Category Archives: family

Things _about_ my family.

Regarding Mom

One of the last pictures of us together, just before I left for my mission.

One of the last pictures of my mom and me together, just before I left for my mission.

As today marks the twelfth anniversary of her suicide, my mom is in my thoughts. After all these years I still struggle to make sense of her memory. I see it all from the child’s perspective I had when I knew her, and from that point of view she was a paradox: somebody immensely kind and yet overwhelmingly needy; someone I was supposed to turn to for stability, but who was in reality a source of great instability. In early years she was a “home base” to which we children could turn for safety; in later years, she was herself like a child, seeking help and safety from us. Throw on top of this conflicted legacy the fact that I see much of herself in me—the anxious temperament and extreme sensitivity especially—and you can imagine why twelve years on I still feel unresolved about my mother.

I’m going to publish two posts regarding Mom that will touch on her dual natures as needy and gentle, bitter and loving. The first is a poetic reflection on her death twelve years past, with copious additional thoughts that paint a picture of some of what made it painful to have her as a mother and to experience her taking leave of this world through suicide. The second is a transcription of thoughts written by her friend about the good, kind woman that Mom also was, as well as an additional tribute in my own words. Though these portraits are quite different, they are nonetheless both true and can’t be separated. She was both things. That’s both the tragedy and the beauty of the person who was my mother.

Mid-trip Report

I'm asleep. I was that brave.So I was just reading through my quasi-roommate Gabe Proulx’s blog and I realized that I felt like blogging myself. I’ve been sitting here all night sort of bored yet engaged in writing a mysterious new piece of software which shall be known to you only as “Siegfried”, but code-slavery just wasn’t doing it. I’ve been inspired to make the shift back into the realm of natural languages.

I’ve been in Washington for a while. You know, that’s where I grew up. I’m back in my sweet, sweet homeland of southeastern Washington State, and I find myself still in love with the place and its people.

The Trip

A week after arriving in Washington, I went with my sister and her family to California, which was really cool. I hadn’t been to Disneyland since I was something like 8 years old, so going back was a significant return to childhood for me. I really liked it, and, as I have told a few people, I think that visits there early in my life are part of why I never cared much for any other amusement park I’ve been to: Disneyland is an amusement park the way an amusement park should be: It’s clean. There are lots of drinking fountains. Smoking is minimal. Once you’re in, you can go on any ride (no tickets required). They don’t care if you take pictures of the photo previews they show at the end of a ride. The atmosphere is happy! Every ride is detailed and exciting, and seems like an attempt to let you experience something incredible that you have little chance of experiencing in real life, like space flight, or a pirate raid, or an Indiana Jones-style escape from a runaway boulder.

Beach PanoramaOn the way home we drove through Northern California’s redwoods, which were magnificent. We stopped on a beach and just walked around for a while. The ocean is freaky and mysterious, but I also find it soothing to simply be there and hear the waves and smell the clean air.

Confronting Fear

100_5658While we were at California Adventure I surprised myself by confronting my fears of heights (Soarin’ Over California), upside-down rollercoasters (California Screamin’), and plummeting to likely death (Tower of Terror). For me this was a really big deal. I have always been such a scaredy-cat! No, seriously, a real wimp! Well, big, grown-up boy that I am, I was actually able to go on all of these rides that made me so nervous beforehand. It was like slaying an until-then undefeatable giant.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen and experienced some very scary things that I didn’t know how to deal with, but I’ve noticed that my fears are always way out of proportion to actuality. My fears about the rides at California Adventure were that way—none of them was even half as frightening an experience as I expected. It was also like that when I ended my over-long hiatus from meaningful dating early this year. Paralysis because I feared devastating heartbreak had to give way to actually trying and to actually caring in order for me to progress, but I was terrified! The seeming caprice of prior failures, the painful losses of invested emotion. It took some counsel from compassionate friends to help me to make the leap of faith. And it worked out. It wasn’t so bad. It was a good experience.

Shrapnel Removal

Maybe more terrifying still was confronting one of my past interests in order to find out why exactly she had chosen not to pursue things. I didn’t realize just how hard the ambiguity was for me until a friend discussed a similar situation. I then realized that that would continue gnawing at me until I had the guts to ask her why, to cut through the generalities which were meant to protect me but which were really like a piece of shrapnel festering under the scar-marked surface. It’s a hard thing to walk up to somebody and demand that they perform an invasive shrapnel removal operation. But that’s what I had to do.

When she acquiesced, it set me free somehow. It was wonderful! She gave me her real reasons for calling a halt to the relationship, and they conformed exactly to my earlier suspicions. It wasn’t the knowledge of the reasons that made a difference, really. It was getting her to deal straight with me. It was having enough respect for myself to ask for an explanation. To stop telling myself to just ignore that dull, occasionally stabbing, pain underneath the old wound, but to let myself get that hunk of rusted old metal removed.

“You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are”

An interesting observation resulting from staying at my sister’s house: I think I actually could do the parenting thing. I know I’ve still only had to deal with a small portion of my niece’s and my nephews’ craziness, and yet I feel confident that, especially with some of the skills I’ve begun to learn while here, I could do it. That’s a pretty encouraging thought!

A good friend of mine told me several times, “You’re stronger than you think you are, Josh,” and I think I’ve actually started to believe it. To believe that perhaps the long-raging fires of adversity have wrought something more than just pain within me. What if they really have tempered me, made me stronger?

The Other Trip

We’re also mid-way through the year (or very nearly). I’ve really been blessed this year. All of these blessings—including those resulting from this trip home—I attribute to God’s great kindness in my life.

Well, my eyes are drooping downward in sleep. Thanks for reading, and good night!

– Josh

On the War


The Americans bailed, let’s get out of here! (Vietnam 1975? Iraq 20×6?)

[Note: this article is a reposting of something I wrote for my family-only blog. It seems to be appropriate for general circulation, though, and I now present it with only the slightest editing.]

I sort of think fighting over politics is like Bible bashing: totally unproductive. Why fight over the Good News? Why start a war talking about a war? With these risks in mind, I do want to throw in a few thoughts of mine.

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past are Condemned to Repeat It

It’s important to keep things in perspective. The failure of the Treaty of Versailles after WWI taught the Allies to do things differently after WWII. The debacle of the collapse of South Vietnam after U.S. withdrawal there should teach us to do things differently with Iraq. What happened when the United States pulled out of Vietnam? The Democratic Congress refused to finance further military operations in Vietnam and the south of that country was swept over by the communist forces, hundreds of thousands of people were sent to “re-education” camps as punishment for “collaborating” with the Americans during the war, and Vietnam embarked on a 20 year epoch of isolation from which it has only recently been emerging, at least economically. Vietnam has yet to grant freedoms of religion or speech, and represses those liberties far more rigorously than the Chinese Communists do. (For more information on the withdrawal and the Communist takeover see Operation Frequent Wind and Fall of Saigon in Wikipedia.)

Contrast that with South Korea, where the U.S. forces did not withdraw. South Korea allows full freedom of expression and religion, and turns out to be the world’s 13th largest economy, ahead of Australia and Russia. More recent data shows that Russian and perhaps Australia have leaped ahead of South Korea in economic output since I originally posted this.)) If American support for the war declined to Vietnam-like levels, we may have withdrawn, subjecting the entire Korean peninsula to the benighted state currently reserved for the pitiable North.

Comparing the Costs

Significantly, nearly 60,000 U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam, twenty times the current casualties in Iraq after 2.5 times as many years. Given the current average casualty rate, it will take about 72 more years for casualties in Iraq to equal casualties in Vietnam. Current spending on Iraq is relatively less than in Vietnam as well. (Of course, 1-2% of the GNP of the United States annually is still an astronomical sum.)

About 100,000 Americans die every year as a result of alcohol use according to some sources. (According to CDC’s more conservative estimates, “excessive alcohol use was responsible for approximately 75,000 preventable deaths” in the United States in 2001.) “The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking).” (Marin Institute) By contrast, the United States is spending about $120 billion a year in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We could save twice as much money and hundreds of times more lives by eliminating alcohol and tobacco than we would save by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan. What are our priorities? Is this really all about saving lives and money? Or is it about lack of will, unwillingness to stick with a commitment once we’re bored of it? In the Book of Mormon, it’s clear that the problem the Nephites had with the infestation of robbers had more to do with having the will to do what was necessary to eradicate them than it had to do with having sufficient strength to do so or with being morally justified in doing so. (See Helaman 6:18,20-21,37. The robbers of Gadianton described in the Book of Mormon are a stunningly close parallel to Jihadist terrorists, from their organizational structure to their penchant for hiding out in mountainous regions.)

43% of marriages contracted today will theoretically end in divorce.

Many war opponents argue that every life is precious, every soldier’s death is a tragedy. True. But at least they are dieing in the hope of helping a nation onto its feet and into a free, prosperous, peaceful future rather than merely in the pursuit of a high or a quick slosh.

Having mentioned the Book of Mormon already, I’d like to say that that book does seem to condemn the way in which we entered the war in Iraq. Regardless, we’re there, basically the whole nation agreed to go there, and we have a responsibility to leave things better than we found them.

Post Mortem

Was that so bad? If nobody else cared to read it, I’m still glad I wrote it. I feel like, given media coverage, people almost have no option but to hate the war, hate the president, and just “want out.” I have too much respect for myself to simply accept what’s handed to me by CNN or even our favorite student paper, The Daily Universe (which mostly just runs Associated Press stories, anyway). I’ve just had these thoughts bouncing around for a long time, so it’s good to get them out.

There is danger in unquestioningly supporting a war. But there is also danger in merely accepting the bidding of the popular media. Supporting or opposing the war in light of history, costs, benefits, consequences, that’s getting to the core of the issues.

I conditionally support the war in Iraq and the President. I think the Democratic majority in Congress—while it brings with it some serious annoyances—is good in motivating the Republican leadership to innovate and find more effective solutions. As bad as things are in Iraq, they will get much, much worse if we abandon those people. Genocide? Not a happy thing. I still feel like the lives of our men and women are being sacrificed for something noble and still actually attainable, a dream that President Bush and I still share to a large degree: a peaceful, free, democratic Iraq.