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Unforeseen Circumstances

Note – I know it’s Monday, but when you have unfinished posts you want to complete, you find a way. Roll with it!

Wednesday is the new Friday and man, today is one of those days.

Wednesday has never been my favorite day. I won’t subscribe to any of that “hump day” business, especially due to a flagrant dislike of the Black Eyed Peas song.  In general, Wednesdays remind me that the tough start of the week may be over, but we still have half of the days to finish up. When a Tuesday feels like a Friday, Wednesday is the worst because in your mind, it should be Saturday… and instead, you have 3 days of work remaining. It’s a similar feeling to waking up and, thinking you missed school, tearing around the house at six a.m to get ready. Then, just as you’re walking to the bus, your mom stumbles out of her room, bathrobe clutched together in one hand, to remind you it’s the weekend, and why can’t you ever be ready on time every other day?

To begin, my car is much like a celebrity. To all outside onlookers, it looks healthy, soundly built and pretty handsome. It even has tiny flame decals. However, when one gets to know my car better, it starts to show signs of wear and instability – indicator lights coming on, strange noises, a spongy delay to the breaks, a slow leak in the tire. We take it and put it through gentle rehab and it looks ready to face the world again. Give it two weeks to a month and it’s back to the same drama – new parts and time. I thought I happened to own the world’s most high-maintenance car based on the number of repairs needed in such a short time. My dad informed me that, much like celebrities, the issues and drama are normal and my car is really no worse off than any other. It just likes all the attention and in another few years, it will just accept the fact that it’s not hot stuff anymore and will resign itself to running errands for old ladies and puttering kids off to school.

In other words, Nicholas Cage and Disney. It’s going to spend all our money and then finally work well for us when it has no other choice.

So on this fateful Wednesday, the car was in the shop. It needed a lot of replacements – fuel lines, brake lines, ball joint, power steering fluid. Under the impression that the shop would be done with it this morning, we drove into Solon from our new house in Cleveland. The people I work for expected me to be late, but when I called them and told them it would be close to noon, they weren’t the happiest. I am blessed to work with very flexible, understanding people, but I also work with animals who can be a little less understanding, especially when hungry or needing to pee. We’re working with what we’ve got. Along with some unusual personal issues, dealing with businesses and people connected to the wedding, there have been a lot of unforeseen circumstances muddling up my month.

“The Unforeseen” have been teaching me a lot, though. Order things months in advance. Make sure you’ve got all the right information from the start. Make sure you do everything you can so that you aren’t to blame when “circumstances” become “facts of life”. And make sure you are prepared to do what must be done to fight biting disappointment and clean up the messes left behind when people (mortal as they are) let you down. TIP: NEVER PUT FAITH IN MORTAL BEINGS. They will find a way to take that faith and do bad things to it, much like Dolph Lundgren to magical unicorns (see hilarious Norton commercial here).

I’m getting married in two weeks to the love of my life, my best friend and confidant, my “tough with the scruff”. I have been hoping to share more about my summer, but between the end of work and wedding planning and my silly “s” key still acting up, blogging has been one of the last things on my mind. I’m planning on sharing my entire wedding band fiasco (another “unforeseen”) with you all at some point, mostly to serve as a consumer warning against the “big dogs” of industry and economy. In fact, one of the only things thus far that has gone wrong with wedding planning was Kay Jewelers, a Stirling Jewelers company, royally screwing up my wedding band and giving me the hardest time about getting my money back.

Weddings were once sacred. They have now become a giant, sucking black hole of burning cash and frills. You would think that people working in an “industry” with emotional, needy, selfish women (think the worst of the worst Bridezillas) would be a little more considerate and tactful when dealing with mistakes. No such luck, my friends, and for that Kay Jewelers will never get my money for any piece of jewelry, no matter how big, small, or encrusted in shiny stuff. However, before I start my big business rant early, I must redirect and say that in this minor case, the grand Unforeseen almost had me beat, but due to love and support and a stellar local jeweler, all’s well and Kay’s awaits my scathing internet review. Soon… *finger pyramid of doom*

When we least expect it, the Unforeseen can be those situations that bring us joy. People who I didn’t think would be available accepted my wedding invitation with excitement. Others who I would have loved to see and share my joy with were inhibited by life circumstance and travel. I know my wedding only needs to be Matt and me and our beloved officiant (flying in from the Great White North) in the sight of God, but I am so excited to share my one and only wedding with my loved ones, family and friends alike, overlooking the lake that is so close to my heart.

In closing for now, I have had people have mentioned the one “unforeseen” that Matt and I have banished from our list – Divorce. I have watched too many young marriages of people I know die within the first year because of laziness, misunderstanding and an unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the marriage commitment and God’s expectation for that union. This is a one-time event, baby, and once we say “I Do”, there will simply be no going back.

Looking at the man I’m going to marry, I’d say I’m perfectly all right with that. I’ve waited my whole life for him to come along, and now that he’s here I’d be a fool to chase him away. Twenty-two years is a long time to have otherwise wasted waiting for love.

I’ll do what I can to write a couple posts before the wedding, but in case of unforeseen circumstances, I look forward to reporting to you from Akron, New York as Mrs. Hannah Stein. I’ll have adventures and travels and stories to share, and we’ll finally be back on track!

Two years ago, I would never have imagined that I would now be in the throes of preparing to marry my best friend. Now that it’s only two weeks away, I can’t imagine a future without him. Funny how things change, isn’t it?

Be well, everyone!


A Matter of Choice

I’m a writer, it’s a holiday. Obligation states I acknowledge the day. Carrying on…

I have spent the last three years following a progression in terms of Valentine’s Day – a year of singleness followed by a year of year of dating followed by a year of being engaged. Despite the fact that I spent one year without romantic attachment and this year was spent with my husband-to-be, I haven’t really monitored distinct differences in the days or how I was affected by them. I know that this year I had plans, but the overall feeling of the day itself is no different.

For me, that really speaks to the nature of love, not some silly holiday.

I have always felt loved. I have not always felt like I deserved it, but that’s where grace comes in.

A slightly younger and more cynical me wrote this about Valentine’s Day four years ago:

“Love” – it doesn’t exist. Sure, we can claim it’s the “reason for the season” and give all our affection to the one we “love” the most. But what happens when Valentine’s Day is our only excuse? The rest of the year we ignore the needs and emotions of others, but as long as we buy those carnations on Valentine’s Day, our lack of love the rest of the year is pardoned with a standing ovation.

Don’t get me wrong, handing out flowers every day of the year won’t make every day a day for valentines, but we should keep that same mindset. Why only have one day to love people?”

Apparently, I was a bit of a linguist as well:

“Besides, we don’t know what love means anymore. People date, throwing “love” out in the open and two weeks later break up and feel like life isn’t worth living. Uttering a simple word will not change emotions or expressions, and our overuse only proves we are ignorant to what it truly means: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.

Love doesn’t have to be a romantic, swooning overdrive of the soul. But we use it like we use any other word: without thought and without understanding. Too often we use it, thinking we know what it means and how it feels, but we are almost always wrong. Love is not an emotion: it’s a state of the heart. True love, not the fluff that we lace into so many conversations, is not shallow, stingy or simplistic. Love is nowhere near that tingling we get in our stomachs when our adored person of choice comes down the hall. Love is the soul-deep affection and compassion for others that cannot be replaced, cannot be formulated no matter how influenced your brain is by it. True love lives for others, and not itself. Love is forgiving. Love is selfless. Love has been destroyed by society.”

I don’t think I would stitch that last statement onto a pillow – my heavy-handedness stemmed from singleness, teen angst and frustration at people with heads as empty as flower pots. Despite my hyperbole, however, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Love has been stained by societal expectations and its new understanding influenced by the media. TV shows for anyone over the age of thirteen frequently offer the idea that love is synonymous with sex and that love is as easy to return, lose, or exchange as any sweater from the Gap. In terms of what we know from popular culture (and seeing as culture is a societal construct), Love can be defined in three ways:

1. Love is a living thing that, if not fed and watered and influenced by the proper measures of attention and care, will die and cannot be resurrected – no choices, only consequences. When it’s gone, we replace it with another living thing and the cycle continues until we finally bite the dust.

2. Love is a state of being, just like “fatigue” or “hunger”. There are periods of life when people are “in love”, but that time fades and we can fulfill its needs through various outlets including sex, gifts and shallow material offerings.

3. Love is a mirage. Marriages today are like jobs – fifty years ago, a man worked the same job all his life and then retired. Today, if a man is lucky, he stays at the same company for ten years before being laid off or becoming bored with his prospects. Love is really just an illusion but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a placeholder for whatever better thing will come along.

Who wants to be in a steady, consistent, monogamous relationship when there’s so much love to find in the world? Who wants to be trapped with only one option? In the words of Peter Pan, “Forever is an awfully long time.”

True love is not a trap or a cage.

Love does not inhibit and it does not deny. Love never fails.

Love is not a status or an incurably diseased organism or a worn-out idea. Love is a choice. Love IS a state of the heart. You choose to love someone. Love only dies because people willingly let it die – they stop tending it, they have no desire to nurture it, and after all the care they poured into it in the beginning, they try and seek the easy way out. Worse than just letting love die is letting it die because attentions were drawn elsewhere. There were “better things” and “better opportunities” that came up, and the previous object of affection was a mistake or a misstep.

I choose to love, even when there are no guaranteed rewards for my actions or promise of reciprocation. I love because I am called by God to love, because I am made to love, because I cannot deny it or escape it. Love does not die of its own free will as love is not a living thing by its own will – it is a symbiote, surviving in unity with a human host, given in perfect example by God who created it.

I pray that fifty years from now, people will ask me how we ever did it, how we ever managed to stay in love this long. I hope that even then, I will look over at Matt and squeeze his hand and be able to quote Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars:

Some days, it wasn’t easy.
“But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway”

No matter what happens, I will choose to keep the promise anyway.
That’s some of the very most we can do in this short life.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Only a Thaw (But The Best Is Yet To Come)

“Either everything will fall apart, or poetry will make everything alive again. It’s not going to stay like this.”

-Matthew Stein, Words from a Dream

January thaw in Houghton is a bit like a teaser trailer for the next highly anticipated movie – it may be weeks, months, years before the main feature is released, but it’s all you can think about until the moment the first screenings open.

Unfortunately, the season of spring can’t be leaked online, it cannot be interviewed, and there’s never an exact release date, especially in western New York. Spring may come as early as March or as late as June. All the snow may disappear overnight, or there may be a period of uncomfortable indecision where snow boots and a t-shirt may be a compromise.

The thaw is cruel as well as kind in its winter reprieve – it will haunt you until the first daffodil breaks through the crust of slush on the grass and the temperature stays above fifty for more than two consecutive weeks. It also allows you to carry on through winter with some optimism. You will dream of fresh air, the cloudless sky, of sitting in the grass with bare feet while listening to peepers sing to their mates. Spring is a siren; a trap; the very best strain of seasonal disease. She infects and she lingers and she overwhelms you with a sense of security and warmth. She leaves no lasting damage, only seamless transition. You don’t think of winter, you only think of tomorrow and the breaking of a new day, just like this.

The thaw is just a sampling of the real thing, but in the State of Perpetual Winter, you cling to what you can get without complaint.

The afternoon air is registering at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Proper steps must be taken:

–          Exchange a sweater for a long-sleeved t-shirt.

–           Slide open the storm windows to let in an ozone and grass-laced breeze.

–          Slip off ski socks and slide into flip flops.

–          Ignore remaining snow drifts and icicles hanging from gutters.

–          Listen to the animals waking and scratching, to the birds twittering unseen in the trees.

–          Feel the warmth of the noon sun on face.

Close eyes, breathe deep. Exhale, repeat.

I am no fool – I will not miss an opportunity to bask in the gloriously soothing glow of mid-winter sunlight. There may be snow on the ground, but if it smells like spring and you can comfortably walk about with only a light jacket, there’s a sign of hope. There is an end in sight; there is affirmation that winter is neither the conclusion nor the stopping point… that there’s something more than this, something yet to come.

Reminders of this truth are everywhere. One that sticks prominently in my mind is the Disney animation for the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The underlying message is that destruction is a natural part of the flow of life. Despite what may happen or what forces may lash out and seem to tear the world apart, there will be renewal. There will be dawn and life and growth and light.

Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain took me a longer time to figure out, but it’s along the same lines. We have death and decay, and in a sense without it the world could not progress. If you only have growth and expansion, you face overwhelming surplus. Living forever on earth can only be accomplished by being a part of other living things; by feeding the earth in death. There is death, but it leads to new life and afterlife and ultimately a better existence. Death is not a means to an end but a means to a new beginning. Time is a cycle, time offers repetition.

I’m at a time in my life when this idea is showing up more frequently and an in more obscure ways. Celebrating my twenty-first birthday this summer, I found myself facing the death of my childhood, but through it finding the excitement of finally growing into adulthood. I had to say farewell to the benefits and joys of adolescence, but was then able to step forward into a brand new light of legality.

Graduation is the expiry of my formal education, of my time in this place with these aims, but without the end there would never be a new beginning elsewhere, utilizing the knowledge I have garnered here. (You can read more about my feelings on senior year here).

In just over seven months, I will be getting married. There has already been an ending to our “dating” relationship when we felt we had reached the preparedness and commitment to quest on to marriage through engagement. Soon, we shall face the termination of our lives as solitary individuals, but without this surrender we can never be together, bound in matrimony, united until physical death do us part. Some people try to accomplish this without sacrifice, but it’s not the way the cycle is supposed to function. An end brings a new and more wonderful beginning.

The end of a day brings the promise of a rising sun, and the falling snow brings hope hinted at by a welcome thaw. It’s an offering of grace.

Without winter, we would never know spring.

Igor Stravinsky – 1919 Firebird Suite

The Average Working Woman

Every day that I go to my place of employment, I wake up as early as 7:30 a.m and as late at 8:25. I shower, I get dressed, I pack my lunch and I eat breakfast. I make sure my car has gas and I make sure my cellphone is charged. I get in my car and I turn on the radio.

If I leave early enough, I run into town and swing by Caribou Coffee to pick up a small dark roast of the day – if I’m lucky, Obsidian. The baristas start to recognize my face as the daily twenty seconds I spend in the store start to accumulate. Coffee hot and black and change now jingling in my pocket, I get back in my car.

I slide my little Honda onto the freeway, grumbling about traffic and the man in front of me who has had his right signal on since we left the side streets. I nudge the volume knob up on my radio and allow the chattering of talk shows to crackle my speakers and turn into white noise. My foot plays the gas pedal like a mad organ, edging up past the speed limit to try and beat the clock. Some days I slow for traffic, some days the freeway is clear. I tap my hand on the wheel to the occasional song that breaks the mundane broadcast gossip.

I know the way to the office with my eyes closed, and make my lane changes and exits accordingly. I avoid the j-walkers and mind the stop lights as I barrel down Euclid Avenue in attempt to make it before 9:30. I know my boss doesn’t mind a few minutes off schedule, but I don’t want to make a bad impression. I want to get the day started.

I’ve scalded my tongue on the hot coffee, put my lunchbox in the fridge, settled into my squeaky rolling chair and watched the wasps wriggle their way into the third floor screen. My computer flickers to life and I sort out my to-do list. We choose and discuss a character quality of the day – zeal, forbearance, appreciation. The day has begun for this average working woman.

I fit the description, but I am far from average.

I can be a working American woman without digging for equality and rallying for acclaim and standing on a feminist soapbox.

I love my job.

I perform basic tasks like printing shipping labels, packaging books and forwarding an article for editing. I play with my gifts by designing a cover for a new marriage module in Photoshop. I learn how to advertise an entire conference in 140 characters or less. I configure the FTP settings of Dreamweaver. I understand the base differences between the Baha’i faith and my own Christian belief. I can pinpoint my character strengths and acknowledge my weaknesses.  I think of my significant other.

I love my work. I go to the office every day anticipating what I might accomplish without ever expecting recognition or excessive praise or wishing for an early day. I work hard and do my best without any incentive, except for the thought that I’m doing a good job for someone who needs me. Yes, I’m being paid, but it’s not the first thing that occurs to me. I’m here to do what I set out to do, and the payment is just a happy plus. I’m doing what I love, and even when I’m called upon to sludge through mundane or frustrating or complicated tasks, I perceive them as challenges and I jump in with both feet. My boss is just another passionate citizen with a brilliant idea for how to make lives better. We are not necessary for survival, but we need each other.

We break for lunch and discuss faith, relationships, silly stories from the weekend and philosophical questions to mull over while munching on a turkey-and-ranch spring salad.  We comment on the wildlife and try and catch a glimpse of Lake Erie through lush maple trees. We share thoughts about life, love and the business. We comment on the weather. Afterwards, we banter back and forth between the offices. We laugh about our compulsive editing wars and the absurdities of some assignments. We cut each other slack. We focus on character.

Every day, I finish my work. Even if I didn’t complete all the tasks on my list, I know that there will be tomorrow. I know I did accomplish much, even if that “much” only covered one or two things. I leave the office just as enthusiastically as I came, because I know I did my work well and I enjoyed it all. I back out of the drive, turn up the radio and sing along at the top of my lungs to the afternoon commercial free hours. I maneuver through lazy drivers on their way home from a hundred different places. I’m one of them, just trying to find my way to my exit.

My coffee is finished and the last drops are cold. My lunchbox is empty. My car needs more gas.

The average working person (and woman) focuses on these things. These things and her paycheck.

These are the least of my worries as I cruise along the highway home.

I have the opportunity to experience, for the first real time in my life, what it means to be the average working woman.
In a sense, I’m a corporate chameleon, putting on the mental suit of a frenzied businesswoman while just happily blending in to a crowd that’s lost the purpose of this trek. For them it’s survival, it’s the norm, it’s what needs to be done.

There has always been the idea of the average working woman.

The difference, however, is that I strive to make this so much more than average.
I make this my own.