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I Miss You Already, Robin Williams

12 Aug

When I was ten years old, my greatest ambition was to have a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders, a la Mork, the alien who hailed from the planet Ork on my favorite TV show, Mork and Mindy. Yes, I’m serious. I remember going to the fabric store with my mother and she, bless her heart, inquired as to the availability of rainbow-striped elastic. I can’t remember why we didn’t buy any but I think it may have been because it was out of stock. So apparently there were several other kids running around town who, like me, wanted to be compared to the incomparable Robin Williams.

I have not seen all of his movies over the years, nor did I love every one that I did see, but every time that I happened to catch him being interviewed, I had to stop and watch because he never failed to make me laugh. He always amazed me with his quick wit and his hilarious comparisons. How his mind could fly from one thing to another and make it all uproariously funny! I envied his ability to think on his feet. I can think on my feet to a degree – I actually enjoyed extemporaneous speaking in speech class – but I’m not funny. I don’t have one iota of his ability to make people laugh.

Not many people do.

The truth is, Robin Williams could also make people cry. His movie What Dreams May Come is one of my favorite movies of all time. Perhaps “favorite” is not the right word. It’s too depressing to be a “favorite”. Maybe “most heart-wrenching” would be better. Or “most unforgettable”. Never has a movie made me think more about life, about death, about heaven and hell. About theology.

Is it trite to say that the world is diminished because of his loss? It is, trite or not. My heart hurts, thinking that even as he cracked us all up, he was hurting so desperately inside. I pray that I’ll give grace to the next person who irritates me – to the next and the next and the next ad infinitum – because I have no idea what is going on inside of them. Because, even if a person is smiling on the outside, on the inside they may be breaking apart.

Na-Nu, Na-Nu, Robin. I miss you.

Mount Saint Helens Exploded 33 Years Ago this Week – My Dad Was There the Next Day – And Here are Some of his Photos

14 May

0-StH-before-2-final-Dig

I remember the boom that Sunday morning, May 18th, 1980 – 33 years ago this week – as we were getting ready for church on Orcas Island, Washington. It was 8:32am – or however long it takes for sound to travel 300 miles. My oldest sister was off at college, my Dad was down in Oregon at work with the Air Force, and my other sister, our Mom, and I were slipping on our Sunday shoes and just about to head out the door when we heard it.

“Oh, they’re dynamiting on Buck Mountain,” Mom said dismissively.

But Jenny and I said, “No! It was Mount Saint Helens!”

“No,” Mom disagreed. “We couldn’t hear it this far away.”

“It was the mountain, Mom,” we said again. “Turn on the radio.”

Sure enough, Mount Saint Helens – which had been steaming and belching and threatening to explode for weeks – had finally blown her top. The mountain – the entire skyline of southern Washington State – was no longer the same. The north face of the mountain was gone.

And so were 57 people with her.

My father, LTC David K. Wendt, was a rescue helicopter pilot for the United States Air Force Reserve, based out of Portland, Oregon. Here’s what Dad had to say about May 18th:

“I was the duty officer that Sunday – in the RCC (Rescue Control Center) which was a madhouse!! We were getting calls from everybody – including the President of the United States (or the White House office, anyway, to set up a visit for President Carter.) I didn’t get to fly until Monday morning – when I found the Moore family. Lienau’s rescue was a week later.” (The following photographs will fill-out the stories of these people a little more.)

These are some of his photographs, taken over the next several days following the event on May 18th.

The cauldron!

The cauldron!

It's like a photo from you-know-where.

It’s like a photo from you-know-where.

These were trees.

These were trees. The explosion – firing at several hundred miles per hour – killed every living thing within a 230 square mile radius. All within a time period of 5-9 minutes. The orange smudge in this photo is a flare. (See links below to verify this information.)

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake.  Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming.  His body was never found.

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming. His body was never found.

Steam vents - filled with logs from the blast.

Steam vents – filled with logs from the blast.

Steaming waterfall.

Steaming waterfall.

38-StH steam portrait-Dig

35-Devis-lake-holes-Dig

Devis Valley

Devis Valley

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew.  They have kept in touch over the years.  He was a photographer for National Geographic.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew. Several years ago they saw each other again as they were both asked to be a part of an NBC production on “Disaster Survival”. Here’s what Dad had to say about Lienau: “He made a video of the whole ordeal – saying how they looked back up the pass they’d come through and saw a volcano-blasted tree in the shape of a cross – just showing in the narrow slit of overcast volcanic cloud and the pass. He told the others with him – after seeing that cross – that he truly felt they were going to be saved – and a few minutes later we flew over the pass! I was hover-tracking them by their trail left in the ash and mud.” Otto Seiber, another guy rescued by Dad and his crew, was a filmmaker from Seattle, who went with his film crew to document the destruction on May 23rd. Their compasses freaked out in the volcanic atmosphere and they got themselves lost in a hurry. The mountain then erupted again on May 25th, and Dad and his team rescued them. By the way, Wikipedia has proven its reputation for inaccuracy by reporting that they were rescued by the National Guard…but it was NOT the guard, it was the Air Force!

Taken from another helicopter.

A helicopter-view of another Huey.

18a-Steam vents-3-Dig

Steam vents

Steam vents

They searched for the Moores - and they found them on the 19th.  Alive.

They searched for the Moores – and they found them. Alive. Mother, father, and two small children.

The Moores.

The Moores.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Reid Blackburn's car.  He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine.  His body was eventually recovered from his car.

Reid Blackburn’s car. He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine. His body was eventually recovered from the car.

Chemically-altered pools.  All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!

Chemically-altered pools. All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!

28-StH-lake-portrait-Dig

30-Cold Lake & reflection-Dig

40--StHelens-Dig

Dad didn't send me this photo - but I wanted to include it!  Details of the rescue of the Moores.  This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Dad didn’t send me this photo because he’s not one to brag – but I wanted to include it! Details of the rescue of the Moores. This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Forever changed.

Forever changed.

Here are several interesting links:

A very informative video put out by the USGS – the United States Geological Survey.

The USDA/FS site (United States Department of Agriculture / Forest Service)

Mount Saint Helens.com

A USGS summary of the event, including right before it and several years after it.

There are many, many more sites – I just choose a few which seemed especially good.

My Dad has had his photos used by the USGS, the Mt. St. Helens Interpretive Center, and this book, Fire Mountain. I have many reasons to be proud of my dad. The things he did during his Mount Saint Helens rescues are definitely some of them.

Copyright Notice: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any material in this blog without written permission from the blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Copyright May 14, 2013 by Gretchen Anne O’Donnell and Col. David K. Wendt, USAFR

Betrayal

23 Oct

I have written the opening lines of this post several times in my head over the past week. I have questioned and prayed and cried. I have wondered whether or not I ought to even write it. Are there things so sacred that they ought not to be written? Things that, in the writing, are depleted by the very act of putting them into words? Or is it just that I, as an imperfect being, am frustrated that nothing I say can begin to touch the truth of a life which was…but is no more?

I am not a painter. I am not a sculptor, or a carver of fine wood. If I were I would attempt to remember through my art, to present a portrait of my cousin that could be admired, touched, hung on a wall or put on a pedestal for all to see. Even then there would be limits: her hair was not quite like that. Her fingers were surely longer: a pianist’s hands. How can I portray her laugh?

My medium is less tangible, but no less imperfect: words.

Andrea loved words. She handled them correctly, used them honorably, and her conversation was intelligent and enlightening. I always enjoyed talking to Andrea and she always made me think. I only wish we could have talked more often, and for many more years ahead. She would comment on my blog from time to time, and I cherish those comments – never wasted words, always seasoned with grace.

Andrea’s sense of humor was dry and sharp, much like her mother’s. I didn’t realize how alike they were until, in recent years, I read letters from them both and saw how closely they resembled each other in viewpoints, in political ideas, in tone of voice. Their letters – or e-mails as the case may be – are ones I sit down to read with a cup of tea and a smile. And it is they I am thinking of when I proof-read my Christmas letter each year, knowing even as I do so that I probably have a few errors which they will notice but be too kind to point out.

Andrea wrote about her visit to the plastic surgeon after her mastectomy. She had me doubled over in laughter as I read, describing his harem of nurses, his words of assurance that her new chest would be gorgeous and compelling. She could laugh at herself, her world, her cancer.

When I was eleven or twelve, Andrea came from Ohio to spend the summer with us on Orcas Island, Washington. Living so many hundreds of miles apart had done nothing to encourage relationship, and, while I’d met her several times over the years, I didn’t really know this cousin who was eight years older than me and I didn’t really know what to expect when she moved into our house for three months. After all, I already had two older sisters; did I really want another one?

Turns out, she enjoyed spending time with me! She even wanted to make cookies with me and didn’t mind me hanging around! She helped me with stuff, she laughed and giggled and schemed with me. She even led me in a culinary triumph: Hot Dog Cookies, just so she could help me trick my dad, her uncle Dave – or, as the cousins all called him, “Jungle Dave”.

The cousins. I’m the little one on the end…Andrea is five over from me. This is most likely the first time I met Andrea…though, to be sure, I don’t remember it!

Together Andrea and I taught Dad that if he asks for Hot Dog Cookies, he’s going to get them. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like Snickerdoodles with a slice of hot dog hidden inside.

I’m pretty sure he even ate one.

After that summer it was back to sporadic sightings of each other, but every time I saw Andrea, I was glad: our grandparent’s 50th anniversary, and later their 60th, family weddings and reunions. She even came to Minnesota for my wedding, and once, she came for work. My husband and I drove over to Rochester to see her that time, about three years ago. We had lunch and we talked about her cancer – briefly. It was easier to not talk about it. Easier to believe the doctor’s words that, while chronic, it shouldn’t be fatal.

That was bone cancer, I think…after the breast cancer and before the brain cancer. Before she couldn’t see to read, couldn’t walk, couldn’t play her piano. And it was before she got married, if I remember right. Andrea waited a long time to find the man who was perfect for her. She told us about him at my parent’s 50th anniversary, when we all met at the Washington coast to celebrate.

We were so happy for Andrea. They got married not too long afterwards. Two years ago? Three? Either way, it wasn’t long enough. Not long enough when you say your vows, believing that, “till death do us part” will still be a long way off, a distant and aged event you both can enter into, wrinkly and bent, but willing because you’ve led a good and long life.

She led a good life, yes. But not a long one.

It’s not fair. It’s all wrong.

The fingers that played are still. The voice that laughed is quiet. She told her family that she was looking forward to seeing her brother, also gone far too soon from a terrible disease. I think to even say such a thing was to acknowledge that she knew that hope, that intangible, wispy miasma, was gone.

Or, rather, is it this way? Was it hope which allowed her so say such a thing? Hope, faith, whatever you want to call it. She knew – as much as a human heart can – that she’d see her brother again someday because she knew Whom she had believed.

Faith in Jesus is what held Andrea together. When she wept, when she questioned “why”, when she cried out to Him that this was not what she wanted, it was faith and faith alone which enabled her to face death, knowing that it was not the end. It was merely a change in viewpoint. A new piece of sheet music upon her piano. A new word – or whole strings of words, of understanding – to add to her vocabulary.

“Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. The sting of death was destroyed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We will see Andrea again.

Yes, Andrea’s body betrayed her. But her God never will.

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