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.

Advertisements

My Dad’s First Selfie and Acceptance

At age 72 today, my father said, “Let’s take a selfie!”

I couldn’t help laughing.

“Aww Dad, you said ‘selfie!’ I’m so proud.”

Today we celebrated by going to Mass at his parish, then to brunch, and finally a father/daughter movie date– our tradition.

I then suggested we go into the back yard and take some pictures. We always take them in the house, with the worst lighting. They all look the same– in the kitchen or living room. It was nice to get outside with all the grass and the plants he and Diane meticulously plant and tend to each spring.

We took one of he and I, and then Diane and I.

Then the three of us.

Then it was Bohrer Family Selfie Time.

My Dad proclaimed, “I’ve got long arms!” The better to aim with, I suppose.

But he lacks the know-how otherwise. First, he’s a tall man. Six feet, broad shoulders. Huge hands. A jock for most of his young life. An Army veteran– officer.

Instead of wrapping his left arm around my step-mom and I, he held both hands outstretched in front– leaving Diane behind my Dad so you can only see the top of her hair and eyes. I’m in the bottom left corner, jutting just barely in frame.

We’re all making ridiculous faces, having no idea what we look like.

I think these two might be the best pictures we’ve ever taken! Stupid, random. All of us were tickled by the results.

Selfies have been a thing for so long now that most people find them annoying. But today, I reconnected with the wonderful silliness that made this behavior such a standard.

The delightful awkwardness of assembling into frame somehow– the comedy of viewing the results. Trying again, to see if you can get a better one with everyone in-frame and without some goofy expression.

It’s just about having fun. We’re not a family that insists the pictures be perfect.

We were all in a great mood today. I feel so abundantly lucky.

Earlier my Dad and I went to see “Jurassic World,” at the mall.  I couldn’t have had a better date!

And somehow, we matched! He was wearing a bright plaid shirt with many bright colors– blue, white, red, yellow. My dress was blue and white with large horizontal stripes– I felt very Eighties in it!

My father is the strong silent type. Like Silent Bob. But also with a gentle, dry sense of humor. His words are concise and meaningful. And I’m so lucky to be his daughter.

I found a wonderful peace this afternoon with him. An acceptance.

I am happy.

Also, my father is the reason I am single and happy. He’s always on my side.

Because my father is the man who has always and WILL always stand by me. My father’s love is unfaltering, always steady. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. When I call, he answers– if only to tell me he can’t talk right then. On the rare occasions he doesn’t, he will usually text or call me back within a short times pan. He is always eager to spend time with me, even if it’s just to help me fix something. My father shows his love most through acts of service. He helps me any way he can, when I accept it. Sometimes I don’t. But what I’ve learned is that sometimes being a good daughter means having the humility to accept the help my father willingly offers. Not always. But today for example. I mentioned this week that I don’t have a can opener (I know, ridiculous!) and borrowed one from them. My practical father noted the information and today presented me with that item.

Sure, I could refuse it and buy my own can-opener. But it made him happy to give me one.

And I’m happy he cares and pays attention to little details like that.

So today was a wonderful day with my favorite person.

Dear Forever Valentine, Thank You

Because you (I!) deserve a love letter today. Self, you are always by my side!

First, I am proud of you.

I see a woman who has nothing to prove this year. She is wearing overalls because they are what she feels comfortable wearing, and she’s STOKED at the ’90s are back in that style! With it, a pink and white baseball shirt because it’s a little feminine but also practical. Today she is wearing no make-up. Her hair is shorn in a pixie, which makes her feel free– she loves the feeling of the icy wind on her neck. She often goes without a hat, but zips her coat up to the hilt instead.

This year has been about realigning with what you need, and putting that into action. And you are making great strides every day! Even when you think I don’t notice the progress, I do. Even when no one else does, I see.

I believe in and admire you, Amee. I adore that name– your mother chose it with care. It’s not something to be found on pencils, which you used to resent. It’s singular and a little bit exotic–French. There is nothing typical about you. You forge your own way in every aspect of your life– you don’t do things like everyone else.

You are unafraid to sacrifice in the present for something you know will be better in the future. You are committed to what you need even when it’s not fun or popular. You are learning to value your own voice most. You can weather questions and the assumptions of others with increasing grace.

Like all humans, you have walls to protect yourself. Your heart is not impulsive as it once was, although sometimes I know you long for those days. Those were beautiful times of innocence, important to teach you lessons. Of loss, of how to lose yourself in giving. Of appreciating someone even when they don’t understand why you love them. You seek to understand others and comfort them.

You know how to love with abandon, commitment and safety.

You accept that not everyone deserves what you want to give– you are more patient. You demand that people prove to you that they are sincere. Never admonish yourself for that– it’s been learned with fire.

You always rise. You may slow down, you may hold yourself back with caution.

But conserving your energy and valuing what you possess to give others is something wonderful and smart.

Keep doing that.

Everything that you need is on its way to you. It is happening at exactly the right time and speed– just continue to trust in your judgement.

You are more real than many who put up a better facade. When you’re not happy, you don’t pretend. You’re polite and professional when needed, but never insincere. That is something glorious– the ability to know how you’re feeling and not be ashamed of it. That takes tremendous courage– it’s a skill not everyone has yet learned.

That writer heart of yours beats steady. I can always depend on you. We are always together.

Whatever comes your way, you will handle it with aplomb.

I am grateful that you preserve that delightful spark of silly, that propensity for wackiness. I am glad that you see beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

You are loyal, affectionate, serious.

Thank you for not changing for anyone.

You are my favorite. I love you! You are beautiful and strong.

You are making peace with uncertainty and deciding to be your own hero.

And that is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever give you.

Always,

All the Love You Possess

Ohhh, MARIA! Celebrating Our Lady Today

I was earlier today delighted when my parents called and asked if I wanted to go with them to MY new parish for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation.

This is the first time they’ve ever volunteered to go where I wanted– usually I either go to theirs or I go alone. Compromise! What a blessing.

This year in particular I have really fallen in love with the Blessed Mother! I’ve seen her everywhere– her statues pop up in the oddest places, just when I need comfort. I know she’s reaching out to me.

But during Mass, I was thinking about this song. And then we sang it as the closing hymn! (The traditional version.)

Thinking of the Blessed Mother just brings me so much joy. Most people say us Catholics are boring and reserved. That’s not true! We are overflowing with a lively adoration and deep reverence. If you read the lyrics in some of our hymns, it’s impossible not to notice.

“Gentle mother, quiet light; morning star, so strong and bright; Gentle mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love.”

But nothing captures the abundant love of The Virgin Mary quite like this song, from “Sister Act:”

I hope she brings the same to you! If you can, offer up a prayer to her.

She will protect you, guide you, and comfort you when you need it. Mary is everyone’s mother.

Love is a Force

which cannot be quelled.

which cannot be outnumbered,

nor rationalized away.

Time does not erode its steadfast warmth, abiding affection,

or choice to forgive.

Love is implicit trust over fear,

the grace and mercy which save.

Love is there when you are open to receive it,

when you are humbled, awed, thirsty.

It may not appear as expected,

but in a guise– to test you.

Thus, look for a small spark

of something to embrace, to accept.

Dare to hope, to invite

the miracle of love within.

Even if you don’t believe,

manifest your courage now.

Show love to others,

give what you don’t have.

And when you need it most,

once you’ve forgotten about you,

love will reappear and

you will be ready.

People I Admire the Most

are not the most successful.

The ones with the best jobs, the newest cars, the impressive homes and apartments.

But the ones who are independent– who pave their own way, even if the progress seems slow.

Who live within their means and are debt-free, or working toward it.

Who work constantly because they don’t want a hand-out, even if they barely get any sleep.

I admire those who are sober, or aspire toward it. It’s a hard road, but worth the struggle.

I admire people with the biggest hearts.

The ones who listen and remember.

Who challenge you, and inspire you to grow.

The ones who enjoy one-on-one time with you, and never care what you look like.

The ones who are kind and merciful. Who bring out the best in everyone.

What I value is peace and loyalty. A history with someone is special… it is to be cherished.

Preserve it, if possible. Growing up without siblings, I don’t take friendships for granted.

Sometimes forgiveness seems like a weak thing to do. But it can also be incredibly powerful.

Forgiveness is what sets you BOTH free.

Radical forgiveness is the epitome of unconditional friendship.

And friendship is the highest form of love.

A Shout into the Void: the Bravery of Hazel and Gus

Just watched “The Fault in Our Stars.” Took myself out for a movie date.

And Hazel Grace just knocks me out. I understand how she feels.

The most difficult thing to do in this life is to be courageous enough to receive love.

There is no greater feat.

It takes me awhile to open myself up to a relationship. I need time to trust someone.

It’s easier to love someone else than to allow someone to love you– especially someone that YOU love, or might consider loving.

The intimacy is staggering. And when you’re fighting a common battle, you’re allied together and everything is more intense– it happens faster. The way these two openly adore each other restores your faith in humanity.

I love that this movie validates that YOUNG love is important. So many are dismissive of it. I was, at that age.

I love that Hazel’s parents have a strong marriage and love their daughter enough to allow her the greatest adventure although she is sick. They accept Gus and don’t try to stop their love affair. They recognize it as special. Early on, they’re concerned about the future for Gus, since her health is precarious.

I am happy to see that Hazel Grace embraces and manages her health with dignity. In meeting Gus, she sees a reason to strive beyond what she would have ever imagined previously. She climbs stairs. She carries her oxygen tank on her back. She stops to rest when needed– but she doesn’t avoid obstacles just because she might have trouble breathing.

She knows life is only this moment. She loves herself enough to accept challenges. Talk about tremendous.

As Hazel tells Gus in an effort to protect him from the future suffering of loving someone terminally ill, she is a “grenade.”

But don’t we ALL feel that way? Gus reassures her that loving her would be an adventure he can’t resist.

Her heart falls open. She allows him to love her. And slowly, she begins to trust enough to love him back.

You don’t need to have a serious health condition to understand the fear, the ambivalence, of this young couple.

They see each other at their darkest moments– they cling to one another for stability in a world where they feel out of control. When their bodies and the unpredictable nature of their cancer and disease dominates their lives and limits possibilities.

They refuse to accept a death sentence– in each other, they see a reason to live. They make it their missions to normalize the journey– to treat each other as any other boy and girl in love. They drink champagne. They spend time together. They revel in each other’s strength and energy. They even make love.

They see each other and reflect that beautiful image back until both of them believe it.

You see the way Gus changes Hazel. It’s truly a sacrificial, star-crossed affair. He succumbs to his body’s limitations– but her health improves and she goes on. She remembers. She treasures him.

Hazel is a heroine I will never forget. I haven’t yet read the book– but now I’m going to have to buy it. A friend recommended it to me a few years ago. I should have followed up back then. John Greene knows what he’s doing with these characters. I can’t wait to read it.

Spoiler alert! I adore that Hazel loves Gus enough to get ANGRY with him– to tell him that it’s arrogant of him to feel that he’s a failure because he hasn’t made some huge “impression” on the world professionally. Because his life matters to HER. Even if everyone else doesn’t love him, SHE does. And he has a responsibility to take care of himself and enjoy his life because she is not budging from his side. Her steadfast optimism is what saves Gus from giving into bitterness.