Summer 1955

Summer 1955

Nothing is moving today.

Neither the trees nor the grass

not the top parts of the ocean

nor the blacks birds over the path.

The heat falls onto us mid morning and

children

lose interest in torturing the dog.

I think I hear

the Good Humor man’s truck,

an echoing television from an open window,

the hiss hiss of the sprinkler whipping

around its three pronged medusa heads,

over the damp, soft grass.

Inside, a white eyelet nightgown’s

rustle, moving metal treasures in my

Grandmother’s drawers while she napped

with her eyes open.

A Sign

A Sign

My Daughter has been dead for nearly three years and I haven’t heard a word from her until yesterday, that is. You may think that sounds weird, but I was a big believer in communication with the dead.
Before she died, I believed there were all sorts of ghosts, spirits and parents out there who could and did communicate a lot! For the life of me I couldn’t get my Mom out of my head but now I like to hear her. Right after Tina died, I felt her near me, and I felt how worried she was to leave me. She could not get into her orbit and it was up to me to pray for her and to let her go which I did.
Dragon flies were plentiful around the bench she had last sat on in my garden and they stayed for days in the summer sun, something they never do. Reluctantly. They were Tina’s symbol.
She died a painful and terrible death and had quite a few minutes to struggle, to have changed her mind, to face the fact that it was too late, and to realize she would never see anyone here on earth again. I think she died because she didn’t see a way to happiness like many others who choose suicide. I think she had no idea what it would be like.
So, then I lost her and though the silence seemed right in the beginning, after a while it seemed wrong and bitter and empty and very unfair. It was a loud silence as if she had gone so far away that there was no trail to finding her and worse, she had lost the trail back to me.
I would chidingly talk to her photo when passing it in the hallway saying good morning and good night and ask why she was not in touch. I would try very hard to understand what her eyes were telling me. I would think about our time together when she was a child and what she was like and what we did together.
I came to know some of her friends better than I ever had when they were young. I reconnected with a babysitter who had been with us one summer. My way of healing was to keep listening to stories about my daughter and to keep on searching for understanding as to why she had ended out where she did.
I read through all her emails to me over the years both angry and loving. I looked at her artwork. I opened her trunk of childhood and removed dresses, coats, shoes and hats, holding each one in my hands, often pressing it to my face and always asking for a sign that she knew I was waiting to hear from her. That she knew I missed her.
I started to go to church but found many lacking. The expression on the faces of ministers often made me wonder what their diet was composed of. I never felt at home there and hated being greeted by strangers wanting to hug you.
Finally, I went to the church next door where Father Mike, my friend, was the priest. In the cavernous space filled sparsely with young and old, I found some serenity and I remembered how praying had helped me not be afraid of the dark as a kid. I began to pray. At first, it only took a minute before I went to sleep but as time went on there were so many people needing help.
You won’t understand this unless you have lost someone you love very much. Its just what people in mourning do.
Then one day everything changed. I was in the living room looking intently at a photograph of Tina and wishing once again I felt in touch with her. I said it out loud several times. I think I was beginning to cry.

Then my cell phone rang. It was my two-year-old granddaughter Rosemary, wanting to FaceTime with me. Rosemary was born one month after Tina died and my daughter and I think a part of Tina is in her. Rosemary wanted to talk about unicorns. Unicorns were Tina’s spirit animal.

I know I am in touch now and I got my sign

Ferguson

So today on Facebook I posted a piece written by a black woman who was raised by white parents which Gloria Steinem had originally posted. It’s been up for a few hours and there’s only one comment. No likes. A friend of mine “unliked” it saying it was biased. I think it’s right on. The writer describes what it’s like to be black in a world where racial profiling is a part of our national profile. It’s a very moving and passionate piece expressing what the writer feels in her own life and asking us, the white people of the world, to do something. She says that prejudice can only be changed by the people who are prejudiced. We are all prejudiced. We can’t help it. No matter what the reality was of the shooting incident in Ferguson, the cops there would probably have hesitated if the guy had been white. Yes, he may have robbed a convenience store prior to the incident, but that mean he should be shot on sight? The only way we can have true equality as a society is if those of us who are in the position to speak up do so. What would it be like if everyone was “colorblind”? It’s not up to the underdog to change things, it’s up to the people of the world who never had to worry about being the underdog. Change happens at the top of any organization. If everyone made an effort to look at their own misplaced fear of those who are different than we are, interesting and positive things will happen.

Letting Go When There Is No Rope Left

Letting Go When There’s No Rope Left

I have a friend who is trying to get divorced. This has been going on for two years. The marriage was a good length, (ten years), and a good part of it was not unhappy but the divorce has turned into a nightmare of hatred, accusations, bitterness, anger, paranoia and deep despair on the part of both parties.

There were no children involved, several properties purchased together, and a long stream of expenses for their life paid for by my friend who gave his partner free rein to do what she wanted in terms of the household accounts. By the time he realized most of his money was gone it was too late for reason or recompense: his life had become unbearable as daily verbal abuse had escalated to the point of physical pain. There was no surviving the atmosphere in the house, no love left between the two marital participants, and so my friend left.

His partner filed for divorce immediately and thus began the long history of demands for money, property, shares in imagined earnings, financial reports, tax returns, and appearances in court, depositions and more depositions. Interestingly enough, at this point in time my friend’s net worth had diminished to one tenth that of his wife’s yet she continued to threaten, hire new lawyers, fire old accountants, make new lists about what she wanted, hide possessions from my friend, and make her life’s goal destroying her husband.

Now I ask myself “Why?” If I were in the same position would I behave in the same way? Of course not. I am a reasonable person who likes to work things out and find reasonable solutions to problems. I like to have situations that are emotionally complicated solved as smoothly and expediently as possible as drawing them out only serves to upset one’s health and make oneself look like a fool in the community. People that continually fight over nothing and act in irrational ways are usually ostracized by others and find them alone and unloved in their lives. Who would actively make a choice to live like this?

Why am I writing about this today? I think it’s a really good lesson to all of us about how to destroy your life and your Karma. Holding anger, retribution and bitterness inside yourself is a good mechanism to destroy your own life. I think it does more damage than smoking. Imagine inhaling all that rage each day with every breath and then imagine not being able to release it. Imagine getting into arguments with everyone that surrounds you and then not having any real friends left. Imagine acting in a way that is dangerous to you and to others. Then take a breath and wonder why.

I think people get so caught up in their battles they forget why they began them in the first place. Much like all the needless wars we have been involved with we often can’t remember why we started to hate each other. We forget our compassion towards others and towards ourselves. We exist on our own fear and we can’t even see how it is destroying our lives. We lose all reason and all awareness of our own behavior and become fearful individuals who are living solitary lives as it becomes too risky to trust anyone else.

How many stories out there are like that of my friend? How many people hold on to old stuff as its familiar: pain is familiar. It may not be pleasant but sometimes fear makes us choose the familiar rather than the new as the new cannot be predicted.

I am no angel. Believe me I know that and I am aware of my own failings just as others are. I am writing this to make sense of the situation to me as well as to you as it seems so insane. The only thing I do know to be absolutely true is that operating from a fear based self will ultimately ruin your life and leave you with no friends or family to support you. In the end as they say we die alone but I hope when I die there are people who love me all around who can send me on my way to a new plane with love and joy. After all, there is really nothing else worthwhile in life but love.

 

Heart

Subject: heart
I was waliking in San
Francisco and I felt a sudden jump in my chest: a kindove a flip flopping or a fist turning or maybe more like something foreign inside me that was trying to get out. I kept on walking as that’s what I do. I was the master of my heart.

Other times in my life my heart had tried to get the better of me and I had prevailed. Sometimes, cruelly I thought, it was at night just when I was going off to sleep. I had to remind it rather sternly that I was tired and had no time to play jumping games. Just a small cough or a walk to the bathroom was usually enough to discipline it back into shape. Until this time, that is.

I had a doctor’s appointment up the hill and I was right on time which I usually am so I kept on walking. The hill seemed steeper than usual and I, more breathless than usual, but onward and upward I went.

My heart kept jumping.

I found my new doctors office, checked in, filled out the forms, chatted with his receptionist, all the while noting my new internal enemy. I commented to myself how calm and controlled I was during the examination of my nose, throat and ears. I commented to myself how impressed the doctor would be if I had a heart attack right in front of his very eyes without a word of complaint! I think I was kidding here.

Finally, at the end of my visit, I asked the receptionist if my internists office was on the floor we were on now and she said yes. I found my way there, sat down in the waiting room, and told Serena my heart was out of control. She looked at me with concern, brought me in the back room and had the doc come in.

Apparently my heart was stuck in arythmia and I needed to go immediately to the Cardiac Lab for an EKG and so I did. Except I wasn’t allowed to walk on my own and was taken by a very nice medical student who was there to observe what happened in the course of a typical day in a doctors office.

The cardiac lab seemed weirdly abandoned which I quickly learned was true as it was lunch time. The tech assigned to me was from Egypt and efficiently attached wires to my chest all the while commenting on the fact that it was lunch time. Once she got the EKG machine up and running her tune changed and she exclaimed to the medical student to take a look at my heart! Of course this was unprofessional and very alarming, needless to say, but she did it anyway. The two of them stood looking at the monitor for a good five minutes all the while commenting and exclaiming. I was in deep conversation with my heart asking it to just stop this behavior.

Clearly my heart was enjoying all the attention as it kept right on with its really weird rhythm. At this point I as fluctuating between total terror and a nice and calm feeling of detachment. I’ll take detachment any day given a choice.

Later, while sitting with my brand new cardiologist, I was shown the places in the EKG where I had been able to disrupt the heart rhythm all on my own. All I felt was frustration that I wasn’t able to stop it completely.

Its disconcerting to lose control of your heart as you feel frightened about the next time .You know there will be a next time. It’s as if your heart has been working up to this for long time. Though I now have a bottle of pills in my purse that may or may not stop the arythmia I don’t feel safe. I feel anxious but also more peaceful. Its hard to explain.

I have learned that this is a very common condition and that this condition can cause a stroke which can kill you. I really don’t like that idea. I don’t like the idea of drooling, l don’t like the idea of losing control of a part of my body, and I really don’t like the idea of dying.Aparently this condition is hereditary. My father died of a stroke. I am not sure he had arythmia but I would bet on it. He had everything!

Now I need more tests to see why the upper and lower chamber of my heart are not getting along. There are things called “rogue cells” that disrupt heart rhythm and the cure is extermination of these cells through a process called “ablation”. Sounds like a skin procedure or a religious event. I wonder if I will be purified or remain in the underworld. I also wonder how long I have.

This Year

NobelPrizeSymbol
Image via Wikipedia

The year my heroes died

This year quite a few of my heroes and friends died: Howard Lester, Walter Shorenstein, Dodie Rosecrans, Dick Goldman, and on and on. Yes, it is true that for the most part their lives were long and fulfilled but I still miss them and always will.

 I wonder if we are creating heroes as we did in past generations. People who accomplish a lot in their lives and give away a lot in return without looking back to see if what they have given away is still helping to make them more important. I love to have heroes and to me, heroes have been people who march to the beat of their own drum without looking around and listening to what others around them are playing. I know Howard did this as I was lucky enough to have a conversation with him about his “Maverick” side.  Walter, Dodie and Dick were the same.

Dodie was vibrant, curious and very intelligent until her dying day and spent her life in a state of exploration and excitement about one thing or another. She could have cared less about someone’s background or wealth when she included them in gatherings at her home. She cared about creating new ideas and putting different people together for various causes.

Walter and Dick accomplished a lot in their work lives and gave a lot in their philanthropic lives. Howard ‘s generosity was apparent at his own memorial mass where a few spoke of his many charitable gifts and the difference he had made in the world.

I wonder where we are going to come up with another generation of like-minded people. People who give without looking back and people who are compassionate members of our community. I wonder who in the younger generation will fill these shoes and have a generous and mature approach to managing and contributing their wealth? Even if people do not have great wealth I wonder if they will keep on giving.

I found a hero in today’s New York Times: Liu Xiabo, a Chinese poet, writer and dissident who was awarded the Nobel Prize. As he is in prison he will not be able to accept it but his work is the kind of work that makes me think of heroes. He has been outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government and as a result of this has spent much time in prison.

His statement at his court hearing was quoted by the Times:” I have no enemies and no hatred. Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience.”

All I can say is that is a hero.

Much like my friend, Marla Ruzika who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq while counting civilian victims of war, and countless others who devote their lives with passion to improve the lives of others, thank you for living!

I look forward to reading and meeting more heroes in my life and being very grateful we have them in our world. Maybe some would argue that business leaders are not heroes but in return I would say that without the funds many contribute we would not have the world we do. Just as without the words of dissidents like Liu Ziabo governments would not be challenged into change and the lives of many see improvement and more freedom.

Holiday Thoughts

Cover of "The Nun's Story"
Cover of The Nun's Story

This time of year is always interesting as on occasion, despite attempts at maturity and evolvement, one may revert to a child’s perspective and remember all of the excitement and expectation surrounding Christmas. In our house acquiring the tree was always an interesting adventure. Our mother would ask who wanted to go on this adventure and we would all scream “yes”. Our car was one of those old fashioned “woodie” wagons with no seat belts or electric windows. The back seat could be flattened out with the help of four usually swearing men. There were six children in our family and we were spaced like Catholic children though I was repeatedly assured we were not Catholic. Cynthia Paterno lived next door to us and tried to convert me all the time. Apparently good Catholics gave all their allowance to their neighbors. Once I took all of the clothes out of my closet and made an altar out of my mother’s show boxes but when I lit a candle in there one caught on fire.

I liked being a temporary Catholic. I prayed every night and put a white towel over my head like Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story and admired myself a lot in the bathroom mirror being careful to look pious. I knew I would never sleep with a boy until I got married and that I really wasn’t supposed to actually swallow the wine during communion. I knew that good catholic girls didn’t wear patent leather shoes because boys could see their underpants if they did. I learned that if you did something wrong no matter what it was you went to confession and told the priest what your sin was. He would give you a penance and you would be forgiven. A clean slate.

Now that I am grown up and no longer a Catholic I wish I was one. How nice to have the ability of simply telling someone what you had done wrong and being forgiven for it. I think that no one does things that are consciously mean unless they are 14 or a criminal. Relationships are just tricky as we are all so fragile. A friend said to me the other day that you couldn’t reason or understand someone else and have a good relationship if the other person really didn’t want that good relationship. I think that is a very wise thing. We sometimes worry and think about all of the things we have done that are wrong and wonder why another person is angry with us and this is a waste of time. It is better to assume that sooner or later you will find out the truth and that in the meantime all you can do is think loving thoughts. Feeling guilty is a waste of time. Feeling shameful is, too.

This time of year it is important to tread lightly on the earth and with each other. We are all still hoping for a miracle.

Death, Dying and No Explanation

Recently there has been a lot of talk about death in my circle of friends. Friends have died, some old some not, and there are a few articles in the news about suicides in the younger generation. I find death very hard to pin down in my own Meta analysis of life as I am not afraid of it nor do I worry about it but I can’t specifically explain why this is.

It has been clear to me from a young age that death is not an end, but a beginning. I remember when my Grandfather died how upset all the adults were in our family. I felt sad to miss his company but not sad for him. In fact, I knew that he was now in a place where he could experience joy and peace. I was seven years old and I could clearly see him there.

I am not a particularly religious person: not catholic or even very Protestant but I have always understood that death was not bad or frightening or something to spend one’s life in fear of.

I know I am really lucky to have this inner belief as very few out there seem to feel as I do. Particularly men. I have quite a few men friends who are freaked out at the thought of their own death. They become depressed when they have a slight medical problem and convince themselves they are dying. In this image they feel fear, remorse, but mostly loneliness. I think this is true because that’s what I hear in my healing work. Maybe men fear death more than women because they often have trouble being vulnerable with people and may have lives that are not authentic with close ties to others they love. It seems to be that the more success you have the less connected in a genuine way you are with others in your life.

I know, I know. Some of you will say I am taking this too far. Perhaps I am. My father was terrified of death and really angry at the same time. After he died we found books from the Hemlock Society in his library as what he feared most was being incapacitated and having to be dependent on the care of others. He died alone and angry and refused to allow his wife or family near him. He just wanted to go out mad and he did.

I guess I would like people to consider that there is more after we die. There is more than what we imagine. Maybe death is a door to another world where life is very different but not frightening.

I have been with a few people when they die. I always find it a privilege. I know that playing Frank Sinatra is better than Rachmaninoff and whispering that you love the person with a laugh in your voice is better than filling their ears with your tears.