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Pigtails and Politics

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girl in pigtailsI’d like to convey a message from little girls everywhere – A message that even they don’t know how to express.

“Fuck You Disney!”

I mean… that’s what they’d say if they weren’t lovely little full-of-sugar-and-spice cherubs with ponytails in dresses sprinkled with flowers and butterflies. But if they knew what the women they are about to become know, they would definitely flip a Hello Kitty manicured finger.

What do women know that little girls don’t understand?

Brainwashing. There’s no other word for it. What else would you call a message that insists on depicting girls with no other goal than to find Prince Charming? After all, he’s your ticket out of (fill in the blank)…

Loneliness? Little Ariel traded her singing career and then disowned not only her entire family and all her friends (that lobster is so cute too), but her very existence for a boy she’s seen at the beach twice.

Drudgery and responsibility? Cinderella couldn’t wait to get out of the fire pit and wash house. Guess what girls… every castle that this prince wants to be king of comes fully equipment with kitchen and laundry facilities. Shoulda danced all night while you had the chance.

Your boring life?  Because nothing is more exciting than some mysterious beast of a man… the quiet, brooding type is so fascinating. Belle, honey, don’t bother with the dance lessons. Ain’t gonna happen.

Being unappreciated? No one knows as well as Snow White the amount of work there is in taking care of little people. Remember sweet sister that no kingdom is complete without heirs, and at least the dwarves brought home a paycheck.

Princes are nice, but gimme a break, that’s not ALL we dream about!  (Yes, I was once a little girl so I speak from years of experience.)

Wake up Disney! There are girls out there capable of curing diseases and starting businesses, designing skyscrapers and flying jets. We like adventure. We like space exploration and dinosaurs too. And just in case you haven’t heard, some of us drive race cars. There are little girls everywhere with talents and skills, and I don’t mean just ballet and baking.  Some of the best math brains are walking around in pink ruffles. And just because the outfit is totally coordinated and accessorized, don’t think there isn’t a future world leader behind that lip gloss.

So please stop force feeding women-in-training this one-trick-pony life. Because, by the way, little boys have no idea that it’s their job to keep the princess happy. (Whatever that takes)  They’re busy having adventures, exploring frontiers, and driving race cars.

It’s Midnight

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Well, I came to the city… I was running from the past

My heart was bleeding… And it hurt my bones to laugh

A month in ICU. Yes, a month. That’s a long time for someone to need state-of-the-art life support. If you’re the one in and out of the coma, that time might pass unnoticed. But if you’re the one standing bedside, eternity passes between flashes of a blinking light on a machine. When it’s your partner of 35 years, your life together flashes before your eyes.

So I asked my friend if she wanted to come hang out with me for a little… just to get some relief from fluorescent lighting. She said she did need to get out of the hospital, and didn’t want to be home alone if they called. She said that once they got through shift change, and he was stable for the night, she would come. That was 6:30 pm. She arrived just after 11:00.

Stayed in the city…No exception to the rules, to the rule

He was born to love me… I was raised to be his fool, his fool

With old friends, no matter how much time has lapsed between visits, there’s no need to catch up. We know who we are. We are there for each other in that moment. We listen when the other needs to decompress.

She described her month – surgical procedures that went on for days, the barrage of “survival odds” given as a regular update, the staff telling her how worried they were for him, and how, in delirium, he had cried out for her for hours one night when she wasn’t there.  And, after 36 days, how thankful she was to be still describing him in the present tense.

Walk that line, torn apart. Spend your whole life trying.

Ride that train, free your heart. It’s midnight up in Harlem.

I was glad she came. But exhausted the next day when she left. We had spent hours talking… questioning… hoping… praying. As we held hands and closed our eyes to say Good-bye, I felt all of the love I have for her and her family, and all of the light of my being move through us together as we asked for a miracle.

Afterward, I felt so drained from being so fully present for her that I needed to sleep. When I awoke, I went out for a walk around the pond. As I sat on the grass and kicked off my flip flops, I checked Facebook on my phone. Posted by a friend was a song – Midnight in Harlem. His suggestion was to let it “blend with you.”

I came to the river… And I took a look around

There were old man’s shoes. There were needles on the ground.

No more mysteries, baby. No more secrets, no more clues.

I took a deep breath and exhaled as the guitar started to twang and the audience cheered. The cymbals shivered as the railroad rhythm unfolded. My toe involuntarily started to keep the beat. As my shoulders rolled down and began to sway, I could feel the chords move me as the singer’s sultry voice reached out. I became aware of the grass under my feet and was transported to that summer concert amphitheater when the back-up singers stepped forward cooing.

The stars are out there.  You can almost see the moon.

The streets are windy and the subway’s closing down.

Gonna carry this dream to the other side of town.

The warm summer breeze moved the grasses and the tall cattails in the marsh – in harmony to the rifts in the song. I could smell the muddy earth mixing with the sweet honeysuckle nearby. Red-wing blackbirds whistled and sparrows flitted, dipped and dived over the shallow water. I closed my eyes and breathed in the music just as I breathed in the air around me. A shiver ran up my spine as I totally absorbed all of the energy from the beauty of this moment… nature, music, poetry…knowing that the art of life is in the living of it and that the spirit is infinite and will bring you back from the edge of sadness to again feel the joy.

Walk that line, torn apart

Spend your whole life trying

Ride that train, free your heart

It’s midnight up in Harlem.

Many thanks to the artists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ubH7dLJJiE&list=FLv4ash5ErtR2eZM3Lu8PFxQ

You Say It’s Your Birthday. It’s My Birthday Too.

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“Not the Barry Bonds, Mom. Ok? Not the Barry Bonds.” Barry_Bonds_follow_through

It’s been twenty years or so since my son Dylan said that.  Something had ended up broken – probably due to “just messin’ around” – and restitution was owed. Usually, I’d cover what losses were incurred, but for whatever reason, this time I had told him that it was coming out of his money. He smugly replied that he had no money. “Easy fix.” I said “You have baseball cards. I guess we’ll have to sell one of those.”  “The Barry Bonds” referred to the acrylic-encased prized rookie card.

Bonds is now considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. He has a record-setting seven MVP awards. He is a 14-time All-Star and 8-time Gold Glove-winner. He holds numerous Major League Baseball records, including the all-time Major League Baseball home run record with 762 and the single-season Major League record for home runs with 73 (set in 2001), and is also the all-time career leader in both walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688).

But that’s not what made him special. Not to Dylan. He was special because he was born on July 24th.

That’s a big deal you see. It’s Dylan’s birthday.

Also born on July 24th? Alexander Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo, Dylan’s favorite book.

I remember when he discovered the fact that people who had accomplished great things had been born on his birthday. A look came over him, a look of simultaneous amazement and pride. The look conveyed “Why not me?”

It’s been all downhill from there.

Dylan was convinced from that point on that being born on a day that special was proof of the magnitude of his own destiny.

And who am I to judge? Just a parent… trying to build the confidence of her eight-year-old. So yes, I agreed that being born on July 24th was indeed a most fortuitous event. The universe clearly had big things in mind to have him arrive on such a day. And that’s what I told him “You’re Dylan. And the Universe loves you.”

He’s a grown man now… married to his college sweetheart, expecting a baby girl next month. He works in the industry that has always fascinated him – Finance. He restored a bargain-priced foreclosed house into a very comfortable home in the mountains. And he is, by all accounts, the “nicest, most even-tempered guy” anyone has ever met… at least that’s what people tell me.

On his wedding day, one of his guests asked “Dylan, man, you have it all… a great house, a fantastic job, and now a beautiful wife. You just seem to get everything you want. How do you do it?” With his characteristic laugh and big smile, he replied, “I’m Dylan and the Universe loves me.”

All because of that one special day. And what do we know about birthdays? We all know birthdays are like… well, they’re like opinions… everybody has one. So who are the greats born on your day? Maybe it’s you.

“You say it’s your birthday

Well it’s my birthday too, yeah

You say it’s your birthday

We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday

Happy birthday to you.”
~ The Beatles

Are We There Yet?

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Space. The final frontier. Image

At the end of the journey to all of the previous frontiers, man encountered strangers. When the Neanderthal left the cave, he met Cro-Magnon. When the Greeks left the Mediterranean, they met Europeans.  When Europeans searched for spice, they discovered the Asians. When Columbus sailed for India, he met… well, Indians.

And now our explorations take us beyond the solar system to search for other stars and life on other planets.

My first question is, What then?

What’s our plan if we locate a little speck of dust circulating around a little twinkle of light in the dark sky?  What if we determine that on a unique ball of clay, the temperature is not scorching and the atmosphere isn’t poisonous gas? What do we do then?

While you ponder that…

Next question.

What if, after all of our searching and exploration, throughout all of the eons of time and vastness of space, there is no other place like this one?

What if this speck is the ONE with life on it? What if the magnificent diversity of our Earth is as good as it gets? What if everything else in this hot mess of a galaxy is just star stuff, and nothing else breathes?

Maybe the orchestral genius that it took to cool and heat, to crystallize and solidify, to grow and blossom, and to think and love ourselves here has only happened once.  When you think about it, it’s a miracle there’s any life in this universe at all.

And yet, here we are – each of us – more rare and precious than stars… and certainly more accessible – traveling companions for whatever journey awaits.

So what if, the next time you look at a stranger – their eyes and smile, personality and character, unique in the universe of humanity – you see them with the same wondrous awe you have when gazing up at the night sky? And then treat them with mankindness. We are not alone in this Youniverse. We have each other.

Heads, I Win

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Heads

Suffer – to feel pain or distress

“SUFFER” That’s what it said, in caps, in neat print, enclosed in a box.

I was cleaning out some old stuff and came across a letter from my grandmother written to me when I was living away at college. In it, she told me about things going on at home, how much she missed my brother (living on the opposite coast), and wished that I would come home to visit soon. It was signed Love, Nana. But on the bottom of the last page in a small box was written: SUFFER.

Suffer? Was she suffering? Her note seemed typical, cheery enough. She couldn’t mean that she wanted me to suffer? Probably not.  Nana used a regular note pad for her letters, just the usual one that she kept next to her chair so she could have been checking the spelling of the word or something. But it seemed odd to me. Whatever.  It was just a word scribbled on the back of a piece of paper she used to drop me a quick note.

Every now and then though, the concept of suffering moves forward in my mind. People often talk about “putting an end” to suffering.  As a culture we want to eliminate suffering. Pope John Paul II said that there is meaning in suffering. Of course, Catholics are a martyr-loving bunch so I wasn’t surprised; however, when I considered that at the time he said this he was profoundly affected by Parkinson’s disease, it gave me pause. What meaning had he found in his own suffering? As a respected spiritual leader what purpose or lesson did he find in humanity’s suffering?

Recently, when I think about the years spent witnessing my mom’s neurological degeneration, I get it.

The meaning for me has changed.

Suffer – to endure, to bear, to withstand

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My Facebook feed has recently been loaded with inspirational posts referring to “passion”… Find your passion… Follow your passion… blah, blah, blah. In looking at my own life, I have a lot of interests, but nothing I would call a clear “passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a very full and satisfying and happy life, but what is my passion? Hmmm.

So what is it? Not only what is my individual passion, but what is passion exactly and how does one go about finding it?

Me being me… I looked it up.

Passion —  an intense emotion, compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.(from the Ancient Greek verb paskho – to suffer)

Wait. What?

The word is derived from “suffering,” which brings me back to my original question. What is suffering? And now, how could it be related to passion?

How could the one thing we want to eliminate in life be the same thing as what we’re supposed to pursue?

They seem to be the opposite sides of the same coin. To be passionate about something or someone is to focus your time and attention, your energy and spirit. And there’s the problem. Once we share so much of ourselves, we expose our hearts to suffering because the object of our passion can be taken from us.

Wait a minute. Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. It’s not the passion that causes the suffering. It’s the loss of the passion. Well, there you have it. Something can only feel lost if you expect to get it back. Now I see. If I just give the passion away, I can’t possibly suffer any loss.

All together now.

Suffer – to endure, to bear or withstand + Passion – to give of ourselves without expectation

So how do we eliminate suffering AND live a passionate life?

Literally “Have the courage to love freely.”

So it’s not something I need to pursue after all. Finders-keepers.

The Ex marks the spot

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fire and water

A clenching fist of words reached within

And tore the fibers that bound your life to mine

Alone I am ready to begin

To fill the future’s unending depth of time.

The breath that once spoke from heart to heart

Fueling flames raging in a canyon of years

Scorched the earth and drove our love apart

Escaping on a river of Memory’s tears.

But distance now has changed the view of pain

From leaving me to waste and fear and cry

To knowing that it passes as All again.

Faith renews and Love will not deny.

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Random Meanderings

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Only in dreams

Am I saying

The truth I knew

From the start

Not what it seems

Is it lying

To keep secret

What dwells in one’s heart

The silence

Never innocent

Hid the honesty

Awaiting time

For the right opportunity

But tyrannical fear

Overwhelmed what seemed clear

Until hope vanished

Amidst petty jealousy

And all that was planned

Is now ashes

From fires untended

And cooled

What once was a passion

Has ended

In the eyes of my love

Ever fooled

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Carnival of Love

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The other day, an online friend shared a piece of beautiful writing. It was about how nice it would be if we could have – as adults – the innocent joy of teenage love.  I’m sure that even if you didn’t personally experience the starry-eyed, giddy school kid crush, Hollywood certainly provides plenty of reference material for you to understand the “share-a-soda-at-the-roller-rink” kind of relationship. And while little whispers and dreamy romance certainly seem to be love. It’s not. That’s the cotton candy of life – light and sweet, but dissolves too quickly to provide any serious sustenance.

It’s like they say in the song… “I found that love is more… than just holding hands.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to keep romance alive in a long-term partnership. Loving couples do giggle at silly stuff, and keeping fun and play is important in everyone’s life, not just in relationships. So what is it then? True love?

Like the other song says… “I looked at love from both sides now.”  So here’s what I’ve found.  Unlike cotton candy, beneath the sweet surface, there’s got to be substance.

Love IS innocent. When you ask “Do I look fat in this?” Love says “You couldn’t possibly.”

Love IS a giddy laugh. When you screw up Thanksgiving dinner, Love says “Really, I had enough to snack on earlier. Turkey just puts me to sleep anyway.”

Love IS that dreamy look. Even when you’re sitting in bed with the flu and a box of tissues, Love says “Do you want me to make tea? or soup?”

Love IS riding around with your head on his shoulder. When the worst call comes and your knees buckle at the news, Love says “You’re not driving. I’ll get the car.”

And Yes, Love DOES hold hands. Especially when you hear the word “diagnosis.” Love says “Ok, we’ll do what we have to do.”

As wonderful as puppy love is, and despite the fondness I have for those days cruising the summer streets with the music loud, and his arm around me as we strolled the fairgrounds, I’ll pass on the cotton candy. True Love is a caramel apple… sweet enough on the surface, but underneath all that yummy gooeyness is something good you can really sink your teeth into.

Pandora’s Box

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I finally had to do it. It’s been taking up room in my closet since I moved in, and I need the space. Downsizing from full-sized tote to under-the-bed storage is critical. It’s just not something I looked forward to doing.

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It’s fun to go through boxes of old pictures with friends and family, each taking a few out at a time and recollecting the memories invoked by the fading images — rethinking hairstyle decisions and fashion choices, comparing the changing city skyline over the decades, recalling old faithful automobiles, and of course, remembering those who are gone now. It’s always a sweet and sentimental process, laughing through the tears.

By myself however, not so much. I get stuck wondering what to do with all of these pictures. I’ve already put my favorites into frames and albums. This box is mostly full of those candid shots that weren’t the most presentable, but are surely the more honest portraits – kids clowning around, my sister trying to hide from the camera, Mom and siblings around the breakfast table. (Seriously) Who takes pictures at breakfast you ask? Well, if Dad had a new lens he wanted to try or film he had to “use up,” anything was fair game.  And since I bought my first camera at about 10 years old, there’s a whole collection of the world shot from a kid’s perspective. Funny to see what I thought was picture-worthy. My dog “Candy” was a common subject and my little nephews made for cute, albeit blurry, images.

Beyond the captured occasions, I drift into deeply held memories of the people in these photographs — conversations we had, times we told stories and shared laughs, discussions that turned into differences, and decisions that led us to separate paths. Inevitably, I come across photos from events that were overshadowed by someone’s drama… the wedding where so-and-so stormed out, the party where what’s-her-name drank too much, and family gatherings that always seem to be missing the one who could never be there on time.

I really can’t take it. I don’t like spending time in the past. I pitched a bunch of duplicates and poor quality prints, but there are too many years to sift through alone. So I dump the contents of the bigger box into the much smaller box and shift it around until the lid fits.

Then, as I shove it under the bed, I realize:  at least I won’t be adding to this box anymore. Ever since digital pics and online sharing, I don’t have tons of extra pictures floating around. I think I prefer this new photography – take the picture, upload it to all my friends, and be done with it. No more looking back into a musty collection of bygone days. Just sharing what I’m enjoying… now… with people who care enough to enjoy it with me… now… and deleting all the drama.

Just Another Day

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Today used to be my wedding anniversary. What once was a significant date with happy memories attached is now just another number on the calendar. It was a gradual erosion. A long time ago, there were celebrations and gifts…then cards and flowers…then dinners and pleasantries. Now there is silence.

As the day began, I realized it would have been 16 years. But it isn’t. It’s no longer a marker of anything special.

Like a sand castle, time was spent building, constructing a place… with towers and spires… and bridges. A little more here, a little smoothed-over there. With each addition, it grew to something recognizable.  A moat was dug for protection from the encroaching sea. The sun shone on the glistening grains and it was good. Not Cinderella’s castle, but a fortress with flags flying nonetheless.

Then the tide turned.  At first, just small damage was done to the perimeter. Then wave after wave assaulted the structure. The intrusion ate at the foundation until the crumbling began. One wall at a time, it slipped away. Eventually, as always, the big breaker came.  Crashing too close, it overwhelmed the turrets and the last defenses. When the water receded, the castle was gone. No one walking past would ever know what had been.

I thought I would be sentimental about it all. But I’m not. It was created, it stood tall, it washed away.  Maybe it’s because it was a slow decline. Maybe it’s because a part of me knew all along it was temporary… like all things.  And now, surveying the landscape, I’m just a witness. I don’t regret the effort I put in. It was time well spent while the sun was warm. I don’t curse the forces of nature that swept it away. It’s inevitable. Things change. People change.

What remains… or what has been re-created…is the beauty of a pristine beach as far as the eye can see.