Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Uruguay Amethyst Geode

It’s happened to you. You are reading something and you come across one sentence, or a paragraph–WORDS that hold you to the page or your screen. Words that have revealed a thought you’ve had, but expressed in a way that  jumps off the page–like magic.

Consider:

It was a nice thing for her to say. In her way. With Greta, you have to look out for the nice things buried in the rest of her mean stuff. Greta’s talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there’s something that shines through.

I love this passage, because it relays the thoughts of fourteen-year-old June Elbus who tells us the story of her relationship with her Uncle Finn, an artist who died of AIDS. But the “Greta” in the quote is her sister, a few years older, the one she now tangles with on a regular basis. Can they make it right by each other. (The novel is: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt.)

June’s words, her reflection is on page 52 of a complex story, but it leaped off the page for me, not only because it’s an insight that will come back to complete the story, help the troubled relationship between the two sisters. But also because it is TRUTH.

In our lives, the people that make us crazy, who we sometimes wish we had never met–they are the ones we must acknowledge as human and in the most surprising moments they can say things or do things that reveal their humanity: something that shines through.

Do you know a person who talks a line that starts to give you hope? And then they turn around and annihilate that hope in what they do. THINK: some politicians!! or a friend, even a family member. And think: what did our mothers or fathers tell us when this happened?

  • Oh, she didn’t mean it.
  • Give the guy a break.
  • Tolerance, could we just have a little tolerance in these situations.

Those are all good suggestions, and as June in the novel learns–and we all learn–some people you give space to, hoping they’ll come around and HAVE YOUR BACK–don’t fail you. They wake up. They arrive when you need them. They cement a bond that might have been broken.

But there are also those that never do come around. They are:

  • the salt in a wound instead of the salt of the earth.
  • Their first thought is of themselves and you can go blow in the wind.

Or actually I might be wrong about both those evaluations. Sometimes we just don’t know why the love we sail over to them, the phone calls, the emails, the attention–falls flat. They might arrive in your life years down the road and think nothing of it. But you do, because you wanted to keep that relationship alive. You wanted to be there for them and they wanted to disappear.

Ironically, great thinkers and leaders know that’s not the way to go. If another human being reaches out to someone, a response should occur. It cannot always be commensurate with need, but one dollar, one meal, one phone call, one smile–is better than none.

So if there’s a person in your life, right today, who you are trying to reach, trying to love or help–listen for the magic words. They might be there–and you’re so angry you can’t hear them. Or they might be disguised in bravado or sorrow. That happens ALL THE TIME. But if you keep on giving of yourself, the right words just might come shining through. They won’t be MEAN. They’ll be the KEYS to more communication.

At the end of the novel, Greta helps June to accomplish an enormous task. She’s her support, she provides encouragement–which is something we all need:

“It’s all going to work out fine…I’ll keep an eye on you.”

Here’s hoping that someone in your life RIGHT NOW will open up, keep an eye on you, give some magic sign that they know you need them and they NEED YOU TOO.

Photo credit: The Crystal Rock Store Uruguay Amethyst Geode

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The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

I totally believe that my husband and I are soul mates. But what does that mean exactly? To expand on my own ideas, I’m sharing sections of a piece by Ada Calhoun that appeared in TIME. Her recent book is the memoir WEDDING TOASTS I’LL NEVER GIVE.

HISTORY OF THE SOUL MATE CONCEPT

The idea of soul mate goes back to Plato’s Symposium. Zeus, thinking to humble humans, split them in half, forcing us to wander in search of our other half. As Calhoun writes, this mythological concept is VERY ROMANTIC, but has kind of messed us up–as some people keep searching, denying that a happy, healthy relationship fits that bill–and casting about continuously for THE ONE.

Calhoun admits to thinking she had met the magical one–only to discover in the bright light of reality that no–if he was her soul mate, they are definitely over-rated.

ROMANTIC CHIVALRIC TRADITION

J.R.R. Tolkien loved his wife from his teens until her death at the age of 82. But he also had some interesting things to say about our obsession with soul mates and blamed it on the Romantic Tradition. He wrote: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake…It takes, or in the past has taken the young man’s eye off women as they are–that is companions in shipwreck…not guiding stars.” 

Such a great statement and so realistic. Life can never be all positives. It’s when the loved person is there when things get tough, when there’s some kind of shipwreck, that real love comes through. Long-lasting love affairs, Calhoun writes, are about time, patience and commitment. Possibly years of dating can also develop these ties that bind. In the end, you are a kindred spirit or the soul mate, because of true knowledge of the other, forgiveness, and consistent love and understanding.

ARE WE CREATING A SOUL MATE? 

In her piece, Calhoun writes about a friend’s parents who appeared to be soul mates, but really didn’t have much to bind them together. “She was Jewish, and he had a good job. That was enough for the marriage to begin.” But they struggled while raising their family and talked about separating when that part of their lives was completed. But what had happened during that time? When the children were grown, they discovered that neither wanted to leave the marriage.

DIVIDE and CONQUER

I can only speak from the one marriage that has blessed my life. When we started out, we were both working, but SILLY ME insisted that I take over the household chores, because my husband came from a large family and had already had a large share of domestic life. He bought me a washer and dryer a month after our wedding. YAY. We had a small townhouse (thank you Park Forest, Illinois) with hardly any yard to mow. To save money, I made lunches for me to take to my teaching job and he to take to his insurance adjuster job in downtown Chicago.

The lunch thing ended abruptly for my husband when in front of co-workers, he opened a sandwich of liver sausage on raisin bread. I was fired! (That’s all I had in the fridge.) But you see, we were developing a marriage. I was forgiven and yet a fable was born.

I fired him from lawn mowing because “I’ll do it on the weekend” just didn’t work in a Chicago spring when it rained every weekend and the grass was a foot high. GIVE AND TAKE.

Like the saying that a cold with medication lasts two weeks and one without medication lasts 14 days, our marriage is solid. No one could have provided for me better, loved me more and fathered our children with constant care, understanding and humor than he. A photographer, trip planner, universal fixer, wine connoisseur, film partner and of course loving husband–he is mine. A total blessing. We decided a few years ago, that marriage should feel comfortable, like a worn and beloved pair of slippers. Anxiety is out. Our home is warm and companionship reigns and he always remembers to set the light timer and check the smoke detectors!! Good will abides within our home.

THUS COMFORT REIGNS 

Tolkien believed “The real soul mate is the one you are actually married to.” That makes sense to me. The years of discovering this person within a marriage–his and her depths, beliefs, weaknesses and strengths–is like water flowing against a rock or a tree growing against a wall. Throughout the years, the give and take forms and shapes us within the relationship. We learn when to push ahead and when to pull back. As Calhoun states in her piece, THE IDEAL PARTNER IS THE ONE YOU CREATE.

Photo: TIME MAGAZINE online

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Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

On the way home from a writer’s retreat, I’m up in an airplane, praying. No, it’s not turbulence, it’s thankfulness. I have just attended a four day retreat with fellow writers, and I’m feeling grateful for: words, ideas, computers, paper and pen–and most of all READERS and fellow writers.

THREE BELOW

But as always, I think of my three children down below me–their lives spanning the continent: one in Boston, one in Chicago and one in Palos Verdes California. Ah, they are all so different, yet all working with the same DNA. They are my dear friends and sometimes my quiet critics–and they are all mine and my husband’s amazing fault! But the prayer is one of thanksgiving and of WONDER.

Because here I am still adventuring and they are living their own pathways and their own adventures.

STARTING OFF POINT: THE SAME

At some point, all three started the journey with the same gifts: ate the same foods, heard the same loving words and lullabies, enjoyed the same childhood books and music, were hugged and tickled, encouraged and guided by the same parents, grandparents and other family members.

But being their own individual people, along the journey, doors opened or closed to these common elements. They chose who they would love, where they would live, what they would like and dislike, what is most meaningful or as #2 says, what blows your hair back. 

It’s called becoming who we will be and has many labels. Here are a few: guitarist, classicist, vegan, green, poet, agnostic, spiritual counselor, politically involved, iconoclast, getting by, wealthy, MA, BA–singular in choices and proud of it.

And I am proud of each of them–their pursuits, the people and places they love, the devotion they give to music, children, work, the environment, their lover, their country and always the words on the page. They all know the value of reading, of poetry and prose, of research and knowledge. Damn, they are all so WONDERFUL.

BUT ENOUGH OF MINE  

These words, I hope, lead to thoughts of your own creations, whether living on the planet or existing in your head, the children of your mind. We bring to our culture so much besides our DNA–great thoughts power the globe.

FINAL OFFERING…

is a link to my book of stories which continues the journey of being a mother and having a mother (we all do.) It’s my A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, now available on Amazon in ebook form at a lower price–3.99.

Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075PH3D2D/

Thanks for reading. Thanks for all you do to help another human being, whether it’s your own flesh and blood or a total stranger. We are all in this together.

P.S. Sample story here: http://boomerhighway.org/windows-one-mothers-view-of-her-world/

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo credits: independent.co. uk.  Foreverland Press.

Feelin’ Groovy–You Can Too!

http://www.designerspics.com/,

They are just for you.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy.

This is POETRY, MAN…(and woman)  So lift me up, make me feel good and groovy.

Today, during these times that we are living, more than ever, I need groovy. I need Paul Simon’s song and lyrics, or to be immersed in a Bach fuge or Bill Evans’ endless piano trills. Call it escape if you want to, but sometimes we just need to be SAVED from gathering darkness, fear, illness, lies, hurts, you name it.

HELP FROM SOME POETS 

  • Jill Bialosky has written the book POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. So which poem saved her: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
  • “I read my own story in (that poem). There are two roads one might travel: The road where families are whole and not broken, and fathers don’t die young, and mothers are happy…and the road I travel, which is crooked and not quite right, with bumps along the way. I know it is important I choose the right course.”
  • The poem helped Bialosky realize that what she was experiencing did not have to mark the rest of her life. For her, poetry made her see: “…I’m included. I belong. My imagination has given me a coping skill.”
  • Then today, I stumbled upon this line: “Don’t Fear Poetry”…an interview with poet Matthew Zapruder and his book Why PoetryHe wants you to read poetry and feel comfortable. 
  • He sees a poem as a kind of individual portal: “Poetry comes to be, each time, in the mind of each half-dreaming reader.” Poetry is not a puzzle, a code or riddle to solve. Rather when things are hard to talk about, poetry works. Poetry relates complex ideas in the “simplest way possible.”
  • Zapruder says that when he was reading poetry, he would get mysterious feelings about life, things hard to talk about, but things so precious to him. Thus he became a poet and a lover of poetry BECAUSE that’s what he wanted from his life!
  • Zapruder says: In a poem, language remains itself–yet is also made to feel different, even sacred, like a spell. I love that. You can fall under the spell of poetry. 

BUT POETRY TODAY, REALLY?

Yes. You are in the doctor’s office; you are on your lunch break; you are in a car waiting to pick up your child. What are you doing? Where before we had to search for print media–a newspaper, a magazine, a book (I still try to always have a book in my bag)–today, as Zapruder says, “I just pull out my phone.”

But then he questions himself.  What happened to all those moments? What happened to all that time? 

And he makes a very good point. “I think that poems remind me of what that time was like before everything was so harnessed to usefulness. …the old technology of the book. It starts giving you a little bit of your time back.

WHAT DOES HE MEAN? He means that we all can be poets, that with a notebook app or a pen and paper, we can recreate what life once was for us, the life we noticed.

  • jot down how the sky looks; the sun on the grass;
  • describe the smile and laughter of our child this past morning;
  • briefly defend with language a point of view;
  • capsule feelings about a friend, enemy, bit of news, the world you are seeing right now;

But the final point that Zapruder makes is the most important one.

  • Don’t SHARE what you write.
  • This is just for you.

I confess writing is an intricate part of my day–almost every day. I keep a notepad by my bed and I jot stuff over articles and on ads–where paper and pen are handy. Sometimes even my phone. And I look them over. Some I discard. Some I keep. WHY, because they’re good, I can use them in future blogs or in my novel. Because, basically, they’re GROOVY.

GOT A FAVORITE POEM???  Which one. This you can share. 

Photo: DesignersPics.com  free download

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Writing, Creating with Compassion

Writing, Creating with Compassion

Being a writer in today’s contentious climate can change your vision. It can make you either hop on the current bandwagon of anger and hurt, or make you want to think only happy thoughts, create a new world as you go, or simply focus on topics that have escaped contention. We need both.

WHAT TOPIC TO CHOOSE

I follow the blogs of other writers. I tend to be more serious while some fellow writers can knock out a light-hearted piece over and over. We need those. It’s like watching a great comedy where laughter is a gift. Because reading a newspaper every day and listening to news can really drag you down. Writers must create with variety. But also with compassion.

INSIGHT FROM DONALD MAASS 

I follow a blog for writers that is blessed occasionally with a piece by New York literary agent and author for writers, Donald Maass. He offers incredible insights into the writing process, but he also lives in the real world and in answer to another writer’s post recently wrote: (Note: I have altered his response slightly)

Stories do not require a consensus.They do not legislate.Their purpose is to persuade. But persuade us of what? And how? 

In a novel, (or screen play, script that becomes a film) to prove others wrong, it is first necessary to acknowledge that they may be right. So…

  • create characters who represent divergent ways of thinking and doing–actually opposing ideas are represented by opposing characters. (Brilliant and basic. Every television drama presents tension–because people with differing points of view are interacting.)
  • But to be strong, each character must face their weaknesses. (As writers,  our characters face what we are afraid of). As readers and viewers we will not be moved unless we see humanity first. The character must fail. And then to persuade us to change, the character must change because of the failure. They see the light, in other words. 

Maass states: 

  • Writers must create antagonists whose case is excellent and heroes who are flawed. 
  • But in order to truly be a hero, those characters must learn and then change. 
  • Thus the power of storytelling to change us (the reader) lies in the courage writers summon to see things as others do. It depends on creating heroes who are flawed and must learn. Most of all, it requires that authors humble themselves, writing not out of resentment but out of twined compassion and conviction about what is right.

Maass asks: What is the bell you will ring in your writing today? What clear and simple truth does it sound? Words are strong when you know their purpose. Stories speak loudest when the storyteller first listens.

I AM LISTENING

Writers speak through their characters. They use their so-flawed-ideas and their closer-to-perfect ideas. Both are on the page. My novel-in-progress. presents a crack in the foundation of a marriage: one of the partners decides to forget an initial pledge to be compassionate in life and help others. He is turning away. She is not. But that doesn’t make her an angel. Maybe she is overboard and thus wrong in her belief that she can change people through empathy and compassion. It helps me day to day to grapple with my own fears and insecurities while getting into the skin of my characters.

FINDING COMPASSION THROUGH SELF-TENSION 

This week Erin Aubry Kaplan published a piece in the LA TIMES, entitled A New Reckoning for Whiteness. And I found a connection between the hero of any novel or story wrestling with his or her flawed-ness, before becoming a hero-again. And myself wrestling with my own lived life. Kaplan writes that our current president’s “both-sides” problem just might make some citizens grapple with a crucial question: What does it mean to be white? Or, what does it really mean?

For me, it was a hard piece to read. But necessary–that’s why I am sharing it. Kaplan asks: “It (the question) requires individual answers to intimate questions: How do I feel as a white person? What advantages do I take for granted based on my skin color? How do I see nonwhites? Or do I see them at all?”

Kaplan writes that if white people struggle with these questions, she has struggled with similar ones all her life: “What sort of black person are you? Middle class or ghetto, articulate or down-home, educated or irrational, bourgeoisie or radical?”

She writes that currently, “no one can indulge in the illusion of togetherness. He’s (POTUS 45) disrupting a surface that needs to be disrupted, for good.”

She’s saying that in order to write the best American story, each of us “characters” has to look and acknowledge our flaws before we can go back to believing in the “prefect union” we so desire and thus become the heroes of our story. Please read the entire article to see the whole of her argument. It might be disruptive — but then we are becoming used to that EVERY SINGLE DAY.

In conclusion, I have been examining my whiteness. Yes, I benefited from living in a middle class Chicago neighborhood and attending private schools. I knew few black people growing up. My high school was integrated, but barely. Did I make an attempt to befriend my fellow black students? No. Maybe I felt myself absolved by the literature I was reading and getting A’s analyzing. CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY. Big deal. In college, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the black students printed a piece in our newspaper with a photo of them gathered. They called themselves the “worms in our apple.” By the time I was teaching high school in an integrated school that pulled from neighborhoods of poor whites, middleclass whites and poor blacks–I was more awake than ever. And I fought to stay awake. But even now, I wouldn’t give myself an A plus, that’s for sure.

SO WHAT’S THE END OF THE STORY?

I want to be open to the world and all its colors and brightness, all it’s variety and hopes, dreams and pains. I want that to flow through my fiction and encourage you to comment on this post. We are family–all of us. Time to work on our flaws and become the best people we can be. Compassion, anyone?

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See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

Odd. No one is in denial of America’s Aug 21 total solar eclipse. Like Climate Change, methods & tools of science predict it. These words were tweeted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of America’s foremost scientists whose name is synonymous with anything related to science.  

At least for this one day, August 21, 2017, Americans are in the grip of science and eager to learn about it, see it, experience it. I say BRAVO!
The widow of Carl Sagan, an American astronomer known for popularizing the study of science through books and television shows who died in 1996, said this about the coming eclipse:
“Think of it. We’re born in this kind of cosmic quarantine with no knowledge of what’s going on in the solar system, let alone the universe. And every now and then there’s an eclipse or every once in a while a comet appears in our skies. This is a kind of inducement to figure out what’s going on.
 
I’m glad we have [eclipses] because it reminds us of that sudden chill–the motion of the birds, the way that the rest of life reacts to the blocking out of the sun. It has that kind of mythic, biblical power to it. And it should.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Sagan, is an American astrophysicist and author who communicates with eagerness and a smile about anything you might want to know about science, the heavens, the eclipse, research regarding the solar system and yes, global warming. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

That center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003. He is joyful about his work and whenever you see him in public, he is wearing a tie that pictures the solar system, the planets and shouts out: I’m an astrophysicist!!

See the Eclipse: Support Science & Global Warming

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson states: There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you. It’s the laws of physics that allow us to say exactly what time the sun is going to rise. What time the eclipse is going to begin. What time the eclipse is going to end. Monday is the day, but if you don’t have protective glasses read this piece in the Washington Post: Can’t find the protective glasses to watch the solar eclipse? Go old school.    

Science can help us use electricity efficiently, teach us about the planet we live on, help us cure diseases, reach for the stars…and on and on. Science can help us save our planet. Enjoy the eclipse in whatever form that takes for you. And do yourself a favor: read up on global warming. Help save this beautiful planet. Read and treasure the words of Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Photos: Seattle Met; Pinterest;

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Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

The little boats saved the troops at Dunkirk.

I’ve had enough of alternative facts. I’ve had enough of powerful people either in our government or operating as talking heads, obscuring the real tenants of religion. Whether you are part of a church or not–I hope you will agree with me that some of the basic principles used to found “this shining city on the hill” have been kidnapped by powerful people who do not care about their fellow man or woman–not in the least little bit. They could give a damn about loving their neighbor, unless that neighbor can grease their palm and make that first or second yacht a possibility. But if the neighbor is asking for legal help, looking for work, asking for good medical care, wanting her child to get a good PUBLIC education–FORGET ABOUT IT.

NO NAMES 

You might already have stopped reading, but in the hope that you will continue to hear me out, I will not use real names. But I will state my case.

In our country today and maybe across the globe, there now rises an alternative religion. It preaches through various voices that hating another man’s religion is okay. Much of this comes from ignorance. Yes, there are members of a certain faith who have twisted its basic tenants to support killing anyone who does not agree with them. THAT IS WRONG. But there was a period in past centuries when Christians armed and ready, took to their horses and in the name of Christ killed many. This was called the Crusades. Click on the word and read about it. The Crusaders USED religion to gain power. Wow, not a new concept. It’s going on in our country right now.

LIVING BY EXAMPLE 

I found the following sentence while thinking about writing this post. I don’t know who said it: You push people down and you have two choices. RAISE THEM BACK UP or arm yourselves. There is much truth in these words. But also a problem. With there being two sides we want to believe that one side is right. That one side is moral.

OKAY: One side is working to live, feed their families, and practice their religion. The other side is filled with hate, doesn’t want these people to live, take care of their families and practice their religion. (I started to write this post on Friday, having NO IDEA that #Charlottesvillle would occur. But it has.)

PREACHERS ARE HUMAN & COME IN ALL STRIPES

To be a preacher, sometimes all you need is a great voice, a few great lines and a Bible. You have to have a Bible. People come. People listen and they pay you. You are on your way. You can say outrageous things in the name of God. (In my day, there was that preacher couple. Millions flocked to them. She wore all that mascara. He went to jail.)

Here’s my question today. I’m a Catholic. But I don’t pretend to have read every page of the Bible. In college, I studied with teachers who used what is called EXEGESIS: an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. What this process does is get a person away from literal word interpretation. Like: if you sin with you hand, cut it off. The Bible as a holy book has been used to enslave and hurt human beings.

Jesus spoke in parables and this is my favorite. In fact, I wonder if modern preachers like that mascara lady just ripped that page right out of the holy book.

Luke 18:9-14 Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

PUBLIC SERVANTS

Wow, my head kind of zinged when I typed that very familiar phrase. Servants? But the point I want to make is if you are a preacher of any religion or a senator, representative, mayor, the president–you are a public servant. You work for THE PEOPLE. ALL THE PEOPLE. Supposedly you work for peace; you work to prevent wars that kill people, not start them. You work for your citizens, your military, your diplomats. You work for me, for all of us. And burning in your heart, should be the desire to think: the people first, not my bank account.

MORE PUBLIC SERVANTS: DUNKIRK  

To wind this up, let’s remember DUNKIRK. My husband and I saw the film this week. Generations of Americans have no idea what Dunkirk was. Not a clue. But you could say the story of Dunkirk is a kind of religion, if you are using the definition A SYSTEM OF FAITH. The men in the little boats believed in their country and their countrymen. They were willing to give their lives for that faith.

Pressed to the edge of the sea by the Germans, thousands of British soldiers and other Allied Troops were evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk between the 27th of May to the 4th of June. Wiki Says: British press later exploited the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and particularly the role of the “Dunkirk little ships”. Many of them were private vessels such as fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels such as ferries also contributed to the force…The term “Dunkirk Spirit” refers to the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity.[49]

I feel a thrill that is hard to describe every time I watch the clip below. Yes, it’s an old movie, but maybe in a small way watching these PUBLIC SERVANTS risking their lives connects me to the small things I have done: helping one of my students whose parents had no time for education; holding the hand of one of my patients who was losing her baby and had no one to cry with her.

I’m against using religion to fill your bank account. If you want to be religious, fill your heart and soul–take care of others, consider others. It’s A FACT — it will fill you up. PS: See the new film, though the clip below is great, part of the film MRS. MINIVER. 

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1111863/Mrs-Miniver-Movie-Clip-Your-Destination-Is-Dunkirk.html

Photo Credit Taylor Homes

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More Like This….

More Like This....

We all make choices about what we will read, what television presentations or films we watch. In today’s world of “fake news”–almost anyone with an opinion can throw us a curve ball. FACT-CHECKING helps. If you come across something you think might be false, you can go to various sources to confirm it’s truth factor. (I’m thinking news stories–better to have a few different sources before you think Pizzagate really occurred.)

Currently, I think we need to do that a lot. When reading non-fiction that lands on the best-seller list, we are at the mercy of the author. His or her book could still be a vehicle of lies and BS. Sad but true. An Index at the back of the book often helps confirm that the author did research and what and who the author’s sources were. (Think childhood immunizations cause autism. It took a long time for those lies to be correctly challenged and disproved.) Because if the author is known for a certain stance on that subject. then you probably know what you’re getting–unless the book is a complete turnaround or includes new research.

Rebecca Skloot had credentials when she started working on the book that became THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. She attended Portland Community College to become a Veterinary Technician and then received a BS in biological sciences from Colorado State University, and an MFA in creative nonfiction. Her education prepared her for the ten years it took her to write the book which was on the NYT Best Seller list for two years and recently made into a film that appeared on HBO this past weekend.

Oprah Winfrey played the part of Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, whose life was shadowed by the death of her mother. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31 from cervical cancer. She had five children whose lives suffered after her death. And unbeknownst to this black family, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, removed cancer cells from her cervix and these cells were able to reproduce outside the body in petri dishes at an astonishing rate. Called HeLa cells, they enabled researchers to make medical breakthroughs, one being Dr. Jonas Salk who is credited with the polio vaccine.

But there is a downside to this story–how it affected Deborah Lacks and her family. When you tell a person who is not a scientist that her mother’s cells are alive in a lab in Baltimore–complications occur. The Smithsonian writes: A postdoc called Henrietta’s husband one day…The way he understood the phone call was: “We’ve got your wife. She’s alive in a laboratory. We’ve been doing research on her for the last 25 years. And now we have to test your kids to see if they have cancer.” Which wasn’t what the researcher said at all. The scientists didn’t know that the family didn’t understand. From that point on, though, the family got sucked into this world of research they didn’t understand, and the cells, in a sense, took over their lives. Skloot in many ways was a gift to the Lacks family, explaining things as she learned them, comforting Deborah who helped Skloot with her investigation. Read the book! Watch the HBO presentation. We need more like this.

Now consider a work of fiction. Fiction, you make stuff up, right? But when an author takes on a topic that has complicated ramifications, is a topic that she does not feel she can speak to WITHOUT RESEARCH, then I applaud her for letting us know. Jodi Picoult, the author of 23 novels, did just that with her latest novel, SMALL GOOD THINGS.

The novel is about a black maternity nurse who is accused by a white supremacist for contributing to the death of his newborn son.

Picoult writes at the end of the novel: I expect pushback from this book… Believe me, I didn’t write this novel because I thought it would be fun or easy. I wrote it because I believed it was the right thing to do, and because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know. In her review of SMALL GOOD THINGS Roxane Gay writes: ‘A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong pure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.’ To the Black people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – I hope I listened well enough to those in your community who opened their hearts to me to be able to represent your experiences with accuracy. And to the white people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – we are all works in progress. Personally, I don’t have the answers and I am still evolving daily.

I thought the book was well done. It was a page turner and though it tied up things a little too neatly at the end, I did trust Picoult’s research. In the back of the book, she delineates exactly who she talked to on both sides of the situation.

Roxane Gay also writes in her review: And therein lies the true challenge of writing across difference, or of writing a political novel — if the politics overcomes the prose, then it becomes something other than a novel. (Maybe that’s one way to reach an audience that needs to be reached)

Picoult writes: There is a fire raging and we have two choices: we can turn our backs, or we can try to fight it. Yes, talking about racism is hard to do, and yes, we stumble over the words—but we who are white need to have this discussion amongst ourselves. Because then, even more of us will overhear and then, I hope, the conversation will spread. (Picoult even provides her reader with a list of things you can do to get invovled.

Roxane Gay concludes: It is, in the end, the author’s note that leaves me feeling generous toward “Small Great Things” despite its shortcomings. Picoult wanted to write about race in contemporary America, and she does. The novel is messy, but so is our racial climate. I give Picoult a lot of credit for trying, and for supporting her attempt with rigorous research, good intentions and an awareness of her fallibility.

YES, again We need MORE LIKE THIS…

photo: The New York Times

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Who is your other? On the extreme it is the man in the grainy photo in the newspaper–the man being pummeled by another another man, or dragged from a car. Or it’s a woman in a mug shot who is being charged for drug-dealing. This “other” is so easy to look away from. Because is there a connection between these two people and you or me? Remember I said extreme because the majority reading this post do not get involved in crime on the streets or get arrested. But regardless, there is a connection–these are faces of human beings. Their DNA may be different from ours, but we all go WAY BACK, we all have the same beginnings. Again, human beings. Can you open your heart to that concept? It can be really hard.

HELPING THE OTHER

I recently read an article about a man who everyday goes into the streets of LA (and this without belonging to any organization) and works with the homeless. He might spend hours with the one person he finds who is ill or dying. That day he does what he can to help that particular individual. He is answering the call to open his heart to humanity and he is doing it with the other–the extreme other–the total stranger.

My husband volunteers with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Service helping teens and the homeless find jobs. He does have an office where he can sit and meet with people. But when dealing with the homeless, he often deals with people who don’t keep to a schedule, who say they’ll return with a resume and don’t. It can also be frustrating with the youth who one day are all about getting a job and the next forget they even had an appointment to work on a resume, interview skills, an elevator speech. Still my husband keeps at it, opening his heart to the other, to people he has never met, knows nothing about and for some have been living on the street.

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

James Baldwin, author of THE FIRE NEXT TIME and other works, wrote: Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Baldwin makes a valid point. Our ability to turn away from others, to avoid the other, to look down on the other–that often begins in the home. But I posit that it can be changed around through living and realizing the human connection. Through education and being out in the world, we all can learn that fearing the other closes us off from the splendid variety of life, of people and their ideas, of music and culture, art and writing.

WHO IS THE OTHER? TO SOMEONE–IT COULD BE ME 

Yes, it could be. Because when I walk the streets of a busy city where no one truly knows me, I become THE OTHER to someone. Maybe I’m the other because I’m not the same age as the person looking at me or because I’m a female or because I’m white. But I surely know that if I suddenly became a human being in need–if I suddenly fell to the sidewalk with a heart attack or a stroke, I would hope that someone around me would not see me as THE OTHER and walk away, but would come to my aid.

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

James Baldwin also wrote: There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. So true. But when you first read that sentence, test yourself: do you immediately think of the selfish and hidden things about yourself that you try to disguise or lie about or ignore?           OR: did you immediately think about all the wonderful possibilities in your makeup that you just haven’t tapped into yet?

How great if it is and always will be the latter. If we are always opening to the possibility of our changing, of our personal growth and development–of our truly SEEING OTHER PEOPLE. That would be amazing. 

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

My brother Bill Pfordresher is a song writer and one of his songs urges a lover to:

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

And later on the lyric is: Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

For a lover or for the love of living, don’t let time get away.

ACT NOW

On Friday, my husband and I took the train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We went to a concert and then walked back to the station through an area of LA that is full of government buildings, the Catholic Church of the diocese of LA and places for many homeless people to walk or sit or sleep under the shade of a tree. A march had occurred that morning and there were crowds of people leaving the march and lots of police on motorcycles and bikes patrolling the area. What did we do? We walked. We smiled at folks on the street, stopped to ask one policeman a question and would have purchased something from a vendor but we had already eaten. We opened our hearts to LA and everything it had to offer that Friday afternoon. Call me Pollyanna if you want to. I’m no saint. But I believe that more and more we have to fight some dictum that tells us to turn away from folks because they are not JUST LIKE ME. You can volunteer or write a check, make a phone call or reach out to someone you know (maybe a stranger but more likely someone who needs a friend.) Do it today. Don’t be a person who is Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

Photo: Zocalo Public Square