For All of Them

I cry for them all.

The Black Lives That Matter.

The Unborn made a commodity.

The magnificent creatures killed to satisfy ego.

The abandoned,

The hungry,

The mistreated and abused,

The exploited bounty of a beautiful world.

I long for change.

But you cannot beat change into humanity.

I will not add my voice to the din and chaos

of angry righteousness.

There is too much of that.

It is said that only love can conquer hate.

So I will raise my voice in a Song of Love and Compassion

For all of them.

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Finding Peace In The Storm

I have been struggling with my life quite a bit lately; constantly asking myself “Why am I not doing what I want to do?”, “Why am I not in the place I want to be with my spirit and my heart?” , “When does it all fall into place?”

Then the other day I realized that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in my life. Our lives unfold a certain way for a reason that all but the most enlightened of us cannot fathom. At least not while it is happening to us. Often we look back and think “I would not have chosen that for myself but I see now it was a great gift (or lesson or opportunity)”.

In many ways, I am a very fortunate woman. I am married to my best friend. I have two wonderful dogs who are my company and comfort. I live in a beautiful home in the country. We don’t have to worry about paying our bills and we have enough left over to travel a bit. And when I am in my home with my husband and dogs, I am content, at peace.

Still, there are other parts of my life that are battles for me. I work in Manhattan where the crowds and noise and pace can be overwhelming on a daily basis. My five hour round trip commute steals precious time from my days; there is only so much you can do on a train and the driving to and from the station (a 45 minute trip one way) requires my complete attention. WhenI get home at night, I’m too tired to do much more than take care of the dogs, eat and go to bed.

And there has been so much death and illness and sadness in the past few years.

But that doesn’t make me special. Everyone confronts these things sooner or later. That is a given. Yet I want it all to go away. I want the bad news to stop. I want the unpleasant aspects of my day to disappear. I want to spend my time enjoying the beauty in this world and passing the day with kind and joyful people.

So here, perhaps, is where I’ve let in a bit of the light.

No matter what I want to happen, life will unfold the way it unfolds. When I was a dancer and the class was struggling to bend our bodies into impossible positions, the instructor would tell us, “Stop fidgeting and moving about. Stay still and breathe into the position.”

Anyone can fell like a Zen master when all is going well. But that is not the reality. The reality is that there are death and suffering and evil acts in the world. That is the challenge, to find peace and contentment in the middle of the storm.

It’s not easy. Part of me, the ego part, doesn’t want to give up my anger and resentment over the “bad” stuff, the “why me?” stuff. Sometimes there’s a perverse satisfaction in that. But it’s short term. The real peace and contentment comes with letting all that go and just breathing into now.

I’m working on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Namaste.

In the meantime, 30 seconds of peace from my garden.

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Open The Door And Let In The Light

Open the door and let in the light.

For the past few months, this phrase has been running through my head. In moments when the static of everyday life quiets,

Open the door and let in the light.

At night, as I lay in bed, drifting off to sleep,

Open the door and let in the light.

When I’m zoned out, doing mindless tasks,

Open the door and let in the light.

Relentless, insistent, distinct,

Open the door and let in the light.

I’ve been off kilter lately. Nothing is really wrong. There is just no wind in my sails. I’m in the Doldrums, drifting along, no energy, no interest in anything, no inspiration. My brain feeling like a bowl of dried up stale corn flakes. My main activity (aside from what I need to do like work, laundry, food shop, etc.) has been binge watching “Orange Is The New Black” and eating chips. Oh, and cocktails.

But this voice, it insinuates itself into everything,

Open the door and let in the light.

I’ve tried all sorts of things to get out of this slump; meditation, counting my blessings, eating better, getting off artificial sweeteners, positive thinking. The list goes on and still – nothing. I was beginning to think that maybe this was the way my life was going to be for the foreseeable future. All the burning desire to write, to create, to be truer to who I am – gone. Like that. Pffft.

Open the door and let in the light.

Then this week, something changed. I stopped trying to fight my life. I accepted that maybe this is what should be happening right now.

When we were in Italy this spring, we climbed the tower at Pisa. It is quite a high tower. The stairs are steep, uneven, narrow and winding; a challenge for someone who sits on her rear all day. But I knew the view at the top would be worth it. You don’t climb the steps alone. There are people in front of you and people right behind you. You start up full of energy at a quick, steady pace. Pretty soon, your lungs start screaming and your legs shake. Fortunately, all the way up, there are tiny landings every so often. They are barely wide enough to accommodate two people and only if you press up against the wall. Thank goodness they were there; I needed them. At every one, I stopped and just stood quietly, breathing slowly, until my body and spirit were ready to go on. In this way, I made it to the top. The view was glorious.

Open the door and let in the light.

Whenever you try to bring change into your life, to grow, to awaken the power within, to release your creative spirit, you are climbing a steep path. I recognize that there will always be those who make this climb faster, with fewer stops just as there will be those who lag behind and some who will turn back altogether. But theirs is not my climb. I must listen to my inner voice and know when I need to stop and rest; to stop struggling against myself; to allow my spirit to gain strength to move forward.

Breath.

Accept where I am at that moment.

Quiet my impatience with myself.

And when I am ready,

Reach out and lift the latch.

Open the door and let in the light.

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A Smiling Heart

I live in a small, rural town of 1,800 people.  We have a Grange, two churches, a town hall and a village store (with the post office attached) all around a town green smaller than a baseball diamond.  Working in Manhattan, I don’t get to appreciate is as much as I would like; I’m just not there that much.  But this Saturday, I had something that I needed to mail certified so I drove down to our little Mayberry post office.  The green and the strip of land in front of the Village Store were alive with the work of the local Garden Club.  The daffodils were up and the beginnings of the other spring bulbs were showing – the tulips and crocuses and what-not.  The Village Store was doing a brisk breakfast business.  The parking area out front was full with the strange, local mix of luxury sedans and beat-up pick-ups.  People were coming and going from the post office.  In a rural area like ours, many people have boxes there.  Too many private mail boxes get taken out by the snow plows in the winter.  It’s also a place to see your neighbors and chat for a few minutes.

I parked the car and just stood there for a moment smiling at the scene around me; a scene that, except for the make and model of the cars, probably hasn’t changed much in 100 years.   I felt that I was a part of something real and substantial.  Whatever else is going on in the world, places like this just keep on, going about everyday life like it has always been.

I went inside and stopped at the table in the P.O. box area to fill out the certified form.  On the table was a basket filled with small scrolls of colored paper with a sign that read “April is poetry month.  Please take one.  Compliments of Burnham School Students”.   Burnham School is the town’s elementary school and one of the best in the state.

  

  I took a scroll and slipped it into my bag.  When I finished my business, I returned to my car and got in.  I took out the scrool and opened it up.  It was a poem about Spring written by third grader Lindsay.  A photo of the poem is below.  I ripped it a bit trying to flaten it out.

  

Thank you Lindsay.  Your poem made my heart smile.  I folded it up and slipped it into my organizer.  I will carry it with me and when I need a reminder of how sweet and innocent life can be, I will take it out and read it.  And I will remember that you only need to be willing to say yes to the gifts life offers to keep a smiling heart. 

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Chimera

My heart is a fist
clenched tightly in my chest,
a monkey fist
to match my monkey mind.

Liquid bowels
and breath blown back into my lungs
by the frozen winds of fear.

How do you run
surrounded by the amber of panic?
How do you stay
when you cannot face the next thing?

And what if that next thing is a simple task?
Something people do every day?
Something you’ve done a million times before?

But not today.
Today it is terror
that no one else sees.

A chasm you cannot cross.
A weight that will crush you,
A wave that will wash you away.

“Get on with it”, they say.
“Be rational and do
what you must do.
It will not go away.”

And they are right.

In a moment
or a day,
the icy fingers around your throat
will melt
and release you.

The tiger becomes a kitten.
And the demons
just shadows on the wall.

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What’s Cookin’?

For many years, I did not believe I could cook. My late husband, who was a wonderful cook, repeatedly told me that I was terrible at it. It was one of the ways he kept me feeling helpless and dependent on him. After all, he said, if he didn’t cook for me, I would starve. Truthfully, I was terrible. I had no experience. But I never had the chance to learn. I was only allowed to be the assistant in the kitchen. I followed orders, mostly chopping and peeling. And I was told that I didn’t do that very well either.

When I married Paul, I was sure he was going to be disappointed in my lack of culinary skills. I told him that I couldn’t cook, but he said he didn’t believe that. There was nothing I couldn’t do if I made my mind up to do it. So I tried. I never made anything down right awful, but some meals were better than others. I was surprised at how much I had absorbed just watching Lorenzo cook. I decided maybe I could cook after all. I had always told everyone that I hated cooking but I realized that wasn’t true. I just said that because I believed I couldn’t do it. But here I was making really good meals. Even I liked what I made. And with a little more time and a few basic technique classes, I could be a really great cook.

This past Sunday, as I moved around the kitchen preparing one of Paul’s favorites – jambalaya, and the delicious smells from the simmering pot filled the air, I thought about who I was and who I am now. For a very long time, I allowed another’s critical remarks to define me. I had a distorted view of my character and abilities. I believed that I couldn’t do something or was very bad at it, simply because that’s what I was told. In truth, part of the reason I accepted those judgements was my own fear; the fear that it might be right, that I really was incapable. I don’t do that anymore. When someone, anyone criticizes me or tells me I can’t do something, I think about it. No longer do I have the knee-jerk reaction that they must be right. I consider what was said. I slow down and take a deep breath. I ask myself if it is true. I don’t allow my fear of failure or inadequacy to run the show. And guess what? Paul was right. There isn’t much I can’t do if I put my mind to it.  Now I look forward to preparing meals and something I dreaded and was ashamed of has become a real pleasure.

So. Now. What else is out there waiting for me to try?

Just add shrimp.

Just add shrimp.

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The Compassionate Way

I am not a saint,
not a hero.
I do not walk the shining path.
I stumble in the woods
running from the pain of others.

Suffering is a monstrous thing
with a fearful, bloody visage.
But deep within me
I know
the way to overcome the beast

begins
by not looking away.

When I do that,
I see looking back
the face of my own humanity.
And if I reach out
to the wretched soul,
the darkness is shattered
and the road to my salvation
rises up to meet me.

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Round and Round

Life, God, The Universe, whoever – sure has a great way of keeping you off-guard. “What is the lesson here, Grasshopper?” Is it to always be prepared for everything? Is it to “go with the flow”? It it to throw your hands up and just say “What the Fuck?” all the time? You would think that by this time in my life I would have a handle on how it all works. But I don’t. I don’t have a freakin’ clue.

I’m sitting here in the guest room of my house minding my Aunt Mary. She’s 90 years old. The police found her confused and bleeding outside her home on Wednesday. They took her to the ER where she punched and bit and kicked the five nurses who were trying to get her settled in. It was only through the determination of the Admitting Nurse to play detective that they found me to come for her.

She’s a tough, scrawny, mean-when-she-wants-to-be, old Irish broad. Anyone who has had experience with that knows what I’m talking about. She’s lived on her own for the past three years since my Uncle, her brother, died. She is independent and quick to tell you to mind your own business. She can’t see and she can’t hear and is pretty sure everyone’s plotting to cheat her. She says she hates money but it’s all she ever talks about.

I grew up in that house with her. She is my godmother and she and my Grandmother lived upstairs from us. When my Uncle retired from the priesthood, he moved into our old apartment downstairs. Now it’s just her. We’ve asked her repeatedly to move in with us in Connecticut. She refuses and I understand how it’s too hard for her to make such a major change. I wanted her to be where she is happy, to have her independence. Friends who mean well would tell me that she shouldn’t be living alone, that she should have a caregiver at least. Yeah, you tell her that. And she’ll tell you where you can go.

But it’s beyond that now. The hospital wouldn’t release her unless she was going home with someone. So I brought her home with me. She had to be sedated for the ride to keep her quite. As it was, the sedative wore off and I had to drive the last fifteen miles with one hand on the wheel and one hand trying to keep her from grabbing the gear shift or taking her clothes off. By the time we got to the house, she had squiggled part way out of the seat belt and was half under the dash.

We carried her in a chair upstairs to the guest room; the room that’s her’s; the room she stays in most weekends when we bring her up. But she doesn’t recognize it. She doesn’t know where she is. Sometimes she knows me and sometimes she doesn’t. She wants to go for a walk outside. She thinks she’s in jail. One of us has to sit with her because if she gets out of bed, she falls. My husband is out right now looking at a care facility for dementia patients.

This just all happened too fast. She’s beginning to wake up now. So I have to let her think I’m the nurse and listen to her tell stories from her life. At some point, she’ll punch me and tell I’m a jerk. Then she’ll take my hand and say she loves me and I’m her best friend.

There was a time when people would think she was my mother and I was happy because I felt so much closer to her. In the past few years though as she’s grown bitter and avaricious and accused me of just wanting her money, well, I don’t even like her very much. But I’m responsible for her. I’ll take care of her even if she hates me for it. And when she looks at me with those vacant eyes and tells me I’m a good girl, I just want to make it all better for her.

Maybe that’s the lesson Grasshopper. Compassion.

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Place Your Bets

The trains are running back on schedule today.  The remains of the crash have been removed.  It will take a year before the final report is complete.  We need to know the why, the how, the how-do-we-prevent-it.  We need to make it make sense.

Like most of us, I hugged my husband a little harder afterward.  I vowed to be more alert to my surroundings, to have a plan.  I would know the emergency procedures.  I wouldn’t sit in the front car.

When tradgedies like the Metro North crash happen, we become acutly aware of how quickly life can change.  How fast someone can be taken from us.  It’s not as if we don’t know the reality of death.  Most rational people accept that we all die eventually.  But somewhere in the back of our minds, we feel we can see it coming.  The elderly, the seriously ill, the people in dangerous occupations, all anticipate death.   We are not suprised when a soldier is killed or Great Aunt Hattie dies in her sleep.   But when death is so arbitary – you leave your house, just an ordinary day, and never return – the human mind can’t grasp that.  We believe we can prevent unexpected death.

But there is the oxymoron.  How can you prevent what you don’t expect?  And if you try to follow some procedure or plan to avoid the unexpected, you will live like a prisoner of your own fears.

So today, I sat in the front car.  There were some other brave or ignorant souls there to keep me company.  The train stopped, then crawled through the crossing in Valhalla.  Many people stood and went to the windows facing the crash site to look.  Out of curiosity maybe? Or respect? Or superstition?  The media trucks were still there, waiting for….?  I chose to stay seated; to look out my window at the opposite side of the crossing; the side that was still the same as it was before Tuesday night; the ordinary side.

In time, the front car will fill up again; the tracks at Valhalla will be repaired; the trains will resume speed.  And except for the survivors and the families of those killed, whose lives were permanantly altered that night, things will return to normal.  They have to.  We cannot live otherwise.

For if we allow ourselves to constantly fear the unexpected, to plot and plan and shake our rattles at the vagaries of fate, we will live a very small life indeed.  So most of us will move forward.  Perhaps we will note where the emergecy exits are.  Perhaps we will stay off the roads in dangerous weather.  Perhaps we will not stand at the edge of the platform.  But mostly we will just live our lives.  Get up in the morning, kiss our loved ones, go to our jobs and take the 5:43 home.

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When The Mundane Becomes The Horrific

For ten years, five days a week, I have commuted from Western Connecticut to New York City.  It is a long commute, two and a half hours one way.  Of those two and a half hours, an hour and fifteen minutes is on a Metro North Harlem Line train.  The ride is repetitive and often dull.  You see the same faces day after day.  The same scenery flashes by the window.  You read the newspaper or a book.  You sleep.  You scan social media.  You watch a movie or listen to music.  You pass the time.  You take the same train every morning and the same train coming home at night.  It’s a routine, in-grained and predictable.

Until one day it isn’t.  Until one day you call to say you are on the 5:43 but you never arrive home.  And your family needs to use dental records to identify you.

I usually take one of two trains home in the evening, the 5:43 or the 6:04.  I worked late last night and took the 6:29 instead.  The train stopped somewhere in the no-mans-land before White Plains and we sat.  People started to get antsy and annoyed.  Finally, an announcement that there was no service north of White Plains.  There were trains ahead of us and once they were emptied, they would be moving us into the White Plains station where we would disembark.  We would need to make alternate arrangements to get to our destinations. Groans and cursing and demands of  “What’s going on?”  Must be signal problems.  Happens a lot in the winter.  Usually they get it fixed pretty quickly. Maybe I’ll just sit tight in White Plains and they’ll have us back on another train in an hour or so.  What a pain.

The conductor makes her way through the car and every few rows is made to stop and explain what’s happening.  I can hear bits and pieces.  “Valhalla.”  “Train hit car.”  “Police investigation.”  “Won’t be service for quite some time.”  By the time she gets to me, I have only one question – “Will they have buses to take us to our stations?”  “Probably.  Eventually.  But right now, we have no information.”  Shit.  How the hell am I going to get home.  This is going to be a nightmare.  I hear a ping and flip open my IPad.  There’s a news push from my local TV News app.  SIX KILLED IN METRO NORTH CRASH.  What the…?  I go to the full story.  There is a photo of a train exactly like the one I’m on except it’s an inferno.  I scan – “SUV.” “Driver killed.” “Explosion and fire.” “Five others confirmed dead.”  I stare at the picture.  I could have been on that train. Did I know any of those people?  What about their families?  Do they know?

We finally start moving and slowly pull into White Plains.  I look out the window.  The platform is packed.  I forget about the other train for the time being.  I’ve got to figure out what to do.  We get off and everybody mills around, unsure of where to go.  The smart ones rush down the stairs to grab whatever taxis are there.  I head for the rest rooms.  It’s going to be a long night.  Everyone is on their phone.  “Can you pick me up here?”  “I’m going to stay at Aunt Ella’s.”  “I don’t know what’s going on.  They’re not telling us anything.”  I call my husband, leave a message.  Call me back.  I dig through my bag.  I have a granola bar left from lunch.  Some dinner.  My phone rings.  “Hi.  What’s going on?”  Did you see the news?  I sent you a link to a story.  There’s been a crash.  No service north of White Plains.  I don’t know how the hell I’m getting home.  “Can’t you take a taxi?”  Are you kidding me?  There’s thousands of people in the street trying to get a cab.  This place is a fucking madhouse.  I’ll just wait for the buses.  “I’m sorry Honey.  I wish there was something I could do.”  There’s nothing you can do.  You’re in New Jersey.  I just wanted to talk to you.  You know, ‘misery loves company’.  “Well call me back later and tell me what’s happening.”  OK.  I have to stop talking.  My phone is dying.  “Love you.”  Love you too.

I stand against the wall.  My legs are starting to hurt.  That’s cause you sit on your butt all day, Dopey  I watch the people around me.  A few cluster in groups, working together to figure out how to get home.  “My husband will pick us up and we can drop you at your station.”  “Come home with us.  You can call you son from there.”  Some are yelling into their phones.  “How the hell do I know how to get here?  It’s the big station in White Plains.  Google it.”  Others are making the best of it. “Well, let’s go find someplace to eat. We can figure out what to do later.”

I walk outside.  It’s freezing.  There are still crowds of people trying to get into the few taxis still there.  There’s a lot of yelling going on.  I look for signs of shuttle buses. Nothing.  I go back inside.  More people are coming down the stairs.  How many trains were behind us?  It’s been over an hour.  Maybe I should try to call a car service.  I wonder if there is a hotel nearby?  I might have to stay here.  I hate this.  I hate this commute.  I don’t want to do this anymore.  I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes.  I just want to find a corner and cry.  Shit.  I’ll never survive a natural disaster.  I’m not tough enough or pushy enough.

I stay inside where it’s warm.  The crowd begins to thin out.  No more people coming down the stairs.  That must be it.  The last train.  I’d better pull myself together and try to find a way home.  I go back outside.  Where are the taxis?  I see one at the curb.  Other people rush there first.  One, two, three cabs.  I don’t want to fight.  I look in the opposite direction.  More taxis, fewer people.  I walk down there.  I see a guy I think I recognize.  Yeah, he gets off at my station.  Maybe we can share a cab. Hey, Hi.  Don’t you get off at Purdy’s?  ” Sorry, I already have two passengers.  My wife is picking us up.”  Oh. OK.  I want to cry again.  His wife better pull up in a Mini Cooper.  He can’t fit one more person in his car?  Karma Buddy.  Karma.

I want to punch someone.  At this rate, I’m never going to get home. I’M NEVER GOING TO GET HOME!  Boom.  Silence in my head.  Yes, yes I am going to get home.  Eventually.  This is a major inconvenience.  A monster fuck-up.  It’s miserable.  But it’s temporary.  There are six people who are never going to get home.  People who were reading the newspaper.  Who were watching a movie.  Who called and said they were on the 5:43.

I see some people getting into a taxi.  I catch the drivers eye.  “Where you going to.”  Purdy’s.  I want to go to Purdy’s.  “Where is dat.  Dat on 684.  Near Somers?”  Yes.  Yes.  Exit 7.  He looks at me.  He’s thinking.  The others in the cab are going places that are closer.  He’ll be gone an hour.  “OK Miss.  Get in.”  Thank you.  Thank you.

We ride mostly in silence. I’m the last to be dropped off.  How much do I owe you?  He looks at a clipboard.  “To Purdy’s, sixty-five dollars.”  I hand him the fare and an extra twenty.  Thank you for getting me to my car.  He looks at it.  I’m the only one who didn’t argue about the fare, the only one who gave him a tip.  “Thank you Miss.  Get home safe.”

Yes.  Get home safe.

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