Saturday, January 10, 2015

Strange Bedfellows

The saying goes that politics makes strange bedfellows.  I think it is also true of the internet, Facebook in particular.  Now I believe that most folks have a fairly drama-free selection of interests on Facebook.  Sure, there's wacky Uncle Harold with his obnoxious politics or ditzy Cousin Isabelle with her conspiracy theories.  But we can put them on mute, avoid the annoyance and still get through family gatherings in peace. But this week I got two examples of high drama coming from the most unexpected spots and it caused me to think about just who I bounce up against on the internet.

Both, BOTH, of the incidents happened on two knitting groups.  Yep, knitting groups.   On one of them, I stumbled into a very spirited discussion (read name-calling) concerning copyrights on patterns.  Being well versed in the issues of plagiarism, this seemed like a no-brainer to me.  But, clearly, I wasn't entering into the spirit of the thing.  After close to 200 entries weighing in on the issue and taunts of "thief" and "heartless", I tuned out.   It seemed like an easy thing, don't give away things that should be paid for.  But, alas, the verbal war waged on.

The other case was more interesting and, for me, more thought provoking.  Someone on the group announced, rather dramatically, that Facebook was a very real threat to her, her family and everyone she knew and that she would be leaving in 24 hours.  Wow, I thought, that's fairly huge.  So I decided to poke around during the time remaining to see what could be so threatening.  This was not a person that I was personally acquainted with and wasn't aware of any direct interaction we might have had.  It is a huge group.  But I poked a bit and discovered a person that I could not have been more different than.  We probably wouldn't want to know each other in real life and had nothing in common beyond knitting.  In fact, I know that I wouldn't want to know her because she is involved in something that I find reprehensible.  It is an issue that many people have different opinions on, so the specifics don't really matter.

I was reminded of a time years ago when, as part of a job, I was expected to deal with a couple of people that had committed hideous acts against children.  (I declined.)  But it was pointed out to me that I had probably dealt with similar people in other arenas without knowing it.  They may have been correct, but it still seemed different to me.  And it remains that way.

The thoughts circled around and around after I read more about this woman.  What does it say about me, that I couldn't dig up any compassion for her once I figured out her situation?  I'm not sure I'm too happy about the answer to that question.  Should I consider that having one common interest allows for broadening of one's scope?  Maybe.  Does it allow both parties an opportunity to see beyond the self-adopted labels to the other's innate humanity?  Perhaps.  Should one take advantage of those opportunities, even if the other party wouldn't/couldn't?  Don't know.  But it got me thinking.

I thought about how many wars/battles/struggles/conflicts we humans carry on, frequently without thinking.  Perhaps that is just the way of humanity, but it is sad.  Throughout our history, we've carried on the battles/conflicts started by our parents, our grandparents, heck our grandparents' grandparents based on..we're no longer sure what.  The "other" looks wrong, thinks wrong, acts wrong, prays wrong, says the wrong thing and we must condemn them and oppose them because of that.  Wouldn't it be better to let bygones be bygones and drop the hate?  Of course.  But humans, as a group, don't seem to have reached a place where they can let themselves do that, yet.

So, what shall I do about my own lack of compassion?  The more I thought about it, the easier I could see that I could indeed feel sorry for this lady.  For reasons that are very real to her, she feels fear for herself and others.  Whether or not it is in fact real.  Whether or not it is a result of her own choices.  Whether or not I ever cross paths with her again.  She is a human being in fear and that is something that I can feel compassion for.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Last Resolution

While it is traditional to declare resolutions at this time of year, I've decided that resolutions are too heavy and bring potentially too much negativity.  The classic "I'm going to lose weight" brings with it the inevitable "OR?".  The answer to which is almost equally inevitable "Or I'll feel bad about myself."  Hardly seems productive.  Aspirations seems so much better. So full of hope and potential.  Aspirations set something to aim for while allowing that something short of that may also be good and worthy.  They seem to declare a path more than an objective.  Having said all this, I find that there is one last resolution that I must make that has been far too long in the waiting.  I make it because failure on my part really would allow a negative to continue in my life.

Shortly before I turned 5 years old, in the upheaval that was my parent's divorce, a seed was sown.  I was too young to understand all the words, but I clearly understood (or thought I did) what they meant.  That they were sown by someone I later knew to be mentally ill.  That they led me to a logical leap that was clearly not logical.  That the maliciousness reflected more on the speaker than on me.  All of these things I would come to recognize much, much later.  But what was impressed upon my childish mind was that my very existence was a negative thing.  That by breathing I had ruined the lives of everyone I loved.  I still remember the look on her face when she dumped her load of venom on me and it still makes me shiver for the small child I was.  I kept this episode secret for decades.

I can see, in hindsight, that this festering little seed, led to a chain of bad choices and self-loathing all through my younger self's life.  I couldn't just be a good little girl.  I had to try to be the best good little girl ever, just to justify my existence.  And of course, anything bad that happened was, most likely, my fault or, at the very least, something I deserved.  After all, what right had I to occupy space?  And thus, I spent far too much time, effort and energy apologizing for living, in one way or another.  And, in the instances when I genuinely fouled up, the effect was increased exponentially.  Naturally, I couldn't expect much from anyone or anything because I was deeply unworthy.  I should just be grateful for whatever small things came my way and shut up.

After a year of tough breaks and intense reflection, during which that smaller younger me has clamored for attention, I have decided that enough is too much already.  Time to gouge out that moldy old seed and toss it onto the compost pile.  Therefore, I resolve to never apologize for living, in any manner, ever again.  I will ask for what I want/need/desire because I am entitled to those types of things just like anyone else.  When I legitimately make mistakes, I will apologize; but I will not assume guilt that is not my own.  When others seek to impose guilt that is not mine to take, they will be invited to remove themselves and have a nice life, separate from mine.  I will not agree with any position (including my own) that includes an element of feeling bad about myself.  And, when I inevitably slip back into the time worn path, I will gently remind myself that I don't do that any more and move on.  Period.  Full stop. 

As for aspirations for the coming year, there are many.  Some creative.  Some productive.  Some self nurturing.  Some nurturing of others.  All worthwhile.

May you who read this have whatever good things you most wish for in the coming year and always.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Rude awakenings

Under other circumstances, it could have been amusing in a Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Keystone Cops kind of way.  But they say that comedy is all about timing and nothing, absolutely nothing, is funny at 3:30 in the morning.

And under other circumstances, I would have felt more compassion for the neighbors.  But these are the neighbors that set and reset their car alarm every night, complete with beeping horn, after most of the neighborhood has gone to sleep.  So their misfortune in the wee hours left me unmoved.

All of this is due to a visitation, before the crack of dawn, by the world's worst repo man.

We were awakened by the car alarm blaring repeatedly across the street.  After it went on for a bit, with no sign of stopping, visual inspection took place.  Outside the bedroom window was an unmarked white tow truck attempting to abscond with an SUV parked in the driveway.  The SUV in question was at a peculiar angle with headlights flashing and horn beeping while the driver of the tow truck tried in vain to shut the thing up.  It looked as though it was possible that the SUV had been dragged on a collision course with another car parked on the street.  

At some point, Repo Dude moved the tow truck several yards down the street and returned to the SUV, flashlight in hand.  He attempted to enter the vehicle several times before succeeding.  He walked around the back.  He walked around the passenger side.  He leaned on the driver side window.  He jiggled the passenger door. He went back to the driver's side.  Back to the passenger door.  He eventually got in and popped the hood.  He hunted under the hood with the flashlight for Lord knows what.  He got the alarm to stop.  He closed the hood.  He fiddled some more.  The alarm went off.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

One of our other neighbors, an otherwise mild mannered lady I'm sure, yelled out her window that it was 3:30 in the blinkety blank blank morning.  Helpful, but I doubt there was anyone within earshot that wasn't all too painfully already aware of that fact.

At long (too long) last, he had quieted the alarm again and returned to the tow truck, backing it up to the SUV.  He jacked up the SUV and spent several minutes walking around and around the vehicle seemingly trying to figure out how to secure his prize.  Once secured, our hero took his trusty flashlight and returned to the cab of his truck.  He pulled away with the SUV and as he went around the corner, the alarm was again heard, retreating into the distance.

Sleep having been totally banished, I reflected on the cause of my current undesired state of consciousness.  For some reason, whether through hardship or carelessness, our neighbors clearly have neglected to make car payments.  And for some reason, some finance company decided that they really wanted their vehicle back in lieu of payment.  The truck driver decided he wished to make his mark on the world as a repo man.  Said finance company contacted said driver and it was decided that 3:30 in the flipping morning was the optimal time to take their property back.  And because of that, several dozen upstanding citizens will be spending the rest of their day yawning and staggering about in a sleep deprived haze.

I'm not disputing the company's right to expect payment for the purchase.  I'm not disputing their right to repossess it if payment is not forthcoming.  I'm not even disputing Repo Dude's right to gainful employment.  What I am disputing is the need for all of those things to occur at 3:30 AM outside my bedroom window.

Monday, February 10, 2014


     By the time we're eight or ten, most of us figure out that we are not immortal.  And, if we still think we're immortal, we've run smack into the realization that at least some others are not.  But, beyond that, we don't give it a whole lot of thought.  In fact, if we DO give it a whole lot of thought, we'll have been told not to be so morbid and to be happy.   So we toodle along, content in the notion that while death may indeed exist, it exists only for the old or those far away from us.  For the most part.

     There are a few words out there that can change that in an instance, a prime one being biopsy.  Biopsy, along with it's fellow traveler cancer, can bring mortality, personal mortality, into very clear and immediate focus.  There you were, toodling along with your life; working, playing, laughing, loving, wasting WAY too much time on the computer and WHAM you are pulled up short by a six letter word and all the baggage it carries with it.  No more, "don't worry, be happy" because worry has just taken up residence in your brain and whether that residence is permanent or not remains to be seen.

      And so it begins, the biopsy, the inconclusive results, the referrals, the scheduling of surgery, the pre-op check ups and the terror.  No matter how calm, cool, collected, even sanguine one thinks one is, there is a time around 2:45 in the morning when the terror is undeniable.  No one else may see it.  You may even try to convince yourself that it isn't there.  But it is.  And no one, not your mother, not your spouse, not your friend, not even the very nice surgeon that you just met, can say anything to make that go away.  Because while they hope for the best, and can quote statistics, and can assure you it will be fine; ultimately, they can't know that to be the fact until you've moved through the entire experience.

Of course, all of this takes time.  So you have a lot of time to think.  And think. And think.  You realize rather quickly that you are not where you'd always thought you'd be by whatever-this-point is in your life.  You then begin to wonder IF making plans for the future is some sort of magic you are invoking to get through the situation.  Or if, perhaps, you are just whistling past the graveyard and which graveyard is it going to be.   One sinks to the forbidden morbid regions rather quickly.

Before too long, you realize that even IF this isn't going to be whatever it is that will spell your demise, something will and that every day lived is a day closer to that day.  And you begin to wonder what that means for your life going forward.    Between blood tests and CAT scans and this and that, you have quite a bit of time for reflecting.  

And, if you're me, you wonder if any insights you garner through all of this reflecting will be carried through should the surgery and the pathology reports say that the end isn't coming in that particular way in this particular year.  

Mercifully, the pathology reports came back "negative for malignancy."  Now it's time to see how many of the insights remain and where they lead.

Monday, August 13, 2012


On July 20, 1969, I was 9 years old.  My great-grandmother was 89 years old.  And Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.  At this point in her life, my great-grandmother had finally given up her own place and spent her days in a room at her son's home, usually listening to baseball on the radio.  She never had much use for television.  But on this day, everyone was urging her to leave her room to watch the historic event.  But she flat refused.  Eventually insisting that it had not, in fact, happened.  All of which led her family to speculate that Grandma had finally slipped into senility.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

She explained that in her life so much had happened.  Born in 1880, she'd seen indoor plumbing and electricity introduced.  Her little Ozark town had seen the train come through, followed by cars and then airplanes.  Her world had stretched from a girlhood in Des Arc to adulthood in St. Louis.  By 1969, she'd buried her husband and three of her five children.  Radio, television, satellites and now this!  A man walking on the moon was just too much.  She'd had enough!

In the end, she lived 94 years, out living everyone who had shared her memories of all these changes.  I've always admired the wisdom she showed in knowing when enough was enough.  And as I've gotten older, I've wondered when I might reach the point of recognizing when enough is enough.

As a child of the space age, I am thrilled at Curiosity's successful landing on Mars without for a second thinking it going too far.  However, I must admit, I'm not enamored of each and every technological doodad that comes down the pike.  Not so much because I distain innovation, but rather for their dehumanizing side effects, the way they seem to put up barriers between people while purporting to expand connections.  Two years ago, on Valentine's Day, my love and I were out for a romantic dinner at a very nice little restaurant.  A casual glance around the room revealed that the couples at every table except three had their eyes glued to the screens of their smart phones, rather than on the face of the person they were with, which perplexed me.  It still does.  Certainly, it was no more than an extreme example of what one sees every day, but the phenomenon is not a good thing in my opinion, and one place where I choose to say enough in my own life.

I wonder what new events will lead me to consider the limits of enough in my life.  I don't think it is any sort of one-size fits all absolute.  Perhaps many people never reach a point of enough in their lives.  And I wonder if that is either a good or bad thing, or perhaps neither.  Maybe the wisdom lies in recognizing if you have reached the point of enough.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The way things are

I'm up early this morning. Contemplating the way things are. Because that's what you do when it is the wee hours of the morning. And you're sick. And you have no health insurance.

The first thoughts that come to you are those of dread. Why the heck is my throat hurting so much? Is it strep? If it's strep, what am I going to do about it? I'd have to do something about it obviously. Remembering the time when I didn't do anything about it and ended up with pneumonia. Didn't have insurance then either.

This is followed by the denial phase. Of course, it isn't strep. It's just a sore throat. The aspirin makes it hurt less, so it MUST not be strep. Right? Sure, the fever got rather high yesterday, but aspirin took the edge off of that, too. It's not serious. Really, it's not.

Quickly, the dread creeps back in. But the pain woke you up, you idiot. Swallowing isn't supposed to wake you up. At this point, you must throw all your energy into heading off total panic. It'll be better in a little bit. That's right. Somehow the magic of sunrise will make it better. Everything is better in the light of day. Sure. That's it.

Then comes the balancing of fears. Which is worse? Strep throat? Going to the doctor and risking adding even one more penny to the balance sheet? At what point does the balance tip too far to recover from?

Then comes the time for counting your blessings. I'm luckier than so many. I shouldn't complain. Others have it much, much worse than I do. I have a roof over my head. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. And, dammit, a very sore throat! What am I going to do?

What am I going to do?

Then the fatalism sets in. If it continues, I'll just have to go to the doctor anyway. Risk the bill. Try to avoid a bigger bill. Nothing to be done about it. It's probably not strep anyway, right?

And I think about how 50 million of us, in a population of 311 million or so, have to go through this type of small hours calculus, or, for the small ones, have parents that must do it for us. And I wonder why, in a country that is so rich, this is acceptable? But, on some level, it is totally acceptable or we would not have one sixth of our people without health care. We wouldn't have politicians who suggest those without the basics of life are somehow just too lazy, that no circumstances could have led to this otherwise. We wouldn't have a population so fearful of their own vulnerability that they feel the need to lash out or ignore the have-nots for fear that one day they might join their ranks.

Then thoughts come full circle. There's a very good chance that it's not strep. If it continues for a couple more days, I'll figure out someway to pay the doctor and, if need be, the pharmacy. And I'll deal with whatever I have to deal with. Because that's the way things are.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day

Father’s Day is not a holiday that has had much of a place in my life. My parents divorced just before my 5th birthday and my father, quite literally, disappeared from my life for five years. We had some vague notion that he’d moved to California, but birthdays and Christmases came and went with no word. And no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care and it didn’t hurt, I never quite succeeded. I learned early that you can miss what you never had.

When my father reappeared, I felt suspicious and frightened. Totally unable to fall into a family relationship with someone I had no memory of. Despite acrimonious court dealings, I probably saw my father no more than half a dozen times before I was 17.

I survived, but it could get tough. As a young child, no other kids in my elementary school had divorced parents. This led the other children to taunt me, as if I had driven my father away all by my little self. This did not do a thing to lessen the usual child’s guilt in such cases. If only, I’d been a better little girl! Preposterous from this angle, but very real at age 5, 6, and 7.

After I became a mother, my father and I made some attempts to get to know each other. But distance and his early death ultimately made that impossible. And when he died, I mourned what I could never have more than what I had lost.

I’ve often wondered how I might have been different if I had had some sort of consistent father figure in my life. Someone to look up to, or resent, or both in turn. As it happened, there is nothing there to lean on or push against and it remains a big question mark. I’ve looked on, with both envy and relief as I witnessed my friends’ relationships with their fathers, and wistfully wondered what that would be like.

Happily, I’ve had a glimpse in the past two years. My fella came fully equipped with one regulation-sized father whom I am privileged to call Pop. It’s a new experience having someone to call by that name. I don’t expect Pop will be helping me with any skinned knees, flat bicycle tires or teenage angst, at least I hope not. But he has certainly welcomed me into the family. And, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m able to pull back the curtain a little bit and take a peek, up close, at what a father is like. And while I’ll never have what I never had, it makes me smile to see it was real for someone else.