The Pusher

Many areas of the U.S. weathered quite a heat wave this weekend.  This past Saturday in Ohio, temps climbed to a mind-numbing 105 degrees.  Like many parents of young children, this somewhat limits our options for weekend activity; park visits or sprinkler fun look a little less inviting when you layer in the heat-stroke possibility.  However, being cooped up in the house with a six-year-old who’s full of energy and climbing the walls isn’t particularly appealing, either.  Solution?  Play place at the mall, of course!

The play area at the mall closest to us is set up to resemble the solar system.  There’s a mock space ship to sit inside, planets to climb on and around, as well as plenty of room to run.  When we arrived I was relieved to find that it wasn’t quite as crowded as I had expected, especially given the weather outside.  There are only so many seats around the perimeter, and they’re prime property and go fast.  I wound up sitting next to a father who appeared to be fairly near my own age, and settled in while my daughter happily sprinted off.  The father next to me was busy laughing with his son, who looked to be maybe eight or nine years old.  I had my head turned away from them when I heard a really loud *thwump* sound, and turned to see what it was.  The son was lying on the ground with a grin on his face.  Initially I thought the boy had fallen (frequent occurrence in the play area) and, since he appeared unharmed, I didn’t think much of it.

I turned my attention back to locating my daughter (which is basically my full-time occupation on these occasions – there she is!  Wait; lost her.  There she is!  Oh, lost her again…there she is! – and on it goes…), until I heard it again, *thwump*.  Same boy, same fall, same location; right in front of me and his dad.  It seemed odd, so this time I kept looking.  The boy was laughing while he got up, and then he said, “Again!”

At this point, his father proceeded to basically push him to the ground.  (Okay, maybe push is an understatement; shove may be more accurate.)  *thwump*  The boy, lying flat on the ground, erupted in hilarity, then got up again and asked for more.  This continued for a good twenty minutes, to my amazement, and I tried not to stare.  I have to say, it’s quite distracting trying to locate your child when another youngster is being throttled to the floor right next to you.

*thwump*

“Again, Dad, do it medium this time!”

*thwump*

(Wait, there are different speeds?  Can he breathe down there?)

*thwump*

“Hahahahahaha!  Do it again!!”

*thwump*

(Shoot; where did she go this time??  “Hey, no hair pulling, girls!”)

*thwump*

(Seriously, is this really safe?  Minor organ damage, perhaps?)

*thwump*

“Awesome!  Good one, Dad!  Hahaha!”

*thwump*

(Good grief!  What is this, linebacker training?)

*thwump*

And on, and on it went.  I kept looking around to see if anyone else was as uncomfortable as I was by this roughhouse recreation.  I mean clearly, the boy thought it was fantastically fun and the father was happy to play along.  But I couldn’t shake my unease at the forcefulness of the interplay, nor my relief when they finally packed it in for the day and proceeded on their merry pusher/pushee way to greener, air-conditioned pastures.

Talking later to my husband about it, he explained it was really just a sort of father/son male-bonding.  Sort of when guys take turns slugging each other in the arm or stomach to see who can take it better, or jump up and slam their chests together to see if they can make each other pass out.  (Quick note: these rituals sound just as ridiculous as the shoving game, so the logic was a bit lost on me, but I digress…)  He shared that it’s just the way guys sometimes relate, and that it probably made me more uncomfortable than anyone else (well, save for maybe some other mothers in the area).

Interesting observations for an afternoon fleeing the heat.  I think I’ll keep my ‘pushing’ limited to the swings at the park, thank you just the same.

Storms, and Bookstores, and Accordions…Oh My

There are days where you start out with a plan.  Maybe you have a goal in mind, errands to do, an outing, etc.  You decide on a course, confident you will follow it and accomplish what you set out to do; and then fate steps in.

My Sunday started out like this; the goal was to acquire activity books for my daughter to be used during our plane flight on our upcoming vacation.  There is a Half Price Books store fairly near our house, and they often have new ones for cheap, so this was the intended location of the morning.  (A little background…  The weather here – Ohio state – has been volatile lately.  Very hot, humid, and stormy.  Two nights ago we had a particularly nasty storm; 80 mph straight-line winds, power outages, downpours, lots of damage.  Many areas of town were still recovering through the weekend.)  My daughter and I had already wandered over to Half Price Books on Saturday, only to discover they were closed as a result of no power.  However, I was again in the area later that day, and the traffic lights and a couple of businesses looked operable.  I assumed the grid was back up, so we decided to try again the next day.

With our mission in mind we again headed out Sunday morning for our destination.  Unfortunately, they were still closed with no power.  A little frustrated but undeterred, we decided to head a bit farther out to another HPB location so we could acquire our intended loot.  After 20 more minutes in the car and some overly dramatic radio sing-a-longs, we arrived.  There were markedly few cars in the area, and upon inspection we learned that this location was also out of power.  Ugh.  The plan for the day was unraveling quickly…

Given that our trip was looming, and I didn’t have the luxury of more HPB locations nor lots of time to wait for power fixes (some areas at this point were estimating 5-7 days before repair), we broke down and decided to head for the full-price shelves of Barnes & Noble which was very nearby.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of B&N and browse there often.  But for activity books that my girl will use and abuse on a plane and then dispose of quickly, I would really much prefer the budget route.  However, with a little selective browsing and a trip through the sales rack, we wound up getting out of B&N without breaking the bank.

After a nice girls lunch full of laughs and funny faces (not to mention odd looks from other patrons), we decided to meander over to Whole Foods before heading home.  Shortly after we walked in, I noticed the familiar strains of accordion music drifting through the air.  Leaning over to my daughter, I whispered in her ear, “Remember the accordion man I showed you the picture of not too long ago?  He’s here.”  “NO WAY!!  WHERE?!?”,  was the loudly excited reply.  It took a few tries, but I finally convinced her that where he was located was outside of the checkout area, and we needed to quickly gather our purchases and pay for them before we could go see him.  The plus side of this was it helped to get her to be uncharacteristically helpful while we shopped for the few things we needed, and kept her from being as handsy as she normally is.

We checked out quickly and made our way over to the same spot I found him in before; a chair in the corner of the eating area.  I wasted no time walking up to him today, and saying a hearty hello.  The big grin I remembered from the first time I saw him (you can read about it here) was just as sparkly, and he was obviously happy to have company.  I reminded him I was the woman who took his picture a few short weeks ago, and apologized for not having caught his name.  “It’s Burt!” he said excitedly.  I introduced myself and my daughter, who was suddenly very shy.  He pulled a chair up for us and encouraged us to sit down and listen, which we did, my daughter on my lap.  It was so sweet the way he showed her his accordion (“64 years old with lots of duct tape, but it still plays just fine!”), and picked out songs he thought she would know (such as ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’).  My daughter relaxed and opened up once the music began into play.  She loved the tunes immensely, and I loved watching her listen and smile.

What I didn’t expect was to be caught off guard when he started playing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’.  I found myself tearing up as I was suddenly my daughter’s age, sitting in my childhood living room, watching my father play the accordion as I marveled how he could work such an amazing contraption.  Somewhat of a surreal experience as I held my own daughter on my lap.  As Burt shifted to ‘Tura Lura Lura’ the memory continued, and was compounded by thoughts of my large Irish family and my grandfather’s funeral.  I had no sooner started to dab at my eyes when my daughter turned and asked, “Momma, are you crying?  You’re not supposed to cry, dry it up lady!!” She said it in the funniest way I just had to laugh, then we both laughed, and then Burt laughed because he probably had no idea what happened but thought laughing was a great idea and joined in for the heck of it.

We listened a little while longer and then said our goodbyes.  Burt asked us to please come listen again, and we promised we would.  As we exited the store I mentioned to my daughter that it was probably a good thing the power was out in the Half Price Books that day, or we never would have run in to Burt and his accordion at all, for we would have been nowhere near the Whole Foods store.  Our original plan would have had us in, out, and home in a flash.  As it turns out, the revised events for the day held much more adventure and richness than my original plan could possibly have garnered.  I supposed plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, now are they?  Often times it’s the unplanned that yields the biggest rewards.

Sprinting Towards Selflessness

AP Photo/The Daily Call, Mike Ullery

AP Photo/The Daily Call, Mike Ullery

What compels a runner, struggling to finish her own race, to stop and help a competitor finish – even pushing that opponent ahead of herself causing them to finish first, and herself to finish dead last?   Good question.  It’s the one on the minds of all the spectators present last Saturday at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, as well as many a reporter trying to secure an interview with said runner after the race’s end.  (You can see a more detailed account here: http://espn.go.com/high-school/track-and-xc/story/_/id/8010251/high-school-runner-carries-injured-foe-finish-line)

Many are calling it ‘sportsmanship’; some are calling it ‘compassion’.  Others are labeling it ‘humanity’, even ‘heroic’.  Clearly, any of these descriptions would be accurate.  The runner herself, Meghan Vogel (of note, a junior in high school), doesn’t seem to know what all the fuss is about; she felt she was simply doing what anyone else would have done.  But really, did she?  Or rather, would anyone else have done the same?  Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily a given, which is what makes this act of selflessness so amazing.

Traits like those Miss Vogel exhibited are not always innate; often, they are learned.  The fruit would have to fall close to the tree, as it were.  While we do have the seeds of compassion and empathy inside us all (at least I believe we do), it is the way these seeds are nurtured that determine how we put these traits into practice as we transition from children, to adolescents, to adults.  We are taught, often by example, how to treat others around us; whether to value humanity, when to lend a hand, how to practice simple decency.  The fact that, at around sixteen years of age, while obviously being a serious sports competitor, this young woman would sacrifice her athletic goal with nary a second thought to help out a fellow runner, simply illustrates the examples she has clearly been following, likely, for most of her life.  It’s not something she suddenly chose to do some random Saturday in June.  And that she would do it without even batting an eye is what makes it so extraordinary to me.

As I looked at the photo at the end of the article I couldn’t help but think of my own daughter (currently six years of age); I thought of all the hopes and dreams I have for things she will accomplish in her own life.  I have to say, I can imagine how proud Miss Vogel’s mother was of her on this day; and really, she should also be proud of herself, for helping to raise such an amazing young woman.  Selflessness is not an easy trait to foster; but it is one that will take you farther than any other.  And Miss Vogel has shown us, with this one act of kindness and compassion, that she’s already accomplished more than many have in a lifetime.

Forward Motion

It’s been a long week of reflection.  Just when you think you’re moving forward, you’re reminded that you’re still just barely gaining ground.  Watching a television show this evening, a random story line that crossed its way to including soldiers overseas and their struggles brought me back to where I was (where many of us were) one week ago today, the emotions as strong as ever.  Just when I thought the forward motion had somehow carried us a little bit past them…I was moved somehow, to make this my first entry.  Maybe because I was asked then to send this to a larger group, and simply hadn’t.  So I will repost, below, what I did then.  The hope for healing remains, renewed by the reminder that it is still needed – and will be, for much longer, as we move forward more slowly than we sometimes think.

———————-

4/17/22

There was no question as we headed into today that it was going to be difficult.  As it was the fourth day of events remembering Shawn’s life (and really, the 13th day in a string of unending days since news of his death), you could easily see the toll it was taking on everyone.  It’s been hard to watch the family continually shoulder their grief day after day this whole time.  My hope was that today would finally bring some closure to this chapter so that they may somehow begin to move forward from it. We gathered at the funeral home, readied the procession line, and began the journey out of town.  We were preceded by the Honor Guard again.  I had watched my Father-in-Law go to every single one of them individually, shake their hands, and thank them for being there before we left; a somewhat sobering sight.  As there had already been a public procession into town two days before that was greeted by the citizens of Grove City on the road (which I had not seen from the vantage point of the person in the car, I had waited along the road as well), I was completely unprepared for there to be people lining the road again today as we left; but there were.  And there were many, flags held high, hands over hearts.  The fire department had again deployed the ladder truck with the giant U.S. flag, and the whole unit was standing in front of it at attention with smaller flags of their own.  The Catholic church towards the end of town had brought out all of the children who also stood with flags, hands over hearts, tall and at attention to the long line of us trailing past them.  It was overwhelming.
For the drive from Grove City to Wellston, we were literally the only cars on the road.  The amazing police escort leapfrogged each other the entirety of the way (a 90-minute route) blocking entrance ramps and intersections so that we could pass through uninterrupted.  It was almost surreal to simply glide through small towns and traffic lights and barely change speed or course at all.
The most affecting part of the drive were the complete strangers we encountered.  The traffic on the opposite side of a divided highway that pulled over and stopped completely until we had passed, some standing outside of their cars.  The random man in jean shorts and rugged t-shirt standing behind his parked car, saluting as we drove by.  The young lady perched in the back of her pickup truck wiping tears from her cheeks, watching quietly.  The older gentleman who had briefly abandoned his car at the intersection he was prevented from turning through, so that he could stand next to it with his hand over his heart.  The small group of people at a random overpass who stood and draped a flag for us to see as we passed under.  We don’t know any of them; they don’t know us – and yet, they were moved enough to spend a portion of their day making sure we saw them.  Making an effort to show us that Shawn was not forgotten.  Those are the things that caught me off guard; the reminder that we do not suffer in our grief alone, in this world.  Even people we do not know will help shoulder it for us.
Heading into Wellston, we knew the citizens would likely be along the streets waiting; however, I was again surprised as I didn’t expect the reader boards.  The gas stations, American Legion, Wendy’s and others had all changed their reader boards to hold messages for “Msgt. Shawn Hannon”, thanking him for his “service and sacrifice”.  That was dumbfounding to me for some reason.  There were, again, so many people; not only on the main street, but on all the smaller side streets leading up to it as well.  Holding flags, signs, saluting, hands over hearts, or just staring in awe, as we were.  Occasionally you would see a random soldier speckled in amongst the crowd, in an outdated uniform.  This was particularly poignant – it meant that they had taken the time to unearth this dress uniform that they had kept for so long, try it on to see if it still fit, and decide to put it on for this occasion.  Just to honor this man.  What an amazing gesture.  Not that any of the other gestures made for him today were any less than…
The graveside service was poignant, and difficult, and also a little surreal.  Hearing the pipers play up on the hill behind us; seeing all of the solders at attention; hearing the firing of the rounds; watching the unmanned horse be led past with the reversed boots in the stirrups as taps was played.  I kept thinking in my head, as I’m sure many others did, that we simply shouldn’t be here; it shouldn’t be happening.  And isn’t that the case for so many other families of so many soldiers?  None of us should be seeing these things in relation to anyone we love.  The presentation of the flags was the hardest, I think, as that was the final piece.  There were three; the first for his wife, the second for his mother, and the third for his father, my Father-in-Law, who is so dear to us and my daughter especially.  The closer they got to presenting the third flag, the more I willed it not to happen; the more I willed it not to be real for him.  For any of them.  But we can’t turn back the clock; we can’t right any of these wrongs that have occurred.
The flags have all been presented.  It really is final; this chapter is complete.  The only place we can go from here is towards healing.  That is my sincerest hope for all of us.  In healing, there is light.