Praise the Lorde

I can’t dance to save my life. I mean, I can dance. I dance just fine. My body moves in relation to however my mind feels. Sometimes, I find a beat. But most of the time I just flail around a lot. I used to not dance. I used to be embarrassed to dance. I was once told I had no rhythm and while that may be true as far as what a dance instructor desires, I could still dance. I just chose not to for too long.

I’m 43 now and I have three kids, two of them will dance with wild abandon. The oldest one is entering a stage in life where kids are being kids and they’re starting to tease one another and that sucks, but I think he’ll make it out on the other side still dancing.

Here’s the deal: even if you’re not Beyonce good, even if you’re not Lady Gaga good, dancing feels and looks fantastic. Dancing is like laughter. I think we need to do it. I think we need to seek it out. I believe dancing could save people.

Hell, even animals dance.

Anyway, I love Lorde. No, I did not misspell the other name for Jesus. I love the singer Lorde. I have for years and years. Her music is top on all of my running set lists. I put her on during our parties. I listen to her on road trips. I sing along to her on the top of my lungs in a minivan with three kids in tow while they roll their eyes. I have become that mom.

Lorde brings me a great deal of joy. I find her music to be layered and difficult and perfect and imperfect and offbeat and on-beat and danceable and nearly edible. Like, if my ears had mouths, I would eat her beats. I think she is a wonderful singer, one of the most talented artists alive today. The fact that she’s 20-years-old is downright mind-blowing. At 20, I was working at a video store. My biggest claim to fame was having the best “Employee Pick” movie shelf.

Guys, this post isn’t going to be pretty. Forgive me in advance for all the swear words, because I think there are going to be a lot of them.

I wrote this pissed off.

This is about Lorde’s dancing on Saturday Night Live and how the Internet backlash she received was downright stupid offensive. People made fun of her, saying she doesn’t know how to dance. They suggested she hire someone to teach her. Some people ridiculed this amazingly talented artist, a person who emits more creativity in a single fart than most of us create over an entire year.

I watched her dance. I found it refreshing—normal, beautiful. I found it real. I found it powerful.

My husband put it well, “I don’t understand the big deal. It just looks like a person dancing.”

Lorde’s dancing was inspirational. She made me want to get up and dance. She set an example for every little girl and boy: you don’t need a team of choreographers in order to dance. You just have to fucking want to dance.

Lorde is an inspiration. Again.

So: fuck the haters who made fun of this female artist for the way she danced on SNL. Had she been some indierock guy, you damn well know everyone would have suggested how “cute” and “trendy” and “adorable” his dancing was; how the dancing was unlike all the rest.

But she’s female and for some reason she is held to some stupid standard, some bullshit norm created by a bunch of fucking insecure douchebags.

Who decided what dancing is supposed to look like? People don’t ridicule the sound of laughter. Why would anyone make fun of another person for dancing? What the fuck is wrong with people?

One of my biggest regrets in life, and something I am trying desperately to teach my children to avoid, is that I spent far too much time comparing myself to others and feeling insecure about it. I was afraid to be different. I was afraid to do something new. I was simply afraid. That changed over time. Once I hit college I started to get it. I started to find myself a bit more. But I do wonder: had I realized this sooner, who would I be today?

I do know this much: I definitely would have danced more.

 

Alas, Babylon: A Book Review.

Back when I was planning what books to read and in what order, I skimmed some of the reviews for Alas, Babylon. I was surprised to see that SO MANY people reread this book every year. I figured they were exaggerating. Why would one do such a thing when there are so many books to read and so little time?

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But I get it now. I get why this book is one to reread. I think it’s possible to take away something new every time you read it. The subtleties are abundant.

Thus far, out of all the books listed here, Alas, Babylon sits comfortably among my top three. It is such a captivating story. Every character exists, all are believable. They are all flawed. And they are all perfect because of those flaws. What I found truly remarkable about this book, however, was that it was written in 1959 and still stands up today. It is timeless.

I was also surprised by how hopeful this book made me feel, and how positive it is. I know that seems a little unbelievable. How can a book where millions of people die due to a massive nuclear war between Russian and the United States end up leaving a person feeling hopeful? But it did. Life went on in the most subtle and sometimes beautiful manner.

Life persevered.

Alas, Babylon brought me back to my sophomore existentialism class. I hated my sophomore existentialism class. I was so excited going into it, and it just failed miserably at giving me the rich thoughtfulness I so much desired. The books we read fell into the cliché category. The topics we discussed became a bore. I never experienced any enlightenment. I never left chewing on any new thoughts. It was just blah, which is kind of ironic actually.

However, during that same semester, I also enrolled in a literature course taught by a woman in her 70s. She brought a Yorkshire terrier to class with her every single day. She wore the most elaborate and colorful outfits—long shawls and flowing scarves—and moved around the room like one of those unique deep sea creatures. She taught with her entire body. Her jewelry clanged and jingled as she moved. She was so full of life! And she went on the most spectacular tangents about the books and poems we read. Class discussions were so much fun—never a dull moment—and when class ended you felt as though you UNDERSTOOD something momentous. New ideas shot out of the back of your mind like paint pellets, coating the inside of your head like a Jackson Pollock painting.

That was the class where I learned the most about existentialism. Life stands in the most glorious, clear, and beautiful manner when it appears to be over. Everything is amplified and crisp and cherished when you’re not given the guarantee of a tomorrow. Suspended from fear, hovering within a now.

What a necessary and important concept. And Alas, Babylon touched upon that once more.

Sometimes, amidst death and destruction, compassion and appreciation swell. People start to pay attention to what matters most.

When a forest is burned to the ground, new growth often flourishes.

Alas, Babylon, a book about nuclear war, turned out to be one of the more positive books I’ve ever read.

 

Dystopian Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian – even apocalyptic – literature lately. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I take comfort in this dystopian literature. I used to read a great deal of science fiction as a kid and in my 20s but in the past decade, I’ve avoided genres with too much gravity. I’m not sure what changed – or when – but I’m sure it was a side effect of becoming a wife, mother, homeowner, baker, suburbanite, news-junkie, and a couple dozen additional roles or personalities.

One must wonder, though, if there’s more to it. After all, most people grow up and take on crushing amounts of responsibility and they don’t stop enjoying uplifting titles like The Road or Breitbart News.

And why has it pivoted recently?

Mental Health is Weird

I suffer from a great deal of generalized anxiety. I never realized how much it affected me until I began working with a doctor.

Sometimes, my anxiety goes into overdrive and invites my imagination over and the two spin in an echo chamber, making each other stronger, and I’m dragged along for the ride. This doesn’t happen very often but when it does this type of shit takes place.

Let them bring out our old pal depression, and the party quickly looks like The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The instant relief provided by certain medications can be a real eye-opener. For example, a  beta-blocker or benzodiazepine like Klonopin – when taken at the appropriate therapeutic dose – doesn’t really seem to do anything (aside from being a bit lazy or sleepy at first). It isn’t like medications or drugs that get you high or have undeniable effects.

Compared to things like PCP, crack, and magnesium citrate, the power of anti-anxiety medications for people with chronic, generalized anxiety is that those substances remove symptoms you may not have even noticed.

Imagine taking a pill and, an hour later, you realize not only that you’ve had fire ants biting you constantly for the past three decades but that they’re gone. The discomfort you’d gotten so used to as a baseline is zapped and suddenly, feeling neutral is much better than even the best high.

It reminds me of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and the shock their bodies must feel when they go from a hot tub to the icy Atlantic.

Meds can be useful (especially in early therapy), while learning cognitive behavioral therapy (changing thought patterns), new coping skills, and mindfulness.

Because of Three Mile Island and 9/11, there is a section of my brain that believes it’s only a matter of time before the human race suffers from something colossal and terrifying. Part of me believes a plague could knock out a large chunk of mankind. I believe a nuclear mishap could take down entire continents. I believe climate change and extreme weather patterns will eventually wipe out cities and towns. I am better now that I’m being treated for anxiety and depression in the sense that I can now stop my brain from going to insane levels of delusions and worry. (Like the time I was CONVINCED we had a meth lab next-door to our apartment in Brooklyn? I had the maintenance come out twice, and begged Toby to come home from his business trip early. I moved the kids into the far end of the apartment. We all slept in one huddled mass in Emory’s room for two nights. And I posted all sorts of shit on twitter about it.)

It’s not that bad anymore, but it’s still there. And I suppose I read these books because it’s nice to sit with likeminded weirdoes at the book table. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. It’s also kind of nice to be prepared should the apocalyptic shit hit the fan.

Just kidding.

There is something beautiful about science fiction and the amazingly intricate worlds people create. This form of escapism appeals to me. When it’s done well. it’s truly remarkable, like hallucinogenics (not that I know a THING about that). Anyway, it’s good to be back here, to be able to thoroughly enjoy it again and not enter some other delusional dimension.

All that said, I think I’m going to start doing some short book reviews about all the books I’ve been reading lately. I was trying to read a book a week, but I’m finding that rather difficult given some of these books are 700 pages long and I have a family to care for. But I’m doing pretty ok!

SINCE JANUARY 1, 2017

Books I’ve Read:

Normal
Alas, Babylon
The Library at Mount Char
Man In The High Castle
On The Beach
The Wolf Road
Station Eleven
The Girl With all the Gifts
Dark Matter
The Last Tribe  (Didn’t finish.)
Wool
What Alice Forgot (Vacation Book)

I am trying to stick with dystopian and science fiction, but I’m finding that I’ve needed a few vacations here and there. What Alice Forgot was a vacation, for example. A much needed, and quite enjoyable one, I might add.

Currently Reading: Next To My Bed: 

Homo Dues: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Nonfiction)
Before the Fall

Upcoming: On My Shelf: 

Divergent Series
The Giver
The Handmade’s Tale

So, I will start tomorrow. It’s going to be a bit difficult as I haven’t made any notes on the books I read months ago, but they are still there. And down the road, I will write reviews and thoughts right as I finish, perhaps even while I’m still reading. I hope you will stick by and help me out. I would love to get your point of view. I will desperately try and avoid spoilers in the body of a post but may add them in the comments. If I do add any spoilers, you will be warned at the start.

I think this may help me to focus some of my misplaced energy lately. (Also: I still can’t run so this seems like a decent/healthy enough pastime.)

Thanks for reading, friends. Please feel free to drop me some suggestions. I love suggestions.

Goodie Bags, Plastic and My Ass.

Many of my friends on Facebook are aware of the intense hatred I hold toward all things goodie bag. Given what happened on Sunday, I think it’s time for me to vent in long-form.

Now, this might become heated and I might upset people and I can already see the retro comments I’ll one day receive, but I don’t care. Goodie bags must be stopped.

As you already know, most consumer plastics don’t biodegrade. Instead, the plastic merely breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, if anything. Sometimes, tiny plastic bits end up in the stomach of a sea creature or a bird. Sometimes it washes up on beaches and covers the sand with garbage.

It’s horrible. I am a hater of plastic. I try desperately to cut back on how much plastic we use. Since having kids, my hatred for plastic has amplified because kids are the most wasteful creatures in existence. I am trying to teach my three boys that they don’t NEED a drinking straw and they can use a glass instead of a plastic to-go cup when we eat out. But glass cups are rarely brightly covered in cartoon animals. Glass cups don’t usually come with red curly (plastic) straws.

Plastic sucks. Most of it. Obviously, it’s also wonderful and has amazing uses. But the economics, lobbying, or perhaps the evergreen popularity of The Graduate (“One word: plastics!”) has led to an overabundance of its use – from excess packaging to drinking straws to… Goodie bags.

Goodie bags. Most of the time, they just a massive waste. We should stop handing them out at parties. Kids don’t care about the shit that comes inside a goodie bag. Ok, that’s not true. Kids care about it for like 30 minutes, maybe three hours. They may care about it in the car on the way home and then lose interest. Some care about it for an hour or two AFTER they get home. But it always ends up in a drawer that looks like this:

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That’s if you’re lucky. Most of the time, mine don’t even make it out of the car.

Let me back up here. Because I don’t want to come off as a total asshole. My kids LOVE goodie bags. They get excited about them. They think they NEED them. Something about the anticipation of another set of plastic teeth gets them giddy with excitement. I will often say to them: do you really need another set of plastic teeth? And they will explain that this time, they will wear the plastic teeth, they will love the plastic teeth. The plastic teeth won’t end up in a landfill.

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I am by no means above this. My kids are as materialistic as they come.

Yesterday, we held Elliot’s sixth birthday party at a place called Pump It Up. It’s a great place to have a party, a bit pricey, but whatever. The kids get to jump around and bounce and climb and wear themselves out before we stuff them full of pizza and cake. It’s a win for everyone.

I planned this a few weeks ago. When I was asked about goodie bags I politely declined.

“But they’re included.” She said.

“That’s OK. No offense to you, but all that plastic drives me crazy and it just ends up in a drawer.”

“I understand. How about a piñata?”

“Does that come stuffed with plastic toys?”

“Yes, and candy.”

“Let’s have more candy, less plastic toys.”

“Done.”

We would try and come up with goodie bags on our own. Something useful. Something that wouldn’t end up in a landfill. Toby and I came up with this:

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It’s an empty comic book. We purchased 13 of these to give out. We included a nice pencil and some cool comic book -like stickers. Every kid likes to draw, right?

We ended up with 16 kids. I agreed to a few siblings and someone forgot to RSVP. I didn’t have enough goodie bags. So, through gritted teeth, knowing there might be a riot among 6-year-olds, I had no choice but to buy a few of the plastic ones from Pump It Up. But who would get the plastic ones? And would they be OK with that? Would they care? And then would the kids who got the comics, would they freak out? AND WHY AM I EXPENDING SO MUCH EMOTIONAL ENERGY WORRYING ABOUT THIS?

Again, because I have kids. And I’ve seen what happens when one of them doesn’t feel they were treated fairly, I knew that this might end poorly.

So, I took the woman managing our party aside and told her the situation. She suggested we give the girls the plastic goodie bags (there were five girls) and the boys the comics. Which, I found weirdly sexist, but I had split my pants earlier on the bouncy slide and I wasn’t wearing any underwear.

Oh, wait? I didn’t mention that part? Yeah.screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-9-46-56-am

It was actually at Pump It Up, but everything else is accurate.

I split my pants – right where it counts – on the bouncy slide at and had to work the rest of the party feeling more than very vulnerable. It helped I was wearing a long shirt, but I made the mistake on telling Toby about it, and so I became the butt of Toby’s jokes for the remainder of the party (pun intended). “Hey, Michele, you to get up there with the kids and dance, it’s FREEZE dance.”

Bastard.

“You can wink at everyone!”

Asshole.

I was in no mood to come up with a solution to goodie bag politics with my ass hanging out.

All I was worried about was making sure I didn’t accidentally flash any children (the adults would shame me – the kids would get me arrested). So, the official Pump It Up Party Planner and I agreed: I would buy five plastic goodie bags. I would give the boys the comics and the girls the Pump It Up goodie bags. The party planner would throw in a “special ticket”. A “special ticket” allows you to pick out MORE PLASTIC GARBAGE at a prize counter before you leave the premises. Given the circumstances, it sounded fine. Arbitrarily gender-based, and cheap and sloppy, but the math worked and the single brain cell that wasn’t arguing with its peers about the date of my last waxing could handle no more nuance.

You can see where this is heading, I’m sure. The girls were totally ok with the plastic goodie bags. No tears. They were a little confused as to why the boys weren’t getting the same thing (as a kid who spent ALL OF HER TIME drawing, I would have started throwing punches, but whatever). They took it in stride. The boys? They were OK, more or less. Except for two kids. Two kids LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS. Tears were streaming down their faces. They wanted the plastic goodie bags. They wanted the special ticket! THEY DIDN’T WANT A STUPID COMIC BOOK.

Hold up for a second: I need to explain something. I am, by no means, judging these kids. Again: I have three kids. They can be right bastards. If this hadn’t been a BOUDREAUX birthday party, if they had been at another birthday party and they had gotten the comic instead of the cool goodie bag from Pump It Up? They would have been the kids freaking out. I am not sure if they would have cried, but I would have heard about it later. They would NOT have been happy. Elliot may have even burned the place down.

All this to say: I don’t slight the kids for feeling this way. I get it. And I felt super badly for the parents of these two boys because in an alternate universe, I was those two parents with the screaming kids. So, please don’t think I sit here in judgement.

Anyway, I walked up to the one kid with my ass hanging out and said, “Are you upset about the goodie bags?”

Snot is coming out of his nose, tears streaming into his mother’s lap. He is distraught. “YES!” He sobs. “I am HEART BROKEN. I wanted the special ticket!”

His mother is  looking at me with the saddest, most apologetic, embarrassed look. And I give her one back that says, “No, this is on me. I am so sorry.”

And then we both tried to explain to the child that we weren’t even sure what the special ticket even was and that I bet he could pick something out up front if he wanted to. And that we were both sorry things ended up this way. I explained to his mother what had happened—that siblings showed up and I didn’t have enough. She understood. He didn’t care. I can’t say I blame him.

I tried. I tried, Mother Earth, to help keep the plastic at bay. I failed, I’m afraid. Because somehow even my youngest ended up with one of these bags. He was SO EXCITED. Took everything out of the bag in the car.

“YOOK WHAT I GOT!” He said holding up the fake teeth. “AND DIS!” He said, grabbing the plastic glasses.

It took us 30 minutes to get home. Everyone piled out of the car and ran into the house, ready to play with their friends out back while Toby and I began getting everything out of the car. There, discarded in between the carseats sat 75% of the plastic goodie bag that Walter had managed to nab.

Brain Vomit: MRIs, Overdoing it and Failing at Moderation.

I had an MRI done on my foot last week. What a strange experience that was. Those machines are enormous. Why does all medical equipment and hospital furniture have to look so similar? The equipment, the chairs, the wall color—even the blankets are the same. Is it because they’re all designed by the same people and then shipped out to every medical establishment? Is there a single monopoly on the design of everything medical? Wouldn’t it be nice to get some creativity in there somehow? I know designing hospital equipment and hospital furniture doesn’t seem very appealing to a designer, but IT COULD BE. Because right now, it’s so damn depressing and much of the time you’re going in and you’re already not there for fun, so why add to that with incredibly drab medical equipment?

But I digress. I’m good at tangents.

The building where I had my imaging done is devoted specifically to imaging machines. There are two floors and rooms line those floors with many of these drab looking, but colossal machines. I was just having my foot done, but the machine that did the work was the size of a NYC apartment. (Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here. They are large, but if you put someone in an apartment that size, they’d freak out within minutes. Granted, I’m sure people have done it—after all, those Tiny House shows are wildly popular. Hey! Wouldn’t it be weird if someone turned an MRI machine into one of those tiny houses? There’s a design challenge I could get behind. I’d watch that.)

So, yeah. MRIs. Weird. And of course the information came back as I’d expected: I have a stress fracture on the third metatarsal, which is the middle toe, so it’s kind of like my foot is telling me to fuck off every single day.

I can’t run. I haven’t run for 26 days.

Running clears my head of all the leftover bits that I can’t do away with by sleeping or contemplating. When I run, I empty the trash, so to speak. I clear my head of all the clutter.

I can’t run the D.C. Half on March 11th, so we’re canceling our annual trip to Washington and that thoroughly bums me out. Even if we did still take advantage of the hotel room, I can’t really walk around to see the monuments and museums with the kids, so, I guess we’ll have to wait until next year.

The Star Wars half is on April 21 and I’m crossing every unbroken toe I have left (7 of them) in hopes of being healed by then.

I was doing so well for a while. I was running every day. I was eating healthy enough (minus the ice cream every night), I wasn’t drinking, and I was getting a ton of sleep. I felt good. So good, I overdid the good and then the good turned bad really fast and I got injured. I hit a wall. I couldn’t walk and when I tried to walk, I walked differently to accommodate and so my lower back started to hurt as well. I am not sure why I have trouble approaching things with some moderation. I moderate nothing. When I approach something, it’s all or nothing. Why can’t I run sometimes and cross train on other days? Or take the day off? Why can’t I have ONE bowl of ice cream instead of two? Why am I not satisfied with ONE bowl of Raisin Bran and instead I have three? Why do I have to finish the entire bag of BBQ potato chips? Why do I have to finish the whole bottle of wine? Why do I need to fill all the flower vases every week? Why do I need to overfeed the birds outback? Why do I need ALL the cats? Why does my brain not stop at enough?

I know all my faults. I wear them every day.

Anyway, I finally called a psychiatrist and I hope to discuss all these things with someone who knows stuff about things. Medication has helped me a great deal, but I need some talk therapy. I need to get to the root of it all.

I’m not sure why I’m sharing this. It seems that lately whenever I share something personal, it backfires somehow. A family member may use it against me. Someone may look at me differently. But here I am, likely making yet another mistake with my writing out too much personal information, blogging like it’s 2003 all over again.

Did I mention that I have trouble with moderation? ;]

I’m so far from perfect. I have all these insecurities and every day is a challenge for me to some degree. I am a work in progress. And I have a tendency to overshare my progress—like I’m keeping a public timesheet of all my insecurities, failures and emotions.

Something makes me think people aren’t supposed to do that.

But, again. Moderation isn’t my strong suit. But I’m trying.

I’m trying to fail forward.

Hart Island

I visited Hart Island this morning. It was my 43rd birthday present to myself. I made the arrangements weeks ago.

I knew a little bit about Hart Island before today. I knew that over the course of its long history, it has been:

  • a prison;
  • a boys’ reformatory;
  • a hospital;
  • a psychiatric institution for women; and
  • a tuberculosis sanatorium.

I know it exists largely as a burial ground for all those who die and go unclaimed from the city morgue.

I know that Hart Island has a dark history.

I also know that it’s uninhabited by humans. For me, that was probably the most enticing part. I love the idea of seeing what’s left behind after we’re no longer.

__________________________

Other than what’s written above, I didn’t know much about what to expect when I left the house this morning. I didn’t know how I would feel. I didn’t know what I would see. I was nervous, anxious, excited, and a little scared. All I was told was that someone from the Department of Corrections would take me over to Hart Island from City Island by boat. I was told that I couldn’t bring any contraband along with me and that my visit had to be completed in under an hour and a half.

I’d never been to City Island before. Actually, I’m not sure I ever knew it existed until today. It was kind of baffling that City Island is a part of New York City. I kept having to remind myself that I was indeed within one of the five boroughs. It looks so much like a small fishing town one might find along the coast of New England. Crab shacks and seafood restaurants cover the main drive, which isn’t long at all. The side streets are lined with small, beach-like homes and docks shoot off from each dead end.

It felt strange knowing that one of the biggest cities in the world was only a few miles away. When you’re there, it just doesn’t seem possible.

The sun was bright and the air crisp, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but the wind was unrelenting. Nothing could compete with the wind. It was the star of today’s show.

It was so cold.

I parked a few blocks away from the dock and stopped in at the local diner to purchase a cup of coffee. It cost me a dollar. I didn’t know you could buy a coffee for a dollar in America anymore.

I’d forgotten my gloves. The coffee warmed my hands like a hug.

I walked toward the waterfront. At the end of the road stood a tall fence. Signs read: DO NOT ENTER and PROPERTY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION. There were several trailers set up beyond the fence. A DOC boat waited at the end of a long dock. Beyond it was Hart Island.

To my right, million dollar condos were going up. Construction did its best to pierce through the wind.

I waited. I was early. I’m always early.

A few other people began to walk up. They came in groups. A guard exited the trailer and unlocked the tall fence. He checked our IDs and told us to head down toward the boat at the end of the dock.

Eight guests showed up in total. Two separate groups and one individual. All of us women.

One of the groups consisted of four interior designers from Pratt. They were collecting research for a project on spiritual space and how it makes a person feel. I guess, in this case, that spiritual space was Hart Island.

The other group of three were from a zen center in Manhattan.

And then there was me.

Several people asked me why I was there. I didn’t know what to say. (Research? Curiosity? I’ve been reading so much dystopian literature lately, I figured it’d be kind of interesting to visit an island right off the coast of Manhattan that is totally uninhabited by human beings and instead harbors one of the darkest histories ever? It was a 43rd birthday gift to myself?)

Why was I there? I wasn’t sure. I’m not sure I will ever have the answer to that.

(Does it matter?)

__________________________

Earlier, I’d been stuck in traffic trying to get over the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. On top of the usual traffic, our EZ Pass died months ago and I still haven’t gotten a new one. So I’ve been going old school and sitting in line to pay tolls to an actual human being. It’s not been nearly as annoying as one might assume. I’ve actually kind of enjoyed it. I’ve been making it my thing to be extra nice to the folks working the booths because, I mean, why not?

So, today I stopped at the base of the George Washington Bridge, rolled down my window and said, “HELLO! How much do you I owe you, sir?”

And this beautiful human standing inside this little blue booth, he looked at me and said, “Well, HELLO! I love your energy! Fifteen dollars!”

“OK! I happen to really like you too! You are awesome!”

And we both laughed as I drove away.

That kid made my morning. And suddenly the two hours it took to drive 27 miles didn’t matter all that much anymore.

Currency.

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The boat ride from City Island to Hart Island only took a few minutes. On our way, we rode past a small island called Rat Island which had recently been auctioned off to a resident of City Island for 140,000. I am not sure why, but I found that sort of awesome. I would totally buy a rocky island the size of a NYC apartment inhabited by rats for 140,000.

After we docked and got off the boat, we walked along another wooden dock. Small porcelain angels lined the walkway. Tokens of love and loss. The wind was even more intense on Hart Island as it’s only a mile long and a quarter mile wide. The trees had shed their leaves months earlier, and like the skeletons of an army of soldiers, they greeted us. They lined a path that lead to a hospital on the other side of the island. They seemed proud to be there, sturdy. Wise somehow.

I watched a truck in the distance, it was coming around the trees along the waterfront. It was refrigerated. The words “MEDICAL EXAMINER” were painted on its side.

A woman with the Pratt group asked the officer about the mass graves. He took polite offense to the term. (Our guide was one of the nicest people I’ve met in recent years.)

“What do you think of when you picture a mass grave?” He asked her.

Another woman chimed in, “I see where you’re going with this, when you hear the term ‘Mass Grave’ you conjure up visions of the holocaust—bodies and bodies on top of one another—but that’s what this is, no? I mean, they’re mass graves, no?”

He thought about this for a second and nodded.

“I guess you might say that. But I don’t see them as mass graves.” He continued. “These folks who are sent here, we bury them. We do what we can. This island, while it may not seem like it today in this wind, it’s absolutely beautiful during most months. We have a group of wrens that return to the same nest every year. It’s right over there. And they come back every year. The sun rises from over there,” he points, “and sets over there. And those trees, I tell you, during the spring and summer months, those trees are something else. I guess I just don’t see this place as a mass grave.”

We all stood silent for a while.

“Those trees are some of the toughest trees.” He said. “I love those trees. I planned the whole gazebo to face those trees.”

“I noticed the soldiers.” I thought.

A flock of birds flew overhead. An area mostly untouched by humans was bustling with wildlife.

As we stood in the gazebo, the officer pointed to a plot of green grass.

“There used to be a building there. But during one recent winter, the snow made the roof cave in so we had to take the walls down too.” He shivered. “This spot used to be a lot warmer before that building came down.”

To our right, stood the old administrative offices, an ancient building with missing windows and a door that had fallen in. The brick facade was covered in peeling paint from the wind, rain and years of neglect. Behind that building, sat an old church. Parts of it were falling in on itself but its century-old beauty protects it from judgment.

It’s hard to call something ugly, useless or unnecessary when it has so many years in its corner.

We should stop disregarding things that age.

One women asked the officer how many unclaimed bodies they get per week. “Like, three? Do you ever see three?” She asked him.

“Oh, no. Never three.”

Relief. Because three unclaimed bodies at least once a week in NYC, well, that seems like an awful lot.

“No, usually it’s more like 25.”

Silence.

“Every time they come?” She asked. “Like, every time?”

“Almost” He replied. “Yes.”

Just then, the refrigerated truck from earlier pulled up alongside the gazebo. A man got out and walked over to the officer with a clipboard. The officer signed something, said a few things we didn’t understand, or chose not to, and then the guy returned to the truck.

“What was that?” One of the women asked.

“I had to sign off on today’s burial. They just finished.”

“How many bodies were delivered today?” I asked him.

“Eighteen.”

More silence. A few tears. The wind moved about us wordless.

“You can break ground when it’s this cold?” Another woman asked.

“We do our digging in advance.” He said. “Assuming the channel is permissible for the boat, we bury the dead no matter what the weather is like.”

I watched the truck pull away and wait at the dock for our boat. Empty, it would be riding back with us, only I didn’t know that at the time. I would only realize this as we got off the boat on City Island and at that time I would say this out loud to no one:

“I’m so sorry you had to live that way.”

At one point in time, Hart Island definitely held some sorrow. It has some horrific years among its history. There are unspeakable horrors that took place there. But the Hart Island of today, the fact that the unclaimed are brought and buried there, that’s not the part that I find haunting. That’s no longer the part I find troubling. It’s not the final resting place that makes me feel sad for the unclaimed.

Hart Island itself is not sad, quite the opposite. Being unclaimed in death is not inherently sad either. Who cares ultimately what happens after we die? It’s before that, it’s life that makes that so sad. It’s the before Hart Island that makes the unclaimed so sad. It’s what lead those people to become unclaimed, that’s the truly horrible part.

No one should be unclaimed while living.

But what Hart Island does? Well, today, it makes the terrible truth seem a little less awful. And maybe it was because of the officer we had; maybe he shined a different light onto my visit today, but I have to thank him for it in the end. He made me hopeful, joyful even. Determined.

In truth, I did not expect to walk away from Hart Island feeling relatively peaceful. I did not expect to see so much life. I definitely didn’t expect to spend my morning with such a passionate, thought-provoking correctional officer, one whose words will sit with me for days, if not years to come. And while I will likely never see him again, nor will I ever have the chance to visit Hart Island again, today’s visit changed my life in such a strange and beautiful way.

I don’t want to overlook the people I live among. I’m going to try and claim them all. I will make eye contact. I will notice them. I will help whenever I can. I will smile as much as possible. I will hug them when it’s appropriate. I will make myself available to them. I will make sure that they know that when they aren’t seen, someone will have noticed.

No one in life should feel unclaimed. No one in life should feel they may end up unclaimed, even if they are.

But in death? The unclaimed are buried just like the claimed; there’s no difference in the way we decompose. And if you believe in comparing cemetery views, and that some are better than others, well, the unclaimed of Hart Island don’t have it all that bad in death.

In death we’re all the same. That’s not the sad part. Hart Island isn’t the sad part. The sad parts happen before we get to that point. The sad parts take place among the living.

I want less sad parts.

The wind from every side today; a dollar cup of coffee I embraced like a hug; the number 18; trees that stand like bare soldiers; people who must dig holes in advance; 150-year-old foundations broken up by determined grass and bushes—like a dream, all these things exist within my head now.

Whether you call them mass graves or not, in a few months, a wren will return to a nest on Hart Island where it will start a new family. And those trees that stood like soldiers will wear a new green uniform. The church will further crumble and the grass will fill its place. Life goes on in the most glorious way right before our eyes and most of the time, we’re not even paying attention.

I need to start paying attention. I need to leave nothing unclaimed.