Our bags are packed. The number of gifts carefully tucked away between clothes is too numerous to recall. A gift for the translator. A gift for the executive team. A gift for the social worker. Ties have been painstakingly chosen and high heel shoes have made their way into shoe bags. A few items remain outstanding. Toiletries, of course. Dresses. And a couple of pairs of footwear. (I can’t help it.) At once, I’m exhausted and excited. I’m hopeful that sleep will come tonight.
This week, I’ve found myself lying awake staring at the clock in the early hours of the morning far more often than I would like. If all goes as planned, tomorrow we will board a flight to Seoul. The purpose of trip is personal, but it’s also business. We will meet our son for the first time. Our initial meeting will be for an hour. Just one hour. The following afternoon, we will meet with him, again, also for an hour. On Friday, we will appear before a judge who will decide, definitively, whether our family of three will become a family of four.
When we began this path, the 18- to 24-month timeline seemed incredible. And, yes, it is a long time to wait for someone–anyone–you love. But the process has also allowed our family time to prepare. We’ve prepared [S] as much as possible. She knows his names (both English and Korean). She can speak a few key Korean words. She knows her baby brother is no longer a baby.
Despite the time, I’m not sure how much Russell and I have prepared for meeting our son. In many ways, I suspect it will be like giving birth. I knew I loved my daughter before she was born. But it wasn’t until after she was born that the emotions flowed freely. There were tears of joy. There were hints of sadness. There was fear. But, by far, the overwhelming emotion I felt was love. It was raw. It was real. And it was awesome in its scope.
I know that I’m not the first adoptive parent to wonder how the first meeting with his or her to-be-child will progress. Will I be liked? Will I be shunned? Will I make a fool of myself? Will I get a smile. Will there be a bond? Knowing children, I take great comfort that I will not be alone. [S] is sure to be hit, as is my Husband. But I take greater comfort knowing that our initial meeting is but the beginning of our journey together.
IT is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable.
We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.
Just how different is the real world from the world on social media? In the real world, The National Enquirer, a weekly, sells nearly three times as many copies as The Atlantic, a monthly, every year. On Facebook, The Atlantic is 45 times more popular.
— Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable, The New York Times (May 6, 2017).
From a young age, parents explain to children that words matter. And they do. Words set expectations. Words express love. Words describe one’s day and explain one’s actions. Words also can cut like a knife, pierce the soul, and cause a lifetime of regret.
As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, mere words are insufficient to communicate effectively. One must understand the meaning(s) of the words being used and then engage in proper syntax–the arranging of words and phrases to create a well structured sentence.
Since arriving in Okinawa, I hear (and read) the phrase, “Need(s) gone” to communicate that a person would like to sell or give something away quickly. (Written, it is often, “Need(s) gone, ASAP.” Yes Facebook Yard Sales users, I’m referring to you.) I also hear people say, “The restaurant accepts card,” to communicate that an establishment accepts payment by credit card. Both phrases showcase improper grammar. But both phrases are able to be understood by others. The problem? Lazy and/or ignorant communicators and their enablers.
As an English major, attorney, and want-to-be-author, I appreciate my heightened sensitivity to proper grammar (and, conversely, my utter disdain for improper grammatical usage). But when I was in elementary school, it was my Mother who first impressed upon me that how I communicate is just as important as the content of my communication.
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One of the more pernicious and insidious effects of the Donald Trump regime may well be the damage he does to language itself.
Trumpian language is a thing unto itself: some manner of sophistry peppered with superlatives. It is a way of speech that defies the Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram. It is a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.
America is suffering under the tyranny of gibberish spouted by the lord of his faithful 46 percent.
As researchers at Carnegie Mellon pointed out last spring, presidential candidates in general use “words and grammar typical of students in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.” Indeed, among the presidents in the university’s analysis, Trump’s vocabulary usage was the lowest and his grammatical usage was only better than one president: George W. Bush.
Trump’s employment of reduced rhetoric is not without precedent and is in fact a well-documented tool of history’s strongmen.
As New York Times C.E.O. Mark Thompson noted about one of Trump’s speeches in his 2016 book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?”: “The super-short sentences emphasize certainty and determination, build up layer upon layer, like bricks in a wall themselves, toward a conclusion and an emotional climax. It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis. This is the way generals and dictators have always spoken to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep aside.”
Thompson also notes that “Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics,” warning that:
“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction, or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin.”
Here is the great danger: Many people expect a political lie to sound slick, to be delivered by intellectual elites spouting $5 words. A clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English reads as truth.
It is an upside-down world in which easy lies sound more true than hard facts.
But this is what comes from a man who is more watcher than reader, a man more driven by the limelight than by literature.
In January, Vanity Fair attempted to answer the question: “Exactly How Much TV Does Donald Trump Watch in a Day?” They did so by producing this utterly frightening roundup:
“Early on in the campaign, Trump told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he gets military advice from TV pundits. He couldn’t get through a 50-minute Washington Post interview without repeatedly looking at the TV and commenting about what was on it. In November, during the transition, The Post noted that, based on his biography, ‘He watches enormous amounts of television all through the night.’ And just this week, a source told Politico that Trump’s aides are being forced to try and curb some of his ‘worst impulses’ — including TV-watching, apparently: ‘He gets bored and likes to watch TV … so it is important to minimize that.’”
A piece in The New York Times in the first week of Trump’s presidency noted: “Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.”
Trump has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.
At no time is this more devastatingly obvious than when he grants interviews to print reporters, when he is not protected by the comfort of a script and is not animated by the dazzling glare of television lights. In these moments, all he has is language, and his absolute ineptitude and possibly even lack of comprehension is enormously obvious.
In the last month, Trump has given interviews to print reporters at The Times, The Associated Press, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Read together, the transcripts paint a terrifying portrait of a man who is simultaneously unintelligible in his delivery, self-assured in his ignorance and consciously bathing in his narcissism.
In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter. Passionate performance is the only ideal. A lie forcefully told and often repeated is better than truth — it is accepted as an act of faith, which is better than a point of fact.
This is one of the most heinous acts of this man: the mugging of the meaning, the disassembling of rhetoric until certainty is stripped away from truth like flesh from a carcass.
Degradation of the language is one of Trump’s most grievous sins.
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My single regret related to living in Okinawa is that we haven’t traveled as much as I wanted. While many of our neighbors have traveled to Korea, China, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, and Indonesia, we have not. The reason? Time and expense, of course, factor into the equation, but so do temperatures (I’m not keen on schlepping a toddler to see temple after temple in high heat and humidity), safety (yes, we’d like to stay away from explosions, but we’d also like to keep our little one–and us–free from intestinal bugs and other environmental hazards), and travel routes (arrive in Thailand at 1 a.m? No thank you.).
This weekend, we will visit Hiroshima, Japan. It is a city known to most as the site the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” was dropped on August 6, 1945, killing an estimated 70,000 people. Every American I know who has visited the city has been moved, many citing it as a necessary visit prior to departing Japan. It serves as a reminder of the horrors and devastation of war. More importantly, it serves as a reminder of our humanity and our sameness.
The other week, my neighbor described her visit to Hiroshima with her mother, who was visiting Okinawa for several weeks. I asked whether she felt as if it wasn’t her place to be there. “It’s different being there and being American,” she replied. She continued, “But when we lived in Hawaii, it seemed like a lot, if not most, of the visitors I saw at Pearl Harbor were Japanese.”
It’s good to be reminded of the past. Indeed, how else can we be persuaded to think differently in the future?
It’s that time. We are preparing to move. Again. While the details of our move are far from finalized, we have started the process, taking a look at what we will bring with us and what we will leave behind.
Memory is a funny thing. While I recall moving to Okinawa nearly two years ago, I have forgotten about all of the stuff we brought with us, much of which has been tucked away in out-of-the-way places.
A month ago, with the help of my Husband, I began pulling things out of closets and storage areas. The find? Three strollers, including a second-hand jogging stroller used three times; a backpack carrier, used twice in Okinawa; an infant vibrating seat, carrier, bath, play mat and jumperoo, none of which were used in Japan, but were brought in hopes of welcoming another (small) addition to our family; an infant car seat outgrown; a breast pump and related nursing items; and, hidden in plain sight in one of our under-used bedrooms, [S]’s mini-crib and mattress.
Thanks to friends, I’ve learned how to navigate Facebook yardsales groups, posting various items here and there. We’ve sold the crib and mattress, infant carrier, two strollers, and the Britax car seat and stroller. And I couldn’t be more delighted.
The cause of my delight? No, it’s not the cash. A robust second-hand market. Indeed, it serves the dual functions of keeping durable items out of landfills, while providing a financial win for the buyer and seller. Of course, some items, such as clothing, books and household goods, we prefer to donate to the Marine Corps Thrift Shop solely based upon the time value of money. (Bonus, they also accept plastic bags for customer use–a great way to ensure they are reused.)
What I didn’t expect, however, was the market for items in a state of utter disrepair. Our first lawnmower was refurbished on-Island. A father and son worked on putting them together and selling them. Less than a year later, rust caused a wheel to fall off. “Someone will pick it up if it’s free, just post it,” my Husband admonished. I shook my head, “Why would they do that?,” I asked myself.
Regardless of my skepticism, I took photos and posted the lawnmower for free on Facebook. Within hours, two people reached out keen on collecting it from our home. The alternative? To drain the oil and gas and set it out for recycling. I saw that one of the people who reached out to me, recently sold a refurbished lawnmower on Facebook for $80.
One person’s trash really is a another person’s fortune.
The story of Good Friday — the garden, the bloody sweat, the sleeping friends, the torch-carrying crowd, the kiss, the slash of a sword, the questioning, the scourging, the mocking, the beam, the nails, the despair of a good man — is an invitation to cynicism. Nearly every human institution is revealed at its worst.
Government certainly comes off poorly, giving Jesus the bureaucratic shuffle, with no one wanting to take responsibility, until a weak leader gives in to the crowd in the name of keeping the peace. “What is truth?” asks Pontius Pilate, with a sneer typical of politics to this day.
Professional men of religion do not appear in their best light. They are violently sectarian and judgmental and turn to the state to enforce their beliefs. “Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy,” theologian Barbara Brown Taylor sharply observes. “He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix.”
The crowd does not acquit itself well, turning hostile and cruel as quickly as an Internet mob, first putting palms beneath his feet, then thorns upon his brow.
Even friendship comes in for a beating. The men closest to Jesus slept while his enemies are fully awake. There is betrayal by a close, disgruntled associate. And then Peter’s spastic violence and cowardly denials. The women — all the assorted Marys — come off far better in the narrative. But Jesus is essentially abandoned to face his long, suffocating death alone.
Consider how the world appeared at the finish of Good Friday. It would have seemed that every source of order, justice and comfort — politics, institutional religion, the community, friendship — had been discredited. It was the cynic’s finest hour. And God Himself seemed absent or unmoved, turning cynicism toward nihilism. Every ember of human hope was cold. And there was nothing to be done about it.
Then something happened. There was disagreement at the time, as now, on what that something was. According to the story, Pilate posted a guard at the tomb with the instruction: “Make it as secure as you can.” Then the cynics somehow lost control of the narrative. There was an empty tomb and wild reports of angels and ghosts. And the claim of resurrection.
Even those who believe the body was moved must confront certain facts. Faith in the figure who Rome executed has far outlasted the Roman Empire. The cowardly friends became bold missionaries, most dying torturous deaths (according to tradition) for the sake of a figure they had once betrayed in their sleep. The faith thus founded has given the mob — all of us, even the ones who mock, especially the ones who mock — the hope of pardon and peace.
For believers, the complete story of Good Friday and Easter legitimizes both despair and faith. Nearly every life features less-than-good Fridays. We grow tired of our own company and travel a descending path of depression. We experience lonely pain, unearned suffering or stinging injustice. We are rejected or betrayed by a friend. And then there are the unspeakable things — the death of a child, the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer, the steady advance of a disease that will take our minds and dignity. We look into the abyss of self-murder. And given the example of Christ, we are permitted to feel God-forsaken.
And yet . . . eventually . . . or so we trust . . . or so we try to trust: God is forever on the side of those who suffer. God is forever on the side of life. God is forever on the side of hope.
If the resurrection is real, death’s hold is broken. There is a truth and human existence that cannot be contained in a tomb. It is possible to live lightly, even in the face of death — not by becoming hard and strong, but through a confident perseverance. Because cynicism is the failure of patience. Because Good Friday does not have the final word.
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