Friday, September 09, 2011

9/11 remembered through a glass darkly

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had many exchanges with people about their experiences of September 11, 2001. To a person, everyone has known exactly where they were, exactly when they heard, and whether they saw the towers fall as it happened or caught the horrific moments afterward on video. Everyone remembers.

Except me.

I’ve played that morning over and over in my head. I remember bits and pieces of it. I learned before leaving for work -- I was then the editor of the Athens Daily Review -- that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Did I hear about it on TV or on the radio during my drive to work? I’m not sure.

I also can’t say with certainty how I learned about the second plane. Was I standing at the TV in the newsroom, or was I in my office working on pages? I can only guess.

These gaps in my memory mock me. Why would I, of all people, not be able to access such details? I’m a writer. The emotions of a moment are as important to me as the facts.

What I do remember clearly is the overwhelming feeling of wanting to close my office doors, pull the blinds and be very, very still. At the same time, I wanted to be home with my husband and baby. I wanted to watch TV non-stop; I wanted complete silence. I wanted to know everything I possibly could; I couldn’t bear what I was learning. It was too much.

At some point, weeks or months later, I discovered many recollections of the day had quietly slipped into my subconscious. I imagine them sitting in there, hunched over like an old lady next to memories of my child-birthing pains and most of junior high.

A day or two after the attacks, a community wide prayer service was held on the courthouse lawn. This I remember clearly. My husband, Roy, and I attended. Our 10-month-old daughter, Madeline, was nestled against my back in a baby pack. I worried she would cry. She didn’t. I don’t remember who spoke at the event or what was said.

I do remember, when every head bowed, I became acutely aware of the weight of my daughter against my back, her chubby hand batting at my shoulder, her legs dangling against the small of my back.

That’s when I stopped listening to anyone else and prayed with all my heart, “Please, please, God, protect my baby. Protect my baby from this awful world.”

That’s been my fervent prayer ever since for both Madeline and now her brother Connor. Please, God. Please protect them.

It is a prayer I know thousands shared that day 10 years ago and for days afterward. It is a prayer of hope and fear and desperation, and it still breaks my heart to think about those we lost and the aftermath of sorrow that flows from it still. I will never be able to think on those dark days without a welling up of anguish in my soul. The grief is like a banked ember, forgotten until it flames.

This anniversary is a time for us to muck about in our memories, whatever they may be, to pull up what should be examined, swap stories, cry again. It is the season for such things, and afterward we can move forward again.

How we go about moving forward is crucial. As my beloved former teacher, Paula Lemmon, reminded me, the only thing that truly overcomes hate is love. I believe that, just as I believe God is love and that he will one day sit on his throne and make all things new.

What I am unable to remember with clarity is far less important than what I choose to dwell on now, especially in this season of fire and drought and sad remembrances.

The words Paul wrote to the Philippians echo through my mind. “Whatever is true,” he said, “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.”

It’s an admonition worth remembering in this or any season.


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Of auld lang syne and those yet to come

It's New Year's Eve. Aside from hearing the dog stretch in the other room and the occasional thump in the attic from what I dearly hope is a squirrel (as opposed to a rat or, say, a jaguar), all is quiet. About two hours ago the kids quit pretending to be asleep and actually were, leaving me to morosely flip channels and consider whom I might call. My sister? My best friend?

The truth is, I miss my husband. He's only been gone a few hours, so it's not the missing of a long absence. It's the missing of my partner during a symbolic-if-silly evening. We should be sharing a glass of wine. And the bed. We should be talking about the time we heralded the New Year perched, kissing and laughing upon the wall surrounding Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as bells pealed.

All this quietness has me thinking too much -- no wonder at a time when making lists, setting goals and pondering the past is de rigueur. So, why not?

1. Some things I'd like to do in 2009.

Get published in a national magazine.
Start a book.
Have more structure to my days.
Write letters on stationary.
Go on more bike rides with the kids.
Travel to Africa.
Build up muscle in my arms.
Get away, alone, with Roy at least three times.

2. Some things I'm grateful for.

That Christ loves me anyway.
That Roy is an incredibly thoughtful husband.
That our children are beautiful, hale and clever.
An extra refrigerator in the garage.
That, though things are tight, our needs are more than being met.
That I have amazing friends. I can't believe how many people I have in my life who nurture my spirit.
Music. Art. Books.
Belly laughs.
Parents who love their children and each other and never, ever hesitate to say so. And show so.
A brother and sister I call friends.
Being able to reach the bowls on the top shelf without a stool.
A dynamic, loving church that truly seeks to help people.
A good bottle of wine and interesting people with which to share it.
Good health.
In-laws I love.
A passionate marriage.

3. The best things about 2008.

Two trips to Guatemala to love on kids who desperately need to be loved.
Watching Madeline and Connor grow stronger in mind and body.
Enjoying a carefree, sun-soaked summer.
Having another year with Roy.

4. Something I'd change if I could.

I think people who say they have no regrets are either lying to themselves or possessing of very poor memories. There are several things I'd change if I could. Very near the top of that list is a dance I declined nearly 20 years ago. It's been on my mind the last few days.

It was my senior year of high school. Prom. Halfway thru the evening or more, Eric Coker, having clearly mustered up his courage, asked me to dance. Eric may have had a friend, but, if he did, I can't recall who that person was. Though not everyone was cruel to him, plenty were. For my part, not being actively unkind to him didn't translate as kindness.

That night, he came to me and asked me to dance. I'm not sure how long I considered his invitation before I said thank you for asking, but I don't care to dance. It was however long it took to calculate the potential cost I would have to pay in social currency versus the clear need Eric had of just being accepted.

I knew immediately I had taken the coward's way out, and I was ashamed. Very little time passed before I went to find him, to tell him I'd made a mistake and would be honored to dance with him. But he was nowhere to be found.

Ten years later, Eric came to our high school reunion, and I had him sit at our table. He seemed to have a good time. He danced during a few fast songs. He smiled. He said he'd found a group of like-minded individuals in an academic setting that suited him.

A few weeks later, unable to swim, Eric took his life by walking off the end of a pier. He never did find a place in the world.

This coming year, as in past, I hope very much to say yes, whenever possible, to the Eric Cokers of the world. I've been given much, and much is expected.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Te quiero

For ten days, early this month, I traveled with a group of men and women to Xela, Guatemala. A week of that time was spent at a government-run orphanage housing around 55 orphans -- boys and girls -- ranging from babies to 14. The orphanage is woefully understaffed.

Typically, there are 90 or more children at Xela (SHAY-luh), but most of the younger children have been sent temporarily to a warmer climate. There is no source of heat in their concrete, uninsulated 200-by-200 concrete compound. I say compound. What I really mean is prison.

A friend of mine who went on the trip said she came home, but a piece of her is still there. I believe it's that way for most of us. A piece of me is still there. What I brought back was a heart full of aching, desperate joy for the time I had there ... in that awful place, with those beautiful children. And stories. I have a head full of stories.

Here's one I wrote while I was still there.


The first time I saw Hector, it was in one of the dingy little classrooms on the upper floor of the orphanage. We brought in some t-shirts that read: Tu eres especial (you are special) for all the kids to have and decorate. I asked the teacher who in the room would be able to write their own names on the shirts. She pointed to two kids out of some 15; one was Hector. The first thing one notices about Hector is his awful bowl haircut and too-short bangs. The next thing, at least for me, is an intangible quality that speaks of something deeper, something special about this child.

I took a liking to him right away, and I think the feeling was mutual. But there were several children those first two days whom I particularly noticed. Those were difficult days for me for different reasons, mostly having to do with being ill prepared spiritually and not giving myself over completely to God’s guidance. I played with the children, hugged them, kissed them, loved them. But both days I felt an inner disquiet that suggested my actions were on target but my heart wasn’t.

Wednesday morning, I asked God to meet me where I was that day and show himself to me. “Give me something, God,” I said. “I need to see you.”

That afternoon, while several of the children were out on field trips, I stayed behind with others to oversee the afternoon activities. Eventually, I found myself in the inner, concrete courtyard-area of the orphanage where a few kids wandered around. I kicked a soccer ball a while with a few before eventually Hector and I found ourselves passing a football back and forth. We played for close to an hour, sometimes involving other children, but always going back to just the two of us. After a while, he decided to spice up the game, and when I passed the ball to him, he tucked it under one arm, stuck his other out in a Heisman Trophy-style pose and ran at me, smiling and growling. I ducked out of the way just as he passed. We did this over and over.

He came at me again. I grabbed him this time and – at my orchestration – we tumbled to the floor. We found ourselves both stretched out, me on my back, Hector on top of me, his head on my chest. I laughed. He laughed. Then something happened.

Our laughter quieted. I didn’t get up. He didn’t get up. We lay there together, breathing heavily from exertion. I patted his back. He patted my arm. We stayed together on that concrete floor.

“Te quiero, Hector,” I said. I love you.

“Te quiero tambien,” he said. I love you too.

We lay there a little longer, just long enough for me to know God had shown himself to me.

Each afternoon for the past three, we’ve taken a portion of the kids to a nearby McDonald’s so they can get out of that walled-in building, have some ice cream and enjoy the outdoor playground. Today was my day to be a chaperone. Providentially, it also happened to be the day Hector was going. I was excited about that, but when it was time to go, I found Hector sitting in a chair, stone-faced, arms crossed and refusing to talk or budge.

“Hector,” I said. “Que paso?”

He didn’t budge, wouldn’t meet my eyes. It doesn’t take much for any of these boys to get angry, either turning inward or lashing out violently. He had turned inward.

“Hector. Por favor.” I tried pulling him gently into a hug. He resisted. I kissed his head. “Por favor.” I knelt in front of him. “Hector.”

Whatever had caused this reaction had nothing to do anymore with his behavior. He was full of despair.

I took one thin wrist in my hand and placed it behind my neck, then the other and pulled him toward me. He didn’t embrace me, but he didn’t pull away, so I pulled him up into my arms, this nine-year-old boy, and held him. I took him to a corner of the room, with his face turned toward the wall and I started to sing to him the song I sang to my children when they were babies and cried.

He couldn’t understand the words, of course, but the melody, it’s repetitiveness and my swaying eventually melted him, and he began to cry. He cried and cried on my shoulder, keening with grief.

He wept for a long while: when I took him to the front door, when we passed into the courtyard. Just before the front gates of the orphanage were unlocked, he calmed. Holding his hand, I led him in front of the rest of the kids waiting in line so that he and I could get a prime spot at the front of the bus. I sat him by the window, and while everyone else loaded up, I put a seat belt on him and pulled from my backpack the little iPod Shuffle Madeline had loaned me for the trip.

I placed one earphone in his right ear, the other in my left. I clipped the Shuffle to his shirt and hit play, finding a song for us to listen to as the bus started moving.

It was almost unbearably sweet, unbearably heartbreaking to see the longing on his serious little face as he stared out the window at the world he’s been rejected by, listening to sad, beautiful music and clutching my hand in both of his. I scooted down a bit in my chair, pushed my shoulder up next to his and memorized forever the look on his face, the feel of his hands around mine, the sounds of the city passing as we both remained mute and cocooned in the certain knowledge that this moment was beautiful and fleeting.

Hector and the other kids had a wonderful time on the playground. They laughed and played and made a mess of the ice cream the way all children do. In no time, we were back on the bus, sitting side by side. I pulled out the iPod and hit play as the bus started moving. I felt him pulling at my arm. He wanted me to hold his hand again. So I did. We were silent again. He stared out the window. As we were nearing the orphanage, I began to sing the song that was playing. It’s a popular song about a boy pining for a girl. Silly in the context. I found though, as I sang the words, the meaning changed for me. I began to sing to Hector.

“I came from miles and miles to stand outside your door … And you will be loved. You will be loved.”

Neither one of us moved until everyone else had unloaded from the bus. He watched me while I sang. Finally, I shrugged. My shrug said, “It has to end now.”

He handed me his earphone with an almost imperceptible nod. We understood each other.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Hello, old friend

This morning, I met Fall. Driving back to the house from dropping off my son, I crested the hill of a busy residential street. Just then a gust of wind shook the limbs of the trees overhead, causing a patchwork quilt of yellow leaves and blue sky to be shaken out before me.

I've been waiting. Fall here in East Texas is not often remarkable. We do have the occasional turn of spectacular fall color, but most years the surrender from summer to winter is marked by an unobtrusive passage from green, to pale green to yellow to lawn carpet, with patches of red thrown in.

While there's nothing much for leaf looky-loos to get excited about, I have come each year to anticipate the leaf showers. Around our house, particularly in the back yard, and lining some of my favorite well-traveled back roads, are elm trees. I love the shape of these trees. They form a graceful umbrella canopy, with narrow limbs hanging down here and there like wayward tendrils of hair. When the wind blows, the trees sway gently. The movement mesmerizes me on the too-rare occasions when I stop, still and watch.

Seeing those leaves swirl up over the hood of the car this morning, bouncing against my windshield made me smile. It's not cool enough to require a jacket this morning, but autumn has made its entrance.

Once I arrived home, I walked out under one of the big elm trees, looking up as gusts of wind brought the leaves down around me like a light fall of snow. Just above, patches of white clouds streaked so quickly across the blue sky, it was as though everything outside the graceful, downward arc of leaves moved in fast motion. Within: peace. Without: the world.

I didn't pray, not consciously. But it occurs to me now I was obeying one of the commands I too often ignore.

Be still and know that I am God.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Call me Ptomaine Toni

About six weeks ago, I decided it was time to lose some weight. The catalyst for my decision came in the form of an old pair of shorts. Actually, it wasn't the shorts as much as it was the zipper ... and its reluctance to zip. That. was. it. I started the South Beach Diet the next day. Roy joined me, which made the whole thing easier. Although the word "easy" is perhaps misleading.

South Beach was developed by a cardiologist for his patients and spread by word-of-mouth until he eventually wrote a book that has sold a gabillion copies (give or take 12). Phase 1 of the diet lasts two weeks and is pretty strict: no pasta, bread, juice, fruit, corn, peas or alcohol. Other than the pretty hardy breakfasts and fish allowed, you might as well pack yourself into a cardboard box full of lettuce and sugar-free Jell-O and eat yourself out in 14 days.

Phase 1, for all its restrictions, worked like gangbusters. But not before, in the first few days, I felt hungry enough to suck the toothpaste right out of the tube, not before I got so SICK of grilled chicken salad I couldn't bear the sight of a freshly mowed lawn. But because Roy and I were doing it together and because it became a matter of pride for me, I stuck with it.

About four days into it, I was throwing dinner together in a hurry, trying to get things on the table before Roy had curtain call. (My renaissance man was in the local production of "To Kill a Mockingbird.") I grabbed a bowl, marinated and seasoned several chicken breasts, popped the chicken in the oven, heated some green beans (minus a dab of bacon grease. sigh.), sliced and diced for the salad and washed up a few dishes. Roy was running out of time, so I went ahead and threw the salad together and sat with him to eat while the kids played. He left. I set the table for the kids, got the chicken out, told the kids to wash up and put dishes in the sink.

That's when I grabbed the salad bowl. The perfectly empty, spotless salad bowl. I stared into it, at the tiny oval reflection of the overhead light, the one covered in asymmetrical yellow daisies painted there by my grandmother. I stared stupidly, as if by not moving, I could alter the reality that I had served salad in the same bowl used to prepare raw poultry.

My response was a cross between panic and self-rage, with liberal use of a word rhyming with shmum-ash. I called Roy at the theatre to let him know if at some point in the second act he began to feel a little queasy, it likely wasn't nerves, but the first twinge of a horrible bout of food-poisoning that might have both of us curled in the fetal position with our faces pressed against the cool, cool bathroom tile.

Rather than acknowledge the fact that he had, sadly, married a shmum-ash, he assured me it would be just fine. That the bacteria from the uncooked chicken surely wouldn't be a problem. I responded by lovingly assuring him that, no, we were both about to die, thank you very much, and I'm pretty sure Harper Lee never envisioned Boo Radley projectile vomiting on Atticus.

The only silver lining was that, thankfully, the children hadn't eaten the salad.

About half-an-hour later, my friend Cathy pulled up. Her children were in the play, and she had heard from Roy about our impending date with acute gastro-intestinal cleansing. She pulled a bag out of her car and explained that her family used some products that might be very helpful to us. Out of the bag she pulled items I'm pretty sure even Whole Foods doesn't carry: a 32-ounce bottle of Liquid Chlorophyll; another of Whole Leaf Aloe Vera and a little squeeze bottle of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). The GSE is a "bit tart," Cathy warned and would be more palatable mixed with fruit juice. I didn't bother explaining fruit juice was a Phase 1 no-no. With a few directions, she left me with the sack, on her way to deliver one large Chlorophyll/Aloe/GSE cocktail to Roy at the theatre.

Now, look. I don't particularly like green vegetables. I eat green beans because I know they're good for me. I eat asparagus and steamed broccoli, as long as it's smothered in butter. I don't care for much else green. So standing over my sink holding a white bottle of Liquid Chlorophyll stained green around its lid was similar to that moment right before the technician yanks the wax off.

The prospect of food poisoning, however, was sufficient motivation for me to dutifully mix a teaspoonful of chlorophyll into eight ounces of water. The smell isn't actually that bad. It's rather minty.

The smell lies. If you've shockingly never enjoyed a glass of chlorophyll, imagine gathering two large handfuls of grass clippings from your yard. Grab a few pine needles if they're handy and four or fives leaves from any available shrub. Place your harvest into the blender, add a little water and, voila!

If you don't remember your science that well, chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that helps out with photosynthesis. According to Nature's Sunshine Products, Inc., it's also useful as a digestive tract detoxifier and supports intestinal health. I clung to that bit of propaganda as green water dripped down my gulping throat.

Next: Whole Leaf Aloe Vera. This time I mixed an ounce with water. The bottle assured me I was in for a "refreshing and pleasant tasting vegetable juice drink" which would be "intensely cleansing."

Refreshing and pleasant my ash. It tastes precisely how one might imagine it would if you broke a leaf off your aloe plant, jammed in a straw and sucked. Except maybe not that good.

I just managed to fight back the gag reflex, reminding myself what I was drinking would combat the bacteria in my digestive system. Fortified by that thought, I proceeded to put several drops of the grapefruit seed extract containing Citricidal into a third glass of water and knocked it back.

I like grapefruits fine, cut open and served with a sprinkling of sugar. I have nothing against grapefruit. But this stuff was so intensely tart that hours later I could still taste it on the back of my throat like a sour paste. I couldn't finish this drink all in one take, stopping to stomp, slap my hand on the counter and gasp.

A couple of hours later I repeated the process. The good news is, neither Roy nor I were ever sick. I can't say whether we just got lucky or the stuff we took really lived up to its billing. Either way, we were very, very fortunate -- if you call eating Salmonella Salad with a chaser of Liquid Plant fortunate.

In this case, I suppose the glass of liquid chlorophyll was half full.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The getaway

I called Erin the other day to find out how long a hickey takes to fade. She said she wouldn't know, which I find hard to believe since -- hello! -- she has four kids.

The sad thing is said blemish wasn't a result of marital congress. I was grooming and unintentionally pinched the skin on my neck. Sounds implausible, I know. But I have the kind of skin that will redden up for half-an-hour when I scratch it too hard. It makes mosquito season a cornucopia of joy. (Mosquito season in East Texas runs from February to December.)

Anyway, the next morning when I finally got around to looking at myself in the mirror -- well after I'd dropped Madeline off at school -- I saw the telltale mark of any saucy tart worth her salt. (Angry comments from offended saucy tarts will be forwarded to the John McCain for President website. I don't know why. It will just amuse me.)

Erin didn't even believe my story at first, which indicates my inner saucy tart might be showing. This is probably the result of a recent getaway weekend with my husband. About two years ago we pledged to make it a priority to get away by ourselves for a couple of nights about every four months. Oh, my. I still vividly recall about 12 hours into our first getaway thinking, Yes! I remember us being this way. ... why did we have kids? Oh, yeah. We love and want them. They're wonderful. That, uh, what's her name ... Madeline! Yes, Madeline. She's the smartest most precocious child and her brother ... uhm ... her brother ... two years younger, blond. Connor! Yep, Connor. He's so funny. Great kids. Great, great kids. Honey, could you get me another mojito?

Seriously, I cannot say enough about the importance of getting away with your spouse for some alone time on a regular basis -- even if it's just a standing date night. It's marvelous for boosting intimacy, energy and generosity in the most crucial relationship in your family.

But even as I preach this, we don't always find it easy to make arrangements to get away for a long weekend. In fact, this last occasion was the first time we'd done so in nine months. Nine. long. months. As is our custom, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency (think the giant, lit ball above the Dallas skyline). While Roy parked, I went ahead to check in, full of the joy that accompanies the beginning of a much-anticipated trip. I strode up to the counter before a young woman with a friendly face.

"Hello," I said. "I have reservations for two."

She pulled up my name. "Yes, Mrs. Clay. I see you've already paid. I'll just need your credit card for any additional charges."

I gave it to her and she clicked away on her keyboard, finally pulling out two card keys. "I have you in a non-smoking room on the fifth floor with two double beds." She extended the cards toward me.

I stood there a moment, not moving, letting the words "two double beds" echo through my mind. This is what happens when you book through Priceline. They put you in a room low enough to hear the noise from the usually-loud open-to-the-top lobby with TWO DOUBLE BEDS. I don't want TWO DOUBLE BEDS. I want a giganta bed. I want a bed that screams This Way to Marital Congress! Or something like that.

I glanced at her nametag. "Jaymee," I said, my deep voice taking on perhaps a hint of controlled hysteria, "I don't think that room will do. I don't think two double beds will do."

I leaned in a bit. "Jaymee, I have two young children. My husband and I are spending our first weekend together, away from them" -- I spoke slowly -- "in nine months." Another beat. "They are six and four."

She stared at me. I lifted an eyebrow.

"OK, Mrs. Clay," she clicked on her keyboard again, "I have you in a non-smoking room with a king-size bed on the 25th floor with a city view. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

I smiled. "Jaymee, you rock."

About an hour-and-a-half later someone knocked on our door. Roy and I looked at each other. The kind of looks that said, "Why is there someone knocking on our hotel door and can this be good?" After a bit of scrambling, Roy opened it. I could hear a woman's voice but not make out the words.

When the door closed, he walked around the corner, grinning, with a bottle of champagne, a cork and two wine glasses. There was also a note signed by every member of the desk crew. The message said, "We hope you enjoy your stay here."

And we did. Yes, we did.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Upon having returned from Sam Hill

I would say I'm back, but that would be pretty presumptuous considering not more than a handful of people care one way or the other whether I blog. And of that handful, fully half primarily visit this site for its links to bloggers who have a habit of actually posting.

I can't say precisely why I checked out of Blog World. By checked out, I mean not writing or reading any posts. My sister-friend JT would tell me when a particularly funny post somewhere cracked her up, like BigMama's encounter with a rude pedicurist. (Ironically, JT started blog reading because I kept sending her links insisting You Must Read This.)

And My Friend Erin With Four Kids keeps me up-to-date on major events in the lives of bloggy people she knows I care about. For good measure, she also lets me know when other bloggers -- those I hadn't gotten to know -- are going through tragedy. Erin is one of the most tender-hearted people I know, so she really goes there and digs in when others are hurting. She tells me I should read something because it's heartbreaking-but-inspiring writing. I usually don't read it, though, not if I wasn't already emotionally invested in that person's life on some level.

I ask myself why that is, and what comes to mind is ... an oyster. Sometimes I'm a mother hen (are they really that nurturing?) and other times I'm an oyster. A five-foot-eleven-inch oyster with freakishly long toes and a knuckle-popping habit. During, shall we say, the season of the oyster, when I get an intrusion of bad news that doesn't involve my immediate world, I protect myself by not examining it too closely. Instead, I begin to segregate it from the rest of my life, turning it over and over inside without letting it get imbedded too deeply. Present but separate.

The analogy breaks down, of course, when one considers this process in an actual oyster produces a pearl, while in me it produces ... uhm. I'll get back to you on that one. It also makes me less than exemplar in the arena of current events. Which is -- if I may use the word again -- ironic. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't ever get involved in the lives of strangers. I'm really not. But there are times, for better or worse, I'm compelled to tighten my focus considerably.

Look, I was a newspaper editor for seven years. Nearly every day I perused the Associated Press Wire, often reading the worst news I could imagine: children left in scorching cars to die, genocide, rape, abuse of power here and abroad. I went to the occasional murder scene where, once, people gathered in the street told me, "when you get angry enough, it just happens" as if I should understand why someone ends an argument with a gun.

When I left that job, which I loved, I traded in the 24-hour news cycle for the When-It-Really-Matters cycle. I felt like I had filled up on so much bad news in inverted-pyramid form, it would take at least seven more years to unload it. So I let my Newsweek subscription lapse. I don't watch Dateline or CNN. I read Slate online to keep abreast of the most major events. And, of course, my circle of friends keeps me grounded in the 21st century.

All that said, it wasn't because I was reading too much (or any) sad news that I took leave of Blog World. I think it's more because I developed a habit somewhere in the past two years of just stepping away from things from time to time.

Roy and I lived without television for most of the years of our marriage. We've had the cable hooked up for about a year or so now, and as much as I enjoy access to certain shows, I'm beginning to think we ought to disconnect again. I vegged out last night. Oh, sure it would take super-human strength not to watch the very first episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (her hair was brown! staked vampires didn't disintegrate immediately! Xander was thin!), but I should have just gone to bed. Then of course it was continued to the next episode, so I had to watch. Had. to. Then I felt guilty because I had put off reading my Bible. News flash: Zechariah at 1:30 in the morning isn't easy reading. My priorities aren't reflecting well in my time allotment.

I do the same thing with books. I love getting lost in fiction. But no doubt at lot of that time would be more wisely spent elsewhere. God is clearly telling me I need to step away from certain things, and in the process move closer to him.

Last night, when I groggily opened up to Zechariah, this opened my eyes wide: "Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you.'

It strikes me that it's all good and well to check out of reading or watching or blogging for a while, but if I'm not also in the process returning to him, it really doesn't matter.