The Eastland Ballroom & The Two White Gowns

102_8158102_1732I was looking at some vintage photos of downtown Portland, Maine the other day; it struck me that the Eastland Hotel, which has changed names more times than Liz Taylor, played a significant part in my fantasy life. You know, that life that we live in our hearts and minds whether or not it ever becomes Real?

Anyway, it was June of 1968 when I graduated from Portland High School. In those days, the Graduation, Senior Banquet, and the Senior Prom were all rolled into one very hectic day. We called it “the Senior Prom” back then…not “Prom”.  You see, we weren’t too busy to use three words and give it the proper distinctive significance it deserved. I had a super duper gorgeous White Gown for my Senior Prom. It was, in my eyes, sophisticated, dramatic, and just the perfect dress for a seventeen-year-old’s  dreams. I fantasized a night of romance, dancing, and being swept off my feet by my handsome (terribly young) suitor. It was a lovely night, actually. The Eastland Ballroom provided a magical and very glamorous background for the Senior Prom of 1968. We did dance and schmooze with all the other sophisticated Grads; everyone was moving on, and it was a last big chance to do it up right. Later we kissed and hugged and stayed up all night, silly teens that we were. My Mom threw a Luau themed breakfast for all those who had the strength left to straggle in the following morning; having been up all night, most of them looked quite bedraggled and some were still “half in the bag”. I have the photos to prove this.

Twenty-three years later, I  once again walked down that curved staircase at the Eastland into the room filled with well-wishers at my Wedding Reception. This time I had a really stupendous White Gown, covered with sequins and lace. I had dreamed of my entrance with all eyes on the Bride, and it matched my fantasy exactly. However, the magical qualities of that day faded, since my marriage was perhaps largely built on Fantasy, too. I didn’t get to know my Groom well enough before we were married, and it turned out we were poorly suited for one another after all.

The relationship with my charming High School boyfriend faded in the Fall of 1968 when I attended Boston University. How could it not? He was a sweet boy, a year younger than I, and our paths went in different directions very quickly.

The marriage (my second)  whose wedding and reception had been so carefully planned, was a failure after seven long years. How could it not be? We were too different, and that does not work out. I held onto the Fantasy of it for a year or two, but even the most die-hard dreamers have to wake up sometime!

So, as you look at these two photographs of me in my White Gowns, you can see some similarities. There is the young girl in the first photo with hopes and dreams of a teen written on her face. She knows very little, yet thinks she knows so much. She’ll find out.

The second photo shows a 40 year old woman projecting her fantasies and hopes and dreams onto a lovely Wedding Day. She knows very little, still. She’ll find out.

Ironic that these two events should take place in the same room.  Both events shaped me in different ways, and  both held moments of great promise and big dreams. And, as Robert Kincaid said in “THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY”, “The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out, but I’m glad I had them”.

 

No Receipt Necessary

103_5986Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a couple years now already know that I have written a lot about my Mother, her decline from Parkinson’s Disease, and my struggle dealing with all of that. Today I am writing something different.

My Mother passed away on Saturday, June 10, 2017. There. It’s in writing, so it is officially REAL now. Yet, it seems surreal to me; even after ten years of watching over her every move, it doesn’t seem possible that the person I have known for all of my 66 years is completely gone. Forever. And that Finality is what is difficult for the mind to grasp and process.

So, I have cleaned out her room at the long-term care facility where she spent the last six and a half years. I have gone through the boxes of stuff that accumulated in that room: angel figurines, little crosses, stuffed animals, cards, letters, donated knitted items, and prizes she won playing Bingo. These items show the love that her friends, old and new, felt for her. Most of them will be donated to charities, or offered to her granddaughter.

I will keep a few things: all the photographs, the paper memorabilia from her trip to Italy, and the medium weight fleece coat from L.L. Bean that I bought her a few years ago. She only wore it a handful of times, as she rarely left the building. I’ll wear it when I go for walks in the Fall, and that way I can take her with me as I enjoy the changing leaves.

The photograph that I have chosen to use for this essay is one that captures part of my Mother’s essence. She loved the Sun, and she was ultra stylish; so this 1940’s picture of her ( I think it might be at Old Orchard Beach) really speaks to me.

It’s hard to chose a single photo to represent someone; we are all so many different people as we grow and age. In the same way, it is hard to look through the boxes of belongings that are left behind when someone dies. The person whose life ends in a nursing home has only a tiny fraction of the things they accumulated; by this time most of their earthly belongings have been bestowed upon others or donated. It seems odd to me that the physical sum of my Mother’s long life has been reduced to several boxes and half a dozen large plastic garbage bags. And, yes, I know, dear Readers, that those material objects don’t really represent our Spirits or our Hearts. They are simply evidence that we lived, made choices, developed relationships, and loved other beings.

But, it is still strange. My Mother and Father owned large homes with dozens of rooms, decorated by my Mom, and lovingly furnished. She was an immaculate housekeeper, and a creative homemaker. The kitchen was always redolent of freshly baked pie or simmering tomato sauce. Her closet was filled to capacity with the latest fashions, shoes, and accessories. Her jewelry box overflowed with spectacular costume jewelry. During the Christmas season, she decorated every room in the house with sparkling floral arrangements, wreaths,  and Santa with his reindeer. Now, just a few boxes to represent a life full of joy, sorrow, enterprise, family, and friendships.

I drove up to the donation door of Goodwill yesterday. I unloaded the huge sacks of clothing, shoes, pocketbooks, figurines, and miscellaneous tchotchkes into a rectangular wheeled cart. Thousands of dollars worth of fashion now bagged up in lawn and leaf garbage bags. Remains of a life well-lived. The pleasant young girl with the pink stripes in her hair and the huge tattoo on her right shoulder asked me if I would like a receipt.

I replied “No thank you…I’m good.”

 

Helen

 

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I walked past her room and saw the empty bed. When Beds are truly empty, the sheets are folded neatly, the blankets are tucked in. The bed stood idly in the room with nothing around or near it: no photos, no mugs, no clothes, no stuffed animals, no belongings of any kind. The bed being alone, stark, and lifeless, cried out that which I feared: She is gone.

I walked back toward the Nurse’s station and found Mike, the kind and diligent Nurse to whom I have looked for so many answers  about my own Mother.He sat with his back to me at the computer. I braced myself.
“Mike?” I said.

“Yes?” he answered without turning toward me.

“Helen?” I asked.

He turned slowly, and faced me with perfectly measured compassion and control.

“She passed away three weeks ago. She went quickly.”

I was stricken. Then I complained and argued that I had just been there two weeks ago, but hadn’t had time to visit with her. He assured me that she was gone by then. I listened while he explained the circumstances of her sudden decline and her death. I mumbled something about being glad that she went quickly, and left.

I cried all the way home. My daughter kept trying to comfort me with the only words we have for any of this: She’s in a Better Place.

Strange, how very sad I can be about this lady’s passing. We shared little conversations for the past five years as I came each week to visit my Mother in the nursing home. I tried to brighten her day whenever I saw her struggling to push her wheel chair up to the dining room. Sometimes I gave her a push wherever she was headed; sometimes I just stopped to visit while she was eating lunch. Often, because we shared the common ground of having graduated from Portland High School, we sang the Portland High Fight Song together. She had told me she was a cheerleader in those days, so I knew it always brought a smile to her face to sing “Wearers of the Blue” in unison.

I brought her small gifts and little wreaths to trim her doorway during the Xmas seasons. She gave me sweet assurances time and time again that my Mom was, indeed, “doing so well”. It wasn’t true, but I think she wanted me to know that someone else was watching out for my Mom, and that someone else really cared about her. She enjoyed my Mother’s company for  years before Parkinson’s Disease, and its accompanying late stage dementia, took away my Mother’s memories, access to the present, and ability to clearly communicate her thoughts.

Helen was intelligent and educated. I felt so sorry that she was physically so compromised while her mind remained intact. The amazing thing was that she did not complain about her condition. Even when she looked so bad it was hard to see her without wincing. Even when her hands were so deformed she could scarcely use them. Even when her head was angled toward her neck permanently. She never complained.

Sometimes you find love and compassion and friendship where you least expect to find it.

I would have bet a great deal of money that I would never have made a friend in the last place I would have looked: a long-term care facility. And, I would have lost that bet. Helen became my friend despite my squeamishness and distaste for the sights and sounds and smells of a nursing home.She became my friend despite my weak stomach and revulsion at human illness and deformity. She became my friend because of her heart and her mind and her soul. She was a beautiful spirit trapped in a sadly decaying physical body.

And, thanks to her kindness and love, I came to see her as someone I loved.

I will miss her, and I will remember how she changed me for the better.

 

 

Mother’s Day 2017

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I usually detect the Blues creeping into my consciousness near most Holidays. Mother’s Day  is no exception. I know, I know. It’s supposed to be about getting breakfast in bed, and useless but treasured trinkets from your kids; or, about a celebratory meal honoring all the living Moms in the family. But these days, it’s more about trying to downplay those memories, and deal with visiting my aged Mom at the nursing home. I’ve written extensively about this subject, so those of you who read my blogs know how tough it’s been to watch this decline. Many of you identify with this process, and have your own troubles to deal with today.

But, something I saw on television this morning has turned me inward and upward today. There were several stories, well produced and worthy of the tears I shed at the end of each segment, about people who had lost their Moms already. In these stories there was a common thread of resilience and gratitude in which I found inspiration. The adult children who shared their experiences spoke of learning to get to know their Moms better as they themselves aged, even though their Mother was no longer physically with them. This makes sense.

The older we are, theoretically, the wiser, yes? So, as we mature and grow, we can more clearly see how we connect to our Moms, and what they gave us. And that, as one person said, is our heritage.

I am thinking today of how grateful I am to have had my Mother for all these years; to help me see what I wanted and what I didn’t want. She gave me so many lessons in how to persevere, how to let things go that weren’t all that important, and how to move on. She also gave me a sense of why it’s important to always be there for your children. No matter how complicated, oblique, or deeply layered our relationship became, I always knew that she was, bottom line, on my side.

One of my good pals  lost his Mother to a heart attack when he was still a very young man. All these years he has lived without a Mom; and today I feel a special sadness for his losses. When he got married, he didn’t have the joy of that hug from his Mom after he kissed his bride. When he got divorced, he didn’t have the comfort of going to his Mom’s for lasagna and encouragement. When he produced a wonderful album of his original music, he didn’t get to call her, while she was listening for the twentieth time, and have her tell him how great his music was. Or hear her singing along to her favorite of his tunes. And when his Dad died, he didn’t have his Mom there to console him and remind him of how much his Dad really did love him always.

I’ve been lucky to have the connection I’ve had with my Mom. It’s never been a perfect relationship, but I guess there really is no such thing, anyway. I’ve seen what happens to people who aren’t assured of their Mother’s love: I’ve seen the way the World rips them apart and tosses them into the churning Sea, time and again. When they don’t have that certainty, they have no anchor to hold them fast against the tides.

Today, in this present tense, I know you won’t understand much of what I am saying. Your dementia has taken you from me and the many things we shared. But I am going to say it anyway….just in case there’s an Angel listening that can translate for me. Thanks, Mom, for being there. For giving me life. For keeping me safe and dry. For teaching me how to be so grateful that I get to be a Mom to my darling Caroline. Thanks for setting an example, that was passed down from your Mother, on how to love and share and “take what comes”. I love you, Mom.

End of the Innocence: Summer 1963

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This past six weeks I have had a series of illnesses that kept me inside, mostly reclining, and thinking a lot. It occurred to me that the last really great summer of my childhood was that of 1963. I spent most of that summer with my family at a rented cottage on Unity Pond  in Central Maine.  Our rental was part of a little compound of cottages in a cove near the golf course. The families who owned the other cottages were friends and acquaintances of my parents, and all the kids were schoolmates of mine.

Now, the reason that this particular summer was so great, was that we were, as a country, still a bit naïve. We knew about war and chaos, and many of the adults in our summer place were WWII veterans. We knew about the dangers of nuclear war, and had even been to the brink in the October 1962 Missile Crisis. But, in other ways, we were still a country of relative innocents.

We listened to Lesley Gore’s teenage angst in “It’s My Party”, and we marveled at the harmonica virtuosity in a song called “Fingertips” by a young lad named  Little Stevie Wonder. I was twelve, so I yearned for the ultimate sophistication of becoming a teenager, which was still months away for me. My girlfriends and I dreamed of dancing with boys when we listened to Bobby Vinton croon “Blue Velvet”, and we weren’t quite certain what to make of the bad boy the Angels described in “My Boyfriend’s Back”.

In our little cove we got up early, put on our bathing suits, and spent the days swimming and boating. On rainy days, we stayed inside and played Monopoly. Our parents had cocktails in the late afternoons on the screened porches of the camps, and the Moms created a flotilla on plastic rafts during the day to gossip and catch some rays.

We had canoes and rowboats and motor boats. We swam to the “float” and pretended we were mermaids, or Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt”. We used our goggles underwater and made up bazillions of games that kept us in the lake all day. When it was time to eat, my friend Dean’s father would cook hot dogs and burgers on the grill. My Mom would make quick and easy meals like spaghetti  and salad and cupcakes. The parents would combine forces and have potluck on the picnic tables. At night you were so tired from playing hard all day, that you slept soundly with the lapping of waves on the beach as a lullaby.

The sun seemed to shine most of the time that Summer. The parents were enjoying their vacations and laughing a lot. A few of the older kids pushed the limits, but most of us behaved pretty well and got along with each other. The Country was in a pretty good place with a remarkably intelligent young family in the White House.We were unaware of major events that would change our happy world, and that is why it was, in retrospect, such a lovely time.

That Fall, I turned 13 on November 21st. On November 22nd, the charismatic  46-year-old President Kennedy was killed. Everything changed. Really, everything. No longer were we a nation of innocents; now we all knew that really bad things can and do happen when you least suspect that they will. I wish we had never learned that.

We changed as a Country on that long, horrible weekend in November, and we changed as individuals, too. This was the beginning of suspicion and mistrust of the institutions many of us had regarded as above reproach before. This was the beginning of a lot more divisiveness and discord. This was the beginning of an era that saw us plunge more deeply into a very unpopular war, recoil from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and protest violently against all the injustices that were to come.

It was no longer possible to feel those “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” that Nat King Cole sang about. We were too frightened to go “Up on the Roof” with the Drifters, as we had before. And we searched for something that would transport us to a happy place in our minds, as the Beach Boys had done with their singularly American images  in “Surfin’ U.S.A.”.

As the Summer of 1963 faded into Autumn, we were not prepared for the enormity of the changes that we would soon face.  We were unworldly, ingenuous, and trusting. I guess that’s what I miss the most about the Summer of 1963.

 

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

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A new friend urged me to write something about the subject of watching a loved one fading away at the end of their life. I suspect it is something that many of my readers have experienced, or, unfortunately, may have to experience in the future.

This is a complex process. It is hard to accept the sudden loss of someone you love, but it is equally hard to accept the slow, agonizing decay and decline that comes with debilitating illnesses. I have lived long enough to have seen both kinds of loss. So, is it better to rip the Band-Aid off all at once? Or do you take it slowly?
Well, the issue here is that you don’t get to chose; God, Fate, the Universe, Randomness, or whatever you believe in, does the choosing for you. You just get to go along for the ride.

Since I have been dealing with the Long Goodbye, I can speak somewhat authoritatively on this subject. My Mother has been fighting Parkinson’s Disease for over 13 years now. It has been a remarkably courageous fight on her part, but she is not dealing with an Opponent whom she can never beat. She is now in late-stage Parkinson’s dementia, and the Fierce Rival has taken almost everything away from her.

As I sit with her now, watching her eyes shift onto hallucinatory objects and scenes, I am consistently amazed at how little of HER is still with us. She is/was an amazingly energetic,  quick-witted human with a marvelous sense of humor, an unceasing sense of fashion and design,  a high Intelligence Quotient, and the determination to move mountains. Now, as she sits helplessly in a wheel chair, unable to formulate the words that could communicate her thoughts, she seems to be NOT my Mother, after all. It’s like the announcement at the end of Elvis Presley’s concerts: Elvis has left the building. My Mother is occupied with scenarios we cannot see and events that could have occurred decades ago; her companions are ghosts of Christmases past. She cannot have conversations with me, or relate to anything I try to tell her about the present. She is not sure who I am anymore, but she seems to still regard me as someone close to her, someone she trusts. That is pretty much what I have left of HER.

The decline of the mind is terrible, and yet fascinating to watch. It hurts so much to see my Mother’s facile and curious mind become an unreachable field of erratic memories and haphazard thoughts loosely strung together by the neurons that are still firing. She no longer can assimilate current events or relationships. She recognizes people that are somehow familiar to her, yet she is never absolutely certain how she knows them. I become her sister, her friend, her acquaintance….but rarely anymore  her daughter.

One of the hardest things for me to accept is that I cannot fix anything about this situation. I no longer have even the smallest sense of control over her health issues or her daily activities. Since I am, by nature, a caretaker personality, it is a struggle to admit that I am powerless now. I can fill out her menu, as I have done for many years; but I cannot be sure she will eat. I can make sure she has coordinated clean clothes, but I cannot be sure she will wear them. I can no longer know if she has a pain or an ache, because she doesn’t connect too much with her own well-being anymore. All I can do is trust the folks who take care of her, oversee her general condition, and pray for the Best to happen for her.

And what is “the Best”? Do we  espouse the words of Dylan Thomas in his famous poem to his Father? Should we  want our loved ones to “Rage against the dying of the light” anymore? Or would it be best for them to slip away from this reality with as little pain as possible? It is a stunning lesson and a questionable place to be, isn’t it? To learn that there might be things worse than that which we fear most: death? That perhaps living in a twilight where nothing is certain and no deep connections are left to anyone or anything we loved, might be worse?

For what makes us who we are, anyway? What defines an individual’s personhood? I think it is the interests we develop and cherish, the beings we love, and the choices we make. It is our ability to continue to learn, to laugh, to investigate, to model behavior through our values, and to share our love. When we lose all of these, who are we then?

I am not sure. But I know that my Mother is not the person she has been to me or to others for most of her full and interesting life. She is frail and incomprehensible. She is lost in a shadowy world where often she cannot be reached. I sincerely wish I didn’t have to see this , but I remember how hard she worked to raise me, and all the amazing things she did for me when I was growing up, and I cannot look away.(Surely taking me to the Beatles concert in 1966 and dealing with 25,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs  is enough to warrant loyalty forever!) I cannot abandon the Good Ship Mother, as it struggles with the crashing waves and sinks slowly out of sight. I must keep my eyes on her until the end.

Beneath the Bitter Snows

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I haven’t posted anything here for a while. I have needed to  be quiet and listen. It’s been a rough time, these past couple months. Upheaval, bitterness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and shock. So, I have had the need to reflect and look inside. What can I/we do when one is faced with deeply  troubling and seemingly incomprehensible change?

The Answer is no surprise to any of us.We must still get up every day, and do our best. Whatever that means for each of us; we owe it to ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens to be the best Americans we can be. This will require us to be compassionate, thoughtful, measured, patient, and diligent. We need cool heads, long fuses, and commitment to our deep convictions.

No one should ever give up in the face of difficult changes. Winston Churchill is famous for saying” Never give in, never, never, never, never…”. He may or may not have said: “If you are going through Hell, keep going”. I’d like to think that he did. Anyway, it is sound advice.

We will find the end of this intricate, convoluted maze. We will find the end, because we have to keep going. We must move forward and make things better for our kids and their kids. I don’t think we could sleep too well at night if we gave in to apathy and indifference. That’s just not who we are.

I look out each day at the frozen landscape that is January in Maine . No sign of flowers, no green grass, no buds on the trees. My rhododendron look so beaten and lifeless. My flower beds are indistinguishable from other mounds of snow. It all seems so hopeless.

But, then I remember Spring. I remember how determined these plants and trees are each year; how they never cease to surprise me with their struggle to once again reach for the Light. They pop up from the ground in all their glory; they push through with new green life, and eventual color and beauty.

So, as the song says:

“Just remember in the Winter, far beneath the bitter snows, Lies the seed, that with the Sun’s love, in the Spring becomes the Rose.”

Clobbered.

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December 30, 2016  brought us a massive Nor’easter that dumped inches and feet of snow throughout New England. My own back deck, pictured above, tells the tale.

Perhaps you can identify with this, no matter where you live. As a Storm approaches, you watch the news, and get more and more agitated with the increasing details. You turn away from it for a while and try to engage yourself in something productive; but there’s something in the atmosphere, the falling barometer, the wind, that engages you. You cannot stay fully committed to your normal activities; the Storm begins to envelop your thoughts. Will the roof hold? Will the huge trees throw limbs at the windows? Will the power we are accustomed to having disappear suddenly, leaving us without the security of warmth and light?

While the Storm rages, you are captive inside your house. It is unsafe to go out, and certainly travelling is out of the question. Where would you go, anyway? You look out your windows and see the accumulation, knowing you will have to deal with all of this when it is over. There will be lots of shoveling, and it will be laborious and unyielding work. You will have to dig your way out of this somehow, and it will be exhausting.

Once the Storm subsides, you must diligently and thoughtfully assess the damage. There will most likely be much more damage than you thought, and you will be on your own to repair it and clean it up. The Good news is that you will be able to see all of it more clearly, now that the Storm has passed over you. And, that is also the Bad news.

Looking out at all of this, we begin to count the weeks and months until this Stormy Weather is over. We hold on tight to our memories of Spring and Summer, and know that if we can hold on long enough, they will come again. Someday.

So, Happy New Year. We can only hope that 2017 is not the tsunami that we fear it will be. We must Keep Hope Alive, and work hard to effect positive changes in the neighborhood in which we live. We must be prepared to take cover if the wind shifts course, and keep a weather eye on approaching Storms.

2016 is over; but stay vigilant, dear readers. I think I heard about a blizzard predicted for the third week in January.

 

Flying Reindeer

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It’s Christmas time, again: that Season of great expectation, goodwill, charity, and severe depression. For many there will be the dinners with family, travel, parties to attend, gift swapping, religious services, and the resulting exhaustion. For some, who have no family and few friends with which to share these rituals, or who are indigent, or sick,  it will be a lonely time…much lonelier than the other days, due to the huge presumptions heaped upon the Holiday.

I am one of the lucky ones. My Mom and Dad made many special Christmases for me, and so have my friends and loved ones since I left my parents home so many years ago. I am surrounded by people who buy me gifts and put every effort into making my Holiday superior each year. My daughter listens carefully to what I might want all year long, and always gives me something that proves she pays close attention. So, my Christmas celebration is always filled with love and a generous helping of indulgence on all levels.

Having said all that, why is there still a feeling of some trepidation as we approach December 25th? Why do most of us get a twinge here and there, and a nagging feeling that we must fight off the Blues before it gets a hold on us? My best guess is that with all the hype and commercialism of this time of year, we face those aforementioned presumptions head on. We cannot ignore that we are supposed to be with those we love, sharing the chestnuts that are roasting. And maybe some of them are no longer with us. Maybe we reflect on those treasured memories and it hurts just a little more during this Season. So, we bake more cookies, buy more stocking stuffers, and put a hat on the Dog for his annual photo by the tree. Anything to keep the Grinch from appearing and ruining things in Whoville. I am not saying we sublimate our feelings or block them or deny them; I am just saying that I believe most of us  find coping mechanisms each year to stay balanced and cheerful. Some people drink or do drugs. Others shop ’til they drop. I bake more cookies.

Whatever route you take, if you are like most people of a certain age, you find your way to the Star. I remember that during Christmases when I was alone and somewhat dejected, I would always put up a tree, decorate, wrap gifts, and bake. The rituals helped, and in the end, Christmas came, anyway, as Dr. Seuss would say.

So, what is the reason for the Season? We know that the original reason is to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, and all the miracles that followed his remarkable life. But if you take the man made religious parts away, and break it down to the basics, it becomes this: it is always better (and more fun!) to Give than to Receive. When you are a child, maybe you are focused on the Receiving end, but what adult cannot see that the joy comes in Giving? If you follow Christian theory, Christ gave his Life for Mankind. That is the ultimate giving. But even if you shy away from the religious aspects of this Season, it is still obvious that the real pleasures in life come from doing for others. Your family. Your spouse. Your friends. Your community. You are probably ten times more likely to give to the poor or volunteer at a shelter this time of year.

So, whatever your spiritual belief system, you can enjoy Christmas. It really is the most wonderful time of the year; because more than any other time, a lot of people are focused on how they can make someone else happy. They give, share, and contribute more. They stop thinking about themselves for a little while, and put others first. And while Flying Reindeer come in a close second, people striving for Peace on Earth and sharing some Goodwill with their fellow humans…that’s the real miracle of Christmas.

November

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I have been feeling pretty gloomy, these November days. Since the election I have had a real sense of defeat, disappointment, and dissatisfaction. Not just with the resultant “vote”(whether legal or tampered with), but also with the condition in which we find the United States.

In the past I often joked about an old man I knew as a teen; he lived upstairs from my family and was a real curmudgeon. Mr. McDermott: an 80-something Scotsman. He would curse and yell at the television when commercials interrupted his programs. I thought it was funny then, and have made many jokes at his expense over the years. But, now I have a sense of camaraderie with Mr. McD. I get why he was incensed at the advertisements. It’s all about maturity and perspective. We can see, as we attain “d’un certain age”(as the French would say), the foolhardiness of our brethren. We rage at the stupidity of their naïve outlook and shortsighted choices. And we are frustrated at our powerlessness.

Today there is so much more at stake, it seems. Or, perhaps, we are just more informed of how much there is at stake. Maybe we just know too much about war, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, catastrophic illness, environmental disasters, and man’s inhumanity to man and all other creatures. Maybe we just know too much.

Since I have always been a believer in the line President Kennedy attributed to Dante (which has been perhaps loosely reinterpreted through many centuries) that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who retain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”, these are tough times to navigate.

What do we do, as Americans raised with certain values that seem overlooked and outnumbered? How do we justify apathy? When and where do we see ourselves returning to our idealized version of the U.S.A.? Was all this a dream? Will we awake to find Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower?

November is gloomy. It’s always gray,  and chilled, and foreboding. I never thought it was fair that my birthday fell in such a dismal, dreary month. The sky holds the threat of snow here; the sun struggles to break through thick clouds, and then retreats again.

We are stuck with this gray, misty moment. But, as any optimist worth their salt will tell you, the sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun. We have to take a deep breath, get up, and get going again. We have to try to incorporate the goodness and strength and steadfast ethics of our heroes and our predecessors  into each action each day. Do good. Do the right thing. Pay it forward. Love thy neighbor. Hug a tree. Kiss your dog right on the snout. Teach your children well. Give Peace a Chance.

We will get through November…..and any other rough months ahead. I promise you, or my name isn’t Mr. McDermott.