Tag Archive | family

The Honor of Weeping.

 

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My very special friend, Daniella.

For many years I have been one of the directors of a charity that assists pediatric cancer patients and their families. In that time I have learned so much about myself, suffering, kindness, courage, life, and most importantly death. I cannot now look at a child and not imagine the possibility that they might not make it to adulthood, or even their teens. It infuses every experience with the radiant reminder of true importance, a glowing reminder of the moment most precious, this moment.

There are so many memories that stand out. The director of the charity had already lost her own child, and yet she had the courage to face this unthinkable journey with others, again and again. But then came the call, she needed to talk, to weep, another of our kids was dying, and she just couldn’t fathom it. She wept, and then went on to hold other mothers’ hands and help them through the journey. Again and again. I stand in awe.

I remember walking down the halls of City of Hope and hearing screaming, I remember one of the nurses, while we were there decorating the ward for the holidays, exclaim, “I hate Christmas! So many kids die.” Because, she went on to explain, the terminally ill have a tendency to hold out for a special date, maybe a birthday, maybe Christmas, but then they let go. The nurses can do nothing but try to comfort, ease pain, hug family that are enduring the unthinkable in a constant state of shock. And when it’s over, they get back to work, clearing away the evidence of a loved patient who they may have known for years, and the room their lives once occupied returns to empty, until the next child comes to fill it. They return to work and start all over again. I stand in awe.

The Pajama Party, which we hold every year, patients, current and alumni, are invited. Each patient and their siblings receive pajamas, slippers, and many other fun gifts. Hundreds of people attend. We have a dinner, a raffle, games for the kids, and then Santa! My favorite doctor greets and embraces family after family with a huge smile and genuine joy, often remembering a child who is no longer with us by sharing a moment with the parents who lost them. I stand in awe.

When it became clear that a 12 year old who loved photography that we worked with was not going to make it, the doctors and nurses organized an art show for him. His lovely photos were displayed and sold to help his family with the horrific bills that would be all they were left with after they buried their child. My favorite photo was a shot down a city street with the sunset in the distance, he called it, “A Door to Heaven.” I remember standing next to the doctor as he talked to the young artist, who had received a huge platelet donation that day so that he could get out of bed and attend this event. They joked about him enjoying his cocktails. I stand in awe.

I remember one funeral, for a boy of eighteen, who we had been assisting since he was nine. He had lost an arm in the long hard process but he was the best hugger I ever met. He also had an amazing voice and he sang Wind Beneath my Wings at one of our fundraisers when he was only 11, not a dry eye. I remember his friends carrying his casket, the stunned loss on their still too young faces. When they sealed the casket at the gravesite, his mother, whose entire life for nine years had been caring for her gravely ill son, kept on straightening the drape on the casket as gently as if it had been a blanket she was tucking around him to keep him warm. The gesture was so intimate and it was so strange to me that such a large crowd of mourners were watching, that I turned away and looked to the sky to give her a sliver of privacy, though I doubt she even knew or cared for anything in that moment. That last, horrible, powerless moment when she could do no more. I will never forget the sound that she made, it wasn’t a cry, or a sob, it was from her very soul. It was a long, drawn out sound that rose and fell and vibrated the air around her. Keening. That sound is part of who I am now, I hear it when I think of these families and what they have endured. I stand it awe.

And then there are the children themselves, to a one they were the bravest, most accepting souls I have ever met. It’s as though they were finished with being mortal, they didn’t ‘need’ to be here any more, it was time for them to move on to the next stage. To a one they taught everyone around them what was true and important. To a one they offered a sense of perspective. I stand in awe.

Which brings me to the reason we began the charity. Desi. This girl, who at nine was diagnosed with a cancer so severe that the doctors gave her a five percent chance of surviving a couple of months, lived two years. In those two years, she got well enough to do many things, including going horse back riding with me, something I had promised her when she was very ill. This child, this exceptional human being, never lost her faith or her courage. Multiple times when we thought it was the end, she fought her way back, and she never missed a chance for a laugh. When a child is at the end, they are attached to machinery that counts their breaths per minute, and when it goes to zero and stays there, that’s pretty much it. So there she was, with her loved ones around her, watching the monitor, praying, comforting each other, when the monitor went from 5 to 2 to 0. They all leaned in, watching to see if this was it, after so much suffering if it was time for her to go home. No one breathed, everyone was drawn toward the bed, curling physically downward to be close to her, waiting, when suddenly, Desi’s eyes flickered, and she very weakly, but distinctly, formed an o with her mouth, and said, “Boo!” Everyone straightened up, laughing and relieved, she actually pulled through that time. I stand in awe.

But it was a short reprieve, and she was back in the hospital a few weeks later. When she finally, quietly, slipped away, only her mother was in the room with her. She told me that she knew that her daughter had died, but she didn’t call the nurses, she didn’t leave or reach out, she just sat quietly beside her daughter’s body and waited, thankful for the time she had with her, she told me that the thing she felt the most, was honor. She said she was honored to have been Desi’s mother. I stand in awe.

I still am a part of this charity, though now that I am not living in Los Angeles, I cannot take part in the active service as often as I would like, though every time I return to LA, I make it a point to go to City of Hope and donate blood and platelets, and visit with some of my friends there. I hope to find another place to fill where there is need when I settle wherever I may land, but my life is irrevocably changed already, my sense of perspective has forever changed. Things I once thought important are now laughable to me. My own children, who often accompanied me to events and the hospital to visit with the kids or help decorate for holidays, are markedly better people because of their experiences there. We are endlessly grateful to those children and those families, they have given us the gift of perspective that softens life somehow, makes the little things easier to bear, to release, to set free. I am not afraid to die, what better gift could I ever receive?

And sometimes I weep, just to think of them. Sometimes I smile when I recall their courage, and always I respect and admire the people who lost and lived to love and give back, almost every one of them turn to helping others in some form. I think of the remarkable human beings who care for these children every day, again and again, and never lose their ability to grieve each devastating death. Doctors and nurses who weep for the loss of every child they have cared about, and for, sometimes for years. I stand in awe.

Mostly, I remember the things I’ve learned so completely, that they are a part of who I am now.

That beauty can be found in a ravaged face. That love never dies. That your heart can be torn from your body and you can be glad to have had the capacity to feel that much, because the choice to not would have meant that you would never have have had that someone in your life at all.

I weep often, but not forever.

I care more fully, now.

I judge less, and look closer.

You never really know someone else’s story.

Especially the end.

You don’t know what might shatter your heart.

You might not yet know that you can survive it.

You can live to feel only honor.

You can make a difference for someone else.

I stand in awe.

Won’t you join me?

 

Shari, November 9th, 2017

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The Fowl Revolution

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General T stalks the evil beast

 

For the last couple years, every time I visited a certain area of my daughter’s campus, my car was attacked by a turkey. He was an angry, brave little dude, darting fearlessly into the street and pecking ruthlessly at the tires on a mysterious mission that we may never fully understand.

This local wild turkey had for some reason decided that he had had enough of these fools overwhelming his homeland. The many students hurrying to class or studying on the lawns of the nearby library had grown accustomed to the aggressive fowl, barely taking notice as cars seeking shelter in the nearby parking lot were forced into gridlock when confronted by the university’s very own, and very real, angry bird. He comes out charging, head down, feathers slightly ruffled so that his stunted wings looked more like spoilers on a coupe, as he fearlessly holds his own against two ton hunks of motorized metal. He was almost as persistent as the metered-parking enforcers that lurk amongst the trees wielding citation pads. Almost.

And now, after a good year or two of breeding and gene transference there are no less than eight attack turkeys. General T has taught his family well. An avian army is mustering. One has to wonder what’s in store for these rebels as they continue to reproduce, passing on the DNA of aggression to the next year’s generation. What will it be like over at the Engineering department next year, or even a decade from now? I envision students and faculty in shin guards, riding in armored campus buses, or hurrying fearfully between buildings and lecture halls while turkeys with bandana covered faces chant, “Humans will not replace us!” while brandishing pine cones and twigs in a menacing manner.

Hey, I don’t blame the birds for their random acts of violence. They live all summer, as they have for thousands of years, in this pristine forest filled with redwoods and ferns, and all of a sudden here come seventeen thousand humans in the fall, reeking of tea tree oil shampoo and melon scented deodorant, their limbs are stained with ink pictographs, they carry noise makers and are draped in brightly colored costumes that clash mightily with the environment. Come on, you can almost hear General T saying, get it together dude, unless it’s mating season your plumage is supposed to blend in! Camouflage, hello? Stealth? And what right do they have to bring these nasty, greedy, black-smoke-belching predators right though our ancient breeding ground! They don’t even eat what they kill. Forest Justice for all poultry!

It is, after all, an institute of learning known for activism. Just ask my Republican family, they’ll snort derisively and snidely imply with a condescending tone of voice that it’s a hippy school. Never mind that this University produces more top scientists, biologists, astrophysicists, and business leaders than Harvard, nevermind that it’s an academic education that far exceeds their own, it’s in Northern California, and to my republican siblings and parents that means the dirtiest of dirty words. Liberal. It’s the one word with no S’s that they can still hiss. Three syllables that make their ears bleed, not unlike what they think of my heart. The very idea of learning to evolve as a species seems to scare the hell out of them. So those turkeys would feature in their worst conservative nightmares, no doubt causing them to wake up sweating, trembling and gobbling, “Fowl!” Before they turn on their Tiffany’s bedside light and start muttering, “Why can’t those damn turkeys go to their own segregated college like God intended. Next thing you know, women will be allowed to play professional golf with men! This country is going to hell. God Damn liberalsssssss.”

What would they think of that one damn indigenous bird fighting for his turkey rights? “Who the hell does he think he is objecting to having his world paved over? Damn turkeys should be grateful to be smushed into American pavement! It would be an honor for him to be eviscerated and stuffed full of stale bread in our country!” Friggen’ wild turkeys stealing jobs from our factory farms!”

Okay, my family isn’t quite that bad, but it’s fun to poke back at them when they laugh at me for not believing I’m as entitled as they are, and I can’t really think of a nicer way to put that. I deleted quite a few other versions of that sentence.

When you send your kids to college, you never know what added benefits will come from that higher education. This is one time that trickle down is actually a factor. I consider my new knowledge of Meleagrididae, of the genus Meagridea, (aka common wild turkey) worth the tuition. I was also horrified to discover, while doing research for this very scientific blog, that the third most asked question about this bird is sadly this, “Is the country of Turkey named after the bird?” Yep, higher education is pretty desperately needed right here, right now, in this country. “We’re number one because one is higher than two!” I can just imagine these uneducated citizens chanting. I’m guessing those same people think the Ottoman Empire is the name of a furniture factory. The Ottoman Empire, by the way, is also commonly known as the Turkish Empire and they invaded Europe around 1354. Maybe this current day college turkey has transcontinental empires on his tiny brain too. It would explain the antagonistic tendencies and the increase in his military.

A few other fun facts; Did you know a very young turkey is called a poult? I guess the birds who live on this campus earn their ‘RY’ when they complete their degree, or reach eating age. It’s a title they are granted at commencement. Theresa Poult, RY. Major in delicious with a minor in entomology. Or did you know that turkeys eat small animals? Who knew your holiday bird could be fattened up with slugs and rats? The knowledge you can acquire at a top-rated University for half a million dollars is really pretty amazing.

So moving on; since we have now learned that turkeys will eat meat, do you think those turkeys will attack a vegan on campus as decisively as a meat eater? Do they discriminate? Do they prefer the taste of cannabis-smoked freshmen to beer-poached sophemores? Does wild muscadine grape pair well with organic graduate students?

I’m being silly, I know, but evolution is a funny thing. And there is a strange parallel here. Creatures learn to adapt in order to survive, our kids learn for pretty much the same reason. I wonder if those turkey chicks pulled-all nighters memorizing the strike zone on Volvo tires. I imagine the extra credit question on their finals; “Which area is most likely to puncture through the inner tube? Draw a diagram of the layers of steel belted radials and a short essay explaining the pros and cons of attacking a whitewall.”

That first attack turkey, General T, sent his chicks off to scratch out a living and fight the man in spite of all the scary changes to his world. We send our kids off to college to learn to deal with authority, scary real life, and apparently, uh…turkeys?

You never know what you’ll have to deal with in life, but one thing I think I can promise you is that if you educate yourself about it, you’ll do much better—and be far more entertained—than if you remain ignorant. So let me close with some fun facts to know and share.

The country of Turkey was not named after the bird.

Ottoman is not the name of a low, upholstered stool.

Education is not your enemy.

Look it up.

You have a dictionary in your hand.

Learn something.

Evolve.

Or be devoured by wild turkeys.

Poultry justice!

Life is full of funny choices.

 

 

Shari, October 18th, 2017

 

Log Jamming for Idiots

 

It’s a lovely day in Santa Cruz and my husband, daughter, her boyfriend John, and I decide to take Thor from the RV to the ‘dog beach’ where he can run around, trouble is, it’s high tide, which we don’t yet know means we may also get to rescue dogs, people, and ourselves if we’re not careful. Mama Ocean looks hungry today. When we arrive there is maybe fifteen feet of sand exposed where at low tide there is a hundred. The surf is filled with logs, some as small as firewood and some as large as a phone pole and several times the girth. Every time the waves wash in and out, these projectiles are tossed back and forth as lightly as ping pong balls in a blender, but with less stability or direction. The beach here is wrapped with cliffs, and only a concrete stairwell gives us access to the small cove. The surf, the concave cliffs faces, and the shifting tide all conspire to make predicting the strength or direction of these weapons impossible. Caution!

We take off our shoes, our jackets, the dog leash, and put them up on the steps, a couple of dry steps up. The first larger wave washes up hurling projectiles that would make log-jammers nervous, so we stay to one side and have to dodge the water soaked clubs that are bobbing like bomb-shaped apples during a halloween hurricane in a barrel.

They have something here called rogue waves, and thats’s the perfect word. Like some Navy Seal gone psycho with all the fire power but none of the discipline, they come from unexpected directions, are far more lethal than their uniform counterparts, they are bigger, higher, and strike when your back is turned. I’ve heard of them and been warned before, but I’ve never seen one.

But now I meet one up close and personal. All of sudden, I’m hit by a thigh high wall of surf from one side and turn to see that the few feet of sand we had taken refuge on has disappeared. My daughter has lifted our chow, soaking wet, up out of the surf to protect him from the logs, some of which weigh several hundred pounds water-soaked, that are tumbling around in a frenzy of constantly changing directions.

Now thigh deep in water but several yards from the cliff face, I see a huge log, fifteen feet long and at least three feet in diameter rolling back toward me as the water recedes. My brain goes to automatic and I get ready, the water recedes to my knees, my calves, and then my ankles as the steam roller spins crazily toward me, I get ready, then jump it when it flies past, gratefully under me. I struggle back toward the steps dodging smaller flotsam, but take a couple of good shin hits.

As I’m helping my daughter with the dog, I hear my husband and John both shouting. Then I see John running toward the surf. The rogue wave was so high, that it hit over the concrete steps and washed all of our stuff out to sea. Including my husband’s jacket which had his wallet in one pocket and his keys in the other. John snabs three shoes from the ocean’s maw, two of which are are my expensive new hiking boots, which he throws to me, and then he turns back to search for more, as does my husband.

Meanwhile, back on semi-dry land. My daughter and I tie the dog up higher on the steps and run back to help. But this is dangerous. Every time a wave, though thankfully no more rogue waves, washes up, it catapults its’ projectiles in unpredictable directions. John take a hard hit on his thigh, we’re still searching.

Now, new people start arriving, the tide is going out but we’re still having some high waves and precarious conditions. My daughter and I start warning people. The first lady down has two small yappy-type dogs. She ignores us, lets them go, and within seconds they are running for their lives back up onto the steps. She wisely takes them somewhere less like a battlefield to romp.

Then comes the family with five kids. My daughter tells them what’s happening, points out the concussion possibilities and they nod and move a little ways away.

The tide continues to recede with the occasional high wave, and now, soaking wet, I’m walking the shore trying to see if anything will wash up within a few hundred feet of where we are. Mind you, all of this beach is surrounded by cliffs, there are very few ways out, and no high ground if you are caught in the wrong place.

Looking over, I see a man take off his hat, quickly kick off his shoes and start for the water. I’m about to say that he should not leave his stuff there because it will be washed away when I see the intensity on his face. Following his gaze, I realize that one of the kids has gone under and his dad is trying to find him in the churning surf.

I turn and start running too, but before we get there, the dad locates the kid underwater and drags him up by the back of his shirt. We help him struggle out of the sucking surf, where his mother tries to calm the boy as he hacks up saline solution. The kid, maybe ten, is moaning, “I’m never…” pukes up a portion of sea, “going in the ocean…” hack, hack, sob, “again!” He looks accusingly out at the lovely sea as though she did it on purpose, perhaps she did. It’s not nice to ignore mother nature.

I smile at the mom and mouth, “At least not until tomorrow.” And she represses a laugh and nods, doing a great job of staying calm and reassuring.

The family gathers their stuff and leaves the beach. I high five the dad, “Good job!” He smiles at me as though it’s all in any father-with-five-boys’-day-job, and he’s probably right.

Though we search for another hour, we never find the jacket, keys, wallet, or leash, but we all have shoes!

So we head out, every step a salty, slurpy squish, to start calling credit card companies and making appointments at the DMV.

John’s right thigh is twice the size of his left, we all have bruises on our calves and shins and feet, but I always say it’s a good day when nobody dies.

And ah, how beautiful the sunlight on the water.

Gotta go. I have some keys to make at ACE hardware.

I expect I’ll be there a lot.

Be careful out there.

 

Shari, March 30th, 2017

 

Why I Need to Get My Head Examined

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the cliffs of insanity, or just a bad headache

You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”

I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.

Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.

By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?

Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.

“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”

“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)

“Oh.”

“Shawna is on her way there now.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”

“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”

“Shawna will be there soon.”

And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.

This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…

“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”

Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.

But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.

But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I just might, possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.

I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.

So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.

And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.

Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe, possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.

She would do it too.

I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.

But I still feel guilty.

Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.

But first, get a prescription.

Stay healthy.

Shari, March 15th, 2017

 

 

 

 

Surviving a Virtual Sh*t Storm

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Fill those glasses, trouble’s a’ brewing!

 

We’re into our second month of traveling trailer life, and for us newbies, it’s been a challenge, to say the least. Joseph and I are veterans at handling household emergencies ranging from forest fires and mud slides to living without heat or water for months at a time post those natural disasters. Standing outside in the back yard slinging buckets of warm water from the hot tub over ourselves to wet, lather, and rinse is doable, but I can’t say I felt particularly glamorous. At least we didn’t have neighbors to shock, but I think the forest service helicopter pilots got an eyeful once or twice. (I noticed they came back around a couple of times.) None-the-less, this living in a 36 ft trailer that rocks every time Joseph rolls over in bed and I wake up sure that it’s ‘the big one’ is all new to us. Sitting up fast in limited space can be hazardous to your skull shape as well.

Of course, like the champ he is, hubby has been learning and handling things as we go while I adjust to cooking in ten square feet, only getting a hot shower at some campgrounds that offer them, and condensation that drips down the walls so moistly (is that a word?) that I can’t leave so much as a throw pillow up against the bedhead lest our trailer becomes a mushroom farm. Fungus and furnaces aside, I’m pretty damn proud of us. Most people we told about our adventure had one of two reactions. Awe and jealousy, “I’ve always wanted to do that! “ or “How exciting!”Or the opposing counsel of, “Your marriage will never survive it.”

We call that second group amateurs. Living in a tiny trailer surrounded by giant redwoods or with the ocean lulling you to sleep at night is not what we consider hardship. Sure, every few days one or the other of us gets uptight and cranky from lack of privacy, but we know that routine from traveling together for months at a time. A half day on our own and we’re excited to share with the other what we discovered while we were apart. We both know the warning signs well enough to burrow in silently with a book or head for the hills when a question like “Where is that property we’re going to see?” is answered with a snappy, “I don’t know. I didn’t memorise the address.”

Red flags like oh, say, me condemning the peanut butter to an eternity in hell because it had the unmitigated gall to fall out of the cabinet when I opened it, or my Shakespearian actor husband muttering his replies inaudibly as he walks away, means it’s time for a solo walk or maybe just a trip to the grocery store and a leisurely perusal of the gourmet aisle.

Drinking helps. So does marijuana. Fortunately, (or you can add a ‘un’ before that word, your choice) we don’t do those things until the evenings when work is done and we have nowhere to drive and no heavy machinery to operate. So if anxiety strikes around noon, other options must be explored if we expect to have our usual evening of sex and laughter.

Okay, we play a lot of scrabble too.

So far we have replaced the tow hitch twice, extended our sewage pipe, which is no easy feat when you don’t want leaks, and washed dishes with cold water until we could figure out how to work the water heater. (turns out it’s a simple switch in the bathroom) I continually hit the button that extends and retracts the bedroom slide-out thinking it’s a light switch causing the walls to start contracting like a scene from a bad horror movie. I did this so often that Joseph finally hung a picture over it.

Then we go to look at a property where a house burnt down. There is a viewing deck which I immediately see is rotted through. Joseph is about 20 yards away checking out the well.

I call out, “Don’t step on this deck, it’s rotted through!”

He responds with an “Okay!”

I start off up the hill to look at another pad and I hear him say, “Oh, there’s the electrical box.”

Thirty second later I hear a strangled, but manly, scream. My husband is a big, barrel chested Polish man so he does not scream like a girl. My brain immediately has an image of him standing in a puddle with 20K volts rushing through his system and I take off at a run through the trees screaming, (like a girl) “What? What happened.”

All I get in reply is groaning and other various expressions of pain. I come out of the trees to see him on the edge of the deck clutching his knee rocking in pain, behind him, there is a big hole.

Now I’m screwed, there’s no cell phone reception up here, my husband is almost close to twice my size, and there is nothing I can do to help a broken leg.

Do you have any idea how hard it was not to say. “I just told you not to step on that!” I really think I deserve kudos.

Not to worry, my bull of a hubby gasps out, “ACL” meaning that his knee bent backwards again, tearing the tendons. He is such a badass that within seconds he is sitting up, telling me he wants to finish walking the property when the pain subsides enough.

What are you going to do with that kind of courage? I found him a stick, and between that and a little bit of help from me, we hobbled around the acreage. Then went to lunch where we got ice for his knee and two large beers to wash down 4 ibuprofen for his pain. He stayed up all night unable to sleep and took himself to Kaiser the next day alone while I had to drive to LA to spend an absolutely enchanting day at the LA courthouse dealing with some legal crap that should have been settled 14 years ago. On the plus side, I get to visit our daughter, which I try to do for at least a couple days every week.

And the fun keeps on coming. While I’m still down south, Joseph calls to tell me that the RV park in the redwoods where we are staying is backing up with sewage. It’s raining and flooding there so we weren’t really surprised. He said it smelled so badly people started leaving.

Then we found out that the real problem was not the flooding, nor indeed the septic system at the park, oh no.

It was us.

Apparently, we confused a roll of regular toilet paper with the biodegradable stuff and it backed up at our connection. So Joseph goes out, in the raging rain, and clears our sewer hose by hand which, when I asked, he would only describe as ‘disgusting’ because he’s a gentleman and he doesn’t want me to know that it was really like that scene in Shawshank Redemption where the Tim Robbins is crawling through a half mile of unimaginable filth and stench puking as he goes. You’ve got to love a man who can act and direct the crap out of Hamlet and then direct the crap out of our trailer in a downpour.

So now we can officially add surviving a shit storm to our list. Literally.

It’s still pouring, I’m still in LA, and the trailer still smells pretty bad from what Joseph tells me. I just keep apologising that I’m not there to help.

On second thought, dealing with my husband, angry, rain and excrement soaked, in intense pain, unable to bend his knee, swearing and cursing and sweating and bleeding might be one more catastrophe than we bargained for.

Probably better that I wasn’t there now that I think of it.

I mean, how much time can you spend at the grocery store?

And after not a half day, but four or five, I really can’t wait to see him. He’s got a lingerie reward coming, after he showers of course.

Get out there and have an adventure!!

It’s worth it.

 

Shari, February 17, 2017

The Baby in Black

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Or how your memory fucks with you.

One of my earliest memories is of standing next to my sister’s bassinette when she first came home from the hospital. It was Halloween, and in my memory, I can feel the weight of my candy bag in one hand. I was barely tall enough to see over the edge of the low crib so I had rocked forward, up on my toes. In this crystal clear flash of memory, I see the baby so clearly, my new sister, a scrunchy-faced little interruption that didn’t belong there, dressed as a witch.

My mom had dressed her in a witch’s costume and even a pointed little black hat and shoes that curled up at the toes. I recalled this image with perfect clarity in a session with my psychiatrist, who commented, “How darling that your mom took so much trouble to dress a baby in a costume.”

Later that day I called my mom to boast of my razor-sharp visual recall of my spanking new baby sister. She was duly impressed, noting “That’s amazing, you were only three.” I went on to explain how I even remembered the baby costume, hat, pointy shoes, everything, causing her to pause a minute before saying, “Uh, Shari? Steffi was born on Oct 25th, she would have been six days old. I would not have put a newborn in a costume. Especially not a witch’s hat.”

Well that’s not how I remember it. Something wicked had my way come and I’m guessing in retrospect that I didn’t care much for the experience.

Up until that moment I was the baby, I got all the attention and hugging, and then this little hag shows up out of the seventh circle of hell and blatantly steals my mommy.

I was robbed.

My feelings for my sister improved vastly over the years, but apparently I’m not the only one with memory confusion. The demonizing of my sibling, it seems, is not unique to my mental processes, as I found out a few years later when my sister was recalling a different story at the dinner table.

Here’s how I recall the event under discussion. Growing up in Atlanta with lots of trees, we always had amazing rope swings. My dad would tie a thick rope to a high branch, put several knots in the bottom for standing or sitting on, and we would find a thousand ways to create new adventures.

I always loved a show (if only there had been some clue to my future!) and when my sister was about five, making me eight, we decided to put on a circus.

Steffi was smart, strong and flexible. So I set about creating tricks for her to do while using the rope swing. We worked up to her being able to hang upside down from it, holding on with both her hands and ankles, putting her in a position not unlike a human dart, her little body streamlined into an aerodynamic bolt, arms by her sides, legs straight up, and her face, the point, straight toward the ground.

Once she had that down I decided it was time for her to swing in that position, so far we had only done it with the rope dangling. So, with her holding on, back arched, toes pointed, I took hold of the knot and started to pull the rope back so that I could release it and see her fly.

But when I pulled the rope, she didn’t come with it. Instead, it came out of her hands and away from her feet and she dropped like a rocket, like the dart she was, face first, into the ground.

It still hurts when I remember the visual. She landed, nose first, rolled to one side and lay there. My recall is a little fuzzy after that. I remember parents fussing, a trip to the doctor-neighbor, to determine if Steffi’s nose was broken. It wasn’t, but the absence of skin and proliferation of bruising made for a pretty scrappy school photo that year.

I don’t’ remember my sister blaming me at the time. Just her little body sitting patiently on our neighbors’ sofa while the doctor gently prodded at her face and announced that her nose was not broken. I suppose I was relieved, but you know, as a kid there’s always that terrible fear that you’ve hurt your sibling, that you’ve been bad and that will suck because, you know, you get punished. I lurked around waiting to get into trouble, and I do not remember now if I was blamed then or not. Most likely I’ve selectively blocked that part out.

So it was a bit of shock, when, years later, I listened to Steffi tell the story at the dinner table. Except it wasn’t the story of two girls playing circus, rather it was a swift and condemning accusation of how I had deliberately pushed her and broken her nose.

And that definitely wasn’t how I remembered it. At all. Being accused of an action that was untrue hurt my feelings, and I moped about it, feeling the ‘poor me’ of being misunderstood. Or mis-remembered, as the case may be.

The visual of her falling three feet, face first onto the dirt, with nothing to break her fall but her nose, is seared into my memory, so I think I’m right. But let’s look at it from her point of view.

And her point of view was the ground, the earth in all it’s solid mass rushing up to meet her face.

Yep. I think it’s vaguely possible that the same moment might have registered slightly differently in her memory. So why do I keep feeling betrayed that she remembers it differently from the way I do? Why does that hurt my feelings like the child of eight I was when it happened, many moons ago?

Oh woe is me, the loneliness, the alienation, the lack of sympathy and love. No one understands me.

Because I know I’m right, damn it, and I will not concede! No matter how unhappy it makes me, how unreasonable it is, or how valid it is for someone else to feel differently.

The truth is…Memory and subsequent judgment are slippery little fuckers.

Don’t trust ’em.

Alas! The only way to clear my name and soul is to acknowledge that, though I’m not wrong, (universe forbid!) she might not be either. (grumble grumble) Though that’s as far as my indignation will allow me to chill. Which is stupid; human, but really truly stupid.

These days when I listen to someone who views a current situation in a way that I cannot even process, I try to remember that dichotomy of interpretations given by two sisters, who were both actually there, and multiply by infinity. We all remember things differently, each and every human being processes events and memories based on our very unique point of view.

 

So, even though not one single person’s perspective, in its entirety, will ever be accurately felt and understood by any other single person…

I still catch myself clutching my resentment and pain of feeling misunderstood tight to my chest like a beloved toy, a relic of childhood I should have outgrown. I’ll go on insisting my point of view is the only valid one, that I’ve been wronged, refusing to grow out of the hurt.

Cause memories are useful that way.

 

Or…no…wait.

 

 

Shari, August 16th, 2016

The Infinity of Opinion.

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The narrow path.

You are absolutely alone. No one will ever understand you completely. Muhahahahaha. (that’s my evil laugh.)

And that’s just fine.

Because…you are also a part of everything, every molecule in the universe, every other living and non-living thing is made of the same stuff. The next time you feel superior for being human, bear in mind that you and dog poop are, in their basic makeup, the same thing. You have the same ingredients as a magnificent sunset, a nova, a star, a virus, and a slug. All of it is energy, moving spinning atoms, that constantly flow and change. Every time you take a breath, you inhale air that has been produced by trees and circulated through the lungs of the rest of humanity. I once read that the average glass of water has already passed through a human body seven times. Unappetising as that may be, it should remind you that we are all giving and taking every second of our lives, and even in our deaths. Nothing comes from nothing, and no energy ever dies, it’s just redistributed. Sorry royalty, elitists and republicans, life and energy are socialists, it’s our natural state.

Usually I write about how we are all connected, but today I want to talk about being different, unique, and separate, because well, I’m funny that way.

Just as no one person in the world is an entity unto themselves, no two people on earth agree on everything. In fact, we don’t even perceive concepts and ideas in the same way.

Perception of a concept as you absorb it into your brain is like light through a kaleidoscope, color and thought bouncing off of thousands of angles, each of those prisms created by every experience we’ve ever had. Every single person interprets a movie, book, issue, even people,  differently. Every time two people read the same book, they write their own, unique version of it. Reading a book is as creative an endeavour as writing it. And no! I am not sharing my royalties! Love you.

Basically, we’re drawing our own cartoon and some are wackier than others. Mine has lots of little blue birds and singing flowers, faeries too, but it hasn’t always been that way. I used to also hear scary music and see danger in the wooly woods. Then I decided I didn’t want to watch that cartoon any more. I wanted to live my life to the happy flute music.

The science behind making that change is miraculous.

Think of it like this. Look at a tree, now close your eyes. Can you see the tree? The answer is yes, but the fact is no. What’s happening is a series of electro-chemical reactions in your brain that aren’t visual at all, but they are recalling that image. The best example I can think of for this is when you and a partner both vehemently remember the same conversation, would swear on your life that you said one thing and he or she said another, and they are equally prepared to die for the cause. It’s a duel to the death, ten paces, turn and fire! Oops, now you’re both dead. That was fun! Maybe we should have decided to go for a coffee and a laugh instead. Just a thought.

Because the irony is that both perceptions are right. Because each person understood the situation, heard the words, and experienced the emotions about it from different point of views.

Now, when an author describes a tree in a book you are reading. Guess what? You see that tree as best you can, based on your personal, individual, and completely unique idea of what any given tree might look like. A kid who lives in a concrete bound urban area might think trees look like something from Dr. Seuss, a logger might immediately think of a pine or a redwood, an islander would immediately picture a palm tree. Is it becoming clear? That’s okay, it never really is.

So why do we get so upset when someone else doesn’t understand us, or sees any issue differently than we do?

A rancorous political campaign truly brings this uniquely human trait to the forefront. Your ‘opinion’ on any candidate or topic is based your filters created by through your specific mindset. Here are a few of those filters.

1, Every piece of information and explanation that’s been rammed into your head since birth. Parents, teachers, books, movies, etc. Some influences will be subtle, say, Mom making a face when someone uses food stamps. And some will be as harsh as a jackhammer breaking concrete, i.e. everyone you know believing in a church and the men who run it telling you there is only one God and one truth and if you don’t embrace that truth you will burn in hell, and funny—these men always know exactly what the truth is! What an amazing coincidence that their ‘truth’ is what someone hammered into their head when they were young. No wonder Jesus called people his ‘flock.’ When it comes to opinions and judging right and wrong, we are sheep, following that lead ram with the bell straight home to the barn, or to the slaughter house.

2, Every criticism or disapproval you have received for voicing any given opinion in any impressionable point of your life, (i.e. all of it) Peer pressure and the people you find yourself surrounded by in school, work, and relationships, basically, anyone whose approval you need or rely on for your self-image. Try telling your fifth grade teacher that it’s rude to do the limp wrist gesture when showing your class a picture of a famous male dancer. The kids threw crabapples at me all day. And, by the way, I met that dancer later, he was anything but gay, with a bevy of legendary, beautiful women lined up in his romantic past. Take that you beehive-headed bitch!

3, Whatever news outlet or information you take in, every conversation you hear. What sources of information do you pursue? Comic books or Time magazine? Fake news shows or the internet? These things shape you, they imprint in your brain and affect you physically as well as emotionally. You probably notice now that if you listen to someone giving an opinion different from yours, your heart speeds up, and you get hot, you don’t want to listen to them! Idiots! Fools! Stupid! It is very difficult to say, ‘Oh, that’s a different way of looking at it,” and not take it in emotionally.

4, How strongly you attach yourself to the emotional need to be ‘right.’ This is ego, and ego is not who you are, it’s what your brain tells you is important and is always external. It is entirely based on how you think others will view you, and as we’re discussing here, you will never know exactly how or what others think. So why do we waste our precious love and time trying to make others see it through our very narrow binoculars?

Ego is the one problem I’ve found we pretty much all need to work on these days. I grew up in the south with republican parents, went to all white schools, and lived in a rarefied world of steadily increasing wealth and privilege, so it was not to surprising that, even though it felt fundamentally wrong to me,  I was trained to be anti-immigrent, conditioned to feel deeply wronged that the government took taxes out of my hard earned money and handed it over to those lazy bastards.

Then I moved to LA. There’s a lot in between there, but let’s jump forward. I came to LA with no preconceived prejudices against hispanics for the simple reason that when I was growing up, there wasn’t any hispanic community of note in my suburban Atlanta world. Very quickly, the establishment and general news sources in Southern California had me believing that Mexicans were all violent gang members or welfare users who had dozens of children and fed off ‘the system.’ As a result, I watched youths in white t-shirts with suspicion, resented children going to ‘our’ schools, (how insane is that?) and judged people I knew nothing about.

I didn’t know any Mexican-Americans.

And then I met some and began to see that I was missing as much as a blind person wearing mittens and ear plugs. I remember one day specifically that I found myself standing in the deep end of my own ignorance and sad limitations and realising that I would drown in the bullshit that had been heaped on me. I knew in an instant that I had been paralysed, robbed of my ability to think for myself, to listen to my heart. I was shooting a commercial in a rented house. Verizon, I think it was. And the owners were a lovely young hispanic couple with two beautiful children 5 and 7. I was talking with them, not even thinking about my prejudices, (because when we are prejudice, we don’t know it and certainly won’t admit it) and I asked if they had other kids. The dad said, “Well, you know us Mexicans!” then he laughed, and said, “No, two is all we are having, we’re done.”

My face went hot and red. I was so ashamed to realise that I had this preconceived notion of an entire race of people based on propaganda from my political party and, let’s be honest, rich white people who had made up most of my world.

So I made a concerted effort to make friends with people who were ‘different’ than me. People who were different colors, nationalities, religions, and especially those with different incomes. I believe that money divides us more than anything. I invited hispanics and asians, and minimum wage workers, and every kind of American to my house, my kids played with their kids. This caused my ex a good deal of stress, as he prefered to invest his time in people who had fame or money, or could do something for him, which was one of many red flags. Eventually I left him, because as I eagerly moved to embrace people of quality, he pursued people who had things. Hanging with only the ‘haves’ is just too small a world for me. And so, I left his influence behind as well.

Becoming friends with people who were ‘different’ changed my life. The next leap was working with a charity that helped people who had lost limbs and vision, or might be  emaciated by devastating treatments and illnesses. That brought me to another light speed jump in basic comprehension. I stopped feeling sorry for people, because nobody wants your pity!! Every single person is getting through life the best they can, we all have pain, we all have suffering, it just comes in different forms. I used to feel pangs of pain for someone with a limp or a speech impediment, now I admire the hell out of them. I love that their walk is unique, that their voice is the sound of a new instrument. It makes me proud that we humans are so varied.

And last, (last so far, there’s always more,) I gave up organised religion. I believe in an awesome, unifying creative energy, I believe that we are all connected, I believe that if I do bad to someone or something, I do it to myself, because we are all one. How hard is that? What, in God’s name, (snort, get it?) makes me think that I know the truth and everyone else is wrong. Why do I even need to feel that way? The answer, of course, is that we’ve lost our way and we need  our group of bullies around us to confirm our anger and our fear and make us feel artificially safe in numbers. It’s great to get with other people for the sake of community and helping improve our world, but it sucks when it’s all about separating us into us and them. That is a lie.

Stop being one of the numbers. You are unique, alone, and part of everything.

I mean, I’m probably wrong about most of this, I look forward to changing my mind…again. Cause baby, I’ve done it many times, and I get happier with every step forward.

 

Get out there and love. Happiness is who you really are.

Shari, June 25th, 2016