How did I get to be Google?

In March 2020, my mother, then aged 83 entered an assisted living facility. Three days later, the lockdown of all assisted living places in California started. It’s been almost a year, and, in that time, I have not hugged her once. Full confession, I touched her hand as I passed her a paper cup of tepid tea under the plexiglass barrier – once.

We’ve developed a rhythm in this time of separation. She calls frequently – up to 6 times a day. On average it’s 4 times a day. And she calls my sister-in-law just as often. My brother has managed to scare her off, so he’s exempt. Maybe she calls him once a day or a couple of times a week. And more likely than not, he’ll ignore it. The phone system in the facility has been flaky. So flaky that they replaced their vendor. And so flaky, that if I don’t hear from her for a couple of days that I call the front office to find out what the current phone wiring situation is.

When she went into the facility, she was not the steadiest on her feet. Now she clings onto her carer’s arm as they escort her to her chair behind the plexiglass. When I leave, I call someone over and they escort her back down the hall and onto a small lift up to her room on the second floor.

The result is that she is more and more confined to her room – and to her bed. There she has abandoned her old habits. She no longer listens to books and magazines that arrive from the blind services. Her addiction to Jeopardy (7 pm every night) has waned. For a long time, she struggled to come to grips with the TV remote. Her blindness meant that managing the remote was an uphill battle. Now she can find the History Channel and news.

The upshot of her confinement is that when she needs information, she calls me. I have become Google for her.

“Honey, what day is it?” “What day of the week is it?”

“Dolly, what does ‘caisson’ mean?” Yes, she really calls me Dolly. Frequently enough so that my husband uses that term when he tries to mimic our conversations. This is worrying… And I had to look up caisson, too.

“Did we ever get a report about the tree in the back yard?” She’s worried about a tree in the back yard of her house with a slight lean to it.

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And yesterday: “Did you print the report about the tree” Her fear is that the Pacific Grove arborist will delete the report about the tree and swear that it was never sent. I don’t know where to start with that one. I am not printing anything if I can avoid it because I’ll lose the paper! I can find an email no matter where I am in the world. And my brother has the email, too. We’re covered. That discussion took 10 minutes.

“Who is the president?”

“Should I take the vaccine?”

I have finally worked out that she doesn’t want Google, she wants conversation.

The other day I took a different tack. I reminded her of all the big vacations that we took. Important vacations when I was in my mid-teens, one in my early 20s and finally late 20’s. Italy, Mexico and Egypt. Each time, they were to rescue me in some way. And they were all memorable: rich in sights, people, experiences. And personally important. They were each life pivots that helped me take a deep breath and move to the next stage of my life. She loved the reminder of happier days. And then, she stopped calling that evening.

Now when my brother complains about the calls, I tell him to have a real conversation with her. Remind her of good times. Remind her of the world outside of her blinds and walls. She can savor the memories … until the next time she has a question. “Dolly, what….”

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Bears – and Home

On Saturday morning, I put on knee warmers on under my biking shorts, added a short sleeved biking shirt and a longer warm one on top. Over it all, a bright yellow Forever 21 wind jacket which was a find a few years ago. I count on it to keep the wind at bay and make me visible to cars. So far, it has done the job.

We packed lightly and headed off. Over the next two days, we’d cross virtually all the freeways that crisscross south Silicon Valley – twice. We cross highway 101 at Menlo Park – and South San Jose. Highways 880/17 in Los Gatos and Fremont. And we cross the Dumbarton Bridge – a big first for me.

Earlier this fall, we ate at the Black Bear Diner in Sunnyvale and joked that we’d bike to the first one in Mount Shasta. Google says that’s 5 days biking! 12,000 ft (3600m) up and 8500 ft (2500m) down! I promptly forgot about it. Joe didn’t.

Joe has planned this trip around our first Black Bear Diner challenge – in Fremont. The look on the hostesses face when we said we’d biked from South San Jose to have dinner in the chilly outside tent in a parking lot was priceless! After our meal, we packed up the inevitable take home boxes and walked back to a nearby hotel.

Leaving Fremont. A last goodbye to the bears!

In the morning we bundled up and biked almost 36 miles home. We travel through east San Jose and I name our trip after a famous Spanish bike ride. Joe and I are completing the La Vuelta del Bahía del Sur – Tour of the South Bay.

If you take a horse out for a ride, they will inevitably go faster when they can tell they are headed home. The last few miles are like that for us. I’m sore and my muscles are complaining, but I’m almost home. I turn in a great time for the last run into the house. We fly out of the nearby park and onto the final streets. Our driveway appears like the gates of heaven. We are home!

Over the two days, we covered 84 miles. For the serious bikers out there, this distance is easy-peasy and can be done in one day. For me, a week later and I’m still not 100% recovered. The good news: I did it!

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Challenges

I can see the sky lighten on the horizon this morning. Dark blue fades light blue then into orange and yellow. I’ve been getting up early a couple of times a week for a while now. I throw on workout clothes that hang on a converted coat rack and drive 2 miles where I join the few souls that are crazy enough to believe that they can warm up fast enough on the spin bikes so that they won’t be wearing heavy clothes the entire 45 minutes of the class. It’s the pandemic and we are spin cycling outside at 6:45 am. After five minutes, we are warm and 20 minutes in, each person has a small and growing pile of discarded clothing next to their socially distanced bikes. At 45 minutes, I am through my small horde of tissues that I use to wipe the sweat from my face. Then I wobble home to breakfast.

This is not my usual behavior. I love to lie in bed for as long as I think I can get away with it. Typically 2 hours more than Joe who wakes up and heads to meetings or just hangs in his office consulting a spreadsheet or two. Yup. I don’t like getting out of a warm bed.

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It was Joe’s birthday yesterday. I cooked up a storm of Italian inspired dishes and made a cake. As part of his birthday weekend, pandemic style, we are going to take a bike trip and spend the night in … Fremont … a small town in the east bay of Silicon Valley if you’re not from around here. Truth be told, I’m not sure I can do it. Over two days we’ll cover over 80 miles and the most I’ve ever done in one unplanned long bike ride was 40 miles. The training rides of 20-30 miles with any hills whatsoever have been very tough. My body now takes longer to recover, longer to train muscles and, while I exercise regularly with weights, walks and biking, I’m not that confident about this trip. And yet, I am still up early, getting myself ready.

Check out my bike and running inspired cake decorating!

We don’t need a lot of stuff. A change of clothes, toothbrush – enough to survive 24 hours. What is harder to pack – or unpack is confidence, certainty.” What ifs” litter the landscape of my brain. And I want to pack more things to stave off my uncertainty knowing that I can’t. And I really don’t want to carry any more weight than I have to.

What I do have is a long history of taking on challenges and figuring out a way through the landmines of the challenge in front of me. We have planned stops in local parks and food is available on the way if I don’t have it in my back pockets. In case of a physical emergency, I know that there are busses, trains and Ubers that can get me home. Joe is great with bikes and the random sprinkling of bike stores will help in a bike emergency.

And I’ve prepared physically as much as possible. All that is left is to pack a panier, attach it to my trusty bike – tell my mind to keep its uncertainties to itself – and head off.

Wish me luck!

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Hot Food at Thanksgiving

My mother LOVES Thanksgiving. For her, it’s the perfect holiday – lots of food and family – and, importantly for her, no religion. Every year that I have been within visiting radius, I’ve gathered around the table with her and the rest of the family. When my brother and I were in college, the occasional friend showed up because it was too far for them to go home – and according to family tradition – no one should be left on their own on Thanksgiving. As we got older, the folks around the table became to immediate family with kids.

My mother also has one sacrosanct tradition at that meal. Before we eat, we go around the table and share what we are thankful for. Her grandkids learned early that they needed to have an answer to the question – even if it was being thankful for egg eating snakes (Thank you, Adair, age 4, for this gem).

You should know that my mother is blind. She has retinitis pigmentosa. It’s a progressive eye disease which, for her, slowly stripped away her peripheral vision, then took out color as the cone cells in her eye died out. Now, she registers only the occasional high contrast black and white shadow. For us, we had to adjust to her change in vision at each visit over the years. First, she gave up driving, then she wrote with a thick sharpie and read with one eye closed, holding books right up close to one eye to read a word at a time. Later on she’d hold our arm (left elbow) as we walked and we gave increasing information flows about the street ahead: “bumpy sidewalk”, “slope down”, “no stairs.” Stairs and curbs were dangerous as they could easily lead to falls. Through it all she wanted independence. And until earlier this year, she had it. She rented rooms, ran her business, rode the bus to the store and cooked for herself.

A couple of times over the years, the California state disability folks showed up with specialized gear which magnified text and converted words on the computer screen to sound. My mom is so interested in the world around her that she never gave up her links to the outside world – even if magazines arrived from the services for the blind and she played them on her special tape recorder. Whenever she visited it was as though she had a secret visitor to keep her company. The soundtrack of her life was a soft voice reading a book while she crocheted, knitted, painted, cleaned and, as she got older, just lay in bed.

Losing your eyesight means losing context. In her own home, she could control where things were – and they didn’t move until she moved them. When she travelled to see us, life for became a lot less predictable and very disorienting. Thanksgiving over the years became less of a pleasure and more of an exercise in overlapping logistical perspectives: the sighted family and her. And while we know logically that blindness is difficult to cope with, the reality is that after a few decades of dealing with the practicalities of it, we accept it, laugh at the situations that arise, and still are there to make sure she is safe and well.

Delivering a Thanksgiving meal is in itself a challenge. With two families, sorting out who makes what, in what pan, in what order and with what flavorings would be hard enough. With my mom around, the meal preparation has always created another layer of chaos. My mom was raised that you never went anywhere without bringing food – and you should always help cook – regardless of the circumstances. One time she arrived to visit me at an unfurnished apartment with a raw chicken that eventually was thrown out uncooked. At Thanksgiving, her desire to participate translated into insisting on chopping vegetables, bringing desserts and paying for the Martinelli’s that one of us bought on her behalf. Yes, having a blind woman source 6-12 bottles of sparkling Martinelli’s through a couple of bus trips is a recipe for disaster, so walk talked her into paying for the bottles we bought.

On the vegetable chopping front, whoever was having her spend the night before the big meal learned to hand her a pile of vegetables, a small, not terribly sharp knife – and let her get on with chopping them slowly and methodically. It was a messy process that we avoiding watching closely, but at least she was happy.

Desserts have included Trader Joe’s apple pie and, on one memorable occasion, cheesecake. That year she bought 5 cheesecakes for 10 people – and worried that it wasn’t enough. This on top of my husband’s pumpkin pie and my brother’s Reese’s peanut butter pie. Throughout the entire meal preparation, every 10-20 minutes she would ask us how the cheesecakes were doing. Were they at the house? Were they being defrosted? Were they on the table? By the end of the evening, I was so fed up, that Joe had to walk her back to our car. My patience was long exhausted.

So, what does this have to do with a hot meal at Thanksgiving? For each meal, the people cooking the food planned the meal so that it arrived at the table hot. And what we forgot each and every year is that before we ate, we had to go around the table and share what we are thankful for. Yes, we could pass serving dishes, but no one really started eating until 10 of us or so each had our say. So, each year, the carefully prepared meal cooled in our plates until the gravy was the same temperature as the cranberry sauce. I accepted this as part of the ritual. And as I learned only this year, my brother had been annoyed about this for years!

Visiting during COVID – plexiglass and masks

And then, COVID-19 hit. My mother had been sick in January and February – and she could no longer live alone. She moved into as assisted living facility – and within three days they were in lockdown. And so it has been for over 8 months. I felt bad that she would miss family on the big day, so I visited her earlier in the week of Thanksgiving. We sat separated by plexiglass and I wore a mask. And we both cried as the traditional visit up to our houses would not be possible. Watching her eat her lunch on a tray was a poor substitute for sharing the big meal.

And while it’s been hard not to visit and chat and hug each other for the last few months, it had one small, unexpected benefit. As Thanksgiving came around, our family, having been in the same bubble for months, had the same negotiation about the items on the menu, planned to get all the food to the table when it was hot – and then my mom called for the traditional Thanksgiving ritual. We passed the serving dishes as we passed the phone set to speaker mode. We each had our turn to tell her what we were thankful for – while the rest of the table quietly and gratefully had the first hot Thanksgiving meal – ever.

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Knit one, Purl one

This is a post I wrote 3 years ago. My daughter is now starting her last year in university and I want this post to see the light of day before it’s too late.

Knit one, purl one. Knit one, purl one. Then a purl. Whoops. I forgot. Undo the knit and redo it as a purl. Is this a row where the braid is made? Is it 4 stiches then backwards or 4 stiches brought forward right away? The dark yellow scarf flows over my knees and bunches on the floor.

Months ago on one of our trips to a local fabric store, my then 17-year old daughter admired this fat one-pound of yarn and clutched it to her chest. She looked at me with puppy dog eyes and I yielded. Yes, I’d knit her a scarf. Last year, I’d crocheted a hat for her. But this is not like last year. This year she’s off to university – and it’s half way around the world to boot. This is my gift as she heads off in that inevitable journey of every child. Away – and always away. From the moment you hold them close as they are born, they are moving away from you. Your job is to launch them with as much love and confidence as possible. I’m not sure how much protection a scarf is on her journey, but if she believes in this talisman, then I’ll do it.

Oh so many years ago, her first few weeks of life were memorable as we left for Europe to watch over my father. He was dying of cancer in the south of France. At 6-weeks old, she didn’t want to leave my side. She demanded attention when I wasn’t sure what the next hour of life would bring my dad, her and my careful balancing act of their competing needs. It was only later that I realized how much I resented her unequivocal demands. I’ve never fully acknowledged to myself how abandoned I felt by her father and how worn down I was after birthing 3 children in 5 years. I didn’t know, but she must have. If I tried to create some space for myself, she protested. She never settled down unless I was right there holding her. She wouldn’t sleep unless it was next to me no matter how narrow a bed that was available for us that night. When my father was moved to a hospital in the Netherlands, the kind hospital folks found a place for me to stay in the trainee nurse’s dormitory. I’m not sure how they cope with ONE person in the narrow beds that the hospital made available for us. In that narrow space, I scooched over and slid her next to me as I lay on my side all night long. She, of course, slept like a baby.

As she grew older, she didn’t ask shyly like her older brothers. She demanded. And she got. But every demand hurt because for a long time there wasn’t much to go around. Every gift was given with a grain (or maybe a boulder) of resentment and flashes of anger on my part. Maybe because no one else in my life met my needs. And maybe because she was smaller and more vulnerable than anyone else in my life. This mother-daughter dynamic was not healthy.

It became horrendous when she was about 10 and just deteriorated from there. By 13 she and I shared a bedroom as we returned to the US. Daily life was clostrophobic and catastrophic. The hostility was visceral on both sides. Any attempt at modifying or controlling behavior was rejected out of hand. She knew that her dad would be on her side no matter what. She could play games night and day in the space between us all called ‘divorce’ – and win. Even as Colin and I both knew that her winning meant that she was losing in the end. We knew that she had to make hard choices, dive through her reluctance to face up to challenges. Letting her ‘get away with it’ delayed her growth.

After one too many arguments, my solution was to loosen up. Dare I say, almost give up. Once she was living with her dad, it was that or I’d lose touch with her completely. I focused on the spending time with her and dropped much of the the emphasis on scholastics. For once in our shared life, we’d have fun. Don’t get me wrong. I mixed in touches of reproach. Yes, teenagers need to know that there are boundaries of some sort. When it was serious I’d bring in outside help: counselling or special ed for her learning issues. When I did fight, she knew it was important – and most importantly that I did care enough to be unpopular. Her grades were terrible. Every year she’d swear that she’d do better and her GPA would still be awful at the end of the year. And still, I kept focusing on the bigger issues. Yes, there are bigger issues than high school GPAs.

Having two older boys had taught em a few things. One was that when they hit college, they find what they liked and then devote energy to it. The grades followed their interests. That isn’t to say that teenaagers and young adults avoid mistakes. Oh no. There are always expensive, time-losing, gut wrenching mistakes. Which, to be fair, I also made in my life. Like the boys, I’d have to let her find her own way. Learn her own lessons.

And then she was accepted in the college of her choice. In London, the city she wanted to be in. Far away. Responsible for herself and no one else to blame if it didn’t go well. And on the basis of her non-academic portfolio of drama productions.

This summer has brought her a trip through Europe and exposure to art and history and culture with a good dose of family and friends. It was more my way of growing up than her dad’s. Traditionally, a Schure’s high school education ended with a trip through Europe. And there she was headed off with her rolly bag instead of the backpack I’d used. For 6 weeks she thrived and tackled each issue as she travelled. More importantly, she brought both her friend and her through safely.

And while she was away, I took out my knitting needles, visited a friend who reminded me how to cast on and started. Knit one, purl one, knit one purl one. Darn, I missed the extra purl again. Time became shorter. The knitting went on a trip to Europe and back. Then to church, Indivisible meetings, and mostly the sofa watching slow moving British crime drama. It wasn’t interesting enough for me to make many knitting mistakes. On her last morning in the US, I was almost one foot short. 10 braids back and forth. The needles sped back and forth. I knit in the car as she drove at a hellish speed for the airport. I made 8 braids before I cast off. The last casting off stiches were finished in the parking lot.

Each stich holds our history together. The good, the bad, the careless, the careful. And buried in each stich is the love I felt from the day I knew she was in my tummy. The day I knew I had to watch over her even if she fought me doing it and even if I didn’t know how I could cope even one more day.

The scarf went over the back of her neck and then looped to come back down and meet just above the belt line. Perfect length with imperfections knitted into the fabric. I didn’t catch all the mistakes in time. We hug, we kiss, we cry and then she’s gone with her brother into security. And I’m left with a flat ball of dark yellow yarn in the back seat as I drive home.

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A decade

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I’m not sure what my neighbors expected of us when we moved to suburban San Jose about a month ago. They would have been surprised if they were the kind of people who rise before dawn and peek over their neighbor’s fences.

This morning, I crawled out of bed, dressed carefully in a lilac dress I bought almost 10 years ago. I fished out my black cloak that I usually only use at Halloween, grabbed a tea light, lantern and matches and headed for the back yard.

Today I was supposed to be in Cumbria, Northern England. I had a walk planned from Gosforth towards Seascale. I’d find the curve, the right tree and I’d put flowers right at the spot where Jamie died. I’d stay and contemplate his life right there where it ended.

A global pandemic had other ideas. So, I improvised. Found a book of Jedi prayers and clicked where it said funerals and memorials. Then by the light of the dawn, I read the words. In my cloak, over my dress that I bought for Jamie’s memorial service held later in 2010.

I always thought that 10 years would be enough. That after all that time, all the changes: kids grown up, marriage over, new marriage, new house – heck even new continent – that I could leave it all behind. Grief always has other ideas. I read, voice cracking, tears down my cheeks and know that this individual is with me for life – well – my life.

I try and imagine what it would be like if the jigsaw of life had made slight adjustments that day. Leave Seascale later. Not stop to make a phone call. There are a thousand ways not to die that day. But death did come calling: anonymous, brutal, unexpected and sudden. And those around him were thrown into the air like salad ingredients falling back into a bowl in an entirely different place and configuration.

This part of that salad is back in the states now. I have new people who share my life. It is calm, relaxed, and measured. Today I made it through Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. For people on the phone, I look fine, competent, professional. But I know that my makeup is disintegrating until I look like a ghoul with black eye sockets. The tears come and go. My sadness waxes and wanes. Amara manages to put flowers near where he died. I crumble. I talk about grammar rules for company documents and laugh. One big emotional roller coaster.

Early in the day I reach Leanne, his then fiancée. Her life is bursting with kids and home and her charity. She has grown a new life and yet, people still want to have her remember those sad days 10 years ago. She fights back. Says that there are other issues that we need to focus on right now. And she’s right.

For today, I don’t fight. I give in to pain and sadness and memories. The redwood tree, the squirrels and a few birds stand watch in incomprehension. The neighbors are safely in their beds.

Tomorrow the count begins again towards another year, another decade.

“May the Force bless you and keep you always.
May its light shine upon your face and be gracious unto you.
May its presence be with you now and for all the days of your lives,
And may It grant you peace and comfort, now and forever.”

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Full Steam Ahead!

One of the threads of my life is that I take too much on and promise too much. This is sad because I train people that they should say what they do. And most of the time, I do – at the last minute. I’ve become an expert at pulling off everything in a scrappy fashion. Not elegant – but it does the job.

Full steam ahead

 

That’s not to say that I don’t want to be better at how I lead my life, not just how much I cram into it. But at times, I hit a wall. I don’t want to do anything any more. I want to binge watch Netflix or maybe just nap. To get myself off the sofa takes a lot of effort – it takes willpower which, over the day, evaporates like a shallow puddle.

I recently read that there’s an easy way to increase your willpower. A blog I follow condensed the learning into three memorable terms which have resonated deeply with me.

The first word is Gratitude: Many of us beat ourselves up for wasting time watching TV or playing games instead of buckling down to work. With Gratitude, the idea is to keep a journal of what you are grateful for. Gratitude makes you feel better about your life, then it’s easier to approach your work with pleasure – not dread.

I thought I’d try a version of this  after an argument with Amara. While on a business trip I started writing vignettes about moments in her life. Instead of focusing on my irritation with her as she spread her wings growing up, I focused on the positive attribute that showed while she set her boundaries and achieved her goals starting at an astonishingly young age. When I next saw her, I felt an overwhelming positive love for her that had been hidden under my anger. Thank you, Gratitude!

I have also done this for myself. I recently documented my life’s changes – year by year – over the last 6 years and was astounded at how much I had accomplished. Time to appreciate myself – be grateful for myself – instead of thinking about the negative.

The second word is compassion

To increase willpower using compassion, you have to do a bit of time travel. Imagine yourself in the future, struggling to complete a task at the last minute. To show compassion to your future-self, what would you do now to help out? It’s amazing that this little twist of thinking about my future-self has hauled me out of bed or off the sofa to complete a task not wanting to have my future-self suffer. Yeah. It’s weird – but it seems to work – and quite painlessly at that.

The last word is Pride. Yeah. I know, it’s one of the seven sins. However, looking over what you have accomplished and recognizing that you have done well is important, too. So, a dose of Pride in the mix rounds out the three ways of refocusing what I pay attention to so that I accomplish more with less stress. And definitely a lot more happiness.

The last part of my puzzle came with recent sermon on one of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations. The first one is “Don’t Wait.” While the focus is on not waiting to engage in a spiritual sense, for me this sermon struck a very deep nerve in a more down-to-earth way. I have had a task I have been avoiding for many years. It goes back into my time in the UK and my ex and my feelings about him are wrapped like an octopus’s tentacles – very tightly around this pretty cut and dry task. Yes, it’s about accounts.

Miraculously after the service, I found myself able to write a 5-minute email I’ve stalled on for months. And respond promptly when the answer came. Within two days, I’d roped in my local bookkeeper who is now working to complete the last year’s accounts. After no more than 1-2 hours work, the entire project is moving forward at a rapid clip. And the best part, I realize I’m working with people I like to resolve this issue and put it on a firm basis moving on. I’d love to say there are no twinges of angst, but I’d be lying. However, my focus is on making good my responsibilities to the nice folks I am working with.  Right now is my “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” moment. And I’m using the willpower techniques and a don’t wait attitude to keep moving.

My life now isn’t about making wishes, hoping I’ll get better at tasks, or hoping life gets better. It’s become about taking what I have – which I am very happy with – and making it better. Making it easier, less stressful and ultimately more satisfying.

My only wish is that others can find a similar peace for themselves.

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Agnus Dei

100 years of armistice “Pie Jesu” In one of those miracles of life, the sun casts a rosy glow to the jet engine outside my window. It’s a magical moment of peace and movement that passes for stillness as the ethereal Pie Jesu plays in my ears. The sound is pure. The miracles of noise cancelling headphones grant me my own personal space in this incredibly noisy plane. In this space, I can watch the sun’s magic glow. And sadness washes over me.

I’ve crossed the country. Watched the parched land below for hours. When I left California, the cinders from a fire two hours away had turned the sky brown. It’s one of two or more which rage almost out of control. Friends with asthma were trapped at home with air purifiers set to max. Yesterday, I’d risked a quick, unavoidable bike ride to pick up a second car which left me with a runny nose. I’ve escaped the brown skies for a very long trip which will see me travel around the world – and more – in very few days.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice – the latest 11/11/18. Our president is in Europe but acting far from presidential. Our laws feel like they are being subverted – one after the other – in the name of keeping power. The airwaves and news feeds are full of harsh statements accusing the other side of lies or fraud or just plain incompetence. And some people are waking up. They have just started a wave of change to counteract the power and money grab. Many people have realized that if they don’t step up – they may be stepped upon. And just as strongly, other people claim that power makes right.

Some groups in the country now fear the knock on the door. Some folks can’t bring their wives and husbands home as they have done for decades. They have been declared “Other.” Our international agreements helping protect the most vulnerable among us are being twisted until they protect only the most powerful. And if you are hungry, tomorrow will probably only bring even more hunger – even if you work long hours. If you are powerful, tomorrow looks like it will bring you more power – and certainly more money.

And I know, as I have known for the last two years, that if I don’t make those groups declared “Other” feel safe that one day, the knock could come for me. The same as it once came for my grandfather just before his town was liberated. It’s a degrading process watching a beautiful, capable country heading for a crisis of conscience. It’s nasty and it’s cruel and it’s dangerous. I ask myself on this momentous day, after looking back 100 years, have we learned nothing?

If we cannot find our way to get along with each other, the earth will only become hotter, the stakes higher and the societal pain larger until we come to our collective senses. We are all human. We all have worth. Protecting the least powerful and creating shared resources that bring us all up is the goal of government. When it breaks down, then brutality becomes the order of the day. Your safety is the only one that you can create for yourself. Law and order will disappear.

This isn’t hyperbole. I lived in a broken society. One where the haves and have-nots were poles apart. It led to my ex-husband pointing a gun at a man by the side of a road to protect his children. He tried to help and became a victim. A surreal story to be told in another time.

A broken society has a real cost to the country and each and every person. Having looked at that way forward, can we please turn away? Turn toward each other? See each other’s humanity?

“Pie Jesu” The high notes resonate. And in this moment of beauty as the wheels hit the ground, I bow my atheist head and I these words come to me from long lost Catholic services my extended family took me to over many years:

Hand with poppy

 

Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us

Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world

Grant us Peace.

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John Mirabella & Sylvia Tufenkjian-Mirabella

On May 3rd, my Uncle John passed away in a car accident. Late last year, his wife of many years, passed away on November 3rd. To celebrate their individual and joint lives, please join us as follows:

Location: Lakewood Memorial Park, 900 Santa Fe Ave, Hughson, CA (near Modesto, CA)

Date and Time: May 19th, 2018, 1 pm

Where exactly: John and Sylvia’s ashes rest under three beautiful trees in an open, grassy area of the park called Tuolumne Garden. A map of the area is below. Follow the yellow line to the dark circle.

What are we going to do: We’ll conduct our own service with readings, music, and most importantly, everyone is free to tell their own stories of John and Sylvia. If you have an object to share, we’ll have a place for that as well.

We’ll have refreshments which celebrate both John’s Sicilian and Sylvia’s Armenian heritage.

There will be seating so you can be comfortable.Directions Lakewood Funeral Home

Please join us – and bring your memories to share. If you are able to add a comment below letting us know that you’ll be coming, that would be great.

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Brick House

Old Brick House 2Working in property business for years at a time means that I have flashbacks. Not the ones that you would expect. I re-visit houses which I’ve visited in the past. Just a flash of a room or a building and then it’s gone. Often forever. I often flashback to an old brick house built in the 1800 with lots of rooms and a squared off staircase that ends in a small room. Off that room is the start of some dark tunnels and rooms. Over time, I have described this space to others, but although I remember doing it at one time, I have never actually pulled out a flashlight or torch and crawled into that space. This morning in that fog between dreaming and waking when I once again was describing the house to a person who (in true dreaming fashion) had morphed from a slim Asian man into a middle-aged woman with light hair, I had an epiphany. Unlike my other flashback houses, no matter how real this house has always felt to me, it is, in fact, not real. I started telling Joe about this house and as I was waking and talking at the same time, finally realized that this house is me. And those dark tunnels are the parts of my life that I acknowledge, but deliberately decide not to visit.

Today, the radio is full of news about people who died in a shooting. It’s merely this month’s version of that same tragedy of one person deciding to mow down random people using guns. As always happens, the news crews visit the town one person lived in. Talk to the surviving family members so that we can all know what a tragedy this particular loss was among the many, many losses. And me, I turn the knob on the radio to off. I can only see this conversation from the other side of the veil that separates the observer from the impacted survivor.

On the other side of that veil is the banal practicality of officialdom. The first carefully worded notice of death from the police regardless of the crumpling of faces and bodies as the words hit home. As many times as they say these words over their career, they don’t want to say them any more than you want to hear them. There are follow-on visits from police to keep you informed. They are kind, and if you’re lucky become friends. The process takes that long.

Very soon, there is an appointment to view the body. The body which is now a crime scene in the eyes of the law – untouchable, needing formal definition and identification. There is the kindness of the people who show you the body. They will have worked overtime to make sure that you see what is closest to your memory of that person. They artfully drape and tie towels so that you are saved the worst. And, if they can’t then they will minimize what is officially needed. Trust me, you do not want those images floating around your brain for the rest of your life.

There’s the choosing of the photograph to share with the press. Either you do it or they’ll grab what they like online. And, if you’re smart, a press release. Wordsmithing at this time is painful and if you’re experienced in these kind of things a professional will help you. What do you say? What do you leave out? These final words will float around Google forever and yet, you struggle to eat, much less write and describe the person that you loved. You whipsaw between calm efficiency and agony. There is no space between those two poles. One minute, you’re considered and then you are reminded why you are having to be considered. Your brain knows that it should be calm and pained and ricochets between them relentlessly. You need sleep – and simply can’t. Pain is raw and relief non-existent.

Funerals are covered by the press. If they’re compassionate, they’ll use zoom lenses from across the street so that you’ll remain on your side of the veil and at a distance. Later, someone will approach you for a personal interview about your loved ones and you’ll have to decide if you want to have your tears shown in public once again.

Even later, the official inquest starts. Press once again, pictures in the paper, on TV. And sitting for hours in uncomfortable chairs to relive the pain once again as hammer blows of dispassionate officialdom officially describe your loved one’s official death and those of many others. You wander out of the building feeling dizzy and nauseous. By this time, you are left to your own devices.

And if you’re lucky, over time, you’ll build your own dark tunnels in your own version of yourself. And you’ll stand at the entrance and choose not to go in. Choose to run back up the stairs and find what light you can knowing that the foundations of your life are built on a base others have not tested and you would wish them never to know. And the unlucky ones – they light a candle, wander on down and may not ever come out.

Amen

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