Monday, July 28, 2014

Remembering Pam (Feeling Homesick)

A few days ago one of my mom's best friends passed away.  Her name was Pam and I had known her as long as I can remember.  Mom and Pam were particularly close in the late 80s and through the 90s.  They were still friends after that, but Pam gradually kind of disappeared from view over the last few years.  I know she had health problems and she stopped going to church, and I felt like her and Mom lost touch even though they both lived in the same neighborhood.  I felt like Pam, for whatever reasons, became a bit of a recluse.  We saw her occasionally, but it wasn't the same.

The last time I remember seeing Pam was probably three years ago.  Mom and I went to one of our favorite restaurants at the time, Jumbo Buffet, and Pam was there with her son.  We chatted and it was all friendly, but Pam seemed distant...different, somehow.  Mom was showing signs of dementia then, although she was still doing okay.

Pam and Mom used to take walks every day in their neighborhood.  It was a ritual for both of them for quite some time, and I know both ladies enjoyed their friendship and talks very much.  I always felt a little sad that Pam kind of withdrew.

I understand that she even kind of withdrew from her family somewhat as well.  Evidently no one in her family, including those that lived with her, knew how sick Pam was until very close to the end.  She apparently didn't share that information with her family for whatever reason.  She also chose not to go to the hospital or a care facility and died at home, from what I understand.  I can respect that, but I also wonder if those who loved her most felt cheated at all.

I actually don't know what was going on in Pam's life these last few years.  As I said, in her later years she didn't seem the same to me.

I'm glad Pam and Mom are reunited again and I hope they are taking many "walks" together, wherever they may be.

I'm been thinking a lot about death lately.  A lot.

It's funny, as I get older I think about my own mortality and, obviously, the older one gets, the more death one experiences.  It's natural to lose people you've known and loved as you progress in age.  I think Mom's death, Pam's death, Jonah's dad's death, the deaths of some people in Mom's old ward, Harold's death, and the impending death of my friend, Anne have really put death on my mind this past year.

Another friend's longtime dog passed away, and my other friend's brother just died from cancer.

And as I get older, I feel my body slowly falling apart.  I'm only 43, but my hips and knees and back and neck and feet ache.  I get winded more easily.  I can't as easily do things as I could in my twenties or thirties.  I don't see or hear as I did ten or twenty years ago.  I know I'm getting older.  And I know things will just continue to deteriorate.  That's just part of mortality.

I've talked about death before (here and here, for example).  It's not something I find depressing or scary.  It just is.  It's a part of this journey we call life and every one of us will experience it eventually.  But it is sometimes hard to be separated from people you care about or love or see others go through the same thing.

I think about Jonah and me.  One of us is going to go first (unless we somehow die together, but that isn't as likely a scenario), and it's going to be very painful for whoever is left behind.  I think about my poor mom, who had to wait 21 years to be reunited with my father or my grandma, who had to wait almost as long to be reunited with my grandpa.  I think about another friend who lost his wife shortly after Mom died and how much he misses her and misses her.

Recently I finished re-watching "Lost" and one of the themes of the show deals with death and what happens to us in the afterlife.  I am convinced that the afterlife will be a great and wonderful place where we will be able to have continuing relationships with those who have gone before us.

It's weird, but sometimes I think I get "homesick" for my heavenly home.  Sometimes when I watch the news and hear about wars and crime and the terrible things human beings do to one another, I long for a place filled with peace and love and kindness, which is what I think heaven will be like.

Don't get me wrong; I don't wish for death.  Not at all.  I like my life and it has been and continues to be a happy one.  I recently wrote on Facebook:

"I was thinking about it today: I have had a great life thus far. Sure, it's had its share of trials and disappointments, but I honestly wouldn't change a thing (except maybe quitting piano lessons when I was 10). Every moment I've had in life, both good and bad, has brought me to the person I am now, and I like who I am and the life I lead. If I died today (which I hope is not the case) I could look back on the life I had and be very satisfied with how it turned out."

I think how wonderful it will be to see Mom and Dad again and my friend, Melanie, and Marlyse and my grandmas and grandpas and aunt and neighbors from the ward and Jonah's dad, etc.  But it also saddens me that those left behind continue to grieve, even if it's only for a relatively short season.

I'm quite convinced that Mom visited me this evening.  It was a feeling, but a very strong one.  I'm glad she reminds me she's still around.  Sometimes I need it.  I am quite certain our departed loved ones are not far off at all.

I recently read a book called The Afterlife of Billy Fingers, which I briefly talked about in this post.  It reminded me of something that has really been solidifying itself in my brain: I am more and more convinced that the essential purposes of life are to learn and to love.  If we are doing those two things, we are living successfully.  I don't believe that the kind of judgments we cast on one another (and ourselves) in this life exist so much in the hereafter.  I recently came across this quote by Ram Dass:

"When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don...’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are."

Many near death experiences I've ever read about describe an indescribable love and the experience of not feeling judged.  I think this life is a school of learning whatever lessons we're here to learn and a place to learn what love is and how to give and receive it in great abundance.

Actually, we don't need to learn to love.  We already know what that is from the pre-existence.  We're here to be reminded of the love we already know.

I would like to experience a life of pure, unfiltered love.  The world would be so much better if we just loved without judgment, if we could really understand each others' hearts purely and totally.  I long for that.

As for me, I try (and sometimes fail) to be as good and as loving a person as I know how to be.  I hope whenever my time comes that I will be remembered as someone who brought love and positivity into this world we all share.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Missing The Theatre Community

Jonah was nominated for a costuming award by the local theatre community for a show he did.  Because he was busy costuming another production, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony.  I happened to be free that night, and Jonah and I both thought it would be a good idea if I went in his stead to represent him. 

Jonah actually didn't think he would win, although I do think he secretly wanted to.  I actually had a feeling he might and prayed that he would.  Jonah is an incredibly talented costume designer, and even though I may be biased, he truly does have a gift.  The theater company that did the production he was nominated for has not always been very good about showing their appreciation for his work.  It is my opinion that the powers that be that operate this particular theater sometimes take Jonah for granted and even take advantage of him.  Jonah has done a lot of work for them and has helped them out a lot, and sometimes I feel they don't give him either the recognition or thanks he deserves.  In any case, part of me just wanted him to win the award because I thought it would be a nice symbol of the appreciation I think my guy deserves.

Jonah thought the night might be fun for me as well, a chance to hobnob with some of the local theatre community.  When I worked in Utah, I was very in touch with the local theatre community.  I worked as an actor a lot, and I developed a lot of friendships.  I'd see the same people at parties, auditions, and jobs, and it was a great network of people to belong to.

Here, I'm not as active in the theatre community, and I don't know as many people.  I also feel like the professional theatre community is not as strong as it was in Utah, but the community theatre network is doing some great stuff.  In any case, I feel like a bit of an outsider even though I know a few people in the local theatre community.  It's an odd feeling to be an outsider when not so long ago I felt like an insider.

The awards ceremony was enjoyable.  I got to meet to some interesting and nice people and have a little more exposure to the theatre community here.

But I also felt a certain yearning to be back on stage again.  I miss it.

At the same time, I love being home with Jonah.  I love being home.  Period.  With my husband and our cats.  I like having a steady, stable, relatively secure, enjoyable job at a company that has good benefits and treats me well.  I like not having to live out of a suitcase.  I like not having to constantly hustle for the next acting job. 

But I miss doing plays.  I miss the variety of playing different characters.  I miss the theatre network I was a part of.

I like my current job.  I really do.  But I also am a little bored, which has always been a problem for me.  I get bored too easily.  I do the same job for a while, and I get bored.

Truth is, I would be foolish to give up the job I have.  The hours are great, the pay is enough, the job at least relates somewhat to my chosen field of study, and most of the time it is enjoyable.  And it's easy.  So easy.  For what I get paid, this job is a piece of cake.  I still am acting, and I play a delightful character that I enjoy playing.  But it's lost its newness, and I would love to do something more meaty.  I wish I could just take six weeks off and do a play somewhere, but that's not really possible.  I'll probably stay here until the show we're doing closes, which could be anywhere from three years to indefinitely.

The theatre company I worked for in Utah is doing some exciting stuff this coming season, stuff that I would have enjoyed doing and could probably have gotten cast in.  I'm always interested in auditioning for the Utah Shakespeare as well.  I'd love to do some more Shakespeare.  Even though musicals were often my bread and butter, I'm not as interested in doing them as I once was, although once in a while one will come along that I'd love to be a part of.  Truth is, my body just doesn't feel like doing choreography anymore, and I don't have as good of breath support as I once did.  Musicals are harder work in some ways than straight plays, although straight plays can be exhausting, too.  And maybe I've reached a period in my life when I just need to take it easy for a bit.  If the show I'm involved in closes in the future, maybe I can go back to stage work again.

I have gotten a little more involved in film and TV lately and have even booked a couple of gigs, but I don't know if my strengths lie in TV and film work or not.  In some ways it feels like I'm starting over again.

When I was at the awards ceremony, I was a little jealous that some of these theatre companies were doing some productions that are geared more to the type of theatre I am interested in doing.  In fact, coincidentally, I had just read two of the plays that were up for nomination.  Because I am a member of Actors' Equity Association and these companies are non-union, I couldn't do these shows anyway, but I still would love to do more serious theatre.

At the ceremony they had some performers from various shows around town do some musical numbers from different shows, and some of these people were quite talented, and it just made me miss being on stage.

Jonah's award was one of the first.  His was the last name to be announced from the list of nominees, and when they announced him as the winner my chest practically burst with pride.  I went up to accept the award on his behalf and almost cried I was so happy for my husband.  I said a few short words about how I knew Jonah was so honored to be nominated and recognized for his work and I thanked those who voted for him.

After I sat down I texted Jonah to let him know he'd won.  I really could tell he was proud of having won.  He later sent a Facebook message to those in the theatre community to let them know how he felt.

A couple of my friends won awards, too, so that was nice.  I had an enjoyable time, but it also felt lonely in a way.  I can't really explain it.

Monday, July 07, 2014

My Trip To Indiana ---sigh---

Well, let me tell you about my trip to Indiana.  It was everything I dreamed it would be, and if you have read this post, you know my dreams about this trip were not very good.

First of all, Jonah's mom backed out of the trip.  She's been feeling ill (and really, I think she just didn't want to go) and didn't feel she could make the trip.  So the whole reason we were making the trip in the first place, to accompany Jonah's mother, was completely invalidated.

Furthermore, the tickets we bought were nonrefundable, so we're out that money unless we can convince the airline to make an exception.  Jonah's sister, Angie, paid $403 for the ticket, and Jonah and I fronted $111.  Of course, once Angie found out Mom wasn't coming, she pestered Jonah about getting her money back.  Jonah ended up giving her $300 just to get her off his back, so now he's out that money.

I know Jonah's mom is actually ill, but not once has she even apologized for putting us in this position, and that has annoyed me.  But that's how she is.

Anyway, neither Jonah nor I were excited to take this trip, but figured we ought to make the most of it.  A friend drove us to the airport and when we got there we discovered our flight would be delayed which meant we would likely miss our connecting flight in Dallas, and that flight would be the last to Fort Wayne, Indiana that evening, which meant we might have to stay overnight in Dallas, a prospect we were not looking forward to.

As we went through security, I saw a video I'm in - one of those TSA instructional videos about what to do and not do when going through security, so that was kind of fun to see.  It's fun knowing thousands of people traveling through the airport will see my face every day.

Jonah and I waited patiently for our flight, which was supposed to leave at 12:25 PM but didn't leave until almost 2 PM, and we joked about how this was just the kind of start we would have to a trip we didn't want to go on in the first place.

Jonah texted Angie to let her know we might have to stay in Dallas for the night, and of course, Angie freaked out and kept texting Jonah back asking him what that meant and literally texting every 3 or 4 minutes to find out our progress.  Jonah ignored her texts, which drove her even more crazy.

When we finally boarded the plane, we we feeling a bit frustrated, and I find it humorous that a Muzak version of "Let It Go" from Frozen was being played.  I also heard a Bon Jovi song and "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons (neither of which really sounds that great as a Muzak arrangement).

The crew of our first flight never even acknowledged or apologized for the delay, which I didn't think was too cool.

We arrived in Dallas five minutes before our connecting flight was scheduled to take off and we knew if it were leaving on time we would never make it as our gates weren't remotely close to one another (Dallas is a pretty large airport).

Fortunately, our connecting flight was also delayed, so we were able to make it (and actually ended up having to wait a while).  That flight was supposed to leave at 7:15 and didn't end up leaving until about 8:50.  Now we were concerned because we would be arriving in Fort Wayne after the rental car place closed (although we hoped they would remain open).

The flight to Fort Wayne was on a smaller plane, and I found their crew to be nicer (and apologetic) than the plane we had taken to Dallas.  I also saw a lightning storm from above, which I had never seen before, and I thought that was cool.

Angie text us to let us know that she and her husband, Frank, would be there to pick us up in case the rental place was closed.  We ended up getting to Fort Wayne at almost 1:00 AM, almost two hours after we should have gotten there.  Fortunately, the rental car place had remained open for us and other passengers.

We followed Angie and Frank as they drove toward their house, and then when we got to the street where our hotel was, they pointed the way, said they'd see us the next day, and left us to find it.  We found it, and in spite of our lateness, were able to get checked in.

All in all, as I told Jonah, in spite of delays and inconveniences, I was very pleased we had made both flights, had gotten to Fort Wayne, and had been able to get our car (which was bigger than the one we had requested because they ran out of standard sized cars, so that was a nice upgrade) and checked into our hotel, which was at a very discounted rate because my brother works for Marriott.

We were so tired when we got to Fort Wayne.  It had been a long, long day, and we went to bed pretty much as soon as we checked in.  Our room had a double bed for Mom and one for us, so we just used the one, which was smaller than the king-sized bed we are used to.

We slept in pretty late that first day.  Angie wanted us at her house by 12 or so because she wanted to take photos.  I wish I could describe Angie to you.  She's not a bad person, although she does carry and hold on to a lot of negativity.  She also lives in a world that revolves around her.  Somehow she is able to make everything about her and how it affects her.  Even though this graduation was about Tatiana (her daughter), somehow what she (Angie) wanted was always more important. She had literally told us that although she knew we were on vacation, we were hers for the entire time we were there.

I don’t remember what time we ended up going to Angie’s (probably more like 1 or so).  Angie wanted to take photos of us with her and the family and Tatiana.  She was bossing everybody around and somehow once again making it more about what she wanted than anything.  We smiled through it, though, and got some good pictures.  I also got to meet Aiden, Angie and Frank’s son, who seemed like a pretty level-headed kid for how crazy his mom is sometimes.

I was pleased the weather was about 20 degrees cooler than it had been at home.  It was pretty pleasant the whole time we were there.

Tatiana had to be to the Colliseum (the venue where the graduation was to be held) at 3:45 pm.  

 For some reason Angie wanted us all there at that time as well even though the graduation didn’t start until 6:00 pm.  Jonah, me, and Jonah’s niece, Melissa, ducked out on the pretense of going to the bank (which we did, to get the money Angie wanted, but we were gone much longer than we needed to be).  We also found out that Angie had guilted Melissa into buying groceries for her and her family and that Melissa, who had originally planned on staying until Wednesday, wanted to leave on Monday because she was already fed up with Angie and didn’t want to stay at their apartment anymore.  We told her she could stay with us since we had Mom’s spare bed.

                At the graduation I met Frank's mother and Angie’s biological mother and aunt.  Angie’s real mother, Sandra, was once a prostitute, and I’m not even sure if Angie knows who her biological father is.  It was during the time she was prostituting that she essentially abandoned Angie, which is when Jonah’s parents stepped in and basically raised her.  Sandra has since converted to Mormonism and seems a much different person than the one Angie knew as a child.  Angie still hangs on to a lot of resentment and won’t let go of the past.  I’m not implying that kind of past is easy to let go of, but it does seem to me that the negativity Angie holds on to concerning her mother is far more damaging to Angie than it is to Sandra.  With Angie, everything is someone else’s fault, but she never accepts blame for anything herself.

Angie has recently become a minister in the church she belongs to, but as Jonah says, she seems to be one who often “talks the talk” but can’t “walk the walk.”  Aiden and Tatiana call Sandra “Sandra” rather than “Grandma” which bothers Jonah more than it bothers me.  He says that in spite of her faults or past, Sandra is still the kids’ grandmother and if Angie is going to preach to others to ‘honor thy father and mother,” she should do the same.  But I can sort of understand Angie’s point-of-view.  After all, for much of her life, Angie was not treated well by Sandra, and I know Angie still hangs on to that resentment.

We got back to the graduation about 4:45 and waited outside until they opened the doors at 5 and then waited another hour before it began.  I ended up falling asleep.  Jonah took a picture of me dozing.  What can I say, I was exhausted.

Happily, the graduation was relatively short.  The speeches were short, and the class was only about 400 or so.  I did find it odd that Angie used one of her tickets to let her pastor sit with her in the parents’ seats, but made Frank's mom sit in the regular seats with us. 

I dislike when people hoot and holler at graduations especially when the audience is asked to wait until all names are called to applaud.  Just a personal preference, but I wish there had been more decorum.  Still, I’m sure Tatiana was pleased to be cheered on by her family.

We met Angie’s pastor after the graduation and we later found out she had advised Angie against letting us stay with her because our homosexuality would be a bad influence on the kids and the home.  She also made some disparaging remark about Jonah's mom not being there.  I found her fake and ingratiating.

We went to IHOP after the graduation and I sat near Sandra and her sister Janice and we actually talked about Mormon stuff a bit.  I do miss the Mormon culture a bit, but I also found Sandra and her sister to be nice, if not a bit overzealous with their faith.

We went back to Angie’s to get Melissa's stuff and to visit a bit.  I was so ready to go back to the hotel, which we eventually did.

Saturday we decided to take Aiden, Tatiana, and Melissa on a little adventure, which was nice.  It was nice to get to know my nephews and nieces better, for them to spend time together, and for all of us to be away from Angie for a bit. 

We started the day by having breakfast at our hotel with Angie, Frank, the kids, Aiden's girlfriend, and the in-laws.  Then Jonah and I took the kids in the car.

We decided to go to Kokomo, which was about an hour or so away from Ft. Wayne.  

Jonah's sister Rose had called us and said her ex-boyfriend, Carl (who she’s still on good terms with)’s parents lived there and he was hoping we could check in on them as he had not seen them in some time.  Jonah, being the very kind person he is, decided to do just that.

All the stereotypes I ever had about Indiana seemed to be true: lots of corn fields and farms,

lots of Christians, and a lot of down-to-earth and kind people.  Carl’s parents seemed to be no exception.  We did find out that Carl’s mother has cancer, which Carl did not know about.  They were very nice people and it was fun to just get away even if there was not a lot to see.

We went to a couple of antique stores, both in Kokomo and on the way back to Ft. Wayne.  Aiden and I enjoyed looking at some Star Wars memorabilia together.  We also went to the Salvation Army when we got back to Ft. Wayne, but it wasn’t very interesting.  We also ate at McDonald’s in Kokomo as well.

We all decided to go to the mall and eat and see a movie.  

 I was beyond tired and both Jonah and I fully expected to sleep during the movie.   The kids were interested in seeing Maleficent, which was fine because I actually wasn’t interested in seeing it and felt it would be a good movie to sleep through.  However, once the movie started, I actually became interested in it and only dozed off twice, but I felt like I saw most of it.  It was better than I had expected.

We got the kids some food to eat and paid for their meals.  Angie and Frank are poor, which means the kids are poor, so it’s not often they’re treated to a movie and a meal.  In fact, I think Tatiana was feeling guilty, like she shouldn’t order much, but I told her to get whatever she wanted.  Then Jonah bought them some clothes while I went over to Barnes & Noble to look for a book Mom’s cousin, Linda had recommended called The Afterlife of Billy Fingers.  I was able to find and buy it, and I quite enjoyed it a lot.

We eventually took the kids back to Angie’s and Angie made some crack to Jonah about getting her kids home in one piece that he didn’t appreciate.  They invited us to stay for a movie.  I was tired and wanted to get home, but we stayed and watched the Liam Neeson movie, Non-Stop, which I think I would have enjoyed more if Angie and her family hadn’t spent the whole time talking through it (another pet peeve of mine).  

 Melissa stayed with us again that night.

Sunday we decided to try to make a day more for ourselves and Melissa.  We went to a couple of antique stores.  One was in this really weird, creepy looking building that looked like an office building on the outside and a weird house with lots and lots of rooms on the inside.  

 I saw a couple of things that reminded me of Mom, including a doll named Patsy and a diorama of nativity that reminded me of the kind we had growing up.  I think Mom was maybe letting me know she was with us.

After the stores, we went to Angie’s apartment clubhouse for a party for Tatiana.  Being the introvert that I am, I hate these sorts of things, especially when I hardly know anybody.  There wasn’t much to eat there, just some crackers, punch, and cake.  I spent most of the time being a wallflower.  I heard some pretty zealous conversations among some of Angie’s fellow churchgoers.  Jonah and Sandra had a private conversation outside and, of course, Angie assumed it was about her and kept going out there to try and find out what Jonah and Sandra were talking about.

After the party, we took Melissa to Red Robin for dinner because we needed some real food.

We also toured Ft. Wayne a bit, looking at the many churches in the city 

as well as a pretty park called Lakeside Park.   

At my suggestion, we also drove to another park which turned out to be in a not-so-good part of town and instead of another beautiful park, we saw a fat sixty-or-so-year-old man with his scrotum and penis hanging out walk/peeing.  No shame at all; he was just walking forward and peeing at the same time.  Why you would want to walk in the direction you’re peeing is beyond me (really, why you want to walk at all while peeing (and in the open, no less) is baffling as well).  Melissa was shrieking in both horror and laughter.  It was funny, but unfortunately that horrifying image is seered in my brain as well.  That abruptly ended our tour of the parks of Ft. Wayne.

                After our jaunt in Ft. Wayne, Jonah wanted to go back to Angie’s.  I didn’t.  I chose to be dropped off at the hotel, and I’m so glad I did.  I read my book in peace and watched “Lost.”  Jonah and his sister apparently had it out, and I guess the tension was quite thick.  Jonah basically called her on all her crap and more or less said she had an evil spirit in her and rebuked it.  I think I had a much more peaceful evening than he or Melissa did.  She ended up staying there that night.  Angie apologized for abusing Melissa's kindness.  Jonah ended up paying quite a bit of money so that Melissa could return home with us.

                Monday was quite cloudy, the first sign of bad weather we had seen during our time in Ft. Wayne.  We picked Melissa up, said goodbye to Angie and her family and went to the airport.  We dropped the rental car off.  Ft. Wayne’s airport is rather small and the TSA agents there prove you don’t have to be disagreeable to do a good job (unlike some of the TSA agents I’ve encountered at home).  I took a tour of their rather lackluster aviation museum while we waited for our plane.

                We all flew to Dallas together and had lunch at a Mexican place in the Dallas Airport while we waited for Melissa’s plane (which was leaving before ours).  After we said goodbye to her, Jonah and I spent a while in the airport during our layover, and once again our plane was delayed (I swear I’m not flying American Airlines again if I can help it) so we were in the Dallas Airport for about four hours.  I was so tired on both flights, but couldn’t seem to fall asleep.  I mostly read.  The small airplane from Ft. Wayne to Dallas had a much friendlier crew than the one from Dallas to our home.

                We arrived to our hometown late and then had quite a trek to passenger pick-up.  It didn’t matter as Jonah's sister, Stacy, went to the wrong terminal and didn’t end up picking us up until about a half hour after we got outside.

                It was such a long trip and we were so tired.  There were some good things about it, but overall, I’d rate this trip as one of my least favorite ones I’ve ever taken. Between Mom’s ticket, our own tickets, the rental car, Melissa’s ticket, the hotel, and eating and shopping, we probably spent about $2,000 on a trip no one wanted to go on in the first place.  When Aiden graduates, I’m just sending a card.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Cancer Sure Knocked The Wind Out Of My Sails

On my break at work last night I received some very sad news: a dear friend of mine [let's call her Anne], one of the greatest people I have ever known, has pancreatic cancer and has probably less than two months to live.  I have wrote in the past that death is just a part of life, and I still believe that, but man, this one bites.  This also comes on the heels of a childhood friend's dad dying and two friends who have lost dogs they've had for many, many years. 

The friend who informed me of Anne's cancer told me she's too weak to let everyone know, so she asked him to tell various friends, including me.  I'm glad he did.

He said I should write her a letter, and I felt like I should.  This is, in part, what I wrote:

My Dearest [Anne] (and you are very dear to me indeed),

You can imagine the shock I must have felt when [our mutual friend] told me you had pancreatic cancer and would not be pursuing treatment for it.  It was as if someone told me the sun would stop shining soon or air would no longer be available to breathe.  That may sound a bit hyperbolic, but it is how I feel. 

I don’t know how much time you have left, but I can’t imagine it is relatively much, so I wanted to get this letter off to you as soon as I could to just remind you how much you have meant to me.  I know you know I love and adore you, but I hope you know that meeting and knowing you has been one of the great privileges of my life.  I know our friendship may not be as close or as long as some of your other relationships, but since I met you, my life has been richer for it as I know it must be for anyone who knows and loves you.

You are truly one of the kindest and most generous souls I have met during my sojourn on this planet.  If I may say so, you are pure light.  You’re the kind of person who, when you walk in a room, fills that room with light and joy and effervescence and makes anyone else in the room feel more buoyant and happy.  You’re the kind of person people just want to be around because you have such an optimism of spirit.  You are good, and in a world that often has a lot of unpleasantness, you are truly a breath of fresh air.

I remember when I first met you...  I immediately adored you...

I remember you and [Rick (Anne's husband)] inviting us into your home and it was such a wonderful time.  I and Mark sharing with us your memorabilia from your days on Broadway.  But mostly, I just remember feeling the love, laughter, and friendship in that room.

I remember your coming to see Little Shop of Horrors, I think it was.  It was such a joy to see you again.  And I’ve enjoyed the brief contacts we’ve had via email since then.

Knowing you, I imagine you are at peace with where you are in life and the circumstances in which you now find yourself.  I imagine the hardest part will be having to leave those you love behind for a season.  I know if I’m feeling the way I’m feeling right now, this is probably especially hard for [Rick and Cecily (Anne's daughter)].

Mortality sure does have a way of kicking you in the teeth sometimes.  As you may know, I lost my mom about ten months ago.  Although it gets easier, the pain of losing her never leaves.  I miss her every single day of my life.  It was hard to watch dementia alter her just as I’m sure it is difficult to see what cancer is doing to you, my vivacious friend.  But I suppose these things are a part of the life we lead here on earth.  All of us must face the travails of mortality and aging eventually, and there are many wonderful lessons to be learned from it, even if those lessons are sometimes accompanied by pain.  Watching my mother’s last days was very illuminating for me.  Caring for her made me a better and less selfish person.  Facing death with her was an extremely spiritual experience.

The day Mom died I was sitting in her room listening to some of the most beautiful harp music I had ever heard being performed by a harpist the hospice provided.  As I let this gorgeous and ethereal music envelop me, I looked around the room in Mom’s assisted living facility and saw all the photos she had hanging on the walls, and as I looked at the snapshots from my mom’s life, I was made aware of just what a full and wonderful life she had led, and I was crying tears of joy because I was so glad it had been such a good, fulfilling life.  I was grateful that she (and my late father) had raised us children well and instilled us with the values that have shaped our lives ever since.  I realized that although she was leaving us, the legacy she left behind will influence generations to come.

The angel Clarence says to George Bailey in
It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”  The loss of my mother has left such a hole in my life, although I know she is still around because I feel her spirit often, but it’s not the same as seeing her face or touching her hand or hearing her voice.

When it comes time to make your transition into whatever lies beyond this mortal life, you will leave “an awful hole.”  The world will be poorer for losing you, but so rich for what you have left behind.  The influence you’ve had on friends and family is more far-reaching than you can ever imagine.  You will be leaving behind a legacy of love, joy, and inspiration.  I know you are not gone yet, but I want you to know how very sad I will be when you are.  My life is so much richer for having known and loved you.  I will always love you, my friend. 

Whatever remains of your mortal journey, my dear
[Anne], I hope that it will be as pain-free and as comfortable for both you and your loved ones as is humanly possible.  I pray that your days with [Rick and Cecily] will be filled with more happiness than sadness and more love than fear.

[Our mutual friend] told me you are weak, so I don’t expect to hear back from you.  I hope my letter doesn’t seem too maudlin or macabre.  I am a realist, and death is not a frightening aspect of life for me; it just is a part of life.  I only wanted you to know the amazingly positive effect you’ve had on my life (and I’m sure the lives of everyone you have ever touched) and how much I love and miss you and will miss you.  Please give my love to [Rick and Cecily] as well.


Your friend,


Losing someone you love is never easy, but this one really sucks. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Excommunication, Kate Kelly, and John Dehlin

All right, I'm back from Indiana (a post for another time, perhaps).  I had said I wished to talk about excommunication, both my own and the possible excommunications of Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly and Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin.

As far as Kate Kelly goes, these two posts at Thinking Mormon Woman and Neylan McBaine's blog pretty much sum up many of the thoughts I have on Sister Kelly's future disciplinary proceedings.  Kate Kelly, upon receiving an email from her bishop informing her of disciplinary council said she was "totally, totally floored."  While she may have been surprised, I think she must have her head in the sand a bit to not know that this might be a possibility.

As far as what Kate Kelly believes, I have no problem with her feminist views or the fact that she thinks women in the LDS Church should have a more prominent voice.  I have no problem with her desire that women be given the priesthood.  Frankly, I have no strong views either way about whether women have the priesthood or not.  It's not an issue about which I am particularly passionate.

I certainly do have feminist views.  I think women in the church should have more of a voice and presence since decisions and policies affect them.  So you might think I'd be more supportive of her not facing disciplinary proceedings.  I don't know that excommunication is warranted or not, but I do understand why her local leaders might be concerned.

Look, to me Kate Kelly's beliefs are not the problem; it's her tactics that are the problem.  She's agitating for change (which is understandable), but seems surprised that there will be consequences for doing so.

People whose opinions I like and respect, including Jana Reiss and Johanna Brooks, have run to Kelly's defense and wonder why members can't ask hard questions without having to worry that their membership is in danger.  That's a valid concern.  But to me, I don't feel that church leaders are bringing up disciplinary proceedings because Kate Kelly or John Dehlin are asking hard questions; they are bringing them up because Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are "preaching" contrary to the current doctrine of the church and others are following them rather than toeing the church line.

I've met John Dehlin.  I like him.  I like what he preaches.  I think he's given disenfranchised members a place to belong.  I think he's done a lot to help LGBT members and former members find love and acceptance that maybe they didn't always find in their church membership.  I think he's a man who has honest questions.  I think he's sincere.  I think he's a good person.  I don't think he desires to lead anyone away from the LDS Church.  I think he just wants to give voice to people within the church who don't feel they have one.  And I think that's admirable.  We could use more of that in the church.

However, some of the ideas and voices that are being propagated by John Dehlin and his Mormon Stories podcast are leading people away from the organized church whether that is John's intention or not (and I don't think it is).

The issue may be that people like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin would like the LDS Church to change.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  There are changes I would like to see the LDS Church make.  But if the church is really run by God, as its leaders and members believe it is, then the church will change when God says it should change, not when individual members feel it should change.

I don't know Kate Kelly or really much about her.  I don't doubt that she's a well-intentioned and good person, but the problem I see that church leaders might have with her is that she is agitating church leaders to do things on her time table rather than on the Lord's.

In The Guardian Kate Kelly says, "I face potential excommunication for the simple act of opening my mouth and starting a conversation about gender equality in the church and the deep roots of this institutional inequality."

No, Kate, that isn't why you're facing excommunication.  You're facing excommunication because you're pretty much demanding that church leaders adopt your beliefs that women should be ordained and you're disobeying the counsel that both they and your local leaders have given you to take down the Ordain Women website, break ties with the group, to not disrupt General Conference proceedings with your cause, and to "stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and lead others away from the church" (Salt Lake Tribune article).

You're facing excommunication because your pride is causing you to think that you know more about what God wants than the ordained leaders of the church do.

I'm not judging Kate Kelly.  She says she is unwilling to do what her leaders have asked because she couldn't do so and still be "authentic" to who she feels she is and what she has to fight for.  I totally get that.  I feel the same way about being gay and being with my husband.  And that's exactly why I was excommunicated.

Just like Kate Kelly feels she was inspired to start the Ordain Women movement, I felt inspired to make my life with Jonah.  But whether we were inspired to do so, whether that was a personal revelation from the Lord or not, it does not negate the fact that what either of us believe or preach may not be in line with official church doctrine.

Would it be great if the LDS Church recognized my relationship and marriage as acceptable and non-sinful?  Sure.

But they don't.  That doesn't mean they won't some day, but they don't now and they didn't at the time I made a choice to have a commitment ceremony with my partner and have a sexual relationship with him.  And I refused to step away from Jonah and our relationship in order to remain a member in good standing.  And that was why I was excommunicated - because I was unwilling to follow the LDS Church's doctrine as it was currently laid out.  Because I thought I knew better about the choices that would make me happy than the church did. 

Being excommunicated is hard.  It's painful.  It's not fun.  One certainly does feel a loss when it happens.  But I am undoubtedly happier now than I was when I was an active member of the church.  I did what was best for me.  I have no regrets about it.  It's easier to live my life now because I don't have to try to be in harmony with an organization where I couldn't find full alignment without sacrificing my own emotional well-being.  And maybe people like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin can't do so either.

It's too bad.  I think the church loses a lot of good people to excommunication, and while I understand intellectually that excommunication is designed to both protect the church and the member being excommunicated, I think excommunication often drives people farther away from the church rather than helping them to return.

Kate Kelly often talks about how faithful she and other members like her are.  Maybe she feels she is a good member of the church.  She probably is.  But is it really showing faithfulness to the leaders of the church to defy them because you think you know better than they do?  She urges the leaders to pray about the issues that are important to her and presupposes that they haven't.  Maybe they have.  Maybe they have asked God if it's okay for women to have the priesthood.  Maybe God has answered no.  But because it's an answer Kate Kelly doesn't like and because it doesn't match what she believes God's will is, she fights against it.  And that's her right and maybe even her duty.  But don't pretend that action isn't going to have a consequence when it goes against current doctrine.

I wasn't surprised when I was excommunicated.  I hoped I wouldn't be.  But I wasn't surprised I was.  I was going against established doctrine.  I faced the consequences of my actions and accepted it.  I wasn't a martyr.  I did what was right for me, but went against the church in doing so.  And like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, I continue to advocate and fight for the things I believe are right.

If the LDS Church really is true and God doesn't want women to have the priesthood or for people in gay relationships to get married, and there are those of us who don't agree with that, we can leave the church and try to find our truth somewhere else.  If Kate Kelly wants the priesthood, she can either find a church that will give it to her or wait until the one she believes is true deems it time to do so.  She can ask all the hard questions she wants; she can refuse to be silenced; but if what she wants is not currently God's will and if the leaders of the LDS Church are really who they say they are, then they have every right to discipline her for agitating and promoting a change in doctrine that is not ready to be changed.

The church does change.  The church can change.  Look at things like polygamy or blacks and the priesthood.  And I'm not saying that society doesn't have an impact on church policy.  Women having the priesthood may be an eternal doctrine.  I actually believe it is.  Some people think polygamy is, too, but any member of the church who were to practice polygamy right now would likely be excommunicated if their leaders found out about it.  There is much we don't understand, and things have to be done on the Lord's timetable, not our own.  The bottom line is if one really believes the LDS Church is God's true church on earth, then one has to decide whether he or she will truly follow the men God has appointed as his spokesmen.  If you're not willing to do, as I was not, there will be consequences.

I've never claimed I knew better than the leaders of the church; I just did what I felt I had to do for my own emotional well-being.  A church can excommunicate you from itself, but nobody but God can excommunicate you from God.

I don't always know if excommunication is inspired or helpful or why some people are excommunicated and others are not.  I also don't necessarily think excommunication affects one's standing with the Lord.  For example, I look at someone like Lavina Fielding Anderson and think her standing is probably okay even though she's been excommunicated for 20 years.  I feel good about my own standing with my Heavenly Father.

Should people like Kate Kelly or John Dehlin or Lavina Anderson or me be excommunicated?  I don't know.  But I won't pretend to be surprised when we are.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Anniversary Of A Different Sort

Five years ago today I was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I'm in Indiana right now and only have my smart phone, so I can't really write about my reflections right now, but with the recent news about possible church disciplinary action being taken against Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, I do have some thoughts about excommunication I am hoping to share.

Right now, however, I just wanted to mark the anniversary.  I haven't forgotten and my life has changed in many ways, mostly positive, since I was excommunicated.  Hopefully I can write more about my feelings when I have access to my laptop.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sympathy For The "Villain"

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.  If you have not seen the original Star Wars trilogy, the TV series "Lost," or read the Harry Potter ought to get on that.  No, but seriously, I'll be writing some major spoilery stuff about those, so if you are planning on watching or reading any of those and don't want anything spoiled, don't read this post.

So the show I'm involved in has a character that is one of the story's villains.  He is the son of the main villain.  The main villain is a power-hungry tyrant who double-crosses his ally to usurp power from him.  His son, however, is a character I've always felt sympathetic towards.  In fact, he is my favorite character in the show, and I find him so interesting and multidimensional.

I've always gotten the impression that the son is trying to live up to his father's expectations, but can never quite please him.  He is in love with his father's ally's daughter, but she finds him repulsive and he can't understand why.  He watches helplessly as she falls in love with the hero, and while I shouldn't necessarily feel sorry for him, I do.  He tries to impress the girl he loves with the power of a device that's intended to destroy and sincerely doesn't understand it when she seems upset by it.  He attempts to fight the good guys in the end and ends up being blinded.  I just find his arc kind of tragic.

But I've always been that way.  I always seem to find villains interesting characters (and as an actor, I find them fun to play).  Some villains are truly terrible people, but there are some "villains" in stories that I find sympathetic and feel sorry for.

Darth Vader has always been one of my favorite fictional villains.

I remember the first time I ever saw Darth Vader.  As a six year old child I watched as he made his entrance about four and a half minutes into the movie, Star Wars.  He came through the smoke looking menacing and giant.

I remember being so enthralled with him.  He seemed so mysterious and powerful.  He actually has only about 12 minutes of screen time in the first movie, yet he left a very lasting impression on me.  Not knowing there would be a sequel, I was initially shocked that the villain got away in the end, and I was curious what became of him.

In the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back (without a doubt, my favorite movie in the Star Wars series) the character was given more dimension.  We got to see a brief look that underneath all that machinery there was a very mysteriously scarred human being.

And then there's that famous moment when Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker that he is, in fact, his father.

As a nine year old kid, I couldn't believe it.  I didn't want Luke to believe it.  I thought it was a trick.  It truly was an absolutely shocking moment in cinematic history...for me anyway.

But then something happens that made me go, "Hm, maybe Darth Vader is telling the truth" and actually made me feel a pang of sympathy for a villain.  One of the last scenes in The Empire Strikes Back involves Darth Vader almost capturing Luke.  His Star Destroyer has the Millennium Falcon in its clutches and is about to suck the crippled starship into its tractor beam.  Luke is aboard - the prize Darth Vader has promised the Emperor (or has he only promised that because he wants some connection to his son?).  This is what Vader has been hunting for for the majority of the film, the most important prize he can get.  Keep in mind, too, this is a man who kills anyone who disappoints him or fails to get him what he wants.  In Star Wars he kills Captain Antilles when he claims to know nothing about the stolen Death Star plans and kills the X-Wing fighters who attempt to destroy the Death Star and, of course, Obi-Wan Kenobi just to show who's the master now; in Empire he kills Admiral Ozzel for jumping out of light speed too quickly and thus foiling the surprise element of the attack on Hoth and he kills Captain Needa for letting the Millennium Falcon get away.  So we fully expect him to kill Captain Piett when the Millennium Falcon gets away by jumping to hyperspace.  After all, Piett has assured Vader that the hyperspace drive has been deactivated, and the thing Vader wants most of all, his son Luke, is on board.  You can certainly tell that Piett is concerned that Vader's going to do him in just as he has with Piett's superiors.

The rest of the crew looks concerned, too.

Not the correct screenshot, but this still captures the feeling.

But Vader does something surprising.  Instead of getting all upset and force-choking the life out of someone, he takes a sad, kind of longing look out the window and slowly, pensively walks out without saying a word.

Here is the full scene for your viewing pleasure (8:57 is about where the scene I'm referring to starts, although this whole segment is delightful):

I think it's one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie, and it shows a human side of Vader that maybe we didn't recognize before.  Even after my shock at nine, it is a scene that really affected me and on repeated viewings I am struck by both the beauty and simplicity of it.

And then in Return of the Jedi Luke believes there is still good in his father even though Darth Vader feels it's too late for him.  But when finally faced between standing up to the man whose thumb he's been under all these years, Emperor Palpatine, and saving his son, Vader chooses to kill the Emperor and save Luke.


In killing the Emperor, Vader actually sacrifices himself, and before he dies his last wish is to see Luke with his own human eyes.

Underneath the mask we see an old, scarred, somewhat pathetic looking man.  This "monster" we've seen throughout the series is just a man.  He tells Luke, "Now...go, my son.  Leave me."

Luke answers, "No.  You're coming with me.  I'll not leave you here, I've got to save you."

Vader's response?  "You already have, Luke.  You were right.  You were right about me."

I love that.  I'm a strong believer in redemption.  Now, if Vader were an actual person and not a fictional character, that doesn't mean I don't think he shouldn't pay for his sins or for the lives he's taken.  But I do like the idea of a once bad man becoming good.

Luke's final act is to destroy the remnants of the evil that was Darth Vader

and Anakin Skywalker, the man who once called himself Darth Vader, is redeemed.

Severus Snape has always been my favorite character in the Harry Potter series.

From the outset of the story, Severus Snape is antagonistic toward our hero, Harry Potter.  He's mean, sarcastic, and treats Harry unjustly at times.  And yet there are also instances where Snape saves Potter's life and protects him.

Snape is a very complicated and flawed character, and maybe that's why I love him so: what you see on the surface is not necessarily what is inside.  

Actor/comedian Stephen Fry once said of Snape, "Most characters like Snape are hard to love but there is a sort of ambiguity—you can’t quite decide—something sad about him—lonely and it’s fascinating when you think he’s going to be the evil one..., then slowly you get this idea he’s not so bad after all."

Throughout the books, although Snape often did things that upset or confused me, I always sensed that he was good, one of the reasons being that Dumbledore always and unfailingly defended him, and I had to believe that Dumbledore knew something about about Snape that neither we, the readers, or Harry knew or understood.

Of course, when Snape kills Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you wonder if Snape killed Dumbledore maliciously or because Dumbledore asked him to.  Even when he's fleeing Harry Potter, it's as if he's continuing to teach him.

Of course, up until the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Harry is convinced that Snape is the bad guy and holds much anger toward him.  It was always my hope that Snape would turn out to be good, and I think I would have been hugely disappointed if he hadn't been.

We discover in the end, after Snape has been killed by the evil Voldemort, that Snape's bad behaviors were the result of a deep and unrequited love for Harry's mother, Lily as well as his jealously of Harry's father, James.  We also see that perhaps the reasons Snape often treated Harry badly was because he reminded Snape too much of both Lily and James, and Snape's misplaced pain and anger were often taken out on Harry.

But we also discover that Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore towards fighting Voldemort was true and Snape put himself in a very dangerous position as a double-agent in order to defeat Voldemort, and it ultimately costs him his life.

It isn't until after Severus' death that Harry Potter realizes the truth about a man he once despised.  Snape had asked Dumbledore never to reveal to Harry the feelings he had for Harry's mother.

"'...never tell, Dumbledore!  This must be between us!  Swear it!  I cannot bear...especially Potter's son...I want your word!'

"'My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?'  Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape's ferocious, anguished face.  'If you insist...'"

I must admit I got teary-eyed when I read of Severus Snape's true nature.

Harry eventually goes on to name his second son, Albus Severus, after Dumbledore and Snape.  When Albus expresses fear that he might be put in the house of Slytherin, Harry reassures him.

"'What if I'm in Slytherin?'
"The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was.

"Harry crouched down so that Albus's face was slightly above his own.  Alone of Harry's three children, Albus had inherited Lily's eyes.

"'Albus Severus,' Harry said quietly, so that nobody but Ginny could hear, and she was tactful enough to pretend to be waving to Rose, who was now on the train, 'you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts.  One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."

Again, I love the theme of redemption; of seeing someone you thought was evil being shown to have goodness in them.

Another of my favorite "villains" is the character of Benjamin Linus in "Lost."

Ben is manipulative and a liar.  He's also power-hungry.  He sees John Locke as a threat to his power and eventually kills him.  He sees himself as the protector of the island and does whatever it takes to maintain that position.  He kills his own father and risks his daughter, Alex's life to save his own skin.  Yet it's when Alex is killed that I think Ben makes a turning point.  He plays with her life, just as he has with others during the course of the series, and when his bluff is called and Alex is killed, I think he is genuinely shocked and remorseful.

Unfortunately, he later takes his anger out on Jacob and kills him as well, partially because he was always taking orders from him but never heard his voice, never felt special.

In flashbacks we see Ben as an unloved, abused boy.  His alcoholic father blames him for his mother's death and mentally and emotionally abuses Ben.  Ben just wants to belong and he finds that in the "Others."  Unfortunately, Ben, I feel, is corrupted by the power he gains, and becomes so attached to it that when he loses it, he does harmful things.

I think it's this scene towards the end of the series where Ben faces up to who he really is.  He is given a choice to follow the evil Man in Black disguised as Locke.  As he escapes to do just that, he confronts Ilana, who cared a great deal for Jacob, the man Ben killed in anger. 

I think this scene is one of the most touching in the series and gives Ben a great humanity and a chance to atone for his sins.  He eventually does and becomes second-in-command of the island, which is a better position for him.  In the afterlife, Ben must steal wrestle with his demons, but I would like to believe he was redeemed.

Another favorite "villain" of mine is found in the Bible: Mr. Pontius Pilate.  How does one find sympathy for the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?  I don't know, but I do.  I feel sorry for the guy.  Maybe that's not a popular position, but I always feel bad for him.  He's put in this impossible position.  His wife warns him she had a dream that Pilate shouldn't even deal with the innocent Jesus.  He's being pressured by the Sanhedrin to crucify Jesus.  Pilate can't even find fault with Jesus.  He tries to get out of it by giving the people a choice between Barabbas, a notorious murderer, and Jesus, thinking the people will choose an innocent man over a murderer.  But that ploy doesn't work, and the crowd screams for Jesus' death.

I tend to think Pilate had Jesus scourged because maybe he hoped the crowds would feel sorry for Jesus.  That didn't work either.

Although the priests urged Pilate to do so, I also think Pilate refused to change the sign that said "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" because he didn't like being their scapegoat.  He even literally tries to wash his hands of the whole affair.  Others may see him solely as the villain, but my heart feels for him.

I even have some sympathy for Judas.  I think Judas made a very stupid mistake.  He got caught up in his own ego and his own doubts.  He made a careless and devastating trade of the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver.  But I also think once he did so and once he saw the consequences of his actions, he did feel remorse.  He futilely tried to go back on the deal and give back the silver to no avail. 

And ultimately, I think his guilt over what he'd done is what drove him to commit suicide.

I don't know if it's a weakness or a strength, but I often feel pity or sympathy towards people that others deem "monsters" or unforgivable.  I think it's a strength, but I don't speak or write of it often because I'm afraid others will misconstrue my feelings. 

That isn't to say that I don't find the acts of some of these people reprehensible, but I always am trying to look at situations from that person's point-of-view or trying to figure out what it might be like to be in their shoes.  I don't always succeed.  For example, I look at someone like Charles Manson, and he just seems crazy and demonic to me.  I don't get him.  But that doesn't mean I'm not curious about the circumstances that caused him to be who he has become.

I wonder, too, why someone like Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden turned out the way they did.  I don't believe monsters are born; I believe they are created.  I am always curious why.  What choices or circumstances could have altered their path towards evil.

This guy

was once this individual

and the guy on the left became the guy on the right.

What happened?  I'm always curious.

I have a confession to make.  The first time I saw this photo of James Holmes, the shooter who killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado

I actually felt pity.  To me, he looked tired, confused, and crazy.  Now, again, don't misconstrue my feelings.  This certainly doesn't mean that I think he was in any way justified in murdering 12 innocent people and injuring others.  Nor does it mean that I don't feel he should pay for his crimes.  I'm simply stating a feeling I felt upon seeing his image, and I do not apologize for that.

He's likely mentally ill.  I would imagine he has parents who love him and are confused by his behavior.  Tragedies like this don't just affect the victims he killed and their families but his own family as well.  People may think of him as a monster, but to me, he's still a human being.

I don't think this guy

or this guy

are the same person as the guy above them, and I have to wonder how he became a person that would so callously murder a bunch of people who's only aim that night was to see the newest Batman movie.

Jesus said love everyone, not just the ones who are easy to love.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
"For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
(Matthew 5:43-48)

In no way do I claim it is easy to love people who do unlovable things or to have sympathy for those that seem to spread a gospel of hate and evil.  There have been many people whom I've had a hard time trying to get into their shoes.  But I try.  I try to look past the supposed monsters and villains and find some humanity in them.

A friend and I were talking the other day about the movie Captain Phillips.  He was saying that while he was watching the movie he hoped that the director wouldn't try to make you feel sympathetic towards the Somali pirates because he had no sympathy for them.  And while I was watching the movie I did feel sympathy for them just as I felt sympathy for Captain Phillips and his crew.

Based on the movie, it seems Captain Phillips did, too.  The man who had most reason to not sympathize with them showed sympathy.  Again, this doesn't excuse the danger or illegality the pirates perpetrated, but I liked that the movie didn't just paint the pirates in black-and-white terms of "they're bad, period."

I think of my friend who I wrote about here who people called a monster without knowing him as a person, who hoped he rotted in jail for the rest of his life.  Or I think of my friend who killed a man because of his selfish act of driving while intoxicated.  The victim's family could easily see my friend as a heartless monster if they so choose, and that would even be understandable, but I don't see my friend that way because I know and love him.

There was a great article on forgiveness in Reader's Digest by Desmond Tutu.  You can read it here.

Nelson Mandela forgave his jailers.  Pope John Paul II forgave the man who shot him.  And here are some examples of people who may have been justified in holding grudges or failing to see past others' mistakes or vindictive deeds: here, here, here, here, here, and there are countless others to be found if you look for them.

Jesus, while suffering on the cross, forgave those who nailed him to it.

I guess my point is this: there are some people in life who do terrible, seemingly unforgivable things.  Some of those people have no remorse.  Others do.  My job as a human being is to love and try to find the good in every creature I come across.  Sometimes it's easy; sometimes it is so very difficult.  But we are all a part of the human family, and I will do my very best to look for good and let God do the the ultimate judging of my fellow brothers and sisters.