I was shot in the back

My dream world lately has been quite intriguing, including visits from Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer (we’ve been watching the “Friends” series every night for two weeks).

Last night, however, stole the show.

Somehow I managed to miss my first day of teaching. I wake up within my dream during the second day of school and frantically rush to greet my students. (Of course the school I arrive to is not my real classroom, nor are they the students of my intended class).

I try to introduce myself and one of the kids makes a very smart alec remark, so I return the sarcasm. I don’t realize that one of their parents is actually sitting in the classroom and she starts buzzing around saying that she thinks I am incapable of teaching her child’s class.

That’s when the alarm goes off. And not my clock to wake me up from this ridiculous panic attack of worst fear-actualization. Someone says over a speaker that there is a gunman on campus.

Suddenly I am roaming the halls trying to find this person. I’m guessing the agitated parent stayed to watch my class while I sought out harm. I make my way to this open green courtyard and I see a kid I formerly babysat standing there with a gun. He raises the gun towards me and I calmly say “Please don’t kill me.” I hear a ruffle in the grass behind me and I swiftly turn to see a long rifle pointed at me. It was held by a man with a blurry face. He was wearing a bright red button-down collard shirt, tucked into brown camping pants, with bulky boots. His hair was brown, but his face was completely blurry. (For all I know he could have been the “Brawny Man”).

I turned to run and that’s when I hear the gun shot. I jumped in the air and felt as if I stayed there for eternity, waiting to feel the pain. Or waiting for death. Or hoping that I could turn around to see the kid I once cared for had saved us.

That’s when my alarm clock woke me up.

I think Freud or Jung would have loved me. I think we would have sat in coffee shops for hours and analyzed dreams.

Here’s what I think is interesting about this dream. It’s obvious I’m super nervous about teaching. Anyone and everyone in this position has felt these nerves before. It’s a huge undertaking that I do not take lightly.

I can laugh at why the dream played out the way it did for a few reasons: I ran into the kid’s mom at the grocery store last night (he just bought a house next to their’s); Jon and I heard a car backfire last night and we mistook it for a gun shot (when it sounded we both paused, waiting to see what happened next); and I have been reading about “Inception” all weekend long (so the whole dream within a dream thing makes sense).

The strangest part, however, was the feeling I had when I woke up. There aren’t many dreams that leave me with the feeling that I was actually there. That moment when I was dangling in the air, awaiting my destiny, it pulled me into this realm of anticipation.

Is a dream just a dream? Or is it really a way to play out your future based upon past and present experience? Does it give our mind a way to objectively look at something by twisting our reality into fantastic stories? And if you normally don’t remember your dreams, but suddenly have a soap opera going on, shouldn’t you pay attention?

All I know is, I can still hear that gun shot. It reminds me of when I ran the mile for track in high school. The loud “BANG” that indicated the start of a race. Except I didn’t feel as though I was in control of the situation like I did when I started to run.

Am I starting a new race in life? Am I finally on the right track? Which lane will finish first? I guess only time will tell.

Or maybe tonight’s dream.

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Saintly Faith

I wrote a few entries ago about how I’m trying to understand my own version of faith. There are a few recent situations that have caused maturation in this process.

The first occurred on December 7, 2009 when my second niece, Catherine Grace Marcotte, was born.

My sister Meggan was diagnosed on October 10 (our deceased grandmother’s birthday) with the news that she was a high-risk pregnancy case. She had very little–if not, zero—ambiotic fluid in her womb. She would have to be on extreme bed rest and if she reached 24 weeks, she would be admitted into the hospital for monitoring.

Well she did make it to 24 weeks. In fact she made it all the way to 27 weeks before she went into labor.

Catherine was born around sunrise on the morning of our great-grandmother’s 94th birthday. The 2.5 pound miracle was  immediately admitted to the NICU.

During Meggan’s recovery, her high-risk doctor told us just how miraculous Catherine’s birth was. She said she had never been so impressed with a little baby. With how little fluid Meggan had, the fact that Catherine came out so strong and healthy was amazing.

I still have yet to see Catherine. She is still in the NICU and now weighs 4.1 pounds. She was taken off of the oxygen tube just two days ago. At this rate, she will be home in a month.

I know these kinds of births happen often. But when you witness the preciousness of life first-hand, it makes you wonder just how delicate things are pieced together. It really wowed me as to how so many people from Rayne prayed for Meggan and supported them through this difficult phase.  It was a beauty to witness.

On an almost completely different plane, the New Orleans Saints have proven the longevity of the fruition process of faith.

After 40 years, they have finally won an NFC Championship and are headed to their first Super Bowl.

The fans have formed such a bond of unity during this season. I work at a restaurant on Sunday mornings and the vibe was so energetic. To see elderly ladies pulling for the Black & Gold gridiron was a spectacular site.

For the past few months, all you hear is “Who DAT!”. And I live in Lafayette, two hours from the Crescent City.

But Saints fans have existed through all 40 years of shotty seasons, yet they are still ever present and faithful to their patrons.

I feel this is a movement for Louisiana. After devastating hurricanes (Katrina and RITA), we are still here. Happy. Prospering. Even if the rest of the nation can’t see it.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that Yahoo.com released a poll on the happiest states and Louisiana ranked #1?

The media likes to play out devastation, and yes they did highlight the humanitarian acts of people going on air boats to help victims in the 9th Ward, but how much have they focused on the aspect of rebuilding?

George Clooney commented on the Haiti telethon yesterday that we should still donate money over the next few months to help rebuild the country. I totally agree, but what I want to know is how much coverage will still be allotted to the effort? How long before even that is old news?

The point is that many people still focused on all of the negative aspects from the levees breaking. What the media failed to emphasize was that a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita wreaked more havoc on the other side of our state. My sister who just gave birth lived in a FEMA trailer for months while she attended McNeese State University because she lost everything in her apartment in Lake Charles.

That wasn’t shown. It doesn’t really matter to the people here. We just rebuild and have faith that we will make it through. And have a great time while we do it.

I’m starting to see that whatever you have faith in, comes to fruition. It may take 40 years, but it happens. It happens faster in numbers, too.

Maybe we should take notice of what people really put their faith into. It could be an interesting outcome.

Epic in Eugene

We arrived in Eugene at 3 p.m. I knew we had a few hours to spare before Rick was through with his final. Our first stop was at a Jiffy Lube for an oil change. This was the most superior service I had ever received: the staff was friendly, the work was reliable and quick, and the waiting area was immaculate.

There was a young early-college-aged girl there who had gone over 9,000 miles since her last oil change. She said her grandfather normally took care of everything for her. I guess it made me feel a little more responsible.

Louis got a free car wash and we set out in the pollen-filled Eugene. One of the things I love about the Oregon scenery is the fir and pine tree-lined cities and roads. Everywhere is green. The trees are tall, too, unlike the short, grand oaks I am used to in South Louisiana. Unless you want a tour of the swamp for the gigantic Cypress trees, short and stout trees are what you get on a daily basis.

We drove near the University of Oregon campus and watched as students unpacked their dorm rooms. We decided to grab some grub and beer at McMenamins, a northwest brewpub, while we waited.

I felt like the atmosphere was authentically original, however when Rick called to see where we were, he relayed the info that it was a chain. This reminded me of “Mellow Mushroom” chains. Rick told us he and a few classmates were at a beer shop not too far away. Nick and I finished a game of pool and headed that way.

While we were on the road, we contacted Sal, a colleague from Baton Rouge who worked for the same company we did many years ago. He had just graduated from LSU and was on a solo road trip through the west as well. Turns out, he was near Eugene and wanted to partake in the festivities.

Beer Stein, a former fresh pasta shop, has the most extensive bottled beer selection I have yet to see. I was weeks away from home, so I chose an Abita Amber to cure what little homesickness I possessed. I walked up to a table of men from around the world and knew it was going to be an interesting night.

The gentleman asked how Rick and I knew one another and we kind of looked at one another like, “We don’t really know, yet we trust one another enough to ride half-way across the country together.” We all shook hands as Sal arrived, sporting an LSU visor and polo shirt.

The crew decided it was time to move to the party house, which was to be held at a pair of co-ed’s apartment.

The night started slowly,  mixing intelligent conversation with stout beer and wine. I’ve never felt more sophisticated in a tiny apartment. I exchanged tales from the road while they exchanged knowledge of physics.

I could tell Nick and Sal were bringing the Louisiana out of one another, especially when they disappeared giggling. I was mid-conversation with Erik, a student from Connecticut, when the duo arrived with Nattie-lite proclaiming it was time for beer pong.

They were a little too tipsy to notice the looks of disdain, but regardless they edged their way into the seemingly microscopic kitchen. The kitchen table was brought to center, cups were set up, and then the geniuses discovered they had no pong for the beer. Undiscouraged, they huddled for a quick game-time decision and voted on the use of a quarter due to the lack of a ball.

Rick and a buddy reluctantly played the first round. However, it wasn’t too long before Nick and Sal’s contagious energy spread to a few party-seekers. Once a few girls challenged the testosterone in the room, the hype of the game soared.

I stood in the hallway and held random conversations with strangers, while the sounds of fraternity hoo-rahs filled my background soundtrack.

At one point I counted and there were 12 different countries represented in the apartment: India, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, USA, etc. I felt like I was drinking with some of the smartest kids in the world. I literally could have toasted with someone who will make a remarkable scientific discovery. The moment still gives me chills.

As the party escalated to rambunctious, there was a phone call made to the hostesses from upset neighbors. We needed to move to a new location.

At this point, I could’ve gone to sleep– and it was not even midnight. The girls allowed Nick and Sal to pass out there, but I decided to push forward and walk to a bar with the physics crew.

I just kind of hung back and watched the rest of the evening progress. Erik was now talking to a girl from class. Rick was talking to….well everyone because that’s what Rick does.

Rick flirts with anyone. He isn’t gender specific either, although he is straight as a nail. He just likes for people to like him. He’ll tell you that directly if asked.

Anyways, the goal was an 80’s theme party, but that bar was too packed, so we stopped at an uppity type place. I felt sorry for the only couple in the bar that seemed to long for a romantic outing together. We were loud.

People were pulling cans of Schlitz from their jacket pockets, while others were crying. The night took a very emotional turn once we started walking through the streets of Eugene. For some, it was the last time they were going to see one another. Many of the International students were going home for good. Some of the American students were choosing not to return to the program.

People were saying their good-byes.

It was now around 3 a.m. Not counting the one hour nap, I had been awake for 18 hours straight….only on three hours of sleep. I was entering the delirious state.

The bar closed and we decided to walk to Hilary’s. I would label Rick and Hilary the co-leaders of this pack. They both exude strong male presences that cause people to gravitate toward their auras. This was proven correct when the hordes of after-party-seekers showed up at the apartment for hookah and beer.

For the first time ever, I just sat in the corner and watched the party ensue. I didn’t tell stories. I didn’t try to meet anyone. I didn’t become a part of the entertainment. I just watched.

I watched friends exchange stories. I watched them hug their possible last physical meeting. I watched first kisses that had obviously been desired for quite sometime, but the courage wasn’t mustered at previous occasions.

It was beautiful.

The clock was creeping to 5 a.m. and the crowd started to dwindle. I finally struck up a conversation once my fourth wind emerged. There were a group of Germans who had just made it in town to meet one of their comrades in the program. Their plan was to set out through the west on a road trip to see the Grand Canyon.

One of the guys, Karl, lived in New York City. I started to tell him about this quirky little Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn that was my favorite place because of the authentic eateries and people. He stared at me in disbelief and said that was where he lived with his grandmother.

As we chatted about some of our favorite Polish food (the burgers!), his friend Pascale passed out on me. We all laughed and they agreed it was time for them to head out.

It was now almost 6 a.m. and Erik and I decided to walk back to the original party house to get our vehicles. Our hope was to see the sun rise, but as we walked, we realized the overcast wouldn’t allow our dream to come to fruition.

My sinuses were starting to act up due to the allergens in the Eugene air. My immunity system was probably just reminding me that I had abused it with lack of sleep and excess beer.

Erik and I hugged before we got to our vehicles. It was then I noticed his face resembled that of Elijah Wood, or the kid from Harry Potter. At this state of delirium, the night felt like a magic spell had been cast over the snow globe-dom of downtown Eugene.

I drove back to Hilary’s and fell onto the couch that had been made up for me with blankets and pillows.

Sleep.

Drifting through memories

I have sat in a cubicle for four months. Like the song “Little Boxes” on “Weeds,” I feel like I’m made of ticky-tacky and we all look just the same.

I have drafts for three children’s books. I have more ideas than time to make any of them happen.

And somewhere in the Internet, I am drifting to Eugene.  I am somewhere on I-5 awaiting an epic party, still reveling my time in Portland.

I have had so much trouble finishing the tales of my road trip through the west. I have issues accepting when certain phases are over. But somehow, I have managed to bring Portland to me.

I feel I am ready to complete the first portion of my blog. I didn’t make it to Canada. Instead, I chose security, which defeats the concept of a path unknown.

While I stand at the copy machine, I am at war with my inner conscience. I feel like a sellout, however, the responsible side knows this is what I had to do to pay the bills for a little while. This is not forever.

By finishing this adventure online, it will be time to embark upon a new one here in Louisiana.

I never thought I would have an unknown path at home, but alas, I do. It is a trail I have yet to explore.

I plan to share it here. No longer will I drift nowhere. My current has a purpose, even if I don’t know what it means yet.

That’s the new concept for me; faith.  I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but that’s where the journey comes in. Through my stories, I hope to grasp and share the understanding. I just know for the first time in my life I absolutely know in my heart I am exactly where I need to be. It is not where I expected. It rarely ever is.

So now, it’s onward to Eugene. Who’s coming with me?

My Moroccan Cab Driver

I had a life-encouraging conversation with a cab driver form Morocco, the country Penny Lane wanted to travel to in Almost Famous–one of my favorite movies.

It was one of those moments when you felt like you met someone who introduced you to someone who haled the cab with the driver with whom you were meant to exchange words.

I was on Facebook earlier that afternoon chatting with Val. She was in Austin, I in Portland. She told me she had a friend who lived here who I just had to meet.

A little back story. The whole reason I know Val is because of a mutual guy we both had a thing for. We often pick on him and say the whole reason we both liked him was for us to end up becoming friends.

Well, her friend Kate had been living in Portland for a few years. Val sent me Kate’s info and after a few rounds of phone tag, she came meet me at this trendy restaurant. We discussed how Val and I had met and she told me she remembered the incident.

These are reasons I do not believe in coincidences.

Anyways, Katie took me around the Northwest part of Portland, which I hadn’t seen yet. We drank and hung out with some other locals: one who told me about a girl he is in grad school with who wrote about the travesty of Katrina (the girl’s last name is Trickey). The other guy was from south of Savannah, Georgia and we talked about the South.

Another anyways, Katie and I both realized how tired we were and she was going to call me a cab. She ran outside of the bar to conduct the search and ended up haling me one that was already outside.

We say goodbye and I hopped in to find this 40ish black man driving the cab. He and I strike up a conversation and I say I’m just passing through Portland.

This sparks a whole discussion on what exactly is passing through. He says he is a child of the planet and has traveled the world twice over. I am completely understanding what he is saying and we catapult ourselves into this very deep talk.

We crossed labels and cultures and barriers that most people won’t allow. We were both so astounded as to just how much we understood one another on a universal level.

Yet again, it was one of those conversations that I don’t think I can adequately capture.

The one thing we both emphasized though is that there is hope in this world.

One of the things that gives me hope is that I have reached this level of universal understanding.

I am from South Louisiana. We are the last to get anything. The fact that I have these types of conversations on almost a daily basis with people from my state gives me hope that there is a larger understanding taking place within the human species.

I tell this to the cab driver and he is flabbergasted. He then tells me about this monkey theory about a single monkey evolving and another monkey modeling that monkey’s action. Eventually, there is this exponential growth of monkey understanding and that’s how it becomes an evolutionary cultural custom. It’s all in the exponential sudden spurt.

That’s how I know something big is about to happen. It’s the whole reason I had to get away from the South. I knew in my heart that something is taking place in humanity that most of us don’t even realize. You can find it in the most unexpected places.

We can’t compartmentalize how we find truth. But as humans, we try to figure out everything. This life is not meant to be understood. But we spend lifetimes trying to say that the answer comes in a certain form. However, when you let go of the expectation, the answer shows up in an unexpected fashion.

We have to let go and trust one another.

We stayed parked in front of the Ace hotel talking about these universal ideas for five minutes. Both of us were so excited to have found someone who “gets  it”. Neither of us wanted to part ways because we both knew it could be a while before we found another soul to share this truth.

All we did was tell one another to pass along the peace and hope that it does exist.

His name was David. We shook hands after formally introducing ourselves and smiled.

This is the Liver philosophy. This is life. It exists. I found it in Portland. I have found it everywhere. It is me. It is you. It is now.

California here we come…

The drive from Vegas to L.A. is quite miserable. The Mojave desert is not very enticing. The best part about the drive was the pit stop in Baker at Mad Greek, a terrific little authentic restaurant.

I got a gyro salad that could have fed the cast of my Big Fat Greek Wedding. In fact, the whole place had the appeal of Dancing Zorbas, equipped with statues. It almost felt like I was in a dream mirage. The tastiness felt real to me though.

We arrived in Rancho Cucamungo, a suburb south of L.A., mid-afternoon. Nick’s aunt Linda and uncle Steve agreed to take us in for a few days. We chatted a bit about Vegas and the drive and before I knew it, I passed out in a chair for almost two hours.

I couldn’t believe how tired I was. Aunt Linda explained to me that she is the same way after Vegas. You don’t realize how much it zaps you…and then the dismal drive doesn’t help either.

Aunt Linda and I talked a lot that night. She and her husband have traveled all over the western part of the U.S. So far, the one city I wish we would have stopped to see was Sedona, AZ. If you would hear how she explained it, you would know why. It seems more magical than Santa Fe.

We ate dinner–a homemade Greek schmorgizborg–then watched Catch and Release. It was a perfect follow-up after Vegas. Relaxing.

Vegas. Day 2

SO I woke up and tried to remove the stick from my derriere and thought to myself, “I’m in Vegas, let’s have some fun.”

Fun turned into us eating breakfast at McDonald’s because that was the cheapest place in our hotel. For $3 I got coffee, a parfait and apples. Not too bad.

We didn’t wake until after noon, so we showered and decided to go meet Nick’s uncle Edgar at the Gold Coast. Casinos really do crack me up. These people just sit there and pull handles or poke at buttons while these multi-colored bright lights shine on their faces and all you hear are clanks and bells and bad karaoke. You smell stale cigarettes, desperation and bulky buffets.

Oh yeah, didn’t I say I was supposed to remove the stick?

Well, we walked through the casino to one of the little bars where this jazz band was playing. They were actually pretty good. Of course there were Sinatra covers followed by salsa music. Uncle Edgar stuck out from the crowd, his white hair and regal demeanor commanding attention.

Nick and I watched him guide his dance partner–we assumed it to be Clara–around the wood-grain floor. He looked so happy. They all did.

It made me wonder about retirement. So many of the couples here seemed to be celebrating the end of their life in style. Edgar had told us about how the majority of them meet once a week for dancing and most of them frequent the shows and casinos around town. I’m used to elderly people in South Louisiana who retire with their grandkids. It was refreshing to see older people push it until the end.

Me, Nick, Edgar and his partner, who did in fact turn out to be Clara, went to the Cortez Room for dinner right at 5 p.m. I thought it was going to be one of those buffet lines, but it turned out to be a very hoity-toity spot.

We started with wine and bread. Nick ordered a 22 oz. Prime Rib and I the pistachio-crusted salmon. The food was exquisite but the company was better.

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Clara and I talked about her time when she was younger and she lived in Germany for two months. She was originally from Tyler, Texas, but had moved to California. She had been all over the world. We talked about hopes and dreams and the future. For some reason, I was spot-on with my jokes and quick wit. We couldn’t stop laughing. She ended up introducing me to her friends and I took her number down so I could call her if I was ever in Vegas again.

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We all hugged at the end of the meal and sadly parted ways. Nick and I headed back to the Excalibur to wait for Derek to get in. I played video poker while Nick watched a soccer game in one of the bars. There were actually very talented singers performing classic karaoke favorites as the background music.

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Finally Derek arrived. We hugged and he looked around with a hint of disdain on his face. I empathized his expression and we laughed about the irony of us both being there. The three of us decided to stroll through the Strip, but not before getting those annoyingly big daquiris from Dick’s.

So for anyone who has never been to a Dick’s Last Resort, it’s a restaurant where the servers get paid to be complete assholes. The guy who checked our id’s made a comment about Louisiana being white trash. We laughed about it, but thought of how many people from home would have probably hit him, which made it even funnier.

We wandered around looking for something to do. Nick’s goal was to see the dealertainers at the Emperial Palace. The blackjack dealers are impersonators and transition from singing to dealing.

We found our way there, paid $11 for a pack of Camel lights and watched Nick lose $40 to Toby Keith. The Tina Turner-a-like was actually damn good. It was pretty dealertaining.

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We then walked to this other Irish casino where more karaoke prevailed. The first girl we hear was from Louisiana and singing my anthem, “Bobby Mcgee”. She turned out to be from Marksville but now lives in Vegas.

We then walked to the Bellagio to wait for the fountain display. This was by far the nicest casino we went to. The colors were soothing and it seemed so classy. I tried to put $10 in a machine that I thought was the one that was going to help me make it rich, but it turned out to be broken and I had to get a clerk to give me my $10 back. We walked through the lobby that had the most amazing glass artwork, and then made it outside for the infamous fountain show.

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My stomach started to hurt, probably from the mixture of salmon, Jack Daniels, and 190. Derek wasn’t feeling the Strip either, so we got some water and cheez its from Walgreens and went back to hotel room.

I really can’t capture the essence of the conversation that took place between the three of us, but I will say the discussion was our whole purpose of going to Vegas.

Derek and I have devised a plan to put together a documentary geared towards third graders through middle schoolers that presents both the history of Cajun culture and current day youth who still live it. When kids think of history, they think of really old people who dance at Randoll’s (a local Cajun restaurant in Lafayette). But there is a whole generation of young Cajuns who live out the culture everyday.

We are now working on a proposal to find funds to go to Canada to do some research and also document some of these college students who are participating in pertinent events to Cajun culture, such as the Festival d’été de Val-d’Or in Quebec City and Congres Mondial Acadien in New Brunswick.

We will have to work fast, but I haven’t been so motivated in quite some time. This is the perfect project for both of us and we are both needing something of this caliber in our lives…appropriately devised at the Excalibur.

We finally all feel asleep after 3a.m. and Derek was headed to Yosemite by 7a.m. Nick and I were going to get massages before we left, but opted to head straight to California. Our time was up in Vegas. We didn’t win money to cover the trip like we had hoped, but the information exchanged at this site will bring us the ingenuity to fund our lives. Or so I hope.

Vegas wasn’t what I expected, but it was what I needed. And so it follows the theme of the trip.

Life on the Road

I’m days behind writing about the details. I’ve done the majority of the driving (and not because I’m a control freak). Driving an average of seven hours a day will take a lot out of you. We have traveled over 2,000 miles so far and have experienced so much in between. I have stories about Santa Fe, Flagstaff, AZ, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

Right now I am sitting in Nick’s aunt’s house in a suburb of L.A. in California. I have been on the road for exactly two weeks and still have another two to go. We tried to map out the rest of the trip and we will be pretty non-stop. Our next goal is to reach Yosemite and then the Red Woods Forest. Our aim is to make it to Oregon by mid-week then Colorado by Monday.

It’s exciting, but tiring as well. Las Vegas drained me and not because I boozed it up. There is so much energy in that city that it drains you. I passed out for two hours after the five hour drive here and I’m still exhausted.

I’m starting to realize that I like visiting smaller towns over big cities. I like CULTURE! Who wants to see Olive Gardens and Best Buys? Give me the charming mom and pop shops any day. The workers are friendlier and the monetary exchange seems more meaningful. I don’t mind stimulating local economies.

Anyways, I think we are going to Pasadena tomorrow. I can’t wait to write some more. I really do want to thank everyone for the support. It makes it a lot easier to get through the rough days…and believe me-there are hard times on the road. But it’s worth it. I have eaten the most “mamazing” cuisine and met the most interesting souls. My mind is reeling at this point because I don’t even know where to start trying to piece some of this together.

I’ll finish for today with a quote:

“I wish I would have counted the freckles on my wife’s body while she was still alive, because if I would count yours, I think it would be the same!” —Uncle Edgar (explanation to follow)

Subject to Change

Sunday morning began with service at the OKC Unitarian church. The only masses I normally attend are in Catholic churches and this was definitely a different type of ceremony. The church itself is quaint and old. The walls were stark white and absolutely bare, unlike my normal affiliation with statues and crucifixes.

The order of the service included: silent meditations, hymns, affirmation, doxology, sharing welcome, musical response, readings, offertory, anthem, meditation, sermon, recessional hymn, benediction, then choral response. It was such a culmination of so many different religious sanctions. The term universal is used appropriately.

The affirmation read: “Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”

The reading was of Buddhist origin and the sermon was by a guest Reverend, Richard Allen and called “The Myth of who you are.”

I have to say, I can’t even begin to describe how different it was from my religious upbringing. I thought I would really, really have liked it. The congregation was filled with very happy people, who were surprisingly much older than I anticipated. The songs, hymns, and readings were all filled with words I understood and agreed with wholeheartedly. But there was this feeling that was missing.

I haven’t claimed a religion in years. I’ve attended mass at times with my family, but I was torn at my own belief structure. I am very in tune with my own spirituality and strive to live in the present moment, but I do not like labels because I feel they divide more than bring together.

I thought a Unitarian setting would be just what I had been looking for. Instead, I found I missed Jesus. Christianity has gotten such a bad reputation from corrupt officials and forced conversion. It robs the religion of the true peace that Jesus taught and created.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Kayla’s neighbor Mike. He said how he had met so many people from Louisiana who were so nice but he just couldn’t get over our corrupt government politics. It sucks to be guilty by association and stereotype. But isn’t that how our world works right now? We judge before we understand?

We have grown so cynical because of human nature that we can’t even believe that there is actual real goodness that exists. It is here that I have to admit I see the truth. My parents are those good people. They live that truth. It is one of the reasons I am so conflicted on a daily basis. I have this world that tells me that what I know is not possible. Yet, I just want to take them to Rayne to see my family and prove them wrong.

Sorry to rant for a moment. I guess I am just coming to a few self realizations early in the trip. And it’s only day three. My life, like our route, is subject to change.

That’s right. After a walk through the Paseo, Nick and I reevaluated our route and decided to go through New Mexico instead of Colorado. We were going to make a counter-clockwise trip, but after realizing our time frame, we opted to take a more adventurous journey through the desert.

I have to admit, it was partly because of Beth’s encouragement. Plus, our friend Ben is near Santa Fe at a hostel. He said I will fall in love when I get there, so I have to find out, right?

It’s a better plan anyway because now we will be traveling in a clockwise sequence. According to Native tradition, when they dance around a fire, it has to be clockwise to bring luck. I guess it’s working with the laws of the natural universe. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve been dancing in counter-clockwise circles.

We ended the night with Elephant Revival playing the Summer Breeze concert series in Norman, home of the Oklahoma University Sooners. Remy danced like a beautiful little flower child alone in front of hundreds of people. The series reminded me of Downtown Alive! at home, where bands play free shows on Friday afternoons in Lafayette.

After the internal, emotional twister I experienced that morning, the soothing voices of the group calmed me. It was a perfect way to end a day of reflection.

“Let the truth be known tonight. Don’t go let yourself hide. Go and sing to the mountain. Go and sing to the moon. Go and sing just about everything. Because everything is you.” -Sing to the Mountain, Elephant Revival

Elise: Graduation

Everything is not as it seems. I had all of these expectations about what would happen at graduation.

The graduation ceremony was classic. All 142 graduates of the college of General Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette seemed to be on the professional student / Van Wilder track. As soon as we marched through the curtains to “Pomp and Circumstance” the jeers started. “It’s about time!” was the common slogan yelled by Cajun grandpas and fathers with complete flaaaat accents.

It felt nice to know that I am not the only person to be constantly heckled by their family.

My favorite lagniappe sound to really capture a South Louisiana institute of higher learning commencement was the duck call. Nothing says high class like hunting sounds at a ceremony.

I hear the other commencements weren’t as laid back, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Another superb moment was when they were announcing me as Outstanding Graduate of my college. I was sitting among my colleagues and no one really knew who I was. The girl in front of me was completely mocking me as they listed my accomplishments and activities. I overheard her ask, “I  mean who is this girl?” I was giggling as they called my name to stand up.

The look on this chick’s face when she realized I was sitting behind her was absolutely priceless. Her eyes leapt from her skull and twisted with her jaw that had hit her knee. I just leaned over and said after a laugh, “Yeah, I’m obnoxious,” then walked up on stage to accept my red rope to wear when I would accept my diploma.

Oh yeah, they made the mistake of calling my Mom Susan, instead of Sylvia. It’s always great to have a lifetime inside joke. It’s now my mother’s alter-ego pseudonym. For a split second while I was on stage with the dean and president of the Alumni Association, I thought about grabbing the mic and correcting the error, but opted not to. My father later told me he thought for sure I was going to scream “Woo-Hoo!” on stage (Hate to admit that I had also thought about doing that, but wanted to feel a little more prestigious).

The second ceremony I had to attend that day was the Honors and Graduate School commencement in order to be recognized with the other Outstanding Graduates. I will spare you the agony of waiting to find out if I was actually chosen as the Overall Outstanding Graduate of my university…it went to Lan Pham of the College of Sciences.

However, as I sat through the ceremony I realized how epic it was to be a part of this particular program. There were three things that occurred that evening which I am so proud to know I was a part of.

First: George Rodrigue was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the university. He is a world-reknown artist that brought recognition to the Cajun lifestyle. He has humble origins and painted what he knew: culture and tradition under Oak trees. His version of the “Blue Dog” has become an international success. As someone who wants to write about my upbringing, I thought it was inspiring to be connected to this man in a ceremonial event.

Second: For the first time in UL history, all of the Outstanding Graduates were female. This, to me, shows the shift in the role of females in South Louisiana. Women are no longer just going to school to get their “MRS.’s”. The goal is no longer to just get married and start procreating. Women are taking their roles as educated citizens more seriously and raising the standards.

Third: Lan Pham, the Overall Outstanding Graduate has lived in America with her family for only 13 years. They moved from Vietnam to the small town of Abbeville, Louisiana in order to pursue the original American dream. During these cynical years of pessimistic American representation, it was so refreshing to be reminded of how our country started. There are people across the world who still understand what America was supposed to be founded upon. We sit back in our convenience and take for granted how fortunate we really are. Pham’s family told her as she grew up that she could do anything she wanted to do; and if you hear her list of accomplishments and contributions, it will humble you to the core.

As I left the Cajundome that evening as an alumnae of a university I was a part of for nine years, I realized I had absolutely no clue what was to take place next. I’m normally an emotional basket case for such monumental life events, but I didn’t shed a tear. When I graduated high school, I felt how over it was. I knew things were never going to be the same. However, I don’t feel like anything is really over. It’s just beginning…on a path unknown.