The Rocky Path to Unity

I simply did not understand her position—that being asked to sing a song as one, in unity, was a reason for more divisiveness.

A woman I know, who is Jewish, said she watched the Biden inauguration only to the point where Garth Brooks asked all present to join with him in singing Amazing Grace.  She was offended, she said, by being asked to sing a Christian song.

Now, I, personally, do not think of Amazing Grace as being an overtly Christian song.  It was sung regularly at services held by the interdenominational church that I attended for many years, although they did, in fact, change just a few of the words.  Our teaching being that, as children of the Divine, we must never speak badly of ourselves, the word “wretch” became “soul”; grace, we sang, taught our hearts to soar, not fear. Our congregation included members from faiths as diverse as Buddhist and Pagan, yet we all sang Amazing Grace together, raising our voices as one.  It was, to us, to me, a phoenix song; a song of rising from the ashes to experience blessings and mercy; of learning that we could trust, believing we were loved.

But, putting that heartwarming memory entirely aside, I genuinely could not comprehend her position: that being asked to sing a song as one, in unity, was a reason for more divisiveness.

Had I been asked to join in a Hindu or Buddhist chant, a Native American or Pagan invocation, a traditional Jewish song, or the lilting beauty of an old Negro spiritual, one perhaps written over a century before to lift spirits caught in the squalid darkness of slavery—had I been asked to join in any of these, I would have done so gladly; been overjoyed to do so, in fact, for that would have represented to me the true unity of people of all faiths, all colors—all the glorious variety of humanity that makes up the diverse population of America.  I would have happily sung The Marseillaise or Garibaldi’s Hymn or We Shall Overcome. In a pre-pandemic world, I would have reached to join hands with the people beside me and chanted or prayed or sung with gladness.

Already dismayed by her remarks, I later read that many in American Indigenous communities were offended by hearing JLo sing This Land is Your Land. Again, I shook my head. Despite my mother’s oft-repeated claims, DNA testing has proved that I bear not a single drop of Native American blood in my veins, and I have no comprehension of what it must feel to have had one’s home and culture and language and spirituality wantonly stolen; to have been crushed beneath the heels of one’s oppressors.  Yet I’ve read scholarly articles explaining that Native American tribes waged war with one another for, yes, for land, for cultural and religious differences, for slaves and resources, long before the first Europeans ever dreamed of setting foot on these shores.  Humans are, sadly, warlike beings. Stealing land from one another has gone on for all the millennia of our existence. So a song written as an indignant retort to God Bless America hardly qualifies as an intended irritant to the Indigenous community, despite that it was taken that way.

That is, I think, the point I am struggling so hard to make: I am so weary of everyone taking offense to everything!  I am so tired of the lack of tolerance; of the hardened shells people continually build around themselves, claiming that inclusiveness means only that their perspective, their beliefs, be recognized. That theirs is the important viewpoint.  That everyone must not just listen, but bend, to their preference.

Why cannot “Merry Christmas!” be answered with, “Happy Festivus!” instead of a glare and a growl? Why cannot someone simply answer, “Well, I don’t celebrate, being Jewish, but I know you mean that kindly, so thank you.”  Why can we not consider the friendly intent, and respond in fashion? Why cannot we sip the nectar from the flower, and avoid the bee sting  within?

Unity, pleaded both our new President and the performers at his inauguration ceremony. Raise up your voices and sing together.  Put aside our differences and invoke tolerance, consideration, and courtesy. 

“Can we all just get along?” Rodney King asked in 1992.  And now, 29 years later, I fear the sad answer is, “No, Rodney.  No, it seems we can’t.”  Or won’t. Or don’t really want to do so.

But I will go on, attempting to instill my own behavior with tolerance, and understanding, and acceptance, because, as I was taught in childhood, one must set the example by one’s own life. Because it is the right thing to do.  Because the only way forth to unity is to set aside our propensity to hold tightly to our differences and wounded feelings, and accept, and even glory in, our common humanity.

Wearily, though, I know that someone will take offense, if not at this entire essay, to some point made within it.   They will respond with indignation or bitter anger, even threats, to my words.  Nevertheless, I retract nothing.  After all, (to paraphrase yet another song) I can’t please everyone, so I may as well please myself.

If you liked, rather than hated this essay (!), you might also enjoy “Roses of the Soul”, which you can find in the Archives from December 16, 2017.

The Rose Garden Massacre

This is what happens when a person with absolutely no taste is permitted to be in charge of a national treasure!

Of the many things that upset me about the past four years under the Trump administration (and they were divers, from the 600-some infants and children torn from their mother’s arms at the border to the fascist statement that the American press is “the enemy of the people”), few had such a visceral effect upon me as The Rose Garden Massacre.

I adore roses.  I’m complete crap at gardening, but for some reason, roses forgive me for my ineptitude, and grow for me.  They grow despite black spot and Japanese beetle and aphids and sudden spring freezes; despite too much rain and too little.  They grow despite my own incompetence at pruning and fertilizing and nurturing.  Roses, it seems, love me back.

So, because of my own love of roses and success with them, I had always taken exquisite pride in the White House rose garden.  Every spring I sought out photos of the flowering crab apple trees beginning to blossom.  I don’t really even like tulips, which I consider to be the most boring of flowers, yet I enjoyed the spring riot of color as the tulips beneath the crab apples began to cast their slender faces upward toward the sun.  It just pleased me, somehow, that what is essentially a business-place, one devoted to the running of an entire country, could possess such a garden, and such a concession to beauty; to green and growing things.

So it was with consternation and horror that I read, on August 22, 2020, of the rose garden renovations.  I sat in front of my computer, scanning the news stories, and gazing in horrified disbelief at the massacre of the nation’s well-loved rose garden.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I was well aware that, to accommodate those with disabilities (and the ridiculous stilettos worn by certain idiot females), new, wide walkways were needed in the White House rose garden; and that, although not actually visible in the restorations, access to higher tech was required.  These things were necessary in order to move the rose garden—site of so many gatherings and press briefings—into the 21st century.

But this—this devastation—was not.

Rose Garden

The flowering crab apple trees, so lovingly planted by Jacqueline Kennedy, were missing, perhaps slaughtered.  I read claims that these trees had been transplanted, not merely cut down, but (perhaps due to my lack of knowledge about horticulture), I dismissed the idea; how does one transplant a 60-year-old tree? Is that even possible?  The renovations had been announced in August; were the tulip bulbs still gently hidden in their hibernation, waiting until spring to once more toss riotous, dancing color to the sky?  Again, I doubted.  And the roses themselves—the lovely, richly colored, beautiful roses, where were they?  A swath of ghostly pale blossoms lined those new walkways against the clearly-revealed, garish white of the colonnade.

I could not understand any of it.  The trees, I read, had been overgrown, casting too much shade, and so had to be removed.  How strange!  I’d always believed one pruned trees regularly, to prevent their becoming overgrown.  But the missing color—the glorious, wild, rambunctious color of the rose garden—why had it been dimmed, diminished, banished?

Of course, this is what happens when one allows an individual whose prior claims to fame, before acquiring certified gold digger status for her marriage to a wealthy man, had been producing full-frontal nudity and lesbian porn photos, to be in charge of a national treasure. (No, much as I despise the woman, I will not provide a link; if you want to see those vulgar pictures, you can look them up.)  Even setting aside her infamous pornographic photos,  Melania Knauss Trump had already proven, numerous times, that taste was not a word in her lexicon.  Consider her frightening and much-maligned White House Christmas décor, her notorious “I Don’t Care” shirt, or the mangled grammar of her anti-cyber-bullying initiative, which proved conclusively that she had no idea to whom she was married.

Hence, her transformation of the well-loved White House rose garden into an eerie diminutive of the Russian Gorky Park.

The day after the President Biden took office, I looked for and signed one of numerous petitions begging our new First Lady to take in hand the restoration of this beloved icon of America.  As I remarked to several friends, beyond passing the hat at the office to purchase cards and flowers for coworkers, I have absolutely no experience whatever of fundraising, but I would gladly delve into the necessary work to assemble whatever money was needed for the project.

Erasing fascism, racism, cult-behavior, xenophobia, sedition, vicious rhetoric and name-calling from the American government will, no doubt, be an overwhelming challenge for the new administration.  But planting ten crab apple trees and some tulips, along with roses bursting with color in every shade and variety, should be almost effortless by comparison. And it might just help, in one tiny way, to bind up the wounds and restore the damaged soul of  our Nation.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also find you like “Cathy’s Roses”, from July 24, 2018, or “A Memory Walk”, posted September 11, 2019.  Both essays can be found in the Archives.

29 Things, Revisited

In November 2019, I offered this catalogue of traits I wished to see in an American President.  From the day Joe Biden was announced as the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election, I planned to re-run the column for Inauguration Day, but after the dark events of January 6, I had second thoughts, wondering if perhaps I should say more, or provide an update.  But, on consideration, I decided to let the essay stand as it was originally written–for anyone could see, in  these points, a foreshadowing of what was to come.

I am sad and dismayed to be vindicated.  And I pray, desperately, that we are ushering in an era of renewed dignity, truth, and compassion in our nearly-broken country.

  1. I want a President who willingly releases his or her taxes to the American people. 1
  2. I want a President who is totally unconcerned about the number of people who attend the inauguration, knowing that has nothing whatever to do with the actual work of the Presidency. 2
  3. I want a President who will respect and obey the emolument’s clause of the Constitution; who will divest him/herself of business interests which might result or even appear to result in a potential conflict of interest between the duties of a President and personal gain. 3, a & b
  4. I want a President who knows that “The Buck Stops Here”; who will say, “I take responsibility”. 4
  5. I want a President about whom past business associates cannot claim to have been defrauded of legally-earned payment. 5
  6. I want a President who will fire staff, when necessary, face-to-face, in person, in an appropriate and businesslike manner—not by Tweet. 6, a & b
  7. I want a President who totally eschews name-calling, vicious labels, hate speech, mockery, and all manner of bullying commentary. 7
  8. I want a President who does not pander to nor ingratiate him/herself with dictators or the leaders of oppressive regimes. 8, a & b
  9. I want a President who, to avoid even the slightest appearance of favoritism and to demonstrate truly ethical behavior, does not appoint family members to positions within the administration. 9
  10. I want a President who fully believes that the free American Press is one of the greatest strengths of this republic, and who shows them respect, even when they disagree with and lambaste him or her; who would never, under any circumstances, refer to the press by the fascist label of “Enemy of the People”. 10, a & b
  11. I want a President who recognizes that we are a nation of immigrants, and therefore welcomes those who are fleeing oppression; who takes ultimate responsibility for any separation of refugee parents and children; who would never subject children to prison-like conditions. 11, a & b
  12. I want a President who respects the rights and humanity of LGBTQ individuals. 12
  13. I want a President who issues all national policy in the appropriate businesslike manner, in conjunction with his/her staff, and not by Tweet. 13
  14. I want a President who respects the environment and works to preserve it for the safety and health of both current and future generations; who puts environmental concerns above business and financial interests. 14, a & b
  15. I want a President who demonstrates the utmost respect for the opposite sex; who, if faced with disclosure of past inappropriate speech or behavior toward the opposite sex, does not attempt to minimize the unpardonable behavior as merely “locker room talk”. 15
  16. I want a President who is faithful to his or her spouse. 16
  17. I want a President who behaves with dignity: who would not, under any circumstances, push another world leader aside; who would never, ever turn his or her back upon or walk in front of the Queen of England (not just because she is the Queen, but because she is a 93-year-old woman and deserving of courtesy). 17, a & b
  18. I want a President who will stand in the rain in order to hold the umbrella over his or her spouse.18
  19. I want a President who will not welcome world leaders and representatives to hotels that he or she personally owns, thereby being seen as open to or attempting to create undue influence. 19
  20. I want a President who, if faced with video evidence of a statement made previously, honestly acknowledges his or her words. 20
  21. I want a President who is consistent; who, if reaching new conclusions, states that he or she has done so and presents the logical and factual reasoning behind the reversal. 21 a & b
  22. I want a President who would never, under any circumstances, ask a subordinate to lie in order to protect him/herself. 22, a, b & c
  23. I want a President who travels to visit the military in conflict areas without first being shamed into doing so by military press coverage of his or her failure to appear. 23
  24. I want a President who, if he or she did not personally serve in the military, does not provide a sham and bogus excuse for that lack. 24
  25. I want a President who will stand in the pouring rain to honor the brave men and women who died the World Wars to preserve freedom. 25
  26. I want a President who, despite disagreements, will honor and speak with respect of a fallen comrade; who would never disrespectfully raise the American flag during that individual’s funeral; who will not permit staff to speak rudely of deceased, gracious First Ladies of this country; who will not allow foreign dictators to disparage former American leaders in his or her presence. 26 a, b & c
  27. I want a President who will not obstruct justice. 27
  28. I want a President who will not abandon allies due to a financial conflict of interest.28
  29. I want, in fact, a genuine President: an honorable leader, who will demonstrate dignity, truth, courtesy, kindness, patience, composure, ethics, morality, and, above all, integrity.
  1. https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/15/politics/donald-trump-tax-returns-white-house-sarah-sanders/
  2. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/21/14347298/trump-inauguration-crowd-size
  3. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF11086.pdf
    https://www.citizensforethics.org/trumps-ethics-promises-have-not-been-kept
  4. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-donald-trump-russia-blame-20180319-story.html
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/09/28/i-sold-trump-100000-worth-of-pianos-then-he-stiffed-me/?utm_term=.6ab2e9c42d4d
  6. https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/13/17113950/trump-state-department-rex-tillerson-fired-tweet-twitter
    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/trump-fired-kirstjen-nielsen-by-tweet
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/28/upshot/donald-trump-twitter-insults.html
  8. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/02/526520042/6-strongmen-trumps-praised-and-the-conflicts-it-presents
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/who-is-viktor-orban-hungary-prime-minister-trump-meeting-white-house-today-2019-05-13/
  9. https://www.thedailybeast.com/meet-the-trump-officials-making-government-a-family-business
  10. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/29/18037894/donald-trump-twitter-media-enemy-pittsburgh
    https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/437610-trump-calls-press-the-enemy-of-the-people
  11. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/06/after-locking-migrant-children-cages-dhs-chief-tells-congress-theyre-not-cages
    https://www.npr.org/2019/03/09/701935587/judge-immigration-must-identify-thousands-more-migrant-kids-separated-from-paren
  12. https://democrats.org/press/15-things-the-trump-administration-has-done-to-roll-back-protections-for-lgbtq-people/
  13. http://time.com/5099544/donald-trump-tweets-first-year/
  14. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/02/offshore-drilling-donald-trump-administration-safety-rules/3657752002/
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-rsquo-s-epa-made-it-easier-for-coal-plants-to-pollute-waterways/
  15. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/donald-trump-tape.html
  16. https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-melania-stormy-daniels-affairs-marriages-timeline-2018-3
  17. https://www.nbcnews.com/video/icymi-president-trump-walks-in-front-of-queen-elizabeth-ii-1277051971981
    https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/25/politics/trump-pushes-prime-minister-nato-summit/          
  18. https://people.com/politics/donald-trump-wife-melania-rain-umbrella/
  19. http://time.com/donald-trumps-suite-of-power/
  20. https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/04/11/wikileaks-julian-assange-arrest-donald-trump-sot-vpx.cnn
  21. https://www.statnews.com/2019/04/26/trump-vaccinations-measles/
    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/full-list-donald-trump-s-rapidly-changing-policy-positions-n547801
  22. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/05/barr-not-a-crime-for-trump-to-demand-staffers-lie-to-investigators?verso=true
    https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/mueller-report-release-latest-news/card/1555608005
    https://www.justsecurity.org/62785/trump-told-cohen-lie-congress-collusion-general-not-moscow-tower-deal/
  23. https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/10/17/top-senate-democrat-urges-trump-to-visit-troops-fighting-overseas/
  24. https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/02/27/trumps-lawyer-no-basis-for-presidents-medical-deferment-from-vietnam/
  25. https://abcnews.go.com/US/trumps-rain-check-honoring-americans-killed-wwi-prompts/story?id=59119504
  26. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/08/27/john-mccain-flags-white-house-full-staff/1108717002/ https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/04/06/donald-trump-adviser-roger-stone-mocks-barbara-bush-death-after-book/3386028002/ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/us/politics/trump-biden-north-korea.html
  27. https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/judge-andrew-napolitano-did-president-trump-obstruct-justice
  28. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/10/reminder-trump-has-a-massive-conflict-of-interest-in-turkey/

The Names of Our Years

Now thoughtfully updated, this essay was originally posted in 2019.  What year will 2021 really be?

This morning, as I traced my fingers over the numbers at the top of the calendar, I realized: I know what year it is. I do. It is 2021.

But I don’t yet know what year it will be.

Many, perhaps most people do this, I’ve noticed. Throughout our lifetimes, the majority of years are remembered as the calendar year.  But that number often pales into insignificance as we give the year a verbal title recalling events pertinent to us: The Year Joe Died. The Year Haley Was Born. The Year of the Flood, the Wildfire, the Hurricane. The Year We Bought the House. The Year I Graduated.

These titles lend such richness and flavor to our memories that we often speak of them in just that way before stopping a beat—closing our eyes and searching our memories for a moment to recall the actual date of the occurrence: “The year the kids were married—oh, yeah, that was 2017.”

I have a flock of years like that in my recollection: arrows of memories winging their way through the skies of reminisce, named for events both traumatic or blessed, as I scroll through the chapters of my life—for that is how I think of them: chapter titles. Beneath each title unroll paragraphs tracing details and events quite unrelated, one would think, to that chapter title. Together, they comprise the book of my life, beginning with Chapter One: The Year I Was Born. (Perhaps the book might be titled: I Was Born: It Could Happen to Anybody!)

In these later years of my life, though, I’ve noticed more of a tendency to think only of verbal titles, rather than those numbers displayed so prominently at the top of the calendar page. And so I currently look back upon The Year I Retired, followed by The Year of the Cookbook. (That second odd title requires a touch of explanation, no doubt: That was the year when I told my cousin, proprietor of our late Grandmother Marie’s huge box of recipe cards, “Look here, Susie, you’re busy! You work, you have a teenage daughter. You’re never going to get around to copying those recipes for all of us. I’m retired; time is on my side. Lend me the cards, and I’ll transcribe them into a cookbook for everyone in the family.” And transcribe I did, through the course of one entire spring and summer, occasionally losing a bit of my mind in the process as I stumbled through difficult handwriting, missing information, and antique nomenclature that required hours of research to resolve.)

The laughable lunacy of The Year of the Cookbook was followed by further insanity during The Year of the Wedding, as I leapt into the preparations for the wedding of my  daughter.  It was a frustrating, amazing, exhausting, magnificent year, in which everything that could go wrong, did.  Despite all that, I somehow managed to help produce a marvelous, glorious wedding celebration for my beloved child.

Then came 2018: My Dickens Year. It was, genuinely, the best of times, the worst of times. I might have titled it “The Year of Cancer and of Morrigan’s Birth”, but it’s simpler just to recall it as My Dickens Year. Diagnosed with cancer in January, cured by surgery and prayer and natural treatments in March, and finally overwhelmed by breathtaking joy at the birth of my first grandchild in August, it was, beyond any measure, a year of the worst of times, a year of the best of times.

Yet 2019 continued to trace a similar path of instability, as I floundered in a haze of repeated shocks when friends and the children of friends passed away, one after another, without warning, while other loved ones experienced frightening declines.  Despite all of the sadness, though, I found each week punctuated by immeasurable delight as I thrilled to the pleasure of watching my granddaughter’s first year of life. I felt as if I was on a rollercoaster, flung from dizzying heights to indescribable depths.  2019, then, became My Rollercoaster Year, and I prayed for calm and peace to follow.

I was doomed to be disappointed, as were we all.  For 2020 happened, not just to me, but to each of us, all of us, everywhere, worldwide. To anyone who endured (and survived) it, the exquisite torture that was 2020 needs no explanation: The Year of the Pandemic.

So it was this morning, as I traced my fingers over the digits at the top of the paper calendar that I persist in using and enjoying despite a digital world, that I realized: I know what year it is. I do. I really do. It is 2021.

But, for the moment, I don’t yet know what year it will be.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Paper Calendars”, which can be found in the archives from December 11, 2019.

Belladonna Night Moon

I invite everyone reading this essay to tell me, in the Comments section, about their own very best pet ever…because our beloved fur friends deserve to be remembered.

On a wall of my upstairs hallway hangs a framed poster from the 57th Annual Halloween Festival in Irvington, Indiana.

Irvington is a most unusual place.  Named for writer Washington Irving, author of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the entire town is one large historical district.  Among its many claims to fame are the home where Sojourner Truth once spent a week as a guest; the building that housed a pharmacy which John Dillinger robbed; a stop along the route of the Lincoln Ghost Train; and the house where America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, dismembered and buried a 10-year-old child.

With these and a dozen other tales of ghosts and fame and antiquities, Irvington, with some justification, goes a little bit nuts at Halloween.  Even during pandemic, Irvington’s famed Ghost Walks were held—somewhat subdued, but ending, as always, at the Lincoln Ghost Train corner.  And each year the festival sponsors a contest for artists to design the official Halloween poster.

Before it, regrettably, became a banal chain pancake house, I’d eaten at Dufours, the Dillinger-robbed-pharmacy-turned-café, and seen these Halloween posters adorning the walls.  All were marvelous, but my unquestioned favorite was the almost-photographic likeness of a black cat peering out from a background of orange-red sky and leafless black trees. Poster (3) It caught my attention because my own cat, Belladonna Night Moon, might have modeled for the painting, so much did she resemble the cat in the poster.  I yearned to own it, but the Halloween poster prints were always of a very limited run, expensive and rarely available.

But one spring my sister-in-law declared her preference for a birthday afternoon spent combing the fascinating small shops of Irvington.  In the midst of that expedition, I came across one of the last framed posters of the black cat.  With some trepidation, I asked the price.  Forty dollars.  Forty dollars?!  How could I justify spending that much money? I didn’t even have a place to hang it! But…it looked just like Bella.  My precious Bella, my best cat ever.  And the poster was a collector’s item.  How could I not buy it?  Fighting a swiftly-losing battle with the remnants of my common sense, I slapped down my credit card.

Hauling my prize home, I discovered the perfect space waiting in my upstairs hallway, and proudly hung what I now thought of as Bella’s portrait.

The real Belladonna Night Moon had come to me as a porch rescue: a half-starved, lost kitten found by a friend one cold November night.  After some minimal arm-twisting, I agreed to take the kitten.  It was a decision I would never regret.  Although not the brightest bulb in the shedBellMimi (2) (“The only thing she knows is, My name is Bella,” my daughter joked), Bella brimmed with good nature and sweetness…unless she was angry with me.  Then she would jump up on her back feet, and, displaying ‘jazz hands’, smack me on either side of my knee and run like hell.

She was a cat who came when called; who saw me to the door in the mornings and met me there when I came home at night.  When I could not sleep, she would lay stretched out beside me, my hand gently stroking her fat little tummy, until we both drifted off to dreams.  Despite her lack of brainpower, she ruled my other three cats as alpha, and they all but bowed to her.

But as time went on, it was obvious my little black cat wasn’t completely well.  Repeated bouts of respiratory infection and pneumonia robbed her of her meow; “Gak!” was the best she could manage.  Eye infections followed, and anorexia.  At last I received a diagnosis: FHV.  Feline herpes virus.  A disease which would flare any time the animal was stressed.  A disease for which there was no treatment, and no cure.

But I was not about to give up on my best baby cat, not without a fight.  Nursing her through repeated bouts of the virus, tempting her with exotic foods for the anorexia, we struggled on together for close to 18 years.  But thyroid disease and renal failure compounded her ailments.  Time after time in the final two years of her existence, I was sure that I had lost her.  Each time, valiant, determined, she rallied to experience months, then weeks, and finally days, of seeming wellness.  But at last, her strength failing, I knew it was time to give my sweet little friend rest.

I knelt beside her as, at the hands of an experienced and kind veterinarian, Bella went ever so gently across the Bridge. To the Ancient Egyptian afterworld of Amenti, I whispered to her, stroking her mink-soft fur; to the great Golden City of the Cats, Bubastis, where she would rest at the feet of the Goddess Bastet.

The next morning, heartbroken, I stood before my familiar Irvington Halloween poster and, perhaps for the first time, noted the date at the bottom of the print.  October 25, 2003.  Fifteen days before a starving kitten struggled onto a friend’s porch, and so into my life.  Perhaps the very day that she became lost—or went in search of me.

For any animal lover, there is always that one special pet who holds our heart cupped within their little paws.  On my wall, then, painted by the hand of an artist who never knew her, hangs a portrait of my little soul-mate cat, Bella.  Belladonna Night Moon, who sits at the feet of Goddess Bastet in the everlasting grainfields of Amenti.

Belladonna Night Moon
2003 – 2020

Again, I invite you to tell me in the Comments about YOUR best pet ever.  And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog”, which can be found in the archives from June 15, 2018.

Defining Your Word of the Year

§  I’ve used many Focus Words over the years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully!  §

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions nearly two decades ago. I saw no point in setting myself up for certain failure; it was simply depressing, and merely reinforced my bad opinion of myself. (I feel the same way about goals.  Goals are something I set just to prove to myself that I am a failure.  I don’t set goals anymore, either.)

For a long time prior to that decision, I’d followed Robert Fulghum’s sound advice: On New Year’s Day, I sat down and wrote a list of every good thing I’d done in the previous year, backdated it, and called it my resolutions. This was eminently satisfying for a number of years, even though I knew I was sort of missing the whole point.

So, casting about for some way to set myself some type of goal-yet-not-a-goal, I was struck by an idea: I could still forego a resolution, yet choose something—some character-building, life changing something, to focus on during the coming year.  Not a goal, I decided; a focus.  With that in mind, what if I chose just one word, one meaningful word, and attempted to concentrate on it throughout the coming year?  Not to accomplish it—simply keep it at the forefront of my mind, and make it active in my life.  One word was so little.  Surely I could do that much.

I liked the concept. One word, one focus, seemed like a challenge I could meet.  The trick, I realized, would be finding a way to make myself remember to focus on that word— to keep adding it to my life.  (Well, that, and picking my word in the first place.)

Amazingly, having come up with the concept, I found that my answers came easily.  I’d recently discovered that a lack of assertiveness had caused me a number of problems; assertiveness, then, seemed like a very good first focus word.  But how to keep it at the forefront of my mind?  How not to forget, not just the word itself, but the need to concentrate upon my focus word?  That was going to be the real challenge of my not-resolution.

During that first year, I found that tricking myself into remembering my focus word was the best way to go. I took post-its and scraps of note paper and proceeded to hide them throughout my home in places where I knew I would not find them to easily, yet was sure to look.  Since I wasn’t about to turn the heavy mattress on the bed more than once a year, one of the notes emblazoned with “My Focus This Year Is Assertiveness” was pushed into the thin hollow between the mattress and box springs.  Another went under the couch cushions—I had been known, from time to time, to actually lift them up and vacuum beneath them (or at least search for loose change).  And, yes, one note, slipped into a plastic bag, went into the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig!

And, amazingly, it worked. I came across those notes again and again throughout that first year and was forced to keep my attention focused on becoming more assertive.  And while I cannot now say that it changed my life, I can say with certainty that being reminded to focus on assertiveness did make a difference.  By the end of the year, I knew that I still had a very long way to go on learning to be assertive, but I was no longer quite the wimp I’d been twelve months earlier, either.

I’ve used many Focus Words in the intervening years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully. The Universe, I’ve discovered, will cooperate with me—oh, yes, will it ever!  Choose Peace as a focus word, and every possible non-peaceful situation imaginable will be tossed at me like errant baseballs.  And, for the love of heaven, never, ever, choose Patience !

But, defiant in the face of overreaching myself, the focus word I chose for 2017 was Magnificent.

And it was.

Afterword: In 2018, the Word I chose was “Kindness”.  I was astounded to learn that kindness is not just something we extend to others, but that we must also, humbly and with gratitude, receive.  It is also something we must extend to ourselves.  Foolishly brave, in 2019 I selected the Word “Restful”.  Oh, dear! I did learn a much-needed lesson: that we choose our response to events.  In 2020, I chose the word “Recognition”.  I am still discovering all the unexpected ways in which that word has come to play in my existence.

I would love to know what Focus Word you select for 2021, if you would care to leave it in the Comments section.

The True Spirit of the Season

§   This year, my tradition of personally-created holiday cards was exceptionally difficult, as I tried to create something pertinent to the difficult reality of a Pandemic Christmas.  But I happily share that card now, not just with close friends and family, but with everyone who chooses to enjoy this blog. §

I’ve made my own Christmas cards for nearly three decades now, each year selecting a special photograph, graphic, or theme as my holiday greeting to family and friends.  And each year, as I do so, I remind myself that the true spirit of the season—genuine loving kindness—should continue not just until the last greeting card is tossed out with the wrapping paper, but throughout the year, and beyond. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate–Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess, or the thousand others of which I know nothing–may it be blessed.

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Families, Holidays, and Chaos

§  In this perhaps the most divisive of years in America since our Civil War, I turn again to this essay, originally posted in 2017, and its theme of tolerance, kindness and courtesy–for what better behavior can we ever display?  §

Several years ago I stumbled across Dar William’s humorous and touching holiday song, “The Christians and the Pagans”. It was a good-natured glimpse into the utter chaos experienced by a  family of very dissimilar individuals, all trying to navigate their way through the minefield of a Christmas dinner without triggering nuclear meltdown.

I found it so delightful and thought-provoking that I forwarded the YouTube video link to most of my contacts. A few of them had encountered the song previously, but were glad to enjoy it again.  To others, as it had been to me, it was a revelation: a couple of laugh-out-loud verses woven into an authentic description of the bedlam relatives endure as they try to practice acceptance and caring for the sake of family at the holidays.

But, to my dismay, a couple of my contacts found the song very offensive. To say that I was bewildered at their reaction is an understatement.  This was a song about tolerance—about the triumph of love over personal differences—about the curiosity of children, as well as their inability to lie for the sake of tact (“The Emperor has no clothes!”)—about finding common ground in the midst of seeming contradictions.

Eventually it became clear to me that, for those who found the song distasteful, their rejection of it lay in the very fact that the song was, indeed, about tolerance: about a Christian family struggling to accept and love their non-Christian and unconventional relatives (it is implied, though never outright stated in the lyrics, that the young niece is in a lesbian partnership) at Christmastime. To some of my acquaintances, this concept—that Christians would willingly welcome the company of their non-Christian relatives at Christmas—was anathema.

It is a mindset that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I glory in the traditions of other cultures, so many of which celebrate a religious or secular holiday near the winter solstice.  Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess…to me, they are all beautiful traditions, evocative of the universality of the human spirit reaching out to the Divine.  To reject loved ones because they have chosen a different faith (or even no faith at all) is, to my way of thinking, so far from the genuine practice of Christianity, as I understand it, that it boggles the mind.

I was simply stunned to learn that some of my Christian acquaintances thought that their non-Christian counterparts would be encouraged to “find Jesus” if they were cast out and treated as lepers; that they believed children should be shielded from the spiritual differences of those they encounter, instead of simply receiving an explanation as to why the family believes other faiths to be in error. I could not comprehend their feeling that families should not at least try to join together in love and caring at the holidays, no matter what their dissimilarities.

It’s always seemed to me that the surest way to draw others into one’s own belief system is to demonstrate, by the very life one lives, that it is a faith worth emulating. How, I found myself asking, how could shunning loved ones, subjecting them to rejection and disgust and dislike—how could that in any way inspire them to accept the faith of those who cast them out?  Wouldn’t such behavior just convince them that their own spiritual path was the more noble choice?

In a question between my own belief system of that of others, I will always choose the path of learning; never relying on rumor or medieval bad press or intentional misinformation, but seeking to know the genuine principles surrounding a belief system (or even atheism) in order to find the thread of commonality woven into all that is the human spirit.

But, no matter what they do or do not believe, all those who demonstrate love, acceptance, kindness, courtesy and tolerance will always be welcomed to a seat at my holiday table.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Apples of Gold”, which may be found in the Archives dated November 20, 2019.

The Day I Had Nothing to Do

I often encounter an attitude from my still-working peers that retired people have time hanging from their hands like loops of yarn. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it just ain’t so! 

When I retired, multiple people, mostly those still working, warned me that I would often be bored.  However,  a long-retired relative gave me a very different warning: “Not only are you going to wonder how you ever got it all done before you retired, you’re not going to believe how much more there is to be done! It will suck you in!” I tucked her advice into the “Housework expands to fill all available time” file and promptly disregarded it.

Bad move.

She was right.

Following  a busy and stressful week, I woke on a recent Sunday morning pleasantly conscious that there was nothing I had to do.    As I stretched and swung my legs to the bedside rug, I congratulated myself on a “free” day.

And so I rose to immediately begin cleaning litter boxes, followed by feeding my complaining felines.  Necessary chores completed, I wandered upstairs to my computer, cup of tea in hand, to check my e-mail and read the news.  Then I wandered just as leisurely back downstairs to prepare breakfast and read a bit of my latest novel, sitting in my favorite battered green armchair by the living room window.  But that relaxation proved to be a mixed blessing, because the window looks out on my small rose garden.  Still blooming heavily at the start of autumn, the bushes looked awfully untidy.

An hour later, the roses were deadheaded and trimmed up a bit, the groundcover had been snipped back, and some dead hosta stems removed.  Carrying the detritus to the bin in the garage, I dropped a few leaves and stems on the garage floor.  Well, it wouldn’t hurt to move the car out and sweep the garage floor.  That done, though, I noted that the car mats could certainly use a vacuuming, and the whole interior of the car would look a bit better if it was cleaned of the pandemic-constant of disinfectant residue.  The windows inside were a touch smeary, too.  A bit of glass cleaner wouldn’t go amiss.  Oh, and before I drove the car back into the garage, I should run to the end of the driveway and grab the mail, still sitting in the mailbox since Saturday.

Returning the vacuum and cleaning sprays to the hall closet made me realize that I’d best get a bit of housework done: dishes to be washed, kitchen and bathroom floors to be swept.  Again responding to my pandemic-induced madness regarding cleanliness, those same bathroom surfaces should probably be disinfected. Although the floors had been thoroughly mopped four days previously, heaven alone knew what I might have tracked in since that time, so it wouldn’t hurt to fill the mop with solution and run it over just the traffic paths.  In fact, the carpet, also just vacuumed four days ago, should probably be vacuumed lightly along the traffic paths before the mopping was done, so nothing would track onto the hard floors.

Hauling the vacuum upstairs made me aware that my bed wasn’t yet made.  Just as well; the sheets needed to be changed.  I should change the towels in the bathrooms, too. Carrying these items downstairs to the washer, I noted that the medicine dispenser for my sick cat was sitting on the countertop and needed to be filled.  I really should do that now, and give her a dose, as well.  Oh, and the dispenser which held my vitamins and supplements was also awaiting a refill.  I should do that, too.  Drat, the mail was still sitting there on the countertop, unopened.  Ah, mostly junk…and bills.  Sigh.  Well, I should pay these bills.  And I really should update my budget spreadsheet.

While doing that update, though, it struck me that I had work to do for a friend, updating her business manuals and flyers.  Well, as long as the computer was booted, I might as well devote an hour to working on those.

But as I completed these chores, I glanced at my fingers on the keyboard, noticing that my cuticles were ragged and my nails all of differing lengths and badly shaped.  Hmmm, well, as I seemed to be finished with cleaning products for the day, it might be a good idea to tend to them, and give myself a quick pedicure, too.

By this time, it was now 5:00 p.m. An hour later, manicure and pedicure completed, I decided that I really should consider cooking dinner, since breakfast and then the leftovers that I’d reheated for lunch were beginning to seem a very long time ago.

Rinsing my dinner dishes and stacking them in the sink, I took a deep breath and called a halt.  Washing dishes could wait until morning.  I wanted to read my book again for a bit before trooping upstairs to have a shower and wash my hair and finally fall into bed, exhausted from my “free” day.

I really hope I don’t have too many more days with nothing to do.  I’m not sure I’d survive them.

If  you enjoyed this essay, you might also like “Clearing the Clutter”, which can be found in the Archives from January 15, 2020, or “Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em”, published March 18, 2020.

When the Universe Says, “Let’s Kick ’em When They’re Down!”

§   When life is going well, it’s usually going very well indeed.  And then it all crashes and burns.  §

I read an article once which claimed a mathematical probability to “streaks” of good or bad luck.

And while I was definitely cutting class on the day God handed out the math brains, it doesn’t take a numerical genius to see that this is undeniably correct.

I’ve watched the Streak Effect time and again: in my own life, in the lives of relatives, in the lives of friends. When one’s days are going well, they are usually going very well indeed. It’s as though a benevolent Deity has bent down, placed a crown of stars upon one’s head, and whispered, “Life is good!”

And then it all crashes and burns. The snowball rolls downhill, becoming an avalanche. Everything that can possibly go wrong—as well as a few things that could not possibly go wrong—well, they go totally, absolutely, completely, unutterably wrong—and with a vengeance. We are left to wonder just what in the hell we’ve done to piss off God.

I recall a long-ago coworker who experienced what was, at the time, the very worst Bad Streak Effect I had ever witnessed: Her mother passed away, she was diagnosed with a serious illness, her spouse walked out, she was audited by the IRS, and her house caught fire—all in the space of a couple of months. Showing more strength of spirit and resilience than I could ever hope to find within myself, she not only survived the onslaught but eventually reached the other end of her dark tunnel, head unbowed and victorious.  She mourned her mother, got well, dusted her hands together saying, “Good riddance!” to her unsatisfactory spouse, got money back from the IRS after the audit, and used the insurance settlement to nicely remodel her somewhat substandard kitchen.  I heard someone ask this undaunted woman if her faith had gotten her through that dreadful time.  “Faith-schmaith!” she scoffed in reply. “It was sheer stubborn determination that none of this was going to take me out!”

I later related this story to a relative who was experiencing her own horrendous Bad Streak Effect: her oldest cat died, the youngest animal was diagnosed with incurable FIV, and the third required an expensive antibiotic; a storm brought down a truck-sized branch from her old oak tree, necessitating an expensive tree removal service; thugs invaded her garage, taking her lawn mower, and kicked in her front door to steal her jewelry armoire, letting her indoor-only pets escape through the open door; one cat, terrified, refused to come out from beneath the house for three days.  To add insult to injury, the stolen jewelry was, all of it, actually pieces that  had been given her to replace the theft of all her jewelry a few years earlier!

A Very Bad Streak.

More commonly, though, the Bad Streak Effect is just a compilation of worrisome, niggling, bothersome daily problems. Taken one by one, they would each be minor difficulties; irritating, but simple to solve. But when they crumble downward like the Twin Towers collapsing, it becomes almost impossible to dig oneself out from under the rubble of life. You break a tooth while chewing the unlikely culprit of a fettuccine noodle. Your regular dentist is on vacation. The emergency oral surgeon butchers your mouth. The surgeon’s office assistant miscodes the procedure, so your insurance denies the claim. Meanwhile, the site of the extracted tooth becomes infected. The one antibiotic to which you are not allergic is unavailable due to a shortage. And on and on….

Stranger still, it seems that one’s friends and family are often experiencing various stages of the Bad Streak Effect all at the same time. The people to whom one would usually turn for sympathy and support are unable to provide much of it because their own lives are a complete shambles. Conversely, though, there is always that one person in the group who is not only not enduring the Bad Streak Effect, but seems to be (for the moment, at least) Heaven’s Darling. This generally turns out to be the sole individual of one’s acquaintance who is completely self-involved and totally lacking in empathy, so that turning to them with a litany of woes essentially results in a metaphorical slap in the face and a long conversation about all the wonderful things happening in their own narcissistic little existence. (Take heart: The Good Streak Effect NEVER lasts. Their time is coming! And when the Bad Streak effect eventually wallops Heaven’s Darling, you can sit back, nodding and handing off tissues while they weep, all the while smiling secretly and evilly to yourself.)

I suppose the real point of all my rambling about The Streak Effect, though, is to acknowledge the fact that, Good Streak or Bad, the events never last. And while reminding oneself of this during a Good Streak can prove a cautionary tale, keeping it firmly in mind during a Bad Streak can help us keep calm and carry on—even when doing so feels like clawing one’s fingers into cracks in a perpendicular surface, hanging on for very dear life.

Because, no matter how bad the Bad Streak may be, it is, despite everything, a dear and special life.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Best Revenge, Part 2”, in the Archives from August 5, 2020.