There are observatories on the ground gathering data from our neighboring galaxies, and we just got a glimpse of stunning images the James Webb Space Telescope sent from space to NASA. But: there is only one observatory on board a vintage 70s Jumbo-Jet. A flying Boeing 747 SP with a gigantic hole in its fuselage—SOFIA, short for Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. The program might come to an early end this year, which made me even happier to get one of the rare SOFIA boarding passes.
Stories From California
The words in the jury's comment that made me most happy were "with lots of heart".
I had hoped to show heart in the radio story that I wrote about high school students: children of immigrants who graduated five months after Donald Trump's inauguration. I followed them from June to Christmas of 2017. We had a text message group. The senior from Honduras created it with a title that summed up their spirits perfectly: "cool kidz".
I tasted birria for the first time in one of their homes, with a spoon directly from a big pot on the stove. I sat between stacks of tires in a car shop where another one was looking for a job, and on a wooden bench in the back of a court room listening to proceedings that determined her and her sibling's destinies. I was sweating on a desert campus as I watched how the third one started to fulfill her dreams.
They told me about hopes, goals and aspirations. They also talked about a shadow hovering over them because of rhetoric and actions from the White House against immigrants.
Last week I interviewed a couple whose 19 year old grandson was stabbed to death most likely because he was Jewish and gay. They told me about his love for food, for travel and for helping others. They described what it felt like to hold him in their arms for the first time. They remembered how they taught him to go down a slide on the playground head first and fast. They showed me a lemon tree he planted in the backyard and his recipe for spiced plum upside down cake.
They said the heavens opened after nine months of no rain to expose the shallow grave where the killer left their grandson, and that they are thankful to at least know what happened to him.
They told me what they say to him each night before they go to sleep.
The same day I tutored a high school junior to help with her college application essay. She told me about nights on the street being homeless, about her Mom not knowing where to take her kids, about sleeping among strangers and later in a crowded house with relatives she barely knew.
She described how she always makes sure to get her younger brother to school on time and why she misses early classes because of that. She asked how to best explain 'F's on her report card and whether she should still apply for a spot at the college of her dreams.
I would have never guessed any of this by seeing how they walk through life. Just regular folk, one couple close to 80, the young woman 17.
So, here's my pledge: Never will I forget that everyone I meet carries some kind of sorrow in their heart. Always will I remember not to judge by what I see. Each day I will talk and act accordingly.
What I brought back from Germany:
Christmas gifts, cough drops, and a nasty cold.
Memories of my mother's 80th birthday with family who came together to support and help each other.
Memories of my mother's bent over frail frame.
Memories of my mother's funny self, her frustrated self, her soft self, and her stubborn self.
Happiness and sorrow. Exhaustion and hope.
I walked through brain-fog for two weeks after coming back. Then, I went to the beach.
Clouds moved fast. Sand blasted skin. White winter sun turned playing children into long legged shadows.
Waves broke in relentless avalanches, rippled and rumbled, zishhhhhhhhhhhed and tshooshshshshshshshshed.
I am not here yet. I am not there anymore.
My body is suspended between time zones. My mind adjusts to life zones. My spirit crosses galaxies.
I breathe presence. I swallow past.
I taste a hint of future in the finish on my tongue.
Rain glides off leaves outside my window.
Rain is a lullaby. Rain is a symphony of silver notes. Rain is my familiar melody. Rain takes me back to muddy paths. Rain makes me feel thunderstorms inside of me. Rain fills my desert heart.
Rain is my mother.
Rain tells me to stay warm and safe inside. Rain tells me not to waste my time just being busy. Rain tells me: "Come back home to what you know."
I long for stillness. But I leave.
I follow anything but lullabies.
I need to move. I need to dance. In rain and sun, I need to fly.
I need to spread my arms towards the sky.
I need to claim my space between those time zones, life zones, galaxies.
I'm here. I'm there.
I'm home inside of me.