I have only spent one Christmas with my entire immediate family.
The average household during the last census consisted of 2.58 people. My family was four-times that size at an even dozen (ten children and Mom and Dad). The dynamics of a big family are very different than small families. Routine is more important. Structure is a thin wall between orderly execution and utter chaos. Everyone has to contribute. However, you almost always have someone to play (or fight) with, and many hands do make light work. With a household four-times the average size, my childhood experience was anything but average.
One of the unusual dynamics of a large family is the age difference between the first child and the last child. My oldest sister was born in September of 1957. The baby sister of the family was born in September of 1978. In that twenty-year stretch the world changed a lot. By the time my youngest sister was born, my oldest sister was married and had a baby of her own. In fact, my mother and my oldest sister were pregnant at the same time. Because of that, the entire family was never home for Christmas.
In December of 1989, I was just finishing up pilot training in the USAF. My wife and I had been married a year and a half and had just welcomed our first son into our home. We were stationed at Laughlin AFB, Texas (southwest of San Antonio in Del Rio). We didn’t have the time or money to go too far for Christmas, and the nearest sibling was in Oklahoma. We thought we would end up spending Christmas by ourselves.
When my Aunt and Uncle that lived near Fort Worth, Texas, offered to host us for Christmas, it was just the catalyst we needed to get everyone together. My wife and I figured we could make the trip to their house. My brother in Oklahoma announced that he would be coming down. My Mom and Dad made plans to travel from Kentucky, along with my sister living nearby. Pretty soon, everyone except for one sister who was dealing with a high-risk pregnancy had made plans to be there for Christmas. The Aunt and Uncle that invited us didn’t have any children. I don’t think they had any idea what they had bargained for. It was going to be a packed house.
We packed up our Mazda 626 and drove along Highway 90 and then up I-35 to Dallas/Fort Worth with our three-month old son strapped into his car seat in the back seat. The weather was cold, but good. We arrived and staked out our territory in the corner of the den. Within a twenty-four hour period, the house went from quiet and orderly, to loud and chaotic.
Everyone, except for my pregnant sister, packed into the house and staked a claim in the living room, the den, the dining room, and even the hallway. We had beds and sleeping bags everywhere. My youngest sister slept under the dining room table with her niece. At night you couldn’t walk through the house without stepping over, or on, someone.
My parents didn’t know it, but the pregnant sister had been given permission to travel, and arrived after everyone else. I will never forget the look on Mom and Dad’s faces when she and her family walked into the house and surprised them. We pretended to interview them about getting the family together for Christmas and captured the moment on video with one of those huge video cameras that you rested on your shoulder. It was the look of sheer joy! The whole family would finally spend a Christmas together.
Mealtimes were an event unto themselves. The kitchen was a bustle of activity from sunup to sundown trying to keep with the house full of hungry mouths. We had homemade pies and cakes, fudge, and cereal by the case. On top of the regular meals, we had several nursing mothers. Keeping everyone fed was a round-the-clock operation.
On Christmas Eve, I got sick with fever. I curled up in my corner of the den and drifted in and out of consciousness as I watched the festivities in a feverish stupor. On Christmas morning, my Mom made everyone wait to open gifts until I felt well enough to sit up and participate. Thank goodness, I felt better before noon. Gratefully nobody else got sick.
I don’t remember too much about the gifts exchanged. I got a book about modern fighter aircraft. Honestly, the gift exchange was anticlimactic. The real excitement sprang from just being together. If there was an argument, I don’t remember it. If there was contention, it never rose to a noteworthy level. In spite of the close quarters and cramped arrangements, a true spirit of harmony permeated the entire home. If ever there was a Christmas miracle, having a house full of hardheaded Boohers together for three days without an argument surely qualifies.
I have tried for over a year to write this blog. That particular Christmas carries so much emotion for me that putting it down in words has been difficult. I am sitting in a hotel room separated from my own family this Christmas day as I finish it up, and I still don’t feel like I have done it justice.
What is the takeaway from this story?
No one is promised tomorrow. Today is the only gift you have. Be grateful for the time you have together as a family, because you never know if it will be your last, or only, time together. Material possessions and fancy gifts will pass like the setting of the sun and leave you unfulfilled and hollow, but the time you spend with those you love will burn inside of you forever. Take time to make some warm memories with those you love.
I was twenty-six years old before my entire immediate family was together for Christmas. I’m fifty now, and we have never all been together for Christmas except that one time, but the memory of that Christmas still burns inside of me.
I swear my wife knows everyone. So, I should not have been too surprised when she announced that, thanks to her friend Tiffany Masterson, we would be attending a special screening of the movie The Book Thief. What did surprise me was how deeply the movie touched me, and the fact that I had not read the book. (Shame on me!)
We never experience life in a vacuum. Everything we do and everything that happens to us is tainted by the events around us that shape and frame our experience. At face value, the movie, and story, is about a young orphan girl in Nazi Germany that learns to read and then becomes so passionate about reading that she is willing to steal books. But since she is in the middle of a war, it is much more than the simple coming-of-age story.
Likewise, my opportunity to attend a special screening of the movie did not happen in a vacuum. It was a very hectic day. I had several projects to finish, the chief of which was refurbishing an old bed I made twenty-four years ago so my daughter could use it. It was a labor of love, but when you have a deadline, it’s work. Right before the movie, we attended the same daughter’s last volleyball game of the season. It was a special event in which the two rival teams wore pink and honored breast cancer survivors. I didn’t want to miss it since my mother and my mother-in-law are both breast cancer survivors. Unfortunately, my daughter’s team lost, and I had to comfort her.
In the middle of the game, my soccer-playing son came limping into the gym. He had damaged his foot and ankle during practice. Since I was focused on my daughter’s game, I didn’t give his injury the attention he felt it deserved. A family quarrel ensued. By the time we got back to the house and prepared to leave for the movie, the quarrel had heated up. I almost didn’t make it to the event. I was still angry when I pulled out of the driveway.
Leave it to my wife to not only get us into a special screening, but to also get us VIP status. We were the first people into the theater, thanks to Tiffany. We were joined by several of my wife’s girlfriends. However, all the husbands, except for my buddy Wade, stayed away because the last game of the World Series was on. I grabbed some greasy theater food, and settled down to experience the story.
The Book Thief is a story about young Liesel Meminger who finds solace in reading stolen books and sharing them with others during the horrors of WWII Germany. What makes this coming-of-age story unique is that Death himself narrates the story, because he is so intrigued by her life. Several times in the story we get a firsthand account of what it’s like to take the soul from the body and bear it home.
The first thing that I noticed about the movie was the attention to detail. Unlike some popular movies about historical events that paint the scenes with a broad brush, this movie used the small fine bristled brushes to create detail in vivid and authentic strokes. These intricate details included but were not limited to – the locomotive belching out steam and smoke, the era-appropriate clothing, the uniforms of the soldiers and officials, the labels on food bins in the kitchen, and the wedding on the right hand of Hans, the foster father (the common custom in Germany especially during that period). You felt transported to the very time and place with the pan of the camera. Details can make or break a movie, or book, but The Book Thief delivered, by painstakingly ensuring that the details were authentic.
The pacing of the movie was slow, but appropriate, never letting you feel impatient with the story. If you like fast-paced action movies that use pyrotechnic explosions, elaborate stunts, and car chases to create suspension and action, then you will probably be disappointed. However, if you like a movie that can propel you forward and keep you on the edge of your seat with the strength of the story, then you will love The Book Thief. The pacing moves like the steady current of a river, never rushing you along, but never allowing you to stagnate or hang up in the driftwood along the banks. The rhythm of the film allows you the time to absorb the emotion of each scene without letting you linger in overdramatic pauses.
The actor’s performances were outstanding, particular Sophie Nélisse’s portrayal of Liesel Meminger. Her eyes were so expressive and curious, like lenses that captured everything in her world with wonder. Sometimes child actors behave more like adults than children, but not so with her performance. Additionally, Geoffrey Rush delivered an excellent portrayal of Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father. Granted, he portrayed a character you couldn’t help but like, but he did it with grace, wit, and a sense of presence on screen that drew me into the emotion of each scene he was a part of. Emily Watson also portrayed Rosa Hubermann, the foster mother with the hard shell, so well that it made me uncomfortable. The entire cast delivered and brought the dialogue to life.
I especially enjoyed the ironies present in the story – Death himself narrating a story about how to live your life; A young girl hungering to read in a time when they burned books; An outcast helping her to fit into society in her own way; A street called Heaven Street in the middle of a hellish war; Stealing books instead of food in a time of starvation; Two of Hitler’s Youth screaming “I hate Hitler!” at the top of their lungs; Destroying all reason for hope in order to find hope. These pleasant ironies added to the movie’s charm.
Liesel learned the value of reading in a time of war. She learned of writing in a time of great emotional crisis. The words on the pages gave her life meaning. In essence, the words were life. After the viewing they asked us to write one word on a chalkboard to describe the movie. I wrote the word “Authentic.” My wife wrote the word “Life.”
If you enjoy an emotional movie with a powerful and moving story line, go see The Book Thief.
We never experience our life in a vacuum. As I drove home, I pondered the scenes of the movie that touched me. I thought about the argument with my son. I reflected on the love for reading and writing that my parents nurtured in me by having a house full of books, even when we had little else.
When I got home, I went and found my son. I apologized, and we made amends. Life is too short to give any life to ugly words when we have so many beautiful words worthy of living. I told my daughter I was proud of her efforts to honor those whose lives were affected by breast cancer. Words of peace and hope had been restored to my home.Before I went to bed, I opened an email from my older sister. Over a year ago my mother’s cancer returned. The email was an update about her worsening condition. I smiled, because I knew that no matter what happened at this point, my mother, like Liesel Meminger, has certainly intrigued Death with the full life she has lived. He will be waiting to carry her soul to Heaven Street, and it will be light.
I watched the waves of the Pacific Ocean lap up onto the beach. Too bad I was in the window seat of a Southwest Airlines B-737 headed to Nashville, instead of Hawaii. It was fall break, and my wife and my two youngest children had just spent a day attempting to fly standby from Los Angeles to Hawaii without any success. Every flight had filled up last minute. (Who buys last-minute tickets to Hawaii?) So, we rallied the troops and decided for Plan B.
“It will be an adventure,” I promised.
Now we were on a flight to Nashville to visit my parents and then head down to Puerto Rico for a few days in the sun. Unfortunately, my bag of snorkeling gear was on its way to Maui. The misdirected bag was just one of many signs that this vacation would be more of an adventure than we bargained for.
After a short night at my parent’s house, we headed back to the airport in an attempt to make it to a beach somewhere. We caught the flight to Baltimore, and killed a couple of hours window shopping in the Baltimore/Washington Airport before we hopped on the half empty flight to San Juan and landed a little before midnight.
Since we weren’t sure that we were going to make it San Juan, and the lady from the Gran Meliá resort had told me they were empty, I decided not to make a firm reservation and risk losing all of my money. When we landed in San Juan, I called them. Now the resort was full. I called the hotel used by the airline crews – booked. So, there I was with my wife and two kids in the baggage claim of San Juan International Airport at midnight without a hotel room. I panicked, a little, and then reminded myself that this was an adventure.
I left Britt and the kids to get the luggage while I grabbed a brochure from the taxi stand and started calling local hotels. By the time we got to the rental car place, we still didn’t have a hotel. The van driver from the rental car recommended a place nearby. He said it was close to the beach and clean. My wife found a pretty good price at the Hampton Inn, but in the end we opted for the driver’s recommendation because we could get two rooms. When we passed the bright lights of the Hampton Inn and turned down the dark street to the Coral Springs hotel, I knew we were in trouble. We pressed on in spite of the warning signs, and when we got to our rooms at almost one in the morning, we found two dingy rooms with window AC units rattling in the night. By then we were too tired to change. Britt warned the kids not to open the door for anyone and we all crashed.
“It’s all part of the adventure,” I said, as I kissed my wife goodnight.
After a fitful night’s sleep, I awoke early the next morning to the hum of the AC unit. I lay awake in bed worrying about getting a room in the Gran Meliá, like we planned. When Britt woke up I started calling. After four attempts, I still hadn’t talked to anyone that could make a reservation for me. I handed the phone to Britt. She tried three times before someone came on the phone. At last, we got a reservation, and the adventure continued!
After a big breakfast at Denny’s discussing our plans, we went back to the airport to see if my snorkeling bag had caught up to us. As we were driving to the airport, Britt started complaining about pain and dizziness. At first, I thought I might be a heart attack, but the symptoms didn’t seem right. We figured it might just be something she ate. She sat in the car with the kids while ran in to look for my bag.
The flight with my bag was delayed, of course. I went back to the car. Britt was gone, and her phone didn’t work. The kids didn’t know where she went. There I was, wife sick and MIA, kids bored, bag missing, still hadn’t checked into the resort. I was tempted to get on a plane and head home. I sent the kids to find their mother, and I circled the airport. It’s all part of the adventure, I kept reminding myself as I tried to stay calm.
When I came back around, Britt was standing against a light pole looking a little Nacho Libre with in his fancy white pants, and a kid on each side. She had lost her breakfast, but was starting to feel better. I got her into the front seat of the car to wait, and I went to collect my errant bag. The luggage carousel went round and round, but my bag was nowhere in sight. I spoke with the Delta employees and after a few minutes they located my bag – about to get on a plane back to Maui. (I thought for a moment that we should join it.) Finally, I got the bag and we headed for the Gran Meliá Resort. Now the fun part of the adventure could begin.
|Iguana the size of a small dog|
During the drive, Britt began to feel better. We finally began to feel like we were on vacation, especially when we pulled into the main entrance. The street was lined with palm trees and golf courses inhabited by iguanas the size of dogs. When we pulled up to the main entrance, everyone greeted us and made us feel welcome. We all started to loosen up and relax. We checked in and headed out to walk the beach and ended up at the pool playing water volleyball. We sucked down some expensive fruity drinks, and relaxed as the sun went down. That night we ordered pizza in the room, while I did some research on the Internet and found several exciting activities. The adventure was shaping up.
|The Gran Meliá|
The next morning I went for a nice run. I saw a lounge of lizards on the first tee I passed. The weather was beautiful. We had some great activities planned. It felt like things were finally going to fall into place for a few days of fun. We chowed down at the breakfast buffet and put on our swimsuits. Today was going to be an adventure.
Before we could leave the room, Britt felt sick again. I sent the kids out to explore the tennis courts and workout room while searched medical websites for an explanation of her symptoms. She called a doctor friend of ours in Arizona – gallbladder. According to the websites and the doctor, if the pain and discomfort subsided, the vacation could continue, minus fatty breakfast buffets. She began to feel better and we loaded up the car in search of our beach adventure.
We decided to stop the drugstore on the way to the beach for some recommended home remedies. We had just passed the front gate of the resort and turned on to the main road when my wife got really quiet. When we pulled up to the drugstore, Britt jumped out of the car and starting tossing her breakfast. Powdered eggs have a very unique look when you throw them back up – like yellow cottage cheese.
“Oh crap!” I said as I realized that vacation was over. The real adventure was just beginning.
After emptying her stomach, she had nothing left but bile, and she was in so much pain that she could barely breathe. She was crying and upset. I was nervous and frustrated. I took a moment to vent and rage about how frustrating this entire vacation had been. It was nobody’s fault, but I needed to vent. After a couple of minutes, I shut up, buckled up, manned up, and rushed back to the resort.
When we pulled up to the elegant drop-off area at the resort, my wife jumped out again and started dry heaving on the lawn. Carson and Rylee hurried to the room to get her a change of clothes while I ran over to the front desk and asked for help getting to the nearest ER or Urgent Care. A passing guest was a nurse and calmed my wife by explaining that she was most likely passing a gallstone. The staff kicked into action. A few moments later I was following the van to the nearest urgent care facility, talking on the cell phone to my insurance company, and trying to keep my wife from screaming every time we went over a speed bump. (I swear they have a million of them in Puerto Rico!) It was quite the adventure in driving.
When we got inside the ladies behind the counter jumped into action. (Maybe it was my wife’s screaming.) They got her right back and the nurse took her vitals.
Out walked a female doctor wearing four-inch, bright turquoise platform shoes with her toenails painted to match. She looked a lot like Jennifer Lopez with her hair pulled back tight away from her face. She looked to be about the same age as my oldest son, and if she took off her white medical smock I’ll bet she would have fit right in at a frat party, or the local salsa club.
After a short review of her patient, she declared, “You have gastritis.”
Now, Britt was not only in pain, but also pissed off. (It was a good thing the doctor wasn’t in reach.) My wife explained that she was not some sort of wimpy drama queen. She had delivered four babies, and this pain was 100 times worse! I’m not sure if the dancer-cum-doctor really understood, but I convinced her to put my wife on an IV for pain, inflammation, and stomach acid. Within a few minutes the painkiller brought her some relief, but the only way to know for sure about her condition was through an ultrasound, and of course, that facility didn’t have one.
I got on the phone with my insurance company, and they found a hospital in network about thirty minutes away. I stood next to the doctor’s office so I could get Wi-Fi and pulled up the map on my iPad. With a little help from the ambulance driver whose Spanish sounded more like machine gun fire, I thought I could find my way there. Back into the car and off we went into afternoon traffic in San Juan trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid speed bumps.
I knew we were in trouble the moment I walked into the emergency room. It was packed with wall-to-wall sickness. Almost every seat was taken. One guy was doubled over in pain. A young mother rocked her coughing baby. A guy walked in with an IV stint and what looked like x-ray films. Everyone stared us with hollow eyes as they waited anxiously to pass through the squeaky steel door to see the doctor.
Every good bureaucracy has to have a gatekeeper to keep it functioning. The gatekeeper of that Puerto Rican emergency room was a young bald security guard with a blank stare and a gun on his hip. “I’ll be witchu in a minute,” he said as he swiped his key card. (At least he spoke English – of sorts.) His official demeanor wasn’t exactly warm and friendly. At last, he took our name, asked about the problem, and put us on the list.
Now the waiting adventure began. We found an empty seat for Britt. I stood.
For about an hour I watched the guard perform his impossible task as the gatekeeper. He guarded the door, signed people in, and occasionally made the rounds. I began to see that his stern look was a façade. I could tell that in spite of the blank stare, he actually cared for people. He approached me and told me that he was working on getting us in sooner since we had already been to the other urgent care. An hour later we saw the triage nurse. Two hours later he swiped the key card for us, and we pushed open the squeaky steel door to the ER. The emergency room adventure had begun.
We walked down the short hallway into a sea of human misery still in our swimsuits. Every open spot in the L-shaped room had a gurney with a patient. Despair and pain were written on every face. The beeping of medical equipment mixed with groans of pain and despair. We stood in the middle of the hallway for a few minutes until someone noticed that we were new and took us in to see the Doctor. He spoke English, and after a short diagnosis, he pronounced that it was most likely the gallbladder. He ordered a nurse to hook Britt up to an IV with the same medications as before. He ordered an ultrasound, and the nurse led us to an empty gurney in the corner of the emergency room.
|Butterfly above her gurney|
Her bed was really a paper-thin mattress on a gurney without a sheet, blanket, or pillow. She was in the corner next swinging doors that constantly slammed open and shut as staff hurried through. The thin curtain that separated us from the next bed was so close that I often bumped into the bed next door when I stood to attend to Britt. The whole scene was a barrage on the senses – antiseptic smell, banging doors, beeping machines, the hum of foreign conversations, the loudspeaker, the dimly lit room, the thin mattress, and the sense of hopelessness and misery that permeated everything in the room like dark sunshine. In the midst of it all they had painted a butterfly on the ceiling tile above her head.
We waited for the ultrasound as the IV drugs began to take effect. I read a book and tried to tune everything out. The ultrasound got done. We waited. The doctor came and told us what we suspected – gallstones – but in addition a stone blocking the duct had caused pancreatitis. (Oh joy!) He explained that they were going to admit her and possibly operate. We waited. The cacophony of misery and chaos continued. We waited. The guard came and checked on us. We waited more. Finally I sought out the Doctor.
It was amazing how I invisible I became when I stood in front of the nurses station. It was like I was a ghost and they refused to believe in my existence, or I had to scare them before they would speak to me. I scared the Doctor and he spoke with me.
“When can we get her into a room?” I asked.
“We can’t,” replied the Doctor. “ We don’t have any rooms available.”
“What do you mean? You said you wanted to admit her.”
“I do, but look around. All these people are waiting on a room as well. It will be sometime tomorrow before we can get her into a room.”
I traipsed back through the sea of misery to face my wife and tell her that she would be spending the night in the corner of the emergency room on a gurney without a blanket or pillow. In hindsight, I should have made the doctor do it. It’s an adventure, right?
“What do you mean they don’t have any rooms?” asked Britt.
“He said all the rooms are full and all these people are waiting as well. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to advocate for me!”
“I am! But I don’t have control of this situation. Everyone is waiting for a room. What do want me to do? Tell them that you’re more important than everyone else?”
It was her turn to lose it for minute. The stress was too much. She said a few things she didn’t mean (at least I hope not), and stormed off to find the Doctor with her IV in tow. I sat there feeling helpless. I don’t like feeling out of control, but I certainly didn’t have any control of this situation. A few minutes later she came back angry and full of despair. She cried for a few minutes, and I held her while the butterfly watched. Now it was her turn to woman up and face the difficult situation. We accepted the bleak outlook and faced it together, like good adventurers.
I tried to find someone from my church nearby that could come and help me give her a priesthood blessing. (It is customary to have two brethren to administer.) After several hours of trying, I gave up and did it solo. The blessing brought her some comfort. It certainly made me feel better. I couldn’t get her a bed. My smart phone was now dumb without 3G or Wi-Fi. I was a long way from home. Like Peter at the gates of the temple, all I had to offer was the power of the priesthood of God. I was thankful I had that to offer. I went to a nearby Walgreens and bought her a pillow, blanket, and earplugs. I made her as comfortable as humanly possible, and I sat with her until about one in the morning. Then I kissed her and went back to the resort with a prayer in my heart, and faith in the power of the blessing.
While all this was happening, the kids had lounged in the resort playing tennis, swimming, and ordering room service (steak to be exact), but at least they were safe. I slept on the pull-out sofa bed. I woke up before my alarm went off and shaved and showered before heading back to the hospital. I wanted to look more like a guy in charge of his world, instead of a guy in a bathing suit with a three-day beard. I was back in the emergency room by six o’clock. Nothing had changed. She was still tucked away in the corner of the emergency room next to the slamming door waiting for someone to ease her pain. The butterfly hadn’t helped.
The surgeon arrived around eight. He seemed like a competent and caring individual. He felt like it might be best to get Britt home before doing surgery, but he wanted to make sure that none of the gallstones were still trapped in the canal. He told us that she would be moved to a room, monitored, and given an MRI. If all went well, we could get on an airplane the next day with some medications and have the surgery as soon as we got off the plane. We waited. We waited some more. Finally I went to the nurses’ station again – still invisible – and scared a nurse. They sent me down to admissions. Admissions talked a good game and told me that they were cleaning a room for my wife. I signed the paperwork and went back to wait with my wife, and the butterfly.
Around eleven o’clock, it appeared that things were happening. They told me they were moving her to a room. The MRI was ordered. Things looked like they were beginning to move. Britt insisted that I go check on the kids and do something fun with them so the whole vacation wasn’t a bust. Once again, I kissed her on the forehead and drove back to the resort.
When I walked into the hotel room, I told them, “Fate has won every inning so far. We are going to win this inning. We are headed to that secluded beach and going snorkeling.” Thirty minutes later, we were walking through a mosquito-infested rainforest trying to find a secluded beach on the northeast shore of Puerto Rico.
|We beat fate for one inning|
We passed a headless iguana that stunk so bad we had to run past, but we didn’t stop. Swarms of mosquito attacked us, but we pressed on. At last, the jungle parted and we found ourselves on a pristine beach with only two other people. We donned our snorkeling gear and explored the beautiful reef just off shore. It was an adventure, and we beat fate that inning.
When we got back to the car we sent a text to check on Britt – still no room. We texted her back – We are coming to bust you out! After showering and changing, the three of us headed for the hospital on a prison break mission. It was an adventure we looked forward to.
“You are about to experience a room of human misery,” I told the kids as I parked the car. The guard from the night before was back at his post and ushered us through the squeaky steel door. We were bombarded with the same cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds. I made a beeline for the corner through the maze of gurneys with the kids right behind me. Britt’s face lit up when she saw the kids, but I could tell that we needed to bust her out NOW! The surgeon had stopped by and apologized for her suffering, had already signed the release papers and given her various prescriptions to get her home. I went to the nurses’ station and scared them into talking to me. I stood there and refused to leave until the doctors and nurses signed all the necessary papers. Then I grabbed my wife and got her out of that black hole of sickness and misery. It might be an adventure getting her home, but we didn’t need any more excitement in the ER.
That night back at the resort I tucked her into a bed by herself and slept on the sofa bed again. She slept better than in the hospital and the drugs were keeping the pain at bay. The next morning, we loaded up the suitcases and headed for the airport. Everything was going well until I missed the poorly marked exit for the airport. I had enough adventure for a while. I was so mad at myself for missing the turn that I took it out on the steering wheel for a few seconds. (It’s a rental.) I got off the freeway and found my way through the maze of side streets and speed bumps back to the airport. I sped over the bumps in the rental car and pulled up to the front door of the airport two hours early. I got her a wheelchair and left her and the kids to check in while I dropped off the rental car, off property. That turned out to be an adventure.
It was nighttime when we picked up the car, and nothing looked familiar in the daytime. I felt like a rat in a maze as I followed side streets through the local barrio. I stopped to got gas and ask for directions. The attendant was so helpful. “A la izquierda,” was all he said. After a few dead ends and wrong turns, I found it.
Once I got back to airport property, I was in my element. I could feel my sense of control return like Superman after he gets away from an extended stay with Kryptonite. We preboarded, with Britt in a wheelchair, and about ten hours and two flights later, we landed in Phoenix. The adventure was almost over.
My in-laws picked Britt up at the curb and took her straight to the hospital for surgery. The kids and I grabbed the luggage and the car. On the way home, I complimented them for their outstanding behavior during the trip from hell. They put up with all the difficulties with little complaining. They took the setbacks in stride. They helped in stressful situations. All of my children are good travelers. Maybe that’s why we all like traveling so much. They said, “It was an adventure, right Dad?”
When I got to the hospital, they were already prepping Britt for surgery. The hospital environment looked like the Ritz compared to what we had experienced in Puerto Rico. Everything was clean and spacious. For the most part it was quiet. (No butterflies on the ceiling) We waited in relative comfort for her turn in surgery. After a couple of setbacks because of other emergencies, it was her turn for the OR. I kissed her before they wheeled her away and then went to the surgery waiting room. It was already 1:30 in the morning. Around 2:30 Devin, my surgeon friend, came out and told me that everything went well. I anxiously waited for them to let me back into the recovery room, knowing that she would want to see me as soon as she opened her eyes. Around 3 am, they let me in. She was groggy and lethargic, but everything had gone well. After a few minutes I kissed her on the forehead one more time, and trudged to the parking lot like the walking dead. By the time I crawled into bed, I had been up over 24 hours, but at least I knew that the vacation from hell was over.
The cricket crawling around in the florescent light above my son’s head attempted to distract me, but I was too focused on the picture of a man that stood before me. He stood tall at the head of a long table in a well-used brown suit. A picture of Christ hung on the wall behind him. Without hesitation or any show of timidity, he reported on his two years of missionary service and explained to fifteen men that represented the local leadership of our church how and why he had served. I wondered what had become of the young boy in a cowboy hat and boots. When did he become a man?
In the South Pacific on the island of Vanuatu, young men still perform a ritual to prove their manhood called land diving. They construct a tower from wooden branches high above the jungle floor and then with carefully measured vines attached to their ankles, they jump. The vines stop their fall to certain death inches above the ground. A young man will start by jumping from the lower portion of the tower, and each year he will climb higher to make the jump. The more courageous ones will eventually make it all the way to the top to prove their manhood. Land diving has been a rite of passage in this island culture for several hundred years.
In our modern society, we have done away with, or replaced, most rites of passage for our young men to prove their manhood. When does a boy become a man any more? When he buys his first car? When he pays off his student loans? When he spends more time working than playing video games? When he drinks his first drink of alcohol or smokes his first cigar? When he joins the military? When he fathers a child? When does a boy become a man?
Two years ago my son Cody left home to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He had lived on his own for over a year already. He had a year of college under his belt, and had been gainfully employed. By many standards, he was a man already. Like the young men on the island of Vanuatu who start by jumping from the lower portions of the wooden tower, he had proven himself capable of accepting and fulfilling basic responsibilities. When he accepted the call to serve as a missionary for two years (without pay), he was embarking on a daring rite of passage.
All worthy young men in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are encouraged to serve a mission, but not everyone chooses to do so. I am not suggesting that a full-time mission is necessary for an LDS boy to become a man. Even the current President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, did not serve a mission. I am suggesting that the process of serving voluntarily as a missionary and humbly submitting to all the strict rules of conduct it entails will bring a noticeable change to any young man’s countenance. If they serve willingly and obediently, they will shed the boyish norms and adopt the more mature conduct fitting of a man of Christ.
If someone has to tell you that they have become a man, then they most certainly have not. The moment I saw Cody walking past the airport security checkpoint as he returned home, I could see the difference. We greeted him with signs and cheers. He displayed the same sense of humor and charm, but he stood taller. He carried himself with more confidence. He paid attention to the needs of others. He was no longer a boy struggling to fill a man’s role. No doubt a great deal of growth still awaited him, but I could see that he had become a man. He didn’t have to tell me.
Which experiences made him a man? Was it keeping a rigid daily schedule without much supervision? Was it speaking with strangers about the passionate topic of religion? Was it doing his own laundry? Could it have been learning to live on a limited budget? Did spending 24/7 with another human being help him polish the rough edges of youth? Which experiences propelled the boy to manhood?
Each of those opportunities to grow was like moving steadily up the land diving tower. Each experience, each trial, each adversity, built his courage; sharpened his abilities; increased his maturity. No single event converted him from boy to man, but the culmination of those experiences helped him shed his selfish boyhood skin and replace it with the callus-covered hide of manhood. Manhood is rarely achieved through one dramatic act, but a culmination of small seemingly mundane acts that build strength of character and beg the boy to become a man.
I’m not sure how many years it takes for a young man in Vanuatu to work his way to the top of the land diving tower and make the leap to manhood, but I am certain that somewhere during the past two years of serving others, my son Cody made the leap from boy to man.
My oldest son, Rian, already made that leap during a similar experience as a missionary. My youngest son, Carson, is looking forward to his own experience.
I first met Steve Stewart at Orson Scott Cards Literary Boot Camp in August of 2009. He struck me as a creative giant. (He is literally like seven feet tall and over 300 pounds.) Over the past few years we have kept up via emails and Facebook cheering on each other's successes, and picking each other up after failures.
Steve recently announced an exciting Kickstarter project called Generation One, a comic book series. He is the lead writer. And so, without any more exaggerated fanfare or silly metaphorical comparisons, I give you an interview with the talented Steve Stewart.
Give the readers a short overview of the project and the necessary websites.
Generation One is a 3-issue limited comic book series that follows the adventures of Picus, the first child born on Mars. In 2051 AD, when a war between the United States and China plunges two peaceful Martian colonies into a miniature cold war, it's up to the first generation of children born on Mars to restore peace to their planet and set a positive example for Earth.
Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of "The Case for Mars" and President of The Mars Society said this about the project: "Someday Mars will have its own Laura Ingalls Wilder to tell the tale of growing up on the new frontier. But with 'Generation One: Children of Mars,' we can experience some of that story now. It's going to be great."
You can find us on Facebook (facebook.com/MarsGenOne), Twitter (twitter.com/MarsGenOne), and Kickstarter (kck.st/13Ke9Rh).
Describe in one sentence what you hope to accomplish with the project.
Our goal is to create a piece of smart, accessible entertainment that encourages young people to think big about humanity's future in space.
Who is your target audience?
Anyone who loves a good story! Age 10 or 100, it doesn't matter. If you're interested in space or science or just have a curious nature, chances are Gen One is for you.
Why Mars? Do you have some sort of obsession with the Red Planet?
Why did humanity come to dominate the globe? Our nature demands we survive, explore, spread out, and further our knowledge as a species. Mars is the next logical step, the first stair in a long climb to the stars. One day, something will happen to Earth, whether in ten years (unlikely) or ten million (very likely). We must, must, must not have all our "eggs in one basket." If we want to survive, we have to think big. We have to strap on our pioneer hats and get to work.
I noticed several members of your team have the same last name. If you are related, what is the relation?
Our artist, Tim Stewart, is my brother. He's been drawing pictures based on my stories since we were kids, and I guess we just never stopped. Lynna Stewart, one of our designers, is my incredible, multi-talented, rock-awesome wife who always supports me in my mad creative endeavors. Writers and artists dream of marrying a girl like her.
If you are related, how does it affect the project? Does that help you understand the relationships that might exist with your characters?
I think being related brings its own advantages and challenges to the table. Frankly, it's a little easier to yell at each other and get heated when things are tough. But on the other hand, there's a bond underneath it all that is stronger than any professional relationship. I think the family dynamic creates a frank, passionate work environment, and our common experiences make it a lot easier to communicate what it is we want from one another. (I dare you to play me in Taboo or Charades when I have one of my brothers on my side.)
Which of the characters is your favorite and why?
That's a tough one, but I might have to go with July. She's an Earth girl who didn't want to come to Mars, was dragged along against her will, and finds herself in the middle of a huge mess with both of humanity's planets depending on her choices. Picus is our main character, but in many ways, July is the catalyst. And being from Earth, she's someone we can relate to. We understand her loneliness, her longing for fresh air and grass and oceans. Through her, we see Mars with fresh eyes--and we learn to appreciate what we have right now, here on Earth.
You mentioned that the story allows Generation One to avoid the same mistakes that we have made on Earth. What types of mistakes?
War. Racism. Allowing differing world views to undermine our common decency as human beings. Wastefulness. Entitled laziness. Cowardice. The list goes on and on, but Gen One is chiefly concerned with war, how it might be avoided, how we might rise above it.
What makes you think that human nature will change on Mars?
It won't. The fact that I'm writing about a potential war on Mars just 20 years into our time there is proof of that. But I'm also convinced that human beings are capable of changing what parts of their nature they prize and act on. That's a matter of changing/reapplying culture and tradition, and there's no "fresh start" quite like moving to a new planet.
I watched a documentary once about a troupe of baboons whose big, dominant, violent males had been killed off by disease, leaving the women and younger males in charge. The result was a complete shift in the culture of that troupe. When big males came in from other troupes and tried to bully and dominate, the newly remade troupe pulled together and, frankly, beat the crap out of them. They refused to stand for the old way. They "leveled up" and formed a more peaceful baboon society. If they can do it, can't we?
If we can't solve our problems on Earth, what makes you think we would be able to solve them on Mars?
We started on Earth with absolutely zero idea what we were doing. Literally none. The Mars colonists would have a lot more to go on as they formed their new society. Science, Earth history, mathematics, ethics, art, culture, the works. Knowledge really is power, and the transfer of knowledge from one person to the next is why we have gotten to the place we're at now, contemplating sending human beings to a new planet! (How exciting is that?!) I think that mechanism—the mechanism of learning and teaching—is cause for hope.
What type of technology are you using to produce the artwork?
Tim uses a Yiynova MSP19U Tablet Monitor and Manga Studio EX 4. He also models certain complex objects (vehicles, buildings, etc.) in 3D rendering software, and uses those computer-generated models as reference while drawing the comic; he frequently takes reference photos for character anatomy as well. Once all that preliminary work is done, he does digital pencils, inks, coloring, and a few effects in Adobe Photoshop. Each page can take him 10-25 hours.
Once Tim is done with the art, he passes it along to Lynna who does the word balloons, lettering, and layout in Adobe InDesign. Josh is frequently involved in the design process as well. It's a crazy intensive process.
You reached your first goal on Kickstarter in about a day. What is your next stretch goal?
It actually took us almost three days (the story grows in the telling, as it should!), but that's still incredibly fast. The euphoria and stress of seeing the numbers climb like that is a little difficult to describe. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life, bar none.
Our next stretch goal is at 30k, and holy crap, I am beyond excited to write this Halloween Bonus issue.
You mentioned a Halloween issue, what do you have in mind for Halloween with Generation One?
Life on Mars won't be all fun and games. The colonists will be living on a largely unexplored, alien planet that "wants" them dead. Looking out the windows and realizing you're alone, millions of miles from Earth, that you can't breathe the air, that no one could come to help you if you needed it—that's inherently scary, and we wanted to touch on that a little bit.
There's also this old lady who lives alone in the oldest capsule on the outskirts of the base. She almost never comes out, and the rumors about her have reached ghost story proportions with the colonists' kids. The Halloween Issue is her story, an exploration of fear and sacrifice on The Red Planet.
I'm not hyperbolizing one bit when I say this is the story I'm most excited to write.
If this succeeds in this beginning phase (and I'm sure it will), whats next? Are you looking to continue it as a regular web comic?
We'll see what happens. Tim and I have always wanted to work in comics, so whether we move on to write for established comic book publishers or try to court distributors for Gen One, it's an exciting time for us. Fingers crossed on all fronts!
Which members of your team would be willing to risk life and limb to go live on Mars? Why?
Not me, that's for sure. I'm too much of an Earth boy, but that doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of thousands (maybe millions!) of people suited to be colonists. I'm just not stable enough to be that kind of pioneer. I can see Rusty doing it, though. ;)
Anything else to add?
I think that pretty well covers it. We'd love it if everyone would swing by the Kickstarter (kck.st/13Ke9Rh) and watch the project video. We put a lot of time and effort into it, and it does a better job of explaining Gen One than I ever could in an interview. If you find yourself inspired by what we're doing, please pledge and share with your friends. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, Brock, and thank you everyone for your time and interest. Now let's go make a comic. :)
Racism is ugly and wrong. This may seem inherently obvious to most people, but I have sadly discovered that the obvious isn’t always so obviously understood, and common sense is not so common.
Recently a young man in a university dormitory had an altercation with another student over misuse of the common area. John (not his real name) was awakened in the middle of the night by loud noises in the common kitchen next door, an area that was off limits after eleven pm. Annoyed by the late-night revelers, he got out of bed and stormed to the kitchen. He scolded the rule breakers for being in the kitchen after hours and pointed to the sign that stated the hourly restrictions. One of the noise offenders, we’ll call him Bill, got angry and defiant. Bill told John to get lost. They could do whatever they wanted because John wasn’t a Resident Assistant. John shook his head and disengaged, returning to his dorm room in hopes of getting back to sleep. Bill followed, and pounded on John’s door taunting him to come out and settle things man-to-man. John put in his earbuds and ignored him.
Two days later Bill saw John sitting alone at breakfast and approached him. Instead of an apology, Bill threatened John and told him that if he ever did anything like that again his parents might have to come get him and take him home, and they might not recognize his face. John again ignored the threats, but he didn’t remain passive.
John complained to the university authorities. They called him in for an interview. When John walked into the office, they noticed that his skin color and features were different than most of the students on campus. Instead of discussing how to keep John safe, they lectured him on cultural differences. Instead of discussing the behavior of the threatening student, they told John to be more aware that he was different and should be more tolerant.
Racism begins the moment we stop treating a person as an individual and begin treating them as part of a group. The individual loses their identity and becomes an impersonal member of a crowd, culture, or race. This shift in focus then allows us to demonize them, make them less than human, and rationalize our own bad behavior as acceptable. It keeps us from basing our judgment on their behavior. Sadly, this way of thinking is common practice.
It takes a great deal of introspection to break ourselves of this habit. If we want to stop our own racist behavior, we must start at the moment we begin to classify someone as part of a group. We must not pigeonhole the individual and lump them together with any particular tribe so that we feel justified in then treating them differently. We must strive to maintain the individuality of each person we meet. If we succeed at that, we succeed in judging each person on their individual merits and their individual behavior. We no longer see black, white, brown, yellow, or anything in between. We see a person, another human being.
Strangely enough, if you succeed at maintaining the individuality of the person, you can then recognize their differences without passing judgment. You begin to see their individual features, their individual personality, and their individual humanity. You will be able to pick them out of a crowd, because you recognize their differences.
With the polar opposite ways the media handled the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and the recent beating of the white thirteen-year old on the bus, understanding, and stopping, racism has become more difficult. In the Trayvon Martin case, the media doctored the 9/11 calls to make George Zimmerman sound racist. The media referred to Zimmerman as “White Hispanic” in an effort to polarize and foment hate and improve their ratings. Yet, when three black boys beat the thirteen-year old white student, several media outlets blurred the victim so that his race could not be determined. The bus driver, worried about getting in trouble, stood by and watched it happen.
I was running on the treadmill the first time I saw the attack on the thirteen-year old student. I couldn’t tell the race of the victim. I didn’t care about the race of the perpetrators. My reaction was visceral. I got angry. I ran faster. I could taste metal in my mouth. I just wanted to stop it. My reaction was based on their behavior.
What difference does the race of the perpetrators or the victim make? If it makes a difference to you, then you have ceased to think of them as individuals and begun to classify them as part of a group – the first step to racism. The punks beating up the boy on the bus were wrong and needed to be stopped. If you cared about the race of the attackers on the bus, or the race of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, then you have allowed racism to cloud your judgment. You have stopped judging people on their individual behavior and started to judge them based on their race – the definition of racism.
So, are you still wondering about the race of the threatened young man in the university dorm incident or the threatening student? I’m not going to tell you, because it doesn’t matter. One student threatened another with violence, and the first reaction by the university was inappropriate – period. Fortunately, the university did the right thing and called in the threatening student for counseling. They punished him based on his behavior. John, the threatened student, was satisfied that justice was done, and that he would be safe from harm, but he still wonders how his skin color, or culture, had anything to do with the incident.