San Diego, Part 3

San Diego, CA, USA
Sunday morning in San Diego was filled with museums, if you cannot tell. In addition to touring the Maritime Museum, we got to go explore the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier was so incredibly interesting to tour -- and attempt not to get lost in. This thing was HUGE! We spent a few hours longer than we expected there (so long, in fact, we returned to a parking ticket).

The best part of the USS Midway was the wonderfully knowledgeable staff, most of whom had previously served on the carrier. In fact, a few of the people touring in front of us were telling stories of their own from when they served on the Midway -- apparently, one guy said, after a few weeks in the bunks, even if you were an officer and were bunked in the slightly roomier quarters, you wanted to get out because it smelled so much like sweat. At least the had racks (bunks) with a little more space to stretch. It was also interesting to see the links of the chain to the anchor. Each link weighed 140 pounds.

This was my favorite of the two museums we saw, not only due to its sheer size. My grandfather was a test pilot in the Navy when he was my age, and while this carrier was a little different than the destroyer he was stationed on, it gave me an interesting look at what he was doing. I thought about him a lot as we went through the kitchen, seeing their corn chipped beef ("Shit on a Shingle," as I always knew it and was also told by one of the former Navy museum volunteers it was called). We got to talk to an amazing volunteer in the office of the XO (Executive Officer). Our guided audio tour was telling us that if you got in trouble and were sent to the XO's office, you were in deep. I asked the volunteer if he had served on the Midway, and if he had ever gotten in trouble in this office and he laughed and told us a story where he thought he had gotten called in to be reprimanded but instead received a promotion.

Up on the flight deck, besides getting to look at, and even go walk through if you wanted, helos and planes, you could also see the coast of Coronado. It was warm, sunny, windy and perfectly San Diego. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to live on a ship like the Midway. It was amazing. And, in the bay below us as we stood on the flight deck, a handful of jet skis were flying back and forth, giving us an idea of how to spend the rest of the day.

(See Part 1, Part 2)

San Diego, Part 2

San Diego, CA, USA
More photos from San Diego! These were taken at the first museums we went to on San Diego Bay Sunday morning: the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum had a lot of history about sailors and sailing -- everything from an American submarine, to sailing ships, and a Russian submarine from the Cold War. The subs were my favorite to explore. The American submarine was primarily used for research but had participated in some recent and still-not-declassified operations. The periscope was operational, and it was interesting to look out of it and figure out how the mirrors that made it up worked. The sleeping bunks, for the record, were the comfiest cots we had tested (out of three: the American Sub, the Russian Sub, and the USS Midway, which will be talked about more tomorrow).

The Russian submarine, besides having the history of what happened on the vessel (an action -- or inaction -- by a crew member that prevented a nuclear strike and possibly saved the world by the sailor keeping a level head), also had a simulation through speakers. The disembodied voice of the Russian Captain was yelling orders at me as lights flickered and the sound of distant bombs shook the vessel. Get to the aft of the ship! (Part 1, Part 3)

San Diego, Part 1

San Diego, CA, USA
September 15th, Peter and I flew out of BWI at 7AM to go and have a surprise (for him) weekend in San Diego. I've never been to California before -- actually, I've never been off the East Coast before -- so I was incredibly excited. We were able to fit so many fun things into just four days out there. We went to La Jolla Cove, surfing in Mission Beach, a Brewery Tour, a couple museums, jet skiing in San Diego Bay, exploring Coronado, and I even got to shoot a SCAR at a gun range. I never thought I'd get to see the Pacific Ocean, and I feel like I got to check off a pretty big, pretty awesome item off my bucket list. I loved every minute of San Diego. Here are some of the pictures from the trip. More will follow soon! (Part 2, Part 3)

The price we pay for love

This past week, the world lost someone important. Though I did not know Mason Shaffir as well as many of those around me, I am beyond grateful to have been introduced to him and thankful that I was able to spend what time I could with him. Friends of Mason know that he was a talented, bright young man whose smile could catch a room on fire as it spread. You could hear his laugh from across a party and look over to see him surrounded by other happy faces, enjoying whatever story he was telling (or his spot-on Rick and Morty impressions). He was a talented artist who paid such care to his craft. He was kind -- incredibly, achingly kind -- and always genuine with his concern for others. Mason was someone, I think, who could feel everything in the world all at once and still give you a smile, despite the weight he must have been carrying.

I am grateful to have known Mason, and I will miss bumping into him as I walk around downtown. I am in awe of the strength I see in all of his friends, as they pull together and hold onto one another through these tough days. To say that I am saddened or sorry over the loss of such a wonderful, gentle person is too small a statement, but there are no other words that can come close in such times, so sorry will have to suffice.

There's a quote that's been floating in my mind these past few days. I think it was originally from Queen Elizabeth II. "Grief is the price we pay for love." It's a terrible feeling to be heartbroken over such a loss, as I see so many who knew Mason (no matter how well) are, but it's a fair price. The pain felt in the aftermath of his death is all the proof you need of what an impact Mason left on this world. It hurts because we cared, because this matters, because he mattered so much.

It hurts because we opened ourselves up to experiences, good and bad, and let someone in to touch our lives. It hurts to know we won't have that bright light anymore, because we had gotten so used to it and don't know what to do now that the world is a little darker. But in his flickering absence, I can see the lights of those who loved him flare a little brighter in response. It doesn't compensate, but it's just another way he is being remembered. We loved him, and this grief may not be an easy price to pay, but it is one we will all do so willingly because this pain was worth the joy he brought while he was here with us.

This weekend, I've been hugging friends longer, squeezing hands tighter -- reaching out to friends I haven't spoken to for a while to see how they are doing. These things may seem small, but they are big. Sometimes we never know how big they are. I am going to remember to do this more often, to be a better friend while I can. I am learning so much from those around me in the strength and courage they exhibit. It is truly beautiful how powerful love and friendship can be.

If you have the means to do so, please donate to the Mason Shaffir Memorial Fund for the charity AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), a leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy. And please, if you are having a hard time, or see friends around you struggling, do not hesitate to reach out to ask for or offer help; it is one of the bravest things you can do.

Your Wake

Last Sunday, I was jet skiing in San Diego Bay. Now THERE'S a sentence that brings me so much joy to type out because 1) I never thought I'd get to see the west coast and 2) I've always wanted to go jet skiing, and it was just as fun as I thought it would be, but that's not the point of this post though I feel it is worth mentioning and really, if you have the opportunity to do it, dooo iiiiiit. Anyway, back to the point, we had the jet ski for about an hour, and could ride all the way from under the bridge connecting San Diego to Coronado, back to the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier we toured earlier that morning. (That, too, was awesome.)

While we were speeding around on the water, we were able to take in both the coast of San Diego and Coronado. The sun was high, but sinking, the water was warm, and the wind was fierce. I couldn't stop smiling--I couldn't stop laughing. That day, for many reasons, was one of the happiest days of my life.

When we rode closer to the shore, there were signs posted every so often.


We passed it once, and I thought nothing of it (besides, you know, slowing down). Then we passed it again, and again, and something started to settle in with me with those signs.

You are responsible for your wake.

Obviously, the signs were only intended to indicate a "No Wake" zone, where the speed of every vessel on the water must be reduced so the rider's wash/wake does not cause any damage to other people in the water, other vessels nearby, or property on the shore. It wasn't meant as anything more than a warning for those in the bay to be mindful. But the phrasing got me. It didn't say "No Wake." It said "You are responsible..."

That stuck with me, and I've been thinking about that second layer of meaning a lot over this past week.

We are all responsible for what we leave behind. We are responsible for the way it rolls over into other people's lives. We can pass through fast and violent, leaving a tail of rough waters at our back, or we can do something a bit slower, a little more peaceful.

I've talked before about how everything we do in life leaves a ripple that spreads out to touch those around us--for better or for worse. But a wake seems more appropriate. And it seems especially appropriate because, in this instance, it considers proximity.

There are places to be fast--to be loud and wild and carefree--but there are also places to slow down and be more gentle. Both are fine, but we are responsible. No one can make us slow down; we don't have to change a thing if we don't want to, but we are responsible for whatever damage we create. We are responsible.

I hope that the wake I leave isn't too rough. There may be times where it can--or should--be, but I want peaceful water around me that doesn't do anyone or any thing harm. I'm mindful of how I move through the world, especially when it comes to those I love and how my actions affect them. I don't want to be a thing of destruction, but instead protection, or affection. I think I'll be carrying this little saying around with me for the rest of my life. San Diego, and this trip we took, is going to stick in my heart forever.



*Warning: This post contains mushy romance-y feelings. Proceed in rain boots for the gushiness.

I do not fall in love fast. Before you, there were others who were perfectly fine to fall for, but though I may have loved them, I was never in love with them. You were different. With you, I think I knew right away. I loved you immediately, and I fell in love with you quickly. You made so much sense.

It was a Saturday afternoon when I told you. I had realized I loved you about a week earlier, when we were sleeping in the clouds on top of a mountain in West Virginia. I listened to the rain slide over our tent and you rolled over and I remember thinking this is it. This was what I had been waiting for, in all of those past relationships. I managed to keep the thought to myself a full seven days before I couldn't hold it back anymore. (I didn't want to scare you away. I didn't know how soon was too soon to say these things.) You were laying next to me, on your phone, and I was tracing the leaf tattooed on your ribs as I built up my courage. "Don't freak out"--I warned--"but I'm in love with you." You kissed me, pulled me to your chest, and whispered that you knew. "Good," I said. I didn't want you to doubt for a second how I felt about you.

I didn't know what healthy love looked like, but I had a good idea this was what it was. You made me happy, you brought me peace, you made me better. I wanted to do all those things for you, too. I knew I loved you then, as I know I love you now--as I know I fall further every single day, the more I learn about you. You have me, for as long as you'll have me. I'm yours.

You told me you loved me on a Monday. It was the night after my dad's wedding. We were in North Carolina, getting bitten up by mosquitoes in the hot tub. Under a sky heavy with stars, you told me that you loved me, too. Even though I'd already told you I loved you, you sounded nervous. I said it back so quickly I wasn't sure you understood me, so I said it again, slower. I had never been so happy. I still have the sea shell you gave me that day.

You feel like fate, if I even believe in a thing like fate. (I think I do. You're all the proof I need, at this point.) There were so many things that got out of my way so I could be with you, and I never had to force or question any of it. Everything with you has always been so easy and natural. It's like taking slow, full breaths for the first time ever. The world just bowed back and let me hold your hand. I was fortunate enough you decided to hold mine, too.

Not once in the entire time I've been with you have you made me feel nervous, unsure, or confused. That doesn't happen for me--I'm always nervous, unsure, and confused. But next to you, it's never any of that. It's calm. It's right. It's coming home and finding peace, no matter the chaos of the day. I'm not used to that sort of luck. I'm not used to this much kindness. It's a gift I never knew I was allowed to even ask for, let alone receive.

Sometimes, when I watch you do even the most mundane of tasks, it hits me out of no where how much I love you. I feel so full, so content, and it terrifies me that I could do something to mess that all up. Someone as good as you should have the world, and I work every day to try and be the person you deserve. You make me want to be better, to do more--be someone stronger and more capable. You help me realize all that I am capable of already. I want to do everything with you.

You are so much joy and music. Whenever I hear you whistling around the house, I smile. Every time you laugh, everything makes sense to me. You are goodness, compassion. You are thoughtful care; every single person who knows you can say with confidence that your friendship is genuine and true and so incredibly strong. There is no room in your life for indifference or mediocrity. You are all in. I'm grateful that you consider me something worthy of what time you have--and I know how valuable that time is, with all that you do. You are tireless determination and accomplishment. I've never known someone to work as hard as you. It's inspiring to watch. But I'll be here to remind you to slow down, every now and again. You deserve rest, too.

I used to be afraid of the future. I would live my life a day at a time, sometimes a week if I was having a good run. But with you, the future is all I can see. It doesn't scare me even a little bit anymore, because you're there. That's all I need. There is no version that is acceptable without you. And I know you're going to do so many amazing things--anything you set your mind to, you can accomplish. There will be times we have to spend apart, but I will never be far. I am always on your team. I am always rooting for you. I am always going to have your back, no matter what. There is nothing too difficult for us to overcome; there is nothing that could scare me away. Together, we are stronger than anything.

You mean everything, everything to me, Peter, and I am so proud to be with you. I will never, not even for a second, take for granted the time I get to spend by your side, calling you mine. Everything with you is always so much better. You have been the best six months of my life. I can't wait to see what the next six have in store for us. Whatever it is, I know it will be spectacular. I know you will be spectacular, because you are rarely anything less.

Happy six months, Shark Bark.

Little Things

These past few weeks have been really difficult for me, but it feels like things are changing. There's an upturn of luck, and as far as I can see (for now, that is) I don't have anything before me that I'm particularly stressed about. Besides the usual, of course -- balancing working full time and classes beginning again is exhausting, but that's a type of stress I'm used to dealing with.

Now that I am free from that feeling of impeding doom I'd been experiencing recently, I can take the time and truly focus on what is happening to me now, in the moment. It's allowing me to appreciate the little things.

Last night as I was driving home from my class I had one of those moments. It was late and dark, and the roads were pretty empty. I was driving over the Naval Academy Bridge, a favorite bridge of mine because when you're driving up it you cannot see the other side sloping down so it looks like you're driving into the sky. As I was driving toward the stars, with the bright white glow of the Academy to my left and the streaky gold headlights of a bridge across the water to my right, one of my favorite songs came on. I wasn't listening to a playlist, but a radio station that was completely random which made it all the better. I smiled, rolled my windows down, and turned up the music. I was exhausted, but I was so happy in that moment, on my way home to people I love and food waiting for me in the crock pot.

Little things.

It's hitting me in waves, this contentment. I'm relatively unused to this sort of feeling, and I'm learning to embrace it as it's happening and not worry myself about wondering how long it will last. Trying to be "mindful," and all that -- like they tell anxious people like me to do. Well, I'd never been able to manage such  mindfulness before. There was always something creeping up to cause me to worry and look forward with nervousness. Now, the times that I do look forward, it's with more excitement than anything else. Again, that's new for me. I like it.

Little things are so important to me now. They build into something great. My favorite part of the day is getting to go to bed and wake up next to someone I love. I'm grateful I have a job I find fulfilling, no matter how difficult or tiring the work. My family, friends, and even coworkers are generous, thoughtful, and supportive. I'm taking time to look around me and notice how beautiful the world is, and what gifts the universe has decided to give me. Thank you, universe.

I have a lot of good things in my life, and I'm not going to take them for granted. I'm going to practice this mindfulness, this gratitude, every day and hope that this happiness doesn't have an end, because I'm really starting to get used to it now.

16 Years Later

Today is always a hard day but it is important to take the time to sit with those memories that might upset us, remember, and be grateful for where we are now and what we have in our lives. It is a day to hold tight to your family and think of those who lost theirs, either during the attacks or in the war the followed.

I was in fourth grade during the attacks of 9/11, and sixteen years later the day is no less vivid than when I was nine. I've spent years watching strangers and friends go to war to defend the freedom we fought so hard for. I saw debates, intellectual and impassioned, about what we do and where we go from here. I saw neighborhoods and schools pull together to support those who needed them most. And the one thing that always returns to me, every year through the images of terror, is hope.

There's a resiliency to American hope, an elasticity that no one in the world could have imagined. It's because, I believe, love -- for our country, for each other -- is an unshakable value we all share. Despite our differences, we come together. In recent times, this may be difficult to remember, but it is no less true now than it was then. When one of us is under attack, all of us is under attack, and each of us should stand at the ready to care for and protect one another. The best way to overcome evil is to drown it in goodness.

On a day like this, there's a speech from Aaron Sorkin's West Wing that I think is especially appropriate. I hope the words stay with you the same way they've stayed with me:

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.


You contain galaxies on your shoulders, 
 in freckles and scars, 
and all that is alive and good 
has been born between your ribs. 

I can still taste the echo 
of last night's stars 
in your morning exhales and sighs. 
We are a universe, expanding.

Before the sun even considers rising, 
before the night concedes to day, 
lean in closer and forget your name.
For just a moment, stay.

Taller than Trauma

The older I get, the more free I feel to open up about my past. My childhood was not the nicest of childhoods. There were happy times, as there always are even in the midst of trauma, but I had to live through things no child should be expected to deal with.

During those times, I would do my best to focus to on the good because if I didn't, I would drown. For the most part, focusing on the good meant one thing: my sister. Growing up, though we would argue, we were best friends. We got closer as teenagers, and even more so as adults. She was my reason to be strong and smile. She still is often my reason for those two things. I am thankful that we had very different experiences growing up so she could think back on our family with a pervasive happiness through her memories.

I have come a long way from when I was a child. I am a stronger person now because of what I went through then. I have my priorities very clearly in line. I know what I want, I know what I will not tolerate, and I am willing to work hard to have a life I not only deserve, but one I will earn. With determination and luck, I've found a happiness that would have been absolutely unimaginable as a child. It means everything to me, and I'm holding on tight to it.

Recently, as I've been thinking more about my childhood and remembering moments I tried hard to forget, I feel like I'm shrinking again. This Wednesday, my grandmother (Regina) passed away. (It's odd that it was only yesterday morning; it feels like so much time has already passed.) Besides dealing with the grief of losing a family member, I am also trying to cope with reemerging trauma associated with my mother. It would be a lie to say there wasn't part of me that is terrified of seeing her again at the funeral; I am worrying about things I should not have to worry about before burying my grandmother. But my mind wanders on its own accord and I feel like I'm a teenager again, not in control--not free and happy as I am now.

I am fortunate enough to have someone next to me to remind me that I am in control and no one can hurt me anymore, in any way. I have come so far, I have done so much, and this person in my life is too small to take any of that away from me. I am so much taller than the trauma I've seen. I am so much better because I have gone through it, grown from it. It's nice to know that. It's even nicer to have someone who loves me and believes in me so fully to be there, holding my hand and reminding me. That support next to me makes it easier to face things that scare me. It makes it easier for me to know that strength looks like different things to different people, and even though everyone may not understand it (or agree with it), I am making choices that are good and healthy for me. And that's okay.

It's going to be a difficult weekend, saying goodbye to my grandmother as I face down my past. But I am going to make it through, as I have made it through so many things before. This is not nearly as difficult as what I've already survived, and now I am surrounded by so much light. And when that fear comes back to me, I can remind myself that I am stronger than all of it, and everything I went through--both the good and the bad--not only made me into the person I am today, but led me to the life I am so privileged to be living. No one can take that from me.

I'll repeat it like a mantra: I am here, I am strong, I am in control.

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