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Edward Fitzgerald translation, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam
Here’s the first thing. You don’t have to read this story in chronological order.
It will make more sense to read it that way – if it makes any sense at all – but maybe you’re the kind who likes to leap ahead.
If there’s one thing I know all about, it’s taking leaps.
Still, I’m going to take it from the top, give you a quick sashay through my youth and the not-so-brilliant years of my early adulthood. Let’s face it, no one who’s really happy and successful goes leaping away from the world they’re happy and successful in, do they?
And if you pay close attention, you’ll start to piece together the karmic patterns of my life, that scatterplot of what may at first look like just isolated and random events. When you take a step back and look at the Big Picture, a lot becomes clear. Wordsworth said the child is father of the man. Or mother of the woman, I say; let’s be equal here. Maybe what comes later won’t be quite so hard to swallow once you know what came first.
The reality is that I did have a life on Earth, a semi-normal life, for nearly 35 years. I stumbled around, made decisions both good and bad, knew love and maybe more than my share of loss. It’s also true that the events immediately leading up to my abrupt departure got a little crazy. Even at the time, I thought it would have made a great Grisham plot. Except for the leaving Earth part, of course, that was more Speilberg than Grisham, I suppose. You’ll see. In the meantime, let me formally introduce myself.
My name, Hanalie, was given to me by my mother, who was, let’s just say, kind of a space case. Really, she meant well, and did all right by me on the whole, I suppose, but who names her only child after a made-up country in an old Peter, Paul, and Mary song, just to be cute?
You know that song, right? Everyone did, when I was growing up; they were still singing it when I left the planet. I know, because, like dragons, it apparently lives forever, along with all the childhood teasing I had to endure.
Did my early life prepare me for what came later? It did make me pretty independent, out of necessity more than anything else. My mom was the center of her own universe, and for the most part, the center of my dad’s too, which left me more or less on my own. Dad worked for a series of big corporations. We moved around a lot: Houston, Denver, Atlanta.
From early on, I was a dreamer, I guess, head in the clouds, heart on my sleeve, over-full of compassion so that I was more interested in saving the whales, and finding the meaning of life, than I was in starting over again in a new city, making new friends. I mean, I did all right. School was always easy for me, and I loved writing and music, so I had some creative and social tools for coping. But I suppose I grew up just assuming that change was always going to be a constant, and that landing on my feet was just what a gal does.
Dad force-fed me the music of his generation, all that baby-boomer stuff, Beatles, Stones, Aretha. I didn’t realize how much it stuck until I was long gone from the planet, and he was too long gone for me to thank. Mom taught me to play the guitar, taught me all the old folk songs. Then, when I got old enough to do a little performing, I started getting the distinct feeling there was only room for one center of attention in our household.
So I deliberately chose a college that took me away from Atlanta, where we’d settled. I chose mountains, and the University of Colorado, in Boulder, as much for the free-form culture as the education. What did I know? I was seventeen. For so many kids, college is a big step. For me, making big leaps was already just a way of life.
There I was, in the boom time of the nineties, when almost everyone was
in school to get their MBA so they could go off and make a zillion bucks. I was never going that direction, but I might have drifted indefinitely, if it wasn’t for Dr. Hemley.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about, if you ever had a teacher who changed your life? I had Dr. Hemley in a sociology course I expected to be a time waster, and an easy A. But then we started studying the comparative sociology of women in world cultures, lots of historical background, and I felt like someone had lit me on fire. I got so full of righteous indignation. How was it possible that in the late 20th century there were still cultures that practiced rituals I’d never heard of, like honor killings and female genital mutilation? Seriously?
So, while my buddies polished their resumes for law school or B-school, I got involved with the National Organization of Women- NOW – and the local women’s shelter.
I started as a lowly volunteer, answering phones, opening mail, but pretty quickly got drafted to help deal with the actual clients, and my theoretical background slammed into the kind of harsh realities my cushy suburban life up until then had most definitely not exposed me to.
Lying awake at night, I began to ask, how is it possible that women were still getting battered and bruised and raped – too often by men that they profess to love, who profess to love them? And the law does so little to protect them?
How is it possible that women could grow up in America and have such a low opinion of themselves they truly believe they “deserved” to get their lights punched out?
Like so many impressionable college kids, I found myself going deeper and deeper into these issues. The injustice of it all fired me up, and I knew I’d found my calling, even though sometimes the pain of it all felt like more than I could bear. I felt like I simply had to bear it, on behalf of those who were powerless to do anything about their own pain.
Deep down, maybe I knew I was feeling the need to fill a void within, to find an answer to that more profound question: Why am I here? My friends were mostly pretty normal. They didn’t seem to have any doubts. They were planning careers and weddings and their own suburban dreams, but I saw the suffering around me and was consumed with guilt for my privileged life.
So, I took on the calling, immersed myself in it, reading everything I could get my hands on. Even my taste in music changed. Where I’d emphatically rejected my mother’s folkie-protest songs, now I listened, with almost morbid exclusivity, to music that touched my heart, music that brought tears of indignation and empathy.
So I got my degree and got a great job with NOW, the National Organization for Women, working on legislative campaigns on the state level. Lousy pay, lots of travel. My dream job.
I was a whiz at research, a fountain of information. The internet was just coming into play then, and I took to it right off, instinctively seeing its potential. What a kick, having that much information at your fingertips.
All that advocating for women, all that feminist fire. Looking back I have to smile at the passions of youth, though I don’t regret a minute of those years. And yet, it’s also true a girl gets lonely sometimes. Unlike some of my sisters in the Cause, I never quite lost the perspective – or the hope – that there might be good men out there, despite the jerks and patriarchal blowhards I dealt with on a regular basis.
And I never quite stopped hoping to find one of my own.
Maybe, as a child of my gorgeous and charming mother, I never had much belief in my own charms. My work was the perfect place to be, in that sense; I almost managed to convince myself that being sexually alluring was just borderline bad taste. I’m not saying I was bad looking, nor that I didn’t enjoy putting myself together well. I’m just saying that deep down, I think I was operating on the assumption that I just wasn’t the kind of girl who was ever going to attract the guys.
Then I ran into Dale.