Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembering Our September 11th Luminary Memorial Lighting Ceremony

This afternoon I went over to my parents house to install a new printer for my mom. I had been meaning for several weeks to search for several boxes of mine that I had left behind when I moved out. I decided while I was waiting for the printer to initialize, when the LCD screen read it would be 12 minutes until the next step I decided now was as good of a time as any to search out my boxes. As I waited I opened the closet in what use to be my bed room to see if any of my stuff was still there. Most of it had long since been moved to the basement or shed. I was surprised to see in the top corner of my closet, next to a bunch of my Dad’s stuff an old box. I pulled it down off the shelf and began to search through it. There was a myriad of long lost treasures in the box. A photo box containing some photos and a bunch of my old postcards sent to me by family and friends. Several of my old diaries from my twenties. My coach's notebooks from when I coached cheerleading at GORC. At the very bottom of the box was a copy of the West County News dated November 1, 2001.

At first I wondered why I had kept the newspaper, the lead story was “Party finds cats and dogs getting along” Then I flipped the paper over, where it had been folded in half and recognized the bold story line that read, “Letters, Luminaries Show Patriotism.” The smaller section headline read, “GORC lights up field” Immediately my mind began to remember October 26, 2001. The day a group of coaches, cheerleaders and parents lit 1,000 luminaries on the GORC football field to remember the lives lost on September 11, 2001.

Every year in conjunction with the AAYCA County Cheerleading Championships each cheerleading organization is asked to raise money for a charity. We had debated for several weeks which charity the GORC cheerleaders should raise money for. After 9/11there was no doubt, no question we were going to raise money for the Pentagon Relief Fund. Normally the way we would raise money was to pass a can around at football games. I was insistent passing a can around was not going to be enough. We needed to raise more money and we needed to make a statement. Not quite understanding how much work was going to be needed I suggested we sell luminaries, light our football field up to remember those lost on September 11. Everyone was in agreement, we all went about making this the most successfull fundraiser ever.

Over the next several weeks the cheerleaders and coaches canvassed their neighborhoods, football games, schools any where they could selling luminaries. Our original goal was to sell 500 luminaries. The cheerleaders smashed that goal and sold 998. I remember the morning of the 26th the truck driver who was delivering the sand to the field, when he learned we had sold 998 luminaries, he asked if we had two more. When I told him yes the bags came in packages of 10. He said good and bought the last two. He smiled and said, “1,000 is a much better number than 998.”.

Putting together and setting out 1,000 luminaries is anything but fun. We started with four of us at 8:00 a.m. filling the bags with sand. By lunch time we were beginning to wonder if we were going to have enough time to fill every bag, place a candle in them and then place them all on the field by the time the ceremony was scheduled to begin 7:30 p.m. As the afternoon wore on, more adults showed up to help. By three p.m we were all exhausted. From all the shoveling, bending and carrying the luminaries, our backs felt like we were all in our sixties. Luckily the kids after school headed to the field to volunteer. It is amazing how much energy and how much faster bags get moved onto a field by 13 and 14 year olds than by thirty something year olds!! To them it was a contest, they had to beat the clock, make the deadline. Everything was going perfectly, we had placed the last luminary on the field just before six. Then a few minutes later the wind began to kick up, we began to worry, wind and fire are never a good combination.

Slowly the guests started to arrive at the field. The police from the western district, the volunteer fire fighters from Odenton, the chief from the Waugh Chapel firehouse. The kids were excited to see the marines bring a hummer to the field. The air force, army, navy, every branch of the military sent several representatives to the ceremony to honor those lost on September 11th. We watched in amazement as families from the neighborhood began walking over the hill to the field. We were worried no one would show, but that night the top of the field, and surrouding areas were filled with people. WMZQ made a compilation of mixes and patriotic songs for the DJ to play during the ceremony.

One of the clearest memories I have from that night… we began to light the candles in each luminary at 6:45 p.m. Each person was assigned a row to light. Unfortunately the wind began to kick up even more as we began walking down the rows. As each person progressed down their row lighting the candles, some of the candles behind them were being blown out by the wind. Kim Johnson kept pushing us on. Don't worry, don't look back keep lighting. I looked at my watch, it was 7:20 p.m.. We had ten minutes before the ceremony was to begin. As I looked out over the field I estimated over a quarter of the luminaries had been blown out. I remember feeling extremely distressed. I thought it would not be right, kind of sad, if all of the luminaries were not shining bright during the ceremony. I was looking at the field in despair when an army soldier in uniform took his lighter and begin to light one of the luminaries that had gone out in front of him. By his small gesture, lighting the luminary in front of him, it started a small wave, a chain reaction. Part of the crowd that had gathered around the top of the field waiting for the ceremony to begin, walked unto the field and began to light the candles that had blown out. I looked in amazement at probably forty to fifty people circling the field making sure every candle was burning bright. Some were using lighters, some matches. I laughed at the marines who picked up some broken branches. Broke off smaller pieces, lit the ends and used them to light the candles.

The Star Spangled Banner began to echo through out the night. The wind just as suddenly as it had started stopped. My eyes filled with tears as I looked out over the field and saw every luminary shining bright. I stood there with my hand over my heart, proud to be born in the greatest country on earth. As the minister said a prayer, I felt several of my cheerleaders put their arms around my waist and take my hands. I was so proud of my girls, they worked so hard. They understood how important this night was, how important it was to remember. As the 1st Sgt. was giving his speech, thanking everyone for their donations, asking them to please remember the families of those who died in their prayers one of my cheerleaders tapped me on the shoulder. At first I said shhh, but Danielle was always persistent. So I leaned over to hear what was so important. “Miss Denise don’t worry you taught me well. I promise I will never forget.” My other girls who overheard her comment chimed in “Me too” until I heard a small whispered echo from each one of my cheerleaders.

I understood that night listening to my cheerleaders promise to always remember September 11th, the future of that day, the future of our country was more in their hands than mine. At 13 and 14 they would carry the memory longer than anyone of us. Anyone younger would probably not clearly remember September 11th when they were older. People my age would pass on long before they did. So the history, the lessons learned were in their hands. They would carry on the memory the longest. We had to do our best as adults to keep reminding them, reinforcing how important it is to always remember, honor and hold dear those that lost their lives that day. And those who have sacrificed their lives since then. If we were lucky, if we were blessed, they would remember what we taught them.

As part of the ceremony the director of cheerleading, asked since I had come up with the idea to light up the football field, if I would make a speech. Any one who knows me, understands I do not give speeches, I do not like being recognized, especially publically. I do my best to avoid getting in front of any kind of video camera. There was no way I was making a speech. Every week leading up to the ceremony she would ask, “Denise will you please make a speech.” Every time my answer was the same, thank you but no thank you. Finally I came up with a happy compromise I told her I would write a speech, but I would not deliver it. I asked a good friend of mine Michelle Bogovich to give it. She agreed. Tonight as I was looking through my 2001 coach's notebook, I found placed in the inside pocket the speech I had written for that night. I know it is a few weeks after the anniversary of September 11th but I thought I would share my speech with everyone. Please understand, I will never be hired as a speech writer, it’s not the most eloquent speech but below are my thoughts, my feelings from the fall of 2001 a few short weeks after the attack on September 11th.

The speech from 26 October 2001
The other night as I was driving home I was wondering what I could possibly say tonight at this ceremony. It was a beautiful evening, the sky was clear, the air warm, the kids were out playing basketball, laughing enjoying the weather. People were out walking enjoying each other's company. American flags were flying from any and every surface that they could possibly be hung from. I marveled at how life goes on. I have always known it, but at that moment I realized I was truly blessed and lucky. My life goes on but for thousands, life stopped/paused on September 11. They are still waiting for their life to return to normal, to go on.

For the rest of my life, like you, I will always remember September 11, 2001. Where I was, what I was doing when I first heard of the terrorist attacks. The images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash in Western Pennsylvania will forever haunt me. It is a ghost I will never forget. The emotions I felt that day terror, fear, anger, frustration, loneliness and uncertainty, I shared with millions across this nation. That day has changed me, in ways I am sure I still have not yet fully acknowledged, realized. We have all changed. Our nation has changed.

These images may haunt me, but what I choose to remember, to remind myself of that day are the images of the people. The faces of the firemen, policemen, military personnel, every day citizens reaching out to help those in need. Those who did not think about their own welfare instead choose to risk their life for another. I choose to remember the images of the people lined up for blocks to donate blood. I choose not to remember the destruction of that day, but the good that grew from the root of the destruction (evil). I choose to remember the hope that arouse from the ashes on September 11, 2001.

When I close my eyes I can still see the faces of the missing. Families/loved ones holding their photos for the television cameras, asking if anyone had seen them. I see the woman sitting outside the pentagon, her silent vigil, waiting for her husband to come home. All of them wanting the same thing, a miracle, praying that their loved ones would some how survive, come home. Thousands did not come home September 11th. Many fathers and mothers will not see their children again, never have the joy of watching them grow up. Thousands of children will never again have a kiss goodnight from their mom or dad. Never have a hug of reassurance after they fall. Babies will be born never knowing the touch, the love of their fathers.

When I think of all the children whose lives are forever transformed by that day I cry. Children should never be touched by such tragedy but life sometimes is not always gentle. And yes there is evil in this world. Now is our time to do something about it. Now is our time to make a stand.

Now is the time to decide. We can choose to hide, run scared, close our hearts and do nothing, after all, our life goes on. Or like tonight we can choose to do something, make a difference. No matter how small the act, no matter how small the gift it can and will always make a difference. When you give of yourself the world changes. Those around you change.

We may not be able to change what happened September 11th but we can make a difference what happens after September 11th. We can as a community take responsibility, stand together, let our voices be heard and make that difference. We can thank God that we are here tonight to remember those who are not. We must teach our children that like this country, through out our lives we will get knocked down, people will try to hurt us but that doesn’t mean we have to stay down. What matters is how you get up. What you do after you get up. What matters now, is what we choose to do after September 11th.

These luminaries we light tonight are here to represent the lives that were lost on September 11th. Tragically, we would need five football fields to place a luminary for each life that was lost but for tonight we only have one.

When I was younger I was told that each person has an effect, no matter how small or large on someone else’s life. As I look out on this football field I wonder whose life will never be touched, will not be changed because of the lives that were lost on September 11th.

I am going to tell you what I believe the victims of the September 11th attack would be saying tonight if they were here.

To the adults present: call your brothers, sisters, your parents. Visit your relatives. Plan that long over due family reunion. Forgive what you thought was unforgiveable. Lend a hand to a stranger. Most importantly, hug your children, tell them you love them, you are proud of them. Never take the words I love you for granted. You may never get a second chance to say them.

To the children here: go home tonight, hug your mom and dad. Tell them you love them. Never give up, you can do anything you set your mind to. Write your dreams down on paper then do everything you can to attain your dreams. Never set your goals to low, always aim high. If you fail, try again. Nothing is impossible if you truly want it.

To everyone here: Take care of the families left behind, their future is in your hands. Please, take care of our country, it's future is in all of our hands.

Thank you and God Bless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Inner Debate Begins: My Thoughts on Deja Vu and Parallel Lives/Universes

Last week I was talking to an old friend on face book when the conversation turned to karma. He was worried that karma was, in a way, biting him in the butt for mistakes he had made in his past. I explained to him while I may love the idea of karma roaring it’s angry head, serving justice to a few folks who I consider not the nicest of people. I can’t accept karma or believe in it. After ending our conversation my brain kept churning away at the philosophy/idea of karma. Maybe I had too much coffee that day or watched one too many episodes of LOST. My brain not only began thinking about karma, it began to debate within itself the concepts of déjà vu, the butterfly effect, parallel lives/universe and reincarnation. To me, they all seem to be, some how connected.

Who hasn’t had a déjà vu moment or had a dream that contained people we knew from our past who were suddenly in our present or future? Waking up, feeling a bit lost and confused? Even though I hold strong in my beliefs, I must confess there are times when I find myself wondering, well…what if? So I thought over the next week I would post my wonderings, informal debate within myself on these subjects. Today I thought I would begin the debate with my thoughts, questions on déjà vu and parallel lives/universe.

Déjà vu means already seen. It is the feeling that one has previously met a person, been to a place or done an act when in reality it is the first time it has happened to them. Most people have had a moment where they have felt like they are reliving an experience. Have you ever met someone for the first time, the conversation flowed easily, it feels like you have known each other your entire lives? Some experts believe this is another aspect of déjà vu. Yes I found it hard to believe there are actually experts in déjà vu. Their profession is to study déjà vu. Most experts believe we will continue to live our lives over and over until we make all the right choices, meet the correct people and live what has been determined to be our correct path. In their realm, when one experiences déjà vu, it is a lesson or person that was previously missed. When you experience déjà vu it is important to pay attention to the feeling, follow your instincts so the same mistake is not made and the experience/moment never needs to be relived. The more correct decisions one makes allows them to become one step closer to fulfilling their destiny and finally moving on to heaven.

There are scientists who believe déjà vu is easy to explain. It happens when a person's brain is out of sync. One side of the brain sees the imagine, experiences the moment before the other. The brain sees the imagine twice creating the déjà vu feeling. I can only recall two déjà vu moments in my life. One I will not share because of it’s extremely personal nature and happened very recently. The other occurred in January 1999 when I was vacationing in Oahu for the first time. As soon as I landed in Hawaii I felt very at ease, very similar to the feeling one has when one returns home. The next day my daughter and I headed to Waikiki beach, as I sat there looking out over the pacific, it felt like I had been there before with someone else. Something about the air, the beach, the sunlight, everything about that moment was very familiar and at the same time different and strange. So now I wonder, was it really déjà vu or was my brain tapping into the me in my parallel life?

In 1954, Hugh Everett III came up with a theory that there are parallel universes. These universes are just like ours with the same people but with different lives. Call it our life with an alternate ending. Everett called his theory the many worlds interpretation in quantum physics or his relative state formulation. At the time he developed his theory he was ridiculed by his peers. They concluded what he believed was nothing more than science fiction, the ramblings of a crazy man. The rejection of his peers drove him to leave the field of physics and no longer speak on his theory. Many years later, leading physicists believe that yes indeed there are many parallel universes. Some physicists believe our parallel universes are populated not with people but with extinct species and plants. While others believe that we are living duel, even triple lives all at the same time just millimeters in front of us, yet we can’t see or have knowledge of our parallel self. In this theory, in one life you may be sitting at home watching television, the you in the next universe over may have a different spouse and children and out shopping. Another parallel universe theory, when a person comes to a cross road in their life, when they have to decide which direction to take in their life, they create another universe. If they go right, another parallel universe is created where they go left. No matter what theory a physicists may believe, they all agree, the laws of physics keep us locked in our current universe unable to travel to our parallel life. Many physicists believe that when we dream, when we see ourselves with a different spouse, job, child, we are actually “in tune” with our parallel self. We are not dreaming how we wished our life had gone but rather we are seeing what our other self is doing/living in our parallel life. Our bodies might not be able to cross the laws of physics but our brain can. Our brain and our soul are always in sync with our other self if we allow them to be.

So if this theory is true, do we have to be asleep to see our parallel self? While on vacation this past summer, Cole was having trouble falling asleep. I turned on music and began to slowly dance with him, hoping to rock him to sleep. As I held him next to me, I closed my eyes. When I did I saw me when I was younger, in a room I had never been before. "Watching myself" I knew I was holding a baby boy, my son. A son I never had in this life. As I danced with him, I saw a familiar man standing in the doorway watching the two of us. He was smiling with pride as I held our son. I could see his eyes light up when we made eye contact. I heard my daughter Kathryn yell “Daddy’s home” as she jumped into his arms. He caught her, as he held her close he asked how her day at kindergarten had been? I knew what I was seeing was not possible but for those few moments, while my eyes were closed, what I was watching felt real. Was what I saw/felt simply a day dream or was I able for those few moments to somehow connect with my parallel life where I had taken a different path in my life.

Fans of LOST spent the last two seasons tracking the parallel lives of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hugo and the rest of the survivors of Oceanic flight 815. They traveled between life on the island after the plane crash and the life they had if/when the plane safely landed in California. Many of us watched week after week, anxiously waiting for the two worlds to collide, for the final resolution. Watching the show I am sure countless fans wondered if we all have some sort of parallel life? The show made me wonder, what if we do have a parallel life, but not as the leading physicists think. What if our parallel life is actually spiritual? As I interpret the show LOST, the writers I believe suggest, we are all in fact living parallel lives, one here on earth, another in purgatory, eventually one in heaven or hell, depending on the choices we make. The character of Desmond was able to tap into his parallel life and take action in this universe to change the outcome of his other universe enabling him to make his final journey to heaven. The two characters who portrayed my thoughts on realizing heaven are Sun and Jin. They die in a sub off the island while their parallel selves continue to live in the other universe. Many episodes later, as Sun is having a sonogram, the two are 'awakened' to their dual lives. They are suddenly aware they have already had their child, they have a daughter. They have seen the “light”, they know in the other life they went on to heaven together. They are no longer worried about life and it's eventual outcome. They are at peace. Sun and Jin understand and are prepared to move to the next phase of their life together, heaven, eternity. Sun and Jin make me wonder if the creators of LOST believe when we are awakened to our dual lives, the other part of us, we are ready to relinquish our self, merge together and move on to the next phase of life, heaven?

Is it possible when people say they see their life flash before their eyes before they die, they are actually seeing their parallel lives merge? The calm peaceful feeling they experience is the acceptance of our split selves finally joining? Is it really possible that there are multiple universes. multiple us? Or are people just using crazy ideas to justify insane dreams and wishful thinking?

I must ask is déjà vu real? Have you ever experienced it? Do you believe in a parallel life/universe? Any LOST fans out there? Did you read the writers theories/beliefs differently?