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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Who Needs Guantanamo? My Brain's Been Water-boarding My Heart.

Christine & Pete

Let me preface this by saying everyone is fine.
That might give you an idea of how reality shifts, though I'm sure you know that from firsthand experience. Yesterday was one of those sunny blue Spring days. Yeah, the birds were all chirping their love songs, wings all aflutter, a welcome chorus. This was just the right weather for a walk to the market. Shopping list, check, cellphone, check, keys, check and I'm out the door, strolling down Little Neck Parkway. That's when my phone rang the first time. Great, I hit "decline", not "accept". Return call, "leave a message...yadda, yadda", okay, "Sorry, Christine, Couldn't see the screen for the sun-glare, I'll talk to you soon. Love you."
Ever since 9-11 my daughter and I finish every good-bye with i-love-you. Not to trivialize it, but because life is so unpredictable. "What if" is unspoken. There is no need. Even in our most ferocious door-slamming, stomping down the stairs, if looks could kill moments we would scream I LOVE YOU!!! as the walls vibrated from the door's impact. What if...
When I got into the store I checked my phone and found a voice-mail message from Christine. She sounded very small and far away, garbled and the trailed off to static...butt-dialed. Oh well, nothing important.
I was wandering down the aisle trying to choose the lipstick color of the moment when my phone rang.
"Mom, I was in an accident. I think the Jeep is totaled." She sounds breathless, panicky and I am standing here, Cool Coral gripped in my left hand. "Are you all right? Is anyone with you? Are you all right?"

"I'm okay. The girls weren't with me. Pete's here now. Someone cut me off. I hit the guardrail and spun out. I think both axles are broken. The front end..."
"Never mind about the car. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm okay, Mom. I have to go."
"Call me as soon as you can. I love you."
"I love you, too, Mom."

The screen on my phone flashes "call ended", but I still stare at it for a few seconds. Let this sink in from brain to heart. Now there are tear drops on the Cool Coral lipstick. Oh, for Pete's sake, don't start crying now. A few deep breaths, sunglasses in place, I grab a crumb cake and head for the cashier to pay for my purchases. Everything seems normal. Mundane is my word for the day. The automatic door swings open and I step back into the blue sunny day. My mind finally articulates the thought that is diving through it like a kamikaze, "she's alive!" One twist of fate and the unthinkable would be the new reality. My choice is to leave that thought in the unthinkable room of my heart. The one we all have for scenarios that wake us up from a nightmare in a cold sweat or that keep us on the insomnia express for nights on endless night. That room has no lock on the heavy door so it swings open a crack and you get a glimpse of the "what ifs" that reside therein.
Today the door is shut tight. Good. A dear friend of mine would always remind me we live in the ongoing moment. Treasure each and every one. Oh yes, I love you.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Sitting in a restaurant booth with my granddaughter, waiting for her pasta. She's three years old. As she kneels on the seat, she turns to me and strokes my face with her delicate fingers. Tracing a line from my hairline to my chin, she hesitates and rubs her finger gently around my eye. Now she studies my face.
"Grandma, why is your face cracked?"
I smile because I have noticed those pesky crow's feet around my eyes have been growing from a size 5 to a 7 lately. Should I tell her the truth? This has been a helluva year. I have shed tears every day, sometimes a torrent, but usually just a trickle which involuntarily starts before I'm aware of its descent down my cheek or the side of my nose. Grief has a way of sneaking up on you after a while. The initial onslaught dissipates and the remaining emotions are an odd mix of sadness, reminisces and emptiness.  It takes its sorry toll on the mind and body as it meanders through your very being.
Should I tell her how your heart cracks, too? Those cracks don't really heal completely. In a way they open the heart a little more. What you choose to fill it with is optional. At first it's too painful to touch. You have to leave it for a while to harden just a bit. If you leave it too long it can become hard and brittle. Then you run the risk of a shattered heart, which can be repaired, but usually has a missing piece or two.
Should I tell her how your soul cracks? A part of it seems to have flown away into the mysterious place it originated, but it left a gap, an emptiness that echoes, mostly at night.
Should I tell her how your mind cracks? Yeah, the expression "cracking up" hits home. Many things that made perfect sense before lose their meaning. Your priorities start shifting. Things seem less important. Your train of thought becomes The Disoriented Express.
She's three years old. She has plenty of time to find these things out for herself. I hope I'll be there for her when that time comes. She has no idea how much she has been there for me. So, what do I tell her?
"Well, when you live for a long time you get to love a lot of people and a lot of people love you. The more people you love, the more you fill yourself up with that love and after a while there's just so much love it starts to shine out of little cracks in your face. They don't hurt at all, in fact they feel good because they remind you of all the love you've given and  received since you were a baby."
"Grandma, you're silly. I love your hair."
"I love your hair, too, Natalie."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mother's Day Revisted

This year Mother's Day was a quiet day. My mom seemed happy...she usually is these days. We spoke for a little while. She drifted in and out of the conversation. She told me she loved me, her "first born", and I told her I love her, too. My daughter and her family moved to another state recently, so we spoke on the phone as well. Quiet...too quiet...and the mind wanders. It kind of meanders back in time to other Mother's Days. Whether those recollections are true or not, they are real. What is reality, after all? We each have our own version.

I went online for a while. There I found a trilogy of poems written as a tribute to a friend's mom soon after she died. One of them hit home that day. I was missing my mom, the old mom who drove me crazy more often than not. I was missing my daughter, now a mom herself, who also drove me crazy for a while...it's in the genes. That poem floated through my mind. In it was the love and pain that only a mother and child experience. It would not let go of me, so I did what I do when things get stuck in my brain. I made art with it. A meandering book...kind of a fold-out puzzle of a book. Relationships are puzzles. The pieces fit together somehow, but not as you might expect. Even so, it is a whole entity no matter how you look at it...forward, backward, upside down or right side up...there it is.

My back was giving me a hard time. It hurt so much I had difficulty walking after a while, so I had to sit and rest it. It's funny how your body makes you pay attention when you choose to ignore what's good for you. Those nasty panic attacks were not going away, either. The last thing I wanted to do was think, ya know what I mean? Resting in bed with The Kindly Ones was not helping. I dove into my mini book creation...measuring, snipping, painting and lettering for hours. What a joy it was! When it was complete, I called Scott to tell him I was sending something by snail mail. Off it went on its journey and did arrive safe and sound.

Now, a week later, my back is still killing me. My brain is still having the occasional short circuit. My feet still get a tad numb if I'm up and about too long. My dear friend, Helen, who has known me for about thirty years, observed the correlation between my back pain and my brain pain. She reminded me how they seem to feed on each other. She also reminded me of how happy I felt while making art. Guess that's pretty straight forward.

Sometimes we carry things inside us that seem too heavy a burden. Just when we think we are handling it, we stumble. It's not because we're weak. The bump in the road is a safety bump, meant to slow us down for a reason. Best pay attention and rest a while. Smell the daisies, watch the clouds or make some art. The weight shifts as the mind does.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On The Edge

There's a full moon tonight. It's been a windy day so the night sky is very clear. Not everything else is, but the feeling that a good change is in the air uplifts my spirit. I've been dreaming a lot lately. That is, I remember my dreams, at least bits and pieces of them, on awakening. The strange and positive thing is my brother, Chris and my dad have been in these dreams. Nothing dramatic occurred, just day to day stuff, but we all seemed quite happy. There was a huge gardenia bush in one dream...Chris had one growing in his backyard in Davis so it made sense.

Today I went grocery shopping and found a gorgeous gardenia plant in with the Easter lilies and hyacinths. It is now in residence in my sunny bedroom...sequestered from Elliot, that plant-eating feline menace. Whenever I look at it, I smile. It's the small things that mean the most when I reminisce. So, when I remember a loved one it is usually with a smile. We stay connected and that allows us to make even more connections. Love is like that...the more you give, the more you get.

Coincidentally, Christine just texted me commenting how beautiful the moon looks tonight. Yes, indeed!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One Summer Night

There must have been forty kids on the street where I grew up. We never had a play date. You just walked out the door and there they were. All ages were represented. Usually one of the older kids had a younger sibling in tow. It was just the way things were. My house and my best friend's house were separated by the Lowen house. Our parents emigrated from Flatbush, Brooklyn to the wild and woolly outskirts of Bellerose, Queens. Because we bordered Nassau County our post office was New Hyde Park. We would straddle the county line and tell each other we could be in two places at one time.

During the summer very few of us went to camp. There may have been a week or two when we left the block for a vacation out on the East End or upstate, but for the most part we stayed local. After chores we had the day to ourselves. Bicycles were our mode of transportation. On occasion we would travel to Bar Beach for the day, but that's another story.

We had a small pool in our yard as did my best friend, Eileen. It was fun to splash around on a steamy summer night. There was no air-conditioning, just huge fans to move the humid air over you. My brothers had a fan the size of an airplane propeller in the front window of their room. The hum was our introduction to white noise, though at the time we had no idea what that was. We left the doors to our bedrooms open. We were on the honor system for the duration of the dog days. That fan sucked the heat out and kept the air moving. My sister, Jane, and I slept upside down on our beds so the breeze would fan our faces until sleep took over. I usually drove her crazy by listening to my transistor radio, stuffed under my pillow. "I can still hear it!" Heh!

The real special occasions occurred on movie nights. Eileen's dad, Charlie, was a projectionist. One of his many jobs was to set up the movies for in flight viewing on TWA. He was able to bring some of them home for our viewing pleasure. Once the sun went down the lawn chairs came out. We hung a big white sheet on the side of the house. Then we spread blankets on the lawn for the babies and little ones. We popped massive amounts of popcorn, mixed up the Kool-Ade and distributed the goods. Uncle Charlie charged admission...we had to pick up a rock and put it in a pile...he was cleaning the yard. After that formality we grabbed a seat and the show began.

One summer night the moon was a crescent in the sky. The air was heavy. There had been a thundershower earlier in the afternoon. The clean sharp scent of ozone still persisted. The stars were there, too. Movie night was a go and that night the feature was The Alamo! John Wayne and Richard Boone, not to be confused with Daniel Boone. The backyard was packed with children and adults. We had paid our stony dues. The popcorn was buttered and the Kool-Ade was cool. The movie began as scheduled. Even the little guys were mesmerized. John Wayne had that effect on us in those days. We liked our heroes bigger than life, but human. No superpowers needed for The Duke. After the movie, no one wanted to go home. The younger ones played 'remember the Alamo!' We helped clean up the mess and escaped to hang out with the Prendamano brothers down the block and listen to some music...always music. There were many movie nights and many more music nights. It was good place to be. It's a good place to visit in my mind sometimes.

One Summer Night~The Danleers....sigh...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Walking The Wire With No Net

The holiday season can be a treacherous time for relationships. All sorts of emotional baggage arrives at the frontal lobe of your brain, unannounced. Full of memories of people, places and events long gone, it unloads the contents to your consciousness and the festivities begin. Long-distance relationships are particularly vulnerable, lacking the face to face reassurances that can alleviate some of the mishigas, although that is a tall order as the bells jingle in the background.

In my case, there is the double whammy of a December birthday tossed into the mix. That can really set my dreidl spinning. Communications get scrambled and emotions do, too. It's like walking a tightrope. There is that connection, but there is that distance...not just a physical distance. Something triggers that old insecurity, you know, the one in the emotional baggage and, bingo, we all scramble for cover. Understandable, but avoidable if that communication line isn't broken.

For me, an amazing example of faith in going from point A to point B is Philippe Petit and his surreal journey in 1974. He bridged all doubt and insecurity with courage and a supreme love for life. Remember, he used no net.

There are no guarantees, but if you don't believe, you will be doomed to all that is mundane. There is a time and place for comfort and curling up by the fire and there is a time to scare the bejeebers out of yourself and hit the wire. The reward may be transcendental. What's that? What if you fall? Well, who's to say there are no angels to catch you? You may sprout wings of your own. If not, I say it is worth the risk. To quote Mssr. Petit when asked why he walked between The Twin Towers,
"When I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resist."

picture~work in progress

Sunday, October 31, 2010

So Good To Be With You Again...

Sunday morning coffee is brewing. The sun shines behind some random clouds, but the wind dispatches them in short order. It's Halloween in Queens. There are still a few fighter jets patrolling the sky, but, other than their muted roars, it's kind of quiet. A little time for reflection. This is day I prepare to visit with some folks I haven't seen for a while...some, quite a while. At midnight I will say a few prayers and invite them to come and stay for a bit. They always do and it is a rare treat to feel them so close again.

I believe the spirit never dies. Our physical self will perish, but that energy that animates us joins the collective soul at that time. Now, many dispute this, but because there is no way to prove it one way or the other, it is a matter of faith. I paid my money and made my choice. The cool thing about this is tonight. There are many ways to welcome your ancestors and loved ones to your home if you are so inclined. In Mexico Dia de los Muertos is their most important holiday. Families save over the course of the year in order to prepare an ofrenda, an offering on a special alter dedicated to the ones they loved. There are specific foods made only at this time, shared with family and dear friends. Visits to the cemetery are family occasions with food and mezcal or beer for the living and dead...and visitors. Copal incense is burned day and night. It is a celebration of life and life after death.

By creating a sacred space with prayer and intention, the spirits have a safe haven for a time. There is a belief in many cultures that the veil which separates the quick and the dead is thin this time of year, especially now through November 5th. Perhaps you have been thinking of someone departed recently. Some have dreams or daydreams about them. It's a very natural reaction.

Now the trick or treaters are ringing the doorbell. Skeletons, superheros, ladybugs, lion and tigers and bears, oh my, wait for their sweet treats. The farm down the road has a Children's Halloween Festival today. All the kids dress in costume and parade around the grounds. The belief in Oaxaca is the souls of the children visit first, on October 31st, while the adults breeze in on November 1st. This is their most sacred time of year. The children parade in the streets of Oaxaca today...tomorrow is the adults will dance in the streets, the parks and the zocalo.

Tonight I'll work some magic of my own. This is my favorite ceremony, although it always brings tears to my eyes. Like much of life, it is bittersweet but, much more sweet than bitter. It's quite simple and kind of quiet, though I do sing if I'm in the mood. The circle is cast, visualizing a wall of moonflower vines encircling the room. I love moonflowers, but any plant you like is what you would see. There is water for cleansing and candles to light the way for all. As I sit in the circle the memories of those I welcome come to mind and I feel their presence. It is a communion of spirit. There are some special words I like to say while we visit to keep the stairway to heaven open. When the time comes to an end there is a beautiful Benediction by David O. Norris to say hasta la vista.


It is time to bid farewell

As this Samhain passes from us

Soon the dawning will embrace us

and the sunset portal close.

Until the turning of the year

We must part for just a while

Yet I know there is no ending

And the silver thread spins outward

To that place where you are going

Until I travel there to meet you

Or your return upon the autumn,

On this sacred night of Spirits

When we shall meet again.

Blessed be.

Great Ancestors,

I thank you for joining me this night.

Relatives and loved ones,

I honor you and wish you sleep well.

May you go in peace.

Great Spirit

Stay with me.

Protect and guide me upon this new year.

So mote it be.