Renovation and renewal

Welcome to August….a vacation month for some. It’s a long month and it is the first August I am not thinking about going back to school. Instead I am thinking about what it will be like not to go back to school. I am also thinking about myself, in the best way possible…in a loving and selfcare type of way. And so I wish you all a wonderful August filled with whatever you want to do or not do. Do or don’t do it. Ponder, consider or just allow yourself free time and free space in your head. That’s what I plan to do. I’ll miss you but as the song goes…way back when….

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Memories and Moonglow

I realize that I no longer know how to measure or track time. I own two watches, an iPhone. The house and car and office are filled with clocks, and the computer, iPad, all have the time. It’s not the actual hour or minute that mystifies me. I know the days of the week, the month and the year so I am not anymore disoriented than usual. It’s just more of trying to ponder how long ago things have occurred in my lifetime. Context…yesterday I read that it was thirty-eight years ago that Harry Chapin died . I was thinking about him and then thought of Jim Croce and wondered when he died. Not a matter of morbid curiosity but more about just checking the date to see how my memory is, since somehow I get them mixed up for no good reason. Jim Croce died in 1973. So that’s almost fifty years ago. Now we are all talking about it being fifty years since the first two astronauts landed and walked, hopped, and jumped on the moon. We all watched. My story was much the same as yours, I would imagine. My parents took my sister and me, two apartments down the hall to a lovely neighbor’s home. She was an older woman (seemed ancient, was probably 70) and she had a color television. It was late and we were in our pajamas and she was very hospitable. She gave us cookies and we sat silently, almost reverently, and watched history being made.

I have, somewhere, a copy of the issue of Life magazine’s souvenir issue of the coverage. I also own the cover of the Lennart Nilsson photos of the drama of birth and babies. When I try and sort and discard these possessions, I always look at them carefully and closely. I remember seeing them for the first time when the issue arrived at the house. My parents would read the magazine and I was asked “do you want to keep this to remember and show your children?”. I was 11 in 1965 when that baby issue was printed. I saved them, but wasn’t thinking about children I might have or grandchildren. I was only 11. I seemed to be the archivist of old newspapers of assassinations, elections, scientific moments, victories, tragedies. They still are kept safe. I may have shown my children at some point. They may have had vague interest. Will I show my grandgirls? Perhaps. I can’t throw them away. Not yet.

I love the moon. if I had to choose between the sun and the moon, the moon wins, every time. It’s approachable. People have been there. People like us. The sun, not so approachable. The moon is ours….everyone’s. It belongs to every living creature we share the earth with. It belongs to the earth, our earth, our only earth, our only moon. My moon, your moon, our moon. There are plenty of songs about the sun but the ones about the moon seem endless. The moon is a river, it has a dark side, it’s over Miami and Frank Sinatra sang about flying there. The moon and Frank. That’s a winning combination. Would I go there? Sure, why not? And then again, I’m not so sure anyone should go there. Twelve astronauts have been there. I just like to imagine it as being left to sing about, and wonder about, and contemplate on, but left alone. We have this earth, our only earth and we have not done a good job of caring for it, have we. I think we have not set a good precedent for caretaking of our only personal planet. So, don’t fly me to the moon. Just let me and the rest of us bask in the moon glow and moon shadows and maybe write a song. Does anybody really know what time it is?

Memories of a patriot

When you are a first generation American born to people who left their childhood homes for religious freedom , to avoid persecution and death, you hear a lot of stories of why coming to a new country , albeit scary, becomes a new narrative of opportunity and hope.

July 4th, 2002. Boston. Boston Pops. Mom and me. My dad had died three years earlier and my mother had come to Massachusetts to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. My mother, not so much my dad, had been a huge of the Boston Pops. I wondered if she had a “thing” for Arthur Fiedler, but I digress. I was alone back then, and so was she. I decided to celebrate the 4th with her in a big way. I had rented hotel rooms in Cambridge near the Charles River within walking distance to where the Jumbotrons were set up to transmit the holiday concert from the Hatch Shell, across the river. We walked into the hotel and the change in temperature from the hot, sweltering day, reminded us that it was July and it was going to be a bit warm as the evening unfolded.

I knocked on her door and when she opened it, I saw, not a woman of 77 years old, but a youthful spirit filled with energy and a smile bigger and broader than I had seen in a while. We set out toward the riverbank to find a place to sit. She chatted the whole way as we traversed the construction all around the paths through the streets of Cambridge. Do they ever not do construction, I wonder? We stepped around stones and cement piles, around fences and pylons. We passed people of all colors, sizes and ages and the energy we felt was strong and vibrant. It was the first July 4th after 9/11. We could look at the faces of our celebratory companions on this day and they were open and smiling. We were a collective of people, of like minded citizens of the world.

Mom and I walked along the people-filled path, strewn with blankets, lawn chairs and orderly disarray. The jumbotrons were transmitting the view from the other side of the river, and the group there, closer to the stage, were peaceful and there was a lot of red, white and blue to see on faces, and t-shirts and headgear. We hadn’t brought chairs, so it was our mission, after finding some bottles of water to drink, to find a good spot with a great view. Mom observed the crowds and commented and expressed her utter excitement and joy at being here. We had watched it from home for years, but this was different, so different. I felt my father’s presence with an ironic smile, and eyebrow raised, looking at us, smirking. He was an observer of kitsch, but he was never in the kitsch. This was pretty kitschy and I was sorry I hadn’t brought some little flags for us to hold.

I spied some steps and took her hand as she looked around in all directions. I said to my internal voice “She’d better not fall down, that’s all I need”. She walked like a five year old with a wondrous grin and I directed her to the steps. It was the library of MIT and we had a fabulous view. The evening sky was filled with heat and colors of the soon to be sunset. The sounds around us were filled with lilting commentary. We made eye contact and smiled. The heat was tempered by the gentle wind and when you are happy in your place, you notice the pleasure of a moment. It was time for the concert to begin. There was a military formation flyover. I looked at my mother who seemed to hold her breath, with her eyes wide and she released the breath to a calm. Keith Lockhart raised his baton and the music filled each molecule of air around us.

She leaned into me and whispered “I never thought it would be this wonderful. Now I can tell my friends I saw the Boston Pops on July 4th in Boston, and my ass was seated at MIT”. She grinned the grin of victory, of memory and sheer delight. That’s my mom, an American patriot. She came, she lived, she loved her country.

Groan Up Stuff

My FHB’s and my combined ages total approximately 134 years (if you don’t calculate the months). So when we were asked to help with packing and moving one of our kids, and his lovely partner in life, from graduate student housing to their new city and state, to start their lives and new jobs, we jumped at the chance. Okay, that sentence is a pretty much a total lie. Since our son has gone to college, grad school, work, and then back to grad school (different degree), we have had multiple opportunities to be in on the now exhausting task of packing and moving. So, here’s the rub because he couched (he actually left the worn couch) his invitation with “look Mom, when I asked you for help ‘moving’, I didn’t mean the actual moving part, but just the packing stuff part, because you are both so good at it!”. That one, he’s a charmer. Kind of like saying you’re a pretty precise person, could you help dismantle this bomb we found?. You have that momentary feeling that your child is confident in your abilities, and really likes you, and loves you, and you feel honored about even being considered for this special task, and you realize that wrapping glasses and kitchenware, boxing books and putting clothing in hanging bags, is hardly akin to winning the Nobel Prize or dismantling anything with colored wires.

That realization, among other ones, did not stop us from getting in our car yesterday, and driving about two and a half hours on the hottest day we have had this calendar year, to walk up a flight of stairs, create boxes, and begin the process, yet again with a smile on our faces (mostly mine) and help these two young people (whose combined ages are 55) get out of Dodge and head north. When you ask things like “what shape are things in?” before you show up,you are prepared to be told “Great! Fabulous! We’re ready!” and then you realize that he is a shoo in for Williard Scott as king of hyperbole. And yet, I fall for it every time.

You might ask why do that? Is it a Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt moment with the football? No, I would have to say, in my own defense, no. My FHB might be my unwitting (unwilling?) accomplice, however, if it went to the jury, it would clearly be seen as a joint venture. Those who are parents of adult children who hold their ground with helping, are amazing. Those who are parents of adult children who hold their children’s suitcases, blankets, etc. are equally amazing and often amazed at how we find ourselves in this situation. We laugh ironically and tell ourselves “never again” which is often why we have multiple children…we forget and then we remember, but not necessarily in that order.

I know that once penguins have babies, they don’t necessarily recognize them as life goes on. It’s a dog eat dog and penguin ignore penguin world. Actually the penguins do recognize their relatives by sense of smell and sound, so there! I am less sure about the dog world. In the human world, we like our kids and like that connection, most of the time, especially during non moving events. Who doesn’t like to be needed? We know that the transition to the real adult part of life will happen and can be overwhelming at moments. We also know (or at least I know, and I guarantee my FHB will state he is totally aware) that we didn’t necessarily have that kind of oversight by our own parents to the degree we are willing to go for our kids these days.

Families are complex, constantly shifting (and moving) organizations. We’re a team, a motley crew, misfits on the Titanic. I like being helpful. Sure, maybe I was duped. You would think I would learn after 14 times of moving myself and at least 5 times of moving this son (not including the years during college). Even my FHB, who questions the sincerity of the ask, good naturedly shows up, offers some help and a couple of raised eyebrows and rolling eyes. So what if the puppy grows up? We remember they were awfully cute and now they are good humans, doing good things. We can’t hold them back and we can’t stop them. We have to let them go and become adults, and we have to make sure that their boxes are well packed when they get to that next place on their highway of life.

A City’s Soul

It is the longest day of the year. I drive through our neighborhood. I refer to it as the gritty part of the city. I observe the storekeeper putting out his merchandise..mostly used, but hey, recycling is what it is about. Old bicycles, air conditioners, a couple of chairs. It’s not the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, there’s no dressing about it. It’s just stuff for some who need stuff or need to leave stuff, for a quick buck or two. A man leans against the building and watches the traffic at the four way stop. He gazes over his cigarette smoke, waiting or just watching with nowhere to go but where he is. There’s a woman carrying some groceries, walking up the hill, at a metered pace. She looks old, but she may not be. She may just be tired. A mom staring down at her phone, while her two small kids are running ahead, and looking back, just to see that she’s still there. A little more green on the trees as summer approaches slowly. A community garden with someone tending it, hard at work, making something grow in the middle of the grit. I love this city, my city.

A city has a personality, a soul. I have moved in and out and around this city, New Bedford, for almost forty-three years. I celebrate it. I come back to it. I travel far from it and I return. It’s where I call going home. I have been writing this blog for just about three years, next week. I started it four years ago, but couldn’t figure out what to say. Took me a year to connect with my words. It’s taken me a lot less to settle in this town. There’s the New York City minute and there are New Bedford moments.

Where we do our living, our life, really only matters to us. We define our purpose, and our goals. Recently I had a conversation about what’s the point of this, our lives, and happiness and getting to happy. Did I start off my grown up life planning to land in New Bedford? Absolutely not. Did I envision this life I have right now? I can probably say, not really. Do I look back and look forward and recognize my life, my happy? Yes, that’s me. Could always use more happy, and give away some drama. Do I have somewhere to go right now. Sure, dreams are free, but so am I. I just read something about our memories encumbering us on some days and freeing us on others. This city, is the city of memories, of dreams, mine and others. Contentment lives in the big fancy houses and also in the gritty part of the city. I can afford my dreams and hope I never run out of them.

Catching Time

Where does the time go? One of those rhetorical and metaphysical questions most of us wonder for which there is no definitive answer, for sure. I don’t feel an internal change of who I am, other than the aches and pains related to having the same body aging that we all experience some days. In my mind, I feel young and very alive. Yet, I am alive but alas not young by the calendar or the clock. This weekend is the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death. It seems like moments ago in many ways since I can remember him vividly, hear his voice easily in my head, and see examples of his impact on my life and others he connected with all around me. It is jarring. If twenty years seems so recent, how will twenty years from now appear?

Several weeks ago, a very dear friend and colleague had arranged for us to meet up with our mentor from about twenty-five years ago as we had last seen him about twenty years ago (another number that keeps popping up, it seems). We had talked about seeing him and she took the initiative to arrange a lunch date near to Boston. We all are busy people, so it required a concerted effort to coordinate this date. She and I drove up to meet him at the restaurant and we talked about what he might look like, because we remembered him a certain way, in our own anticipated “Dorian Gray” experience. We were somewhat excited, yet there was some trepidation, as to whether we had truly recalled him as he was, or as we had imagined he might have been. We wondered if we would have something to say, or whether it would be awkward, and then we arrived. We were there first and made a little fuss about how we should be seated and where, giving that decision probably too much meaning.

While she stepped away from the table before he arrived, I looked around toward the entrance to see if I would recognized him. In that brief moment, I almost believed that I must look the same as I did so long ago, and thought would he remember me…and then realized, I know I am older, too. In an instant, he appeared, looking around, a bit lost, and I called him by name and he smiled broadly as I approached. He said “Barb! You haven’t changed a bit!”. I laughed out loud and said, “Let’s sit down and be more comfortable as we lie to one other”. My friend came back to the table and they greeted one another warmly. He spoke easily and comfortably and the time faded away. While they spoke, I looked at his face, his eighty year old face.The same face I had seen almost daily, in the past, with the same smile and voice and timbre and tone. We had so much to ask and to tell and catch up, the time evaporated quickly and then it was time to say goodbye and wish one another safe travels and the words “let’s do this again, soon” passed through all our lips.

She and I got back in the car. She spoke excitedly about how well he looked and how much fun it was to catch up and share our stories. She’s quite a bit younger that he and I. I felt that, and yet, I felt a melancholy feeling of loss with a hint of sadness. It was partly the realization that in fact, he was the same in a myriad of familiar ways. He was engaging and charming, but he also had shared stories of loss and adjustments to profound life changes, and it was startling to recognize that he is fifteen years ahead of me in life, and the feeling that he was a beacon of the future journey was present in my consciousness.

The melancholy faded a bit, replaced by the recognition that time is measured in discreet moments, for us to catalogue (the good ones) or discard (the not so good ones). Sometimes we have to consciously choose what goes where but in that mindset, we have already chosen, haven’t we? My father was a bright and brash young man, who had been challenged by the history being made around and in his life, as a Jewish child, teenager and young adult in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany. He was an immigrant at 15, and an American soldier less than ten years later, a husband within five more years and a father within five years after that. He taught us to love nature, and classical (the only “great”) music, and love of family and history, personal and world. He worked hard, was successful in business, and regarded with affection and respect by many people, including his daughters and his wife. His death came quickly and unexpectedly at age 77. That number looms closer and closer.

The aftermath of loss, the comfort of re-engagement with old friends, the recognition of how to manage this construct of time, is the takeaway from recent experiences. If there is a finite definition of time, we can’t be tethered to it because that is like counting the ticks of the clock for no good reason. I am going to honor my father in a way that allows me to remember and hold memories, but make an effort to make more memories in a proactive way. He would like that quite a bit, and even more so, if I could set it to music, a little Mozart perhaps.

Empty Promises

Oh, I am quite serious. The old saying “timing is everything” is quite relevant. This has been a quandry that has irked me for a long time. Since there are a lot of situations that I cannot impact because my power only extends as far as I allow it…think unleashed german shepherd puppy, I felt a need to bring my concerns to the forefront of my mind. This way I can share it and possibly delete or file it elsewhere so I no longer feel it is my burden alone.

It seems to me that there are people out there who don’t even think twice about doing their “thing” (use your imagination because if you don’t know what I am talking about, you shouldn’t be reading this), and then leave blithely, ignoring what I consider to be their responsibility. Yup, change the roll. I am so convinced that family members, and strangers in strange rest rooms, see me and think “she looks nice and responsible, she’ll do the right thing, yessiree, she will”. Problem solved. So here’s the thing, I am that person. I show up when the work needs to be done. I will change that roll. It might be a social worker thing. We help others, even when we believe, and I do, that they are capable of doing what’s right. I am an example setter, which is different from a trend setter or Irish Setter, but there are some crossovers. I can be funny, energetic, convincing and change opinions (that’s the therapist in me). However my hair is no shade of red.

How do we get others to make small changes that help one another. It’s the little things that irk us and yet the cumulative effect builds irritation, resentment, and the ever increasing anger and belief that “if only” and “why don’t ‘they’ ” mounts and compounds our internal disconnect. It can be applied to so many situations, environmental, social, political and of course, in rest rooms.

In my ever thriving imagination I envision a short dialogue that people (not cats, where I do change the litter because she just gives me a death stare till I do it) have with themselves. Imagine this….there are perhaps three, maybe six, small, thin sheets left upon the roll at entry. They clearly see it, and sigh. The discussion goes like this ” Ugh, why does it happen every time, that there is “almost” nothing left” Looks around, sees another roll. Contemplates the situation and makes a decision “I will use only three, and so the next person will have some to use” or the alternative internal thought “Tough on them, I am going to use it ALL, and maybe “this place” will figure out that they need to be on top of their job and improve the quality of the services!”. That choice implies that it is not their fault, nor their responsibility. An awkward metaphor, at best, and yet reflective of something we all think or feel or believe to be true. So, now what?

So, is this a call to action? Perhaps. Is it a cry for mending our ways…you know who you are. Or is it a reflection of being passive when we think it doesn’t matter, because there is always someone to take up the cause, when we are ambivalent or tired of feeling guilty, responsible, you name it. I’ll continue to do my part because that’s where I set an example. We have, as always, a lot of things that grab our attention that we recognize as problems. I’m just pointing out this little one.

Be the change. Change the roll. Be a roll model. Let’s roll. Whatever it takes…smile and do something.