Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Beloved Gordon B. Hinckley: Man of Humility

My Dear Reader,

This was a humble man. He lived his life and did a job that changed the world, yet never drew attention to himself. When you saw him on television speaking or having an interview, he acted just like your average grandpa. You'd never know that he was the Lord's mouthpiece to the world until you listened to his words and felt your soul light up. I had a friend who saw him once in person while she was in a parking lot. She waved to him from a ways away, and when she caught his eye, she saw him turn around behind himself to see if she was waving to someone behind him. When you're the honored leader of more than twelve million, I would have guessed that you'd assume that people were always waving at you. President Hinckley didn't. It was a point in time that was relatively private—there were no cameras, no photographers, only my friend, President Hinckley, and his small entourage. I'm sure there are many famous people who would have assumed the best, but not the Prophet. I think that small act can speak volumes about the character of a man.

President Hinckley's humility was also addressed by a Church leader of mine who knows him personally. My leader said that the Mormon hymn "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," which we often sing when we are in the presence of the prophet, is seen differently by President Hinckley. Instead of thinking that the song was about him, which would definitely be implied by the lyrics and the occasion, President Hinckley always thought that it was a song that actually honored the first prophet of the Restoration: Joseph Smith. Any man who can listen to thousands of people sing a song about the position he holds without getting a big head over it is a man that people can follow.

There aren't really people out there who are like President Hinckley, especially outside of Church leadership. Most people are looking to promote themselves any way they can (because, after all, attention is practically equal to love, right?), by everything from outright bragging to name-dropping, but I feel really blessed that I could have, as my leader, a man who was more worried about me and my peers than he was about his image or popularity. It takes a great strength and wisdom to look beyond the self, but it was something that President Hinckley did daily. I only hope that one day that I can be as strong.

Regards, best wishes, and love,

-Cecily Jane

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Beloved Gordon B. Hinckley: Man of the Family

My Dear Reader,

This was a man who loved his wife. I saw it personally in a General Conference that I attended back when Marjorie Pay Hinckley was still alive. At a point in the conference, the person conducting announced that Sister Hinckley had to leave because she wasn't feeling well. What the cameras didn't catch was President Hinckley's reaction as his wife walked off of the stand. I saw him lean forward, and with a look of love and concern that was detectible from a hundred feet away, he watched her until she had completely disappeared from sight. When Sister Hinckley died a few days later, the grief felt by the Church at large was nothing compared to the grief that we saw in his eyes. Every time he talked of her, he silently taught a lesson about the blessings that come from marriage, and through his example, I began to understand that a married couple is more than the last five minutes of a romantic comedy: it's a bond that is stronger than space or time, a bond that unites humanity throughout centuries. I would later see the same kind of love demonstrated by grandpa (Madre's father) when he cared for my grandma after she developed Alzheimer's disease. He still cares for her, without complaint, and through the example of these two men, I now know what love is like at its deepest, at its greatest, and I now know that I can settle for nothing less.

This was also a man who loved the youth. Growing up in the Chruch, I always looked forward to any special address that he gave to us, because he was one of the few adults who used a taboo seven-letter word when he addressed us: respect. He would always tell us that he had great respect for us, and that he knew that we were doing our best to do what God asked of us. I've never heard any other adult tell me that he or she respected me, though I've frequently had respect required of me by less-than-amiable adults. Without ever saying it directly, President Hinckley taught us that respect is the kind of love that we are required to give others, regardless of age, because each of us have an inner divinity and we are all children of God.

Most importantly, this was a man who protected the family. He was never afraid to defend our values, honor women, or publicize the Church's standing on the sanctity of the family. In 1995, President Hinckley introduced one of the most important documents of the twentieth century: The Family: A Proclamation to the World, where he and the other apostles affirmed that marriage is ordained of God, that children are sacred and precious, and that children have the right to a two-parent home, which was incredibly bold considering the current state of affairs. I love reading the Proclamation, as it helps me maintain a state of purpose. I honestly believe that if the world turned from its selfishness and followed the values set forth by the Proclamation, the we could create a society where the greatest atrocities of our day are completely eliminated.

In his words and deeds, no one I know has done more to protect and uplift the family than President Hinckley.

Best wishes, regards, and respect,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Beloved Gordon B. Hinckley: Man of God

My Dear Readers,

This was a man of God. The role of a prophet is to bring people to God and understand His law, and President Hinckley performed this function with perfection. His "Six B's" talk changed the mindset of the youth of the church forever, but it affected me in a very powerful and personal way that I will never forget. The talk was given at a time when the internet was still fairly novel and it looked like chat rooms would be the new national pastime. I was in high school then, and therefore struggling socially, and I had found that the anonymity of chat rooms allowed me to be social with a minimal risk. I picked a specific one with people of similar interests and quickly became addicted. By that, I mean I would spend every free moment between school and bedtime on the computer talking to the other chat room patrons. Sometimes I would spent eight hours a day chatting with complete strangers about essentially meaningless topics.

It became a problem long before the "Six B's" talk, but no matter how much I was teased and prodded, I refused to give up my new "hobby," even though somewhere inside of me, I knew that I was engaging in a very destructive behavior. It wasn't until I read the talk in detail later that I discovered these words in the section about being clean: "And don’t try to create associations through the Internet and chat rooms. They can lead you down into the very abyss of sorrow and bitterness." It was then that I got really angry (they say that hit pigeons flutter). Then I realized that a testimony of a prophet is also a promise to do as he says, and that since I had a testimony, I had to do what the prophet said and abstain from chat rooms from then on. I quit cold turkey, which was a lot harder than you might think, and I've never really looked back since. I have instead tried to focus my energies on creating human relationships face-to-face, which takes a lot more effort, but is much more rewarding.

I guess that little thing might seem insignificant, and since President Hinckley has addressed topics that range from abuse to pornography, you may think that I should have been moved by something that was much more thrilling. But I didn't have a problem abusing others, and I was nowhere near a pornography problem. I had a problem with creating friendships, and President Hinckley provided me with exactly what I needed when I needed it. It's really one example among many, and I'm sure that his words have helped those who did have abuse problems and etc. He spoke of Christ, and his words encouraged us to turn to God and the Redeemer and be healed by Them. He was truly a man of God, a prophet in the last days, and he has used his divinely appointed position to bless the lives of countless people, myself included.

Regards, best wishes, and healing,

-Cecily Jane

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Beloved Gordon B. Hinckley: Introduction

My Dear Readers,

At about 8:30 last night (Sunday, January 27th), HermanaMayor said something that completely changed everything. She was on Facebook browsing her friends' profiles when she realized that several of them were talking about the death of our prophet, seer and revelator, Gordon B. Hinckley. The events that ensued were a testament to the life of the man we knew so well, as my sister desperately attempted to find a credible source. I was hoping that it was some kind of hoax, and for a while it seemed to me that I was right. We don't have broadcast television in our apartment, so we couldn't turn on the news, and the most official Church sources didn't have updates on the Sabbath. It took a good half-hour before we realized that HermanaMayor's Facebook friends were all right: the prophet died at the age of ninety-seven due to to his old age. This was followed by all of the roommates wondering what our lives would be like without him, mourning his loss, supporting the man who is now his successor (though at the time of his post he hasn't been chosen officially), feeling grateful for what he has given us, and expressing peace and contentment knowing that he has been lifted of a great burden and is finally reunited with his beloved wife.

We were not very surprised; we knew that he was old and we have spent the past few years cherishing every moment that he was still with us. The accomplishments of his life were extensive. The official Church statement is here, and it contains a very reverent and detailed explanation of who and what President Gordon B. Hinckley was. Since more informed sources can easily explain what this man has done for the Church and for the world better than I ever could, instead of giving a kind of biography on this man like you can find in abundance elsewhere, I would like to share with you, Gentle Reader, some very personal experiences that I have had and the things that I have learned about President Hinckley from them. Unfortunately, as I have attempted to put all of my thoughts into writing, the length has become a little too long for a medium like this one. So, to commemorate the life of the Lord's prophet, I will break with my established habits and write five different vignette posts (including this one) about my personal experiences with the prophet—one for each week day. Each will address a specific trait that I have noticed in President Hinckley, and by Friday, I hope that I will have explained what this man has meant to me as best as I can. I'll post again tomorrow, until then, I hope that you will feel free to post your own personal experiences with President Hinckley.

Regards, best wishes, and reverence,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Week of Darlings

My Dear Reader,

In my very first college writing class, my teacher gave me some very specific instructions: kill your darlings. It's a term that writers use to say that when there's a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or etc. that is good in and of itself, but doesn't work in the greater scheme of things, you have to edit it out, no matter how much you may like it. I've come to think of "darlings" in this sense as really great lines that don't really have a home, but maybe could find one in the future. I don't like to lose hope on my darlings.

Now, the more I've gotten into creative writing, the more I find that I can't stop doing it. I get tempted to scribble things down anytime I have a piece of paper in front of me. I do it regularly in the margins of my notes in class, and sometimes I can't even restrain myself from doing character sketches on the program while I'm sitting in church. I just can't stand the thought that anything I come up with might not make it to paper, so I put it there as soon a I can. Sometimes I get lucky and I get an idea for a novel, and sometimes I figure things out about the characters that are constantly running around in my head. But most of the time, I just get an idea for a really great line, and while sometimes I know the setting and the character that it comes from, sometimes I just save it in my notebook and hope that at some time I can use it. As a little treat, and to give you a little insight into my writing process, I'd like to share with you the darlings I came up with last week. That's right; just a seven-day period. And here they are:

"Age requires context to have meaning. A potato can age a hundred years and find itself completely worthless."

"There will be many professors here at the Academy who will ask you for assignments that initially appear to be similar to mine. Don't make the mistake of confusing them. The other professors think of you as young, confused post-children, and they will take pity on you and accept your sub-standard material. I won't. I know that you are new to the game, and I know that you might be a little confused, but I know that with enough pressure, you can turn into the best that this institution has ever seen. I don't care if you hate the work. I don't care if you hate me. You will do the work, or you will fail the course, and it's as simple as that." (This one is reserved for a character that I am developing named Angus Chapman.)

"People who fear try to dominate, in the vain hope that their perceived strength will hide their primal weaknesses."

"A successful writer needs a careful amount of humble egotism."

"You can beat a dog to get him to do what you want. You can hit him and hit him until he's too afraid to disobey you. You can break him; it's an easy thing to do. But before you beat the dog, first be aware that every hit, every punch, every strike plants a seed of hatred in his heart which will fester and breed for years behind that defeated face. Because the day will come when you have grown old and feeble, and you will turn to the dog for tenderness and comfort in your last days. It is then that he will take his chance to feed his secret rage with one angry strike."

So there you have it: yet another glimpse into the mind of Cecily. These darlings are fairly sporadic, and they're not incredibly clever or funny, but each of them represent a hundred other little sentences that I have tucked away, waiting patiently for their chance to shine in the sun. Maybe I'll share some more in a future post, but for now, I think I've accomplished what I wanted to do for the week.

Regards, best wishes, and thoughts,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Beginning of the End

My Dear Reader,

So, they're making me graduate this semester. I'm not that excited about it, but people keep telling me that I can't stay here forever, and I guess it's all a part of the circle of life or something. Last week I had was my last first day of college, after which I'm supposed to move on and do something with my life, and it's pretty scary.

People keep asking me what I want to do afterwards, which is even worse. How am I supposed to know? All I've ever done so far is be a student; I know how to do that job. I've been doing it for over fifteen years. So now I'm supposed to apply it to something so I can make money? I thought that was just something that happened in fairy tales and stories my parents told me about when they were kids.

But I've got this great alibi: I'm going into editing. People lap that one up a lot better than the one about how I'm going to publish a book. But who are we all kidding, here? Why would anyone actually want to work for a living? I probably will go into editing, and I am really writing a book, but it all sees so far away right now that it's like saying that the world's going to end on December 21, 2012. It's not really that far away, but from our perspective it could be a millennium, right? Still, the end of the world is the end if the world, and you're still a bit nervous. I think I stopped making sense about five sentences ago.

I guess the first time that reality hit me was when I had to go in and apply for graduation last semester. I actually went in a month early because I was afraid that I would forget (Madre would be proud), and they say that it's one of those things you really should get around to. Did you know, Gentle Reader, that they charge you $15 to graduate? Apparently, the thousands of dollars that I have been pumping into this educational system hasn't been enough. Not only are they going to throw me out into the cold, cold world, but they expect me to pay them a service fee? I found it kind of insulting. Of course, Freud would be saying that I secretly want to do something incredibly bizarre by this point.

The other kids around me are all going to grad school, or they're getting married and having kids. But you know how I am Gentle Reader; I don't do the mold thing. So instead of doing something that is very safe and makes sense, I'm just putting out my sail and seeing where the wind will take me. Maybe I'll take a year off and then go back to get a degree in creative writing or editing. Maybe someone will pick up my book. Maybe this blog will start to get read by the right people. It's hard to tell, but I think I like uncertainty, because I keep doing this to myself all of the time. I mean, it's either that or I'm a glutton for punishment. I'll take "Not a Masochist" for 100, Alex.

The strangest thing about all of this is all of the conflicting emotions that are going through me. As you may have guessed, I don't really want to leave college; it's been some of the best years of my life, even with the roommate problems and the stress and the working in food. I really belonged here, and I knew that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It was pretty awesome while it lasted. Now, I'm not that secure. But the people around me are graduating, too, if they haven't already, and the longer I stay here, the older I'll feel. I can still be young somewhere else, if I play my cards right, and by that I mean not continue to work in food. Isn't there supposed to be a bright horizon or something? I want to go and I want to stay, I want to slack off and I want to make the most of the time I have left. I just hope that it's all been worth it, that I've changed enough and become what I'm supposed to be. And I'm just praying that everything will work out okay.

Regards, best wishes, and mixed feelings,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"The Fall"

My Dear Reader,

Today I have for you another short story that I have written recently. This one comes from an assignment where I had to write a story about a Good Samaritan attempt that went horribly wrong. I tried to use the story to express what happened to me during an experience that occurred about a year ago. Sufficed to say, I was in a similar position that the main character Camille is in in the story, and reacted similarly. As I wrote this story, I tried to explore how different people react to things that they aren't prepared for and what that means about who they are, ultimately searching my own soul for answers to questions I hadn't dared to ask. It's still a fictional story; my experience wasn't nearly as extreme or tragic, but I feel that the part of my soul that is contained in this story really gives a kind of reality to it that really works in the story. I hope you enjoy it.

The Fall

Camille’s hiking shoes hit the loose dirt with a satisfying crunch when she jumped out of the car. She almost wanted to go back into the car and hop out a second time just to make that sound again, but then reminded herself that she was supposed to be having a horrible time, and instead made her slight smile fade into a scowl. She had better things to do than climb some hill all day. She attempted to adjust the straps on her backpack, but the straps were being stubborn and she quickly became frustrated. As she gave one last angry tug, she suddenly felt someone else start tugging, and was so startled that she almost lost her balance and she suddenly had her brown hair all over her face.

“There you go, little girl,” he said with a smile as he patted her on the shoulder. Camille was not a little girl, but Michael had been calling her that ever since she was born and he wasn’t about to stop any time soon. If he weren’t her brother, he would have been in big trouble. She stood silently for a second, watching Michael go over and help Eve get some things out of the back of the car and refused to feel any less frustrated than she had been previously, even though Michael’s interference had solved the problem with her backpack straps.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said. Camille rolled her eyes. When she didn’t budge, Eve came over towards her, and Camille smirked at the giddy, bouncy way she had of walking. Eve was fine, all things considered, and she seemed a perfect fit for Michael, but she was just too blonde to be taken seriously, and ever since Michael had proposed to her she just kept getting worse.

“Hey, Cami! Isn’t this exciting?” Camille nodded grudgingly and decided to forgive Eve for using the name that was reserved strictly for her mother.

“Now, I don’t exactly have a specific route for us today; I thought we could just wander around for a bit and have some fun. There are some caves a ways down, and they’re not especially deep, but they’re still pretty interesting,” Michael said. Camille had never regretted Michael’s Eagle Scout more than she did in that moment, but she knew that she had to start walking before Eve started to say something else to her.

It actually was a pretty nice day outside, and Camille had to admit that it was good to have a break from her computer for a while. Thinking a little more about the situation, she realized that she wasn’t really as mad about going hiking as she was mad at being coerced into going hiking. Michael had practically dragged her along, and his motives were as transparent as glass. He was undoubtedly going to orchestrate some one-on-one time between her and Eve, and she wasn’t looking forward to that at all.

“So, how long is this going to take?” Camille asked. Michael chuckled.

“We’ve been here less than five minutes and you’re already ready to leave?” he said.

“I’ve got things to do.”

“You spend too much time with your nose in a book. If you don’t get a little fresh air every once in a while, you’ll get so pale and weak we’ll have to carry you around in a stretcher and feed you broth by the spoonful.” Camille scowled again, but kept moving. The faster she went, the faster she would be back, and Michael would be off her case for at least a week.

They all walked as Michael told Eve an embarrassing story about how Camille had fainted in her science class a couple of years ago when she was asked to dissect a lizard, and he didn’t stop until they were able to see the mouth of the afore mentioned caves a little way off. It was actually only one cave, but Michael hadn’t been there since he was Camille’s age, and it was easy to forget details after that much time. Camille wished that he had forgotten more things.

“You know, now that I actually see it, it doesn’t really look that interesting,” he said. “Maybe we should just keep going.”

“Oh, I don’t know, they seem pretty cool to me,” Eve said, turning to Camille. “Don’t you think?” Camille nodded.

“Well, you two are welcome to go exploring for a bit, if you want, but there’s a stream on the other side of those trees and I wanted to do some fishing,” Michael said.

“What do you think, Cami, do you want to look at this cave with me?” Eve asked.

And there it was: the dreaded one-on-one time. They must have planned this before they even left, because Michael knew that Camille wasn’t patient enough for fishing. Camille eyed Eve and Michael for a bit, but eventually decided to play Michael’s game.

“I’ll go with Eve,” she finally said. The other two looked especially pleased, and Camille rolled her eyes again as Eve took her by the hand.

“This is going to be so much fun!” she said.

“So, what’s so important back at home?” Eve asked. They were only a couple feet away from where they had previously stopped, but she apparently had no time to lose.

“What do you mean?” Camille said.

“I thought you had things to do.”

“Oh, that. I’m writing a play.”

Eve was impressed. “A play? I had no idea you were the next Oscar Wilde.”

“Well, there are seventeen girls and two boys in my drama class, and we haven’t been able to find any plays to do that have that many female parts. So I figured that maybe I could write one myself, and I’m pretty far, but if I don’t have anything by Monday Mr. Saunders says that it’ll be too late to get anything ready by Christmas.”

“Ahh,” Eve said. Camille thought she looked a little more relaxed, “That’s why you’re so upset. I just thought you didn’t want to go because of me.” Camille stopped.

“Eve, I’m fifteen. I can give my brother away without throwing a tantrum.”

“You must be pretty mature for your age,” Eve replied. Camille shrugged and kept walking.

“It doesn’t matter how mature I am if I can’t handle a little blood,” she said.

“Oh, lots of people are squeamish—it’s not a big deal.” Eve looked at Camille and saw that her cheeks were pink. “Of course, I can talk to your brother about those stories if you want.”

“No, that’s okay,” Camille said. “But thanks.”

They kept going for about five minutes, taking flashlights out of their backpacks in preparation for their journey. From the outside, Camille could see that it wasn’t like any cave that she had seen before. The ceiling was at least three or four stories high, and there were shadowy outlines that indicated some stalactites that came down so far that they almost touched the floor. Camille was glad that she had chosen to go with Eve—after all—she had been in theater in high school too, so they had some things to talk about.

As they entered the cave’s mouth and went in a few feet, Camille had the distinct impression that something wasn’t right, and stopped cold in her steps.

“What’s wrong?” Eve asked. Camille stood silently for a minute before she responded.

“Do you hear that?”

There was something, a faint shuffling sound that was somewhere close, and though neither of them could put their finger on it, and they looked around and listened for a while until it got louder and closer, and Eve gasped.

It was too late. Eve’s gasp had caused Camille’s head to snap back to Eve’s direction, where she saw a couple if loose rocks slide underneath Eve’s feet, causing Eve to lose her balance and fall over. It was like it had happened in slow motion, with Eve’s head slowly, gently, and unnaturally swooping to the air. Camille tried to reach for her, but her arms were too short and filled with lead. They both screamed in a low and melancholy voice. Time suddenly sped up when Eve’s head slammed into a stalactite with a big “crack!” as they collided, and soon all Camille could see was her bloody, lifeless body.

Camille could barely do anything but stand and watch as the blood flowed from the body of her future sister. Every drop of blood that poured out of Eve seemed to pour a drop of something else into Camille, a kind of drug that made her senses too sharp and her blood too hot, as if she was standing inside paranoia. It was making her lose her mind. Her brain had somehow started beating, along with her heart, so quickly that it mutated into a pulsing that was completely overpowering, unbearable, and paralyzing. And so loud! It was all that she could hear, and most of what she could feel. She then looked at Eve, knowing that a good person would try to stop the bleeding and start to get their hands dirty, and found that the most she could do was contain the screams, sobs, and vomit that was desperate to escape her. After standing in a silent horror for a period of time longer than any she had ever experienced, she gathered the strength to slowly back away, gradually gaining speed with her distance, and left Eve behind.

Things were moving too fast to comprehend. Voices, shapes, colors, values, and logic all mixed together into a blur that was unintelligible. She was only able to catch bits and pieces—the wall of the cavern, an admonition from her mother, the grinding of the floor on her face, a sentence from a book. They were all both suddenly present and suddenly superseded by Camille’s pulsating body. Above all else, that needed to stop, but in a swirl of light and emotion that took her completely out of her reality, it wouldn’t, and Camille saw her brother run past her as she lay helpless on the cave floor.

Michael must have come running when he heard their screaming. They were still close enough for him to hear them, and he knew the voices too well to be untroubled by their helplessness. It was at the entrance of the cave that he found Camille, who was huddled like an animal against the cave wall. He said something to her. She didn’t know what it was, but she nodded anyway. He said something else, and this time she strained to comprehend the words. He told her that he needed to see if Eve was okay before he could help Camille, and Camille shuddered at the thought. What he would find would be worse than what he could imagine, and as he cleared the space used for emotions to make room for everything he had ever learned that could be of any help, a deep and distant part of him would know that it would be of no use. Still, Camille knew that he had to try. His shirt managed to soak up most of her blood, but it was still flowing, and was going to flow no matter what he did. Camille closed her eyes and tried to die.

When Camille reluctantly opened her eyes again, the pulsing was still there, though it was now less like a coursing river and more like a bad headache. She saw the unmistakable silhouette of a grown man sitting in the dirt, weeping uncontrollably. It all came back to her quickly and painfully—the fall, the blood, her cowardice—and she suddenly wished that she could stay right where she was, huddled and unseen, forever. Anything else was too much to bear. But as she looked at her brother through the slits in her eyelids, she felt her heart swell, and her joints start to move, and suddenly she was sitting next to Michael with her hand on his shoulder. Her touch startled Michael, who momentarily stopped his sobbing and turned to look at her with his wet eyes. There was an uncomfortably pregnant silence for a moment, as both had everything and nothing to say. In that moment it was Michael’s eyes that told Camille everything that she needed to know, for in them she could see the mixture made from remorse, loss, anger, failure, blame, guilt, sadness, concern, and a thousand other unnamed things.

“There was so much blood,” Camille finally said, her words piercing the barrier of silence. Her voice was simultaneously desperate and empty, “I just, I couldn’t . . .” she stopped to find the words, and instead looked intently in Michael’s eyes. “I just couldn’t, you know?”

Regards, best wishes, and the human experience,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Humble Beginnings

Dear Reader,

It's strange to think that right now, as a starving college student, I'm enjoying a higher standard of living than just about every ancestor who contributed the blood in my veins. The truth is that I come from a long line of very poor people. They all came to America at various times for various reasons. My family line was made by religious persecution and civil wars, by famines and opportunities. They crossed oceans and plains, settled down in foreign lands, and spent the rest of their lives working hard for their families.

My ancestry comes from England, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, and France. The Italian comes from my Madre's side; she's a fourth. My grandmother used to cook Italian dishes for special occasions; I remember making home-made ravioli with her as a child. We also have chicken caccitore as a traditional Christmas meal, which means that the first time I remember having a Christmas ham was the also first time I remember spending Christmas with my paternal side (we used to drive up there for New Year's before my parents moved). It was so strange, and even more strange to think that ham was normal for pretty much everybody I knew.

My Italian side has found a lot of difficulty as my ancestors attempted to make a life in the U.S. The first of them, a great-great-great grandpa or so, came to San Francisco to avoid civil war in Italy. His cousin was already there, but their timing was a little off, as they had arrived in just enough time to experience the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. My grandfather's cousin was thrown across the room while shaving during the attack, and he was so affected that he moved to the East coast, where his family has been ever since.

My great grandmother's family worked in the textile mills in England during the Industrial Revolution. When the mills went on strike, they suffered cold and hunger. After working and saving money, they were able to afford passage to the United States. Another branch on my mother's side (also from England) were wheelwrights who converted to Mormonism and immigrated to join the Saints in Utah.

I'm also a direct descendant of William Brewster, who was persecuted in England for his viewpoint on interpreting The Bible and sought religious refuge by first going to Holland, and then coming to America aboard the Mayflower. He was a very educated man who served as a royal scribe, and eventually would become very instrumental in The Mayflower Compact.

It's amazing to think that there are literally hundreds of people who are an integral part of my personal history, and that many of their struggles are completely unknown to me. I try to learn as much as I can, but there are so many names and stories that I wonder if it will take me a lifetime to truly understand where I came from. In fact, I was a teenager before I learned that my own Padre was the first person in his family to attend college. It took me even longer to understand the kinds of sacrifices he made to ensure that his family would be able to have the opportunities that I have now, and I've probably got a little ways to go before I can truly appreciate everything he's done for me. Sometimes I wonder if I could ever really understand what all of my ancestors have really contributed to my life, but I think it's worth it to try. As I start to new year and overcome the trials that are ahead of me, I know that I need to know who I was before I can determine who I can be.

Regards, best wishes, and beginnings,

-Cecily Jane and Madre