Unadilla: The auction begins

IMG_1562I think we all run into moments that serve as a starting point for the rest of our lives; moments from which a map can be laid out and the path that your life was meant to journey down begins. It is a moment that lights a fire beneath us. It is a passion to ignite change or maybe even a desire to change the course of fate for someone or something other than yourself. This is the moment that changes your perspective and makes you see the world in a new context. For each person, this moment is varying. For some, it could be nothing more than a thought that they find ideologically appealing; a thought found on the outer edges of their minds. For others it may be an idea or inspiration that comes to them in a dream as if some divinity had placed it there to perplex and inspire them.

I’d like to think that my moment came to me on August 30th, 2013 at 6pm in Unadilla, New York.

The auction began with an elderly man speaking to a crowd of what I would estimate as being 100 people. In a tired but sturdy voice, the man spoke proudly about the auctions 76th year of business. As he spoke, people in the auction house were listless. Talking, the sound of feet sliding across wood and the faint sound of horses impatiently waiting on the other side of a weathered wooden door drowned out the sound of a not-loud-enough microphone. And then seemingly all at once, although it seemed to me that this moment will play out forever, the call for the auction to begin came and that wooden door opened.

I was sitting in the middle of the bleachers in the front row. Directly in front of me was a large white fence, which was where the horses were either ridden or lead around while people bid on them. The fenced in are was about 30 feet in length and maybe 10 – 15 feet in width, but this is just a rough estimate. To the left of where I was sitting sat a few of, who I had gotten word, were kill buyers. They sat in desks in the front row, although others decided to stand inside the ring.

The first horse to come out was a chestnut gelding. A teenage girl sat on his back, giving the audience proof that the horse was ridable. She circled the horse from one side of the fence to the other, back in forth while the bidding process was carried out. And then the verdict came; sold – privately.

This horse would see another green pasture. This horse would feel the unmistakable weight of another human on their back. For this lucky gelding, his future was no longer in question. His day at Unadilla would just be the final day of his old life and the first day of his new beginning, the starting point for what could be a bright future. Another wooden door on the opposite side of the fenced area was opened, and as the horse exited, he was marked with an orange marker. As the gelding left I thought to myself that not every story has to have a tragic ending.

Early on in the auction, things were going well. It seemed like every sale was private, but like all things that go well, things had to take a turn for the worse. And they did. Dark isle bidding was beginning.

The first horse shown from this isle was sold for slaughter. In one swift moment, I felt as if I was kicked in the stomach. It was not so much a physical pain, as it was a numbness that I felt. It was a feeling inside me that I could only equate to helplessness. A verdict had been delivered and there was very little if anything that I could do to change what had transpired. I was just a leaf stuck in the breeze, I had no control over what would happen to that horse. I think it was just the knowledge of not knowing that hurt most. Knowing that I would not know what would lie ahead for this unlucky horse who was nothing more than a casualty of circumstance. There would be no way to know what its’ trip to Canada would be like. Would this horse be comfortable? Would this horse’s final thoughts be beautiful, or will its’ final thoughts be one of terror, fear and one filled with the knowledge of what lies just moments away.

I thought about the concept of literally auctioning away a life. The idea that somehow one life had a higher price tag than another. This flawed thinking that, well since I will pay more for your life, you get to live, but since I do not want to pay that much for your life, you will die. I felt like people in the auction house were playing god. Some horses would be granted life while others were granted death. Salvation in a battle against destruction; good versus bad. An auction religious in scope, but human in nature. Each decision made had long term and short term consequences, and every decision made affected the course of many lives both directly and indirectly.

During the middle of the auction, a woman, who I had met earlier in the day, stepped into the ring as a horse was brought out to be auctioned. It turns out, she said, that she had given a horse to a man the evening before to train and take care of. When she arrived at the auction the following day, that same horse was already at the auction ready to be sold. With picture evidence as the only proof, she had no claim with the police, and pleaded for the people attending the auction to let her buy her horse back for a dollar. Her horse sold for around 350. Private. Safe, but no longer hers.

Toward the end of the auction, with a feeling of emptiness already welling up inside me, I watched as the white, supposedly non-pregnant, mare stepped into the auction room; there was no way that she was not pregnant. In an earlier examination of the mare, one of the the people who I attended the auction with noticed that the mare was, in fact, lactating. It was a finding that I did confront the owner about, and in a not-so-surprising turn of events, he denied that she was pregnant. “She’s not,” he said. “Don’t you think I would know my own horse.” Obviously he knew his horse so well that he was going to sell it. I can understand and excuse ignorance sometimes, but when ignorance is exposed and confronted, the party informed should accept their wrong and work to fix it. I quickly learned that this wrong would not be made right, and that some people would rather believe their own lie to make a few bucks than do what’s ethically and morally correct.

She was sold to slaughter.

And just as quickly as the auction had started, it had ended. We had pulled five horses at this point and were preparing to barter for one more. Overall, around 30-40 horses were sold to slaughter, while around the same number were also sold privately. I was left thoughtless, but the worst was still to come; it normally takes time for shock to sink in. As I left the auction room and walked toward the stable, I was walking toward what would be the most upsetting part of the day. Before while walking around the stable I felt that at least there was hope, but now as I walked into that stable I could feel a thickness in the air. I knew I would see horses alive, but no longer living, breathing, but soon to be breathless. Horses that were once friends, loved ones and companions that would, in due time, be nothing.

More to come.

Unadilla: Arriving at the auction house

Trailer pulls into auction house lot.

Trailer pulls into auction house parking lot

My day in Unadilla began approximately seven hours before the horse auction was slated to begin. As our small group pulled into the parking lot of the D.R. Chambers auction house, there were already horse trailers in the parking lot. Equipped with two-horse trailers (room for six horses total) myself and four others (I won’t refer to exact names in order to protect the rescues interest at the auction) backed into our spots in the dusty, rock covered parking lot.

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Dark aisle horse

As we opened our doors and stepped onto the uneven ground, a grey truck with a picture of a horse on the driver’s side door and an electric blue trailer hitched to its’ back pulled into the spot directly next to ours. The movement of a horse could be heard from the back of the dilapidated-looking trailer. A little man wearing a cowboy hat, a snug fitting Coca Cola shirt and jeans jumped out from the driver’s side door of the truck and came around to the back of his trailer as the others and myself waited to ask about the horse that was locked away inside the tiny blue trailer.

Waiting inside was a 22 year-old gelding with smooth brown hair and a slight cut over the bridge of his nose. As we sat listening to the story about why that horse was placed in auction, my mind began to drift away as I wondered whether or not you can believe any of the stories that anybody at these auctions say. If he was such a wonderful horse, why would you be selling him at an auction that could possibly lead to your horse ending up in a Canadian slaughter-house. When asked why, he was selling his horse, there was no answer, as if he just did not hear the question directed at him, or maybe it was that he did not want to hear it. Stories at these auctions, as it turns out, were as flimsy and fake as the people telling them were.

Number 1555

Number 1555

At around 1130 a.m., we made our way into the auction stable area where the horses are left to wait, some waiting for rescue, others waiting for death, the line between blurry and indecipherable. With six and a half hours until auction, there were already about 10-15 horses tied with bailing twine to a wooden beam. In the dark aisle, the aisle in which the majority will go to slaughter, there were horses of all different shapes, sizes and colors. The only way of really referencing them, however was through the green circular tags placed on their rears with numbers on them. These horses were nothing more than numbers. They were no longer somebody’s pet, a little girls dream present or even animals. Just number 1548, a white pregnant mare. She was living, breathing, but at the same time she was now just a number; numbers don’t breathe and they don’t come alive. Names are too personal. Names belong to things that have futures. Numbers are assigned to products, to anything that needs to be impersonal, to anything that won’t be around long enough to need a name anymore.

In a small stall further inside the confines of the auction stable I found where the minis were kept. As I approached I could tell that something was wrong. Upon further inspection I found that this mini had gotten its’ leg tangled in the bailing string that also kept it tied to a wooden beam. I watched as this horse helplessly struggled to remove its’ foot from the twine that it had wrapped around its’ leg. The horse began to jump and smash into the side of the wooden stall as it struggled with no avail to free itself from the bailing twine. I pulled out my keys and began to cut off the bailing twine while I began to also wish that I had brought some sort of knife so that I could have helped cut the horse free quicker. While I struggled with cutting the twine, I heard voices approaching and had to stop. I started to walk away as two chubby men approached where I had been moments before. They watched as the horse jumped, continuing to try to free its’ foot. One of the men was amused by the horses struggle and said, “We got a jumper here boy.” Where I found horror, another found humor, and just like that, the two men walked off without even thinking of helping the tangled mini. Apparently they had clear consciences and untroubled minds.

Unloading

Unloading

As the sun began to rise, so did the number of horses being brought into the stables. It was one trailer after another. A continuous stream of unwanted, or unneeded horses. Horses that were used and then tossed away like cigarette butts. As I watched the trailers come in, I felt myself beginning to go numb. There seemed to be no end to the flow of them. But the auction house employees handled it with perfect precision. They worked like clockwork, and trailer after trailer was emptied with little or no difficulty at all. It was not their first rodeo. By 430, the total number of horses (not including minis and mules) was at 70.

At around 430, the Amish began to arrive, which was a contradiction in itself. The Amish showed up in trucks, something that I had previously believed was not something they were supposed to use. The Amish brought horses that were virtually beaten into the ground. Horses used to do work until they physically could not do anymore work, at which point these horses would just be discarded at the auction. Horses who made life possible for the Amish were sold to slaughter without any type of pity, as if years of hard work was still not enough for these horses to deserve reprieve.

Dark aisle

Dark aisle

In the parking lot there was pandemonium. Men and women sat atop horses as they rode walked, trotted and cantered through a parking lot full of rocks. This act in itself could be devastating for some of the horses due in part to the fact that if the rocks bruised their hoofs and they became lame, buyers could interpret this as being a bigger problem than it was, resulting in some perfectly healthy horses being sold to slaughter because of nothing more than being a little sore.

As 6 approached, the stable was nearly at full capacity. You could feel the energy. It was a dark energy, the kind of feeling that made the hair on the back of your neck rise. It was a feeling of anxiety, nervousness and maybe even emptiness. With only room for six, I felt myself realizing that not every horse in this stable would be finding a happy ending. I looked around realizing for maybe the first time that day that there were going to be a lot of horses there that would never again be put out to pasture. Many horses would not feel the softness of green grass beneath their hooves ever again. When 6 rolled around, it would be the beginning of the end for many, but at the same time, some of these horses would also find new beginnings. For every life taken, there would also be the chance that a new lease on life would also be given.

There would only be six horses that would be coming home with us, and with nearly 100 horses there,

Waiting

Waiting

this seemed too small, but we also were not alone. Others were there who were not kill buyers. Not everyone who shows up at auctions are people looking to sell for slaughter.

It was in this moment that I began to realize the enormity of what we were doing. We were going to be a part of change. There was no way that we could save them all, but we would be able to save a few, and sometimes that was all there was too it. You save what you can, you act as the change that you hope others will be someday too. Change, I realized, was the sum of all the intricately small actions directed at a larger goal, and that day, our change was going to be six horses; six lives.

Unadilla: A clash between hope and despair

IMG_1481Unadilla New York. It is the picturesque American town. A place where yesterday’s beauty battles with today’s modernity and the product results in a melting pot of culture with a tinge of new flair. It is a place where pride flutters on flags perched upon the front porches of all its’ residents in the form of red and white stripes with a vast ocean of blue.

Going down the quaint town’s Main Street, the old town feel is evident in the way the houses look. Old colonial style houses are ordinary, while anything built after the 50s looks a bit too modern, maybe even a little out of place.

Main Street is home to the town’s Public Library. A lovely white building with intricate molding that looks more like a Southern plantation house than a library.

A church stands nearly 100 feet down the road from the library, looking over the

IMG_1530people of Unadilla with an unspoken authority. A sign in front poses a question to the townspeople, “God has answers. Are you listening?” Behind the church lies an ancient graveyard, full of the bodies of the townspeople deceased families. It was evident that the town cared about its’ dead. Flowers sat upon the tops of nearly all graves, a little reminder that those gone were not forgotten, but rather unforgettable.

Further down the road you come across the local family run store (it is the kind of place where big business appears to have been ostracized) you will run into a store called the Village Variety. The Village Variety looks like the kind of store that has never not been a part of Unadilla life. It is a store with roots that go deep into the foundation of the town. The store is a place for residents to purchase all of their needs whether it be a few groceries, or maybe a shovel and a pitch fork.

IMG_1533As you continue your stroll down Main Street you realize that the residents of Unadilla are not shy about their political beliefs. Politically motivated signs stick out of front lawns like bland decorations as they plead to someone for an end to drilling for oil, or ask the residents to support Republican Candidate Westinghouse. A small park sits on the Main stretch with young children’s shrill laughter floating through the air as you pass. The park offers a memorial for past Revolutionary War Generals John Sullivan and James Quinto. Aside this memorial sits a plaque in the ground commemorating the burying of a bicentennial time capsule in 1976; only 13 years until the contents hidden are unearthed for the first time in 50 years. Boy Scout flags for Unadilla Troop number 1 adorn every other telephone pole.

And then came the horse trailers. The first one seen makes one think of open pastures and a young girl riding her pony out into an endless field, but then you see another. And then one more. And then you see 10. 20. 30 trailers. It’s a Friday. Friday is normally many people’s favorite day of the week; it is the beginning of the weekend. It is a time when 40-hour work week ends and family time begins. But Unadilla is a town of stark contradictions.

It is in America’s most quaint towns that the darkest secrets are harbored. These towns are where the American dream meets an American nightmare and where life meets death. Unadilla is where hope meets to dance with despair during a gloomy ballad.

IMG_1500On the corner of Main Street and Mill Street, there sits a Kwik Fill gas station and a Red Apple convenience store. If you make this turn, you will begin walking down a road much different than the towns Main Street. Broken down buildings litter the side of the road. “For Sale” signs stapled onto houses that have seen better days.

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And then you come to a railroad crossing. On both sides of the tracks sit two abandoned buildings that once served as train stations. A place for trains to come and pick up people to bring them to their futures. This train station was once a place where the people of Unadilla may have came to escape or maybe even just move forward with their lives. Now it serves as a crossroads. One side of the track is life, a prospect full of hope and all the pretty things, and the other side is death, a prospect full of darkness and everything that we fear. And as trailer after trailer crossed these tracks, every horse locked in those metal cages began to straddle the line between these two prospects. These horses, from the moment they crossed over these railroad tracks, began to walk a proverbial straight line between the two tracks of the railroad. IMG_1476Straying one way would result in life, and going a bit far in the other direction would result in an unmistakable death.

As you follow the continuous flow of horse trailers further down the road, the sound of horses wailing carried through the air. The idling of trucks roared through the still country air. And then you can hear the sound of an upbeat country song blaring from a radio. A song playing as if the angel of death was a country fan.

And then there came the sign D.R. Chambers: Cattle Wed., Horses Fri.

IMG_1464For some horses, this would be the beginning of the end. A needless end to a life that may have barely been lived. It is in this town, the picturesque town of Unadilla New York where horses come to find out their fate. Unadilla is home to a 76-year-old auction house that specializes in the sale of livestock. At D.R. Chambers, the good meet with the bad, and life and death hang in the balance.

In Unadilla some horses are lucky enough to find their greener pastures, and the rest, well they take a one way trip to Canada for slaughter so that some men can turn a quick buck.

More coming soon.

Late Night Thoughts

Alright, so I think I just had a pretty cool thought. Imagine if every relationship began the day before a divorce was set to happen and then went backwards instead of forwards. Every passing day, you begin to remember why you fell in love with this person. The feeling of a new beginning and the tinge of a new love growing in your chest as the years continue to pass. Each passing day, you get to see another reason why you fell in love with this person. The youthfulness, the late nights, the moments that created deep love occurring constantly while time is ticking away. Then one day, you will get to that point when you first meet. That fateful moment when the world seemed to momentarily stand still and your life changed forever. Your throat will tickle because that’s where it feels like your stomach is and then someone will manage to utter out an awkward greeting. Then you will both go your separate ways, but the memories and the feelings that accompany those memories stay with you forever. The feeling of new love lingers within you forever, and the feeling of a bitter end will not be what defines a lengthy mutual existence.

A Year That Melted Away

533549_10151615126213504_200884615_nIt seems like it was just yesterday when I awoke to sheer terror. The sun was still only a hazy promise; a promise that within an hour or two the sky would be filled with light. As I stepped out my front door, the chilly summer morning air greeted all parts of my body that were not covered by my light T-shirt or knee-length shorts. I welcomed it. It was the familiar nippy early morning summer air that seemed to be the only thing staying constant in my life as I prepared to head toward a year of uncertainties and firsts. I stepped into my Mother’s car with my brother and his girlfriend, slammed the door shut and drove toward my future; my new home for the next four years. It could have been the best decision of my life, or maybe it could have been the worst. All I knew was that I knew nothing. I just didn’t know; and no one else did either. No college movie or show ever prepares you for the real thing, and no good words from close friends and family can quell the emotions of emptiness, anxiety, and worry mixing in your stomach. In a short car ride and some quick goodbyes, I would be off on my own. Alone. Alone and unprepared.

644343_3504463304413_1838216618_nThe first few days were frightening. I seemed to have way more questions than answers. Who was my friend? Who would I go get lunch with? And dinner? Maybe I can just skip this meal if I can’t find someone to go with, but oh my lord, I am so hungry that I think my stomach is eating itself. Wow, look at all these people I don’t know, will I ever know them? Will these strangers ever turn into something more than just a person walking through campus. Will they turn into a handshake, a smile, a “hello,” or maybe some of these faces will turn into a greeting with a hug, but who is who? Am I ever going to fit into this sea of faces? Will I ever make it here?

I definitely made it here. I made this unfamiliar place home.

Familiar faces began appearing in the crowds. I found my circle of friends, the people who I will either form closer bonds with over the next four years, or the people who I will slowly drift apart from, but I still found friends. These were people who needed me just as much as I needed them. We were all lonely, and loneliness can only be cured when two people open themselves up to let others into their lives. We found that loneliness could only be healed by risk; good thing we were all 223046_4602009736826_1552541280_ngamblers.

I fell into the rhythm of college life. Going home to the place where I lived for 17 years now seemed more foreign to me than my home at school. Weekends spent home became weekends yearning to get back to Connecticut. Weekends that I would bide my time as I waited to be back in my other home.

There were days when I began to forget that I was at school. It was just too much fun. Sure, I did all my work and went to all my classes, but as soon as class was over, my worries were left behind in that classroom along with the projectors, the desks that are almost too small to fit a laptop and the pungent smell of dry-erase markers. Leaving class just to go back to my room to be 485083_10151158932112185_996743725_nsurrounded by good friends, better music and whatever stupid show we were watching on TV. This was school, but at the same time it almost had the feel of a summer camp. The work was difficult at times, but it was never not worth it. My friends made this all worth it.

As the year passed, I began to comprehend the terminologies on campus. I know what the rat is, I know that the food in the cafe is “wicked” awful and I personally know what it means to “mount the bobcat.” I began to understand the lay-of-the-land. Tator hall, that was a seven minute walk. CAS, now that’s a hike; give yourself at least ten minutes, kid. School of communications? I bet you could make it there in under ten. A class in the school of law? Definitely a 12 minute walk, maybe you should pack a lunch for the road.

385188_498235870226458_954494772_nI learned that what is good for me, is definitely not good for everyone. Not everyone had the same experience that I have had this year. It’s not that they did anything wrong, and it’s certainly not that they didn’t try. Maybe this just was not home to them. It is hard to make a place home if it just isn’t meant to be home. Where some find gold, others find coal; what’s good for some is not great for all. And life will go on for these people, they will learn from this mistake. Next year might be one spent closer to home, or it may be one spent in that once place that deep down they always knew they should have gone to for college. This place could be in the woods of Vermont, the cities of New York, Boston or Chicago, or maybe it is that SEC powerhouse football school rooted in the deep south. There is a place for everyone, and if this place was not it, it just means that this was just a stepping stone on the way to a future that is still waiting to be uncovered. A future that I’m sure we will all undoubtably find.

943310_10151464404467198_246807566_nEverything always works out somehow. It’s just how it is. If this year wasn’t your year, next year will be. If this place wasn’t home, next year can bring a nice new change of scenery; another chance to unpack and find a home. A place where you find that you are so excited for the future, but are so happy with the current situation that you also dread the future. The future becomes bittersweet because the moment is just too surreal. The moment is too beautiful.

That’s how it has been for me.

19211_595911120425989_1279435638_nSo as I say goodbye to my first year in college, I can say that, “yes I did make it.” So I made it to college and I also made it through; at least one year, that is. I’ve certainly changed. I am a different person than who I was stepping out of Momma’s car late in August. I still look the same, I still smell the same (by the way Mom, I definitely need more soap) and I still sound the same, but I am definitely different. I have seen that there is so much more out there in this world that I have often heard is so vast. My mind has been opened up to  new points of view, my mind has accepted new outlooks and I have crafted some of them as my own. I have met people with their own demons, their own ghosts and their own challenges. I have begun to confront my own demons, too. I have come to understand my strengths and weaknesses, and have realized that everybody has those too.

I better understand people, better understand myself and better understand this world. Mostly, I understand

208829_10200847971426205_488830485_nthat I really don’t understand much.

To put it simple, college has been great. Not just good, but great. I still have three more years. Three more great years.

So let’s go, I’m excited to see where we all end up.

 

 

 

 

Prayers for Boston

“One day can change your life. One day can ruin your life. All life is is three or four big days that change everything.” – Beverly Donofrio

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Living near New York City my whole life has taught me one thing: Boston is the city we love to hate, and the city that we also hate to love.

Prior to college, I had less than an inkling of firsthand knowledge about the people who lived in and around Boston. Boston might as well have been a different country to me. The people sounded differently, the expressions they used were not “wicked” normal and worst of all, they were all damn Sox fans. I did not understand what Boston was or who the people from Boston really were.

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College has made that change.

I have begun to see what makes Boston great. If it is not the history of Fenway Park, The Boston Lighthouse, the intermittent cobblestone streets or the small-town feel in a big-time city, it is certainly the people. Never have I seen any group of people so in love with the place that they came from. The sense of unity among the people is a connection I that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. They can speak of nothing but great things in the city that they have come to call home. When they are away from Boston during the school year, it is like they have been taken out of the desert and placed in a rainforest. They patiently wait until they can be united back to Boston. A reunion that I imagine being not much different than the embrace between two long-lost siblings.

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These people are strong, yet tender. Caring, yet blunt. Salty and sweet, but at the same exact time. They care for their home, a home that they all share. The people that I have met from Boston have been the most gracious and kind-hearted people I have ever met. There is a homeliness that Boston people can present you with. They know how to make people feel at home. They learned how to live in a way much different than how I was accustomed to in New York City. They made me begin to realize that to live, was to live in Boston.

What I have learned most about the people of Boston, however, is that they are not capable of being put down.

It is in the Boston area where the Revolutionary War began. It is in Boston where a wild tea party showed the world that Bostonians are not meant to be messed with. It is in Boston where people stood up against an armed force of British soldiers, were massacred, but then continued to fight even.

It is in Boston where a Marathon has been run 117 times, and will be run another 117 times.

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If there is one thing that I have learned from history  it is that it repeats itself, and the same tenacity that those in Boston showed in earlier years will be shown again now.  Boston has refused to role over and surrender to anyone, and today is no different. After an attack from a faceless coward, the people of Boston will not hide in fear, but instead they will look to seek justice. They will not hide away in their homes, afraid of going out into the city they are enamored with. Boston’s people will go out into the streets of Boston to show that there is no way of extinguishing the pride that so endlessly, fiercely and brightly burns in every soul that has ever connected itself with the historic streets of Boston.

What happened today in Boston has made me sick to my stomach. It has brought tears to my eyes. It has made me angry and bitter. It has made me look at everything in a new way, but most importantly, it has also made me realize that if there was any city and people strong enough to handle this tragedy, it is the people of Boston.

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My heart felt condolences go out to all those who were hurt, injured, affected or killed in today’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon. My sympathy is extended to all those who live in and around Boston. You are all a part of Boston and I understand that if someone attacks Boston they also attack you.

Best wishes to all.

Lets go Boston, I believe in you, and I’m sure the rest of the country does too.

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A Generation in the Shadow of War

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. – John F. Kennedy

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If there’s one thing that this generation knows well, it’s war. We grew up with the sound of gunfire constantly resonating in our ears.

It is hard for most current college students and most mid-to-late  teenagers to recall times when they have memories that have taken place in an era that was not in the midst of war. We have been bred in a nation of constant battle in which we have learned nothing of peace, and all the ins-and-outs of war. We have become comfortable with war. It may not be comfort in the sense of a warm sweater, sweatpants and a cup of hot cocoa in front of a a slow-burning fire, but it is comfort all the same. Well maybe it is just toleration. We may have learned to tolerate war. We have accepted it as something that is just part of our daily lives. It is a depressing necessity, like the destruction of the worlds natural beauty to make room for human development. We hate to see natural beauty infringed upon, but we recognize the need to do so, as well.

It is difficult to realize that when this generation is remembered, there will always be a mention of the wars in the Middle East. When my future children sit down in their classes to learn about their countries past, they will learn of about the death and tragedy that defined my childhood. How we turned on the news each night to hear about another 20 year old who left this world prematurely. A young soldier who left behind a wife and two young children. Children who will grow up knowing their father only through stories and precious pictures. Pictures from a time when their father was teeming with life – a soul that still had so much potential. Potential that was waiting to be uncorked until his duty as an American had to come first, and all that potential had to stay untapped.

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This generation is defined by the destruction of two towers and the loss of over a thousand lives. It is an event that will always be engrained in my memory. I can remember sitting in my second grade classroom. It was a day like any other day in a second graders life, but then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Over the intercom, students began to start being pulled one-by-one out of class by their parents. I vividly remember one student saying, “I don’t remember my Mom telling me I was leaving early today.”

Eventually I was taken out of school by my babysitter. She would not tell me why we were being taken out of school, but I could tell that there was something wrong. Parents often mistake a child’s innocence as being a trait that makes them very vulnerable to deceit, but I think it makes them quite the opposite. I could see worry in my babysitter, a sense of uncertainty and a look that said, “things are going to be different now.” Children may be innocent, but it is this innocence that allows them to better understand the change of emotions in adults. They may lack knowledge, but they are very adept and aware of their situation, and that day I could tell something was not right.

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When I went home, my parents told me what had happened, but I could tell that they still didn’t fully understand either. I have come to understand that when you witness history, it is almost always impossible to put it into perspective until you really look back upon it. That day, I remember the first time that I saw the towers come crumbling down. Pillars of steel that are normally a symbol of strength and longevity giving out from intense heat and weight as the towers began to implode on themselves. The cloud of debris blanketing the streets of Manhattan as powerful men and women who may have been prominent figures on Wall  Street or CEO’s of companies just ran for their lives. Ran as if their lives depended on it. Ran away from the agony of tragedy toward some kind of peace.

And today we are still running to find that peace.

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After we entered war with Iraq in 2003, I can remember catching the fever of patriotism. Our country was running on pride and fueled on patriotism. A nation united as one and a Union that was stronger than I could ever remember. The sight of American flags delicately oscillating in the wind lined the fronts of houses up and done my street. America going off to war is a unique experience to see.

I have never felt an America so connected since that time.

Instead, I have witnessed the waning of pride. People questioning our presence in a country that may not have needed our presence to begin with. A war in a country filled with people that have been fighting among themselves since the beginning of time. A war in a country that is the definition of war. Whatever it may have been, I have seen our country become less supportive of the war effort over the past  10 years. The patriotism of our country at war has slowly flatlined and the war has become almost an after thought.

I truly hope that I am not coming off as unpatriotic and disloyal to our country. I support our troops and our country as much as any other person. All that I am saying is that I believe this country is ready to gorge themselves on the fruits of peace and the tranquility that accompanies that. I have seen a country that has come together to show its’ patriotism in war, but would love to see a country that can find patriotism in peace.

But most of all, I want to be a generation that is not just defined by warfare. I like to think that this generation is a lot more than just war. I know we are so much more than that.

What if what is, wasn’t?

“How can the world in all its chaos come up with so many coincidences, so many similarities and exact opposites?” – Amy Tan

9780822349884_p0_v1_s260x420I often find it scintillating to sit around and ponder how things would be if certain events in my life had just played out in a way that allowed for completely different outcomes. The fact that you are even sitting here reading my blog is nothing more than a mere coincidence determined by a series of random occurrences. One different happening could have taken you somewhere else, which in that case, you probably would not be reading this blog right now. If someone who you never knew turned right in the supermarket today instead of left and knocked something out of your hand, your day could have been dramatically different. The precious seconds wasted that would have otherwise sent you on your way are now being spent on picking up your dropped groceries and having quick, awkward small talk with a stranger who you would have never talked to if it were not for him or her running into you. Now you are running late, and the car ride home that would have otherwise been routine turns into a nightmare. You pull out of your parking spot and jerk forward as your car is slammed from behind by a teenage boy who now is wishing he did not decide to change the song on his iPod while driving.  If you had not been held up in the store, this may have been someone else’s problem, or maybe it would not have happened at all.

But this isn’t how it played out. That customer in the supermarket turned in the opposite direction. You left the supermarket a few seconds earlier and avoided the momentarily distracted teen driver who in turn did not find himself rear ending your car.

One infinitesimal event can trigger a chain reaction that spreads out like a ripple on a placid lake after a large rock is thrown in. It is within these small events that all of humanity has been created. As individual people make their own decisions, they add a distinguishable ripple into the lake of humanity that will then mingle and combine with other waves in this turbulent lake. This idea of fate has guided life since the beginning of time and has somehow lead us all to our current situation or place in the world. Civilization is built on chance occurrences, and human interaction will forever be guided by chance. Chance is like a blind tour guide attempting to lead us on a tour into the future; it has no idea where it’s going, all it knows is it is going somewhere.

It is absolutely mind-blowing to ponder the very nature of our own existence. The fact that somehow, out of all this randomness that we have all somehow been born into this world. It has taken years of chance, and maybe even luck, for us to be alive and breathing today. If one person in your family tree had made one different decision, it is completely safe to say that the likelihood of you being here on this Earth today would be highly unlikely.

Hey, but I guess we all lucked out, right? Our first ancestors made the right decision when they got together and had children, and then this string of good decisions lasted until, finally, we were born. This is great for us, but maybe it is not great for another person that is not alive, but very easily could have been if our ancestors had played their cards differently. If fate wanted it to be so, someone else could have been born instead of yourself, and the very thought of who you are and what you could have become would be unknown and unthought of because your existence had not been made possible by the favors of chance

Alright, I will stop with that now, I’m even starting to confuse myself a little, I think. Wait, I think therefore I am. Okay, this is good, at least I’m still alive.

Since we all made it into existence, we do not have to think about the what-ifs. I want to focus now on the positions that we currently finding ourselves in. I often find myself thinking how absurdly random it is that we have been able to meet the people who we have in our lives. Somehow, fate has allowed the stars to lineup in such a way that has brought me together with the friends and family that I have been so fortunate to have been blessed with. To all my new college friends, what would have happened if we had been put in different residence halls? The fact that our entire class of 2016 is what it is, has occurred in a way that probability could never be able to fully understand or even begin to explain.

What I’m trying to prove from all of this philosophical mumbo-jumbo is just how lucky we are to be where we are today. The ways of the universe could have been much more unkind to us than it has been. Fate has let it happen that we are here today with people who have chosen paths similar to the one that we are on. The mass compilation of trivial actions over the millennia has brought us all together. Each action has been important in getting us here, and each future action will be just as important as well. Every action we make is important in guiding not just ourselves, but the future generations, too.

For some bizarre reason, we are all here together, and it is certainly by chance, but this is how it is and it intends to stay. The universe dealt us its’ cards and this is where we all stand, and in my heart, I would like to believe that chance has had some logic in doing this, but then gain, maybe it doesn’t. Forest Gump said it perfectly, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both, maybe both happening at the same time.”

P.S.- I bet most of you just read that in the Forest Gump voice.

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Breakup, Breakdown and Breakthrough – Love is Still Alive

UnknownMaybe, at least in our hearts, we are all hopeless romantics – or maybe it’s just me – but I’m really okay with that when I really think about it. It could be that I’m overly optimistic, or maybe it’s just because I believe in fate and the basic principle that everybody was put on this Earth to make a difference in somebody else’s life. I’m not saying that I’m certain, but I’m telling you what I believe. It’s not like undying optimism has ever killed anyone, well maybe that’s not true, but I bet an optimist dies with a much better outlook than a pessimist. It seems to be everywhere though, this idea of love. I see it in people’s eyes, the way they look, the way they talk and maybe how they walk. Someone who is in love – or who thinks they’re in love – they act differently, they think differently, they’re different than somebody who has never felt that way. We may fall in and out of love, or maybe not, maybe it’s just that we forget what we love about someone else and have the once soft and compassionate emotions become destroyed by bitter dislike and unbridled disdain that seems to seep from our pores, but love still does not fade, it is only forgotten, like a dusty high school yearbook left in the attic until it is discovered years later by a curious child.

As I sat waiting for my train back home from school to see the one’s who I love most, I saw the many different faces that love is casually disguised as. I saw teen love. I saw the look in a woman’s eyes as she smiled broadly while talking on the phone to someone that she certainly loved in someway. Her hazel eyes radiating this sense of hope and cheerful bliss that stuck in my memory like honey on a young child’s fingers. She had a sense of purpose, a sense of rightness, she had something to come home to. Although the world could have been crumbling down on her at this very moment, this short amount of the time on the phone with a lover graced her with a momentary reprieve from everything else. She began to take on the look of a love struck teenager. Her free hand made her way up to her hair and, shortly thereafter, she began to twirl her hair around her finger – winding gently, and then releasing her hold in a way that allowed her hair to carelessly fall across the smile painted on her face. 333056_2115962157024_4165009_o

And then I saw the most beautiful kind of love there is. The love that has had the time to ferment. Love aged like a fine wine. Love that has been tested, beaten and battered over the course of decades but has still had the power, dare I say the courage, to persevere. This is the love that is not based on uncontrolled lust, but rather mutual understanding and respect for one another. Quiet, unspoken affection that was bred in earlier days that are now at the heart of thoughtful nostalgic reminiscing. It is casual love. More like that of best friends rather than actual lovers, but in their quiet casual talk, the way that their eyes patiently and passionately rest upon each other, I could feel the love. With each word, with each moment of eye contact, they still see the eyes of a lover who is still there despite the fact that time has weathered away their once strong, young features. It is in these people that I have made the discovery that love exists. Not just love, but true love. It is not just a Disney love story, but a non-fiction story better than any love story manufactured by a commercial entity that is aimed on promoting a fake ideology of what love should be.

Love could be anything. And sometimes it hurts. And sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes love needs work. And sometimes it is beyond repair. But for what it is worth, most of the time love is elegant; a perfectly tailored suit, a beautiful ballroom gown. It is tasteful and it is emblazoned with joyfulness.

But when it isn’t, it is hard. As college students, high school students, young adults and even for a larger majority of adults, breakups occur, and they are never easy. Circumstances change the once flower filled fields of love and replace them with a field of weeds. The warm embraces that at one time you never wanted to release grow cold and hurried. Things change and so do people, and as a result, love r

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uns cold.

It is never easy to say goodbye to love that was once so heated and filled with the benefits that love has to offer, but after the early feelings of withdrawal are forgotten, it is easy to adapt to life again without the person who once held such an important part of your heart. Before you know it, your will heart will be awoken by the early fiery passion of new love. When you say goodbye to an older lover, you open up your heart to the love that you were destined to hold there. Old loves tell us what we need in a relationship and they also tell us what we do not need. It leaves us with scars, but then again, smooth seas have never made skilled sailors. I’m still young, and I know very little about the true inner workings of love, but I do know one thing: it is living.

It breathes through our eyes, talks through our souls and bleeds from our hearts. It passes like the scenery outside the window of a moving train. Each love leaves snapshots in our minds of memories that we will never forget and memories that we wish would just vanish into the depth of our thoughts. Love is cruel, but it also is kind. It is tolerant, but is also selfish. It makes us find in us the best things about ourselves, but also makes us discover our own worst features. Love is the perfect embodiment of what it means to truly be living; to live for someone or something other than yourself.

It’s Basically Life and Death

Image“Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go, and make the best out of life. And that’s the big secret. That’s the miracle.” – Gabriel Ba

From my short stint of time on this Earth, I have learned two definitive things: life is valuable, and death is greedy. Death constantly attempts to steal the preciousness of life, and often is very successful in its’ endeavors. Death is a resilient and hardened criminal; a trained thief. It has no understanding of the preciousness of life and the sentimentality that each life is worth to others. A life is not just the energy that fills a vessel, but it is also a father, a mother, a sister and a brother. It is that neighbor who you have known your entire life or that cute girl who you see around from time to time. It is that majestically crafted animal that you have come to love as your own. It is the trees, the grass, the plants and the vegetables. It is the air above us and the soil beneath us. It is everywhere.

But wherever there is life, you can guarantee there is death. This Earth has given us the opportunity for life, and at the same time, it has cursed us with the terror of death. We fight death, we allude death and we often fear death. Death is the universal equalizer, making it certain that even the strongest are capable of succumbing to it. Death is the unknown; taking us from what we are certain of, to something that science will never be able to explain and that religion can only claim to have an understanding of.

Death is always around us. It lurks in the shadows, patiently waiting for misfortune. Death preys on fate and gambles on chance. And sometimes death decides to look us straight in the eyes, and even though we fight and battle it, battles are still lost. Death understands that there needs to be balance although we wish that those we love could live forever. So even though we may use all the strength that we have to battle death, sometimes death comes out on top, claiming its’ bitter victory in the battle with life.

I’ve seen death before, I’ve felt its’ aftermath and I have feared its’ presence. I have seen young friends lost and I have seen fathers and mothers perish and leave this flawed Earth early to get a head start on making their way to the polished gates of heaven, where they happily embrace those who perished before them, and patiently await the arrival of the ones they left behind. I have watched children and old men battle with cancer. I have cheered in the moments of victory, and wept in the sourness of defeat.

Through it all, I have realized that who you are does not concern death; if death wants you, it can very easily take you, and it can take you at any age. Each day we walk on a tightrope between life and death. We need to understand that life is continually depleting; a gas tank heading toward empty with no gas station in sight. We find ourselves wasting away our time as we are enveloped in our petty disputes, our unimportant arguments and our unsubstantial problems. During all our minor inconveniences, our life is slowly dwindling away as if we are all candles with a flame burning away at our limited wick of life.

Even though death may tightly wrap its’ greedy, skinny and cold fingers around the lives of those who we hold so closely to ourselves, death has no way of grasping the memories of those lost that are held within the cozy embrace of our hearts. The smiles are never forgotten. The memories captured like a still frame in our mind do not disappear. Nor do the moments relived within our thoughts like grainy, discolored homemade movies. Death takes life, but it doesn’t take the precious moments that life generously and graciously sprinkles upon us.

So say goodbye to those we’ve lost. The ones who left early, and the ones who were able to grow gray. Be prepared for the lives that death will ultimately pluck from the fabric of mortal life. Let these lives live on though through fond memories of good times, never-ending laughter and warm embraces. Death wins sometimes, but life will battle, and ultimately, life prevails.

RIP to all those lost and good luck to all those who are battling.

“Death truly does have life, and walks with and lives through us everyday.” – Nicholas A. McGirr

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