Author: Sarah Alex

Ground Control to Airman Alex

Ground Control to Airman Alex

I feel like I’ve always been a bad sleeper, but when I look back at childhood, as tumultuous as it was, I don’t remember much in the way of restless nights, hours of staring into the darkness, or spiraling thoughts demanding my attention throughout the wee hours. No, being a bad sleeper came much later, and has, apparently, lasted much longer than anything else I’ve ever experienced. A decade plus of shift-work, life and marriage, and the usual worries that go along with those things has made me pretty much resigned to being, now, a bad sleeper. And, like everything we suffer from and try to beat but can’t, we learn to cope. How have I coped? Not well, to be sure, but coping is just that. Coping. I delve into sleep mediation sessions every once in awhile. I’ve found some worthy videos on Youtube that have kept me company on many a sleepless night. Also on Youtube, is one particular ten-hour video of – what do I call it? – a spaceship bedroom. It presents the visual of a cozy, calming bedroom on a spaceship. Doesn’t sound relaxing and sleep-inspiring? You would be surprised. Accompanying the visual are the spaceship sounds – very similar to jetliner sounds – droning engines, air ventilation, space and wind whirring around the craft, and the occasional beeping from, you know, spaceship equipment.

Super relaxing, people!

Recently, an experience from my past came back for a visit. In 1997, while I was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona with the Air Force, I received the honor of witnessing a real-life UFO. It became very popular as the most-sighted UFO phenomenon to date. That phenomenon has since been given the name the Phoenix Lights. I was on duty at Luke Air Force Base that night. I was just finishing up my dinner from Taco Bell when the phone at the weather station began ringing off of its hook. “Look outside!” the voices on the other end were saying, “Look UP!” Living in what our superiors had warned us was the “wild, wild west,” I took heed to these kinds of calls. Besides, Phoenix weather was super boring. I was so sick of reporting “clear and a million” that these calls were a welcome diversion. Putting the calls on hold, I made my way to the spiral staircase that would lead me up onto the roof, also known as, our official weather observation point. As the official weather observer, this was the thing to do. I reached the rooftop location and all I could and can say was, “Whoa.” Several white globes suspended themselves over the city, unmoving, silent. This lasted for several hours. Now, this is where we could go off on a tangent that would take us all over the universe. All I need to say is that I saw a UFO that night. Always having been a believer, this was not the stunner to me that it was to some. I had seen quite a few documentaries on this phenomenon and several like it over the years that followed. One on Amazon Prime called “The Phoenix Lights: Beyond Top Secret” had caught my eye a few nights ago, and after viewing it, I was prompted to get in touch and talk about my own experience for the first time ever with the documentary’s creator, Dr. Lynne. We had a lively and friendly discussion the following evening. Flash forward, if you will, to my BeautyRest mattress later that night. (Side note: paying an arm and a leg for a mattress won’t guarantee good sleep.) So, anyway, the memory of my experience with the Phoenix Lights was fresh on my mind, once again, as I went to bed that night. And, once again, I found myself realizing that actual rest and sleep were about as far away as Mars, so I tuned in to my favorite Youtube video:

Immediately, I was on board. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend another film called “Lucy in the Sky.” It stars Natalie Portman (that already makes it a hit, right?!) who stars, no pun intended, as an astronaut. There is a scene where she floats in outer space in nothing but her spacesuit, completely alone. The silence, the peacefulness, the carefreeness, you can feel it. It seems like it must be better than any drug could ever be. Lucy ends up suffering from an addiction to this, so I won’t give away the movie, but I will say that I totally get it. I may be addicted to a sensation I want to feel. But, back to my Youtube fantasy: I could feel the crisp sheets on the bed in my Youtube spaceship. Looking out of the window above my head, Earth loomed far away. All I felt was peace and calmness. The droning sound of the spaceship engines began to lull me into a deeper state of relaxation, and I found myself still ruminating a bit on my earlier discussion with Dr. Lynne. The questions abound as they have for centuries: Who is out there? What are they trying to communicate to us? Are they trying to communicate with us at all? Is it a time travel thing? These notions all danced in my head together, not unhappily, as I began to not just imagine myself on this virtual Youtube spaceship, but also on board whatever caused that surreal sight in Phoenix more than twenty years ago. If I had been a being on that aircraft, would I have been trying to communicate with the humans below? If so, what would have been the message, and to whom? And, suddenly, those answers became as clear as day. It was 1997. I was on board the Phoenix Lights spaceship, and I was attempting communication. With one human. Myself. In 1997. Okay, okay, I know you may be considering my self-admitted “addictions” right now and wondering what I may have taken as a sleep aid this particular night.

Does it matter?

It doesn’t. Because what ended up happening was what I imagine our alien counterparts concluded: We can’t stop these idiots from doing what they’re going to do and feel how they’re going to feel about it. There is no sense in trying to alter the course of history because all will be as it’s meant to be. So, let’s just give them a show and try to communicate our empathy for them and then let them be. I’m not sure if those aboard the Phoenix Lights craft had the lyrics of Garth Brooks’s song, The Dance, running through their alien heads, but it certainly came to my mind: “I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” So, there I was suspended above the Valley of the Sun, peering down at my much younger self, wanting to shout, “Don’t pick that guy! Stay in the military! Don’t move back home yet,” but even more, “Just be happy and stop worrying about everything. You are doing fine. Enjoy where and who you are right now because you may never see it or you again. You are headed for some pretty dark days in the distant future and I honestly don’t know how long they’re going to last, so enjoy what you have right now — the hope and excitement of a whole life ahead of you. It’s better not to know,” but instead I said, “Hello there, Earthling.

Nice to see you. Goodbye.”

Dear Selfie

Dear Selfie

If you ever need a reminder of how far you haven’t come – and really, who wouldn’t want that? – write yourself a letter and just happen upon it ten plus years later. I was recently organizing files on my computer, getting rid of duplicates and obsolete documents, as a means of keeping myself busy and feeling productive, during quarantine. “To My Dear Self,” the title read. “Oh, this should be interesting,” was my first thought, and then the thought that followed was, “Is this a good idea?” You see, like many of my fellow Earthlings, I’ve been feeling pretty low lately. That would explain my reluctance to dip even further by opening this can of worms, and yet, like a good train wreck, I couldn’t look away from it either.

I’ve been a journal keeper most of my life, but this idea was a little different. It was born from my old youth group leader when I was in high school. Every New Year’s Eve, he and his wife took all the kids on a retreat up into the New Hampshire mountains. You would be given the letter you had written to yourself the year before, and you would write a new one to be opened and read the following year. I don’t remember it being very eye-opening. Honestly, I don’t remember anything I ever wrote or how I ended up feeling about it a year later, but I do remember enjoying the activity of it. When I sat down in 2009 to write to my ol’ dear selfie, I don’t know when I thought I would actually read it again. I had completely forgotten its existence until now. 

2009 was not a stellar year for me. It turns out, 2019 and definitely 2020 aren’t either, but hindsight is, ironically, 20/20. In 2009, I was being laid off from the job I had held for eleven (for the most part) happy years. It would mean the end of tough shift work, which was good, but the bad part was I was losing a decent hourly wage while trying to live in a high cost-of-living place. To make a long story short, I had some tough decisions to make. Big ones. The kind most people don’t make more than once in their lifetimes. I didn’t feel ready for that. Family relations, usually solid, were strained during this time period making decision-making more emotional than it should ever be. The 2009 letter broke it down basically to this: “I know you’ve been second guessing everything, so the purpose of today’s letter is to encourage you to stay the course. I think it’s a good plan.” To round out the long story, I actually did stay the course and gave the plan a shot, but it didn’t work out. Less than a year later, my life would change again when, at 37, I finally met the man I would (very quickly) marry, and life would get better for awhile, and then strange again, as life does. To be fair and honest, and to add some positivity here where I’m starting to feel like a Debbie Downer, 2010 was the greatest year of my life. I’m willing to bet that will be a story for you for another time.

 

What I learned from my Dear Selfie letter was actually basic life stuff. Mostly, the more people and life change, the more they stay the same. My life is night-and-day different now from what it was back then; yet, here I sit today, still feeling kind of unsure about things. The lesson? Maybe that’s okay. I missed something when I read that letter the first time. Sure, I got the message: Stay the course. But, what spoke to me even more loudly the second time was the nurture and care I gave myself back then: “You handled yourself well, and you should feel good about that,” I wrote. “You took much more of the responsibility than was ever yours to take.” All I remember feeling during those days was guilt and regret, but no, look! My own words directly challenge those feelings, and I’m so glad. I wouldn’t have written it if it weren’t true. 

Maybe I haven’t come that far, but who cares? I’ve managed to stay true to myself, and somehow, even while being neglected and abused, I’ve been able to show myself compassion and love. The world is going to be the world. Life is life. You are you. Sit down today and write your dear old self a letter. 

These Days

These Days

Sometime last week, I was in my usual (these days, anyway) 3:00AM position and state of mind: buried underneath my covers in darkness snuggling with my best friend, (these days) Kindle. My second best friend (these days) is vodka, but more on that, perhaps, another time. The Kindle was loaned to me by my friend, Lindsey, who knew that I, like many others, was stuck home in quarantine and trying to not lose my ever-loving mind. Reading helps. The Kindle she loaned me was already loaded with book titles – I mean, like hundreds – so, I was going to be good for awhile.

One of my favorite things to do is judge a book by its cover. I know, I know. I can’t help it. If the cover has boats, trees, or an animal on it, or is drenched in natural, preferably nautical colors, I’m in! I don’t even need to know the storyline. I’m in. Well, Kindle doesn’t offer that, so I’ve actually learned that I love reading a book by going in completely blind – no preconceived notions, no warnings. It turns out that one thing I’ve believed my whole life has turned out to be untrue: I don’t hate mysteries and thrillers. Who knew? Who also knew that through this process I would find out that Jessica Simpson is one of my favorite people on Earth? Stay with me, now. Actually, let me back up for a minute.

I’ve been out of work for almost three months. I work in one of those big box retail stores – one that’s been frequented heavily these days, and with my history of severe asthma, my doctor recommended a leave of absence to stay away from the general public for awhile. Not knowing how long “for awhile” is going to go on, I’ve been working on trying to get my small home business off the ground, and it’s been stressful. I never thought myself to be a super social person, but it turns out, I need people around me. I was born under the sign of Cancer, and I guess that profile fits me because while I like people, I want to keep them at an emotionally safe distance. This physically safe distance, though, has caused a little bit of a panic that started as just a slow simmer inside of me, but has become too close to the boiling point for comfort. So what that I can’t spend a spa day relaxing alone but with the company of nearby people? So what that we can’t go to a MLB game? So what that the bars and nightclubs are closed? Right? So, what? So, we have become more and more isolated from each other, which has only enhanced the ridiculous political climate that surrounds us right now. So, we need the distraction of entertainment. So, we need to have the common grounds that have been taken from us. That’s so what. I do digress, but I just wanted to make the point, that I, like millions of people around the world, am feeling a little low.

Back to Miss Simpson. I’ve never been a Jessica Simpson fan, but nor have I ever been a hater. I actually liked her in Dukes of Hazzard, and, back in the day, enjoyed an episode or two of Newlyweds. The girl is funny. But, never being into pop, I’m not familiar with her music. That night last week, as I attempted to disappear (literally, if only I could) into my Kindle library where her newly released memoir, Open Book waited patiently for me, I met Jessica. I’m going to have to fight the desire here to make this a raving review for the book. It honestly was exceptional, but I’m hoping to drive a different point home. I found a kinship with Jessica through the story of her life. There were many similarities to our upbringings. We were both firstborn daughters, born in July, with younger sisters born the same amount of years later. We both were raised Baptist, and still to this day carry those traditions in our hearts, but more importantly, we both are passionate in our love for the Lord. We’ve both found ourselves, throughout our lives, struggling to find our places in the world – in a world that is so temporary and fleeting and fickle. Like me, she is a writer. So much of her music was born from entries in journals she kept throughout her life. I used to be a journal keeper. I stopped ten years ago, for reasons that are only now obvious to me, but I had always found it helpful, therapeutic. As I watched her beautiful and painful story unfold, it was clear to me the impact her writing had on actually saving her life. I’ve been feeling like I’m drowning recently. No, actually, I take that back. I’ve been feeling like I’m sinking in the muck and mire at the bottom of the sea – beyond drowning. Jessica struck a chord in me. It was as if she was saying, directly to me, “Girl. Pick up that pen, and write it down.” So, I did. Whether it was the actual words I was writing, or the act alone of writing, or if it was something else altogether, I really don’t know, but something began to happen. It was tiny, but I could feel it. The following morning, I was texting with a friend who was concerned about me. He advised me to write these words you are reading right now. “It might help someone else who’s feeling the same way,” he said. “Do it for me.”  

I’m not feeling 100% better today, but I’d honestly say 45%! And that’s something, right? My feelings of purposelessness and despair are only nagging thoughts in the background now instead of being everything to me. What is the answer, then? I think it’s that we have to almost force ourselves to do those things that we know can help us dig out. Oftentimes, I know, we have lost the desire to even free ourselves, but I made myself write when I really didn’t feel like it. What is it, for you, that can help break you out of your prison? Have you seen the video of the speech, “Make Your Bed” by Admiral William McRaven? It’s a beautiful and eloquent commencement address that boils down to a simple task: Make your bed. It sounds like an oversimplification, but truly, things are so much more simple than we want to believe.

You should watch the video of his speech here:

 

The other thing I hope you take away from this is the importance of people. I’ve always been a loner, so it’s hard for me to accept my need for others, but we all have that need. Look at the line of people it took to get me just 45% better. Lindsey loaned me the Kindle, and has since told me to keep it as a gift! Thank you, Lindsey! That led me to Jessica’s book – thank you, Jessica! My Brother from another mother urged me to write this story – thank you, Kenn! This little story may have made even one of you feel a tad bit better today, and that thought alone makes my heart sing. And just like that, I’m at about 60% – thank you, Lord.

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