June 18, 2010

Good, in that Schindlers List sort of way…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — sbj @ 11:47 pm

Last week, while perusing facebook I found the following “status” from the 14 year old daughter of a good friend of mine.  I probably would have been a bit more disturbed reading than I was, had I not known how important the fight against child abuse is to her (she has never experienced it herself, but cares very deeply about the issue and those who have become victims).

It is very good, in that Schindler’s List sort of way, which I am telling you because if you are looking for something upbeat and positive, you are not going to find it here.  Instead you are going to get a thought provoking, emotion tugging, awareness piece that is sadly probably not very far from the reality of some of our very own neighbors.

She has given me her permission to share it with you.  In fact as she has aspirations of doing some freelance work, preferably writing stories for “causes” such as this one; when I told her I wanted to re-publish it, she told me to pass along to any of my readers the offer to put something together for them… so, there you go.

Without further ado, I give you Ashes; a writer, an entrepreneur, a crusader for social justice, and, well, a 9th grader…


The voice was young, juvenile; in a way, it was feminine. But the small lump of a t-shirt and jeans had a defined masculine shape, tousled hair gleaming black. The sunset’s light was weak, blotted out by the silhouette of an oak tree.

The boy standing there was approximately five years old, his clothes matching his hair. His inquisitive green eyes were level with the other child’s, if you could call it that. There were tears slowly drifting down his cheeks, dripping off his chin and hitting the soft soil beneath his bare feet.

His arms were covered in bruises, some larger and darker than others. On his left cheek, a two inch cut pulled away from the bottom of his eye and reached toward his ear, though it didn’t get far. With closer examination, it would be easy to see the scars tracing along his forehead, chin, nose, everything.

He held two flowers in his right hand; one of them was dead. It would be hard to tell that he had taken it away from the child without actually inspecting the area.

“This one’s for you, Benjamin.”

Instead of sticking the dead rose in the other child’s hand, he kept it and handed over the living one. It was thriving, freshly picked and full of bright pink coloring. His expression was almost wistful as he watched it go, but he didn’t complain. “Happy birthday, Benjamin,” he repeated.
His eyes moved from the gray child and down towards the brick that it stood on. With his lip trembling as he tried to fight back the coming tears, he closed his eyes and turned.

“Goodbye, Benjamin.”

He walked away slowly, leaving his younger brother’s tombstone behind. “It was nice seeing you, Benjamin.”

The poor boy didn’t understand that his brother was dead. He didn’t know what had happened, but he knew that his brother was gone and he was the statue standing on the stone with his hand outstretched to hold the flowers that he put there every day.

Benjamin’s brother walked back to his abusive home, the place where he got all the bruises and cuts. His father’s expression as he entered the house was one meant to terrify him, but it didn’t affect him anymore. He wasn’t scared anymore, even though he really should have been.

“It’s Benjamin’s birthday, Daddy,” he said softly.

“I don’t give a shit, Alistair,” hissed the voice of the cruel animal that Alistair was forced to call his father. “Come here. You’re not supposed to leave the house like this.”

Of course, the innocent child had hope. He’d never given up his faith in his dad, always having a soft glimmer that he wasn’t really the way he acted and that, if Alistair waited long enough, he would be blessed with a perfect father who loved him and took care of him.

Of course, he was too ignorant to realise that this would never happen. Obediently moving closer to the tall figure, he looked up almost hopefully.

He didn’t know what happened next. He never did. He knew he always ended up on the floor, like he was now. He knew that there was always pain somewhere on his body; right then, it was his face. And that wasn’t the first time that he saw blood, nor the first time that one of his eyes was blinded by it. Alistair stayed on the ground– although he was ignorant, that didn’t mean he was stupid. The last time he had gotten up, his father had gone after him and cut his cheek with a knife. That was also the only time he had gotten up; although it had been quite a while ago, his father never let the cut heal.

He felt his father’s hands wrap around his neck and he flew off the floor, rising in the air. Against every single one of his mental processes trying to stop them, his arms moved up and clawed at his father’s.

The tall man grinned, then threw Alistair at the wall.

When he hit the surface, he lingered for a second. Alistair could feel the wall absorbing the movement, managing to remain conscious even with the pain shooting through his veins. It took everything not to scream in terror, in pain, in shock.

He looked up, eyes surveying the room. His father was gone. Biting his lip to keep himself from crying again, Alistair stood and stumbled into the bathroom.

His father always left so that Alistair could fix everything, which was what he did now. He’d learned a long time ago how to clean himself up before his mum got home.

Alistair rinsed out his eye several times until it was clear, letting the tears finally come to help clean it out. His hands were gentle as he pressed a soft cloth against the blood, washing it off. Two bandaids eventually found themselves lying on his cheek, covering the cut. He never knew what to do with his bruises; that was what the excuse was for.

His father had bought this house for a reason– it had stairs. That was what Alistair always had to say. He hated lying to his mum, especially when the only reason he did was to protect the beast.

“I’m home!”

The voice was almost like music to his ears. Alistair ran out of the bathroom after he’d stuffed the cloth and bandaids in a drawer that he made sure his mum never needed to use.

“Hey, Beth! How was work?”

Alistair’s expression was one of pain at the sound of his father’s voice, but he fought past it because he didn’t want to get hurt again. He was almost glad when his mum completely ignored her husband and instead rushed towards him, thumb carefully brushing over the bandaids.

“What happened, Ali?”

He glanced over at his father, then back to his mother. “I tripped on the way back from Benjamin’s grave. It’s his birthday today.”

Beth looked down. “It is, isn’t it,” she whispered. “I’d almost forgotten.”

Alistair’s chin trembled and he let himself begin to cry. Beth picked him up and held him, kissing his forehead as she turned to face the monster. He didn’t let his father see his lips as they moved as quickly as he could make them, but he knew his mum would give it away with her expression.

She did.

Only three days later, Benjamin had two graves next to his.

June 9, 2010

Microwave a Pop Tart for 3 seconds…

Filed under: A life worth living,Conversations,Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 4:09 pm

There is a phrase/question, a little overused, but of value none the less, that goes something like this:

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow (in a week/in a month/whatever), what would you do; and, why aren’t you doing it?

The message is simple and clear, you only get one crack at it, why not make the most of it… starting now.  People are often surprised when they run out of time, they wonder where their lives went and why they never climbed that mountain, jumped out of that (perfectly sound!!!) airplane, or went on that grand adventure.

The bottom line, however, is this: if you wait long enough, everything will stop becoming an option.  Eventually, there will be no marathons to run, no scuba dives to make, no cross country road trips to take… no tomorrow.  We are each granted a finite number of “today’s” and an even smaller (by one) number of “tomorrow’s.”  With that comes the inevitable question: what are you doing with them?

I was enjoying a conversation with someone this morning about their “bucket list.”  It included things like “see the northern lights,” and “save someone’s life” (rather amazingly, given that she is a teen, the latter is already accomplished and crossed off of her list).

What really caught my attention though, were a few other items, exemplified perfectly by “Microwave a Pop Tart for 3 seconds.”  It is both less random and more pedestrian than it sounds, those are the exact microwave preparation instructions on the package.  But that is the simple curious beauty of this particular item.

So often it is the everyday things that we do not do that haunt us later in life.  It is living within 30 minutes from the coast, but only having been to the beach a handful of times (or, gasp!!! … not at all); living in Vegas, but never seeing a show; in San Francisco but never having walked the golden gate bridge or visited Alcartaz.

We get so engrossed in our lives we often have to leave town to relax and enjoy living them.

Several months ago (the end of September, 2009), inspired by my friend Claudia, I set out to accomplish 100 goals in 100 days.  Today (June 9th, 2010) I have accomplished (drum roll please!!!) 78 of them.  Obviously, in order to be realistic, many of these goals were set very low to the ground.  Others were more lofty and would require quite a bit of effort to accomplish.

What is interesting to me, however, is that the rate of success on the low hanging fruit is roughly the same as that of the complex tasks.  In fact, if I had managed to accomplish all of the relatively effortless items (i.e. “clean out my domain inventory” and “review and update my birthday calendar”), I would have accomplished 96 of my 100 goals instead of 78.

Again, simple attainable goals, even though – in this case – I had the advantage of identifying and setting out to accomplish them, left incomplete.  When I look back at my nearly 300 days since creating the list, there is no way to justify not having time to accomplish any of the items on my list (okay, maybe the movie was pushing it a bit), let alone the little ones.  Yet, undone 22 of them remain.

If yesterday, today was my last tomorrow… I’d certainly like to think I had lived my life to the fullest.  Maybe I didn’t get my domains sorted out, but that at least I had spent my time enjoying life, satisfying my curiosities, and doing the little things that make life worth living, no matter how simple they might be.

… like microwaving a Pop Tart for three seconds…

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