20 November 2012

Night

by Elie Wiesel

I scarcely have words to describe this book. It’s short – about 115 pages if you skip the introduction and the foreword (don’t skip them, or if you do, take the time to go back and read them). I think it took me about an hour and a half to get through it, mostly because I was rushing and just wanted it to be over. I’ve still got some guilt about that, actually.  Part of me feels obligated to read it every single day, as a reminder of what humans are capable of when we don’t honor and respect one another’s humanity.

As a child, Wiesel’s family was incarcerated in Auschwitz. I say incarcerated because really, what other verb works here? Wiesel could easily and justifiably have written a lengthy, melodramatic, lecturing tome, but instead “Night” is simple, straightforward, and easily one of the most heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Ever.

It would take me far more than 115 pages to describe how vividly Wiesel talks of torment, starvation, death, and human nature. I’ll skip all of that and settle on telling you all to read it. Right this minute.

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

“I am not so na├»ve as to believe that this slim volume will change the course of history or shake the conscience of the world. Books no longer have the power they once did. Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.”

The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I began this book first because it was recommended by a friend, and then because Goodreads reviews were pretty much universally positive. Disclaimer: If you’re looking for “literature,” you should probably look elsewhere. I think this probably best falls under the category of Women’s Fiction, but whatever.

Apparently, Victorian couples communicated through flowers, each species of which has a distinct meaning and message. Now, in all honesty, I have no idea how popular or widespread this communication technique was historically, and I don’t intend to do the research to find out. Nonetheless, I have to acknowledge that the idea of it is certainly romantic, and potentially secret enough for Victorians to find erotic. Ostensibly, this flower language is what the book is about, and if you’re into flowers or secret messages, you will probably enjoy the secondary romance plot. Maybe because I work directly with court wards and foster children, I found the flowers far less intriguing than the characters.

Victoria Jones is a young woman who’s recently aged out of foster care. That may not seem significant, really, except that it is, I promise you. The child dependency process and the foster care system are specifically designed to protect against the exact situation in which Victoria finds herself: suddenly adult and without a home, a family, or a livelihood. Ideally, children without parents find stability – permanence – within a couple years of entering the system, at most. Victoria never found permanence, and though she would blame herself – tell you it’s because she was a constant disappointment and repeatedly failed to meet the requirements of successive placements – that’s not altogether true. Victoria – and many real-life children like her – are failed by the system that is designed to protect them.

Reading this book made me think a lot about the children whose welfare is entrusted, in part, to me. As a guardian ad litem, what does it mean for me to advocate for their best interests? Chick lit or not, it’s not every book that makes me reassess the way I do my job. Diffenbaugh understands foster children. Somehow, she articulates the fear, doubt, aggravation, and deep affection between children and their foster parents. I’m familiar with the dynamic, but I don’t think anyone I know is capable of so effectively characterizing it at such a soulful level.

19 November 2012

Thankful

The holidays are a strange time, huh? It's the end of the year, and just as I'm relishing in a tiny bit of relief from triple-digit Arizona summertime temperatures, I'm thrown into this whirlwind season of forced festivity and gift-giving anxiety. Even shopping, which I love, reduces me to a ball of stress because I become neurotically fearful of choosing the wrong present and disappointing someone that I love. Every public building - malls, post offices, grocery stores, airports - morphs into a sea of humanity that sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to run, screaming, toward the nearest exit. In the middle of my panic, though, I occasionally have moments of lucidity, seconds when I remember that all of this stress is simply a distraction from what's important, and that the method of celebration really shouldn't detract from that which is being celebrated.

I am blessed, and fortunate, and happy.

And so, I am thankful:



For lipgloss, the redder the better, and sparkly nail polish, any color (except orange, because as Blake says, "Orange is for Auburn." YUCK!).

For Blake, Malak, Abby, Mattie Grace, and Isaiah, and especially this year, for Charlie and Ben. Nothing makes holidays more magical than big smiles on little faces.

For pretty shoes.

For NPR.

For old friends, most of whom are distant geographically but close in all the ways that matter.

For new friends who are becoming old friends, and who are there to laugh at all my various predicaments, and then help me get out of them, and then laugh some more.

For my DVR.

For a mom who doesn't stop answering the phone even after I've called her nine times in half an hour.

For a dad who taught me to love the law, and never gets tired of me asking him to explain it to me just one more time.

For my grandparents, Horace and Ruthie. Nothing I say could ever be enough, so I won't try.

For philosophy's eye hope under-eye cream.

For cousins who were like siblings as we grew up, and more importantly, who are my friends now.

For a job that's more than just a job, and for coworkers who are more than just coworkers.

For good music.

For The MISS Foundation, which reminds me to be grateful, mindful, and gentle, and which inspires me to live and love fiercely.

For Google.

For Google maps.

For Instagram, Skype, Goodreads, Facebook, text messaging, email, and mobile phones. My friends and family are busier than ever and scattered to the four winds, but I still get to laugh with them when they're happy, cry with them when they're not, share with them a well-beloved book, watch their babies grow, and tell them I love them.

For a hairdresser who doesn't mind a challenge, or that I constantly change my mind.

For sweet tea.

For pearls.

For Sephora (and Barney's).*

For the quickly-approaching awards season.*

For a God who lavishes His grace, mercy, and forgiveness even when I forget to ask and even when I don't deserve it, and who answers prayers I didn't even know to say.

Happy, Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. xo, avb

*Added at the request of SCM, who knows me so well.

01 November 2012

"It's about to be Halloween..."

So much has happened in my life during the past year, though looking at this pitiful blog, you’d never know it. I’m gonna’ try to do better, though. Promise. And to start, I want to talk about the most significant addition to my agenda.

About two years ago, I started reading a blog, Rockstar Ronan, at the urging of my boss at the time. She had gone to law school with the blogger’s husband, and she told me about how her friends’ son had been diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a particularly insidious and deadly form of childhood cancer. Ronan lived in the Phoenix area with his family, so maybe that’s why I immediately felt such a connection to them; I joined thousands of others in sending up prayers for his healing. The blog posts were primarily positive and funny, mostly because Ronan is such a cutie, and his mom often posted photos of him. Y’all know how I love kid photos. Though I wasn’t a daily reader at first, I almost always checked in weekly to see how Ronan’s treatments were progressing, and to be honest, I was really quite certain that he would recover because he never “looked” sick in pictures, and his mom’s stubbornly bubbly tone made a cure seem inevitable.

One day in May 2011, I found out that Ronan had died. And then Taylor Swift wrote a song called “Ronan.” And somewhere in the middle of those two things, I learned about the MISS Foundation and Dr. Joanne Cacciatore.

I remember the night I filled out the application to volunteer with MISS. I had just read a particularly heart-breaking blog post, and I sat in the middle of my bed and typed out my responses to the application’s questions on my iPhone. To be honest, I never thought I’d even be contacted again. What could I possibly offer them?

Fast-forward to July 2012. I had accepted a new job and planned to start following a week-long vacation with my mama (btw, we had so much fun). Right about that time, I got an email from MISS explaining that they had reviewed my volunteer application and wanted to know if I was interested in a position on their Executive Board of Directors. I was shocked. Also, humbled, terrified, and a little bit speechless, which doesn’t happen to me very often, as y’all know. I spent a couple hours on the phone with some of their leaders, and I fell in love with their spirit, their kindness, their energy, and their motivation.

I’ve been on the Board for all of two months now. It’s been more rewarding that I can even articulate.

And so now it’s about to be Thanksgiving. In addition to being more thankful than ever for all of the beautiful babies in my life, I am also grateful that MISS is here for all the families with missing babies. And, I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of that.