Currency

Last Saturday was the quintessential spring into summer beach day. Our spring in the Northeast has been less than stellar, weatherwise, but without any intervention, human or otherwise, it lands and somehow, the pain of rain, not only on the plain, fades into the brightest greens and blues. The ground bursts with flowers, almost as though they have been waiting behind doors, like the impatient young women at a Filene’s Basement’s Running of the Brides. We breathe a satisfied collective sigh, that we have not been forgotten, just a bit delayed and we forgive because we just do.

We tend to be loyal to certain local beaches, for the quiet and convenience this time of year. The usual crowds have not yet ventured there, so we park and walk between the tall grasses over the wooden walkway until we see the water. Buzzards Bay is spectacular, alive and so very blue. My FHB and I like to walk along the shore setting a goal to an area less familiar just to say we have. It’s like our own passport to stamp with just our footprints. We pass the occasional fellow beachcomber with the nod of a head and a smile behind our sunglasses. We feel rich inside.

A woman a bit older than me smiled as she approached and hailed me with a hearty hello. She reminded me of one of my mother’s older sisters, lean and tan, with a soft buttery leather tone, smile lines around her mouth and an energy that comes with being comfortable in her own skin. As she got closer she asked, “are you looking for beach glass?” and I was awkward and said “always!” and she stopped and told me to wait, as she reached into her pockets and the folds of her blue denim pouch, and poured a handful of tawny gold, green and blue pieces of glass into my hands. I immediately felt as though she was giving me some precious jewels, and I felt a bit shy and had a childlike thought of whether one accepts a gift from a stranger. I looked at her face, her eyes hidden by sunglasses, and felt the warmth and genuine kindness and desire to share. I thought, I have nothing to give her in exchange and that felt strange. I asked if she was sure that she wanted to give the glass to me because it seemed as though I should not just presume what I felt was all right. She laughed and assured me that there was more to be found and picked up her bag from the sand and we exchanged good wishes and we went our separate ways.

My FHB stood at a distance from this exchange, more curious than protective and then walked along, waiting for me to catch up. We seldom talk as we walk, as we each have our internal conversations with ourselves. It is a time of quiet reverie. My thoughts reviewed the moments before of a stranger encounter and my initial inner doubts. I thought that she reminded me of someone I knew and had always felt safe with, my aunt, who has been gone for almost sixteen years who walked the beaches of Maine.She shared her love of animals, and the beach and had the quiet resilient demeanor I just had seen. I settled down to a calm that mirrored the in and out of the pull of the tides.

My father studied economics and financial trends. It was not in the context of money, but more the thought behind the value of what we acquire over time. This translated for me into awareness of the subtle differences in the concept of wealth, riches, value and sustainable states of being. He would often remark that something’s value was identified merely by someone’s else’s need for that “thing” and that is what made it worth negotiating for.

Sea glass as currency. The enchange of something tangible that both parties recognize as making us richer, not in the bank account sense of accumulated funds, but in the wealth of all our connections, even in the briefest of moments. My aunt never had human children, but many dogs, cats and as a “baby nurse” she cared for and nurtured many people. The sea glass lady made me remember my aunt, and the glass exchanged enhanced my memories.

RecentIy, found among my writing notes (which are on small pieces of paper, hidden in drawers, pockets, robes, and other unexplained and wonderfully disorganized locations), a thought that had occurred to me as I walked another beach, not that long ago.

“My pockets are lined with shells, not dimes. Take only pictures, leave only footprints, am I in trouble?”

I am rich.

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The Paper Chase

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I appreciate rituals.  One of my favorites is to wake up on Sunday mornings, make coffee, and then open the apartment door, bend down and pick up my Sunday newspaper….until the morning comes and there is no paper.  In February, after a year long hiatus of deciding I had no time to read any newspaper, I decided that I would once again get a Sunday paper delivered to the door. Week 1, there it was.  Week 2, no paper and several phone calls and credit on the account and beaucoups apologies, which led to Week 3 of much of the same.  It was somewhat of a lottery, may it would appear and maybe it won’t.  Maybe I would have the winning combination or none of the numbers.  I don’t buy lottery tickets.

Mother’s Day is right around the corner.  My mother was a firm believer in things being done correctly and if there was an error, you make every effort to correct it. She was a bookkeeper.  They are precise people when it comes to numbers.  Should there be something wrong with a bill received, she was on the phone until she got to the person who would fix it.  She took no prisoners, and did not suffer fools gladly .  I think I inherited that gene.

After this weekly routine of no paper, big problem, no solution,  I decided I would take a page from Inge’s (my mother) playbook.  I went to the listing of the employees at the Boston Globe and identified who I believed should know about this.  I was not wasting time with customer service and sent an email to the Editor in Chief.  It was one of those “Go Big or Go Home” moments.  Most times, a picture might be worth a thousand words….in this case a copy and paste will suffice.  I’m sharing this as my Mother’s Day tribute to a woman who taught me something about perseverance and the knowledge that we have powers we can use to get to the solution.  If you are complaining, complain to the right person…and now without further ado…

Letter #1

Dear Mr. McGrory,

I was told when writing a letter of complaint or concern, to start with a compliment because that engages the reader. I would like to say that I love the Boston Globe. It is a wonderful publication filled with so much information that enlightens, provokes thoughts and starts conversations. However, sadly, I had to cancel my subscription because of sheer frustration. Apart from last Sunday, April 21st, I have had to have a weekly conversation with your customer service department regarding the delivery, or in reality, the non-delivery of my Sunday Globe. I speak to some lovely people who are trying hard to solve this problem, but unfortunately, they are too far away to drive and bring me a paper and don’t seem to have a solution. I don’t like to have to use the words “I am calling to cancel my subscription” to get some attention. Seems like a waste of words and time. Last week, when the paper was delivered around 9 a.m. I was delighted. It was like Christmas, although I celebrate Hanukah, but I am sure you get the drift.

Mr. McGrory, I was a subscriber for many years to our local paper, the New York Times and the Globe. However, life got in the way and it seemed as though the paper was just another thing I wouldn’t have time to enjoy. I decided that since I retired recently from one of my jobs that I wanted to start to read the Sunday Globe again.

I am a clinical social worker/therapist. I help people with their feelings and helping find solutions to solve things that stand in the way of their happiness. If I was counseling myself, I would say, sometimes you have to recognize that you have done as much as you can, and it may be time to let this one go.

I have followed your writing at the Globe for a long time. I admire your style and skill with words. I write a weekly blog so I like following others as inspiration. I would like to ask you to consider walking over to your staff that handle these delivery glitches and suggest that they figure out how difficult it is to get one copy of a Sunday Globe to a woman living in a loft in New Bedford. It clearly isn’t one of the major issues we have in our world, and I don’t want it to take precedence over all other things you have to manage. I get it. But sometimes, solving something minor when the list is long, feels good. That’s what I would tell my patients. I have run several organizations during my career and I always felt that I wanted to know what was going on “downstairs” when I was upstairs.

Thanks for reading my missive. I truly appreciate it. I wish you a good week ahead. They say we might get some rain.

Regards,

Response #1

Dear Ms. Kaplan,
You don’t often get notes of complaint that are as kind, as thoughtful, and as well-written as yours. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I’ve gotten one quite like it. So thank you. Thanks for your readership and your eye for stories and your attempts to keep your subscription going despite our best efforts to frustrate you.
I’m including here our absolute best customer service manager in a last ditch hope that we can make things right. Either way, please know I’m sorry for our obvious shortcomings and grateful for your support.
Sincerely,

Brian McGrory

Letter #2

Dear Mr. McGrory,
You probably know better than anyone the power of the word.  This last week reinforced for me that speaking up through writing, can fix things or at least get a dialogue going and perhaps evoke change, albeit (one of my favorite written words) a small one.  You heard me,  and set things in motion.  This dreary morning, a bit of good news came to my door  at  24 Logan Street.  Quite literally, the Globe delivery person showed up, twice!  I have twin copies of today’s edition.  One was delivered before 8:19 (when I dared to see if Diane’s work this week produced results) and the other appeared  at about  9:46 a.m.  Big smiles here! My husband referred to them as his and her editions.  You might want to consider that for marketing, although I think that may be a bit excessive and harm your bottom line.
You are a person who, in collaboration with a very tenacious customer service manager, made a difference and solved a problem. I am very grateful for your and Diane’s help.  My mother, who as my sister identified in her eulogy as being the person who, in her lifetime, wrote letters of complaint and concern to  many Fortune 500 companies, would be happy.  Seems fitting for this coming Mother’s Day.  She’d be proud of us. 
Don’t want to take up any more of your time.  I have a newspaper to read and you have one to edit.  Thanks so much.  Have a good rest of the day.
Best regards,
Response #2
I love this note, Mrs. Kaplan. Thank you. And thanks more for reading this Globe.
All credit here goes to Diane, who is as talented and valuable an employee as the Globe has. 
All best,
Brian
We all know that as problems go, this is a first world problem.  I just believe we have to start somewhere and  see where we land.  My mother was tenacious and as genes go, I know that this attribute is also mine to manage.  She taught us to try and follow through.  Like I said to my new friend, Brian.  She would be proud of us.  Wishing all mothers a day to reaffirm the lessons we learn from our mothers.  Make your mother proud!

#tinythanks

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A few days ago, as I was driving to work, Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” played on the radio.  The song brought back a memory instantaneously, and I smiled.  Almost sixteen years ago this June, I had surgery.  It had a good outcome and while I recovered at my sister’s house,  I received a Norah Jones CD as a get well gift from one of my sister’s closest friends.  It became one of my played-a-million-times favorites.  It was such a good gift.  I liked remembering that time in my life.  It propelled me to get her email address,  and send her a thank you note to let her know that I appreciated the gift, the thought, and the feelings that went with the gesture, sixteen years earlier.  It just made sense to relive the memory and share it with her.  She wrote back a couple of days later and told me that she didn’t remember having done that but thought that hearing it from me delighted her.  A full circle, in more ways than one.

When we get to a certain age in our lives we can look back and know that many of our relationships have changed due to loss or other circumstances, and present and future relationships may be lessened in number by time passing more quickly than we imagine.  I like remembering moments where I recall lessons learned, and pivotal memories that left an impact or possible change that I can pinpoint as something that changed me, in some small but satisfying ways. We come in contact with so many people over the course of our lives.. Almost every day, something triggers me to recall these moments. The more I have thought about it led me to conjure up a plan to recycle the memory with the person who helped me, either knowingly or who may be completely unaware of it.  It’s never to late to say thanks, again.  I’m calling these #tinythanks.

These #tinythanks can be done in a variety of ways.  I like the idea of the written word (or virtual written word, i.e. email) but a thank you note of any kind, virtual or snailmail might do the trick.  My FHB and I were talking about the process. He says that during this last year he has made a conscious effort to speak to his longtime customers over his forty plus years in his line of work through a phone call, just to say hello and let them know he has thought and remembered their connection over time.  He says each call gets a positive response, both for the person as well as for him, as they share their stories and acknowledge the length of the relationship.  He said he finds it often surprises the customer and creates that link, not necessarily looking to do business, but more to feel and share those memories. As in other relationships, a business relationship often grows into an enduring human connection.  If you are good at your job, you get more than an order.  It’s a win-win.  It might be a teacher, a colleague, an acquaintance, or perhaps a doctor or nurse who you have had ongoing contact with, who you appreciate for their work or the comfort you have felt at a difficult time.  It’s their job, but that human connection is so vital.

The most recent #tinythanks I have given were two memories of some minor what-to-dos and how-to-dos.  One of the first friends I met when  I moved to Massachusetts lived in an apartment and I notice that she kept all her makeup well organized in a big basket under her sink or next to her sink.  It left quite an impression forty three years ago since from that day that I observed how much sense it made, I have kept a similar set up which has made things easy and accessible and neater.  I like neatness.  I am fairly sure she hasn’t ever known that she taught me about that, but now she will.  The other email will be to my sister-in-law across the country, who, when we first met, had  basket of cloth napkins that I helped my brother-in-law fold after they came out of the dryer.  It was an ahah! moment.  I didn’t need to buy paper napkins ever again and they were pivotal in influencing a change in how I did things from that day on.  Good for the environment and good for us! Hence #tinythanks.

This is a bandwagon anyone can hop on.  It does good and feels good and makes most people a little happier to remember and be remembered.  There’s no scientific reason or statistics but this is one of those little things that can go a long way.  Building and maintaining this emotional bridge helps us maintain our memories.  There is so much we try and forget at times because of discontent and frustration.  #tinythanks makes me choose to remember.

 

 

Dayenu

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Context.  Finding a reason or meaning for a circumstance or situation based on the information I have at hand.  Taking the time to figure out how things fit together and why I am paying attention to them.  Another step in my emotional travels that bring me closer to being more peaceful and present, less stressed and a lot happier each day.  So, that was the goal that I established back in January, as the world turned, and here we are.  No bolts of lightning, or rainbows, or sunbeams that lead me to answers…nothing that dramatic.  In fact it still requires constantly working at  being happy, but let me tell you, it does get easier. It is like finding a flurry of puzzle pieces all at once which make you realize you are closer to finishing, but not yet done.  And here’s the other thing….the goalpost for happiness moves.  We move it.

I recognize that things are moving along because I am reading more books and savoring them.  Reading, for me, is a measure of how I am doing and whether I can concentrate on things.  When I can read a book, finish a task, it slowly all lines up.  When I can write on a regular basis, I can give myself two thumbs up, and I am grateful that I have two thumbs that work and point up!

“Dayenu” is the song we sing at Passover which translates to “it would have been enough”.  Passover is occurring this weekend and is the retelling of the story of the Jews being liberated from slavery in Egypt and led by Moses on  their journey to the promised land.  We tell the story to remember the struggle of our forefathers and foremothers.  We celebrate over a meal called the Seder, which includes many rituals and food that represent the events in the story.  It is filled with songs and prayer and often the length of the dinner seems to mirror the journey out of Egypt…or so it did seem when I was a child.

The concept of “enough” is linked to the concept of gratitude.  It is like two branches on a family tree, connected in a way that supports both and gives context to its value.  To recognize enough is to recognize gratitude.  Yesterday morning I left for work in a torrential rain storm. The skies were dark and forbidding.  The drive was treacherous. I refused to wear rainboots.  I never want to wear rainboots (a long story for another time).  It seemed so wrong that it was both Monday and it was raining.  I arrived at my office having to carry many bags (a genetic marker given to me from my maternal side).  I got inside, took off my raincoat and sat and stewed for a moment.  I turned and faced the window and noticed the rain had stopped.  The clouds were moving away.  I saw hints of blue sky.  I reset my mood.  I had a place to sit.  I had a job to do that I like.  I was surrounded by the sound of people laughing and starting their day.  The rain had been warm.  I was safe.  Nothing bad had happened.  I was fine, I am fine.

I thought back to twenty four hours before.  I was walking with my FHB at a favorite beach about six miles from our home.  The waters were calm.  The sun was bright and we felt the warmth on our backs.    There were a handful of people  walking along the shore.  We were all in a beautiful place on a beautiful day.  My FHB and I chose to be there and we were together.  I felt the feeling of gratitude in the day, in the company, in my surroundings.  It would have been enough to have just been together and yet it was all of that and more.  Dayenu.

 

 

From here to gone

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Yesterday my FHB and I were sitting on a  bench outside a bakery and coffee shop, feeling the warmth of the sunlight as it gently grazed our faces.  He remarked that this was a “civilized moment” reflecting on the pace of the customers and quiet demeanor of the city street.  As a man emerged from his car, my FHB called his name and they engaged in conversation, having not seen one another for quite a while. There was the polite introduction of me (as his spouse) to this gentleman, and the banter of time passing and time past.  The gentleman mentioned that his wife had just turned sixty and that they had reflected between them, that she, an artist, had not done much art recently, and that the time seemed to have gotten away from her. He turned to me and I remarked “Sixty, a point where half your life is over”.  He called me an optimist.  I smiled.

A week ago, a recipe popped up, from some website I was reading.  It was for creamed spinach, one of my favorites and one of my oldest son’s favorites.  He and his family were coming for dinner so that seemed like a good addition to the menu.  I saw the name of the person who created it.  I remembered that she had been more than someone who created recipes, a writer of all sorts of topics, someone I had read much of.  I googled her name and read her Wiki information.  Laurie Colwin, who died in 1992, had only been 48.  I remembered that I always enjoyed her writing and I did remember that she passed away so young.  I cooked the recipe and it was fine, satisfying, not memorable, and then I felt sad to think that.  I thought of other women writers who seemed to leave their lives too early.  Two that came to mind were Betsy Lehman, a health writer for the Boston Globe, who died at 39 almost 26 years ago, and Anita Shreve, age 71, who we lost last year.  I write “we lost” and yet I knew her only through her books, which is a glimpse into her imagination, but only one part we get to “know”.

I’ve been retired for five weeks and three days.  Seems like a long time to me.  The word still puts me on edge, as though I am supposed to do more resting and move at a slower speed. That part, I do get.  I know, reflectively, that I have always moved at 100 m.p.h., much like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland declaring “I’m LATE”. I know that is more of a metaphor for seeing time pass.  I am reorganizing my schedule to balance the work hours I still do, which allows me three days of work and four days of other.  My speed is probably still over the limit, but I have always had a lead foot when it comes to driving.  I push forward, and then retreat.  I pack too much when I travel to make sure I have all I need.  It’s only when I am on the trip do I realize that too much is too much, both stuff and time.

We have been watching more documentaries and films.  We watched “The Dames” which was a documentary of the grand ladies of film and theater in England.  Once again, we know them from their roles but don’t know much more than their work and jobs, and not their lives and loves and losses.  We are much like a full moon. We see the light, as reflected from the sun but we only see that side that is lit up.  The rest is in darkness, like our insides and inner side.

When I told my FHB’s business acquaintance that sixty is half of the time left, I knew that was a hope, not a promise.  My wish is for those grand dames and writers of recent past to be remembered and to remember, even though we only see a sliver of their light.  We can appreciate their work but we don’t know their “other”. The need to keep writing has become like breathing, necessary but not always easy.  To quote William Wordsworth

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”.  That’s my plan for now.

Faraway Grandma

 

The concept of Nature and Nurture.  Our natural world and our human world.  If you really want to understand the world, find a five year old and really listen to their thought process.  This past six days my FHB and I were able to spend a lot of time with our oldest grandgirl.  We travelled to the west coast and then we went with her parents, and with her, on an adventure to Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevadas.

We observed and interacted with beauty and grace and fury and peace.  We saw the treasures that are our national parks, that have withstood time and will stand for longer than we will ever be aware of.  It is one of those moments when you realize we are a blink in the world, but that is all right.  We just recognize the power of nature and our gratitude to be in it and honor it in that moment. I find that being surrounded by these majestic trees and granite walls makes me stand a bit stronger to meet nature, but not challenge it.  It is a feeling that I experience when I see the ocean.  I respect the water because it is far more powerful than I am.

And then there is the human world of a child growing before our eyes and reporting the essence of her relationship with nature.  “I love snow more than anybody” she declared.  She did amend that statement when her mother questioned “more than me and Papa?”.  Of course, when you are five, you can say in a firm voice “I never said anybody, I said anything” and you don’t revisit the words, but feel the force of growth and feeling rightly powerful.  She walked in snow piles, far taller than her, and conquered them with laughter and sliding down the piles on an available frisbee, with total unbridled joy.  Her father is a clever man and creative.  To watch this sweet family of Mama, Papa and the little whirlwind is to see a family of rules, compromise, patience and so much love.

This is also the child who asked “what do they do in war?” because she listened to a conversation among the adults around.  It is hard to answer that question and not raise a child’s fears or anxieties.  Her parents knew just how much to explain and make a little girl settle down and move on to other things to ask.

I am the far away grandma.  She is inquisitive…”do you dye your hair?” she asks and I get to answer “Let me show you this piece of hair underneath my bangs that is always white” and I distract her from the true answer, which is I highlight it the colors it was meant to be.  She gets to try and boss me around and my retort, with attitude is “YOU are not the BOSS of ME” and she says..”yes I am!” and we both laugh.  We spend our short time together getting reacquainted and remembering questions or comments about when she was little or a newborn.  My FHB and I have memories in segments of face to face contact but have to be satisfied with FaceTime and photos and brief phone conversations, when she asks her Mama to call “Saba and BeeBee” and then once connected, she is less curious and changes her mind. She is oh so five!  We remember, or think we remember, when we first heard her say our grandparent names.  Those are the very sweetest moments.  We are defined and thought about. When you are a faraway grandparent, you wonder if you are in your grandgirl’s consciousness.  We can lavish her with gifts of books and ballet and dresses, etc but we cannot fill the gaps of time between visits, as easily.

We observe her, like an exotic flower, and marvel in her lively demeanor and contemplative moments. We watch her breathing while she naps, while we travel with her.  We take in as much as we can in the brief time we spend in her company.  We listen to her words and interactions with the world.  It has to sustain us for a while, till we meet again.

Yosemite is mighty and has left an impact on our memories, present and future, but even more so is a for -the -moment five, almost five and a half year old sprite, because time moves rapidly and every change is precious and fleeting.  We leave her in the best of hands and look forward to the next time we meet.  As we grow older, so does she and so it is and so it shall be….we hope.