Prom Night 2017

It is with an unbridled love that I watch my 18 year old son dress in a tuxedo to attend his prom. My heart bursts with pride as the hearts of all mothers who go before me have as well. I am not unique but in this moment, the love in my heart turns into tears of sweet joy for this beautiful boy of mine who has turned into a young man before my eyes.

 

His date is cute and nice though they are not really connected more than friends. My son along with the three other boys acts appropriately goofy. I am used to goofy. I have raised five sons and six really if you count the one who was only here for 27 months and obviously never went to prom. I raised him too albeit so briefly.

 

I didn’t go to a prom I was too busy rushing through my life though I cannot imagine what the rush was exactly. I skipped eighth grade along with my smart peers and then graduated from high school in January, a full semester ahead so as to rush off to college at only 16 years old. Why? I’ve no idea now, but I trust there was a reason then. The consequence of graduating in January was that there was NO prom and I have regretted this always. I want that corny prom picture that doesn’t exist.

 

So Will has donned his tuxedo and is off to dinner and then prom with his group of friends. In a few weeks he will walk in cap and gown, which might well undo me completely.

 

There is a another reason my heart is heavy though. Sam is not here. Sam is not in tuxedo. Sam is at a class on Fire Safety instead. He had no desire to attend prom and not much desire to attend anything school related over these last four years. He has not liked a moment of school and not really bonded with anyone in it. It was strictly perfunctory for him and mostly drudgery as well. He sees no reason for attending a dance in a tuxedo or all that goes with it. He has already moved on to his future and it is now. He’d rather be putting out fires than posing for pictures. I’m missing him tonight as he is at the firehouse instead. It’s so Sam. So very, very Sam and I love him for who he is.

 

I just brought these twin babies home from the hospital. I am sure of it because the terror in my heart in that moment is still palpable, so it couldn’t be 18 years ago. I’m not sure how I will absorb the purple cap and gown on June 9th. It is all so real and surreal at the same time. Keep them safe, keep them laughing, keep them sweet, but oh God most of all, do keep them safe.

Some Days it’s Harder to Hold it Together

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For some of us some days holding it altogether is easier than on others. Last week was exhausting for example, yet I felt wise, and cohesive and able. This week, not so much.

I flew into New York last week as a stop off on my way to Philadelphia for a lactation consultant conference. It saved me money on airfare and gave me a chance to do my favorite thing, having time to wander in NYC and seeing my dear friend in Queens overnight as well. It felt just so sweet.

The next day when I was to take a Greyhound bus to Philly, it was freezing and sleeting in New York. Plus, when I took the early LIRR into Penn Station I did so too early, and thus no retail or museum was open. The weather was so bad that I didn’t want to wander too far away either. Where to duck into out of crappy weather when you really don’t want another cup of coffee? I passed the New York Times building and went in there thinking that maybe I’d see reporters trying to tell the truth which is their current raison d’etre, despite our current obsessive liar “so-called” president. There were two reception desks in front of the elevators and tight security so I would not be anywhere near “Spotlight.” In my little, slightly unrealistic heart I wanted to hug a reporter and thank him/her for bravery and free speech under a dictator. I wanted to let them know that I support them with all my heart. Did not happen. Not even close. It was now not even 9 am so where to go? The Asian home store next to The Times would not open until 11 so out into the elements I returned, hatless.

There in the freezing rain and snow, sat a slumped man with a huge umbrella that he held on a slant to try and protect himself from the icy, wet onslaught. He sat on a plastic crate. I could not see his face under the umbrella. He wore only a sweatshirt with his entire body trembling in the cold. I began taking my ski jacket off to give to him when I realized he was about four times my size and it would never work even though I could go and buy myself another jacket. I stood there literally mesmerized wondering what to do and then I began to cry, which of course helped no one and made onlookers stare. I wondered to myself, “Who are you frozen man? Who were you? What did you look like in the fifth grade? Did you have a crush on that pretty girl in your class who sat in front of you? Were you bullied? Were you a bully? Did you marry? Do you have children? Friends? Where’s your mother? Did she die? Did you weep? How did you end up here in front of The New York Times literally freezing to death? How? Why don’t they write about you?“ I once heard the director of “Love Wins” a homeless help group in Raleigh, North Carolina say that becoming homeless depends on how many phone numbers or contacts you have in your cell phone. Because I have many for example, I won’t succumb to homelessness no matter what happens. I will always have someone I could call and ask for help, a bed, a place to stay for a spell until I got back on my feet. I have not alienated too many people, tried to hurt anyone, been arrested or the like so that I still have a decent number of contacts to turn to in an emergency. “Freezing Man” likely did not.

Eventually I gave up and went to the Port Authority expecting the worst, wondering where I would ever be able to go to the bathroom. It was actually so much better than I remembered with a nice clean ladies room as well. However, since I was early I could get on a bus an hour sooner. When I went to the desk to ask if I could take that bus the gruff guy at the counter said, “Nope.” If he’d given into me and allowed me one of the many empty seats, he’d have lost control for the rest of his life and quite possibly, the entire Port Authority might have caved in and collapsed. So, I guess it was better for him to have me wait the 90 minutes doing nothing but staring at one character after another. At least he maintained his authority in the port of the same name.

It was an easy trip and when I got to Philly, my nice new roommate picked me up at the bus terminal and off we went to our annual digs, Embassy Suites. This is always a great conference in that there are now about 200 women (although we did have one male pediatrician this year) learning the newest stuff in lactation research, sharing our knowledge and talking NON-STOP. You have no idea how 200 women in private practice, alone for the other 362 days of the year, want to talk to each other. It is unstoppable and sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating and nurturing. The fact that Embassy Suites has happy hour each evening is even more conducive to the camaraderie. At this years conference I shared a topic that included a most stressful and unpleasant experience in my field. It was very difficult for me and yet was so empowering that I felt like a free bird for the next few days. In sharing my two-year secret a huge weight was lifted from my heart and the standing ovation that my group of four received will never be forgotten.

I took the bus back to New York with one consultant from Ireland and one from Australia so the trip went fast with our three accents. It was dark and cold when I arrived but I subwayed it to my friend’s apartment in Gramercy Park. We were born on the very same day and have stayed in touch all of our lives having been in school together since kindergarten. It was so sweet being with her, finally seeing her cool studio apartment and talking until we fell asleep. She left for work before I did, and being there alone sent a tiny jolt of Mary Tyler Moore through my body.

I was back on the streets stopping for coffee and a kasha knish with a whole wheat everything bagel to keep in my bag for the day. I headed to Bloomingdales to shop for a dress right for mother of the groom for my son’s beach wedding in less than a month. Just like in Macys the week before, I was able to check my luggage in Bloomies visitor center at no charge. When I was down to my undies I got the panicked call from my sister saying that she’d read wrenching email from her younger daughter that had been sent to her older daughter. She was very upset and led me to believe that my niece was in great danger so we met for lunch an hour earlier than planned. I felt pretty panicky about what I would find but we hugged tight and went into a nice east side restaurant for lunch. I told her about the email and she was very upset. We talked about her mom’s plans to go to Tijuana, Mexico for alternative cancer treatment that include coffee enemas, Vit C IV’s, insulin loading, juice diets, and more. All of us feel so incredibly frustrated being unable to convince my sister to at least evaluate what is available at the top cancer centers in the US or even at alternative places in US rather than paying a fortune for what sounds so risky in one of the most dangerous, crime ridden cities in the world. It is a grueling, long flight for a woman down to 103 pounds with metastatic, stage four breast cancer in her bones. We have each tried every way to get her to consider other options even if just in the interim before heading to Mexico, but have only met with her anger. We each wanted to escort her on the trip and she was refusing even that. It has been wrenching for each of us but when my young niece and I tried to eat our lunch suddenly we couldn’t stop crying. There is anger and sorrow, there is loss and dread, there is wanting love in ways it has not been able to be given. There is confusion and history and it all makes you just want to cry until the end of time.

And so, most of my solid good feelings melted away as I got on one bus and then another to head to the airport. A huge snow storm was headed to NY in the next few hours so LaGuardia was a sea of panic with passengers literally fighting for their Florida bound seats. I called my sister and we had more disagreements with me begging her to get another opinion before heading to Mexico, in two months. She became angry and simply dismissed me saying she was tired. I will never know how I actually got on that last flight to Raleigh, but I did and was so grateful.

In my next visit to Facebook I found that in fact my sister was no longer going to Tijuana in two months, she was in fact going in a few weeks right in the midst of my son’s wedding weekend. Today, it turns out she no longer wants either of her daughters or me to go with her as she is instead, going with a friend. I am so puzzled, so hurt, so concerned that I simply cannot get my head straight.

As an aside, today is St. Patricks’s Day AND the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, so there’s that sort of in a little sad place in the corner of my mind.

So, when I headed to the local Cupcake shop this morning for a video taping by the local news station regarding a group of us who have been crocheting sleeping mats for refugees. I was feeling tender and vulnerable. But I pepped talked myself saying, “Hey look, you’re here, no one was hurt in last nights blaze nearby, the sun is out, you’re okay, so keep it together. Fight like a tough girl. You can do it.” And I did for a good while. I laughed with the other women, chatted with the interviewer, smiled for the camera. I was in fact holding it all in like the best Spanx around. So, why was it when I met this older refugee woman from the Congo, who’d come here in fear and poverty and I stroked her face lovingly that I started to cry? What was it when I saw the pain and truth in her eyes that allowed me feel my own pain? I gave her a mat, sat in my car and wept.

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Macy’s New York

Macys17098558_10211200921072514_1576880642130387986_nFunny thing about Macy’s New York. It IS an institution. It is cutting edge fashion. It is huge beyond huge and really is like a city. There are literally thousands of employees at one time even on a slow Thursday afternoon. But, there are also those old diehard Macy customers, now really old, shuffling along, wandering in a way, but still in Macy’s just like when I left my job there about 38 years ago! The Cellar where I was a manager, is not in the “cellar” anymore but on the 8th floor. The “cellar” is now a junior fashion mecca with electro music and smallish (nothing is really small in Macy’s) boutiques.

 

How lucky was I when I happened upon a tour of fashion students being led around by a Macy’s executive taking about layouts and why things are where they are? Customers like all their things in one area of the building even if on different floors. So, if all women’s clothing is on the Broadway side of the building on floors two-five, then juniors should be near there too. I was fascinated and transformed as I listened to this crowd of about 20 students and then silently answered their quiz questions as well. Turns out that the wooden escalator I rode down to the Cellar each day is actually a historic landmark from 1902 and cannot be touched!   It can only be repaired. All those years I never knew that and wouldn’t still if I hadn’t run into this tour!

 

The one thing I shall never forget about working in Macy’s was the union rules. Every employee belonged to a union. Managers did not. The department I was in charge of was casual china and glassware. It had some groovy name that escapes me now. One of the biggest pains in the butt was the entire wall of “name mugs.” This is an international store, so when I say there were a zillion names, believe me, there were! They had to be kept stacked and alphabetized at all times. So, when one was not in order, I could NOT rearrange the whole display and if a display of bright red strainers or whisks or whatever came crashing down, (which happened on a regular basis) I could not pick them up or rearrange. If a mannequin fell over, I had to wait for the appropriate worker to pick her up and rearrange her! This had to be done by an employee who had THAT job description otherwise union rules were being broken and this would not be okay. Frustrating and unforgettable.

 

The other thing that was pretty awful were the hours. At Christmas time there was no limit to how many you were required to work and the store was open till midnight. We would run non-stop and then collapse onto what was then a dangerous subway at 1 am trying to get home for a few hours sleep before we were back again. My friend Susan Martin and I bitched and moaned to each other on a regular basis and one night at midnight someone was yelling at her and she took an entire carton of spatulas and threw them up in the air cursing her head off. Memorable!

 

I had a grand few hours to wander and try on clothes all by myself. I watched the display people changing up mannequins much to my delight and I did a lot of staring as I always do. All sales people wear black now like in Bloomies and other stores. Makes sense. We just wore white carnations to show our management status. We in management, were called “White Flowers.”

 

Macy’s New York is still cutting edge, lots of clamoring new designers with their own departments along with the Ralph Lauren’s, Calvin Klein’s Michael Kors, etc. If I were who I was then, I would so be donning “Free People.” Love that hippie look I am too old for. Tried on a lot of dresses for my son’s upcoming wedding. Still none that hit the mark. But hey, I have the fifth floor to do tomorrow!

 

Had a great, healthy salad in Macy’s where there are many restaurants to choose from and I got to people watch some more.

 

This is the thing in New York. You need not spend a dime to have a good time. I even got to check my luggage for the day for FREE compliments of Macy’s Customer Service. At least a free good time is still true for me. I had a wonderful time, watching, imagining, reminiscing, observing. And, I still ADORE fashion!

The Gathering – Retreat

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I went to a short retreat this weekend at a local Episcopal church where I am not a member. I have been to this before and always come away with a new awareness, renewed commitments and a deepened faith whether I have heard Glennon Doyle, Kelly Corrigan, Elizabeth Gilbert and today, Heather Lende. It is always a woman author or speaker who has made a difference in the world. The hors d’oeuvres the evening before are always tasty, the women are 90% blonde and as non-diverse as possible. The blondeness and lack of diversity irritates me some though at least this year, there were few high heeled pumps which was an improvement. I can’t fault these women for their genes and their long held southern tendencies. I always have to look past my own inadequacies and insecurities and simply remind myself that I am there for me and to learn and grow. So for the years I have gone alone that has been harder and for the ones like this one when I have attended with a friend, it is easier. Either way it is worth it.

I usually come away with some nuggets each time and if I believed in tattoos I suppose I’d have a good number of them by now because I’d want to remember these for a long time. Here are some from this weekend for example:

There are no atheists in delivery rooms (way better than “fox holes”)

Be kind, be brave, be thankful

Holy moments (not events, not lifetimes, just moments)

Living in the dash (as in your birth date-death date)

What would your days look like if God was in charge of them?

What do you want to become/What does God want you to become?

Don’t live with a manufactured life

Do not be crippled by fear

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives (Annie Dillard)

The messy middle of the “not yet”

If you want to know my pain, feel my wound

Battling for joy

Guerrillas for grace

I have two friends who are also colleagues who make a lot of fun of me for how busy I am. They say I am always going to some retreat, some political meeting or march, some group that plans to do something to make a difference, some conference, etc. I guess I appear a little crazy to them when I am always trying to squeeze in the next interesting thing. I’ve written before about how much I want to learn, to know, to experience in my short time on earth. I try hard to cram it all in and after all these years of mothering, it is mostly about me and learning about my own heart and life. I cannot live my life for my kids any longer and no one loves their kids more than I. But, I also don’t think they need me to live for them or to constantly stand in their way by either over-indulging them, making their lives too easy or protecting them from dealing with challenges. I would be stealing from their development if I always directed or always influenced every choice they make. I do not pretend any more. I try to live the truth. Life is hard, very, very hard and I try to be as well equipped as I can be for each hurling rock that comes along. I’ve already been hit with several boulders and I never duck all that well.

One of the speakers this morning shared about having lost her young twin son early on. It was a horrific and tragic story that of course resonated with me. I think one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn I have had drilled into my head dozens of times. I have mostly learned it at 12 step meetings. I worry about my kids as much as and maybe sometimes more than, most other moms. I worry and I worry and then I worry some more. Having lost a child I might be even more terrified of this than the virgin moms who are fortunate enough to have never have known this harsh reality. What I have learned though stings like a sonofabitch! I’ve learned that I cannot keep them alive! Charlie has said that at many meetings and I don’t want to hear that. I really, really don’t. I can love them to death literally. I can stay right nearby and never travel , holding onto my phone ready to pounce. I can think that I am in control forever.  I remember when my second oldest son was mostly bedridden for years at the feet of Chronic Lyme disease. It seemed he might die one day after another and I could-not-allow-that-thought though I felt it to my core.Every damned time I left the house I thought, “Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to him when I am away from him.” I realized though that that might happen when I was laying right next to him rubbing his sweating, feverish brow.The fact of the matter is, none of that will keep them alive. I am NOT in control. I am not sure who is or if it is simply a random universe, but it is not in my control to keep them from harm. I sometimes hope that a higher power keeps them safe, but even that is questionable and unreliable. I just know that it is NOT me.

So, the only life I have even remote control of is my own which is why I choose to enhance it and expand it and as one of the speakers shared today, to create a life overflowing in abundance. I am cradled in God’s hands and I do not want to miss the grace filled moments that come. Those I love so dearly are cradled in his hands as well despite their non-believing status. It matters not that they don’t believe in God. He believes in them.

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My Father’s American Heart 2017

 

Although I grew up in a home riddled with mental illness and chaos, my father remained a beacon in many ways. He loved me and I knew it, which was not the case with my mother. Both were smart and loved the English language with which they were articulate and creative. My father wanted to be an English teacher and yet, he ended up working in various civil service jobs in New York City that included postal worker, parking meter collector, and court officer. He read the newspaper every day albeit The Daily News and read mostly historical biographies. He knew pretty much everything about Lincoln for example as well as a myriad of political and historical events. He was clearly a Republican and mostly a conservative one at that. He supported Eisenhower referred to as “Ike” early on and supported Goldwater. Nixon was the one for him as I remember and though devastated by JFK’s death along with the rest of the country, he had not voted for Kennedy.

 

These were scary times in America with bomb shelters and kids practicing hiding under their desks if bombing was imminent. Of course this is a joke now realizing that those desks wouldn’t have protected us one bit. All focus was on “the Reds,” the “Commies,” and protecting ourselves from those threats including McCarthyism, and the banter over Khrushev. He was no fan of Angela Davis, the Black Panthers, or “left-leaning Pinkos” and as a family we thought William F. Buckley was the most brilliant man around. My dad was an active member of the American Legion or “the Post” as he referred to it and marched in every parade as the proud veteran he was. His Army days were clearly the highlight of his life and we were all proud of the service he gave which eventually ended with his burial in the Veterans Section of an historical cemetery here in Raleigh, NC.

 

I became interested in politics fairly early on. My father was my bedrock of perspective and my newsfeed at all times. I did not read the paper but instead had him translate it into sound bytes for me (before there was such a thing).  I’d ask him, “What does that mean? What is he really saying? Who will be affected by this? What country is reacting and why?” He always took the time to explain to me but of course this was from his right leaning perspective, which I did not question. Eventually, I joined YRA (Young Republicans for America) which I then morphed into YCA (Conservative version) yet I don’t remember actually going to many meetings. There was no Facebook of course, so I am not even sure where my information flow would have come from. I suppose it was regular mail, phone calls and the like. Isn’t it so funny that we can hardly remember how we got information pre-internet?

 

And in the late 1960’s there I was shouting support for the Vietnam War! Understand that I was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City where NO ONE shared my views. Most students were still closeted gays who embodied the most creativity in New York. Fists were painted on the back of graduation gowns and graduates marched to Pomp and Circumstance with fists in the air! So when I arrived to classes one day donning a “Support Our Troops” tee shirt, I was body slammed against a wall by some other students, likely trying to knock some sense into my warped head. And as I have admitted before with my head hung in total shame, yes, I rode the Nixon bus singing, “Nixon’s the one everybody, Nixon’s the one!” I dragged my poor friend to stand with me outside of Lincoln Center handing out Nixon flyers, which each patron took and promptly threw in the garbage. Oddly, at the same time I was a card carrying feminist attending meetings and reading “Ms magazine” So I will never understand how I thought those two ideologies could blend.

 

I continued on in this direction, sure of one fact only. If this is what my father believed then it must be right. So yes, I was a Reagan gal and even as recently as George Bush Sr. By the time Bush Jr. was in the race I was beginning to wake up but when John Edwards was running as VP—I suffered over coming to the other side. I couldn’t vote for the possibility that he might end up in the White House and of course that eventually became a moot point. By the time these elections were taking place, my father was in the trenches of Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Dementia and living his final years in a North Carolina nursing home. Politics no longer was up for conversation nor was much else. But when I did discuss anything political I could clearly see that my father’s perspective had softened and he was not the angry conservative any longer. I remember discussing Reagan with him and gathering that Dad was not a devout admirer. Of course, things got worse from there. The racism that had clouded my father’s perspective had begun to dissolve as well and I became aware that inside that well tuned but now deteriorating brain, change was taking place. I have no doubt that in the end, Obama would have been just the upstanding, honest, brilliant man my father would have applauded.

 

Know this. I am not proud to admit all that I have here. In later years, my sons became very politically aware and one in particular majored in Political Science. At first I laughed off their liberal leanings but then I started listening and paying attention. And as I have written before, I became a convert – full and unrelenting. I studied and read and observed and I knew that change would need to happen in my heart and mind. I changed my party affiliation. I cried with joy and pride when Obama and family came to the stage to accept his nomination and donned his bumper sticker along the way.

 

BUT, here we are in a time no one other than George Orwell could have ever imagined. We are inundated with news 24/7 and most of it is horrific. In the past years I have attended almost every Moral Monday march in Raleigh, NC and fought steadily against the homophobic and racist North Carolina governor’s policies that reeked of eras gone by. I joined every group I could. I was completely in awe of Bernie Sanders and I knew with all my heart, my father would have been too. He was just my dad’s kind of “real no nonsense guy” who cared, and couldn’t be bought much like Mayor Ed Koch who my father loved. And when I was broken over Bernie’s loss it took me awhile to commit to Hillary. There was of course, NO alternative and we knew there was no way that Americans would elect a stark raving madman to run the country. My friend and I went to Monday night Democratic women’s meetings and wrote letters, called voters, rallied everywhere to get voters out. We knew she would win, we just wanted her to win as big as possible. The debates were a joke. The madman seemed even crazier. He would lose of course. On Election Day my friend and I worked the polls as greeters reminding folks to vote the “whole ballot” so that they could include the extremely qualified black judges running on the slate, but at the end of the ballot. We needed some racial balance in a state that sure is, but not represented proportionally We worked 12 hours that day going from poll to poll. In a shaky moment when we went to buy water and chocolate for volunteers I said to my friend, “what if, just what if, this turns out to be a day we look back on forever as one when the world changed and fell to pieces?” She told me I was being ridiculous and to stop. When I got home and started watching the election returns I called my son, (the poli sci major) as I panicked. He told me he was hanging up because I was acting dramatic and ridiculous and that Hillary had it in the bag and there was nothing to worry about. There was, oh God there was.

 

So, with a knot in my stomach, bottomless anxiety, sleepless nights and complete disbelief, days passed and inauguration day arrived. Less than two weeks later, the depravity is more than any of us could have imagined. Although the things said and acted out during the campaign were so hideous and hurtful, it is worse now because this insane narcissist wields the power and is completely in love with throwing it around willy nilly. The world is watching in horror. Immigrants are prevented from entering the country (I am third generation immigrant.) Wealthy megalomaniacs are chosen for the top cabinet positions. Women’s rights are cast aside and punishable. Mexicans are to be walled in. Healthcare is being ripped apart. The poor who fell for his illusions of grandeur will become much poorer and much sicker. Respect for the earth is touted as “just a scam.” It is the most vile and sickening thing to watch day after day, wondering how and how soon it will end, because it must.

 

Inundated as we are, we must NOT stop watching, reading, and remaining vigilant to protect those of us less than or scared or attacked. Whether we are Christians or not, has no bearing as to whether we are of pure and caring hearts. All religions preach the same. The non-believers also preach the same. Those hearts keep us doing the right thing day in and day out and cannot cease now when we have a leader who actually claps for himself after a speech. Gas lighting and narcissism are a dangerous and sickening combination. Yes, I have marched and yes, I will march again. I have made the calls to congress and I have written the emails and letters. I am not feeling particularly empowered by these efforts but I cannot simply do nothing. Will we all die trying?

 

Here’s one of the main reasons why. In the end, my father is in my heart. And I know he was always the first person to jump in and help anyone of any sort who simply needed help. He would have never tolerated cruelty for one minute and he would have stood up and fought for any man, woman, or child who were unprotected from harm. So, in the middle of the Womens March when I was one of millions worldwide, I felt this funny feeling in my heart. It was my dad, letting me know that he was indeed proud of me and urging me on. I have no doubt in my mind that he’d have come over to this side and I am left to stand up for him now that he is no longer here. I’m here Dad as great a patriot as you. I have never felt more fierce love and protection of my country than I do now and I will fight the fight in whatever ways I can following in your model with just a newer perspective that I know you would embrace with all your heart.

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Inauguration Day, January 20. 2017

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I walked an extra ten minutes on the treadmill. I stared into space the whole time, never turning on any sound from my phone though the ear buds remained in my ears, silent. I tried praying repeating Hail Marys, Lords Prayers, Serenity prayers, and my own favorite, “help me, help me, help me. None worked. None brought peace and none dabbed my tears. I bit my lip and kept on walking. One mile. Two miles. No matter. I’ve done so much begging over these past few weeks, what’s a little more?

 

I have dreaded this day since November 8, 2016 when the die was cast and the craziest, cruelest, likely dumbest candidate won the electoral vote making him the president-elect and revolting. I will never forget that sunny day in October when I was part of a flash mob dancing to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” with great hope and complete confidence and no doubt in the world that this inauguration day would be a celebration of so many victories for Americans of all kinds.

 

Recently, the Episcopal church of which I am a member decided to send their choir to sing at this abysmal inauguration. I posted my letters and opinions on National Cathedral sites, on church Facebook pages and finally a post to the presiding bishop whom I have known personally. “Please, please don’t allow this endorsement and approval of an official who could not be more opposite what the Episcopal church stands for. Please, please, please.” That is begging for sure. My shame has dissolved.

 

I know that I am expected to avoid watching the ceremonies but I cannot do that. I have been a D.C. junkie and political wannabee my whole life. I am unable to not watch the pomp and circumstance and utter pageantry of the changing of the guard at the same time as it is making me ill to watch. I am filled with tears at each glimpse of the Obamas who I love, adore and will respect forever. I will regret not having been in politics until my last day. Seeing Hilary’s face is unimaginable to absorb. Watching 92 year old Jimmy Carter saunter in, brain cancer and all looking like he is maybe 60 years old is a sight to see. For all the disturbing sights like Melania trying to emulate Jackie Kennedy, Mitch McConnell trying to look honest, Mike Pence taking in a sight he doesn’t even deserve to see. I could go on, but the worst sight of all is the abhorrent rock star who is convinced this is a coronation. There are no words.

 

With all the dread I had and the anxiety that kept me up night after night thinking in my warped perspective that I might have some control, there was even more going on in my own household that took my already broken heart and chipped away at it a little more. I have lived through the raising of three older sons and it was full of heartbreaking challenges that left their mark on me forever. But, the raising of the last two sons, the 18-year old twins may break me for good. I can’t seem to see the light past this darkness. They are angry and sullen and barely speak to me. One is missing almost as much school as he attends, failing subjects, and hanging out in a firehouse more than in his own house. He was the one determined to be a marine on the front lines. That one sentence was more than enough to bring me down. He’s since switched to fire fighting so go figure. But, He couldn’t hate me more and today he declared that he will no longer come home. He has 38 cents in his bank account, so that will be a stretch. My home however, will not be used as a hotel so I suppose we are in a standoff.

 

And the other twin. Sigh. He had a future. He never worked hard in school, but he did show up, he did pass, and he did get into a decent college in early admissions. However, he has become determined to enlist in the Army and meets regularly with a recruiter who has most effectively brainwashed him. He spews the rhetoric precisely and there is no talking him out of this decision and it scares me to death and beyond. On one night in my most desperate moment, I reached out to him in tears saying, “Please, please don’t do this. I need to tell you that I cannot lose another son. I simply cannot do it. If I lose you, I will not stick around either. You need to know that.” I hate my self for saying that. It’s a low ball. Sickeningly desperate.

 

It is a desperate and sad day. I’m still trying to pray. For my country, for those who will suffer more than they ever have, for my sons who are headed into murky, muddy waters full of crocodiles that snap when taunted, for my heart that it might continue to beat in a more regular pace and continue to learn to forgive, to tolerate, to sustain, to accept the things I cannot change, for the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

HANDS

I listened to a Podcast the other day while I tried to keep myself from dying of boredom on the treadmill. It was an engaging one for me since it was about a hospice chaplain. I’ve often wondered what that job or calling might be like since it of course seems intense and difficult. We imagine the sadness of being around the end of life, dying and distraught families day in and day out but typically those who do this work do not feel this way. They find grace and deep honor in bearing witness during this sacred time of leaving one world hoping to find the next.

The chaplain being interviewed describes what the most common thoughts are at the end of life. She says that most of the time, the “patient” is “ready” or curious to find out “what is next.” Then, she described the part that really got me. A young woman in her early 40’s was in relentless pain as she lay dying in a hospice section of a hospital. Her pain control was too intense and too complicated for her to be cared for at home. She was the mother of three young children so this was particularly sad to witness. However, this woman spoke about how much time we spend railing against our imperfect bodies throughout our lifetimes. As women, we know this to be true. We are never thin enough, strong enough, curvy enough, large or small breasted enough, stomach flat enough, legs smooth enough, eyebrows thin or thick enough, eyelashes curly enough, hair thick or thin or straight or curly or long enough, lips full enough, skin smooth and unwrinkled enough, arms toned enough, butt firm enough, and on and on. This dying woman examined how pitiful it was to spend one’s life obsessing over these “defects,” wasting precious time of grace and gratitude. She proceeded to glorify her body and what it had done in her lifetime and lamented as to how much she would miss that body of hers. Her body had created, grown, formed, and delivered three human beings onto this earth! Her body had nurtured them until they could nurture themselves. Her body had done a long list of things of which in that moment, she was immensely proud and yet sad to leave. She loved her body so much that she felt it would be the worst thing to leave behind.

I thought and thought about this and while I am not there yet I have examined one part of me that I might be ready to glorify. I remain like most, horrified by my flabby belly that never recovered from huge baby number four followed by huge twins in my mid-forties. That belly was having no coming back home after that! Same for my breasts – five pregnancies and done – heading south where they are comfortable but unflattering. My hair though still full is gray and washed out. My face is full of more wrinkles than smooth spots and oh dear the creases around my mouth prove I may have smiled a lot but wore out the muscles. It is often shocking to pass the mirror and take a glance. My legs once my glory, are dry and wrinkly with saggy skin and cellulite. I have never loved my arms and now even less as I too have the happy, flappy flag underarms. Lashes are mostly gone, brows are so light they may as well be too, wear glasses full time, and so on, but you get the picture. Old, simply old.

But, I looked at my hands during that time on the treadmill. What I saw were dry and veiny with unadorned short nails and pretty rings. My emerald ring was in my Christmas stocking in 1977 and I have adored it ever since even though I never felt my hands did it justice! I began to think about what my hands have done over all these years and how they have truly earned the right to every wrinkle, crease and age spot. I felt this overwhelming moment of gratitude to my hands for how well they have served me thus far. I remembered a wedding I went to once where the officiate did not know the couple but he spoke about their hands that were in that moment, joined. He described how they would be the hands to hold their first born, to support each other in good times and in bad and to hold onto for courage and strength as they aged. I can’t remember whose wedding it was, but these words stayed with me.

So, let me tell you why I am grateful to my hands. They are the hands that used to have small dimples instead of gnarled knuckles and held onto my father’s big strong hands when we walked from the public housing projects in Brooklyn to church on Sundays. Thinking my hands were magic, I used them to hug my mother tight when she was in the throes of depression. They stroked the soft and loving face of my grandmother when she held me on her lap with a boundless love that I knew from no one else at the time. Her skin felt like velvet in those hands. These hands touched the brand new red head of my sister when she was only a few days old. They bounced a Spalding ball outside for hours, dressed Ginny dolls on the bench, sewed clothes for Barbie, and snapped photos of my friends and family with an Instamatic camera. These hands learned penmanship so that I could communicate on paper and send letters to numerous pen pals around the world. Probably the worst thing these hands did was to hold cigarettes for close to ten years while I wheezed my way through asthma attacks. Thank God the hands put those down one day and never picked them back up. My hands rubbed my grandmother’s back as she lay dying from a cancer that no one chose to inform her of.

My hands brought me the bread and the wine that recounted the Last Supper on most Sundays and folded together praying so hard for healing especially for my troubled family of origin. They gripped the steering wheel of my first car with fear and helped to drive me out to the Hamptons every weekend where I had the best of times with hands held around a glass of Mateus, while I danced most nights away with hands around the neck of a dancing partner. They held the ticket to my trips to Europe where I learned more about myself and my closest friend than any other time. My hands linked with my boyfriend’s hands early on and would hold on tight as he became my fiancé and the love of my life as my husband.

But, here’s the top of my list when I look at my ragged, dry hands now. These hands were the first to touch the fuzzy heads of six baby boys that emerged from my body. When I was in the depths of childbirth not believing I would survive one minute more, a midwife would direct my hand between my legs to feel the emerging life of my newest miracle child—these hands! They would be the hands that would guide my breast into the mouths of my rooting, searching babies and would enable them to grow and thrive from my milk, while cradled in this mother’s loving hands.

They would be the hands that would stroke the head of my father when he died and grasp my mother’s cold, lifeless hand when she died. And worst of all, these same hands clung desperately to the body and soul of my two year old who lay dying after drowning. In the less than 12 hours he “survived” in the hospital, my hands must have stroked him 1000 times while they were soaked in salty tears. And they would be the same hands that would still cradle his cold, bald head in his little coffin at his funeral.

These hands would lead each child up the path to preschool and kindergarten, holding tight, imparting confidence and security in our parting ways. They would feel a forehead to diagnose fever, hold a head when throwing up, bandage cuts and pull out ticks and force medicine down throats more times than I care to remember. They would soothe each crying child in my lap in what we called, “green chair time.”

And when it was time for these hands to return to paid work, they began holding literally thousands of babies and thousands of breasts, bringing them together for a moment of bliss and glory having found the Holy Grail each were seeking. It is my honor to witness these moments when mother and child are able to connect with the guidance of my hands in a gentle, helping direction, enabling baby to drink the milk of human kindness and of life sustaining nourishment.

As long as my hands can offer kindness and are able to help and care despite their lack of beauty, I am grateful and humbled by my work with others and my family. Thank you hands, I love you….