“I Want to Go on Living, Even After My Death”

Anne Frank, and her sister, Margot, are believed to have died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime in late February or early March, 1945, just a few months before the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

During lockdown, I found myself re-reading many books I’d previously enjoyed, for knowing how a story concluded seemed to calm my apprehensions during those fear-filled days. And so, sorting through boxes of old paperbacks stored beneath my bed, I came across a worn, battered copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Almost reverently, I fingered the pages, now yellowed, some separating from the spine, of this much-loved book. I had first encountered The Diary as a 12-year-old, when a condensed version had been included in my older brother’s English literature textbook. He’d been given the obsolete textbook to bring home at the close of school, and I, reading at a skill level well above my age, browsed the book over one long summer, reading the condensed version of Anne’s diary again and again, fascinated with it.

Later, scraping together enough money—it cost me two weeks’ allowance–I purchased my own paperback copy of The Diary. It was this tattered, disintegrating book that I now found, lovingly stored for over 50 years amongst my mysteries and science fiction novels.

I did not need to re-read it. I had read it so often over my lifetime that I could quote whole passages with complete accuracy. I knew the inhabitants of The Secret Annex better than most of my family members; I had mourned their deaths more strongly than those of acquaintances.

But updated editions of Anne’s diary had been published, I knew, which contained passages that Otto Frank had deemed unsuitable for inclusion when the book was originally issued. So I clicked up a search engine to see what I could learn about more recent editions of The Diary.

I laughed to learn that a whole page of “dirty” jokes had been found hidden beneath the endpapers of Anne’s diary. I was saddened to think that Otto Frank had read, and then edited out, her speculations on his lack of love for his wife. I discovered neo-Nazi hate groups and Holocaust deniers claiming that Anne’s diary was fraudulent, and scholarly articles also questioning its authenticity.

But then I stumbled across a startling article from 1997 which contended that it would have been better had Anne Frank’s diary been destroyed. Because Anne did not survive Bergen-Belsen to continue her writing career, with a description of its unimaginable horrors as the heart of her existence—because others, including her own father, had taken from her diary a message of hope and a transcendent belief in the innate goodness of humanity (despite her remarks, also, of our urge to destruction and utter madness)—because people had disseminated, through plays and movies, their own concept of the person Anne was, and the beliefs she held–for these reasons, and more, the author of the article believed that it would have been best if Anne’s words had never seen the light of day. The message of a young girl penning the description of her days in hiding diminished the tragic end of Anne’s life, the author contended; eclipsed the frightful vision of her dying of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, lying on straw, covered in lice and fleas.

Miep Gies, one of the protectors of the little group in the Secret Annex, was quoted as commenting that, if she had read the diary before handing it over to Otto Frank, she would have had to destroy it. But Ms. Gies’ comments were related only to the fact that Anne’s diary named every person connected with the succor of that little group of Jews. It might have dangerously compromised all of them. However, Miep Gies neither read nor destroyed Anne’s diary. And I do not believe that was an accident. Anne’s words were meant to survive.

Despite the fact that Anne’s diary closes prior to the horrific end of her personal story, I have never since encountered an edition which did not include the ghastly memories of the Holocaust survivors who recalled her. That Anne was no longer alive to write it does not alter the final chapter of her narrative, nor keep readers from knowing the truth.

Nor have I ever, in the dozen and more times I read Anne’s diary, failed to note her misery, her terror, and her acknowledgement of the evil, as well as the good, of humanity.

People take from my essays what they will; they define “me” according to what they have read of my writings. That the “me” they know has, quite likely, little or nothing to do with who and what I am means nothing. Not one of us truly knows another human being, not even our own spouses and children. But that does not indicate that I should never have written, nor that I should have failed to open up my words to public view, knowing, accepting, that I might often be misconstrued or misunderstood.

People take from the diary of Anne Frank not just what they desire, but what they need. And that is, I believe, good and right. For in doing so, they fulfill her wish: “I want to go on living even after my death.”

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like, “The End of the Story”, from July 6, 2018, and located in the Archives.

When Life Was Simple (Sigh.)

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes.

I am ironing coffee filters for my masks.

Early on in the pandemic, when masks were not easily available, I read recommendations for creating them from doubled tee shirt cloth with a filter pocket filled by a flattened coffee filter.  Testing had shown such three-layer homemade masks to be efficient at stopping virus particles.  And so I made masks, a dozen or more, hand-sewing them for my friends and family, and ironed coffee filters to insert in the pocket.

Later, cloth masks having become readily available, I purchased a half-dozen expensive but comfortable coverings of thick, double-layered soft cloth.  But then (of course), recommendations changed. Double-layers weren’t enough in the face of virus variants; no, a triple-layer mask was necessary.  Buy new ones, the Pandemic Gurus recommended.

New masks not being planned in my budget,  I began double-masking and returned to inserting a coffee filter between the two masks.

And so now I stand at the ironing board, ironing coffee filters for my masks, while watching my DVDs of “Downton Abbey”.  I’m watching the episode in which Matthew’s fiancé dies of Spanish Flu.  The irony (bad pun intended) of this is not lost on me.

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes, perhaps a coat or jacket or even a hat or gloves.  Now my errands, those such as I absolutely must run, are an Olympic marathon in preparation and clean-up.

Before even leaving my house, I set a bowl of water in the microwave, ready to be heated for scalding my masks when I return.  The countertop where any shopping sacks will be deposited is protected with wax paper.  I place disinfectant soap, a nail brush, and a spray bottle of strong isopropyl alcohol next to the sink.  I rub the lenses of my glasses (some small protection for my eyes against airborne viral particles; I have not worn my contacts in months) with shaving cream to keep them from fogging up.

In my car, small paper sacks sit opened and waiting on the seat.  One will contain discarded mask filters and disposable gloves; the other, my used cloth masks.  I prepare a mask for each stop I must make, placing the filters between them, and lay out pairs of disposable vinyl gloves on the passenger seat.  Whether the gas pump or shopping cart or door handles or ATM buttons, I’ve touched nothing for months without wearing gloves.  Questioned by one stranger as to why I wore them — “The virus particles are in the air,” she instructed me officiously — I could only answer logically,  “Well, they’re going to land somewhere, you know!”  I check to be sure that I have both hand sanitizer and another spray bottle of disinfectant in the car.

Masked and gloved, I race through my errands (pumping gas, taking a package to the post office, or picking up groceries, almost the only excursions I’ve allowed myself in 11 months) trying always to avoid the cretins in the aisles wearing their masks as “nose-wipers or chin diapers”; changing my contaminated PPE between each stop.  Returning to my car, I strip off masks and gloves carefully, dropping them into the paper sacks,  before disinfecting everything I have touched and sanitizing my hands.

Returning home, I toss the paper sack containing used disposables into the garbage bin and carry the sack with masks into the house. I scrub my hands thoroughly, and once more disinfect everything I’ve touched—door handles, car handles, alarm buttons, purse, wallet.  I carry in my purchases, placing them carefully on the waxed paper.  I scald my masks in boiling water and agitate them with disinfectant soap, then rinse, spray them with alcohol and hang them to dry.  I wash my hands again and put my purchases away, then pull up the wax paper and disinfect the countertop.  I wash my hands a third time.

This, this is now my new reality, and that of millions of other people, as we try to avoid the virus; waiting ever hopefully that our number will come up and we will be scheduled for the vaccine; frightened always that all our efforts to be safe will fail, and we, in the most vulnerable of groups due to age and chronic illness, will contract and die of Covid-19.

I remember when life was simple.  I remember complaining about the restaurant a friend preferred; about believing that, living alone, I knew what loneliness was. Now I would gladly go to any restaurant, just to be out once again.  Now I know more of loneliness than I have ever endured in a very solitary life.

The world will turn, I know; this will end.  Someday, Covid-19 will be merely a sad footnote in the history books, to be wondered at by generations that have never known pandemic.

It can’t happen soon enough. 

You might enjoy looking at these thoughts through another lens, by reading, “In the Moment”, which can be found archived from April 12, 2018.

The Angry Dots

If you have not read my previous essay, “The Dot Principle”, you may not understand the reference, which is to those people who, education not withstanding, believe the most outlandish things and cannot be swayed by either logic or facts.

A decade or more ago, I mixed with a group of “New Age-y” friends.  Some have now passed and the rest of us have moved on with our lives, losing touch, but I have fond memories (most of them, anyway) of those likeable if zany people.  They were non-conforming idealists who sought spirituality in every aspect of their lives, but they also enjoyed getting together simply to have a good time.  Wine and cheese parties were a favorite pastime, as were movie night get-togethers, attending festivals and lectures, and going to Renaissance fairs.

The movie nights were a favorite of mine.  Sci-fi movies were often on the menu, but so were old, black and white shows or rarely-known gems and cult classics.  Thus it was that I became acquainted, for the first time, with the original movie “The Wicker Man”.

I’d never seen or even heard of this 1973 horror film, and I found it fascinating and somewhat repellant.  My friends, though, were simply mad for the show, and would gladly have watched it on our movie night get-togethers multiple times each year.

For me, however, the real revelation as to the group’s fascination with the movie came at the end of the film, when a credit rolls on the screen thanking Lord Summerisle and the people of his island for their cooperation in the making of the film. This credit was, of course, complete nonsense; the movie was fictional.

My friends, however, were absolutely gulled by that credit.  They believed it.  Totally. They eagerly discussed where the “real island” might be. Of course, the “real” Summerisle was cloaked in secrecy, they decided, but surely it could be located.  They wanted to visit the island.

My loveable, likeable, fun friends were, I realized in that moment, Dots.

Just like my coworker Dot asking me about the “other two” states of the US, in addition to the actual 50, my crazy friends genuinely believed this completely fictional movie to be a depiction of a real place.

My mild suggestion that perhaps that credit was a gag (I didn’t say, “to trick gullible chumps”) was met with round-eyed stares of disbelief and incredulity.  Protests arose quick and sharp.  Of course it wasn’t a gag!  Summerisle was an actual place.  But the movie depicted human sacrifice, I objected.  Well, it was unlikely (not impossible; just unlikely) that the inhabitants of the island still practiced human sacrifice, the Dots conceded.  But all the other aspects of the movie were accurate depictions of their pagan cult.

Oooookaaay.

Not wanting, at least not at that point in our relationship, to make myself persona non grata with my friends, I said nothing further.  Demonstrating remarkable restraint, I didn’t even snicker.

I did, however, set out to convince this crew of amiable Dots that the credit at the movie’s end had been, indeed, just a gag.  I decided that I would research the matter and find convincing proof.  (Obviously, I had learned nothing from my encounter with the original “the U.S. has 52 states” Dot.)

In point of fact, it took me very little research to discover that “The Wicker Man”, although filmed in Scotland, had not been set on any one small island of strange, apple-growing, human-sacrificing pagan cultists.  A single website listed at least a dozen different locations: hotels, estate offices, ruined churches, castles, manor rooms, gardens and caves, all used to create the fictional island of Summerisle.  I printed a hard copy of the website info, complete with photos, and, armed with this definitive list,  I approached the next gathering of the group.

I was met with horrified disbelief.  I, it seemed, was the gullible one.  Yes, these photos matched those seen in the movie, but it was the website that was false, not the movie’s final credit.  Someone had just put this site together in order to keep the curious away from the true Summerisle.

I pointed out that most of the locations mentioned on the website were, in fact, tourist attractions and could be visited.  Oh, no.  Just try that, I was warned.  You’ll find out that the attraction is mysteriously closed to visitors for the nonce.

I gave up.  These were my friends, and I liked them, but I realized there was no point in continuing.  By contradicting their odd version of reality with real, solid facts, I was only making them angry.

Since that first encounter with the 52-States-in-the-Union Dot, and my Angry Dot friends, I’ve expanded upon The Dot Principle thusly:

1.  Dots are everywhere, to be found even among the people we most like;
2.  You cannot alter their version of reality merely by confronting them with facts;
and, most importantly,
3.  They walk among us, and they vote!

If this post gave you a chuckle, you might also enjoy reading, “The Dot Principle”, which you can find in the Archived posts from November 11, 2020.

The Big Ice Storm

Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with attitude, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

Some years ago I was part of an online New Age chat group. Most of our discussions centered on matters relating to our spiritual growth and understanding, interspersed with light chatter.

The group fostered some very real friendships, but there also arose spats and quarrels and misunderstandings. No emoji can really convey the intent and tone of written words, and misinterpretations occurred. Moderators did their best, but harsh words were sometimes exchanged while the spectators took sides. The group eventually dissolved due to these problems, but I had left it months previously. My departure was triggered by The Big Ice Storm.

Heavy sleet had begun to fall mid-afternoon on a weekday. In no time at all, roads, sidewalks, trees, shrubs—everything was encased in a thick glaze of ice. Office workers who could do so began heading out early, piling into their cars in a futile attempt to evade the worst of the storm. But the ice outran every effort people made to escape its freezing grasp.

My supervisor bailed hastily, and advised me to do so, also. Sadly, this meant only that I spent more time huddled in the glass-sided shelter house at my bus stop. Clustered together with other public transit sufferers, I stood for nearly three hours waiting for a delayed bus in plummeting temperatures, as frigid winds snaked about my ankles and froze my feet to pain.

After a terrifying journey on ice shrouded roads, I arrived home nearly four hours later than usual to an apartment that was dark and cold. I’d left no lights on, since most days I got in well before darkfall; I always thriftily turned the thermostat down for the hours when I wasn’t at home.  Power lines had collapsed all over the city, but I gratefully found that my electricity was working, and switched on the lights and furnace. When I’d finally stopped shivering, I checked on family members, discovering to my relief that everyone had arrived home safely. Finally, I sat down at my computer to read e-mail messages.

There, to my horror, I learned that the sister of a friend had been among those who died in a pileup on the icy interstate highway. Tears sliding down my cheeks, I dashed off a sober response expressing shock and sympathy; then turned to messages from the chat group, hoping to hear they were all safe.

They were. And their descriptions of their own journeys home bore, I found, very little resemblance to my experience. Some had not even needed to travel; the storm had fortunately coincided with their days off. One mentioned that, as a manager, she’d been able to leave her office before the first pellets of sleet cascaded from the sky. Her route home unencumbered by the traffic that would flood the streets only a short time later, she’d stopped at the grocery for a few items and enjoyed a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the bakery. Then she’d pulled into her driveway, where her teenage children had bounded out to schlep in her shopping bags.

She and other chat group members prattled on about how minimally they’d been affected by the storm, attributing their experiences to their positive attitudes. It was all in one’s expectation and mindset, they asserted. It was all about gratitude and belief.

I considered the differences of my own experience to theirs. I remembered, shaking with cold, yet grateful that I’d been able to claim a space huddled within the crowded bus shelter. I recalled my thankfulness as my bus evaded the accidents plaguing the roads. I thought about my relief and appreciation that the electricity had remained on at my apartment. I reflected on the tragedy of my friend’s sister, and a journey home that didn’t include warm chocolate chip cookies and happy children, but arriving to a lonely apartment that was both frigid and dark.

Then I put my fingers on the keyboard and called bullshit on their remarks.

My mindset had been, I pointed out, positive throughout. I was both grateful and appreciative; thankful for my own and others’ safety. But my experience was miserable nevertheless: freezing, fear, loneliness, and the terrible news of a death. Perhaps, I suggested, perhaps they could tell me how I could have effected any difference in these events by my attitude? Was it possible that their positive experiences had a lot less to do with mindset, and a lot more to do with just plain luck?

It wasn’t a popular position to take, as evidenced by the onslaught of shaming replies I received to my statements. Still, I refused to back down, despite reprimands from nearly every group member.

Shortly thereafter I quit the chat group, although I’d quite enjoyed it up to then.

Sometimes still, especially in on bad winter days, I think about that chat group and the Big Ice Storm. I think about the fact that, if I’d been angry and resentful, the misery I endured that day might well have been, at least emotionally, far worse. But all the positive attitude in the century would not have changed the actual outcome of the nasty events of that storm.

It’s not always only about one’s attitude. Truly, it isn’t. Often, it’s just the simple luck of the draw—or not.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “My Be-Attitude”,
which can be found in the Archives dated April 17, 2019,
or “The Wrong Road”, from March 4, 2020.

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.