Wednesday, April 27, 2011

21 Guns and One Step Closer

I attended the funeral of my Grandfather today.  Raymond V. Albain.  A carpenter, an artist really.  A WWII veteran, a man who liberated concentration camps and saw the horrible realities of war that no one talks about, that he wouldn't even talk about with us- his family.  Today though, I saw him for the first time as a man with a story, and not just a superficial family figure in my life.

I want to preface this post by saying this isn't a plea for sympathy.  Today wasn't a loss, rather, a gain.  I gained a whole new sense of perspective and love for my family.  I contemplated writing about this at all, because I didn't want it to turn into an emo/angsty post about death and life and sorrow, and I don't want to betray the privacy of my family.   I can't help myself from sharing today's journey, though,  because I realized so many things about the meaning of what we've come from, and the reality of the limited perspective that we are living our days through.

Driving from the airport to Monroe, MI was a montage of flashbacks.  I realized how strong my childhood memories were of visiting my grandparents.  I remembered the curves of the roads.  The huge bump over the train tracks that always gave me a thrill as a kid... a "rollercoaster", I used to say.  I remember how proud I used to be when we would turn onto Albain Road... because that was our road.  My family had a road named after them, and that had to mean something.

Arriving at my Grandparent's house I realized I hadn't been there in probably 2-3 years.  I couldn't help but feel some severe guilt over that.  Walking in, nothing had changed.  Photos covered the walls.  My parents wedding photo.  My aunts, cousins, my family... whom I realized today I take for granted, which needs to change.  My grandparents had always felt like somewhat distant figures in my life.  We saw them as frequently as we could, and we'd get a card or check on birthdays and holidays.  They weren't people who showered emotion and affection on us in the way that we so often translate love to be.  I became aware today how I received that to mean a lack of caring.  Yet, I was struck today with the photos that covered their house.  Those photos have always been there, and in the past I had taken them at face value.  That was their expression of love, though.  How clearly I came to see today that of course these people cared... they had covered their house in photos of the family they had made.  A testament of the life they had created.

My Grandfather had a detached garage and "shop" in their backyard.  When I was young I remember him spending most of his time out there; fiddling with wood, making little projects and creations.  He had become known for his artistry in woodworking.  I hadn't stepped foot into that garage in well over 10 years.  Walking in the first thing I saw was the small, blue tractor that my Grandfather used to let us ride around the yard.  My first taste of driving, something that I would come to love so much and it was present even in my youth.  I laughed recalling the day that he let me move from "turtle" speed to "rabbit" speed.  That difference of 2 MPH to 4MPH felt like such huge freedom and responsibility.

His "shop" was timeless... preserved exactly as it had been all the years that I remember him moving around in there.  He was funny, I realized.  He had little joke creations, funny signs, and even a pin-up calender.  In the midst of all the rick-rack remnants of his life and work was something I'd never seen.  On the wall, in plain view where he would have looked at it ever day, was a handwritten list of each of us and our birthdays.  There I was.  Julia- Dec 4th, 1986.  I had been something to him.  He had looked at my name every day, his Granddaughter.  I don't know if I can recall him ever saying "I Love You" to me, but all those unspoken words were redeemed in seeing my name on that list in his sacred space.

As the day and the ceremonies wore on, the pieces of his life and story came together clearer and clearer.    I saw pictures of his parents, my Great-Grandparents... and they were stunning.  My Great-Grandmother Sadie Bissonett was absolutely gorgeous.  Simply beautiful, truly.  I stared at this photo of a captivating and mysterious woman and couldn't believe that this woman was my family... I was a part of her.

I watched my Grandmother have a tender moment over her husband, saying her goodbyes.  Possibly the only tender moment I'd ever watched between them.  I realized that my understanding of love, and what people share, is limited and shallow.  I have no idea what these two people shared.  64 years of marriage is something miraculous, to say the least.  I may have never seen them kiss, but I have no idea what was truly moving between them.  My idea of love is limited and superficial.  My perspective of when and how much people care for me is limited to my selfish understanding of what I think I should be receiving.  I could have gained so much more joy from so many situations if I had been open to the idea that people love me, even when they don't express it in the ways I expect or understand.

In honor of my Grandfather's service in WWII there was a military greeting and presence at the graveyard.  I experienced a 21 Gun Salute and serenading Taps to send him off.  It gave me chills, to say the least.  This man had been a great man.  People around the town put their flags at half-mast for him.  Veterans showed up to honor him.  A flag was folded and empty casings gathered to be left with us, his family.  And in that, I saw how family... people... they are meant to be our top priority.

Just as quickly as I arrived, I had to leave again.  And I questioned the whole car ride back to the airport whether I was lining up my priorities right.  Why had I not been to see my grandparents for a couple years?  Why was my life situated in a way that forced me to rush out of funerals and fling quick goodbyes at the people who literally share my blood?

In the past few hours I've developed this obsession with the idea of tracing my family lineage, on both sides.  Of learning the stories of the people that are my flesh and blood.  I talk so often about moving forward, but perhaps part of that is digging into the past.  I crave forward motion and journeying and adventure... but it became more evident than ever today that the adventures and journeys will only mean something when they are entrenched in the people you love and who love you.   Family. Friends. People.  These should be the priorities.  More important than anything else.  Shape your life around that, rather than vice versa.  I almost didn't go to Michigan today.  I almost said that it was too stressful, I was too busy, the timing was just bad.  I would have missed some life-changing moments if I had not gone.

So yes, in this "journey" toward "home" I feel one giant leap closer today.  I was given a hint of how embedded I am in an intricate story of family lines, family love, and so many things that I have yet to know or understand.

It struck me on the plane ride back to Chicago that, in reference to my last post, perhaps I had been my Grandfather's dream.  While he faced darker things serving our country, perhaps he had dreamed of a home and children and, one day, grandchildren.  And I was one of them.  The family that gathered today was his dream.

I may have been one of his dreams.  And their are people yet to be born, and yet to be encountered that are my dreams.  And I feel so much closer to understanding what this sense of "home" might mean.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Were Someone's Dream

So I'm unabashedly inspired by the show "Parenthood".  It's a simple show.  There is some drama, and some mundanity.... but it's a show of a family, an extended and sometimes complicated family, making it work.

I watched an episode tonight where a Grandfather spoke candidly to his Grandaughter: "I dreamed of my grandchildren.  I dreamed of you.  You have no right to mess with my dreams."

He was speaking to her regarding her life choices, etc... but the moment hit me so directly.  We were and are someone's dream.  What if every person knew and believed that?

One of the most powerful things ever spoken to me came from my Father.  He once told me that my Mother was one of the happiest women in the world when she was pregnant.  I was her dream.  I grew up knowing and believing that, and I think it shaped me to be the person I am today.

I know that not everyone reading this will have the same sense of wanted-ness.  I am truly lucky.  But I can't stop myself from believing that each and every one of us is someone's dream.  We are intended for people, for influence.  Someone dreamed YOU into existence... how powerful is that?

A dear friend said to me today "Man, Julia... you'll never change.  You will always love everything X 100."  It's just true.  I can't hide from it.  I have tried at different times to be more sarcastic, more cynical, but why?  Why try to be anything that you are not?  I can't pretend that I don't get giddy over the amazing people and phenomenal experiences of my life.  My heart is my Rockstar.  My people love me for my heart, and I deserve that... and you do too.

I was and am someone's dream.  As are you.  If we all walked with that, with the idea that maybe someone somewhere had wished and prayed and dreamed us into existance; maybe we'd all be better off.

I love the changing of seasons.  I love people in general.  I love families of all kinds.  I love getting close to people, the comfort of knowing their little secrets... and them knowing mine.  I love laughter and dancing and music and the amazing feeling of creating something massive out of the efforts of many.  I love cheesy inspirational quotes, and I love making people feel better.  I love making people laugh when they are sad.  I love laughing in general.  I love being teased, because I think it means you truly love and respect me.  I love this life.  I love the surprises.  I love it all.

Home is where the heart is?  So find your heart and speak your truth.  I own the fact that this all sounds cheesy and cliche... but it feels true to me.  I can be sarcastic, I'll roll with just about anything.  I love you regardless of your style, because I assume you'll love me for mine.

So sincerely... can you believe that you were someone's dream?  Because I think we'd all be better off and better serving if we felt that.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If We Knew the End...

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately.  If we knew the places our life was going to take us, maybe we would calm the f*** down.  Seriously, are your shoulders at your ears right now? What the hell is worth that?! Honestly... what are you worried about?  What if we knew all the wonderful things that were headed to us... would we relax more?  If someone told you that you were promised greatness, success at the greatest level, infinite laughter and joy, and unconditional love... would you relax a little?

I spent a year in NYC where I was constantly worried about what I was doing with my life, what I was accomplishing.  If in the midst of that year, I had been told that within a considerably short amount of time I would be back on track and achieving things that rocked my world... would I have lived differently?  Hell yes.   If you had told me that my year in NYC would just be a stop-off, temporary resting place, a vacation... really-  I would have freaking Lived. It. Up.  And I did live it up, but I didn't even appreciate that.  If I'd known the ending, I would have enjoyed the ride more.

Lets throw it down:  I had a leaky ceiling, a mouse, an air mattress that deflated, a job I hated, and a loss of direction.  I laughed so much, though.  I learned to have the best sense of humor in the world.  You think those things didn't shock the hell out of me?  Those surprises were God's greatest jokes on me... and I had to laugh back.  IT'S NOT THAT SERIOUS, when it comes right down to it.  I'm fine, yes?  I survived?  Made good out of bad?  Had some amazing times, met great people, lived this amazing year in NYC where I was free as could be and did whatever I wanted to do.  I don't want to have the same struggles that I had in that year over an over again, but I really hope that wasn't the greatest adventure of my life... I've got way too much left in me.  I've lived a dozen mini adventures since then, even.  It's never ending.

Maybe being at "Home" is enjoying this cluster-mess of a ride.  Not knowing where I'm heading but knowing what, in essence, I want this life to be.  Living for the surprises.  Demanding the surprises, even.

God knows nothing in my life has been what I thought it would be.... but it's always been better.  Why I don't demand more of that, is still a mystery to me.  Why wouldn't I demand to be surprised, to have my expectations exceeded constantly?  Screw it, show me what ya' working with!  Blow me away.

Don't settle for the things you expect.  Expect the things that your soul wants to demand, but thinks are too impossible.  I want to live in the realm of the impossible.  You know what, I think coming Home is living in the realm of the impossible.

I have approx. 1 million adventures left in me.  I have the dream of a bar I want to open.  Kids I want to mentor.  Countries I want to visit.  There is an epic cross-country road trip brewing in my blood.  There are insane love stories yet to be lived, friends yet to be met, art yet to be made, and greater versions of myself yet to be met.  None of it is "probable" but it's all possible.

Leaving safe territory, leaving those "Homes" you've clung to are the best steps toward finding the truest home you'll ever find.  I say this all, by the way, from no place of actual knowing.  I'm not there yet, but damn I love this life.  I love discovering it, being surprised, being disappointed even... so that I know that there is something better for me.  Damn, I love this life.  I love this journey... it's way too much fun when you let it be what it's going to be.  When you let it surprise you.

As I've always said; laugh often, and at all things, and always at yourself.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It Was a 'You' Kind of Day

Those words were uttered to me across telephone lines today and they stopped me in my tracks (but then a lady bumped into me because it was a busy street so I had to keep moving.)  Regardless, there are certain people that can strike a chord in you no matter what.  The friends that hold the memories of the freshest, most original version of you.  Not the wisest, not necessarily the best version of you... but the version that was fresh and whole and untouched by life.  The version that didn't have to fight cynicism and fear, because everything was still so new and perfect.

"I just had to call you because it's a beautiful day and I went to the farmer's market, and now I'm sitting in my car eating fresh raspberries and driving through back roads to get lost... and it just felt like a 'you' kind of day.  This was the kind of day I would have spent with you."

Bam.  I was there.  Those later years of High School when my friends let me drag them to watch the sunrise at 5am because why not.  The ones who teased me, but secretly loved that I was fascinated by the stars and the moon, and captivated by the various faces and walks of life that we'd encounter at the farmer's market.

I have a memory of "Home" in that.  To have a reminder of that time in my life was a phenomenal and timely blessing... because it was a memory of a 'me' that was yet untouched.

The funny thing is, I have journeyed far from that time and place, and far from that girl.  Yet, now I see how I am journeying back.  I have tried cynicism.  I have tried playing the jaded card.  I have tried being undone by this world... and it simply doesn't feel right.

As Sarah Kay said in the video I included in my last post, life will hit you hard, wait for you to get back up, and hit you again.  And perhaps you will curl inward for awhile, begging for a moment of grace... begging for a breath to take.  What if we took that breath, and then flung our arms wide begging for more?  What if we chose to never forget how inspired and awestruck we were before the blows?  To carry that with us, no matter what rained down?

I don't know what the moment will be when I say "Aha! This is Home."  I don't know when the moment will be that this project suddenly becomes obsolete.  I do have a sense though, that it will have something to do with returning to the girl who was all-loving and all-trusting.  Who was unashamed to be inspired and inspiring.  Who forced people to watch the sunrise with her.  Who begged to lie under the stars on warm nights.  Who stole daffodils and danced in the streets and insisted that life was this incredible, beautiful gift that couldn't be wasted... not for a moment.

"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.  I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself."  -Maya Angelou

Credit goes to the beautiful Ms Ashley for sharing this quote (and her journey) with me... and reminding me that we are all connected and influencing each other whether we know it or not.  We owe it to ourselves and others, then, to be the best version of ourselves we can be.

Subscribe to Ashley's wonderful blog @

Friday, April 1, 2011

Born to Run

Once again, I've been neglectful of this project... and I think it is not because I'm busy, or because I'm uninspired.  I think there is actually a little fear.

The thing about exploring the meaning of Home, about searching to find your own rootedness is that you will inevitably stir up some stuff that you've avoided or ignored altogether.  In reading all your contributions (and thank you!), I found myself remembering feelings and heartaches that I'd put to rest long ago.  Nothing extravagant or dramatic.  Simple heartaches.  We've all had them.  They are actually quite beautiful within the arc of a life, but not less difficult to deal with at times.

I've come to know this little part of myself that is contradictory to the rest of my nature, that is unexpected, and that cries out at very unexpected times:  there is a small but mighty part of me that has the instinct to run.  Flee.  Simply leave, before I can be the one left behind.

In shifting seasons of my life it rears up most powerful.  Times when I am transitioning into new understandings of myself, of the people around me, of the work I want to do- in these seasons I get an undeniable urge to run.  And it shocks me still, though I've experienced it many times (and acted on it a few).  As a person who craves people and families and communities... a person who craves Homes... I have this strange but powerful urge to escape from these things, just when the getting could be good.

I believe it is a self-preservation thing.  We start out life with our hands spread wide, and our eyes big toward the sky and the world before us.  Everything is amazing... nothing could be bad.  We fling our arms wide to catch all the treasures and moments and beauty that we expect will rain down on us, but we inevitably catch a little hurt and heartache along the way.  So over time we start to bring our arms in closer and closer until we create a shield in front of ourselves, protecting ourselves from the pains... but also blotting out the beauty.  The urge that rises up in me to flee is the same as pulling my arms abruptly in to shield myself from the prospective hurt.  I'll leave first, before I am left.  Before I am hurt.  Before things go bad.  Run now, while the memories are still good.

I don't want to be that person, though.  I want to be the girl who spends her entire life wide-eyed and wondering.  I want to walk through my days with my arms stretched out before me, palms up to the sky ready to catch whatever rains down.  I don't want to run every time something starts to get good, just because I'm afraid that they won't get better.  I want to be the person that expects that the good will get better.  That yes, the bad will come... but I can make it through.  That life could possibly be easier if I shielded myself... but how much would I miss?  If I only get to do this once, I want to do it right, and fully.

So in this journey Home, I suppose there is an element of being willing to commit to digging in.  Committing to building your Home.  Committing to root.

The grandest, most impressive and influencing trees do not spread wide because they revolt from the ground.  Rather, the deeper their roots, the farther their reach.

A video to sum up these thoughts: