Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Notes & Mind-Talk; July 27 Tragedy --

The following relates my personal experience on the morning of July 27, 2008, with every facet I saw, heard, thought, and felt (written in the days following the shooting):

"Annie Jr., the Summer Musical Theatre Workshop Production! A musical ... good ... that will re-energize me" and I feel a sense of excitement. I’ve been going through some personal reinvention recently and, you know how sometimes when you have a time of introspection, the process can seem to bog down; also I’d just handled a major mishap when my truck got contaminated gas and needed a huge repair. I usually turn to my own music as my comfort and meditation. I’m thinking: "I need a musical infusion. This will be good for me – this will be good! We have a lot of talent in our church family." I haven’t been to church in three weeks and today it is time.

It is July 27th and I am going to church today. I am wearing, for the first time, the new, green baby-doll style top my daughter gave me a week ago and a pair of carefully coordinated capri pants. I enter through the right side of the sanctuary (there are entry doors on both sides) as I have done every time I’ve ever attended TVUUC. I’m sitting on the very end seat of the first pew (as I always do); this seat gives me an easy exit if I feel claustrophobic or drink an extra cup of tea that morning and need to use the restroom; it guarantees me a hasty retreat, if need be. I’m always thinking of "if need be" in terms of almost anything. I’m working on that but I think it goes back to survival issues of my teens. This morning I again choose this seat. I feel fidgety. Moments later, for some inexplicable reason, I move back one row, to the seat directly behind my first choice. I soon hear the woman in back of me coughing, something I notice immediately as I'm wary about catching a cold. Well, all is well – I identify her cough as allergy-related ... so I don’t return to the front seat. I try to relax and settle in.

The sanctuary has filled completely...every seat appears to be occupied. I get out my writing pad, so I can make notes to send to my UUA-sponsored prison ministry prisoner pen-pal with whom I exchange letters, spiritual energy, and frivolous chit-chat. He’s a musician and he loves to talk about songs.

I always arrive at church and get seated a few minutes before most of the people populate the sanctuary. It gives me time to screw my head on, get on a spiritual plane, and glance around at the church that gives me so much. I’ve been missing minister Chris for months now (as he’s been on sabbatical); I’m sure everybody has been missing him, and I sit here and think about how wonderful it will be when he returns to the pulpit on August 10th. I feel good.

Greg is standing there a few feet away from me – an impressive-looking man, very large and with a friendly demeanor. He’s almost always standing there with his "order of service" church programs in hand, doling them out one by one as people enter his side of the sanctuary (there is another person doing the same thing on the opposite entranceway).

I can’t help but notice Greg’s beautiful shirt. Usually, I recall, he wears a plain, short-sleeved shirt. Today he has a handsome, festive dark green shirt (it looks sort of silky and flowing) with pictures of soda cans and food items on it (probably to be in party mode for the reception scheduled to take place right after the children’s performance.)

The congregation has heard the church announcements and Greg hands me the collection basket; I put my check in it and pass the basket to the next person in my row. The church is full but more people are straggling in now, looking for a place to sit. Greg hands each of them an order of service.

The actual play is about to begin and its introduction includes mention of several examples of the types of 1930s depression-days situations we will be seeing portrayed ... abandoned children, all kinds of extreme circumstances that we, in 2008, wouldn’t expect to occur. "OK, I think -- expect to see stuff about serious issues". I see parents with their cameras.

The actors march in through the door which is immediately to my left, walk past me and continue on to the front of the sanctuary. Their costumes and makeup are magnificent, perfect! This is no small potatoes production ... these kids really look and act professional. The characters of "Annie" begin to come to life! It is enthralling. I’m very glad I came to church this morning.

The kids do their first scene and song ... it is great! Now they’re doing their second song. Their stage presence is awesome. I do find myself wishing that the music sound track volume would be turned down a bit, as portions of the actors’ voices and words get drowned out by the music. Of course, in the sanctuary where the acoustics create a lot of reverb, perception of the sound quality depends on where you are sitting. Anyway, I’m concentrating on hearing the kids’ words and am sitting sort of twisted toward the right in order to get the best view of the performance.

Suddenly, a horrific bomb-like blast somewhere near and alongside me on the left blows out my hearing; my head is banging inside and has whistling, ringing sounds in it, then nothing. I lose momentary consciousness. "Ooh, here I am again and I’m staring straight ahead. My God ... Greg is on the floor in front of me. He’s lying too still". I'm scared and immobilized.

The play (or something) still seems to be going on, though I can’t really hear. I look to my right towards the performance area, but don’t see anything. Wait, there is a scuffle in front of the door immediately to my left. This is the door the kids had come through moments earlier. This is the door I always use to come and go. I see a man bending over Greg and touching him, then moving away. My head is ringing. Greg is really there. As a second blast takes place, I see a man with a gun and big streaks, like long orange tongues, shoot out about four or five feet in front of where I'm sitting, sort of semi-slumped in the pew. The noise of the 2nd blast accompanies a hard, concentrated feeling of blunt impact on my mid forehead, an inch or so above my eye (on that rounded part of the forehead bone). My head and ear are now majorly hurting and spinning and ringing. The loudness of the blasts is intensified by mics that are set up for the performance. "Please turn it off". My head and ears ache. This isn’t the play.

"What has become of Bill (my former guitar player who is the church’s sound engineer)? He's usually in what he calls "the cave", the sound room, located on one side of the rear of the sanctuary; that thought momentarily flashes across my mind.

My consciousness weaving, I remain immobilized and deafened, though struggling to focus. Suddenly, a male voice comes through loudly and clearly from somewhere that sounds like it's inside my head, "Get down! Get down!" At that moment, it seems weird to me that I am alive and able to move. There is a strong smell of gun powder. Around the time of the 3rd blast, I crouch behind the pew bench that's in front of me (remember I had moved from the original seat?) and make my way along the length of the sanctuary to that inviting sight – the wide open back door. I expect to feel another shot before I make it to the door. The rest of my pew which was jam-packed moments before, is completely empty ... no one is there. It is so weird and I'm really scared. I fly through the door and take a deep breath of the outdoor air; it is heavy, humid, smoggy, and hot, and I thankfully gulp it in! I climb up the grassy hillside toward the woods. I want to run into the woods and hide, but I see one man standing on the grassy hill and I go to him.

In retrospect: I spent the next two days in tearful, humble gratitude to those who protected me with their heroism; I’d been in very close proximity to the gunman. It is amazing that I am alive. A number of times, I pinched my arm to reassure myself that I was actually alive. I will be eternally grateful to Greg for giving me and others our initial chance to continue living, to the men of the congregation who subdued the gunman and further enabled me to escape, and to the mysterious male voice that told me to "get down" even when I couldn't hear.

My sincere gratitude, always, to the dear man who held me in his arms after I reached the grassy hill outside of the back door.

The source of my head pain was the middle of my forehead slightly to the left; the doctor said that it looked like pellets, "projectiles" had hit me and penetrated ... I had a red, bruised, diveted bump there and, when I could gingerly wash the area, the odd little markings of blood near my hairline washed off. The hospital staff did not lift the bangs of my hair to look at my forehead and, instead, concentrated on my ear and fragmented emotional state. While waiting in the hospital's treatment room, I overheard an EMT loudly and graphically announce to the nurses at the desk, the details of the victims' injuries that he had seen while transporting the two fatally- wounded people to another hospital. It made me even more upset to hear this and I was eager to get out of that emergency room and go home to heal myself. I did not want to be a victim. I absolutely did not want to be named as a victim. I wanted my wound to go away. Thankfully, my hearing returned within the second week and I was able to play my music. During subsequent months, the pellet fragments migrated to the soft tissue of my right sinus cavity and I had an eye hemorrhage that took a month to clear up. At that point, I had a C-T scan, which documented the reality of what had happened. I took earnest measures to heal myself.

The news of the shootings had been carried around the world and much love and support was shown to the TVUUC and Westside UUC congregations.

Gasoline Contamination --

Please be mindful of where you buy gasoline. On Tuesday, July 22nd, I pumped about 1/3 tank of premium 93 octane gasoline, at $4.15 a gallon, into my truck, Lance, to top off his tank. Lance, as many of my readers know, is my ‘91 meticulously cared-for and very loved vehicle. I can’t tell you the station or brand name because I’m trying to get restitution. I can tell you it is not any of the very familiar, locally prominent, or popular brands. When I attempted to drive out of the station parking lot, my heretofore optimally running truck bucked, gasped, stalled, and went down for the count; he needed to be towed to the repair shop. He was there for three days during which I travailed almost like a woman in labor. I didn’t know if his engine had been ruined. The techs at National Auto worked miracles. They carefully and thoroughly drained and cleaned his tank and injectors, replaced the fuel filter and pump,which the contaminant had completely torn and gunked up (fortunately, the gunk-up blocked the tainted fuel from getting farther into the system). A sample of the contaminated fuel reveals a jellyfish-like substance that separates from the liquid in the fuel.
The good news is that Lance is healthy again!

My major thanks to National Auto (Clinton Highway, Knoxville) for their expertise, courtesy, empathy, and affordability.

My advice to all ... buy gasoline from a known, reputable dealer and get a receipt for each and every gasoline purchase.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spirit Of Life

Dear Readers,
The chronicles of two happenings during the past week -- one that was disturbing and the other which occurred yesterday, horrific and life-altering -- beg to be told on my blog. And they will be told. But, for the moment, I must wait. As soon as the time is prudent and it feels appropriate, I will write about them on this blog.

In the meantime, I want to express my heartfelt love for my fellow congregants at TVUUC, my deepest condolences to the families of the fatally wounded; my prayers for all who were injured, all who survived, the beautiful children, and for all of us who witnessed and were touched forever by yesterday's tragic events. Spirit Of Life, come unto me ... and you.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ruby, The Horse Who Captured My Heart --

Yes, I will tell you about her. Also, I want to tell you about a wonderful local organization that rescues and rehabilitates neglected and abused horses. It was my major pleasure to visit their facility this past Saturday, which was their monthly adoption and visiting day. First, though, I’ll preface the details of what brought me there at that particular moment in time, with a bit of background.

One of the very noticeable phases the teenage girls of my time experienced was a strong interest in horses. I remember well the excitement of my high school girlfriends about "going horse-back riding" one or more times a week; I remember their descriptions of horses and I remember the sincerity of their passion about horses. I’m thinking that maybe the interest young women have in horses transcends generations and was not specific to the days of my youth. Anyway, those years, for me, were a time of dealing with survival issues, so I was not able to become involved with or think about horses then. Later on (years later), I became a strong animal advocate and have remained so, over the years, working on behalf of marine, farm, wild, and companion animals (dogs & cats). In fact, humane education and animal advocacy are a big part of my identity. But I never championed horses ... not until now.

A couple of years ago, I began writing legislative letters, urging enactment of laws to protect American wild horses and horses in general, from being sent to slaughterhouses. Eventually, a law was passed to ban horse slaughter in the U.S., though these magnificent animals are now shipped, under horrendous conditions, across Canadian and Mexican borders, to be killed there for European and Asian "delicacy" markets. Please read some of my earlier posts that urge letter-writing to legislators to protect our horses from this cruel fate.

Well, that’s enough preface. About two months ago, I was flooded with a deep, spiritual desire to make the acquaintance of horses in a hands-on way, no small wish for someone whose horse experience was limited to feeding Jake, the milk wagon horse, an occasional sugar cube when I was a tiny tyke ... and on one occasion, having a "pony ride" on a poor, patient horse at an amusement park when I was nine years old. As an aside (you know I frequently do asides), Jake faithfully toted his milk wagon around town for daily deliveries and would, occasionally, get disgusted with his toting job and just begin running wild, all over the place, until he either became tired or felt satisfied – with his wagon driver hanging on for dear life.

Anyway, my recent desire to get to know horses led me to Horse Haven of Tennessee. I was welcomed there by Nina, who founded and heads the effort there. A number of capable, cheerful volunteers were on hand and three of them tutored me on various things I needed to know. I took it all in. Remembering my few up-front meetings with Jake (and the driver’s instructions to "hold your hand flat") I asked if I could feed a treat carrot to a horse. Most of the horses were outside, but two were still in the barn. I felt drawn to one of them, softly called to her, and she responded by affectionately nuzzling my neck and then kissing the side of my face, much like Dixie (my dog) often does. So I held a carrot on one of my very "flattened" piano-playing hands and darling Ruby gently and carefully took the treat, and then another, and then another. I fell totally in love with this wonderful horse. On my drive home, the hauntingly beautiful song "Ruby" (from the 50s or 60s) floated into my head and I've played it on the piano many times since. Ruby is available for adoption, as are several other nice horses at Horse Haven.

Horse Haven needs financial contributions to help with the costs of caring for the horses who are there and with the expenses involved with rescuing others. Check out the HHT website at
www.horsehavenoftn.com. to read their news and see the horses. You will love it!

My Bike Has A Name!

I had several excellent suggestions: Annie, Ella (for the jazz icon), Spike, and Zelda ... and I thank you for these great names. The name that fits best is Zelda.

So Zelda it is! Zelda and I will be out coasting along when I locate a very safe "re-entering bike-riding status" sidewalk. I’m looking :)

Kids & Obesity --

I’ve been reading magazine articles lately and saw the introduction of a television report this evening about overweight U.S. kids and their health problems.

I know there are no simple answers to remedy the dangerous trend of children who weigh way too much; in fact, I think to find answers, quite a few of today’s ways of living would need to be adjusted or overhauled. I may be dating myself with what I’m about to say ... but I clearly remember that there was only one overweight child in my entire elementary school ... and I think her weight was due to family genetics. Sitting here recounting memories of my childhood, I realize the myriad of things that are missing, different, or negative in the lives of today's children in our country.

There are now too many cars in the streets. Years ago, kids were relatively safe in most streets and car drivers knew that kids had the right-of-way. We used to bike ride for miles all day, literally all day.

The girls had two time and energy-consuming outdoor activities that we did almost daily: hop scotch (hopping, tossing a small stone, bending to pick it up, and balancing on one foot on squares we would draw on the sidewalk, street, or in the dirt) and jump-rope (a twirler on each end while we’d each take turns jumping in, jumping in time to one of several chants until we’d miss a step or jump out ... or maybe ‘double-dutch’, with two ropes going at the same time in opposite directions).

Tag – We enjoyed this running, hiding, and chasing game for girls and boys that we did constantly in our neighborhood yards.

Red Light, Giant Steps, and Red Rover were three more outdoor yard games.

Climbing Trees – Yes, I did that and a few other girls did, too, although it was an activity mostly enjoyed by boys. I did much of my childhood reading while sitting in a favorite tree. What a great feeling of connection to Nature, too!

Boys had their own games: the concentration skills of Marbles, played in the dirt or on the sidewalk almost anyplace and Fist-Fighting. I’m serious ... they worked off a lot of energy in playground fisticuffs, boxing-style.

We expended a lot of energy in walking and running, just as a way of getting from one place to another.

I’ve noticed that there are many, many organized athletic, competitive activities for kids; but, that’s just the rub – they are very organized and competitive and, therefore, stressful – and only attempted by kids who don’t mind dealing with stress (or whose parents enjoy cheering on their child’s team). Children's physical games, in the past, were done in situations where the kids were able to create their own "stakes" (of win/lose) among friends; that was very different than competing successfully in front of the general public.

Another factor that is glaring is the lack of open, uncultivated places where kids can play anything freestyle. Except for the few parks (which also, necessarily and properly, serve as a mini-habitat for dwindling wildlife fauna and flora) where such activities are possible, everyone everywhere is concerned with liability. Liability has become big business, so it definitely is a concern if kids are playing or skateboarding on business property (and, let’s face it – almost everything’s paved over as business property or roadway). Schools now are monitored like fortresses, with video cameras and rules galore. When I was a child, you could tell if it was OK to use the playground during non-school hours, by observing whether the swings were attached to the swing frame. And years ago, when we fell or a big kid beat us up, another kid would rush to our home and alert our mother so that she could come to our aid ... nobody got sued. So the issue of liability has changed a lot of things for kids.

There was an "ole swimming hole" at Nesbitt’s in the town where I grew up. It was frequented by many of the boys in town; I think I was the only girl who went there and, when I did, I was escorted by my father and his fishing pole. The swimming hole had a jagged-shaped dirt bank around it; I would say the circumference of the swimming area was about equivalent to a 30-foot pool, by today’s standards. The water was untreated and totally natural, with a few fish swimming in it; it was fed by a large creek surrounded by skunk cabbages. It was very picturesque. Can you imagine such a place existing now ... unfenced, unpatrolled? It was owned property. My guess is that was owned by someone named Nesbitt. The mindset of that day and time was different.

Another large factor that influences the many things that have changed for children (and everybody) is population growth. There were way fewer people a few short years ago ... and there was way more space in any given town.

Too, now there is fast-food. Fast, fat-laden, easily accessible food; kids' school lunches are loaded with unhealthy, processed foods (some of which were unrecognizable last time I looked).

Kids’ recreational choices currently are organized sports, television, video games and (thankfully still existing) reading. I think a lot of kids choose video games. I can sit here today and remember all the things I’ve just written about. The memories are vivid -- some good, some bad. Will today’s kids, many years from now as they think back, remember fondly their activities? Maybe, will they say "yeah and I used to play such and such video game...it was great!" How can we be puzzled about today’s childhood obesity? To me, it’s easy to understand the dilemma kids are in.

Please Stick To The Real Issues ...

What I want to hear from presidential candidates and Congress is an emphasis on:

The economy and a sincere, sound plan to fix it;

Universal healthcare for all U.S. citizens, to replace our fragmented, non-system;

Getting out of the business of war (yes, I said "business");

Ethics (non-religious), truth, and humanitarianism.

Those are the things that matter to me and, I believe, to the survival of our country.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Let's Try To Keep Our Sense Of Humor :)

I’m thinking now of the economy. What – you say it’s not funny? Well OK ... I know, I know. In truth, it’s exceedingly troubling. The only remedies I can think of are to vote non-republican, meditate/pray/dance/sing (not at the same time), and laugh uproariously! Laughing won't keep us from going broke, but it may help keep us healthier and saner so we can stretch our dollars a bit further without having to buy extra meds and stress-related services.

Because my last two SS digits are in the government’s very last group of scheduled tax rebate mail-outs, I haven’t seen hide or hair of my rebate. I would say that maybe they’re running out of money, except that they were out of money way before the mail-out concept was even conceived.

I’ve heard that the hot line (for rebate inquiries) is not being answered (!) I wonder what that means. More reasons for therapeutic laughter in whatever uproarious style you prefer :)

Precious Special Art Work

I want to share with my readers an awesome pencil drawing recently created by Dennis, my (prison ministry) prison pen-pal. I was delighted to receive his drawing of a G-(treble) clef sign carefully clad in ivy leaves. Jerry provided the lovely frame for it. Dennis is a musician. On the reverse (hidden) side of the drawing, are printed inmate names and system numbers ... as the somewhat ragged piece of paper he used is actually a prison form. The framed piece now proudly sits on my piano!

Our Status As Consumers --

Hellbender Press is a pro-environmental journal, published here in East Tennessee; it is a project of The Foundation For Global Sustainability, located in Knoxville. The current issue (Vol. 10 Issue 2) has a lively and truly relevant article which assesses the role-switching we "customers" have undergone, while being transformed (by the corporate world) into "consumers".

Written by John Lynn, who lives in California, the article is entitled "Endless Waffles". Mr. Lynn very artfully and effectively connects the title with his important message, the bottom line of which is that the customer-turned-consumer is now actually "the Consumed". This is a timely and compelling piece of writing. To subscribe to Hellbenders or obtain a copy, please contact Hellbender Press, Box 1101, Knoxville, TN 37901; (865) 524-4771. Locally, you can pick up a free copy at Carpe Librum (my favorite bookstore) or a number of other regional locations.

Pet-Lovers' Easy Way To Help Animals --

Each day, go to www.theanimalrescuesite.com and click on the purple "click here to give" button. For each click, the website sponsors donate food and care for rescued homeless companion animals who are in animal shelters. It’s so easy for us feel good about helping in this way and it costs us nothing, except a few seconds of time.

Treasure Hunt --

Yesterday, I bought a drop-leaf dining table for $10 at Earl’s Used Furniture. It’s just the right size for my dining area. I love looking for items at Goodwill and second-hand stores ... it’s like a treasure hunt. I actually found a perfect-for-me, light-weight jacket/blazer (soft material, long length, vented sides) recently at GW. It’s brand label is "New York" and it is made in the USA. How about that? On the same trip, I bought a lovely teal color wine glass for 40 cents. Now I’m inspired to drink wine. Not to worry ... I won’t go overboard.

More About My Old Bike --

Yesterday, I bought a gel-padded seat cover for my bike. The seat, in its natural state, is harder than a brick and hurts after even five seconds. Regarding possible names for the bike, one person has suggested the name "Annie" and another person has seconded that choice. My neighbor’s dog’s name is Annie. She’s an adorable dog and loves to visit with me. Anyway, imagine the confusion in case I’d be outside calling my bike! Seriously, I love the name, but it doesn’t feel like the one for my bike. I'm not even sure of my bike's "gender". So I’m still taking suggestions. Names for my bike, please? I’ll try and get him/her to pose for a picture, to post.

Rainy Day Blues --

Not a complaint at all. Very recently, we had a gray, rainy day here. For the most part, the rain was gentle with a few wispy winds. It was nice. I couldn’t fight the urge to write a song; it was irresistible. And so "(The Comfort Of The) Rainy Day Blues" was born!