Well readers, remember this post in which I talk about how even for people who believe in the Restoration, it is all too easy to slip up and place our ultimate hope in the wrong things? I told you I would update you on whether I could adopt this eternal perspective when faced with disappointment, and unfortunately this weekend, I slipped up again.
I am not a huge fan of summer itself. My favorite season is Spring. We will get a few perfect summer days, but often times, summer days are too hot, humid and buggy for me. I start getting a headache and feeling weak after just a short time in the sun, and after dark especially, the mosquitoes eat me alive. If it is below 75 degrees or so, I love nothing more than going for a walk or taking a braille book outside to read on my porch swing, but above 80 degrees, I just want to read or write in the comfort of air conditioning. But I love Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Oftentimes, the weather is absolutely perfect on Memorial Day weekend, not hot or humid the way it usually is on the fourth of July. I love the festive atmosphere of Memorial Day weekend as our neighborhood which was frozen and quiet all winter, which often onofficially extends into May, comes alive again with happy voices of children playing and people having bonfires and picnics. Memorial Day weekend is sometimes the first weekend you can ride in the car with the windows rolled down. I also love the fact that Memorial Day is always on a Monday, so rather than preparing for work or school Sunday night, we can have a leisurely cookout, and then take a late evening walk to smell the lilacs and hear the beautiful sounds of late spring, especially the mating calls of the frogs from my neighbor’s pond up close, rather than just through the window as I get ready for bed. Then on Memorial Day itself, we have a leisurely breakfast and then we dust off our lawn chairs, load them into our van and drive to a neighboring community to see a parade. I know parades are somewhat visual, but I love just the festive atmosphere, and the moments when a marching band or a bagpipe and bugle corps march by are so spectacular it is worth waiting through the visual stuff.
But in 2016, this idyllic weekend was shattered by a rejection letter. As I discussed in this post, my job was causing me a tremendous amount of anxiety, but I was so excited about a position with the State of Wisconsin as an Equal Rights Officer. It would have been a higher level position investigating cases of employment discrimination and it was located in Madison so I would get to experience living on my own. When I woke up the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend 2016, I was on top of the world. I hadn’t had a long weekend off since New Year’s Day except for one Monday I requested off to go to Madison to interview for a position in the Public Defender’s office, but that doesn’t really count as a day off since getting suited up and mentally preparing for an interview is nerveracking. In those dark days, it seemed as though Memorial Day Weekend would never come, but at last, it was here! I remember waking up and having a leisurely breakfast, and then having a wonderful bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends. After that, Dad and I went to Chipotle, our favorite Saturday lunch spot and had a peaceful lunch. Mom usually went with us, but she didn’t feel like going for some reason. I forget why, but Dad and I wanted to go, so we went out just the two of us. On the way home, I distinctly remember driving slow with the windows rolled down enjoying a glorious warm spring breeze. Jimmy Buffett’s song Volcano came on the radio, which is one of my favorite songs to sing along too. When we got home, I planned to sit on the porch swing and read My Side of the Mountain. I remember loving this book when I read it in fifth grade, but had kind of forgotten what exactly happened in the story. I remembered the basic premise of a boy living in the city who ran away from home and taught himself to live in the wilderness, but couldn’t remember a lot of detail, so when I saw that this book was available from Seedlings, a company that produces braille books for children at a reasonable price, I felt compelled to order it for Memorial Day weekend thinking it would be a therapeutic, fun, easy read. But then Dad pulled up to the mailbox to get the mail, and in that pile of mail was the rejection letter. I thought I had interviewed well for this position, and while the rejection letter for the public defender position came pretty quickly after that interview, I thought it was promising that the Equal Rights Position hadn’t responded yet. Hope was still alive Saturday morning, but now that hope was dashed, and I had looked at the job boards Friday evening and there were no promising prospects. Would I be stuck in this miserable position forever? I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to stand it. All around me, the rest of the world was enjoying an idyllic Memorial Day Weekend. I went through the motions of enjoying the weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went out to the swing and tried to read My Side of the Mountain, but after reading the first paragraph ten times, it was clear I couldn’t focus, so I gave up. I went to church with Mom and came down from my room for meals with my family. My dad cooked steak and baked potatoes on the grill Sunday evening, and we ate in our dining room with the window open enjoying a pleasant cool evening breeze, but my heart wasn’t in this moment. In high school I discovered that on the eve of Memorial Day each year, PBS broadcasts a Memorial Day concert from Washington DC. The music in this concert is always beautiful and the solemn reading of letters from soldiers who were killed or wounded, or their loved ones really put life into perspective. It became a tradition for my parents and I to watch this concert every year, but as I despondently sat down to watch this concert in 2016, I just couldn’t pay attention to these soldiers and their families who really had something to cry about. All I could think about was my feeling of hopelessness, and this made me feel even worse. By Monday evening, I realized I needed to get myself together because I had to work the next day, so to give myself hope, I made two resolutions. The first one was healthy and positive. The second one I now realize, was bizarre and petty. The first resolution was that by next Memorial Day weekend, one way or another, my circumstances would be different. If I couldn’t find another job and my current job was the same, I would quit. If I burned through my savings paying for insurance and could no longer afford it, then I would be uninsured. This first resolution was achieved. After Christmas, I exclusively handled appeals for other case managers and my anxiety soon melted away, and then in February 2017, I switched to a part-time schedule and have been at peace with this decision ever since. But the second petty resolution was that I was bound and determined that next year, I would have a do-over of this ruined weekend and have the perfect Memorial Day Weekend.
In March 2017, Mom went down to Indiana to take my grandma to a doctor appointment. She planned to go down on Thursday March 23 and come home on Saturday, but ended up having to rush back on Friday because of my seizure. Then in April, my mom needed shoulder surgery and was not able to drive, or sit in a car for a long period of time. By May, Mom was not comfortable driving yet, but she felt she could handle sitting in the car, so she wanted to make a trip back to Indiana. The original plan was to make a quick trip to Indiana the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, but that week, Dad came down with a really nasty cold and was still coughing up a lung Saturday morning. Mom and Dad decided rightly that it wouldn’t be smart to go to Indiana with him in this condition, especially since Grandma’s immunity might be weak. So they decided Memorial Day weekend was the most sensible plan B, especially since with my new part-time schedule, I had a four day weekend. We could leave Saturday morning, stay for a parade my cousin would be marching in, after which my aunt always hosts a cookout, and then come home late Monday evening.
But the older I get, the more I hate overnight travel of any kind. I hate the commotion of packing for the trip, the difficulty of cooking a gluten free breakfast in an unfamiliar kitchen, the loss of freedom and independence I feel in an unfamiliar setting, everything. I would not have enjoyed it the weekend before either, but the fact that I had to travel on my precious, long-awaited Memorial Day weekend made me even more disappointed. I could have stayed home, but I could tell my parents were nervous about leaving me home alone for that long after my seizure incident, and if I did stay home, there would be no cookout, parade, or pleasant outdoor walks because I don’t know how to use the grill, and where we live, there are no sidewalks so someone needs to go with me for walks, and we have to drive to our parade route. Either way, I wouldn’t be getting the idyllic Memorial Day weekend I had hoped for, but I decided all in all, I would have more fun if I came along than if I was stuck home alone. So instead of a leisurely breakfast that Saturday morning, we ate a quick breakfast as we analyzed what we still needed to pack. I could tell it was going to be a glorious day outside, but instead of racing out to the swing with a book to savor it, I was preparing pre-measured bags with everything I would need to cook gluten free oatmeal for breakfast Sunday and Monday morning. Since Grandma now needed to live in an assisted living facility, there was no longer food in her refrigerator and we weren’t going to be staying long enough to warrant buying food to cook when we got there. While there are a few gluten free restaurant options for lunch and dinner, I would have to make breakfast myself.
On the trip down, we had a pleasant lunch at Cracker Barrel, and I enjoyed catching up with Grandma when we arrived that evening. Sunday was a peaceful day too. Per usual when cooking breakfast away from home, my oatmeal didn’t turn out right, but my mood improved when we went back to see Grandma and she showed me some of the things the therapist wanted her to do. We played catch together with a soft ball to work on coordination, and we laughed as we both kept missing the ball. And we would hear a THUNK as the ball hit the wall. In the afternoon, Dad and I went to an Italian restaurant in a town nearby that advertised gluten free options. It was delicious, and I especially enjoyed the sautéed spinach, something unique that I had never had before. Then we took a long walk on a nature trail. But in the evening, I started getting a headache, probably because I wasn’t used to the weather which was ten degrees warmer than it was at home. So we went back to Grandma’s house where I cooked a can of soup and went to bed early. Because Grandma was no longer living in her house, cable and internet service were cancelled. I tried to stream the Memorial Day Concert on my phone as I lay in bed using data but had no luck. I wanted to keep with tradition and watch it live, but it was being taped at home, so I accepted that I would just have to wait until then.
Mom brought a crockpot and all the ingredients to make a cherry cobbler to take to my aunt’s cookout. So on Memorial Day, she assembled the cobbler which she planned to cook at my aunt’s house during the parade. Then we proceeded to pack the car because after enjoying my aunt’s cookout and visiting Grandma one more time, we planned to head home. But that morning, it had rained a little, and this made the wooden ramp that leads down to the driveway of Grandma’s house very slippery. So while carrying something to the car, Mom fell. She had been warned that if she fell, she could undo her surgery, thus requiring another surgery, and Mom was in a lot of pain after this fall. We ended up quickly visiting Grandma, dropping the crockpot off at my aunt’s house and telling her to enjoy the cobbler without us, and then heading home early. We tried to make the best of things, going to Chipotle on the way home and then having a peaceful evening watching the Memorial Day Concert. But I felt so bad seeing Mom so upset and in so much pain, and there was such a palpable fear that she would have to undergo another surgery when recovery from the first one had been so rough that I was glad to see this Memorial Day Weekend come to an end. Next year, I vowed to myself, we are going to have the perfect Memorial Day weekend!
And so the countdown to Memorial Day weekend 2018 began, especially after New Year’s Day when we all desperately need some hope to get us through the long cold winter. Then at the end of April with just five weeks until Memorial Day, Dad and I were taking a walk when Dad suggested, “I was thinking for Memorial Day, the three of us could take a trip…” “No!” I said before he could even finish. “You know I would plan everything out and make sure there were good gluten free options and everything. And we would come back Sunday so we could still go to the parade Monday,” he said. My dad does do a great job planning things and sniffing out gluten free restaurants, but there was to be no stress, no packing hassles, no gross bowls of oatmeal in a hotel, no troubles of that sort marring this perfect Memorial Day weekend I had waited three years for. I just wanted a peaceful weekend at home, and I wanted to replicate the activities I was too sad to enjoy in 2016. Then a couple weeks later, we celebrated the birthday of the grandma on my dad’s side. For the past several years, my parents have been taking Grandma to a play, ballet performance or concert for her birthday and Christmas presents rather than buying stuff. She enjoys the arts but would not be able to get to these venues herself, and because I love the arts, I almost always come along as well. This year for her birthday, my parents decided to get tickets to a patriotic concert the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra was performing in honor of Memorial Day. Now I absolutely love the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra. I even got to perform with them when I was in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, so I was looking forward to hearing them again and reliving memories of when I was onstage with them in this very venue. What I didn’t like was the show time my parents chose. They thought about inviting Grandma over for a quick dinner and then going to the 8:00 show Friday evening, but instead decided to get tickets for the Sunday afternoon show and then have dinner afterwards. Normally I wouldn’t mind this arrangement either, but I knew Grandma would want to take us out to eat and since we would get home from the concert right at dinnertime, going out to eat would make more sense than cooking. Of course we could have the cookout Monday, and Mom said that is actually what people traditionally do, but in 2016 when we had the cookout Sunday, it seemed as though my parents enjoyed it more because their minds were not already thinking about work the next day, whereas the evening of Memorial Day itself has that Sunday night feel. I also wanted to be home in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert since sometimes our DVR malfunctions.
On Thursday, we had to turn on our air conditioner for the first time this season, and the weather forecast said we would be in the 90s all weekend which is unusual for Memorial Day. So as I got ready for work Friday morning, I realized I would need to re-think my plan of reading on the porch swing all afternoon. Then on the way to work, Mom invited me to come along on a quick trip to visit my brother who lived about an hour and a half away, as we needed to give him some important mail that came to our house. As long as we were there, we would go out for brunch and then when we got home, we could go swimming in the afternoon. At first, sibling rivalry reared its ugly head and I was annoyed that we needed to visit him when he had come home and taken over the house the previous three Saturdays (more about this in a future post), but I really do love my brother, and we are a lot alike. The town where he lives has a surprising number of gluten free restaurants given that it is a smaller town than Milwaukee, and it was going to be too hot to sit on the swing and read so what else would I do. And I liked the idea of swimming in the afternoon. Swimming was my favorite summer pastime as a child, but as an adult, I was tired of the public pools over-run with screaming kids and too packed to move freely. About two years ago, my parents joined a gym with a really nice outdoor swimming pool, and after Christmas this past year, I decided to join too. Between nasty weather that sapped me of all motivation, and other family commitments, I had only been to the pool once in April, but now that it was unofficially summer, I resolved to start swimming regularly, ideally three days a week. But then after work Friday, I decided I better doublecheck the pool’s hours since their website indicated special hours for the holiday weekend, and to my fury, the pool was only open until 3:30. By the time we got back from visiting my brother, the pool would be closed, or it would be so close to closing time it wouldn’t make sense to try and get there! For heaven’s sake I had waited three years for a perfect, idyllic Memorial Day weekend and it was going to be screwed up again! My dad wanted to get to my brother’s place early because there are two bakeries he likes to visit there. (One of them is a gluten free bakery which I like too). He wanted to get there before all the good stuff was sold out. But when I informed Mom of the pool hours, we decided to swim for 45 minutes or so in the morning and then go visit my brother, but that meant inhaling breakfast and hurriedly changing into my swimsuit. Hurry was not supposed to be in the vocabulary of this idyllic Memorial Day weekend. I was absolutely furious that the universe wasn’t aligning in my favor. What kind of gym has such ridiculous swimming hours the first weekend of summer? ANY other weekend would have been a wonderful weekend to take the road trip to visit my brother. If only I were sighted, I could take myself swimming while my parents went to visit my brother. This first outdoor swim of the season was pleasant I guess, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I felt like I had to watch the clock, and my stomach was a tiny bit upset from having to inhale breakfast.
My mood gradually improved on the pleasant drive to visit my brother as my mom described the rolling countryside. We stocked up on goodies from both bakeries. Even my brother who does not have to eat gluten free food and would complain about the gluten free baked goods my mom and I would make when he lived at home, likes this bakery, so he picked out a few things too! Then we had a nice lunch at an Asian restaurant with a lot of gluten free options, which was exciting because while there is gluten free soy sauce on the market, most Asian restaurants use regular soy sauce and don’t say a word about gluten free options on their web sites. But as we were driving home from this pleasant afternoon with my brother, I was hit with three realizations, all having to do with how petty and stupid my behavior had been.
First, the original intention of Memorial Day was to remember soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is supposed to be a solemn time, but as is the case with many holidays that started with good intentions, our culture has corrupted it, with picnics, festivities and store sales taking center-stage and the solemn remembrance of fallen soldiers becoming secondary. With that in mind, watching the solemn National Memorial Day concert is really the only tradition that is truly in the spirit of Memorial Day. Related to that, I had made Memorial Day Weekend all about me, as if it were my birthday, not that it would have been okay to behave childishly on my birthday either, but at least if it were my birthday, I might have ben able to rationalize my disappointment a little bit. As it was, my behavior was nothing but petty and stupid because the holiday is not about me. I have this weird photographic memory where when major events of my life take place, I remember the exact date they occurred when no one else in the family does. My parents come to me with questions like “When did we adopt Snickers?” Sunday August 20, 2000. So while August 20 is just another day for the rest of the family, I am thinking about the happy moment we brought Snickers home. But this photographic memory applies to unhappy events too, so even though I am in a happier place now, I feel a little melancholy every year on May 28, the day I received that rejection letter. Perhaps I thought that if I had a super happy Memorial Day weekend the following year, I could in a sense blot out this sad moment from my memory. But rather than fixating on dates, I should just live life one moment at a time. Saturday May 28, 2016 was a sad day that will always be stored in my memory, but life is better now, and I have had many idyllic weekends, and idyllic Tuesdays and Thursdays since then. It’s not dates that matter, so after this past Memorial Day weekend, I am making it my goal not to fixate on dates anymore but just take life one moment at a time.
Second, my behavior was a shameful example of first-world problems. While I was furious because the pool hours weren’t convenient for what our family needed to do, and we were going out to dinner instead of having the cookout I envisioned Sunday, there are millions of people for whom just finding food and safe drinking water is a daily struggle, and yet according to one of our church pastors who had visited Africa, these people worship with a more genuine joy than people in developed countries. I have heard that in third-world countries, allergies don’t exist. The reason people in the developed world have allergies is because our environment is so sterilized that our immune systems have nothing to attack. But our immune systems were designed to fight and so in the absence of bacteria and parasites to fight off, the immune system reacts to harmless things like peanuts, gluten, eggs, or tree pollen. I think this is an excellent metaphor for life perspective too. Since we don’t have to struggle to meet our basic needs, and in fact live a life of luxury compared to most of the world, we take this comfort for granted when we worship, and since we have no major problems, we overreact to little annoyances, like the Wifi signal being weak, or the pool not being open when we want. As recent blog posts show, I have been glowing with joy over my spiritual growth these past two years, but through my self-centered behavior this past Memorial Day Weekend, God showed me I still have a lot of work to do. I cannot do anything about my immune system’s overreaction to gluten and tree pollin, but I can strive to change my mind’s overreaction to first-world problems. I cannot promise I won’t slip up again in the heat of a moment, but it is my goal to work harder in this area, and if my Jehovah’s Witness friends, or any of my bible study friends read this, please pray for me.
But finally and most importantly, I realized that by setting such ridiculous expectations for Memorial Day Weekend, I had put my ultimate hope in the wrong thing. While this life has moments of joy—for me, many moments of joy—God never intended for life to be perfect in this fallen world, even on Memorial Day weekend. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasurable moments of this life, and while it is human nature to cry at sad times like the death of a loved one even if we know we will see them again, our ultimate hope should be reserved for the Restoration. Once I had calmed down and remembered this, my mood lifted permanently the rest of the weekend. The concert was fabulous. My dad didn’t realize he had gotten front row seats, but while the sighted people were complaining that they had to strain their necks to see the stage, I loved it because I felt up close to the orchestra, almost as if I were onstage with them. After the concert, we went to a favorite restaurant of ours called Blackfinn Ameripub, where I ordered the California Naked Bird, a super flavorful turkey burger loaded with toppings in a lettuce wrap. We got home just in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert Live. After the concert, my parents were too tired to take a walk, but I found some good music I had forgotten about and went on the treadmill. The next day, I woke up with a headache, but it went away in time for the parade. We even found a spot in a performance zone this year, meaning that instead of just getting drums which are all that plays much of the parade route, we got the full bagpipe and band performances right in front of us which was exciting. Then after the parade, Mom and Dad prepared burgers, potato salad and baked beans for lunch. So while this past Memorial Day weekend didn’t meet my bizarre expectations, once I put things into a more mature prospective, I realized that every moment this past weekend was a happy moment and in this way, it was a perfect Memorial Day Weekend after all.