Checked Out: Week 16

terry-mcmillan-who-asked-youI spent the better part of the past two and a half weeks reading two amazing books, and now that I’ve finished both of them it’s almost like I’m starting over again from scratch. You know that feeling, when you’ve been holding your breath for so long that you forgot you were holding it, but then you let it go in a whoosh and you’re light headed for a moment because of it? That’s me right now.

So I wandered into the library yesterday with a vague idea of the kind of book I wanted to read next, and I got what’s probably the opposite of that book, the new novel by Terry McMillan. I haven’t read her brand of fiction in ages (since I somehow got through How Stella Got Her Groove Back without throwing up), but I saw this book on the new fiction shelf and decided to give her another shot. We’ll see how it goes. Now, here’s what I’ve Checked In:

  • Killing Floor, by Lee Child
  • U2 By U2, by U2 with Neil McCormick
  • Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
  • Frozen, by Kate Watterson

Okay, so I didn’t just wander into the library yesterday. I was there returning the above books, but I was also there to see my wife (who is a librarian). It’s interesting that she mentioned to me that a patron asked her what plays would be good for a book club to read. It reminded me that it has been a very long time since I read a play (not counting Romeo & Juliet, of course), and maybe I’ll find a new one in the near future to check out. Anyway, here’s what I have Checked Out this week…

  1. Who Asked You?, by Terry McMillan
  2. I’m Still Scrambling, by Randall Cunningham
  3. The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
  4. Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan

Now, just because they’re checked out doesn’t mean I’m reading them all at the same time. The Sound of Things Falling is actually my book club’s next selection, so I might take a while reading that one for the June discussion group. I’m excited to check it out because it was originally written in Spanish, but we are reading the English translation. I’d be very interested to see what got lost in that translation, so I will be reading critiques of the work as well.

nfl_u_cunningham_400I just started the new Terry McMillan novel today, and it is reminiscent of her book Disappearing Acts so far, in that all the characters appear to be black and speak with the certain vernacular. She did the same thing in Waiting to Exhale as well, and at times I think it’s accurate and at others a bit superfluous. So far in this book (I’ve 10 pages in) I think it fits the mood of the story.

Randall Cunningham used to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles when I was a kid, and he was the first football player I remember idolizing. I looked up to him because he was so athletic, he couldĀ  pass and run the football, and he was black. There’s something to be said for black role models for a black kid growing up in the ghetto of Southwest Philly. So, I’m finally going to read his autobiography. Perhaps it will even bring back some memories for me.

Happy reading this week!


Checked Out Archive

The Beginning of Hope

OldBlackManThe room is deathly quiet, save for the soft sound of sniffling in the corner. That’s where the baby is, asleep on the floor, atop her favorite blanket. There was no money for a crib, or a mattress, or even a pacifier to soothe the child’s sore gums, so he had improvised. It was something he had experience in, the improvisation, not the child. He is absurdly afraid of the child, which is the reason for the separation, the opposite corners.

The man is a study in contradictions, with his frayed suspenders and designer shirt that do nothing to hide his emaciated figure. Indeed he appears to be wasting away as he sits there staring out the large, clear window. He breathes a sigh of relief that the child is asleep. The previous night had been a long and harrowing experience, punctuated by screams that pierced the static air of the room. He aged a year in one night.

The woman left in winter, during the longest month. He knows because he marks it on his calendar, the old one that he recycles from year to year. It is missing April but April never seems to come when he wants it to anyway so it is not relevant to him. He cannot remember why she walked out the door, but he can remember the vacant look in her eyes, the ones that used to give back more than they took in. She looked at him with those strange eyes and walked out the door.

The baby shifts on the blanket and he recognizes this as a precursor to the child waking up again. He covers his eyes with one large dark brown hand, hoping to preserve this quiet for just a few moments longer, knowing that it is probably an impossible dream. He wishes he were the one who left. He had been thinking about it, of course. The child hadn’t been part of the plan for his life, no more than it had been for hers. But he cannot abandon it now. The stirring continues. Continue reading “The Beginning of Hope”

Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Unequally Yoked

opposites-attract“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”2 Corinthians 6:14 (English Standard Version)

Growing up Seventh-Day Adventist, it was only natural to wonder about the nature of male/female relationships. Everybody growing up wonders about that, but for the SDA it was almost like sacred territory. We saw couples at church, but we were only privy to their public relationship with the Lord, not to their private relationship with each other. But you know how kids are. We talked, and it was pretty easy to place the couples we saw into three categories:

  1. The Ones Who Were Genuinely Happy
  2. The Ones Who Were Pretending
  3. The Ones Who Weren’t Even Pretending

The ones who weren’t even pretending were the ones who we never even saw together. Either the wife would bring the kids to church, the husband would bring the kids to church, or they would both be there, but never in the same place at the same time. These couples tended to be middle-aged with young children. The ones who were pretending could always be seen together, but they were never actually found communicating with each other. And those who were genuinely happy had a seamless nature to how they went about their business while at the same time tending to each other. Those couples were usually smiling, and had an ease to them that we could tell the other couples obviously envied.

But one thing that was hardly ever in question was that each couple we saw at church were in fact baptized Seventh-Day Adventists. While there may have been degrees of faith, the faith itself was never in doubt. Apparently this isn’t so clear-cut in some other religions, but I didn’t know anything about that then. I assumed that everyone who was married was “equally yoked,” meaning that they were of the same religion. I also assumed back then that when I grew up I, too, would marry a Seventh-Day Adventist and raise Seventh-Day Adventist children together with her. That assumption would prove false. Continue reading “Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Unequally Yoked”

Irish Pride

irish-flagThe first time I saw Ireland was through the tiny window of a giant airplane as we descended upon Dublin on a May day in 2003. It was our honeymoon, and we were aglow in the newness of the condition, then bombarded with the shock of the culture change that was about to hit us upon landing. I gripped my new bride’s hand in equal parts fear and anticipation, fear of the unknown and anticipation of the journey regardless. After all, it was Ireland.

I’ve always identified with all things Irish, since I was a wee lad. Honestly, my mother got awfully tired of me speaking in a poor excuse for an Irish accent (I’ve since gotten better at it) and wanting everything to be painted green. In fact, I had picked out the brightest green I could find and gotten my dad to paint my room that color. I was that committed to it, and I couldn’t have told you why it was Ireland and not somewhere else.

So, it was no wonder when I heard U2 for the first time on the radio and fell in love. Like with anything else I get interested in, I went overboard from the start. I quickly began doing research on the band, which was harder to do back then because the internet wasn’t as prevalent, so I went to the library. It was complicated work, but I was assured at the end of the inquiry that I knew all there was to know about the band, and by extension, about Ireland itself.

And I knew I had to get there someday. Somehow.

When I met my future wife, it was one of the first things we talked about, my obsession with all things Irish. I even joked about having been Irish in a previous life, and about the significance of my Irish last name. I knew she was humoring me, and I was grateful for it. At least she didn’t tell me to shut up. I also knew she was just as obsessed with all things British, so we would go back and forth on which culture was better. I still say it’s Irish, and perhaps our trip helped her to see things my way.

We touched down on Dublin soil after a seemingly endless plane ride, but I was finally there. In Ireland. I breathed in the air as we stepped off the plane, even though it was just recirculated airport air. It somehow felt different as I inhaled it, as if I were taking in the very essence of the Irish way of life. I would have knelt and kissed the floor had my wife not been with me. I didn’t want to embarrass her. That would come later. Continue reading “Irish Pride”

Going Back: The Reunion

“We are at all times constantly our past, our present, and our future rolled into one, a microcosm of our experiences with no set expiration date and all possibilities open to our own interpretations.”

We were all rock stars back then, weren’t we? Our memories are good enough to remind us of that, 20 years later. Imagine that. Alex reminded me today of how much I adored the sticky buns they used to serve at the old cafeteria. Whenever anyone wanted a sticky bun, they went to me because they knew I hoarded them like Hammer hoarded cars. How had I forgotten that? Or, as Jaime recalled, how I had a good singing voice but I was too nervous to try out for Bel Canto.

Me and my boy Alex.

And Sarah was one of the first people I met on campus, back in the summer of ’90 when we dropped off my sister to do her summer on-campus job. I remember Sarah then because she smiled at me, and I realized maybe the going away to school thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all. She still has that same smile today, and that same way of making me feel like I matter, even in a sea of other people. Those little things are important. I remember them from before, and I am still amazed by them today.

See. Sarah never changes.

Rodney joked about how we would play tricks on the faculty, and sleep in Mr. Crandall’s English class. He wore those taps on his shoes so it sounded like such a rush of running even when all he did was cross the classroom. Oh, the fun times we had in his class. But Rodney was the prankster, the jackal, and I was the sidekick, at least freshman year, because I wanted to be accepted by the rest of the crew that lived up on Sophomore Hall. I don’t even know if they still have those names for the halls, but that’s what I introduced them as to my children.

This is us. Laughing infectiously.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? Katie is still good at talking the ear off a dog, and I realized while listening to her speak that I had missed her voice. 20 years is a long time between hearing someone’s voice, isn’t it? And Shannon. What can I say about Shannon? She sat behind me in Mrs. Streidl’s typing class. I remember turning around every little bit, between our timings, to look at her and Paola. They were the shortest girls in our class. At least I recall it that way. But they were also the cutest. We remember these things, don’t we, as we grow older?


And Greg. What can I say about Greg? I looked up to him back then. He was smart without being awkward about it, and we spent so much time in his room — Greg, Rich, Zac, Emmett and me — that I honestly thought I should have just moved in at one point. Later on I would share a room with Rich for a summer, and that was fun, but it was also the last summer, so it was bittersweet. Rich couldn’t make it this year, but it was good to see Greg. Yes, way too long.

People who haven’t experienced what we experienced in those years at BMA will never understand, but it is a bond that can never be truly broken, between me and these people, some of whom I haven’t talked to in the intervening years, but we all fit together again like a hand in a glove. Our banter was inspired, punctuated with a laughter that was infectious at times, and reminiscent at others. We flowed from one group to another of our former classmates, ensconced in nostalgia, but also in the glory of our “now”s, the intervening years and where we’ve ended up. It was magic.

’94 Forever.

I’ve missed them. I’ll admit it, but I hadn’t realized just how much until I saw them all again in one place, in OUR place, because it’s just not as special when we’re somewhere else. Because BMA is what brought us together in the first place, and today felt like coming home, our reunion with each other, but also our reunion with the place, and how the place influenced us and gave us that connection, that bond that will never be broken. Not by time, or by distance, or even by religious difference that may have occurred over the years.

Because when we get back together, we are once again family, and that’s what I’ll take away from this 2014 alumni celebration and recognition for and reunion of the class of 1994. That and a bunch of numbers so we can stay in touch, because our 25th is going to be off the hook. Rodney’s words. Not mine.


Going Back: Vespers

imageThe campus slowly comes into view. I can see the girls’ dorm first, with its stark brick facade and host of memories intact. I took the scenic route here, through the old city with its “Grand” theater that is actually playing current fare, and its little old houses lined up in haphazard rows, past the rolling hills that characterize this area, and finally down to the campus.

What did I expect from this place? As I drive past the old administration building I can finally see the boys’ dorm, the site of so many beginnings and one particular bad ending. But going back is never about just the place, the buildings where so many memories were made. It’s about the people, too, those individuals who inhabited the old buildings with me, who made the experience all worthwhile.

So, I park the car and step outside. I smell the fresh rain that continues to fall from the sky, evoking even more memories of wet April days in the Pennsylvania hills. And it is still falling, but more slowly than before, a mist that makes the campus seem magical in nature, like a place in a storybook. I am back. And so it begins.



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