Tuesday, November 06, 2007

my birthday! and 17 things

Last year for my birthday I wrote My First 16 Years, the Negativity Avoidant 4 minute version. Then on my half birthday I wrote My Second 16 Years, the four minute version.

For today, seeing as how I am 33, and 33 is a very kewl number, being the coming of age number for hobbits, a bit of whose blood I must surely have, and also being the product of 2 primes, and a very excellent number in base 11 as well.

For my birthday, here is a list of:

17 of the best and/or hardest things in my story (you figure out which is which) (not necessarily in any particular order!) (and also not necessarily *not* in any particular order). (Maybe I'll do another 16 for my half birthday):

1. Despite vows of life long bachelorhood and my best intentions, I fell madly in love with Megan Ann Jones, and after fasting for 50 days, finally got "permission" from God to ask her to marry me. And then I did ask her. And then she said "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes" on the funnel deck on LOGOS II under about 10 billions stars sailing through the Adriatic.

2. We got married on a super beautiful actual sandy beach (and if you live in Seattle you know why I say "actual sandy beach") in beautiful Port Macquarie, Australia, and I sang a country song to her at our wedding, and our friend Glen played the Irish whistle, and we had an astoundingly beautiful Tolkien themed reception at Lothlorien, and then we drove up the coast of Oz and sailed a beautiful 27 foot sailing yacht around for 4 days in the beautiful Whit Sunday Islands for 4 days. The water was so warm that you could jump naked into the water at 5 AM no problem, and when it was dark out there were beautiful phosphorescent plankton which, when you were swimming, would light up wherever there was motion in the water, so one was surrounded by a sort of aura of light.

3. Lovely Megs went into labor with our wonderful, brilliant firstborn daughter Eowyn in the middle of a snowstorm in March 2002 in Seattle. We were going to go out for a walk in the snow to encourage labor when Megs started bleeding *rather* profusely. So instead we got in the car and drove the 5 minutes to the hospital, and parked, and walked up the the maternity ward, and then when they saw how much she was bleeding they put her in a room and a whole bunch of doctors and nurses came in, and they started asking questions and installing IV's and checking Eowyn, and not too long after that they performed and emergent C-section to deliver E. And she was super beautiful and I felt very lonely all alone in the delivery room while Megs and E were away in surgery, all of which was rather contraindicated in our "birth plan" (the best laid plans of mice and men!). But everything turned out well, and I got to hold and wash little beautiful Eowyn, and put her on Megsie's breast when Megsie came back from surgery. And 3 times later that night various doctors came in and told us it was pretty much a miracle that Megs and E had both lived. And part of me thought "Of course it's a miracle". and another part thought "Miracle schmiracle. It is absolutely necessary that they lived" And if I had known then what I know now, another part would have said "how come I'm so lucky, while 2 billion+ people live in such a time/place/circumstance that a placental abruption means, by definition, the death of both mother and baby?"

4. (oh dear. I'll never get to 33 at the current rate of increase in length per item). In February 2004, we experienced the birth of our super delightful second daughter Coco, who regularly comes up to me, lately, and says with a twinkle in her eyes "I like you Daddy! I really like you daddy!"

5. (going to go more random here). My super amazing mother taught me to read at home before I started preschool (or at least that's how I remember it). Thus did she create in me the faint beginning stirrings of a life long insatiable thirst for books, which has rather stood me in good stead.

6. It was either my mother or my lovely Aunt Kathy who, in about 1984, put me onto the man who was for many years my favorite author, George Macdonald, of whom C. S. Lewis said "I have always considered him my master. Indeed, I suppose I have never written a book in which I did not quote him." George was one of the very few voices in my life who kept me relatively sane and gave me permission to question during all those years when I was raised in a very sectarian ultra conservative brand of christianity. If you've not read him, I suggest you start with Lilith and Phantastes--by far, IMNSHO, his best two.

7. At some point someone put me onto J.R.R. Tolkien's super brilliant trilogy, along with the Hobbit. I have read them at *least* four times--I'm thinking the first time as a boy of nine. Now one of our daughters is named after the most heroic female character. Someone said "The world is divided up into those who have read The Lord of the Rings, and those who have yet to read it."

8. In 1997, I took some 12 or 14 young people from my church to see a concert in Seattle--the musician was Susan Ashton, who ... damn--she can sing!. Little did I know that it was a benefit concert for OM and MV LOGOS II, which was docked next to the warehouse down on the waterfront where the concert was. The founder of OM, George Verwer, an astoundingly kewl guy who now says that compassion (i.e. addressing global problems live HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, and so forth) is *more* important than "proclaiming the gospel" verbally, was there that night, and he said "If you feel like God is calling *you* to move toward getting involved in world missions, stand up. And I said "Ha, no way in Hell I'm standing up (we'll actually, back then I wouldn't have said "hell", but it gives the sense of it.). And then, strangely, I realized I was standing. Looking back, there really wasn't a lot of emotional manipulation going on (and I have some experience with religious emotional manipulation). So I ended up travelling for two years as a Christian missionary aboard the missions ship MV LOGOS II, with about 200 other people from 40 different countries. This was one of the most enriching, eye opening, brilliant, agonizing experiences of my life.

9. In early 2001, in the face of what was in retrospect simply *enormous* emotional pressure from the church leadership to stay, we officially ended our association with the church in which I grew up. That was one of the most difficult and most excellent things I have ever done. so much follows from that that never would have happened otherwise.

10. Our lovely pastor's wife, Cheryl, and her brilliant daughter, Tiffany (who can !*sing*!) helped here and there with voice training, during my years in the sect. Mostly they taught me to listen to myself and others, and to not be afraid to *sing*. Then in 2000, the brilliant Marco Gandolfo invited me to sing tenor with him in an 8 person ensemble. We sang in various ports in Italy and Turkey--four girls and four guys from a bunch of different countries. It was some of the most fun I've ever had, and the only time I've ever gotten to be part of an actual proper singing group. I'd love to do something like that again sometime.

11. In 1997, my good friend Joe and I took a three week train trip around the whole U.S.--on Amtrak. The main destination was the million man gathering put together by the evangelical organization Promise Keepers on the Mall in Washington D.C. I remember being shocked to see people wearing shirts which said "Proud to be Roman Catholic" (thoughts along the lines of "how can they so boldly and unashamedly associate themselves with such an evil organization?") (I was still pretty damn close minded back then). By some reports there were actually over a million guys on the mall that day, which is actually a little frightening if you think about it. We all sang praise choruses, which was pretty freaking awesome. I made a vow to "share the gospel" with an average of 3 people a week for the rest of my life (which is pretty easy to catch up at some point, I guess, since that's only ... 156 per year. it would only take one talk to 1500 people or so). (of course, I no longer have any idea what "the gospel" means.)

Anyway, we had a grand old time on Amtrak, and went down to Florida, and hung out in my birth state of Oklahoma with Mamaw and Papaw and their family for a few days, and spent a great deal of time talking. It was fun. I'm kind of sorry I've fallen mostly out of touch with Joe.

12. In 2003 or 2004, I entered a pretty intense 12 step recovery program, which I dove into rather vociferously (I was pretty frightened/desperate). I spend some 14 months doing lots of homework every week, meeting with my sponsor, going to meetings, and the whole shebang. It affected me rather enormously in lots of ways. I worked through the whole thing with my really awesome friend Tom and another good friend named Alex. I'm super thankful for that experience. If nothing else, even though I'm not a Christian anymore, it gave me a paradigm of church which is about a billion times more attractive than Sunday morning church.

13. In November 2000, a couple weeks before our wedding, I woke up one morning with the feeling of about 10 tons of bricks resting on my chest. God was speaking to me, and he was saying that before I married Megan I was going to have to tell her certain specific bits of my story which I had not yet told her. I'm pretty sure that was the most terrifying experience of my whole life. But it wasn't like he was requesting. So chicken that I was, having never told those bits of my story to *anyone*, I thought I should do it with someone else before I told Megan, so I went and saw a couple counsellors, a man and a woman, at a church in town. One of them was a pastor. They were some of the kindest gentlest people I've ever had the opportunity to interact with, and soon thereafter, when I told Megan, she didn't say she didn't want to marry me anymore, which rather surprised me. I've since been super thankful for that whole experience, because I think it has really impacted our marriage in a positive way.

14. I had the good fortune to first encounter Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy during the same time when I was falling in love with lovely Megsie. It remains one of the more brilliant tomes ever penned.

15. I used to have shocking fights with my one and only and super amazing sibling, Kat. I remember I used to hit her, and she used to scratch and pinch, and ... it was awful. At some point back when I was in my earlyish teens, I came to the realization that she was the only sibling I had or would ever had (although I have since come to speculate about the possibility of unknown half Asian siblings whom I shall never meet. But that's another story), so I damn well better start being nice to her. So we were really good friends from the late 80's ish until I left the country in the late 90's ish. She is super awesome, and she's the only person I know who has legally changed her middle name to the name of a Welsh goddess of horses, which is just too fucking kewl for words. Plus her awesome husband, Jim, who is something like 6 feet 3 inches tall, and ... definitely bigger than I am, is a practitioner of Korean sword fighting. Which is is also way too kewl for words. Like if you have to get in a fight in a dark alley, you want him on your side, and he's my rocking brother in law. You rock, Kat!

16. In 2005, some 11 years after I had dropped out of school at the age of 20, I finally managed to work up the courage to go back. I kept finding doors were closed which I rather wanted open because I didn't have a bachelor's degree. Many of the doors involved getting a master's degree, and it seemed you had to get a bachelor's first. My friend Alex helped me enormously overcoming the previously overwhelming trepidation I felt about going back to school. What I've since figured out is that I rather enormously enjoy being in school, and I'm pretty darn good at it too. In fact, I think I'm getting a ton more out of it than I would have back when I was 20. So there. This quarter I'm older than all the students in all of my classes, and older than the people teaching two of my classes. The other day in Spanish, we read a poem called "Hombre Pequeñito", which was about a woman speaking to a man, calling him "Little man" many times, and telling the man to please let her out of this jail, that she wanted her old freedom back, to be able to run and jump and skip again. It was clearly about a woman who was in a relationship with a man who was domineering and brute, and didn't listen to her or care for her that much. I suggested that an alternative understanding of the poem was that the women was speaking to her small boy child, and yearning for the freedom she had when she was childless. I more or less got vetoed on that, with a couple of the girls in the class protesting "NO! A mother loves and guards and cherishes her baby" None of them, including the professor, are married or have children. It brought home to me the different perspective I have. For the most part, I don't notice it too much, however, and see the other students as peers.

17. My family spent 3 years in the former West Germany from 1984 to 1987. I didn't learn much German, or get to know any German people, as I was surrounded by many Americans and much Americannness. But they were 3 of the most brilliant years of my life--really my last 3 years as a child--I was 10 11 and 12 years old. I had two really good friends--the best friends of my entire childhood, named Gary Branam and Neil Compston. The three of us were in a tiny little private Christian American school together--there were perhaps 20 students all told. We played touch football at recess, and every day after school, and all day on weekends, and all summer long, we spent thousands of hours riding bikes through the woods between the 3 little towns where we lived, and flying kites, and sledding on hidden cleared hills in the woods, and stealing carrots from farmers fields, and building forts, and lingering in ccemeteries and in parks, and ... by god we just had a grand old time for those years. When my family had to leave, my profound and extremely secret grief was absolutely devastating, and I can see now that my inability (and lack of help) processing that grief led to lots of other nasty stuff in my life in the ensuing years


Megs said...

i love you darling! i love the way you use words, the Benjamin-written-persona with whom I fell in love on board logos 2, when we were forbidden to publically speak to each other! cloistered love!

Anonymous said...

Would like to say that its awesome having you as an older brother. I know I dont get to spend time with you much anymore but being able to see what you have become from how things were when we were kids....its amazing and I am proud of all the changes you have gone thru in your life journey. Love you, Kat

Deanne said...

i love reading your blog - it gives me courage to face and pen my own stories.
thank you!

Helen said...

I loved reading more of your story, Benjamin - thanks for sharing it!