Editor’s Notebook: Love, guns and Foucault’s pendulum

March 1, 2007

Greta Belanger deJong

Because you've been with me all along.
by Greta Belanger deJong
March is my favorite month, the weather full of serendipity, the vernal equinox heralding spring, with new beginnings all around. It is also the month that, 21 years ago, John and I were married in the star chamber of the lovely, now-deserted Hansen Planetarium on State Street.

Our years together have been chronicled in CATALYST, beginning with the first photo John took, illustrating a story about bike couriers. A year later our tie-dye-shirted, Roly-capped engagement photo appeared in this column.

It was a computer-aided marriage ceremony straight out of The Book of Runes and Tom Robbins' "Still Life With Woodpecker." We took full technical advantage of what the planetarium had to offer. Guests entered through the rings of Saturn. I strode down the side aisle under the constellation of Capricorn. John entered opposite under Leo. In a potentially schmaltzy moment that actually worked, Earth rose and a rainbow formed over it, connecting our two signs. We said our vows by candle light. When it was time to go, everyone exited through hyperspace.

The planetarium wedding (complete with dancing around Foucault's pendulum to The Possessed, a voudou percussion band) was a who's who of CATALYST friends. In the flesh and on the page, through the years, you have been a part of our life together. You traveled with us, raised dogs, rallied, partied, laughed, got mad, cried. We've all grown. The magazine has transformed and deepened as it continues to enrich our lives.

Regarding John and me, in the last year our personal work has opened doors that we did not even know were there. I would say that love has survived. The marriage, however, has not. Last month John and I were divorced.

I'm telling you because, as I said, you've been here from the beginning. You deserve to know. The details are unimportant. Regarding the magazine,you probably won't even notice any difference. We continue to work side by side and enjoy each other's company. You will continue to see us both out in the community. Don't be shy. It's okay.

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I  left work early to catch a matinee of "Babel," Alejandro González Iñárritu's powerful collection of interweaving stories about failed communication, each pivoting around an unfortunate outcome involving a gun. I did not know this when I entered the theatre. I thought I was going to see a film about a guy who teaches his dog to talk. This was a much harder movie to watch than the one I'd conjured in my mind, but better, too, even though I kept covering my eyes whenever a gun entered view.

I have this thing about guns. I go ballistic in their presence, at least inside. They practically make me hyperventilate. Not that I encounter many guns in my daily life.

I don't know the origins of this phobia. When I was a kid, my older brother took me out to the country and we shot at fenceposts, or maybe cans on fenceposts (it was a long time ago); I loved the satiny smooth feel of the well-sanded, dark-stained stock, and the comraderie of being outdoors with my brother. Except for that and a stint as cowgirl Bad Betty Banana Peel in a 4th grade play, guns (or fruitlike facsimiles of guns) were not a part of my youthful consciousnesss. How did I acquire this panicked reaction?

It's as if I can hear the gun wanting to be useful, calling out to anyone who might justify its existence: point it, aim it, pull its trigger.

On this particular night, my movie companion and I watched the credits roll, sat in the Trolley Regency theatre for a few minutes after, then discussed dinner. "What time do you think it is?" I quizzed him. It had been a mind-altering movie and it was hard to recall even what day it was. I pulled out my cell phone: 6:25 p.m.

We strolled out of theatre; I eyed Williams-Sonoma, thinking about the instant-read thermometer I'd been meaning to buy, wondering if, two nights before Valentine's, they were dishing samples of their delicious dark chocolate candy bars. Deciding to forgo our plans for dinner, we left through the west entrance and made our way to the car, parked on the upper level of the two-story ramp, and drove away.

It is possible we were the last people to make it off of the ramp alive that night. It is likely the young gunman who shot and killed the first of his five victims just feet from where we'd parked was already present, sitting in his car.

It is possible, had I looked, I would have seen a man with a gun.

What would I have done? I am very clear it would have been one of two things: Were I close enough, I would have jumped him. Arms and legs wrapped all around. Like some kind of jungle animal springing from out of the trees. Pure, visceral force. Disarming him, like a mother might restrict a tantrumming child.

Or I would have fainted.

I could say, how close we came to death. How lucky we are to be alive. And yet, we could all say those things, every day. It is a wonder to me the world flows as smoothly as it does. We safely maneuver huge steel objects around each other every day, in a variety of mindsets. In a world of so much glass, so few people throw rocks. Children pet strange dogs and no one gets bit. We're always lucky to be alive, and it's good to feel that. Every day. Every moment. Even as we grieve our losses, we say, it's good to be alive.

Greta  is the editor and publisher of CATALYST.