Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dancing in the Rain


You'd think I'd have learned this lesson sooner in life.  Heaven knows, I/we have had plenty of opportunities, but it took a wise and gentle doctor to bring it home recently.  

John's hematologist must have some psych courses in his background because he has an uncanny ability to deliver information in a direct, yet compassionate manner at  the most opportune moment. It is one reason we so trust and respect him.  From the day he delivered the diagnosis and prognosis of John's disease, he has never failed to be forthright and considerate, consistently striking that tenuous balance between reality and optimism, a balance too few physicians have yet learned.

He also is a natural mediator, sensing when to speak directly to either of us or both of us as the case seems to warrant.  So, whenever John wants to do something that I fear may be detrimental to his well-being, or I want him to do something that he does not feel ready to do, we turn to Dr. W. and ask him to arbitrate.  

One of those occasions occurred a month ago, when John wanted to go to a nearby casino to celebrate his 75th birthday.  As infection is a threat to John's survival, I have been adamantly opposed to any large group gathering for either of us, and especially so to the casinos.  And John has been remarkably agreeable, a great patient.  This time, however, he persisted.  It was, after all, his 75th birthday, or as he puts it, the 50th anniversary of his 25th birthday.  Fortunately, we had a doctor's appointment within a few days of his birthday, and we agreed that if Dr. W. gave the ok, I would concede to John's wishes.  If not, he would comply.  

The day arrived.  We went through all the preliminaries, weight, blood pressure, temperature, blood test results, the list of typical questions and answers.  And then John posed his request.  Dr. W. paused, looked at John, looked at me, paused again and then - first to both of us, "I don't want to cause any marital discord here."  Then, at me - "We're not keeping John alive at the expense of his quality of life."  Then, at John - "So, I think you should go, but do it wisely.  Take intelligent precautions.  Have a good time and happy birthday."

We did go to the casino.  We went early and he wore gloves while he played.  A few days later, my sister and brother-in-law surprised him for his birthday with a visit from NY.   We had a small party with his Starbucks buddies and a get together with friends. He received several cards and calls and e-mails.  All in all, he had a great birth week.

I've returned to that conversation several times in the interim.  I realize that I've been hoping this storm might pass.  If we are vigilant, if there are medical breakthroughs, if I can protect him.  But the reality is it might not.  So, I'm not throwing away the umbrella or rain gear, but I'm trying to splash in the puddles.  To consider every day some ways to celebrate that we can still go out in the rain together.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Escape Is Not a Dirty Word

"None of us can face what's happening head-on all of the time."
~ Sheldon Kopp
What Took You So Long?

Reading Sheldon Kopp's If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him in the 70's was life-changing.  I came upon the book on a bookstore table while on a mission to get past the anger and self-recrimination following a painful divorce, convinced that someone smarter than me, wiser, could provide a road map out of the angst and confusion that was overwhelming me.  I think I had read a half dozen self-help books by the time I came upon Kopp (easy to do in the 70's) and still hadn't found that map.  And there he was, telling me I had to create my own map, that there was no guru, no Buddha out there to show me the way. Or as he stated pretty succinctly in an 'eschatological list' at the end of his book - "it is so very hard to be an on-your-own-,take-care-of-yourself-cause there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it -for-you adult." I had to chart my own course.

Initially, I threw the book across the room.  Then, picked it up and read it again.  And over the years, have revisited parts of it several times.  Whereas he never intended to be another Buddha, his exhortation to take charge, to take responsibility for my life has never left me. 

So, it was intriguing, to say the least, to discover while recently culling my library, that I own another of his books, one that I hadn't revisited for many years.  What Took You So Long ? An Assortment of Life's Everyday Ironies is a slim volume of photographs illustrating simple, insightful statements written by Kopp in the late 70's.  Whereas The Buddha contains language and references that definitely are dated, this little book could have been written yesterday.  

Consider - "You wait for everything to be all right, knowing all the while that the next problem is in the mail" or "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" or " Unable to get our own way, often we settle for trying to prevent other people from getting their way" or "If we allow pain more of our attention than it requires, we miss some opportunities for joy."

Any of these - and several other - statements continues to ring true for me, perhaps even louder at this stage of my life, but the statement about escape is a welcome reminder, a suggestion that it may even be necessary to take a break, to escape for awhile, without feeling guilty.  Because "often things are as bad as they seem" and yes, "no one can face what's happening head-on all of the time."  So, I'm taking a recess from Facebook for awhile, from all the petitions and surveys, from all the outrage and angst, the venom and the vitriol, from all the requests for contributions.  I'm reading a new mystery series, potting some succulents, redecorating the guest bathroom, working on a jigsaw puzzle, starting a new still life.  It'll all be there when I check in again.  All the worry, all the outrage, all the divisiveness, all the drama. all the challenges.  For now, I choose to escape - for awhile.

And once again, wherever you are, Sheldon Kopp, thank you.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Soul Searching

"I didn't do enough."
~ Oskar Schindler, "Schindler's List"


The more I do to voice my displeasure and dismay with this political regime, the more I realize that I didn't do enough to help prevent it in the first place. 

I had thought I'd done enough.  I voted, as I have every presidential election since I cast my first vote for JFK.  I consider voting a privilege as well as a responsibility.  I am, relatively speaking, informed.   I've read the Constitution, not only in high school, but as recently as two years ago.  I continue to read a variety of material across a wide spectrum of political belief.  I've never been reluctant to talk about politics nor unwilling to listen to others' points of view.  

But I left the heavy lifting to others, even when I sensed, as early as a year ago, that he could win.  Even though, I believed he would do exactly what he is trying to do.  Even though I called him narcissistic and unwell from the get go.  I know I could excuse my sitting on the sidelines with "what can one person do" or "my vote won't count anyway as I live in a red state" or "John needs me more."  I could fall back on believing what the media was predicting (I didn't).  I could blame everyone else, and heaven knows, there's plenty of folks to blame.

I don't excuse myself.  However, I also do not mean to chastise myself, but rather to let this awareness fuel taking action.  I am beyond feeling guilty, but am committed to look for ways to encourage others to take action and to support those who do.  I've been calling my (theoretical) representatives, almost daily. I've e-mailed and continue to engage with staff as long as they stay open to alternative points of view. I've signed so many petitions that I suspect I've signed some more than once.  I've spent hours on FB, probably too many, but strive to interject a call to action wherever I can.  I take time to acknowledge the efforts of others who are marching, deciding to run for public office, moderating groups (what a job!), offering new ideas, standing up in their own party, etc.  

And, yet, I continue to ask myself, "What else can I do? Tonight, I'll read the next chapter in Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff and keep recommending it. Tomorrow, I'll send another check to ACLU - they have the lawyers, they have the grit.  Next week, show up to the nearby coffee shop to help write postcards of appreciation as well as postcards of protest.  I'll post this.  What else? What works?  What could work?

If, as you read this, especially to those of you in France who are learning from our mistakes, you have other ideas for effective resistance and change, I would be delighted and ever so grateful to receive them.  I will pass them on wherever I can.  I will do whatever I can. 






















Monday, May 1, 2017

I Don't Get It

"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."  
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt


and

"The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values. "  William S. Burroughs

"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family."   Kofi Annan

"A quality education grants us the ability to fight the war on ignorance and poverty."   
Charles B. Rangel

"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."    James Thurber

"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. "  John F. Kennedy

"There are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it's just one, and it's education."  Malala Yousafzai

"Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one."    Malcolm Forbes

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."   Robert Frost

"The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn."    Alvin Toffler

"I believe education is the great equalizer."   Dave Heineman

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." H. G. Wells


When did education become suspect?  How has it come to follow that being educated automatically means you must think you are elite or better than anybody else?  When did being educated become a threat, or something to be belittled, demeaned or dismissed? How could the President of the United States boast that he loves the poorly educated?

The more I see that his lack of character and his immaturity, his blatant hypocrisy and outright pathological lying are condoned or tolerated by his followers - or that his weekly golfing excursions, executive orders, and proposals clearly benefit himself and the wealthy and yet, they still think he cares about the average American, well, I can understand his boast. Why wouldn't he love the poorly educated?!

I am a second generation American whose paternal grandmother did not learn English and whose father did not graduate from high school; yet  I was the first female in my family to go to college. I not only became an elementary school principal but also went on to create and manage a boutique consulting firm for 25 years. I know the power of education. Not only a formal education, for I have met many learned individuals who didn't go to college and much of my education has occurred since graduating.  But a good formal education can also inspire -where it has been absent - curiosity, creativity, thoughtfulness, tolerance, a questioning mind, critical thinking skills and perhaps above all, the desire to keep learning. 

In only two generations, our family rose from among the working poor to solidly middle class.  My brother became a dentist and then a master wood worker, my sister a choral director and now a clinical social worker.  Each of us has learned from teachers, scientists, books, the arts, friends, strangers, each other.  Learning formally and informally.  Learning to love and appreciate learning.

It is because of our educations that we have realized the American dream of having it better than our parents did. It is with the help of our educations that each of us made career changes mid-stream, that we have weathered the vicissitudes of life. It is with the help of our educations that John and I are managing his health care today.  

That this President loves the poorly educated rather than encourage them to become educated, that he has a Secretary of Education whose intention is to gut public education, that he boasts that he doesn't read, that his vocabulary is that of an average 4th grader, that he tweets reactively and irresponsibly in the middle of the night- is an embarrassment at best, a disgrace at worst.  That he does not believe in climate change and demeans the scientific and intelligence communities, that he supports defunding the arts and educational opportunities for the disadvantaged bodes harm for our economic and cultural future. 

Yes, I am concerned, upset, even fearful.  But  I will continue to write, to call my representatives, to express my concerns and share my observations.  I will continue to read, to learn, to challenge my assumptions and challenge the assumptions of others who are willing to learn with me..  But when I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this disaster, I will rant awhile.






And last, but definitely not least...

"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge."
~ Horace Mann

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Going in Style

"Cinema is entertainment and people go to the movies because they want to feel good and forget about everything."
~ Vincent Cassel


I'm pretty sure not everyone would agree with Vincent Cassel.  Do you?  Many movie producers must not, given the plethora of movies that could not possibly leave people feeling good.  This is a point of view about movies that my dad had, and truthfully, so do I. So I was surprised to find that the French actor, Vincent Cassel, who I thought was probably of my generation, was born in the 60's, just a couple years before Midnight Cowboy arrived on the scene in l969.  R rated, gritty and certainly not a feel good movie, Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award that year and ushered in a more realistic approach to movie making.  An approach that left my dad, and I suspect others of his generation, wondering how Abbott and Costello, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Crosby and Hope could suddenly go out of vogue. In the years that followed, I think the only movie he went to see in the theater was The Sound of Music.  All other movies he and Mom saw were rented and probably not produced later than 1950, the exception being Philadelphia, but that's a story for another time.

I was raised on musicals, comedies and film noir.  Every Christmas we watched White Christmas, The March of the Wooden Soldiers, and the black and white version of A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sims.  Not surprising, when I battled breast cancer, I turned to old Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly musicals, the Crosby and Hope Road movies, and anything with the classic female actresses of the 40's, to help me forget. Movie marathons, especially during the weeks of chemo when I could barely lift my head off the pillow.  More than once, I thanked heaven for TNT and the other channels that show the oldies but goodies.  Not that I don't count Schindler's List, The Color Purple, and Philadelphia among my favorite all time movies, but the last thing I wanted when I was sick and frightened was another heavy dose of reality. 

Why am I giving all this background?  Because I am about to praise a movie John and I saw this past weekend and if you do not share the opinion that a good movie is one that leaves you feeling good, and forgetting about everything else, at least for those 120 minutes or so that you stare at the screen, then this endorsement won't mean much.

The movie - Going in Style.  The cast, Michael Caine who plays Joe Harding, Morgan Freeman who plays Willie Davis, and Alan Arkin who plays Albert Garner.  Caine and Freeman are now in their early 80's, Arkin is 79 - the perfect casting for a tale of three old friends who had worked together for the same company for 40 years, live across from one another, and share most evenings watching TV.  When they learn that the pension each needs for basic survival is being raided to pay off company debts, and the bank that will help restructure the debt is foreclosing on Joe's mortgage, they decide to rob the bank.  Just enough to cover their pensions and save Joe's house.  The rest to go to charities.

You can go on-line and read more about the plot, and check out the reviews.  I'm glad I did after I saw the movie, because the reviews, probably written by folks 20 to 30 years younger than I am, were lukewarm.  While the reviewers unanimously applauded the  skill and experience of the cast, many called the plot formulaic and for the most part, predictable. And, I would admit, it was, with one exception.  

But I, for one,  appreciated the presentation of these aging characters, who still feel strong emotions, think significant thoughts, and can strategize to solve a problem.  Joe and Willy and Al are far from the stereotypical image of elderly who need walkers and hearing aids, sit around commiserating on their aches and pains, and count on the largess of the young.  Although, they do face other challenges of aging that usually are not given much big screen time, like taking care of family in their old age and wondering if they will have enough money for another ten or fifteen years, they are charming, and occasionally funny enough to evoke laugh out loud guffaws.  Above all, they are still vital, still relevant.   And it was such a joy to watch these veteran actors demonstrate their craft, so well that one would wonder if the on-screen camaraderie could possibly be just an act.

So, last Saturday, John and I sat in a darkened theater and watched three of our favorite actors do their thing and do it so well that for 1 hour and 36 minutes we forgot that we are fighting for his life, that he had a tough week, or that North Korea is threatening to bomb us. We laughed out loud now and then, held hands in the darkness as we first did over 30 years ago, and walked out of the theater feeling better than when we walked in.  That may not be enough for sophisticated movie reviewers, but for us, this why we go to the cinema.



If you give this film a shot, I'd love to know your reaction.






















Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thank You, I Needed That

"Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th."
~ Julie Andrews

This past weekend, I watched the Masters Golf Tournament with John.  I'm not a golfer, not even a sports enthusiast, but I enjoy watching golf.  And I think John enjoys having me watch with him.  That's a good thing, because as our world becomes smaller and smaller, and we are with each other almost 24/7, finding things we enjoy together has become more imperative.  

I'm enjoying learning more about golf, about the nuances of the sport, its rich history and protocols, the various tournaments and courses, and above all, the golfers.  Perhaps, its the legacy of growing up with Arnie and Jack, their ups and downs, their families, their charities, watching them age along with us. Perhaps its the relative absence of scandal and notoriety in the sport.  (I did say relative absence.)  And the presence of families, in some cases generations of families.  This sport speaks to my values as well as my history.

I now root for a couple youngsters - Ricky Fowler and Jason Day - and am particularly fond of the Spanish veteran, Sergio Garcia, who has had the reputation of being the best golfer who has never won a major PGA tournament.  So Sunday found me cheering for him, hoping against hope that he would finally win his first major, and not just any tournament, but the revered Masters, the tournament that has plagued him for the 19, yes, 19 years, in which he has competed.  "I hope he wins.  Please let him win.  Come on Sergio.  You can do it, Sergio."

And he did.  He played his way into the lead, was overtaken, fought back to a tie, and finally won by two strokes in the playoff.  And the crowd roared - Sergio, Sergio, Sergio. 

In the days since his victory, I've considered why I like him, I'd even say that I admire him. Why did I become so invested in his win?  Why did I take such pleasure in his joy and celebration?  (And I did. You would have thought I knew him personally, that he was my kid brother or nephew.)

The obvious answer is that I often cheer for the underdog, but in this case it is more than that, much more.  I admire his perseverance, his tenacity.  Nineteen years and he plays with the same competitive passion as he did the first year I watched him.  I respect the respect he shows for his mentors.  Proteges often forget those who taught, and supported, and encouraged.  He never does.  I applaud his loyalty - his coach is his father, always has been.  Even when Sergio grew discouraged and almost quit the sport, he never abandoned his dad, just worked harder.  And what he apparently worked on was his mental game.  That may be what I admire the most.  That he looked inward, and grew not just as a golfer, but a man.  Perseverance, respect, loyalty, hard work, personal responsibility. 

In this day when the news is filled with dysfunction and greed, venom and vitriol, murder and mayhem, it was such a joy to watch someone achieve his dream because he is talented and diligent. To hear him graciously, sincerely acknowledge his family and mentors.  To see his joy and gratitude.  To see the respect shown between the players and the crowds.  To listen to thoughtful, nuanced commentary.  To celebrate.  To be reminded that this is still possible.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Gentle Reminder

This week, rather than a single quote, I offer a poem.  It was just the reminder I needed while waiting in Houston, struggling to stay positive while I feared the worst.  If it speaks to you, too, you might find the book from which it was reprinted worth a read - The Last Gift of Time by Carolyn Heilbrun.  The poem, "Otherwise",  was written by poet Jane Kenyon


I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise.  I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless 
peach.  It might
have been otherwise.
I took a dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon, I lay down
with my mate.  It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver 
candlesticks.   It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

But not today.