Tuesday, October 3, 2017

No Words

Yesterday, 59 people died in Las Vegas. Over 500 were injured. One gunman, with many high-powered rifles, standing at his window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, looking out over the glittering expanse of Las Vegas, the beauty of the high desert obscured in darkness beyond, firing down into a crowd of people.

There are no words left to say when these things happen. They've all been said before. They will all be said again when it happens the next time. And of course it will happen again.

When I was 14 years old, crouching beneath my desk in social studies, the school under lockdown as two boys killed 13 people at Columbine High School 30 minutes away, it felt like a terrible anomaly. A once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. Everyone treated it that way.

I remember the quality of the light that afternoon as my friend drove me home in his red Chevy pickup -- a little too stark for Spring, a little colder than it should have been for that April day. I remember listening to Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" play on the radio as we drove in silence.

These massacres have become too commonplace to sear my memory so deeply now.


Two and a half years ago, a man carrying a gun entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and killed nine people. Nine days later, then-President Obama stood before a crowd of people giving the eulogy for Reverend Pinckney. He stood at the podium. "Amazing grace." Pause. "Amazing grace."

And then, unaccompanied, broke into song, "ahhh-mazing grace, how sweet the sound..."

I remember watching the video of Obama singing for the first time. The hairs on my arms stood on end. My chest tightened. Listening to him sing, then listening again. My mind preserved that memory, that feeling. 

At times of tragedy, it is so easy to deliver the same rote platitudes. What can be said? Words themselves are woefully inadequate balms for a battered soul.


It is not the words. Never has that been more evident that yesterday as we woke up to a rising death toll. "Warmest sympathies" were the first words from the President, issued over his Twitter feed to a nation feeling the full brunt of the punch for which we are now perpetually braced. 

"Warmest sympathies." 

A platitude, and a painfully awkward one at that -- "warmest" usually being a word paired with "wishes" or "congratulations," one used for happy occasions: the births of babies, marriages, holidays. It belied something deeper: a man so ill-versed in empathy that even this most rote of phrases was mangled in his delivery. 


"Amazing Grace" was written in 1779, three years after the United States declared its independence. Almost 240 years later, I've come across very few who don't know the words. It's part of the American identity, an acknowledgement of a deeply flawed existence always striving to find the better angels of our nature. 

To sing "Amazing Grace" at a funeral is not a novel idea. It's done all the time. It's quite another to hear it sung by a President, impromptu and unaccompanied, reverberating out across a packed church and dozens of live broadcast channels to a nation thoroughly steeped in rote platitudes about the latest  gun violence tragedy. In the midst of so many tepid, impotent responses, it was a sharp splash of ice water to the face.

On that day, at that funeral, the words of the song "Amazing Grace" were barely relevant. They paled in comparison to how they were voiced. President Obama imbued them with deep empathy for the families of the victims, with a nuanced recognition of the community that had been targeted. In two and a half minutes -- from the first bars of the hymn sung solo, to the great swell of voices rising to join the President, to the speaking of the nines names of the people who died that Wednesday in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Obama did what so many carefully expressed sympathies had failed to do: he reawakened our national grief. He reminded us that this is not normal, that we cannot allow ourselves to go numb, that on these occasions the shutter of our mind should click, capturing the quality of the light, the glitter of so many neon signs against the darkness of a high desert. 


Last night, after I put my daughter to bed, I pulled up Obama's rendition of "Amazing Grace" on YouTube and sat on the couch in the darkness of my living room. 

"Amazing grace." Pause. "Amazing grace." Pause. "Ahhh-mazing grace, how sweet the sound..." 

There are no words. 

But with empathy and grace, there might still be hope. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Can I please just crave a doughnut?

A couple of weeks ago, we finally made public the news that Baby #2 is on the way, due in December. After 6 long months of waiting, I now get to complain.

Here's my litany of excuses for the most recent blog silence:

(1) I'm pregnant
(2) I'm tired
(3) I have a 3 year old
(4) Did I mention that I'm pregnant?
(5) Work is incredibly busy.
(6) Oh, and I'm pregnant with a 3 year old and a full-time job.

I hereby excuse myself. Now on to complaining.

And so will the...cribbage?

I know I start practically every blog post this way, but I'm sorry it's been so long. I have buckets of good excuses. I considered going into them, but I won't. Let me just tell you a funny story.

Back in October 2016 (OMG, almost a year ago!), we were driving to the annual Toddler Nightmare at the Pumpkin Patch (in which we join thousands of other parents and their equally whiny, snotty offspring in the muck and mire of a Seattle October in order to gape at slightly harassed barnyard animals and purchase over-priced gourds in the name of "childhood"). Avery was having an especially whiny morning, and with a good 15 minutes of drive time yet to go, she demanded that "dada" get out of the car. As Dada was driving, this was rather problematic.

Trying to avert a tantrum, Mark gamely explained to his hostile offspring that "if dada gets out of the car, the car will stop." And then something strange happened. Avery repeated this fundamental truth, with one subtle addition: "If dada gets out of the car, the car will stop...and so will the cribbage."

*cue screeching record sounds*

Ummmm... "the cribbage"?

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Dear Women of the United States, thank you for today. Thank you for getting up, for standing up, for shouting up. For demanding visibility and acknowledgment. I was so, so proud to be a woman in America today, and these past few months it hasn't felt very good.

Thank you for recognizing that women are not the only group with a hell of a lot to lose here. For raising your voices for all of those who would be silenced: minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ, the disabled. For demanding better for all of us.