
“Do you think it’s true?” I asked, a chill running up my spine, and not from the cold.
“Just look at the place,” Erica said, gesturing. Valerie nodded in agreement.
“Maybe we should just go back. We can say she wasn’t home,” Valerie offered. I shook my head without hesitating.
“We should at least try. She is a child of God, just like you or I. She deserves a chance.” Valerie and Erica glanced at their feet. Taking a deep breath, I raised the knocker and clapped it against the door three times.
There was a pause, then, over the racket of the gale, I heard a bustle from within. The door creaked, then swung inward.
The woman that stood before us was not what I had been expecting.
She was young, and didn’t appear to be in her thirties yet. She was beautiful too; no warts. Long, healthy locks of chestnut hair tumbled about her shoulders, framing her gentle heart-shaped face. Bright, intense green eyes gazed out at us; greener than the depths of summer. She was tall, her legs long and shapely. Dressed in only a short black bathrobe, she shivered, glaring out at the storm behind us.
None of us seemed able to speak.
“Can I help you, ladies?” She asked. Her voice was like bells. It was Valerie who spoke.
“We’re missionaries from the Mormon church. May we come in and enlighten you to our religion and the Holy Father’s love?”
She regarded us with her cool green eyes, her expression unreadable. I realized my heartbeat had picked up a little.
“I’m sorry girls, I’m not interested.” She said simply. We glanced at each other, and Erica nodded.
“Thank you for your time,” she answered. She was shivering so much that it was hard to decipher her words.
We turned to leave.
“Wait!” The woman in the door said suddenly. We turned back to her. She had taken a step toward us, and was leaning a little out the door now.
“It’s so cold out. Your poor lips are cracked and blue. Come in and warm up for a bit. All I ask is that you leave your presentation at the door.” Her eyes had softened, and the way she looked at us reminded me of my grandmother when she had read to me as a child. Endearing, full of love, and empathetic.
The inside of the house suddenly seemed to glow with warmth, beckoning. A sharp gust of wind fluttered by, whipping my hair up and blowing my thin sweatshirt open, exposing my t-shirt. I thought I might collapse then and there. I couldn’t feel my toes.
“Th-th-thank you- you,” I stuttered, and shuffled into the door. After a brief hesitation, Erica and Valerie followed. Warm air rushed over me as the woman shut the door behind us. The cold melted off of me like ice cream on a summer day, and I shivered from the sweet relief.
“Please, make yourselves comfortable by the fire. I’ll be right back; I’m going to change into something more presentable.” She smiled at us, then disappeared behind a door.
There was a blanket and a book abandoned by the hearth, as though she had been stationed here when we knocked.
We sat on the floor in front of the hearth, holding our hands out to the bubble of heat around the flame. Friendly hues of orange flickered on the wall, and I felt my muscles relax.
The house was tiny, but not uncomfortable. The living room and kitchen were one room divided in half. A full bookshelf stood on the wall near the fire, and a wicker couch and an old, worn-out recliner were the only living room furnishing aside a small table with a lamp. The kitchen was messy, yet somehow charming with the presence of an avid cook made obvious.
The walls were painted with a pleasant earthy-orange color, and the kitchen was a soft tan with dark brown counters.
“Did you see it, Melanie?” Erica asked. Her eyes were bright with excitement.
“See what?” I asked. I hadn’t been paying attention to their conversation.
“Her necklace,” Valerie answered in a whisper, leaning closer.
“No, I didn’t,” I replied. “What about it?”
“It’s a five pointed star in a circle,” Valerie said, tracing a circle in the air with her finger. “A pagan star.”
Just then, the door opened, and she re-appeared. Now she wore a pair of dark jeans and a pretty black blouse that fit her flatteringly.
And there, on her neck, was the necklace.
It was silver, and reflected the flickering firelight. Sure enough, a star pendant hung from the chain. I felt my breath catch.
She approached us, a friendly smile warming her features.
“My name is Sara,” she said in her soft, soothing voice. We stood and each shook her hand.
“I’m Melanie,” I said, “And this is Erica, and this is Valerie.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Sara beamed. “Would you like some hot cocoa?”
We glanced at each other in surprise.
“Well, if it’s not too much trouble, I think we’d all love some,” I answered, trying not to be rude.
“Of course it’s not trouble,” she laughed a little, and before she went into the kitchen, she gave us all pillows to sit on.
I watched as she bustled around in her small, cozy kitchen, pulling mugs and cocoa mix down from a cupboard. She moved with a peculiar, yet lovely, fluid grace, her bare feet padding softly on the kitchen tile.
“Where are you girls from?” She asked in her pleasant voice as she poured milk into three mugs.
“Georgia,” I replied. She whistled lightly.
“Well you’re quite a ways away from home. How long have you been on your missionary expedition for?”
“Almost two years. We’re on our last two months,” Erica replied before I did.
Sara turned so she was facing us after putting the mugs in the microwave, leaning against the counter. Her smile seemed to be the warmest thing in the whole house.
“You excited to be headed home soon?”
The three of us looked at each other, unable to stop the smiles on our faces. Lately I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about my family. I kept all their letters in a box, and on the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I read them.
I think I missed my little brother, Jacob, the most. Growing up, I had adored and looked up to my older brother Alex, and he was always there for me. When he died in car crash a year after Jake had been born, I’d swore I’d be to Jake what Alex has been to me. It killed me to be away from Jake for so long, to miss him growing up. He was going to be so big when I got home.
“We can’t wait to go home,” I answered, knowing I spoke for all of us.
Sara nodded and Valerie asked;
“Have you lived in New York all of your life?”
She smiled and her eyes seemed to grow distant.
“I’m a few hours away from my true home, but yes, I was born and raised in New York. I went to Texas for college, and spent a couple years in Florida. I travel a lot, though. There are years where I’ve been away from home more than not.”
“Where do you travel?” I asked. If there was one thing I loved about being a missionary, it was traveling. I often dreamed about doing international missionary trips after Jacob got a little older.
“I’ve been all over the U.S., Europe, China, Japan, New Zealand, Africa, and Australia. In a few weeks I’m going to Indonesia for five months.” She giggled at our faces as she said all this. “I’ve always wanted to go to Indonesia.”
Just then, the microwave beeped, and Sara extracted the mugs and set to work stirring the cocoa mix in. She brought us our mugs, and I eagerly wrapped my hands around mine. The warm cup and the first sip of creamy, marshmallow filled chocolaty goodness chased away the last traces of cold.
Sara knelt by her bookshelf, pulling out a leather photo album. Taking a pillow from the couch, she sat next to us, and we huddled closer as she opened the album; labeled 2002-2005.
“I do a lot of volunteer work with disaster clean ups and Red Cross,” she said, showing us a picture of a group of people with Red Cross uniforms on. She pointed herself out to us. She was toward the front of the group, wearing a radiant smile. She looked so happy.
“Weren’t you afraid of the diseases?” Erica asked as she went through the pictures of her Africa trip in 2003. Sara laughed, and it was so beautiful that I don’t think Erica could have been upset about being laughed at if she tried.
“They gave us all sorts of shots before we went. Besides,” she shrugged. “In my eyes, I’ve been healthy all my life. The people we helped have been sick, starving, or both for most of their lives. It seemed like a small risk to me.”
I blinked, lowering my gaze into my mug. I’m not sure I had ever met such an admirable character.
Sara went on to show us more Red Cross pictures, including photos from Hurricane Katrina. Some of them made my heart stop. Houses were completely demolished, cars smashed and up on their sides, miles from where they’d been originally parked. I imagined Jake being trapped in that mess- or worse- and I found for a moment I couldn’t breathe.
I pointed to a picture of Sara with her arm around a young girl with pretty blue eyes. A dog sat between them; a border collie.
“Who’s that?” I asked. Sara got that far-away look again.
“That’s Sadie,” she said quietly, smiling at the picture.
“We were looking for people with dogs in a town that had been totally flattened. We were about to leave the area, when I heard a noise. It sounded like crying. I asked my friend Andrea if she’d heard it, and she said no. So I kept walking, but I heard it again. The dog I’d been paired with,” she tapped her finger on the Border collie, “Searcher, he started to whine. So I turned him loose, and followed him back to the site. Everyone kept yelling at us to come; we had to be somewhere, and I was going to make us late.
“I ignored them, and Searcher took me to a collapsed building. He started digging, and I heard her, a girl, call for help. A few people that had followed me realized what I was up to, and helped me dig her out.
“She told us her name was Sadie, and she was eight years old. She traveled with us, and by the time we went home a few months later, her parents still hadn’t been found.” I realized I was leaning in towards Sara. So were Erica and Valerie.
“So what happened to her?” I asked.
“Well, I got certified to be a foster mom. Sadie lived with me for six months before she was adopted by a lovely family from Michigan. She’d be fourteen now. She writes me letters all the time. She’s the star soccer player at her school.” Sara looked down, and I thought I saw her eyes water. After a moment, she looked back up at us with a brave smile.
“If I ever have kids, I hope they’re like her. She was the sweetest little girl I ever met. She lost so much, yet managed to make the best out of everything.”
I heard a sniffle, and turned in time to see a tear fall down Erica’s face.
Just then a beagle rounded the corner of the couch. It whined, wagging its tail, and approached us. The three of us cooed and reached to pet her soft ears.
“Well it’s about time you got up, girl,” Sara laughed, scratching the beagle’s back. “She’s been sleeping in my room this whole time. Laziest dog I ever had, right here.”
“What’s her name?” I asked, giggling as she pushed her muzzle into my hand.
“I named her Sadie. After Sadie got adopted, I was inspired to train and register my own search dog. She goes with me on all of my disaster trips. The only time she isn’t lazy is when she’s on the job. Sadie has a brilliant nose, and she loves to work.”
Sara grabbed another photo album, showing us a picture of Sadie with a group of other rescue dogs.
We lost track of time as we exchanged stories, with Sadie playing musical chairs on our laps.
When I realized what time it was, Sadie had finally chosen my lap to stay on permanently, and was snoring quietly, her soft head resting in my palm.
“Oh my gosh,” I cried, looking at the clock. Valerie and Erica followed my gaze, their eyes widening.
“We’ve been here for two hours!” Erica exclaimed. Sadie woke, stretching her little legs and thumping her tail on my leg.
I gently extracted Sadie from my lap, and the four of us stood.
“We have to be on our way, Sara,” I said. “Thank you for everything.”
“Oh, before you go, Melanie, didn’t you say you have trouble sleeping some nights?” She asked.
“Yes, why?”
“Well,” she said, walking into the kitchen, “do you like tea? I made a blend with Valerian and chamomile, it helps you sleep.” She pulled a Tupperware container down from one of her cupboards, and put a handful of tea bags in a brown bag.
“Thank you, Sara,” I said as she handed me the bag, along with a pair of mittens.
“I noticed you didn’t have anything to keep your hands warm, poor thing,” she said as she led us to the door.
“But, Sara, how will I get them back to you?” I asked, staring at her.
“Don’t worry about it, dear. I like to knit; I’ll just make myself some more.” She smiled at me sweetly. “Take them.”
“Thank you, Sara,” I replied, pulling on the mittens.
After we put our shoes on, Sara hugged us all, to our surprise, but certainly not to our distaste. Sadie woofed as we patted her goodbye.
“I’m glad you girls stopped by, I had a lovely time,” Sara said cheerily, and we nodded in agreement.
“Thanks for having us,” Erica said, and produced a card from her pocket.
“If you change your mind, here’s out information. No matter what you believe in, God will always love you, for you are His child.” I held my breath as Sara hesitated, then reached out and accepted the card.
“Thank you, girls. I will ask my deity to watch over you, and no matter what you believe in, she will light the way for you.”
None of us seemed quite sure what to say to that. Her deity?
“Have a lovely week, ladies. Stay warm!”
“You too,” we all said, walking out the door. Sara said something then, and if Erica and Valerie heard it, they didn’t react. It sounded something like this, but it was hard to hear over the howling wind:
“Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.”

I sat on the windowsill of my hotel room that night, looking out over the sleepy outskirts of the city we were staying in to the distant farmland and trees.
On our taxi ride to the hotel from Sara’s neighborhood, Erica had said something that had bothered me.
“She was such a nice woman, it’s such a shame. The Lord won’t be able to accept her into the gates even though she’s lived such a good life.”
“I hope she has family that will ask to baptize her after she’s passed on,” Valerie added, agreeing.
I hadn’t said anything.
Now I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it.
If our Lord was so loving, couldn’t He see that, baptized or not, Sara was a truly good person? How could He send her to hell? I saw nothing about Sara that made her deserve to burn in an eternal hellfire.
I felt terrible now, thinking of all the people who had turned us away these past two years, some polite and some not as much. Either way, I had judged them for it, as much as I hated to admit it. More than once had the thought serves them right entered my head.
But Sara had humbled me, and suddenly I was very lost.
Here we were, Erica, Valerie, and I, thinking we were doing a good thing, trying to show people the Lord’s love and saving their after-life. And then there was Sara, traveling the world to save people’s real lives, not their after-life. She was doing something real and tangible; abating pain and suffering, giving people a second chance at life.
I wondered now, gazing absently out onto the glowing streetlights, which was more important? The limited, breakable life we were given or the eternal after life? We only had so long to be on this Earth, yet I had just spent nearly two years of my life getting people to worry more about what came after this. Not to worry more about living in the moment before that moment was gone, never to return.
I couldn’t describe the feelings inside me at that moment if I tried. All I know is I was confused. My intuition was battling with the beliefs I had been raised on.
At around midnight, I fixed myself a cup of Sara’s tea and took a seat at the window again, sipping at the warm liquid. It was delicious, and as I neared the bottom of the cup my eyes began to droop.
Before I climbed into bed, I knelt beside it and prayed.
“Lord, Heavenly Father, please help me make sense of these feelings inside me, and help make clear what path is right and what path is Satan’s temptation. Thank you for all you have given me and leading me to Sara’s door today. Dear Lord I ask you to watch over her and lend her the strength to help her keep doing what she’s doing. Amen.”
I rose, and suddenly, a great relief washed over me as I climbed into bed. Was it the Heavenly Father telling me everything was okay? To not be ashamed of the thoughts I had tonight?
Or, I wondered, was it Sara’s deity, come to soothe me after Sara asked for us to be watched over?
“Who are you?” I whispered into the empty air around me. There was no answer. I was not scared, but oddly at peace with the unfamiliar presence I felt with me.
If a woman such as Sara believed in and loved this deity she spoke of, then I felt I could only respect it, and accept the protection that Sara asked ‘her’ to give to me.
A friend of Sara’s was a friend of mine.
I smiled, and my eyes closed. I dropped almost immediately into sleep.

That night, I dreamt of a woman. She came to me through the foggy haze of sleep, and although now when I try to recall her face and can’t, I still remember her being the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, so much that I had wanted to cry.
She smiled at me, and a euphoric feeling came over me, and I was floating.
Another figured joined her, dressed in a flowing white robe, much like her earthy green one.
I knew instantly that He was the Lord.
They both smiled at me, and joined hands. There was such a feeling of love radiating from both of them that I felt as though I was melting. I was speechless, my mind too numb to think, much less make words.
Slowly, they began to fade away, until they were gone, and I was left alone on the foggy dawn-gray stage of my dream.

I’ll never forget the looks on Valerie and Erica’s faces when I told him that morning I was going home.
After their initial shock and the following argument died down, I left and boarded a train headed south.
As the New York country side floated by, I rested my cheek on the window, enjoying the gentle rocking of the train.
I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got home. I didn’t know what my family would think about the whole thing, much less my church.
I smiled and looked up at the clear blue sky above me, certain that it was smiling back.
For once, I was okay with not knowing.
For the first time in my life, I was in the moment.
I hope I don't offend anyone with this story. I've wanted to write something for a while about my views on religion and my philosophy of religious tolerance. I actually interviewed a Mormon friend of mine so I could write this story with an understanding of their religion. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope in someway it was inspiring to you.