Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Demons Within

Demons, we all have them; they are our scars, our baggage, and the misconceptions we hold of our selves. The things we carry within our soul that leaves us with self doubt and insecurities. Even the most self assured person has a demon or two. Some of us are better at hiding our fears than others.

Some demons we acquired when we were younger. They were cast upon us by thoughtless comments and actions of others. Aquired through expectations of another placed upon us that were never met. For one reason or another, something in our childhood that may have seemed insignificant to another, left an indelible mark on our personality that we continue to carry through our adult life.

The origins of some childhood demons are easy to trace. The constant praise placed on one child over the other for their looks, grades, friends. The constant scolding, the perpetual question of a parent to a child, “Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?” The parent never comprehending how that one question repeated over and over during a childhood could create a demon so large one could lose their perception of who they are or how they are genuinely seen by others. Spending a childhood and often a lifetime, always seeing their sibling as the perfect child, perfect student, perfect person, failing to see in our selves what makes us just as accomplished.

Still other demons have manifested in our being by past admirers, sweethearts, lovers. The person who we confessed our inner secrets/desires to. The person we trusted like no other. Who in return professed their unconditional love, promising they would never leave, they were our future. For a time they were the center of our universe. Yet one day we woke to find they were no longer there. Our world was shattered. The inevitable questions, if they loved me, why did they leave me? What was so wrong with me? The questions they left unanswered, the trust that was broken, the blame we placed on our self, can at times create a scar that burns the deepest and hurts the most. It is this scar that over time turns into the ugliest of demons. Some people are lucky, they have never felt or experienced those lingering questions of self doubt/self worth. If we are lucky, in time we realize that maybe there was nothing wrong with us, it was just the time or circumstance, and some things are truly not meant to be. With that we can cast the demon to the wind. We are left in peace to try to find love again. While others will have the demon of self doubt haunt them their entire life, never finding a truce that would allow them to find their happiness, their peace.

We fool ourselves into believing we have buried most of our demons deep inside us. However, no matter how hard we try to hide them, they reveal themselves when we are most fragile. When we are confused, afraid to show who we really are, or how we really feel. It is the demon of “Self protection” at its’ worse. We show arrogance when we are feeling insecure. We seem cold/aloof when we are afraid to let someone get close to us. We appear to be uncaring, when in fact we are hurt, pained. We are unwilling to expose who we really are or how we truly feel, afraid if they “see” us, we will be rejected. We carry the misperception of how we are viewed, how we are honestly seen by others. So we delude ourselves, we pretend to be someone else. Failing to perceive, everyone has imperfections. No one is looking for that perfect person. Perfection is in itself is more or less boring. Our imperfections if we allow them to, can be the most beautiful part of our being. Demons and all, we are all pretty amazing.

To battle our demons, to cast them aside, we must first realize our demons are open wounds that continue to drain us of our self esteem, infect the soul with self doubt. We must recognize and acknowledge them. Realize, no matter how hard we try to ignore our demons; they have revealed themselves at one time or another to our friends. Sometimes the only way to exercise them, rid them from our lives, is to expose ourselves, demons and all, openly to those around us. Simple as this might seem, learn to always be our self. Some people when confronted with whom we really are; will smile recognizing our fears as the same demons they carry. Still other people will leave, not liking the “real” you, preferring the fictitious identity. They will not want to expend any effort into helping you become stronger, free you from your scars, they like you at your weakest.

If we are lucky, we will find that someone who will love us so much, no matter how hard we try to push them aside through stupid actions, harsh words, they stand fast. They see our demons; recognize them as scars from our past. They don’t see them as ugly but a part of what makes us unique. They clearly see all our imperfections and still love us. They are our steadfast lover/friend who time and time again climb our wall of insecurities, kicking a few bricks out along the way, demonstrating nothing is insurmountable if we have faith in ourselves. They believe in us when we have lost sight of who we are. They see past our instabilities, our vulnerabilities, our flaws, our self doubt, our mistakes…they take that precarious walk time and time again never giving up on us. They are our lifeline to reality.

How do we survive our demons? Acknowledge that demons are a part of everyone’s life for one reason or another. No one goes through life unscarred. The only way to survive your demons is to accept and embrace them as your own. They make you the unabashed individual that you are. Seek out that steadfast friend. The person who, when possible, will help you cast out some of your demons. Free you of your scars. When needed, help you to accept and form a truce with the demons that will always be a part of you. Allow you to see yourself through their eyes. Teach you to love yourself, demons and all, they way they do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Love Enough

While searching my parent's basement for an old chest of mine I came across a box tucked in the corner labeled 152 Weidman Street.  I was ten years old the last time I visited the magnificent gray duplex built on the edge of the Bethlehem Steel Mill in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Thirty plus years could not erase the memories made in my Nana Kay's home. Even now, when the moon  steals the sky and the silence is broken by a train whistle in the distance I am back in that old house.  Once again I am a small child sitting on the balcony watching the fire blaze brightly through the night from the factory. How I loved falling asleep to the melody of the mill; the clanking metal, the release of steam, the train wheels on the tracks, and the lonely nostalgic whistle. So many memories.

The old maple tree where Penny, her beloved dog, is buried, the side yard framed in bursts of color by the azaleas and hydrangeas, the porch where the rocking chair made the floor boards squeal and me giggle, the staircase my sister and I rousingly ran up and down; images all rushed forward from the recesses of my brain simply by seeing her address. 

I had just turned ten when my Nana Kay died. We didn't share enough years together, but the time we had I cherish. It was impossible as a child to understand the battle my Nana Kay was fighting against cancer. I have often wished instead of rushing outside to play tag with the neighborhood kids I spent more time with her, paid more attention when she shared her memories. When she spoke of my grandfather, the love of her life.  In my eyes everyone was invincible and everything would last forever. August 22, 1973 I learned everything has an end, in life it's death. My Nana Kay was gone. 

Staring at the box I debated whether I should open it, discover its contents or leave it alone; allow it to harbor its secrets for a bit longer. I ran my fingers across the address several times before I finally removed the tape. On top sat an old shoe box labeled Marlin. It was a name I had almost forgotten, my grandfather's.

Gently I lifted the lid revealing several silver 8mm film canisters. They were labeled, Guadalcanal 1943, Tower City, Homecoming Parade 1945, To Babe, and Scrap Metal Drive Montana. Many times I had seen in my Dad's workshop an old  film projector. "Please work," the prayer I repeated to myself as I rushed to retrieve it.

Through a maze of dials, slots, and wheels I threaded the narrow film. Half afraid I would blow something up I held my breath and turned the projector on. Burned holes of brown and bright white circles flashed across the walls, the reels whirled until the ghosts gave way to living color and I sat mesmerized by the man on the screen.

Lt. Col. Marlin Robert Kopp, my grandfather, stood before me in uniform, smiling and waving. Before I only knew him as an army photograph, two dimensions of black and white, now he was staring back at me, wonderfully alive.  He was taller than I imagined, his uniform was khaki, his glasses were gold, his hair curly auburn, and his eyes were blue like my mom and sister's.

Through the magic of film my grandfather took me on a tour of Guadalcanal. A small Japanese sub sunk on the beach, the barracks with thatched roofs, munitions shops, and his office with plywood walls; I shared it all with him. Images of men stopping to wave like comical characters in an old silent movie filled the room with my laughter. The backdrop for my celluloid feature, a peaceful sky brushed in turquoise blue with hints of bright green. The tropical beauty masking the war that loomed behind the images on the curtain.

The finale of my wonderful journey; my grandfather holding a piece of paper that read, "I love you Babe" as he stood next to a palm tree waving goodbye. It may seem strange but for the first time my grandfather was real. He walked, he smiled and he waved at me. I could see my daughter's smile in his.

When the wall was blank, his image no longer, I paused for a moment to absorb it all. Not yet ready to say goodbye to my grandfather I reached for another film to watch. I noticed sitting next to the canisters was a brown plastic soap container, inside a chain of metal and small seashells. The links untangled themselves as I lifted and watched its secret unfurl; it was my Grandfather's dog tags. Bent and slightly dilapidated it was the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen. I placed the dog tags around my neck, pressed it close to my heart and started the next film, "For Babe."

The poster read, "Happy Anniversary." The camera panned back, my Grandfather once again next to a palm tree.  He laid down the sign, walked onto the beach and positioned his arms as if he was dancing with an imaginary partner. A romantic waltz. His feet moved gracefully, with each turn gently pushing the sand away creating a private dance floor. As he slowly turned I noticed he was singing. I moved closer to the screen trying to read his lips. Tears began to stream down my cheeks, it was Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Now it made sense; my Nana Kay would sing and dance to the lyrics as she cleaned. One rainy summer afternoon I sat watching her and asked why she always sang the same song. She tickled me with the feather duster and scooped me off the couch. We twirled over to the end table where my Grandfather's picture sat. She grabbed it, held it between us and explained it was the first song they ever danced to. It was her love song to Marlin.

Watching him dance I felt his love for my Nana Kay envelop me. His anniversary film for my Nana Kay ended as he waved goodbye and mouthed the words, "I love you Babe."  Love at times unexplainable, was clearly visible and illustrated on 8mm film. My Grandfather was a Lt. Colonel in the army, the commanding officer, yet he loved my Nana Kay so much, he danced a waltz 'with her' on the beaches of Guadalcanal.

Watching the film I suddenly recalled pieces of stories told to me by my Nana Kay. Tales of long ago dances at the Officers' Club before he left for war.  My Grandfather was a talented dancer and was in high demand by the other wives.
He knew how to cha cha, tango, waltz and do the lindy. She was never jealous of the requests, she knew he loved only her. My Grandfather made a promise to my Nana Kay no matter where they were, they would always share the last dance together.

The rest of the afternoon I spent leaned against the wall of the basement reading the love letters from my Grandfather to my Nana Kay. He was her Darling, she was his Babe. The beginning of the war my Grandfather's Quartermaster unit traveled the country collecting scrap metal for the 'cause'. From Montana he confessed he fell in love with her the first time he saw her. It took him weeks to 'muster' up the courage to say hello. He knew God had put him on this earth to be with her. He discovered after they began courting her true beauty was her loving heart; it kept him warm on the loneliest days. He admitted at times life could be taxing but one look at her photograph and he was head over heels in love again. Nothing else mattered, she was his world.

His letters from the Pacific were small microfilmed like postcards intermixed with V-Mail. No matter the size of the correspondence they all started the same, Hello Babe, and always signed; Love your Darling. There were letters reminding Nana Kay to replace the tires, how to store the coal and other mundane household chores. Most of his letters were filled with his love for her.

Upon his arrival at Guadalcanal her wrote he was not afraid to die, he was afraid to lose her. The hardest part of leaving was letting her go, uncertain if he would ever hold her again. War had a way of making a man realize where his heart truly belonged and his was at home in hers.

My Grandfather returned stateside in 1944 to attend General Command School. They were still separated, he was in Kansas, she was at home in Pennsylvania taking care of my mom and Uncle Bill. One of his first letters from Fort Leavenworth, "I am lucky so many men died so far away from home. I am stateside, within a thousand miles of my love. I would be selfish wanting more time than was granted us. I will be on leave and home to you shortly. My heart is already with you. Keep it safely for me until I hold you again."

The war continued to explode in the Pacific after he returned to Guadalcanal. March 1945, "Hello Babe, I won't worry you with the circumstances here. I pray if anything happens to me I have loved you enough to last a lifetime. You have given me more love than I could want. I am luckier than most, I found a gal that makes my heart skip and I get to call her my Babe. Your love is my strength when hell surrounds me. I pray God will bring me home to you. I am saving my last dance for you. Love, your Darling"

My Grandfather made it back home, worked at the Bethlehem Steel Mill behind their house for several months before he was recalled to active duty. He was assigned back to the Quartermaster Corp to be a part of the rebuilding of Germany. He was preparing for deployment at Camp Lee, Virginia while my Nana Kay stayed behind in Lebanon so my Uncle Bill and Mom could finish the semester at school.

The last letter my Grandfather wrote was dated 24 October 1946, "Hello Babe, Not many more days until I will be home to help you pack. Let's be scandalous and put up the tree early. Heck let's do it the first night I'm home. Four Christmases away from you and the kids were almost too much for my heart. This year let's celebrate as long as we can before we depart for Germany. I know you thought being apart was over but the Army does what the Army will do. My duty is still needed. I promise soon instead of words to hug your loneliness, my arms will hold you every night. Love, your darling, Marlin."

Tucked inside the envelope with his last letter was a much smaller envelope from Western Union.  Folded in half a telegram informing Mrs. Kathryn A. Kopp, "Lt. Colonel Marlin Robert Kopp died 2 November 1946 at Camp Lee Virginia of a heart attack." One sentence is how the Army informed my Nana Kay that her Darling, her love, her Marlin had died. There would be would never be another Christmas together, there would be no last dance.

My Nana Kay never remarried, no man could ever replace her Marlin. The years after my Grandfather's death my Nana Kay's diaries affirmed her love for him. She missed him, cherished their memories and held onto his love.

19 December 1971 would have been my grandparent's fortieth wedding anniversary.  She recorded in her journal, "When I close my eyes tonight I will once again be dancing with my darling Marlin. I long to hear him say, I love you Babe."

The summer of 1973, my Nana Kay was dying, her strength waning but her love for Marlin was strong, still as vibrate as their first waltz. Her last entry, "I am ready to hold my Marlin. I miss him so. I have waited a long time for our dance."

As I repacked their memories in the box I was comforted by the fact; they may never have danced in each other's arms again but my Nana Kay danced with him in her heart every day.  Her Marlin had loved her enough.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Late night thoughts from Facebook Conversations

Like so many others, I have often pondered if I could go back and redo just one moment, would I do it? Would it change who I am today, or where I am…or would it have no effect what so ever? We have all heard the saying if it was meant to be, it will be. But what if it was meant to be actually depended on that one moment? Your “true” fate was forever changed because you were too afraid to act, to confront, to say how you really felt? If you knew the path you are on today, was not your chosen path, would you go back and alter it, in effect change who and where you are today? We are who we are because of the roads we have traveled. But what if we took the wrong crossroad?

If we missed our destiny in the past is it forever gone, or is it possible to get that moment, that chance a second time? Or has our destiny all along been to make a mistake, then take the second chance? If that second chance appeared at your door, would it be just a coincidence or fate knocking, trying to wake you up to what you didn’t see the first time around? Is it fate trying to steer you to your proper path, your destiny. Would you recognize it? Would you be strong enough to take the second chance, or stay content never risking anything to be happy?

Are we meant to settle, or are we meant to be happy? If we take that second chance, risk it all, are we hurting those around us or are we releasing them to where they should be? Letting them discover their true fate? By hurting them now, will we in the long run help them to become happier? Or are we fooling ourselves, maybe they feel the same way, just too afraid to utter the unspoken truth, the whisper in the darkness. They too have settled so far, accepted what is, like you, too afraid to seek their own happiness.

How do you determine what is truly your second chance and what is just wishful thinking? A longing for what might have been, the never knowing hurt, want, lust? Is what you are feeling strong enough to risk it all? Do you follow the voice of reason in your head or the feeling in your heart? Which is the better guide? Does our heart always know what is best for us? Is what we are feeling real, or an illusion from the past, unfinished business that lacked closure? Are we smart enough to know the difference?

We have all heard the saying you only live once. There are no second chances when you are dead. With that knowledge do you take more risks, take more chances or continue on the same path? Do we owe it to ourselves to strive for more, reach higher, discover new dreams, find our own happiness…or do we owe it to everyone around us to just be happy in what we have? How much do we owe them (our family) verses how much do we owe ourselves? Realizing they can never genuinely be happy, unless we ourselves are. What really is happy? Can anyone truly define it, or do we each have to determine our own definition?

With the realization that we are now closer to death then we are to birth, this seems to be a time in our lives to look back and reflect. To question where we are, to wonder is this as good as it gets, or is there something or someone better out there waiting for us? Wonder more than once, did we miss our one chance at happily ever after? If so do we have and take that second chance? Or is it possible we are just not smart enough to realize we are living the happily ever after, it is just not what we thought it would be. Will we ever know the difference?