Tag Archive | humanity.

Destiny Always Leads

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You can dance through life, but destiny always leads.

 

I hadn’t planned to go to Prescott Arizona, but when one of my husband’s few remaining relatives took a fall and relapsed from her brain surgery, I grabbed a carryon, threw in a few sweaters and headed for the airport.

I didn’t want to go to the deep red state, carpeted with sage brush and gun stores in seemingly equal proportion, where the air is so dry and the people are so conservative it makes my nose bleed, but someone needed me—so I zipped up my suitcase and my mouth and went to help. It’s what you do.

I have lots of family, and sadly, as with every family, I have lost quite a few of my very favorite relatives, I’ve sat bed-side at home hospice through the end, cleaned houses turned to hoarders’ caves by senility, and spent endless hours dealing with lawyers, hospitals, insurance companies, and hysterical loved ones who selfishly tried to make it all about them. I’ve shopped for caskets, planned memorials, and visited gravesides and hospitals enough for a lifetime. I have comforted, fought, stepped up, and wept, I have wept as I thought I would never weep again.

Until I did.

Luckily, overall my side of the family is a healthy, long-living bunch. My mom is one of seven sisters and I have a large family on my dad’s side too, so there are plenty of aunts, uncles, first, second and third cousins to keep those photo Christmas cards rolling in. I look forward to seeing how everyone has grown, where they’ve gone on vacation or to school, who’s starting college, graduated, gotten married, pregnant, addicted, arrested, the whole sordid, magnificent, ongoing, family saga.

But my husband is an only child with no offspring of his own. He has only one first cousin who also has no children, so his generation is functionally the last. He wanted children of his own very badly, but instead opted to care for my girls and raise them with me. It wasn’t always a job filled with gratitude or promotion, but ultimately they came to love and treasure him because he adores them, takes care of them, always puts them ahead of himself, but mostly because he treats me like a treasure and they like to see me happy.

But it’s not the same, I know it’s not. I know that he gave up the dream of marrying a younger woman than me (I’m four years older than he and didn’t meet him until I was 40) who could give him children and the subsequent family that flows ever outwards in the form of in-laws, grandchildren, future wives’ second families, ad infinitum.

Okay, maybe only one wife, but you get my drift. Some families seem to keep expanding like yeast when you soak it in water, and some families sort of slowly empty like a cookie jar that no one refills. Once, shiny and new, it was stuffed with multiple generations, group gatherings, weddings, and birth announcements, but now it sits, chipped and gathering dust on the countertop, and all that is left inside are the funerals and a fading family album.

But that doesn’t mean the cookies weren’t delicious.

It’s odd to say, but I think being part of a large, extended family is both an advantage and a drawback when it comes to hardships and death. I suppose the fact that I have been through much loss makes me better prepared to handle the tragedies when they come, on the other hand—they come more often.

I’ve learned things. I know who to speak to if you want to get the right care, I know not to harass nurses for doctors’ information, or challenge the insurance company without a lawyer, I know what details should not be allowed to fall through the cracks, I know people will lose it sometimes, that they will laugh inappropriately to keep from going insane, I know how much work it is to clean up after a life and dismantle a home, I know that relatives will fight over things they never cared for in life, I know that this too shall pass, and I understand that I will now have a new indelible date on my calendar—a death date.

Stepping back into caregiver role is familiar for me as it is for many people my age, especially women. It so often falls to us to care for the infirm or hold a hand as a spirit slips quietly over. I know what it is to have someone in room with you one second, and then they just aren’t there anymore. I truly believe that in general women have more strength for suffering of all kinds. Throughout our lives we have dealt with blood and pain on a monthly basis, seemingly irrational emotional upheaval has been a frequent visitor, and cleaning unthinkable messes is all too familiar to us. I don’t mean to discount the strength that men have, it can be profound, but it is seldom sublime.

The times in my life when I have forced myself to function while tears streamed uncontrollably from my eyes and my voice broke from the strain of debilitating emotion are too many to count. Inevitably when this happens to me whoever I am dealing with, confronting, or comforting, will tell me to calm down or try to sooth me. Mostly because an honest display of feeling makes them uncomfortable. To this I always say, “I am fine. My emotion is not a weakness, it is a strength. I can, and will, go on. I can feel all of this and remain standing”

So when people start to lose it around me, I double up on grit. I get so full of grit I might as well be made of sand, and sand, as we all know, melts into glass. I have never been through the fragility of a severe illness or a death and not come out of it feeling more beautiful and enriched than I was before. The hue of sand may be bland, but after it passes through the fire, it turns into colors that deepen and strike back at the sunlight that strives to pass through them.

But not everyone has that sense of recovery or the experience to know that they will. Some people have bad things happen and say, ‘why me?’ rather than, ‘my turn.’ So when I was talking with my Aunt-in-law, who has no children and made most of her life choices around herself all her life,  my perspective was somewhat different than hers.

In the last ten years this aunt has lost her parents, in their eighties, her brother, in his sixties, and her much older husband. This is nature, this is the circle. Family members grow old and they die, and if there are no children, the family line eventually ends. This is a fact, not a punishment. So when she looked at me with tears in her eyes and bleated, “What is happening to this family?” I was able to look back at her with a smile as sure as dawn and say, “Every family goes through these things.” Then I told her that because of my charity I have often dealt with families losing a young child and pointed out the difference between losing a three year old and a husband in his eighties. I know it’s not any easier to lose a husband than a child, but I never met a parent who wouldn’t change places with their child, if only they had been given the choice. I told her that my great-grandmother buried all five of her children before her own death at 104. That shocked her into a different, much needed, perspective.

Then I sat down and took her hand. I told her the Buddhist story of a woman who lost her child and was so distraught that she went to the monk in her village and asked him what to do, she wanted nothing but to die.

He gave her an empty jar and told her, “Take this jar around the countryside, and every time you find someone who has not lost a loved one, ask them to put one pebble in the jar. When the jar is full, return to me and I will tell you what to do.” So the woman took the jar and went from village to village, from house to house, but she never did get even one pebble, for every family had lost someone beloved. What she did find were others who had suffered as she was suffering and and they comforted her, they understood and shared her loss. What she found was that she was not alone, that death and loss were an integral part of being human. At long last, she returned to the monk, gave him the empty jar, and thanked him before going on with her life, always taking time to help others through their losses and their own unique, but familiar, unfathomable pain.

The time came for me to return home for other family responsibilities and my husband stayed on, he’s still with his aunt. At the departure gate, I received a phone call that another family member (mine this time) has just been diagnosed with cancer, and so that journey begins. Already filled with leaden sadness, my trip home was one misadventure after another, nasty airline personnel, bad directions, a bumpy flight through storm clouds, lost parking ticket, and on and on until it cumulated in me leaning against a trash can in front of terminal two at San Jose International and crying from my gut just long enough to bleed that poison out before bucking up and getting on with it. If anyone bothered to notice, they may have thought I was weak or broken, but it was exactly the opposite.

Somebody needs me, and I need to be there.

We all get a turn. We all hold a hand, feel the desperation of not being able to make it better, we all wake up at night and dread the coming dawn, we all think we will not be able to take one more step. But we are not alone. Each of us knows devastation to our souls at some point. Though we may feel that no one suffers as we do, if we search for them, the jar stays empty, at least until we fill it with compassion and memories.

And the light of a thousand departed souls.

Until we join them.

Be brave, be strong.

Cry for the loss.

Cry for the strength that it shows.

Your pain is love.

Would you have it any other way?

 

Shari, December 3rd, 2018

 

There’s Treasure Everywhere!

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At the National Museum of Archeology, Dublin Ireland. 

 

I was a tomboy, still am, kind of. Climbing trees, building forts, turning boxes into foil wrapped spaceships, pine cone fights with the neighborhood kids, (yes, it always ended in tears) these were all the activities of an average Saturday. But the best days were the treasure hunts. Oh how I dreamed of unearthing that iron bound wooden chest and prying open the lid to dig my hands into gold coins and brilliantly colored gems the size of my fist.

Perhaps that why, out of all the wonderful Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, my favorite one goes like this.

Hobbs finds Calvin digging in the yard and asks, “What are you doing?”

Calvin answers, “Digging for treasure!”

“Did you find anything?”

“A few grubs, some dirty rocks, and a weird root.”

Impressed, Hobbs asks, “On your first try?”

Looking  up at Hobbs, his face alight with excitement, Calvin exclaims, “There’s treasure everywhere!!”

I love this philosophy and I lived it as a kid. Because when you are young you know it’s out there. All of the cynicism of grownups cannot and will not stop you from your belief in the existence of magic, of mystery, and hidden treasure. Those muddy rocks by the stream can be stacked to form the foundation of a castle, the fall leaves placed just so make a flying carpet, the rope swing off the hillside is a launch into the sky if only you tilt your head back and punp high enough to feel that thrilling momentary loss of gravity between rising and falling, that magnificent second of weightlessness in a perfect blue sky.

As I grew older, my idea of treasure changed, shaped and/or warped by the expectations and values of parents and peers. I went from craving a pirate ship’s booty to coveting  adulation. Winning was my pot of gold, being the ‘best’, earning the envy of others, succeeding, being known, recognized, and lauded were the treasured prizes.

And we all know how well that works out. We all have some experience with banking on the fleeting nature of approval and popularity. There’s never someone right behind you who is faster, prettier, younger, smarter, or better connected, of course not. Not that being the silver medalist in the local skating competition or Atlanta’s top model aren’t amazing lifetime achievements, laurels you can rest your sorry ass on, confident that humanity is eternally improved by your accomplishments, or maybe, just possibly, a tiny sliver of doubt creeps in, a thought that asks, ‘Is this treasure tarnished? Am I mistaking tin for silver? Can I trust it? Does it feed my imagination or my soul? Does it make me a better person or help anyone else?’

So you turn your goals to developing talent and being active in community, true treasures both, and both full time occupations. That shift from result to process is a gift that colors every day of your life, shifting the filter from that wash of envious green to a rosy glow of inclusiveness.

I like that kind of treasure.

But I’m still a kid at heart. I still believe in magic, I still want the heavy, battered chest, the magic, the shiny prize. Even if only for the fun of it.

And that’s why I love thrifting. I know, I’m using a noun as a verb and that’s annoying, but ever since my girls were little and we moved to a neighborhood with the most amazing second-hand store I’d ever seen, we’ve been hooked.

This place rocks. Clothes, knick-knacks, dishware, furniture, art, jewelry, sports gear, it has it all, clean, organized and cheap! None of that Goodwill pricing crap where every T-shirt is priced at a uniform 5.95 whether it’s worth it or not. If it was a worn tank top, it was 99 cents. If it was a button down Dolce Gabbana with the tags still on it, it might be 13.99. (yes, I did find that!) And there were different color tags, every week two of those colors would be half off and a third would be 75% off.

The thrill of the search and the results kept us going back several times a week to that run down shopping center in our neighborhood’s back yard, not the usual place one would search for fabulous objects.

That shop, Sun Thrift in Sunland, is one of the things I miss the most about Los Angeles. That and the amazing mix of ethnicities, food, and art that a multicultural city affords. Now I have San Francisco nearby, which rivals the cultural aspect, but alas, no Sun Thrift.

Here in Santa Cruz there is a distinct absence of diversity, and that pains me daily, not just because of the lack of good Asian food or polish delis either, but because I prefer a community where the people are as colorful as the scenery. People of diverse backgrounds, belief systems, physical appearances and languages are one of the greatest treats—dare I say treasures?—in life. My life is infinitely richer from the opportunity to have befriended so many different humans from so many cultures, they have expanded my mind and my existence. A golden heart is a precious pearl in any shape, color, or size, no matter where you find it.

Maybe that’s why I still love digging for treasure.

When I found this store I had just divorced husband number two, it was a dark time for me. My family pretty much chose him over me. My mother, who I had brought out from Atlanta to live with us, decided to shun me and live with him and my siblings decided that his big fancy house would be the best place to spend holidays with their kids, especially since our mother lived there, friends I had cared for and hosted for years disappeared like a drop of ink in the ocean, a lawyer on a motorcycle hit my car and decided to sue me for two million dollars, (if I’d known he was that kind of a lawyer at the time I would have backed up and run over him for the good of society). Suffice to say it was a furiously tense time. I could easily have shattered. Instead I took that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, blew those three panels up to poster size, framed them, and hung them over the dining room table in my rental house. In spite of it all, it was how I chose to feel about life. Even in that horrible time, there was treasure, there was goodness, there was beauty. It might be the two friends who stood by me out of dozens, it might be the shadows the oak tree made on my newly bought curtains, (he got the house and pretty much everything in it we’d built together, but that’s another blog), it might be the greeting I received from my theater friends when I showed up for rehearsal, it might be having a place I could call my own that wasn’t entirely controlled by someone else who should have been my partner, it might have been my girls laughing in the pool out back, something they’d always wanted but been denied by their father’s miserly outlook toward anyone but himself. Whatever it was, no matter how small or huge, there was treasure. Not the least of which was my independence. After sixteen years of giving eighty percent of my love, time and energy to someone else, I was finally going to claim it back for myself. When I wasn’t weeping, exhausted from the ugliness of it all, I was dancing with joy and possibility. Yes, even wallowing in all that mud, slogging through the dirty custody fights, the disgusting lies told about me to my own children, the loneliness and betrayal of losing all but the most loyal of friends, yes even among all the grubs and the mud there was joy and possibility.

I made it through. Now I have all the treasure. My girls are happy and thriving, I write for a living, I travel when I like, I hike in redwoods or by the ocean everyday, and I have a husband who considers me the treasure, and tells me so everyday, a husband who works hard, cares about community and puts me and girls first every time.

I do still like to go treasure hunting, also known as thrifting. So yesterday after a doctor’s appointment, I went to the Goodwill near her office. The seasons are changing, which I adore and most of my real clothes are still in storage back in LA so I just buy stuff as I go, mostly from thrift stores. Currently I’m on a quest for comfortable corduroys, I love men’s pants because they are better made and have an excess of pockets. So I picked out a few things to try on. In the dressing room, I slipped my hand in a pocket and came out with a wrapped piece of paper, at first I thought, “Yuck, someone left their gum in here,” but there was something about the way it was folded, so I opened it and found a huge nugget of sticky weed. Bonus score! (Since I was buying the pants, I figured the weed was a perk, like a key chain with a purse.) Then I went back out into the store.

I had noticed one of the employees was one of those effervescent people who smiles and is helpful to everyone he meets, I always watch people like that because it gives my day a lift. This guy saw me looking through the appliance section and asked if he could help me. I told him I was keeping an eye out for a juicer for my daughter. He went out of his way to help me search, even going into the back where he produced a brand new one, (probably an unwanted wedding gift) that he had the pricer mark at seven dollars for me. That job done, he proceeded to procure a lamp finial I’ve been looking for for over a month. Actually he took it off an ugly lamp, got it priced separately, (89 cents) and handed it over with a wink. His cheerfulness was contagious so we shared a few laughs and then I thanked him and went to check out.

They were Saturday-slammed and had chosen this unfortunate time to train new people at the register, so this guy, being on the ball, hustles up and takes over a register, connecting with each person he helped and just generally brightening the entire ambiance of this second hand, second chance storefront in Capitola, California.

At the last second in line before my turn I spotted some new extension cords and remembered that I needed one. But when I checked the price they were no less expensive than the hardware store so I said I’d pass. There was one, however that was out of the packaging and just bound with clear tape. This guy grabbed it and said he’d ask how much it would be. I told him not to bother as I didn’t want it if it wasn’t around five bucks and the others, exactly the same but still in the packaging, were almost twenty.

He bolted for the back and returned with a sticker, $4.98. Score!

As I paid up, he asked if I wanted to round my change up forty cents to benefit their job-training program, from which he had graduated. I said, as I always do, that of course I did and we both commented on the brilliance and simplicity of helping people to live better lives by empowering them with knowledge and skills. We smiled at each other as he handed me my receipt and thanked me for coming in.

As I gathered my trophies, I extended a hand and said, “I’m Shari by the way.” He beamed, shook my hand firmly and warmly and said, “I’m Tosh.”

And out I went, blessed by another brush with good luck, pleased with my purchases, and reflecting that you never know what you’ll find if you only look with new eyes.

Because really, I was just digging in my backyard, among stuff someone else thought was junk, stuff they’d in effect thrown away, and I found so many gems.

A pair of perfect fit corduroys complete with bonus prize, a fall colored pashmina scarf, a brand new juicer and an eagle finial, all for under twenty bucks.

But most rewarding of all was an exchange with a man who exuded kindness and lifted my heart.

Who works a minimum wage job in a second hand store selling stuff somebody didn’t want any more.

A previously discarded human with a purpose, a job, and a helpful spirit.

A guy named Tosh who restored my faith in the worth of good people.

There’s treasure everywhere.

 

 

Shari, September 24th, 2018

Breathing Underwater-or surviving giving a shit.

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So I’m having a bad day, like you do. It’s not so much that bad things are happening to me as it is that anything that does happen is being processed through my filters as emotional torture. You know the kind of thing, someone is rude at the grocery store and you can’t let it go, someone else has four dogs off the leash on a walk in a state park where it is clearly marked ‘no dogs’ and when you mention this, you get a condescending, “Thank you,” before the bitch returns to her loud cell phone call while her dogs harass the wildlife and poop on the trail and as much as I’d like to I can’t bring myself to drop kick one of the canines into the stream, (the rules don’t apply to them after all) my daughters are criticizing me for ______ (fill in whatever works for you cause I am not alone in this), there’s a dead fawn on the road where everyone speeds like idiots because it’s their god given entitlement to kill everything in their path because they want to go fast. Pretty soon I’m stuck on the ‘people suck’ loop and I’m crying for no apparent reason and contemplating returning to drug addiction or wondering if anyone will notice if I just move to a remote village in the Abruzzi.

But no, people need me here. That’s what we tell ourselves anyway. I get overwhelmed by the sheer annoyance of not being able to end it all because eventually someone will need help moving, a recipe, a ride to the hospital, or a babysitter. And I, sigh, will raise my hand and volunteer.

Being needed is a blessing…and a curse. I suppose that’s because the required minimum—making small talk with people who watch reality TV, showing up at family events to be mocked by your siblings, listening to your father make racist jokes that he thinks are funny and innocent without taking his head off, and not letting the general public’s general bad behavior ruin every outing—take so much energy.

Okay, it saps my life strength. Over the years I’ve come to dislike people, not all of them of course, but the more I paid attention and shifted what is important in my life from surface success to actual kindness and decency on every level, the more disappointed I became.

So recently my 82-year old father and his wife were moving out of their home of 30-something years in Atlanta and the entire nasty pack up and move fell onto my only sibling left on the east coast, I decided I’d better go help. My oldest daughter, knowing that if I had to sit a house with Fox news blaring all day without emotional back up I might actually commit patricide, courageously offered to come and help.

Now there’s nobody who collects shit and hangs onto it more efficiently and pointlessly than wealthy white folks. I kid you not there were a dozen full sets of china, countless boxes of unused and unopened stemware, expensive suits and dresses with the tags still on them that were out of style in the late nineties, and three punch bowl sets, one of them with 52 cups. When my step mom said she wanted to keep it, I asked her how often she was going to have a garden party with 52 guests. She shrugged and said, “Who knows?”

I do. I know. Never. I used to entertain like that, but no more. Fact is, it got to the point that I realized I was throwing parties, spending thousands of dollars and weeks of effort, to entertain people who didn’t appreciate it at all. I think I swore it off after the time I used the Limoge china at a garden party only to find two broken plates shoved under chairs the next morning and cigarette butts ground out on my patio. Enough. And after years of taking in every orphan who had no where to go on holidays, including them in my family celebrations, putting them up, buying them gifts, and cooking for twelve, pretty much every one of those people completely blew me off when I divorced the last husband. My response to that when I climbed, still  bleeding, out of the back of the closet where I’d been licking my wounds was ultimately, “Good riddance,” but it took a while to heal from that poison arrow puncture.

It’s come to the point that I’m in danger of becoming a recluse, which is fine, because my husband is the same way, but eventually and inevitably….somebody is going to need a hand cleaning their apartment so that they get their deposit back and I have all the pine-sol.

So after I get back from doing my good daughter deeds in conservative hell and I’m having this bad day, I’m driving around looking for a place I can pull over and just curl up in the leaf litter alone for a good hour or so of self-pity, otherwise I’ll go swimming with rocks in my pockets, when I get a text from older daughter. ‘Have you talked to my sister? She’s at the clinic at school.’

Time to be mom and shut down all concern for self. I turn the car around and drive to campus, find the clinic, and then find X-ray where she’s having her head examined, literally. Parking is a bit a challenge, but once I work that out I start trying to find a way to get into a building that was clearly designed to confuse and confound the non-student-or-faculty-visitor. Still fragile and feeling like my nerves are stretched thinner than five hundred feet of frayed, tangled dental floss, I see two young women sitting on a bench outside the building. They are hugging, one’s head tight into the other’s shoulder. I do not know if they are friends, lovers, or strangers thrown together in some difficult moment, but it does not matter. What I see is love, compassion, real connection. Tears start streaming down my face and as they both look up at me, I say in a choked voice, “That makes me happy. I’m having a really bad day and that really makes me happy.” I am aware that I look and sound like an emotionally unstable wreck and while I learned long ago that experiencing my emotions honestly is a strength not a weakness and that I cannot control what others think, I am just hoping that I don’t freak them out.

And then the miracle happens. They both make eye contact and smile with authentic warmth, the one with her head down says, “Oh, I’m so glad!” with such enthusiasm that the fog in my head and heart dissipate in an instant, clearing so that the light on the dogwoods around us and the shadows of the ferns on wall shine with fresh beauty. They were just as beautiful a moment before of course but as I said, my filters, like sunglasses smeared with pond scum, would not allow me to experience it.

I continue past them, tears coming harder, but joyous now. Yes, my pain and my fullness are my strength, I know this, and sometimes, just every once in a while, some one else sees that too.

My daughter turned out to have a sinus infection instead of leaking brain fluid, so…that’s good, and most important. But almost equally elating was the look on her face when I came into the exam room. The shy, almost child-like smile that let me know she was glad I could be there even as she told me I didn’t need to come. She doesn’t need me, this one, she was born independent, but she was still glad for my presence.

And that’s why I will continue to volunteer to be dragged over the searing coals of the emotional exposure BBQ. Few people in our lives will appreciate the percentage of effort or the sacrifice of our personal happiness that giving up our own peace of mind just to care—for them and their world—costs us. That’s okay.

I’m glad I went to help my Dad, even if my blood boiled at his willful ignorance and apathy. (We don’t recycle, it’s too much trouble. Global warming is bullshit.) I’m really glad I took a small portion of the responsibility off of my sister, the one of the four of us who always does what’s right. I’m glad I get angry when people treat others or their environment with disdain and arrogance. I will endure the exhaustion that comes from fighting for others who can’t fight for themselves and for a future I will not live to see. I’m glad that I can speak through tears when I needed to stand up to someone for treating me or others badly. So many people see those things as weakness, as unnecessary, as overwrought, or they just plain resent you because caring or calling them out makes them uncomfortable.

Too fucking bad.

It’s just who I am.

Weepy, overly-emotional.

Sensitive.

Human.

Alive.

Bring it.

Shari, May 15th, 2018

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Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

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

The Courage of Kindness

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The longer I live, the more I realize that only two things really count, Kindness and Courage. Frame it anyway you want to, if you just make those two character traits something you give a fuck about, it will change the world around you.

Take today. We had to move our thirty-seven foot trailer across the RV park to a spot for long term use. While this isn’t storming the beach at Normandy, (deep respect for those who face real danger every day) it is still daunting when you’ve only had a chance or two to figure out how to turn a 90 degree corner while backing downhill into a space with giant redwood trees on both sides. Everyone has been very nice about our fledgling attempts, “You just need practice!” they say reassuringly. To which I reply, “But where can you practice?” Unless you have a grocery store parking lot to yourself for a few days, the only ‘practice’ you are going to get is doing. Oh, did I mention it was raining and hailing? Just a little plus.

My husband and I are pretty good at taking on challenges. We adjust, we study, we learn, we are generally not afraid of much in the realm of trying new things. On the flip side, we try to be helpful whenever we can, and both of us have taken on mentoring younger people in our respective fields and we’ve been able to pass on some amount of confidence to others, generally we try to be helpful, we make it a goal to be part of the solution and not the problem, we act brave even when we are afraid, and we try to work from a genuine place of eagerness to be of service. I have no fear of not having done enough, for us or for others. Yet there is this one overwhelming fear I have yet to conquer.

I’m terrified that we will crush someone else’s dream.

It’s not us I’m concerned about. We’ll be fine. We’ve had plenty and we’ve had less, and we’ve been happy with both. We’ve worked through messy family situations, divorces, our own insecurities, (that last one’s ongoing of course.) but, just like the time we rented a 50 foot twin engine boat and went cruising around the coast of Washington and Canada without a single day’s working knowledge of boat operation, I was afraid that we would make a mistake that would cost some innocent bystander their life’s savings. Every time we had to park (sorry, dock) that massive, multi-ton twin-screw ship, I couldn’t help but worry that one mistake could literally sink some really nice people’s retirement dream.

I would see them, these gracious retirees relaxing on the back decks of their lovely boats with names like ‘The Serenity’ or ‘Seafoam Two’. A glass of wine in one hand, they would watch us with growing concern as we clumsily made our way through the port slips. By the time we were finally at our slip, about six to eight of them would have surrendered their cocktail time and come to stand by, ready, holding ropes, shouting advice to my dry mouthed husband as he tried to back into the space. Yep, back in.

After our second such foray, once we had thanked everyone profusely, offered bottles of wine as consolatory thank yous, and gone back inside I turned to Joseph and said, “That was distinctly not fun! This is supposed to be fun, I’m on vacation!” So we found a captain who teaches boating, and Joseph took a half-day lesson. After that we could dock without having to face the blank horror of encroaching doom on the faces of Memaw and Papa.

Then we decided to anchor off an island, which means drop an anchor and run a line to a tie-off on the shore, like, say a tree. What we didn’t know is that the ropes they had given us with the rental boat did not float like they are supposed to do. They sank. So while we were jockeying around in the bay, the ropes got twisted tightly around the propeller. Now we are in near freezing water off the coast of Alaska, but God bless my hubby, he strips down, puts a kitchen knife in his teeth and dives in. Okay, first he hid the boat engine keys just for his own piece of mind because if I had started the engine, he would have been sliced to pieces. So there he is struggling under the boat, coming up for gasps of air and clearly not having an easy time of it. I see the lady in the only other boat, which was anchored about thirty yards away, very quietly get into her dingy, and row over. When she was close, she just sat there and waited. Ready to help if Joseph got in any trouble.

So kind, and we have tried to do the same in return every chance that comes before us. Sometimes all we do is stand by, ready to help if needed, sometimes we chip in and help tow the line, figuratively or literally.

And here’s the deal, we’ve learned one, very important thing.

Ask for help when you need it.

You won’t always get it, but on this trip, it’s been fairly remarkable how great people are. People with lifetimes of experience and knowledge that you don’t have and are willing to share it.

Take Jay. He’s the manager/owner at the RV camp where we are now huddled down for three months. The other night, someone who was supposed to arrive had a breakdown on the freeway off ramp. They called to let Jay know that they would be arriving late, that they had a tow coming for their truck but they would have to leave the trailer by the highway until the pickup was fixed. So Jay got his ass out of bed at 4 a.m. took his truck, picked up their trailer, and had it in place by the time the unlucky campers finally got their repairs done.

During the recent flooding here in Santa Cruz, Joseph and I went to the fire department, Sheriff’s office, and two churches trying to find somewhere to volunteer and help out with anything from sand bagging to bringing food to evacuation centers. The response at each place was the same, they were guarded, then surprised, and finally grateful, but they had it pretty well covered, being used to this sort of weather every seven or eight years. So we left our number and went to breakfast.

It was weird not be able to help out. That’s just something we do, it doesn’t require thought or decision for us, we are part of a whole, a community, and while we are in it, we will try to make it a better place. Some people think you need a church, or an organization of some kind to work through, and, while group assistance is great for big disasters you can help others with any small thing that comes your way. It isn’t religious, it isn’t noble, it does not require godly approval, it’s just human.

So when we knew that our inexperience with camper relocation could damage some very old trees not to mention someone else’s mansion on wheels, we turned to Jay. He’s kind of a scary dude. Six-five, I’d say, white hair and perfect goatee, looks a lot like the quiet yet dangerous member of a biker gang. But we bucked up our courage and asked. He quietly got up from his desk, put on his coat, climbed into the driver’s seat of our pickup, and whipped that massive hunk of metal, wood, furniture, everything including the kitchen sink, into it’s exact position. One of his workers stood by as pilot and the job was done in five minutes, to within an inch of where he wanted to put it. Even the squirrels were impressed, but they chittered insults and mockery at us. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were doing, anyway, they were definitely hurling something, possibly redwood cones.

Best of all, Joseph and I watched what Jay did, and though we might not be able to do it now, we at least have some idea of the geometry of it. We learned.

That was kind. That was brave. Jay is one of many who are really good at something we are not, and was willing to share his experience and expertise even with the risk involved in handling someone else’s property. That is both kind and courageous.

What a difference it made, to us, to the people around us, and hopefully to Jay. We were sincerely awed by his ability, and he was no doubt relieved to end the day without bodily injury or a lawsuit.

Are you brave? Help someone else.

Are you afraid? Ask for help.

Are you afraid and there is no one to help?

Act brave, it might just get you through it.

Even if the squirrels do laugh at you.

 

With deep gratitude.

 

Shari, March 6th, 2017

 

 

Working Wounded

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I don’t think I’m alone. It’s hard to throw myself into a new book while the world is churning with hatred and fear. Hell, with all the selfish ugliness that’s been unmasked in our society right now, it’s hard to keep any faith in humanity as a whole. I find myself stunned and bleeding. I feel emotionally hammered, bruised and disheartened.

So how do we maintain not only our ‘normal’ lives but keep working to stop our country and the world from sliding dangerously backwards.

It’s become so obvious that a large portion of Americans are making what I would call really bad choices. I’m sure some would say the same of me, though the difference is that I don’t want to deprive anyone of anything to satiate my fanaticism, make money, or make myself feel better by making others less.

As people, our choices define us, and those definitions are definitive!

It seems to come to this—Are you willing to be of service to others for the greater good? Do you respect the individual and equal importance of every member of the village? Or are you concerned only about what affects you?

If you are someone who prefers ignorance (choose not to learn anything new) and isolation (America first! Christians first! White males first!) I’d like to share some wisdom with you. It’s not my own wisdom, it’s been going on since man first stood up and walked, even before that when as little more than grunting monkeys we formed groups to hunt and protect our young. Relationships, families, cities, countries, and especially a world of seven billion people do not and will not work if you think only of yourself. If you live alone on an island—Go for it.

I wish there were an island big enough for all of you who think yourselves so much more moral than everyone else so that you could be alone with your specially cherry picked ‘ethics’.

But then how would that work? Everyone on that island would be more important than everyone else. Would you live on a little square and have no contact with others? If one has water and another has a fruit tree, will you not trade or share? Even for your own survival? If one worships the sun and you the moon, do you lay in wait at night to slaughter the day dwellers?

I understand that you are afraid. “Those day people look so scary, they have bronzed skin and sleep in the afternoon, it’s just wrong! They must be wrong because I’ve based the entire justification of my existence on being a moon worshiper, so if they are right, my whole being is invalid.” The fact that it’s okay to worship the moon and the sun cannot be allowed, your brain is too narrow. The idea that nothing needs to be worshiped but instead cared for with love and honesty is unfathomable to such a mentality. It’s hard to be comfortable with what you do not understand. I get it, you are afraid.

Then I am reminded that are so many people, the majority I believe, who are proving that they do care for the greater good. In spite of being mocked, spited, belittled and lied to. We care. We drag our eviscerated hearts out to be stomped again, and we will not stop.

It’s scary for people who know nothing except what they’ve been force fed to listen to other voices. But hear this, not only are the loving strengthened each time we are challenged, you can hear our strong hearts beginning to thrum together. The drumming of stronger wills is growing louder.

And here’s what you should fear. Being left out of the whole, alone and stranded on your island of privilege. Why not be motivated by helping others, by being part of a whole, by asking and searching for answers that work for us all? Why not choose a motion that is fueled by love not fear?

Because now as a society we know too much to cling to the illusions that crimes against humanity are ‘patriotic’ or ‘we’re number one.’ By now, we have seen the abominations that arrogant power mongers and religious fanatics have done to humanity. We have witnessed the suffering and the illusion of ‘us’ and ‘them.’

The number is growing steadily of those who see the insanity of assumed privilege for what it is, a shallow veil for narcissism and evil. More and more are refusing to become that kind of sub-person, to teach that ignorance, to pass on the onus of that fear to the next generation.

Because where will that take us? We already know, we’ve been there. Again and again and again.

To see oppression and elitism as things that are good, or far worse ‘patriotic’ tells me that you listened only to one frightened voice. You have allowed in only the words of the men and women who have justified their bad behavior, who need to control you with fear, who—if they had the courage to admit what they truly value—would stand naked and exposed for their pettiness and their heinous crimes. And all they have to cover themselves is a manmade flag.

A good quick example of that kind of misinformation and justification is an early slave trader. A man who we credit with having ‘discovered’ a country with hundreds of thousands of people living on it already. He enslaved those people, killed them, hunted them with dogs, sold girls as sexual slaves (the nine to eleven year olds were the most popular) and still, to avoid teaching our children our actual history because they might learn the truth from it, (I get it, you are afraid) we have elevated this monster to a national hero. Yes, it’s Christopher Columbus.

You don’t have to believe me. You can read Columbus’s own diary, and his son’s who went on to become governor of the islands after him. Together, they are responsible for the deaths of six million people, an entire race.We don’t teach our children who he really was and what he did because we are ashamed.

Aren’t you proud?

Ask yourself, do you need to see “America” as an unassailable shining ball of light? Or can you acknowledge that it has deep veins of evil, profiteering, power mongering that, far from being wiped out, are alive and festering in today’s Americans. Perhaps because we have not faced the truth about ourselves and our history.

The US is not fucking Tinkerbell. It’s a living, breathing, changing organism of which we are all parts, cells, if you will, of a greater body. When one part gets a cancer, the whole being suffers, shrivels, and wastes away.

So today I will hitch up my sagging heart, try to lift my jaw from the floor where it keeps falling and love again. I will raise my eyes to the horizon and focus on a happier future. I will create, I will help where and when I can with what comes before me. I will fight, broken and bruised, flinching even, but moving forward, embracing the change that is the evolution of our species.

I didn’t start out this way. I was raised white, privileged, Christian, and if I’m honest, afraid of what I didn’t understand. So I set out to meet my ignorance and I changed. I know this fight may leave me with cauliflower ears and permanent brain damage, or I may die trying to pull out a comrade, but I will have learned, listened, traveled and acknowledged the rights of others as equal to my own. I will know what my choices are and why.

I will belong.

Will you?

Come on, if I can do it, you can do it.

 

Shari, January 30th, 2017.