And the Snow Falls

Snowfall

Every beginning has its end. On February 25, I put up my first post. Now 10 months later, this is the last. This is my last post I will have this semester and most likely the last post of mine here on WordPress. We, as in Cougar Diaries, are moving on to a new platform, Facebook. There, we hope to connect to even more people and share the small moments of life here at Saint Xavier. It was fun doing this blog. It has given me time to think with workloads that sometimes prevent me from thinking of myself and of what is the world around me beyond the classroom. But as an end to this blog, as it may be, it is also a beginning.

 

It is the first snow, a fitting beginning for an end. The snow is white, fluffy and has a gentle coldness to it. There is no dirty or uncomfortable slurry of freezing rain. There is just a silent falling that sounds in the air. No cars are out heading to 103rd Street. No people are out to disturb the blanket of white snow. Only the hum of exhaust from steam above on the roofs of buildings and the ambient sound of the wind tells me I am not deaf. It is more than just frozen water constructed in beautiful and unique shapes, but the end of a time. The campus is empty, not a soul out as I walk slowly through the cascade of gentle powdered sugar. It is fitting that on this day that the first snow fall is the last day I am to be here on this site.

 

There is sadness and anxiousness within me. I am somber to the fact that I no longer will be on this site. And with the load of finals on my back, I find it hard to finish this. But I also find a comfort in the quiet snowfall. The end of the semester seems so far away yet in only a few days I will be leaving this school for home once more. It’s quiet as I sit by the window watching countless snowflakes fall to never be seen again. And in the haze of the snow, I smile, knowing only at this moment in time will it be so. The day is drawing to a close and I have much to do. But let me take one last look outside and remember the day I first wrote to you here. It’s not the end of Cougar Diaries. We will continue on here. It’s only another beginning for stories of this school and its people. The day draws to a close and the snow falls.

 

Around the Table

Every year, Saint Xavier closes down for the Thanksgiving holiday. The dorms empty and the students go home. This leaves a quiet peace here on campus as the sounds of footsteps and cars no longer grace the air with its presence. With no one in the dorms, I’m guessing the maintenance staff is very thankful for a reprieve from the usual rambunctiousness of the student body. It’s safe to say that the student body is also very thankful. For many, it is a well-needed rest before finals week. Others find it a chance to be with family and enjoy some long missed home cooking. And it is this time that we as Americans take a moment to think of the things that we are grateful for and lucky to have, whether that be the families we grew up with or made, the country we live in or the possessions we have. However, in these times of great political polarization and hate on both sides of the aisle, there is a threat to that time of unity and of humble thanks.

 

Respect, an integral part of life here in Saint Xavier. It is one of our core values and something that is instilled into us as a necessary part of the discourse of learning and of living with one another. But it does not just mean respect with opinions in the class. When it comes to family, we must also be respectful of our family’s opinions. What’s the point of coming together as a family to have Thanksgiving if we are not willing to give each other mutual respect for our sometimes different perspectives in life. Respect goes both ways. But it should not be assumed or expected if one does not contribute to it as well. Often times, respect is expected automatically which is both right and wrong. You should have the courteousness and respect and not present yourself as a rude individual, but at the same time, the person receiving the respect should also make good and present themselves and conduct themselves as being worthy of said respect. But respect does not just mean to other people. It also is a way of living and appreciating the things we have. That’s why they call it Thanksgiving.

 

Thanksgiving is not just Turkey Day. And while the origins of Thanksgiving may not suit the pallid of some, the meaning behind it should. Too often do we forget the things that we have and lose our perspective in the world. We toss things we don’t use anymore in the trash and underappreciate both the things and the people in our lives. A healthy respect for the lucky things in our lives opens our eyes to not just what we have but also what others do not have. Volunteering at homeless shelters has opened my eyes to things I had already known. But they have kept my eyes fixed on these injustices and things we take for granted. There are so many people in the world, so many here in this country that do not have the things we have or the people in our lives. That is why when you’re around the table with your family, not just on Thanksgiving but on every occasion, take pause to be grateful for what you have and maybe give a little as well.

More than a Moment of Silence

Veterans hold a special and honored place in our society – and in most other societies. In our wars, regardless of their moral rightfulness or justification, these men and women have laid down their lives for the hallowed promise that the sacred homeland knows not the miasma of war and death. It is a tradition here at Saint Xavier to honor our veteran students with not just a moment of silence but by sitting down and listening to their stories. It is always a tragic day when the last veteran of a war passes away for with them goes any lasting insight into our past, for a people that forgets their history are lost and wayward. These men and women are remembered by the student body and the school itself as exemplars of those that strive for and commit one’s life to the endeavour of compassion and service. The aforementioned virtues are two of our core values of which this University holds its students responsible for. This vigor, the desire to serve with compassion is what defines and dictates what and how we conduct ourselves.

I come from a family with a long martial history with veterans on both sides of my family. There is a long irony in my family in relation to my own homeland, the United States. There is a strange back-and-forth service with and against the United States in my family. My paternal great-grandfather served in the Japanese navy as a fleet captain during the World War I on the side of the Entente, including the U.S. My paternal grandfather served in the Japanese army from 1937-1945 rising to the rank of major before his surrender at the conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa. On my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather fought against the French in Vietnam. Later during the Vietnam War, my father would serve as an Vietnamese interpreter and military police officer allied with the United States being the first of our family to step foot in the United States. And currently, many of my cousins and in-laws have served in the military of Vietnam. In my family, there is a sacred obligation passed down our family line to defend one’s homeland. Perhaps one day I will have to fulfill that most sacred of obligations. But I hope that such a fate doesn’t befall this country to bring about that obligation’s fulfillment. And perhaps it is this history of my family that has me hold a reverence for Veterans Day.

Like I said, the true tragedy of time is the losing of individual history. My father told me enough stories to fill 10 books which I shall pass on. My grandfather had a journal giving insight into the other side of the World War II, rarely if ever explored. He would constantly reiterate to his men as they fought for their country on the battlefields of the Pacific against the Americans certain values he held. In his last speech to his men before their surrender, he said, “We are human as much as they. We are a part of something grander than ourselves. We are loyal soldiers. But we are not unthinking fodder. We are men. They trust us to make the right decisions. And this is my decision.”

These values he held of compassion for his men that he would brand himself a coward in the eyes of his society to save the lives of his men are what every veteran that has served their country with honor holds, not just in the U.S. but every nation, love for one’s countryman. It is something that we’d be fools to forsake. It should not be the case that so many of our fellow citizens cast aside that value in the face of this uncertainty. In the fires of recent events in our country’s history, people have forgotten about what really matters – compassion and understanding. In these days in which division and rhetoric are used to hurt and lessen people, we need to come together and put our words into actions. If one dislikes the rhetoric of someone, instead of trying to snuff out their opinions and their right to speak, one should fulfill their own principles. In honor of those that served, we should not attempt to stifle the rights and liberties that so many before have given their lives in the defense of. So beyond a simple moment of silence, take the time to thank a veteran for their service. It doesn’t take much to give a little courtesy to those that chose to fight for us. It is more than just a moment of silence.

Those Sky Flowers

There was an energy in the air on Wednesday night. The usual chatter of rowdy college students outside was absent. They were all inside. The chips and salsa were out and the soda was bubbling away in our red party cups as our eyes were glued to the television screen. Everyone had a nice comfy seat which they refused to sit in. We were all standing. Everyone held their breath in that 10th inning as another Cleveland batter took to the plate. So close but so easily taken away those last few minutes could have been. And when the final score came, everything became a shout fest.

 

The quiet stillness of hallways was shattered, as an overly enthusiastic viewer ran down the hall barefoot shouting at the top of his lungs, “They did it!” The sound of fireworks bellowed in the distance on cue lighting the night in an aura of brilliant lights. Excited and exhilarated screams and cheers echo in the empty streets around Saint Xavier on Wednesday as the Cubs finally won! And when I went to the window and heard the collective cry of the campus residents in united celebration, it made me reaffirm my reason for living on campus. It was a good day!

 

After the school day is done and the commuters return home, there is a silence in the air that tells me that the day is over, and yet I must linger. As the sun fades behind the clouds and the day dims as cars depart and less and fewer people are seen walking the sidewalks and paths of the campus, there is a sadness that I feel, like watching a dear friend leave on the train while you remain. Perhaps this is just my family’s famous sentimentality that got my grandfather through the losing side of a World War or my father through years of hard labor to afford me this moment to stand idle in the silent of an American campus. But either way, there is something I find special about living as a resident here at Saint Xavier.

 

Campus life can be a mixed bag at times, especially as a person that works with the maintenance and housekeeping staff here. It can be difficult with certain folks who, for whatever reason, were not taught by their parents to clean after themselves. But besides the occasional workplace gripes as in any place, the students are respectful and generally try to keep their home away from home clean, or at least tolerable for us workers to step in time. On occasion, depending on your personality, you might get into arguments with your fellow residents and dormmates as is to be expected. But for the most part, there is a sense of community here and it is emphasized regularly. It’s an almost comradery among those of us that have no place to go during those holidays when the dorms are closed. And as I look out the window watching the grand explosions of brilliant lights from my door room with the cheers of my fellow residents in the distance, I can’t help but know at least here, there is a gentle peace.

Giving What is Precious

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It flows through our veins. It is both the symbolic and literal essence of life within us. Blood, it has many connotations, and its importance is as much a part of us as the heart that beats it and the words that give it its poigance in our lives. And it is this importance that has ironically led to its spillage. Wars both small and large have resulted in its waste. From the streets of Chicago to the battlefields of distant lands, blood is a tangible resource and its value forgotten and yet remembered.

 

Here in the United States, a shocking statistic is that most blood centers barely have enough blood for a few days at a time, if that. Most of the time they are hemoragging blood, pardon the pun. That’s where these blood drives come in. Every year, we have several blood drives at Saint Xavier. And every time, it is a packed house. This semester, people had to wait for hours since the lines were backed up, and the organization that was doing the blood drive was overburdened. Now you can say this was an unfortunate incident with an unorganized company. But I say it was the real spirit of the SXU community.

 

This school is built on the spirit of giving, of sharing. The Sisters of Mercy are renown for its commitment to service. It is one of the very pillars in which this school has been founded on. And every aspect of life here has something to do with it. From the service club that sends volunteers for the bread truck or the drives that collect clothing or school supplies for those less fortunate, there is always something going on that take the chance to help someone. That was exemplified this week with the blood drive. Dozens of students took time out of their days and in many cases, including mine, missed class for a chance to contribue if only a little to help. Because that’s what this community is about, that is why I have remained here and am confident in SXU’s core values.

 

When I was a child, my father told me a story, actually more like a series of great epics of his life in a poor village to a great war in his homeland to his escape to America. And the only part he always remembered telling me was the time he donated blood. It was prior to his visa being approved to come here after the Vietnam War. He said that, “if this land takes me in, I give them what is most precious to me for it has given what is most precious to it.” It is that commitment to service that was exemplified by my father, by this school and by this community which I find so inspiring. We hear so much sadness in the world. And as a result, some people find it difficult to find a reason to try and make a difference. How can someone be the change they want to see if they don’t work at it. A mountain is not built from the top most rock down. It takes the small stones that form its base. And it is the practice of giving that allows mountains of change to occur.

An Art Talk

When you enter Saint Xavier’s Visual Arts Center, you often are met by silence and the occasional sound of the extremely noisy ventilation above the nave. The smell of paint thinner and charcoal present in the air tells of the place’s purpose. But this week was different. Instead of the tranquil silence of the VAC which would allow artists the quietness they need for work, there was a steady murmur of focused dialogue. The smell of paint is replaced by caramel and apples. The nave, empty of all but the movable panel walls for paintings and photo prints, is now filled with chairs and people intent to listen and analyze.

This week, we had a very important and memorable event at the Saint Xavier Art Department. Every semester, the Art Department hosts two senior seminar art critiques, one for the midterm and another for the final. It is always exciting to see the progress of fellow students and getting inspiration from them. There was a lot of interesting projects and theses.

This year, we had a smaller graduating class of seniors than the year prior, eight in total. Seven of them I knew on a personal level. It was amazing seeing the hard work they had pushed out this first half of the semester. As an artist, it proved an invaluable experience as I prepare to take their place next year. It is often said among the seniors that senior critique is a grueling and terrifying time to be at hand. While that may be true in certain regards, it is also a very rewarding and liberating time as well. The professors giving detailed and poignant advice and critiques on certain pieces, which opens one’s eyes to what is to be expected and what areas one should focus on.

Open to the public, the art critiques are wonderful events for people to come by and see what exactly goes on in the Art Department and what our promising young people are dreaming up. Here at Saint Xavier, we’re known for our Nursing and Education departments. But it should be remembered for its artists as well. Often times, the works of art that decorate Saint Xavier and give the walls and halls color are from the people that once walked those same halls wondering of what the next painting or sculpture or photo would entail.

The Sunset on Campus

The crisp cool air is quite the refreshing taste as the day winds down to a close. It is the lasting feeling of a renewed autumn season. The campus quiets down as people trot off to wherever it is they are going. The squirrels chatter and scurry along, as I hear the sound of a dog and their owner in the distance. But there’s a sound that disrupts the sounds of silence. A deep rumble from across Lake Marion humbles the sounds of the bathing geese. By narrowest of margins, victory is achieved and the roar of exalted crowds bellow toward the sunset on campus. It is the Homecoming game!

Every year, Homecoming brings to the campus of Saint Xavier an energy and excitement that rejuvenates the sleepy campus grounds during the weekends where the only folks around are the diner workers and the resident students. During the school week, the campus is thriving with people hurrying and shuffling along. But during the weekend, the morning is a quiet haven for elderly people taking a nice quiet stroll always eager to say hello, and the evening is a quiet time for a walk with music. But this weekend was different. Crowds of folks from the community came for the annual Cougar 5K and excited college students were preparing for the Homecoming Dance or recovering from the Heritage Ball that Friday. Masses of hundreds strolled along the green quad and the pale sidewalks and asphalt streets. It was a marvelous sight to see, so many people from the community coming together for the annual Cougar 5K. And after the race was over, families with children and couples, old and young, took a nice stroll around the serenity of an empty campus on the weekend.

Living on campus for the past three years, I find myself longing for that quiet stillness of the quiet campus. But for Saturday, it was refreshing to see all those people. It was a lovely sight to see all those people coming together. There was a nostalgia, a warm and almost melancholic sort of feeling of right after school when the excitement of going home from a long day at school was finally at hand. I enjoy the energy of these people populating the campus. It’s unpredictable but that’s what makes living on campus a story on its own.

Opposites Unite!

There is a part of Saint Xavier University that most students don’t even know exists. Or if they do know where it is, might not ever go see it. Nestled in a quiet tree-lined street with the sounds of children coming home from school and a lawnmower is the Visual Arts Center. A former church turned school building, it is one of the most unique locations here at Saint Xavier. As an art major, the Visual Arts Center, or VAC, is much more than just the building for the Art Department. On the SXU website, it is called a “sanctuary” of studios with a computer lab and student art gallery. It is a place in which art majors can get away from the hustle and bustle of the main campus and focus on their craft with their fellow artists and friends. With the smell of oil paints and the cheery whistle of a certain professor, it has a special charm that draws students on the weekends. And it is this place that allows myself and others to showcase our talents.

Every year, there are a number of art shows taking place at the Visual Arts Center. There is the Scholarship Recipient Art Show and at least one themed art show to accompany it. The most recent art show took place for the past four weeks. This week, we had the closing reception to the Opposites Unite! Art Show where six pairs of art students collaborated and created six unique, binary works of art. Over the last four weeks, the students who received the opportunity to be part of the art show took time out of their days to work tirelessly to create these enormous works of art. For myself and my partner, the theme we chose was dreams and nightmares. It was a thrill to work together to create something as expansive and ambitious as our artwork. Dozens of people showed up to take a look at the show, and we even got to give a little speech on our work. This being the first art show I had participated at Saint Xavier proved to be both a rewarding and exciting experience.

Now that the show is over, there is a certain emptiness about the VAC’s gallery. The walls are now bare again as the artworks are rolled up and stored away for safe keeping. The sound tape being pulled and paper being rolled up just has a certain sadness in my thoughts that made it almost feel like a goodbye or packing up to move away. The last month of work was now in a few minutes being put away only for the cycle to return again. But perhaps like spring, there always has to be winter. Without one part dying off, how will another grow in its place? And so the walls stand empty, and I’m forced to clean the mess we left behind only for it all to begin again with a brand new flyer on the door.

Those Silent Stones

This Saturday, I accompanied a dear friend of mine to visit his grandparents’ graves on his mother’s side. This was not the first time I had accompanied him to visit the graves of his family. A few weeks prior, I had joined him along with a mutual friend to lay flowers upon his great-grandparents’ graves. The worn stone jutted out of the ground as if it was a person sitting tranquilly on the well-kept grass. The cemetery was enormous; in fact, it was so vast that we found ourselves lost in the forest of still stones. I had meant to write about this the week it had occurred but only now have the words come to me to make it worthy for this reflection…

Every culture, no matter where or when, has had some form of veneration of those that had come before us. And it is often stated that the day man buried their dead was the day man became human. I truly believe that. You do not have to be religious to have that innate respect for the dead. And while no words can elucidate or substantiate the loss of a beloved, what could not be said is written in the drips that fall when that coffin is lowered or the roar of the pyre sound. The sting of death can be numbed when surrounded by those dear and those of which the haunting vestige of an empty seat can mask. But there is a sadness beyond the obvious in a cemetery. There is a taciturnity, a solemn vigil that if one were to stroll the paths invoke in the heart.

There is nothing more gut-wrenching in my heart than an old grave. I do not mean a grave of a person from 100 years ago, I mean one that which nature has reclaimed. When the leaves and grime collect and the grass grows thick, the lasting memory of those that which should be venerated is lost. When our mutual friend laid an incense stick for my friend’s grandparent’s graves, I was struck by an old grave. The grass was thick and wild and had all but buried the flat stone. Digging in the dirt and tearing the grass and loam like a cheap carpet, I was struck by what I saw, the grave of a veteran of the First World War. It should be without question that there should be reverence or at least a genuine respect for those that shed their blood for their homeland. For me, to see the derelict corpse of stone of this man’s grave was something of a realization. Those silent stones of which one passes by on the freeway paying no heed are those people. Of course not literally but in the heart those worn and barely visible etchings of a person’s identity pay testimony to what we value as a people. When does someone stop becoming worthy of remembrance? When the grave a soldier that fought the Nazis in the Second World War is left to decay and be buried by the earth to be forgotten with only a cheap department store flag next to it, is that how far we have become detached from our history. Those stones are our history and we are the grave keepers until it is our turn to be those still stones.

They Were In Service

Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is a day in which the families of the slain mourn their beloved dead, and we that do live take pause for remembrance. In a world that every day appears to grow increasingly militant and apathetic, it is the moments of sentimentality and earnest truth that we flock to. And institutions such as Saint Xavier take to heart a pledge to fulfill those truths.

Here at Saint Xavier, mercy and service are words that are as common as hello and goodbye. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, this school has had a long and decorated history in the belief and practice of mercy and service in charity and goodwill to the misfortunate. But what do those words mean in the larger context of the world? What kind of potency do they have in the hearts and minds of people? Words are one thing but do they have substance to suffice the enormous baggage that those words bear, especially on days such as today? We only have to look at the heroism and self-sacrifice of the emergency workers that worked and perished 15 years ago.

Four hundred and eleven. That is the number of emergency workers that died in the largest terrorist attack on US soil. That’s 411 families which lost a beloved. And that does not even begin to account for the number of affected that knew and loved those who passed. Service, a word that has many meanings, according to its context, but one in particular stands above the rest, “contributing to the welfare of others.” When police kept the panic crowds from turning into horrendous trampling rivers, they were performing service to their city and their fellow citizens as expected of any officer of the law. Despite the horrible things we heard regarding the actions of the police that perhaps overreach their authority, we must remember their purpose and role in our communities, selfless service. After all, sixty police officers lost their lives doing the job they swore to do, protecting the people.

When the brave firefighters of the FDNY rushed forth into the burning and chaotic inferno of the Twin Towers, a distinction became clear. When people say those firefighters weren’t thinking of themselves as they rushed into the inferno, they are grossly wrong. Firefighters are human as you and I. They feared for their lives as any person. But what is so inspiring and distinguishes those wearing the black and yellow fire jackets and the citizens they were sworn to protect was the choice. They chose to run back. They chose to cast aside their own self-preservation in the sworn duty of service. Those that perished and those that linger, stricken by illness for their heroic deeds that day are reminders to us all of the importance of service. They should be remembered not as superhuman or the brave exceptional but instead as the valiant standard of which we all should strive as citizens of not just this country but of the world to be.

“Not everyone can be a hero, but we can all take that step toward the life of service.” -Chris Thach