Just when I was sure that young people were never going to be as eloquent, passionate, or committed as my Baby Boomer 60’s generation was (now Geezer Hippies), along comes Amanda Gorman. This young woman blew my socks off by reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, yesterday at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden.
Remarkable, insightful, brilliant Amanda. WOW! I am happy to be wrong about all this. Seeing someone 22 years old carry the kind of poise, dignity, and humility that she displayed is more than refreshing: it’s downright inspiring!
So, this National Youth Poet Laureate brought back strong feelings of hope for the Future of our Country. If there is an Amanda out there, who else is waiting for their moments of greatness? Perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps this experiment we call America is producing more strong, intelligent young people who will make us truly Great.
I have never been the flag-waving type. I have always thought that kind of “patriotism” is corny, square, and insincere. I am the type who believes you can burn the flag in protest, and that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are really important. Also, the national anthem has always seemed far too bellicose for my taste; I think it should be changed to Paul Simon’s “American Tune”, or something more relevant. Maybe “America the Beautiful”. More peaceful and less bloody.
Anyway, yesterday, January 6th, 2021, was a painful day. It was physically gut-wrenching. It reminded me of May 4, 1970 when four students were killed at Kent State during a Viet Nam War protest. That day, I felt that we were witnessing something close to the end of the world as we knew it. It was a helpless, free-falling feeling that was both scary and eerie. Yesterday was the same.
An assault on our democracy happened. It was vicious, premeditated, and horrifying. But it happened. As I watched hordes of protesters and rioters storm the Capitol building, I was dumbfounded. Rarely without words, I could not express exactly what I was feeling as I watched in disbelief.
I remember a cool February morning back in 1963. My Mother, my Aunt Phyllis, my cousins Danny and Ann, and I were on our way to Florida to visit my grandparents. We stopped in Washington, D.C. early that Sunday morning to have a cursory view of the Capitol and the White House. The Kennedys lived there then, and were at Sunday Mass when we drove by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Apparently they walked home from church that morning, but we missed them by an hour or two, to our great dismay.)
Ann and I ran up the steps to the Capitol while Mom filmed us with our 8 millimeter movie camera. I occasionally look at that footage, and there we are: two girls, 12 and 14 years old, standing in front of those huge, impressive doors. THE CAPITOL! Think of it! WE were standing in front of those doors, and walking on those steps. The steps where our Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen had trod. We stood in front of the doorway that had welcomed such important visitors as well as common citizens like us, to this amazing building; the symbol of our republic. It was awe-inspiring. I talked about it for weeks.
Yesterday that same building was overrun by crazed protesters. There were deaths, injuries, and chaos. There was no reverence or respect for the symbols of our democracy, or for the actual processes that were going on in the building. The people’s business.
Today, order has been restored. Lockdowns, curfews, and increased security. The business goes on: we will have a peaceful transfer of power in two weeks. So what we feared has transpired, and this brilliant experiment has survived. We will go forward together, and our Constitution remains intact. I am not quite over “Kent State Day”, and I am sure the events of yesterday will take some time to absorb.
However, it still surprises this old Hippie to find out exactly how much of a Patriot I really am. Leftie, Marxist, Socialist, Hippie, Weirdo, Impudent Snob. Yup, I’ve been called all those things. But ya know what? That’s MY Capitol, damn it. And I walked up those steps, and so did my Mom, my aunt, and my cousins. My family is a Military family, including my Mom, who served in the Navy during WWII. My relatives fought and died for this country, so that our Constitution could stay intact. I guess that’s why it was so hard to watch the Capitol being assaulted. It felt very personal.
I stood alone in the dining room to open the Amazon box. I knew it was from my dearest Friend, and I wanted to feel alone with her and this gift. Inside was a small drawstring pouch with a tissue-wrapped treasure in its silky core. I could feel something solid, and as I carefully unwound the tissue, I discovered the piece of jewelry she had sent to commemorate my 70th birthday. A beautiful modern representation of the famous Irish Tara Brooch. This one, designed to anchor a scarf, had Green Agate stones and Celtic Knots around the circle. Another perfect gift in a series of perfect gifts that has endured throughout our friendship. She always knows what I will appreciate and, more importantly, need at any given time.
My friend has been going through the fight of her life for the past several months; battling the huge Dragon, and suffering the pain of surgery and radiation treatments. Yet, in the midst of intense physical suffering and the struggle of dealing with so much emotional and mental stress, she managed to find and send this intensely meaningful gift. The human spirit is astonishing, and never ceases to amaze me.
Because we are both descended from Irish ancestors, my friend and I share a connection to Irish traditions and symbolism. The Celtic Knot is special to us for a lot of reasons. In many ways, it stands for the bond that we forged in 1962 as schoolgirls. The Knot is constructed of complete loops that have no start or finish; it is often said to represent Eternity, whether this means Loyalty, Faith, Friendship, or Love. Only one thread is used, and the completed Knot symbolizes the interconnectedness of Life and Eternity. It is this connection that one begins to face after becoming a woman “d’un certain age”.
As I look out at the world through my now 70-year-old eyes, I see things more clearly. With age, they say, comes Wisdom. Perhaps. I do know that one gains a perspective that can only come with surviving the slings and arrows. My friend and I have both weathered storms through the decades, and although she has been the one suffering immensely lately, my connection to her has brought that struggle home to me. I have prayed a LOT recently: prayed for her to recover fully, and for us to once again share time and laughter. The importance of our Friendship is on the front burner every day. I wake with it and sleep with it.
Some recent study showed significant proof that the reason we connect with certain friends and lovers is that our brains are literally wired the same. I believe it. How else can it be that we meet someone who completely understands us on a cellular level? Someone who knows our thoughts and hopes and dreams so thoroughly? I have those moments of sheer delight when my friend finishes my sentences or gets my jokes. I have learned that in this Life it is SO important to be known and understood. My husband and my closest friends really get me, and that is everything.
We can all be proud of our lifetime’s accomplishments. These may be different for each of us, but achievements mark what we valued and what we’ve done with our time. Now that interconnectedness of Life and Eternity starts to take on an increased relevance as we turn 70.So, as I took stock of my achievements the other day (starting a new decade of years will do that for you), I found myself making yet another list.( It is, after all, what I do). This list was most gratifying. In the still of the night, as I lay in bed next to my sleeping Love, I made a mental list of the real, true friends I have. The requirements were these: Loyalty, Trust, and Love. If I called any of these people at two in the morning and asked for help, money, or counsel, I know they would give it without asking why. And they wouldn’t even complain about me waking them up. This list had a dozen people’s names on it. I decided then and there that aside from raising a really kind and good Daughter, that list was my greatest achievement so far. I hope to achieve a lot more as I go forward into my future years, but I am pretty sure that list will retain its importance.
My friend who is now in recovery was at the top of that list, of course. Our alliance has stood the test of time, distance, and outrageous fortune. The Celtic Knot will always represent US; it does stand for the trinity of Soul, Heart, and Mind. Since pagan times, the Knot has linked people’s aspirations for unity, and it links mine to her. We have that special connectedness that keeps us in touch with each other’s feelings, no matter what happens. We are, with a nod to our Irish ancestors, very lucky.
Look, I am turning 70 in three days….maybe 2 and 1/2 days….very soon! I thought I should write a little bit about what this FEELS like. I may want to remember when I am lots older, right?
Anywho…..people in my inner circle have started talking to me about this lately. Like, “Can you believe we are THIS old?”. Stuff like that. So, I’ve started thinking about how I feel about turning 70. Weird. All I can think of each time I say it aloud is the line from Paul Simon’s song “Old Friends”: “how terribly strange to be 70”. Now that seemed like REALLY ancient back in the ’60’s when I wasn’t even 20 yet. Perspective. Relativity. It sure feels different now.
I can certainly tell that my body has aged; there are signs on the skin and creaks in the joints. But, as most agree, one doesn’t feel much different on the INside. I think we choose a mental age somewhere around 40, when we have really and truly grown up, and we stay with that age. INside. I think by the time I was in my 40’s I knew what I knew, and accepted my core beliefs as solid. I don’t think much has changed in there since then.
So, this aging thing. I now believe your attitude towards aging has to do with where you are emotionally and spiritually at any given point. Four years ago I was quite unhappy with my circumstances. I was not well, had a very sick Mom in a long-term care facility, and no committed partner in my life. I longed for good health, a resolution to my Mom’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease, and a man who loved and understood me. I knew my Mom was nearing the end of her fight, and each day was depressing having to face that fact. My own disease journey was painful, and I became increasingly incapacitated as time went by. I had always wanted a deeply committed, fulfilling, and honest relationship, and the odds of finding that seemed slim. That year, facing 66 years old was difficult.
But, things CAN turn around. Change is the evolutionary constant; and CHANGE came my way big time. Long story shortened, Mom passed. The combination of Grief and Relief took a while to absorb. I spent a year and a half trying to find out what was wrong with me before I got the right diagnosis and medication. I got better. And then I got the courage to do something that changed everything for me.
The very short version is this: I put a message in a bottle, figuratively. I mailed a letter to someone I hadn’t seen in 50 years, and asked him what his life had been like. I told him that I had never forgotten our one, brief date in college; that I had always wondered what became of him. Weeks later, he called. We began a five month phone conversation that concluded with a SECOND date, 5o years after the first one. What are the odds, you ask? Astronomical. But it happened. And then we fell in love for good.
So, as I approach my 70th birthday, my attitude toward aging is colored by my incredible good fortune. I feel luckier than I ever dreamed possible. I thank God every single day for all of this. Today I am healthy, my family is healthy, my furry child Teddy (aka THE BEST DOG IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD) is always near me, and I have my Soul Mate at my side. Sure there are aches and pains, age spots, wrinkles, gurgles, creaks, and word retrieval issues. But ya know what? Life is Beautiful.
This year, perhaps more than any I can remember, waiting for Spring is tough. We all know that it will come eventually. We know that fact because, in the past, when extremely rough Winters have lingered, Spring has triumphed over the cold, hateful weather at some point. At some point. Eventually. At long last.
This Winter, with its terrible virus, has lingered in a much more dangerous way than previous Winters. We have collectively been frightened, and told to stay inside. We are enduring isolation, deprivation, anxiety, and frustration. We are testing our mental and physical strength in new ways.We need Spring. Rebirth. Rejuvenation. Reconnection. We need each other in ways we took for granted.
Throughout human history, natural history, and the mythology of humankind’s religions, there has been Rebirth. Renaissance. Renewal. Regeneration. Resurrection. We have learned about this, and we have witnessed this each Spring. The brave little crocuses on my lawn have risen, through snow, sleet, wind, and rain. They are proudly sticking their faces ever upward to the Sun. The green leaves of the perennial flowers I have planted are stubbornly pushing their way upward as well. The fledgling leaves on my massive Maple tree are clustering together despite harsh breezes; they are saying “we are here and we are ready to burst forth”. And the birds and squirrels are busy preparing for their young: the future of their species.
I am trying to be as brave as the crocuses and the leaves. I am hoping for a Renewal of my life’s activities and my relationships with family and friends. I am almost certain that the way things were and the way things will be going forward are going to be substantially different. I am not sure how we will navigate those changes, but I am sure we will do it. We don’t have much choice. The only choice each of us will have is how we react going forward. How much Grace and Courage we exhibit. How much Kindness and Compassion we share.
I wish for each of you the bravery of the flowers and trees and animals. I wish for you the simple yet necessary Hope they carry for the future of our lovely planet. Happy Earth Day.
What could be more nourishing and satisfying to the Spirit than Love? With Valentine’s Day approaching, I feel the need to explore the Magic.
Love is defined in zillions of ways, but what I am thinking about today is the connection we feel with the people and creatures we love.
The other day I was watching my one-year-old grandson playing. He made a funny noise as he was babbling away. I immediately imitated it. He giggled. We started a few minutes of absolute silliness laughing back and forth as I continued imitating his sounds. It was, of course, just a few moments of the day; but the feeling of connecting with his young spirit and mind was undeniable: our first real conversation!
How about when you and your best friend say the same thing at the same time? Doesn’t that feel great? Like someone really GETS you? Then you remember all the reasons why this person is so deeply entrenched in your heart: the common values and interest, the same wacky sense of humor, the loyalty and trust you share. Magic!
We all have these moments. You play with your dog and he knows the game and its rules. Fetch, tug, hide and seek….whatever. The connection is there, and his wagging tail shows how much he loves this interaction. You have grown to know each other in a very special relationship that crosses over the boundaries of species.
Or, you and your Person are watching an emotional scene in a movie. Just as you feel your eyes brimming with tears, he or she reaches over and takes your hand, and maybe passes you a tissue. Magic!
These small connections can go unnoticed. Or, you can pay attention, and this Love that binds us together can be the focus of your day. If you choose to be aware of what comes your way, you will find so many wonderful examples of relatedness in your life.
I hope that you recognize the Love that is, as they say, actually all around us.
It’s my Birthday, and I feel compelled to write something about the changes in my attitude toward aging. Ok, I am 69 today. Yes, it does feel strange to think about the actual number. BUT, here’s the deal.
I am so very fortunate to have achieved this number. In French you say, literally, “How many years do you HAVE”? So, owning these years is an accomplishment. I have 69 of them; and I have lost so many good friends and dear relatives who have NOT made it this far, that I see myself as very fortunate. I have no need to hide my age or pretend I am not getting older. It’s a really lucky thing to have more years. I feel really blessed today.
It is important today to take stock of what is IN my life, as well. I have People in my life who love me. They show me this everyday with their acts of kindness and caring. Friends, relatives, and my own Family show me constantly how they are happy that I am in THEIR lives, too. How incredibly lucky is that? My circle of close friends is supportive and attentive and giving: marvelous, intelligent, hilarious beings, all. I have my daughter and my grandson, who bring joy and laughter to my days.
I also have the greatest DOG in the Whole Wide World. Theodore, know to most as “Teddy”, is smart, loving, forgiving, and has a great sense of humor. He is always up for anything I suggest, and stays close to me to keep me in line.
And I have my True Love. He is sensitive, compassionate, courageous, protective, creative, supportive, and brilliant. So, today I will have another Very Happy Birthday. What’s not to like?
The idea came to me recently that human relationships have qualities similar to the navigation of a boat. (Hmmmm….I wonder why I am thinking in marine terms these days?) Anyway, here is the point: to successfully keep a relation-SHIP afloat (see what I did there?), both partners have to be able to navigate the dangerous and challenging waters of Tolerance, Patience, Compassion, Forgiveness, and most of all, Difference. We all see and experience things differently; just ask most couples and you will find some extraordinary ranges of perception between them. So, how do we deal with these, often extreme, disparities?
I have asked friends and relatives about what happens when two people have diametrically opposed views on…let’s say…politics. The answer I have consistently gotten is: “we just don’t talk about politics in our home”. Sounded rather strange to me at first; but then, as I understood more about the give and take of a long term and deeply committed relationship, I got it. There is so much more than political ideology between the partners, that they can put that piece on the shelf, and go forward. Of course, there has to be a very strong bond in place; a bond that is built on many commonalities of world view, life goals, civility, respect, mutual admiration, and…oh, yes..LOVE. You have to really LOVE someone to make the kind of concessions required to steer this boat. Each of you has to be ready to give the other a break, take the helm, and move smoothly forward.
Not easy, you say? What if your husband’s kids are a mess? What if your Mother-in-law is a constant thorn in your side? What if you cannot stand your partner’s ex? All of these things are potential Icebergs in the Sea of Love. However, this is where the work lies. We all have be willing to regularly work on establishing more compassion and tolerance, IF we want to sail off into that wonderful Sunset of longevity with our partner.
I think we need to pull back, take a deep breath, and inhale the deep and resounding Truth that Love is all you need. Really. If you have enough of it, you will find the ways to accept the differences, respect the other person’s perceptions, and honor their spirit. All this is absolutely necessary to keep that vessel chugging along.
I have been thinking a lot about Brothers these past few weeks. When I was growing up, I always yearned for a full-time Brother. I had a half-brother, Ralph, from my Dad’s first marriage, who lived with his own Mother and visited when schedules allowed. The childhood photo above shows us in 1959 when I am 8 and he is 11.He turned out to be very bright, funny, and a solid citizen-much like our shared Father. We have stayed connected throughout our lives, despite being raised in separate homes; since neither of us ever had other siblings, I think we bonded early and fostered that relationship despite our distance and very different interests. He is special to me for many reasons.
I have also had the good fortune to be given many other Brothers; these are the chosen kind, not the blood-related kind. Over the years I have forged some very tight friendships with some amazing men who have become what I think of as my “Band of Brothers”. These guys are smart, talented, and compassionate people who have, for one reason or another, taken me under their strong wings and supported me. Sometimes they are people I can call to just talk through difficult times, or people I have to call when something hilarious, outrageous, or heartbreaking happens. They are always in my corner, which is such a comfort.
First there is Thom. We met when I was dating my then boyfriend (later husband), David. He was one of David’s best friends, and I could easily see why almost immediately. Thom is amazingly talented, very sensitive, and full of that special combination of compassion and integrity. I know I can call him anytime and he will listen, comment, and cheer me up just by being himself. We have shared heartache stories, single parenting stories, and so much more,that I almost cannot remember a time when I didn’t know him. Angels guided Thom my way early on, and I am so grateful.
Then there is Lenny. This Brother came into my life when I was twelve and working during school vacations for a florist where my Mom worked. Lenny worked there delivering flowers for a while during his college years at Portland School of Art. He was 11 years older than I was, so our friendship didn’t really start until I was in my twenties. At that time, he was a well-known local artist and musician. I enlisted him to play in a band that I put together, and our strong friendship was cemented. Over the years we have discussed every subject imaginable. He has come through for me in so many ways, from musical situations, to support for my many and various creative projects. I also became close to his Family, particularly his Mother, over the years. We are truly Scorpio Sister and Brother.
Craig came into my life through David, as well. He was part of the original Los Angeles gang of musicians and buddies that I met in 1971. But Craig and I developed a separate friendship based on common values and hard-won fights. Our struggles were sometime similar, sometimes not; but we have always had an innate understanding of each other that has proven to be a real blessing in my life. When I hear his voice on the phone, I know I will learn something from him, and I know he will really listen to me. This talented and special man is another Brother I love dearly.
There are other Brothers in my life for various reasons. Neil will always be a Brother who listens, analyzes, sympathizes, and sends love my way. He is bright, complex, and empathetic in so many ways. Mike is my dear pal who is like family to me: we learned to write together in High School and have kept up our strong connection for over fifty years. He is very smart, kind, uproariously funny, and a true Brother.
As usual, when I reflect on my past friendships, I realize how lucky I am to have the people I treasure in my life. My Brothers support me, challenge me, protect me, and cheer me on. I love all of them. Thanks, Bro.
I have always thought of myself as having a lot of self-control and good anger management. Lately, however, I am questioning this assessment.
For example, if I see ONE more article, post, or advertisement incorrectly using an apostrophe (either when there should be one, or when there should not be one), I may go postal. Seriously. When someone writes “I hope your feeling better”…I want to scream! Or how about: ” I have a collection of Santa’s”. Santa’s what? Leftover cookies? Anyway, these are reasons that some of my pals call me “Conan the Grammarian”.
Another thorn in my side is the constant loud and ubiquitous usage of cell phones. Unless you are a World Leader, Brain Surgeon, or CIA chief, how important is that conversation you are having? I mean, really? Does everyone at the supermarket need to hear about your latest bunion removal? Do we all need to know that little Kaylie won a trophy for attendance? Will there ever again be silent shopping? Isn’t the “music” played over the sound system torture enough? But I digress……….
If I made a list of the THINGS THAT BOTHER ME THE MOST these days, it would go something like this: The News. I now call it “Death, Dismemberment, Disaster, and Divisiveness”. I can no longer call most of it Journalism ( in which I have a degree). Scam Phone Calls. They are constant around all meal times, and becoming more and more cleverly dangerous. I really wish I could reach into the phone and grab the jugular veins. Too much? Remakes of movies and television shows. Some things really cannot be improved upon, and no one should try. Waiting for to see a physician. It is stressful enough that you have to be in the Doctor’s office for an appointment; it seems to be extreme cruelty and abusive treatment to have to wait for (sometimes ) hours. Maybe the physicians could offer free craft classes while you wait; that way you could have your appointment and leave with a scarf or potholder.
Maybe it comes with age, this intolerance. Maybe we get cranky because we start to feel that we have less time to waste, and every moment is precious. Or maybe I am just feeling the accumulation of a lifetime of small frustrations we all get to experience. I don’t know why, but I am more easily given to thoughts of slapping someone upside the head these days. I guess as long as I don’t act on it, I am still within the bounds of civilized society. Right?