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Thoughts on the day

There’s a television show that I used to watch called Third Watch. It was about NYPD and FDNY personnel who worked the third shift. It was an amazing show. It was shot on location in NYC, some of the background actors were real firefighters, and the writing was amazing. The third season of the show was slated to air in the fall of 2001. After some delay, they began airing in October of 2001, but they began with a special episode called ‘In Their Own Words.’ The episode won awards and remains, for me, one of the best media showcases on September 11th, 2001. That being said, I’m sure it can be found on YouTube, even though it only aired twice. If you’d prefer watching that as opposed to reading my ramblings, that’s okay with me.

For this post, I’m not going to rehash my experiences on the day as a seventh grader. Instead, I’m going to post recent thoughts. Thoughts I’ve gained as a teacher taking students to the Pentagon and NYC memorials. Thoughts about having to explain that day to kids too young to remember and some who were not even born yet. And my own thoughts on it all.

I haven’t gone to the museum in New York. I could have this summer, I was there and it was open. But I didn’t. I don’t know if I want to. But I have been to the memorial.

Over the months, I got to see the World Trade Center site transform. Each week with students something would be new or changed slightly. My main thought each week was how quiet the students were. There were times when I was nervous about taking some kids to the memorial. I thought they would be too disrespectful. Time and again I had to lecture them throughout the week about respect at memorials in DC. However, when they time came, they were fine. It was the one memorial they visited that actually commanded their respect and silence without prompting. It was also the only time other than once at the Holocaust museum that I had a student in tears.

This past summer, I got to visit with my sister. First, it was weird to enter with no ticket, nor a journey through security. What always strikes me first, though, is the noise of the water. How it drowns out the sound of the city. How it feels intimate, even though you’re surrounding by hundreds of other people and a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan. Whenever I go, though, I’m drawn to the panel with the names of the victims at the Pentagon, because those are the stories I know best.

The first time I saw the Pentagon memorial, I cried. Almost every time I went I wanted to cry. I’m just one of those people who cries easily and often. Anyway, I could sit here and type story after story of the Pentagon victims, but I won’t. Those are all elsewhere, written by people who knew them, not stories paraphrased by me. I will write, though, about the memorial. I love the layout of the Pentagon memorial. Every person has a bench, and the benches are laid out by the birth year of the person. With the youngest close to the entrance to the oldest at the end. At first I didn’t understand why they were called benches. It seemed disrespectful to sit on them, so we always told the students not to. I got the reason why on Memorial Day of 2013. My sister was visiting, and she had never seen the memorial, so we went. While there, we noticed a woman sitting on one of the benches. Family often visits the site and you could tell in an instant she was the mother of the individual remembered. While sitting on the bench, her hand was at the perfect height to touch the inscription of her loved one’s name. She was crying. After realizing what we were seeing, I, of course, was crying. My sister was crying as well. We moved on through the memorial. It seemed disrespectful to intrude on this woman’s moment anymore than we already had.

I’m going to end with a story I often told my students. A story about a few of the Pentagon victims. Like I said, the memorial is laid out in birth years of the victims, and there are only a few children represented. I told my students the story of three kids about their age. Three sixth graders from the DC Public schools who had won a trip to California to attend a National Geographic conference. Three kids who maybe had never flown before, or been outside of the DC area. Imagine how excited they must have been. And imagine what their futures could have looked like. Would they have gone to college? Gotten married? Had kids? The question that always stuck in my mind, being only a year older was: Would I have known them? Could they have been my co-worker?

I think that’s what haunts everyone about that day. About every tragedy. The might have been. The what ifs that you can’t get out of your brain. But it’s impossible to live weighed down by those thoughts. It’s like I read once in a book about WWII, when a soldier wrote to his girl back home, “If I die in this war, don’t make it two lives lost.” Saying that she had to move on. To continue living and laughing and loving. For all of those who cannot.


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Gotta get out of this place!

I’m beginning to think that I have wanderlust.

Or I’ve just fallen out of love with Washington DC.

I randomly have next week off of work, and I’m coming up with any and all plans to vacate the DC area. My current plan is to head home and cash in on my parents’ hospitality for the week. Curiously, though, I don’t think I miss home. It’s simply a convenient place to go to. I think it’s that I cannot handle a week without anything to do in this city. I don’t want to spend five days in my bedroom watching Netflix. However, I’ve exhausted the Smithsonians and it won’t be nice enough outside to just hang out on the mall with a book.

This feeling goes bigger than just next week, though. I’ve been applying to Grad schools for next fall and I find myself thrilled to leave DC. There are parts of living here that I still love; such as living history and walking around Old Town when it is nice outside. Lately, though, the negatives have begun to outweigh that. It’s expensive to live here. Not just rent, but everything. My closest grocery option is Whole Foods and my professional clothing store options are Macy’s and J.Crew. Not that I dislike J. Crew, but I need to be able to afford my fancy, GMO free whole food. There’s also no close nature here. I grew up on five acres and down the street from a state park and Lake Michigan; I need trees and open water. The Potomac doesn’t cut it; you can always hear and see planes going to and coming from Reagan airport. There’s always Rock Creek park, but it’s pretty far away from me.

I don’t know, I just feel this need to leave. To get out. To buy a car and start driving. It’s like I’ve been here to long and I want something different.

Who knows. Maybe all I need is next week, and I’ll be fine.

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Losing touch, but never forgetting

My junior year of high school, I had two internships. I was interested in going into journalism at the time, so during the fall semester I was placed at a local weekly newspaper. For the spring semester, I went to a public radio station: Blue Lake Public Radio.

Blue Lake played classical music and was on the campus of Blue Lake Fine Arts camp, which I had attended as a 7th grader. I was a band nerd, being a member of my high school marching band, wind ensemble and the county wide youth symphony. Blue Lake was (is) my dad’s favorite radio station. So I was very familiar with the station and the music they played. What I had no experience in was radio broadcasting or working in an office.

When I was at the newspaper, everyone worked fairly independently. As long as I got my work done correctly and on time, my supervisor never really said much to me. Blue Lake was very different. I knew this from the time of my interview. I went dressed as a 16 year old thinks they should dress for an interview. My soon-to-be supervisor was in faded jeans, sneakers and an old University of Florida sweatshirt. After the interview, he said that I was dressed nicely, but that I didn’t need to dress that well to work in a radio station.

What followed was the best semester I’ve ever had. There were only about a half dozen people employed at the station, so I got to know everyone very well. I learned a lot, and enjoyed the steep learning curve that came along with the knowledge. I became the go-to person to unjam the printer/copier that was older than me. I fed the stray cat, Micetro, who would wander around the building, earning himself a name and a food dish. Mostly, I was able to learn about how an office works and how co-workers can become like family.

It has now been six years since I walked the halls of Blue Lake Public Radio. I still listen, and smile when I think of the behind the scenes shenanigans of the announcers. How Steve is probably still cursing and shoving broken printers off his desk. How everyone sleeps little and lives in the station during the bi-annual pledge drives. Mostly, I think of everything I learned about being in a work setting and how I grew as a person while I was there. I ended up not going into journalism, but some lessons transcend the field you work in.

Most of those lessons were given to me by my supervisor, Gordon, who wore that Florida sweatshirt often. During my internship, I had a tendency to show up on time and start my work without talking to anyone. Gordon informed me that while my work ethic was good, how was he supposed to know it was when he didn’t know I was there. So I started talking more, interacting with everyone and still getting my work done. Gordon also told me that everyone thought I was quiet, shy and were surprised when I talked and showed myself to be funny and intelligent. So I came out of my shell, adding my two cents and making jokes during meetings I got to go to. Those are just a few of the dozens of little things Gordon taught me that changed who I am. Over the years, I lost contact with everyone at Blue Lake, but I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

A short time ago, Gordon died at age 52. Even though I had not spoken to him in many years, I was still hit by the loss of my old mentor. He was gone too young and I wish he was still around, for his family and for the people he had not yet mentored through a high school internship. I will never forget what he taught me and the fun I had during that semester. For all I learned and grew, I will be forever grateful to the man in the old Florida sweatshirt

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Life in Washington DC

Living in Washington DC is strange sometimes. My hometown is a mix of urban/rural. The city proper is several miles away across the river. However, Muskegon is not large enough to have a reliable bus system. It does have a theater, symphony and minor league hockey team. I grew up on the outskirts; not in a suburb, though. I guess you could say it’s suburban rural. My parents’ house is on five acres of land, but we have neighbors right next door to that land.

What I’m trying to say is that sometimes DC feels like another country. The public transportation system still amazes me and I’ve been here for a few months now. The people are different, the culture is different and that allows for interesting things to happen. Here are some of the things that I feel are unique to DC.

1. Everyone seems to be doing important things. One day a week I spend time on Capitol Hill. Everybody on the Hill is in a hurry to get somewhere. This past Wednesday, I decided to join in. I was late to a meeting. I was going to be on time, but I got stuck across the street from the building when the Presidential motorcade shut down the road. When the road was accessible again, I decided to run to the front door of Rayburn. Thus making myself seem more important to those around me.

2. Sometimes your day is interrupted by the Presidential motorcade.

3. The bus that runs from the metro to my apartment uses the Pentagon metro/bus station. It’s the bus bay for seemingly all of Arlington county. However, tourists don’t know this. Occasionally, to feel important again, I like to watch the tourists stare when I get off the metro at the Pentagon. My thoughts often are like this: “That’s right, citizen, I am off to protect our nation. Carry on to the Smithsonian museums.”

4. Tourists are everywhere. I thought I was used to tourists growing up in a beach town on Lake Michigan. I was wrong. They’re everywhere in DC, often speaking non-english languages and always confused by the metro system.

5. Museums are everywhere. It goes beyond the Smithsonian museums, which are numerous. DC has the Newseum, the Spy museum, the Crime and Punishment museum, the Postal museum, the African American Civil War Museum. Frankly, if enough artifacts can be cobbled together about a topic, it probably has a museum in DC.

6. Joggers are everywhere. Everyone seems to run in this damn town. Especially if the weather is nice after days of rain/snow. The joggers are like animals returning for the spring. One day there are no birds and the next day the return en masse.

I’m sure more things will strike me as interesting/odd/irritating the longer that I live in DC. I’ll be sure to post them as I observe in the future.

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Be Kind to Tourists

I recently moved to the Washington DC area for a job. I’ve been in town for about two months now. That’s apparently long enough to look like a local and not a tourist. I know this because I have been asked to help people around town.

The first time was helping a couple of German tourists figure out how much money to put on their metro card based on where they were going. The second time was to help someone figure out which train to take on the metro. Once I got asked for directions on the street to a Smithsonian.

Most other times have been like this. It’s probably happened about a dozen times now. I guess I just look friendly and helpful.

Anyway, last Monday was Inauguration Day. I planned on meeting a coworker to watch the parade. I figured that I would be so far back on the National Mall that going to the Inauguration itself wouldn’t be as fun. The ceremonies started at 11:30am and the parade started at 2:35pm. I got on the metro at about 10am, thinking I would get to the parade early so that I could actually see things. I was happily riding along, when a man asked me how to get from the yellow line (which we were on) to the red line. I explained which station he could transfer at and said that I was getting off at that stop and could point him in the right direction. He asked if I was going to the ceremonies and I replied that I was going to the parade. He asked why not the Inauguration itself and I explained that I would be near the Washington Monument watching a jumbotron, so I was going to the parade instead. He then asked if I would go to the Inauguration if I could be closer to the Capitol Building. I said yes. He then proceeded to explain that he was part of the Presidential Press Corps and pulled tickets out of his pocket.

Then he gave me one. Suddenly I had the opportunity to be right near the Capitol Reflecting Pool.


We got off the train and walked to the red line, chatting on the way. As I got off a stop before him I thanked him profusely; he gave me his business card and asked that I email him my experiences during the day. I said that I would and we parted ways, since his ticket was for a closer seat.

When I got home I google searched him. His facebook appeared and the cover picture was of him shaking hands with President Obama. He writes for Pacific Times and is the President of a College in California. His name is Dr. Hong Beom Rhee is you want to look him up as well.

The next day, I was asked for directions on the metro by a different tourist. Alas, this one didn’t give me any free stuff. However, the moral of the story is to always help tourists. You never know who you might meet.

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Thinking about not thinking (Originally written July 2012)

Saturday was not a stellar day for me. If I’m honest, the past week or so has not been stellar for me. My main problem stems from the fact that I am closing a chapter in my life before I open the next one. It’s terrifying, frankly, and people constantly questioning my next chapter is not helping. For the most part, I understand everyone’s concern. I appreciate that they care about me enough to be concerned. However, I wish that they would trust that I know what I’m doing, even though I do not have a set plan. If I’m not worried about my life and future, why should they?

Anyway, to Saturday. For the most part, it was a dull, normal Saturday. I woke up, spoke to my sister on the phone, went shopping with my parents and bought my first sewing machine. We hurried home to try and swim before my parents left to go see a play that night. When we got home, though, a massive fight broke out. Like any normal family, we have our disagreements and arguments. This was a nuclear disaster by comparison. For some reason, even though I despise confrontation, I got involved as the fight escalated. Once I removed myself from the situation, even though the fight continued, I realized that I was shaking with adrenaline and crying for unknown reasons. At that point, I really did not know what to do with myself. I wanted to leave, to escape, to be away from the conflict that was causing me stress even though I was not involved.

Eventually, things calmed down somewhat and my parents went to their play. I left my Grandma home alone to go for a walk. Like everyone in Muskegon, going for a walk means that I ended up at the beach. As I got out of my car, I noticed a coal barge heading towards the channel. Now, I don’t know if you live on a lake in a port city, so I will tell you that two things bring people to the lake/channel more than others: storms and big boats. I hiked up into the dunes and trudged my way from the beach to the channel, which is no short walk. I even passed a couple making out in the dunes.

Once at the channel, I climbed over the railing and scrambled down the rocks to sit about a foot above the waterline. Then I waited. I watched people on the other side of the channel and boats as they passed my spot on the rocks. Soon enough, the coal barge came through. It was at this point that something amazing happened. I stopped thinking. I was watching the coal ship, Lewis J. Kuber, steam pass where I was sitting. I realized afterward that this was all I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about the earlier fight or stressing about my job and future.

It was wonderful.

Words cannot describe how I felt afterwards; realizing that I was existing purely in the moment. Breathing. Living. Being.

I hope it happens to me more in the future.

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My sister’s boyfriend’s mom made me cry hysterically once.

We were moving my sister and her boyfriend from one apartment to another in Madison. I had just finished my 2nd year in college. I was talking about how I hadn’t imbibed alcohol at school. Mostly because I was only 20. Boyfriend’s mom decided that I was lying, and told my parents as such. I got so worked up defending myself against her that I was sobbing to my parents that I did not participate in illegal activities.

I was telling the truth. Most people don’t believe me when I say that I only drank underage once and I wasn’t at college. The idea that I did not go to parties, get drunk every weekend, even once I was 21, baffles people.

Maybe I am simply a boring person, who knows. I know that before I was 21 the fact that drinking was illegal stopped me. I did not want to risk getting caught and receiving a MIP. I was going into criminal justice; I wanted a clean record. As a side note, I have only been pulled over for speeding once and did not get a ticket. Anyway, I wanted to remember what I did at school. I also didn’t want to be the person that dangerously passed out or embarrassingly threw up at the end of the night.

What really boggles my mind, though, are people who drink and drive. A person must be extremely selfish, in my mind, to drive while intoxicated. How can you care so little about the rest of humanity that you would endanger them? I hold the same view about speeding, actually. That is a lot of why I don’t do those things. With drunk driving, though, it is a little different. My reasons do not stem from any personal experience of an accident or even the death of someone close to me. My reason to never drive drunk has to do with my internship at the Kent County Courthouse within the Victim/Witness Unit.

Once a month, there is a Victim Impact Panel that people are sentenced to attend. It’s a relatively new sentence and the aim is to trigger the criminal’s empathy and guilt about their actions. Since it was just down the hall, I went to one last year. The room was full of all sorts of people, since drunk driving is one crime that doesn’t have a “type.” I sat in the back, perched on a table next to my supervisor. She introduced me to the woman speaking and we chatted a bit before she spoke. What she spoke about is why I will never drink and drive. Her teenage son was killed in an alcohol related accident. He was riding back home with his sister’s fiance, who was drunk. The guy missed a curve in the road, continued straight, hit an embankment and rolled the vehicle. The teenager was thrown from the car and killed instantly. However, the woman’s next sentence will stick with me forever. With tears in her eyes she said that she wondered how the police knew he died instantly. “What if there was a minute, a few seconds, before he died? What if he died alone and scared in a muddy field?” I was crying in the back of that room. I don’t know if the panel had the impact it was supposed to on the criminals, but it affected me. I vow to never drink and drive. I never want to be the cause of that much pain in another human being.

I’m not trying to be sanctimonious about this topic. I just think that if people stopped to contemplate their actions, maybe more people would be like me. Maybe we’ll get to the day when not drinking at college isn’t met by disbelief.

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