Flickering Lanterns and Pride: A Memorial to Orlando

By Amee Bohrer

Twice, my flame flickered out tonight.

I was attending a local memorial service in honor of the Orlando massacre victims in Minooka, IL. A small town just outside of Joliet, where I live. I saw on Facebook a friend was attending and drove out there myself, wanting to gather with others in solidarity.

There were people gathered and three posters on a wooden table if anyone wanted to sign and write a message of hope and encouragement. I signed a couple– it felt good.

I saw a baseball cap that made me laugh: it said, “Make America Gay Again,” a navy and yellow parody hat of the red and white “Make America Great Again” caps touted by the Trump campaign and his supporters.

“I like your hat!” I told the young woman wearing it with pride, “Where’d you get it?”

“The Human Rights Campaign website,” she said with a smile.

The last speaker was the most powerful: Beric J. Wessely, a man with a Master of Social Work from University of St. Francis in Joliet who has accomplished much in the academic world for the LGBT community and in the business world as well. But he was brave enough to be vulnerable and admit that despite being an out gay man for years, he still must remain vigilant about how others around him seem to react to his presence, especially if he has a date.

He called for ACTIVE allies who speak up and fight for gun control and acceptance of the LGBT community. He challenged us to do more than post on social media or engage in moments of silence. He invited us to join the crusade toward not just equality, but basic safety for the LGBT community. He recounted how far we have come in terms of legal gay rights, and yet, how far we must continue to go. He ended on a message of hope: tonight, with us, he felt safe.

To conclude after three powerful speakers, a man said a beautiful prayer about how all those who died or were wounded that night at Pulse had grown up and learned to ride bikes. They had danced, they had been loved, and now mourned– they mattered.

It was windy, getting dark.

The lanterns were simply constructed:a wooden base, four wooden cylinders that fit into the corners of the square, a circle indented into the base where a tea light fit, and green tissue paper wrapped around to shelter the tea lights. But as I noticed, there were gaps between the paper and the base. The wind was getting through, increasingly stronger.

Two women alternated reading the list of names, those lives lost forever and those wounded still healing– some of which may not make it. We stood holding our lanterns.

After, between them they set alight a larger paper lantern, propelled into the sky by several candles.

All of stood in silence, watching it fly away.

It was the best moment of the night– something positive to remind us it’ll get better. Together, we can be the rainbow of allies and hope for this cause we all support: love.

Just simply, love.

Many of our candles flickered out, but that larger paper lantern never faltered. It floated away swiftly- free. Like the souls lost who must now be at rest, whether you believe in Heaven or not. I do.

Watching until it was just a glimmer and finally, nothing– I smiled.

Tonight we stood witness, we listened, we shared our outrage, sadness, and hope.

We dared to overcome hate.

From Illinois, we opened our hearts and mourned WITH Orlando.

My Father’s Smile

My father has a wonderful quality: faith.

Recently I received an unexpected bill and was feeling frustrated. Just when I thought I was getting ahead! I aired my frustrations to him, and he quietly smiled.

Just seeing that relaxed me.

He reminded me that there will always be unexpected expenses in adulthood. It’s not something to despair over– just a part of life to accept and tackle. He’s confident that I will manage and overcome these situations as they arise, so I’m beginning to believe it.

It used to be that I wanted a partner who would embody those qualities in him.

But now, I am delightfully surprised to see them appearing in myself.

I rarely panic these days– even when I have just reason to be overly emotional. When I do, I get over it much quicker.

His gentle strength emanates. I’ve become a calmer woman.

Someone my friends rely on.

And today I’m relying on myself, more and more.

Yet I always know his advice is a phone call or a hug away– if I do need him.

He’s taught me that though I may fall, he’s not far away. He will always encourage me to get up and keep going. He will always smile at me.

When my belief falters, his bolsters.

When I Let Go

Last Friday, I came home from work to find a passive-aggressive note.

Taped to my door from another tenant in my building, un-signed.

I had to ask around to find out who penned it. When did, I knocked on the person’s door– which was left unanswered.

To clear my head, I went for a run. By the end, I had sweated out my  resentment.

I was no longer even mad!

All week, I saw that tenant coming and going– but always when I was going somewhere. It wasn’t worth being late or putting myself in a bad mood to confront it.

So I just accepted it, and let it go.

I realized that I had no obligation to react at all.

I was friendly, but did not engage beyond a brief greeting an a wave.

Today, I returned home from work very tired after a challenging day.

I sat down to finish Season Three of “Orange is the New Black,” my current obsession. Chapman is getting more evil by the episode!

Less than 45 minutes later, there was a knock at my door.

“Who’s there?” I queried. The tenant answered their name.

I took a quick minute first, then opened the door.

And they were carrying a peace offering: dinner. Covered in foil to keep it warm.

More specifically– mac n’ cheese, beans, a hot dog and chicken.

I smiled. I thanked them.

“Are you going to stop leaving me notes now, unsigned?”

They nodded, smiled, backed away toward their own apartment.

“Enjoy,” they said.

“If you’re upset, just come and talk to me,” I said. “I’m sorry. We good?”

Another head nod. A smile.

We said goodbye.

Peace had snuck up on me.

And the mac n’ cheese was brilliant.

 

Goodbye, Superstition

I’ve always kept my left finger unadorned.

As if that finger were sacred– to be saved for the future.

But today I decided otherwise.

Because that finger belongs to me– rather and some imagined future spouse. It struck me as not just hopelessly patriarchal, but silly, to continue waiting.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone’s future wife or future mother. I’ve always kept “The Big Picture” in mind, and that has largely governed my actions. It’s kept me  responsible and practical.

But today I define myself alone– without any other influence.

I am not a woman who considers parts of herself verboten unless claimed by a relationship. It may seem trivial, but I find it empowering.

I’m no longer passive.

I put a ring on it myself! It’s just cute costume jewelry, but I chose it.

And now when I look at my right hand ring finger, I smile.

I chose myself over superstition.

And I feel a new security in that choice.

 

Cinco de Miler: crying at the finish!!

Today I broke my seven-month hiatus with racing by running the Cinco de Miler 2016.

And finished FIVE MILES!! Along Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.

It was my friend Lisa’s idea, and this morning she picked me up and we made it happen!! She invited me around January, but I was ambivalent about committing for quite awhile. First, I wasn’t sure I was up to two extra miles beyond my standard 5k. Second, the race shirts were hideous and I didn’t want to pay for one!

But she was so excited about it and we motivated each other. She was waffling herself not too long ago, and I encouraged her. We both decided to wear something of our own rather than those ugly shirts. This is our second race together!

We took a ton of silly selfies– one of the best parts of a race! I’m so glad we did this.

In the parking garage, I noticed the women parked next to us had a Joliet sticker on their vehicle. I introduced myself and we got a long great! She was with a few of her friends and it seemed a few of their daughters. Her name was Kim.

All the festivity– flowers in women’s hair, men running with Mexican wrestling masks, children wearing fake black mustaches that curl, some women with traditional cotton tops embroidered with flowers. Salsa blasting on the speakers as we lined up in our corrals!

Yesterday I mostly walked four miles, to warm up after months of nothing. I was shocked how easy it was. How natural I felt returning to this exercise.

In past races, I always felt insecure; I needed someone by me. If my friends ran ahead, I felt abandoned. Especially if they disappeared into the crowd.  As long as I could see them, I felt a little

I was so much in my own head that all I could think about were all the people passing me by– I was always glancing behind to reassure myself that I wasn’t last.  That *I* was ahead of others.

Or I was so fixated on the miles ahead— counting down, worried about my time. There was a part of me who never fully relaxed.

I was hard on myself if I had to slow down and walk. Always comparing.

Today, I broke free of all that.

I didn’t try to keep up with Lisa– I let her go and decided to do my own thing. And I felt calm, steady.

Maybe because this is my sixth race now– I knew I would find her afterward. I wasn’t worried about getting separated or lost.

I trust her more. I trust *myself* more.

I chose to run my own slow, steady pace– right down the yellow line of the streets blocked off for this event.

Proud to say I ran the first 1.5 miles at around 13 minutes!! I had set my Pandora on my phone to Selena and that driving Latino beat was perfect for the occasion.

But after that, I was conscious of the two added miles and felt I’d slow down and walk a bit. And then first my right knee and then both knees began to hurt. And I had to acknowledge it.

I  tried running sporadically after but had to accept that with the added miles I couldn’t push it or I might not finish.

But oh, running along Lake Shore Drive!!! Since I began running it’s been a fantasy of mine. I always thought I’d drive up and park somewhere and be one of those cool people you always see while in traffic, inbound to the city North on 41.

Until Lisa mentioned it last night, I had no idea this was part of the course route.

God arranged my dream to come true.

And thank Him that I wore pants, not shorts– and brought two long-sleeved shirts. Since it was a 9 a.m. race and I tend to get cold, I brought an extra hoodie in case it rained or was cold by the lake.

Talk about The Windy City!! Once we hit the third mile and were right next to the lake on our right, both those shirts felt like a joke!! But I felt badly for those wearing only tank tops or shorts, or even t-shirts. Had I been otherwise attired, I might have quit.

Between my knees, which seemed to get worse– and the serrating chill lakeside, I was beyond tempted.

But I saw racers returning, wearing medals. That energized me.

And each mile marker surprised me. I had learned to just ENJOY the race.

I was always moving except when I stopped to take a few pictures– a tree in front of the lake, the MARIACHI band performing!

I loved the man around mile 2– a tall old man with white hair waving maracas. “Everybody’s gonna finish,” he said with a smile.

And I believed him. When I felt weak, I thought of him.

Not long before mile 4, one of the women also from Joliet in the parking garage before the race appeared next to me. She tapped my shoulder and smiled. I slowed down and we commiserated about our knees. She gave me a vital tip: she takes Ipubprofen before a race. I prefer Tylenol– but I’ll remember that next time.

Maybe start taking a supplement to help my joints. Loosen them up by running regularly.

Rather than accept my joint pain and give up running– I’ll learn to take better care of myself to prevent it.

Even the Tin Man couldn’t walk the Yellow Brick Road with un-oiled joints! Oil is needed.

God was showing me that we’re never alone in the race. This race called life.

I allowed her to pass me, and felt at peace.

I had told Lisa to text me when she finished– and when she did, I was happy for her! Glad she did her thing and I did mine. For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t feel envy.

What a blessing!

I felt stronger than I thought capable once I saw the FINISH around the corner!!

I started running again: it was important to finish RUNNING.

Volunteers were standing in a cluster, handing out finisher’s medals.

When I arrived I was shocked to feel emotional– tears started to well up.

I almost cried– but I didn’t allow myself. I admit at that moment I did feel self-conscious.

I suppose I associate crying with loss– grief.

When was the last time I cried with RELIEF?? I don’t remember.

I couldn’t totally let go. But I teared up again, gulped deep breaths.

And vowed to start training again. My time is 1:36: 05

Lisa and I are already planning our next race! We talked non-stop on the way home.

I know I can do it. I’m already getting better.

And one day, I will let go enough to ACTUALLY cry with joy at the finish line.

 

 

 

 

Priorities and Running

Happy Easter!

I’ve run four miles in the past 24 hours and I feel great already.

Sadly, I admit shelving running since November. My last real attempt was December 12, at 1.28 miles– which counts. I made one attempt in February but it was less than a mile.  I try to get at least two miles.

I haven’t run a race since Nov. 8– the Hot Chocolate Run 5k in Chicago. I ran it for my birthday with two friends.

It’s been too cold,  I’ve been too tired– I just haven’t been up for it.

And not just that, I committed myself to so many things that running was the first thing to go so I could make time.

And that was my rookie mistake. As much as I enjoy being reliable and involved in my community, I also need to prioritize myself and what makes me feel good.

Now that it’s getting lighter and warmer, the excuses are gone!

I see now that having a race commitment motivates me to keep training between. I remember when I couldn’t even imagine running 3.1 miles in a 5k. I’ve done five now!

My longest runs have been 4.83 miles in July and 5.01 in August. I know it’s in me!

And more than six months ago, a friend invited me to run a FIVE MILE race in May.

I just registered online! It’s called the Cinco de Miler and is in Chicago.

I’ve got a goal. I’m gonna keep running until I can do five miles regularly.

And I’m promising myself that I won’t sacrifice my running again to make time to do things for other people.

Because although those commitments are important, so is my happiness. If I don’t make time for myself, no one else will do it for me.

And even though running is a pain in the calves, the accomplishment?

That makes me smile like a fool.

 

 

A Little Confession

Just had my first Confession in probably a year, after Stations of the Cross.

Usually, my Dad and I go together. It’s something that’s bonded us.

But this year we had different schedules. I went to our local cathedral instead.

I had hoped to get my parish priest, but I saw him leave just before Stations of the Cross began. Though a little bummed, I figured there was someone else meant to hear me today.

I reflected prior, but not a lot.

This year, it was different. I wasn’t berating myself with a list of things I’ve done wrong. I had no list, period.  I didn’t feel ashamed or desperate or angry at myself.

My confession was brief. I listed a few things, but mostly I just talked about those I love, and how I want to do right by them. Where I am in my spiritual life. What I’m seeking. And what I need/want from God.

I talked about wanting to be a better daughter.

About struggling to find a balance in my life with my choir/parish and other events that pop up spontaneously on those allotted times for choir and Mass. Feeling afraid that my parish will close, but continuing to belong/participate because that’s where my heart lies.

About how daunting it feels to be so focused on waiting for a relationship with another Catholic, but that this is something I feel that I both need and *deserve* in my life. I’ve sacrificed to adhere to that. It’s so important to me that if someone is another denomination, that’s a deal-breaker. I’ve endured a lot of criticism for that over the years, but most times I shrug it off. Pretty much everyone on either side of my family is who is married is married to another Catholic–happily. I know it’s possible!

But something I’ve realized is that I can’t stop being myself to accelerate finding a compatible relationship. I don’t smoke anything or drink, I don’t do drugs, I’m a Democrat, I’m Catholic. Those are core tenets of my identity. I’ve ended relationships to preserve those aspects in myself, because it’s essential for my own happiness and mental health.

And to my surprise, Father wasn’t punitive. He was patient. His voice was soft.

There was no recipe for salvation by reciting a certain number of prayers

Instead, we was affirmative. He basically told me to just keep doing what I’m doing– examining myself, pursuing my spiritual life, being aware and sensitive to what’s appropriate in my relationships.

I was given instant absolution. I wasn’t made to feel that my confession hadn’t been sufficient, even though I had completely blanked out on my Act of Contrition.

“I absolve you of your sins,”he said.

I didn’t have as dramatic as a reaction as I had in some other years– I didn’t cry.

I didn’t need to cry.

Confession was just an expression of my faith, a part of my spiritual routine.

And I smiled.

I felt like God was telling me, “You’re doing okay, kiddo.”