Where the Hell is the Brake?….


It is January.

The first month of the year….2019.

This year I will be 70 years old.

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I am in great company….so many of my friends and family will celebrate this milestone year with me.  Darel and Diane….and even my famous cousin, Steve Perry,  turned 70 today.  Jan was 70 just a few days ago.  Katrine, DeDe, Marsha, Penny, Pam, Sheila, Patty, JoAnn and so many other of us baby boomers will mark this seventh decade of life over the next twelve months.

I admit, I am relieved to not be alone.

I was texting my friend, Adriana, five years younger, that this one feels like a fairly profound birthday…..

“I’ll be curious to see if you have the same reaction when you ‘catch up’ to me.”

I went on to say….

“My 60’s have been fabulous!  That is….aside from the basic, but for some odd reason unanticipated side effects of aging….the deepening lines on my face, newly acquired aches that interrupt my sleep, skin growths and lumps and bumps I can’t quite accurately describe that appear out of nowhere, knees that no longer want to bend, and eyes that squint at the computer screen

….and then there is the unexpected and deliriously welcomed evolution of self-assuredness, the discovery of comfort in my own skin, the blissful clarity about what’s important and what can be let go of….and the immense gratitude and gratefulness for life itself…. the humble thankfulness that I have been given, so far, almost seventy years to exist on this planet.

At this age and stage of life, I am conscious of remaining present….being in the moment.  I catch myself when I stray…..either reminiscing on a regret or forging ahead with a worry.”

I am going to be seventy this year, there is no time for bullshit!

So with adoring eyes, I note the beauty and wonder of nature, finding awe in a moon that rises from the ocean near our home like a colossal, muted-white disc of Swiss cheese….or a sun that sets with orange/yellow brilliance painting its retreating path in purples, corals, striking pinks and subtle grays.

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The mating call of a cardinal, the delicate color of the dragon fly that lights on my forearm,  the distant haunting cry of a loon….all delight me….in ways they never have before.

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Cardinal Red on White

Friendships with women, always cherished, have now become essential and imperative.  I hold tremendous gratitude for their amazing authenticity and ability to be “raggedy” released with age from the need or desire for perfection or status.  We laugh in unison at the changes we continually discover in our bodies….the new found wrinkle in our neck, at our struggle to remember even the simplest fact…. and the hearty laughter that now has the effect of wetting our panties!

The decades develop in us a sage wisdom that expands and deepens as we mark each birthday.  We make friends with the truth and are unafraid to speak our mind.  Noticing an undeveloped aspect of ourselves, we may be moved to make improvement or perhaps just not give a shit….we tend to be more open and less judgmental, to truly not sweat the small stuff and embrace relationships that feed us….. and perhaps even make the difficult decision to let those go that do not.

And even in light of the gifts, so many glorious gifts, seventy, at least from this vantage point, feels, when I allow the thought, a little ominous.

I am struck with the brevity of life and the potential shorter road ahead with a steady increase in physical decline, the ultimate loss of persons I love, and the awareness of my own mortality.  As my friend Leslie and I have said….we don’t want to go out first (and miss the rest of the party)…. or last (and miss all of our friends)…. so we are hoping to bow out somewhere in the middle.

I am, however, open to being pleasantly surprised….hoping that I will embrace this next decade much as I have all those in the past.

I hear from almost every one of my friends born in 1949….we have been blessed!  We are the generation that asserted itself for equal rights….that spoke up and spoke out on issues of importance….that basked in the best of rock’n’roll….that experienced freedoms for women that our Moms could only dream of.  But as that date in November looms ahead on the horizon, I do find myself more contemplative about the mystery of life itself….and the ending none of us can escape.

When I prevail with ‘staying present’, these thoughts are fleeting and move through me quickly.

I focus instead on life.

Dennis and I will stop working this year and spend even more time with friends and family…traveling, relaxing, exploring sides of ourselves that have waited for the freedom to be found…Jeremy and Danielle have a wedding planned….we love where we live and we love how we live.

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So….I may not have much say about when….but dying, at least for now, will have to wait.

I have a birthday to celebrate!

Who Knew? Unearthing Our Creative Juices in Mid-Life…..

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When I was a young girl, my Mom’s need to keep a spotless home conflicted with my desire to express my creativity.  Being creative sometimes requires making a mess.  Making a mess was not allowed in my childhood home.

Chebeague Sunrise
Chebeague Sunrise

I do remember, tho, aside from using my creative imagination to ‘marry myself’ in a corner of our living room….playing the roles of bride, groom and preacher…..I also spent time in childhood writing poetry.  After my Mom passed, in a bureau drawer I found the construction paper covered book with rhyming words carefully printed on white-lined sheets.  Deeply touching that my Mom held on to my primitive early attempts at self-expression.

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P1050273I loved writing poetry, and….I loved to sing.

My first grade teacher liked my voice and asked me to sing for Miss Sassoon’s class in the room adjacent to ours.  I remember being rewarded with a new pencil and a children’s book…a big deal at age six.

The advantage of asserting your creative side as a young person?   No apprehension, no fear.

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Aside from my Mom putting a bit of a crimp in my budding creative style, as years passed, I acquired a self-imposed reluctance to put myself out there in any artistic way.  I honestly believed I didn’t have a creative bone in my body.  I envied those who could paint, draw, sculpt or play a musical instrument.  P1060837

As a young Mom, I was surrounded by women who were ‘crafty’….could make all kinds of things from nothing.  I tried sewing and was a failure.  Attended ceramics lessons that I hated.  Took a rug braiding class and braided something that my husband refers to as a ‘placemat‘.  My definition of “creative” was limited to what I believed I was supposed to do…and was not yet open to the endless possibilities of creativity.

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Somewhere along the way, I lost confidence in and minimized my own innate talents.  Luckily, I rediscovered and began acknowledging that side of myself again in the last few decades…beginning with the design of a home we built in Harpswell, Maine.   I spent hours learning about and pouring over blueprints, working to bring the beauty of nature inside; venturing into interior design and trusting my instincts on fabric, color, flooring, cabinetry.  All of this was a kick-start toward an expanding imaginative expression.

Once our home was completed…and I could step back and observe the end result…I felt more assured in my ability to make beauty, create art.

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Sunset at Cane Garden Bay

I had always loved taking pictures.  Dozens of albums brimming with family, friends and travel photos filling drawers, closet shelves and cabinets….rarely seeing the light of day.  Encouraged by a friend, I took a leap of faith and actually had one framed….and after a while….ventured to find a place for it on a wall.

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About fifteen or so years ago,  I began to frame and sell many more of my photos.  Some  hang on the walls of non-profits….and in homes all over the country….several even adorn an office in Sweden!  Others I gave as gifts to friends and family members.

Allowing myself to experiment more with photography, in the last few years I have transformed photos of rocks on Monhegan Island in Maine to large, frameless, canvas works of art.

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I liked them enough to hang them in my own home.

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It is amazing to me that these simple island stones found in nature contain such brilliant color, patterned texture and shape.  Even more surprising is that art and creativity can be found in the simplest of forms….if you keep your heart and mind open to possibility.

Since building our Harpswell home, we have moved twice….both times to condos….affording me additional opportunities to create and design.

Our last move just two years ago was to a basically one-room, 1,250 square foot loft, which required not only tremendous amounts of downsizing, but a focused exercise in functional design.  With little storage or closet space, I added built-ins that called for contemporary flair….and practical use.  The composition needed to “fit” the space with interest and purpose.  A large piece in the den area serves to hide a printer, files, bedding for guests, office supplies….and displays pieces of art.  I lost sleep for weeks waking with new and different configurations in my head.

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DSC02690Now that we are settled into the loft….with work slowed languidly to a trickle as I downsize my career as well….a sense of panic arose about how to sustain a purposeful, stimulating life.

Through a conversation over lunch with a dear friend who, like me, enjoys writing….I was introduced to a relatively simple way to express thoughts and feelings on-line.  I had followed and enjoyed her blog for over a year, and thought to myself, why not?

In June,  I started writing this blog.  The easy part is navigating the site….the difficulty is in finding the right words to express what I am wanting to convey….and in being satisfied enough with the results to hit the “publish” button.  Being an introvert….the quiet, deep introspection is welcomed.  I spend hours in what I can best describe as a “zone” of inner delight with words and images.

I am certain I am finding the same joy I did as that little six year-old who spent hours singing to phonograph records and writing poems.

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Tomorrow I will be sixty-nine years old.

Even typing the number creates some level of astonishment in me.

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My mind, my heart and my soul hover somewhere around thirty….but rising from a chair with an exclaimed sigh, bending more haltingly from the waist and ascending ever so gently, noticing my pace on the elliptical seeming in slow motion compared to the young women on either side of me….all reminders that, in fact, I am smack in the middle of those golden years.

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But….GOLDEN years they are!

Condo living means someone else shovels snow, rakes leaves and does repairs;  children are now adults who are able to fend for themselves;  work, if it exists at all, is minimal;  responsibilities lessen, opportunities open.

A whole new and wonderful world of freedom awaits.

There is time.  Lots of time.

Time for yourself.

Precious time…..

To do….to just be…..

or to find your inner artist…..

and create.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOMEN…Have We Evolved…Enough?

                   “Everything the power of the World does is done in a circle”

                                                                   Black Elk

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One late summer afternoon in 1977, my husband arrived home from work, said he had met that morning with an interesting woman who mentioned in conversation that she was forming a women’s group.

She asked him if he thought I might be interested in joining.

I was twenty-four, relatively new to Maine, with a ten-year old son, a newborn and a part-time secretarial position at a college where my husband was Dean of Students.

A bit intrigued, but puzzled,  I replied….

“What’s a women’s group”?

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The following week….with reluctance, some trepidation, but a high degree of curiosity….I knocked on the door of an elegant home on a quiet street in Waterville, Maine, belonging to the woman organizing the new group.  The sun streamed in through the statuesque windows of this charming house and onto the floor and female faces of women I had never encountered before, sitting in a circle, busy with excited chatter and intermittent laughter.

I met Judi for the first time that afternoon.  She sat cross-legged, perched on the edge of a shaggy pile rug….wearing a red and black plaid flannel shirt, denim jeans, sporting a mini-afro of thick, dark curl and a warm, confident smile.

“Hey there, I’m Judi,” she said in my direction.

I smiled back at her, and not knowing or recognizing anyone else, decided the empty space beside this friendly woman was calling my name.

The leader began to talk, quieting the sounds of the room.  She was poised, and spoke softly in an almost hypnotic cadence.  With direct eye-contact, pausing to gaze upon each individual, she welcomed us and shared the concept of a ‘women’s consciousness raising group’.  

The potential group members introduced themselves.  Many were college educated, including three female Colby professors.  A number of the women possessed high-level positions in organizations or had businesses of their own.

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I left that afternoon unsure of whether or not I would join.  I felt so out of my comfort zone…and my league.  With only a high school education and a ‘Mrs.’ degree, I questioned if my lowly credentials were anywhere near good enough for entry to this sophisticated circle.

As happens to me on rare, but what later prove to be vitally important occasions….a small inner-voice of knowing lifts me up and carries me through my hesitation and fear. Thus, the decision was made to join this women’s consciousness raising group.

No doubt….it was one of the most important decisions of my life.

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One of the professors, a chic Jewish woman….dynamic extrovert with a Brooklyn accent….introduced to us a structured group outline originating from the New York City Women’s Collective, an organization that developed out of the feminist movement, which was only beginning to evolve from its infancy.

The group design required strict confidentiality.

Our pledge….“what is said in this room, stays in this room” ….was vital to sharing openly, authentically and at a deep level of vulnerability.   The importance of regular attendance and participation was emphasized.  The outline catalogued fifty or more topic questions listed in chronological order from childhood to adulthood;  one question to be discussed each time we met.  Group members would, in turn, address the topic, speaking as long as desired and without interruption.  Topics were directed toward life cycle experiences and issues common to women….and the mandate was basically…. ‘tell your story.’

The purpose of the group was to provide a circle of support in which to share and disclose, often for the first time, personal joys…and perils…of being female.  The premise was that by speaking from our head/heart/soul, we might reclaim the powerful feminine energy within ourselves, and within the circle, resulting in an embodiment of living our truth and highest purpose.

The circle experience ‘magically’ produces a sense of power, energy and solidarity that is fostered when women and their feminine essence convene.

Quoting renowned writer and Jungian analyst, Jean Shinoda Bolen:

“Women meeting in circles with a spiritual center are in a sacred space, practicing and developing compassion when they listen, and are deepening themselves.  The more circles there are, the easier others can form.  At the same time, each circle adds to collective human consciousness.”  

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Questions in our group covered numerous themes, such as:  “What was it like when you experienced your first period?”, “What was your first sexual encounter like?”, “Were you ever sexually assaulted, abused or touched inappropriately?”, “What about your body do you like, not like?”, “Have you ever had an abortion and how were you impacted by that experience ?”, “Who was your role model or mentor and how did that person influence, enhance or change your life?”,  “What was your role in your family of origin?”, “What are your hopes, your dreams…and what deters you from realizing each of them?”

To provide an additional layer of safety and comfort to members, you were always personally responsible for how much you wanted to share, or whether or not you wished to speak to a particular subject at all.

As trust grew and members disclosed more freely, we ventured from surface sharing into deeper layers of exposure, establishing compelling emotional bonds and an almost mystical, divine connection.  In the process of disclosing our personal selves, the circle became a place of unconditional acceptance and understanding….each member receiving unbridled acknowledgement, encouragement and support when needed.

Some disclosures were dark and painful….often never having before seen the light of day.  Childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, abortion, trauma, shame, depression, anxiety…spoken about out loud, often for the first time.

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In this sacred circle, we inspired one another to lean into discomfort, take the plunge and often make what would become life-altering decisions, for example….whether or not to have children, traveling to exotic vacation destinations with female friends, experimenting with sex toys, or affirming ourselves as we created partnership and an even playing field with our male partners regarding home care, child care and life responsibilities.

This behavior….acknowledging and asserting our needs and desires as females….and claiming a sense of independence and equality in our partnerships….were almost unheard of prior to the 1970’s.

We entered the circle as girls, we left as women.

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Our group experienced a few adjustments in membership as the college professors moved on to new locations and left the State.

As a result, we added members….and the seven females in this newly formed group connected in a profound way creating an even higher network of commitment, deciding to meet more frequently, eventually on a weekly basis, for almost seven years.

In our new circle, we engaged in exercises and conversations that provided us opportunity to develop comfort with our bodies, our sexuality and sensuality….and consulted with the Boston Women’s Health Collective, a non-profit responsible for the book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves”.…a groundbreaking manual addressing sexuality and reproductive health, that drastically changed and influenced the women’s health movement around the world.

We stretched our purpose….and planned and conducted a circle evening with a local men’s group; wrote a collective letter to the editor of our local newspaper about exploitation of women in regard to an ad designed for a Waterville cocktail lounge;  one of our artist members led us through a group art project creating a singular piece of work in which we all participated;  we began keeping a diary of our meeting content and our collective programs and projects; a few of us went on to develop The Everywoman’s Center….providing a drop-in center, a library of feminist literature, a newsletter of articles of import to women,  and a monthly dinner meeting that hosted guest speakers.

As the group evolved, our individual lives expanded as well.

One member left for Boston to seek a doctorate at Harvard;  another utilized the group’s reassurance to begin a nursing program;  two of us were inspired to pursue college degrees.  I eventually got my Master’s and started my own psychotherapy practice.

We cherished one another.

We were each other’s coach and cheerleader.  We all grew from our circle experience.

There is no doubt that my membership in this group….the stability, knowledge and inspiration it provided….gave me the confidence to take one step after another toward enlightenment and previously unimaginable goals.

“Circles” can be life changing.

“Peer-led, spirit-centered “circles” have helped women successfully face the challenge of our times,” as noted in “Calling the Circle”, a guide to developing a group circle practice, “where women sit together, pass a talking piece from person to person, speak clearly, listen compassionately, and make well-grounded decisions.”

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Women have been creating circles of grounding and sharing since the beginning of time.  As noted in the 2015 ‘Sacred Earth Journeys’ blog, “women have gathered in sacred circles throughout history….around a fire in prehistoric times, in hushed monasteries of the Middle Ages, in consciousness-raising groups in 1970’s living rooms or in online groups in the digital age, women have long congregated to laugh, share, heal, grieve and spiritually collect in community.  In such gatherings, women can experience a deep authenticity within themselves – a truth or ‘realness’ that is often lacking as we tend to our day-to-day lives and its multitude of roles and responsibilities”.

images-7We were no longer our mother’s daughters, though we ached for our mom’s whose choices were sadly, profoundly limited.  Without modern discoveries like birth control, or access to personal credit, or job opportunities outside of the narrow range afforded them….their potential to thrive as powerful, equal beings to their male counterparts was almost obsolete.  Few of our mom’s worked outside the home and if they did, generally it was in low-pay, inferior jobs with little if any opportunity for advancement.

We, their daughters, hoped for… and worked towards…a better life….one embracing change and choice.

Quoting Bolen again, “when women come together and make a commitment to each other to be in a circle with a spiritual center, they are creating a vessel of healing and transformation for themselves and a vehicle for change in the world”.

There may be no better time for women than now to assert that change.

Given the escalating hostile climate in our country regarding women….we currently have a mixed-bag of feminine potential and effectiveness.  The unprecedented, powerful, “Me Too Movement” and the worldwide 2017 Women’s March protest advocating for legislation and policies regarding human rights, immigration and healthcare….are occurring in parallel to the name-calling and verbal assault on the character and abilities of women that is emanating from the White House….and the deplorable mocking of a truth-telling Professor at a hearing for an unqualified Supreme Court Justice.

I have also noted on a micro-level what appears to be steps backward for women in their 20’s and 30’s as I observe the co-dependent behaviors and subservient attitudes present in many of my heterosexual, young, female clients.  What emerges is a pattern of denying “self”…placing the needs and wants of their partners before their own, expecting little in terms of mutually satisfying experiences, locked in relationships of accommodation and ‘other’ care, often relinquishing decision-making to the men in their lives….even foregoing their own sexual needs focused instead on pleasing their boyfriends and husbands.

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These same young women….and women like them….watched the Kavanaugh hearing…..a torturous spectacle of denying women’s memories, women’s voices, women’s value, women’s rights.

I wonder…was the women’s movement all for naught?

Sigh.

But……perhaps there is hope….

We….women in our 60’s and 70’s….have developed a sage wisdom that we can employ to serve as muse to young women.

At our stage of life, we are experienced ‘badass goddesses’….women who have been baptized by fire to reach levels of self-confidence, self-respect, independence and self-reliance not experienced by previous generations of women.

We have been successful at partnering with our significant others in all aspects of life.  We experience mutual understanding and respect. We negotiate needs. We are co-equals, co-creating a healthy, conscious, productive co-existence.

As a result, we have the capacity to fully embrace and enjoy the lives we desire….and deserve….to have.

Even now, at sixty-eight, I am a member of a women’s group….have been for over six years.  We meet one day a month…start with a communal breakfast, meditation, share in a sacred circle space….and then relax together over lunch.  I bask in the divine knowledge and wisdom of five other women….all therapists….in one of the most welcoming, authentic, loving, supportive, playful, fierce, ego-less, feedback-filled spaces of my life.

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The women lingering on deck…. in the generation behind us….are in need of our encouragement….our knowledge…our guidance….our wisdom.

This is a rallying cry to my wise crone sisters, to seek creative ways to impart your precious knowing to younger females that matter to us.  Develop open-ended conversations, be curious, share your experiences growing up female, cite what has helped you to become the woman you were meant to be…..

…..perhaps suggest and reintroduce the concept of creating empowering sacred circles. 

“There is nothing so wise as a circle” ….Rainer Maria Rilke

We have much to share,  fellow goddesses….young girls and women are thirsty for our knowledge….

…..time to pass the baton….

 

 

 

Believe….Unite….and Vote

There are many brave, courageous, heroic heroines…..and ‘she-roes’…. in my life.

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After recently posting a blog describing my personal experience of having been sexually assaulted as a girl and again as a teen, the response from female friends has been overwhelmingly affirming, heartfelt….as well as stunning and profoundly sad.

Within a day or two, nineteen women connected by phone, text, email, in person, and by posting on my blog site….the majority sharing with me their own personal experience of  sexual abuse, incest, sexual assault and rape….as children, while in their teens and as adults.

Some disclosing for the first time.

Each story vivid.  Compelling.  Laced with agony filled memories.

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The post was read by all of my family ‘guys‘, who  quickly responded with loving, supportive comments on my Facebook page.

I received an immediate call from my oldest son, expressing his anger at the thought of anyone  inappropriately touching his Mom or causing her to experience fear or shame. 

The primary hesitation I had in sharing my story was the potential impact it might have on my sons….on these thoughtfully conscious allies who have a history of not only respect and high regard for women, but who are unabashedly vocal and outspoken in their support.

But as a Mom, I have that innate desire to protect them from ‘everything’….especially from angst and concern relating to me….or their Dad. 

My reason for hesitating reflected in his first few words….”I am so sorry that happened to you, Mom.”……soft, sweet and consoling, while also pricking that deep-seated shame and embarrassment.  images-6

As our dialogue continued via a Boston to Portland Facetime conversation…. a discussion which included his Dad sitting beside me on the couch….we ventured into a combined curiosity of questions on a cultural and societal level: 

What are the detrimental messages of privilege…. in the form of power and control….being received by young boys/men regarding young girls/women? 

How are boys/men bestowed a sense of entitlement over access to female bodies? 

Have we developed and provided a common language of ‘consent’ for both sexes, and if not, how might we impart a respectful template of discourse to take the guessing out of potential sexual encounters? 

How do we move forward shaping a culture of mutual respect and equality for men and women?images-2

Much has happened in the week since our family discussion.

I watched a credible, respected, educated, anguished woman share her pained story of sexual assault….with the world watching.  I ached for her, imagining myself sitting in her seat, facing a wall of men, many of whom had already discredited her publicly before she spoke a word.

I felt nauseated throughout her testimony.  My stomach tight and in knots. I had to remind myself to breathe.

She, like me, is a sexual assault survivor, so I admit my bias in her favor….absolutely believing her testimony as she related a precise depiction of the actual assault.  Her ‘foggy’ recollection and inability to recall day, perhaps even month…..and the loss of before and after details, made total sense to me.

I do not remember what happened before or after the first sexual abuse at age 11.  I have no idea exactly when it happened….was it spring? summer?…. or at what point I walked back home after the assault, who I might have walked with, what happened the next hours, days.  But….every moment of the assault is 100% imbedded in my brain…..I see him, I see me....what happened before and after, or even when exactly it happened….no longer reside clearly in my mind.  They were not the important details my brain held on to.  My mind held on to what mattered.

Last Thursday, I watched an equally well-educated, much respected man respond to accusations.

Admittedly, my pre-conceived notion was this candidate has not been supportive of the rights of women, the LGBTQ community or any marginalized group;  he has been noted as someone in favor of expanding presidential authority; so for these and many other reasons,  I was not in favor of his nomination.  Regardless,  I was open to giving Brett Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt, and possibly my support of his appointment, based on his testimony.

He deserved to be heard.

Brett Kavanaugh was not on trial.  This process was the equivalent of a job interview.  We, the citizens of the United States, would be his employer for the rest of his life and assessing his ability to do a job, an assignment for a lifetime, someone who will be instrumental in decision-making impacting all aspects of our lives….required our minds be open, our time and attention riveted.

I watched.  I listened.

I was not impressed.

I have been the recipient of male anger…it can be frightening, especially to women.  Brett Kavanaugh was a man in a rage.

I had moments when I held concern that he would lapse into a break with reality….appearing incoherent, at times literally lost in a teen flashback….relating details as though they were happening in the moment.

This is not the demeanor or temperament of a Justice.

I observed a man of privilege and entitlement concluding he was justifiably owed a Supreme Court seat.

More disturbing than the fabrications he told during his testimony… (i.e., portraying himself as someone who worked hard to gain admission to Yale, when in fact he, like other students whose family members attended the University, would have received preferential treatment;  characterizing himself as someone who spent his high school and college years only playing sports, studying or attending church, was in direct conflict with what many have described as an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and most likely a problem drinker; and purposely providing the Judiciary Committee contrasting definitions of sexually deviant behavior appearing in his high school yearbook) …are the partisan beliefs he conveyed during his statement and his insinuating a Democratic conspiracy against him…which raised serious questions of his ability to be bi-partisan and open in his decision-making on laws impacting every citizen of the United States.

His demeanor, his aggression, his verbal accosting of a female Senator, his misleading answers to questions at times falsifying information….are not, in my opinion, the characteristics required or desired of a Supreme Court Judge.images-2

But my opinion will not matter much….my believing Professor Ford will not make a difference.

Brett Kavanaugh will be bestowed the position of Supreme Court Judge.  I am certain.  This is not a vote based on truth, it is one immersed in politics.

And…..I fear women will revert back to not reporting….and men will be emboldened to assault.

I am convinced in this current atmosphere that appears to prefer male aggression and dominance to equality and fairness; to admire leadership in the form of lies, bullying, name-calling and put-downs; that tolerates intolerance;  that allows for attacking, discrediting and marginalizing women….going forward, Professor Ford and women like me….and you.…will not be respected, honored, believed or heard.

Our daughters, nieces….the next generation of our female family and friend communities….when attempting to speak their truth….are at risk of being marginalized, ridiculed, threatened and labeled…demonstrated by the appalling laughter and applause at a Mississippi rally yesterday, as the President of the United States mocked Professor Ford to the chant of “lock her up”.

We are in danger of being thrust into reverse, losing many of our hard-fought rights…..

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.unless we march…en masse…to the voting booth on November 6th.

We can change the course of history, while proclaiming WE WILL NOT GO BACK!

 

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The Truth….and Nothing But the Truth….

I was less than twelve years old.

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It was a game of hide-and-go-seek with about fifteen other “kids” who lived in my neighborhood,  a rural suburb west of Worcester, Massachusetts.  The setting was a densely wooded backyard of a family of nine, including seven children I considered friends.  As the one who was chosen to be “it” closed their eyes and counted slowly to fifty at the designated “home base”…..the other players scrambled to conceal ourselves, searching for the best place to burrow, hoping not to be found.

I had located a great spot.  I was sure I was safely hidden.  I couldn’t hear or see the others from my vantage point and patiently waited crouched down in the bushes for my opportunity to rush back to the starting place without being caught.  As I listened intently for the counting in the distance, suddenly someone grabbed me from behind, covered my mouth with their hand, wrestled me to the ground and while pressing their groin against me began to rub their other hand quickly and vigorously all over my body.  As the faint sound of counting stopped followed by the shout of “ready or not, here I come”….he laughed, released me with a shove and ran to touch the “home base”.

I never told anyone.

I was stunned, embarrassed.

I was ashamed.

I couldn’t imagine how I would explain what had happened to my parents.  I am not sure I even had the words.

I was fearful.

He was my best friend’s brother, close to sixteen years old.  He was a big guy.  A bit noxious at times. Would he retaliate?  Would it be even worse the next time?  Would he be punished?   If he were reprimanded or worse, would I feel badly and responsible?

I started to doubt myself.   I wondered if he was just being playful and I was overreacting?  Was there something I did wrong….did I deserve this?  If I say anything, will I be believed, made fun of, rejected by my world.…the friends on my little street?

The moments remain vividly locked in my memory.  If I close my eyes, I can still feel his  unwanted hands touching my chest, my groin area, his thrusting into my backside.  It was my first introduction to male dominance, entitlement, power and privilege….to knowing at some primitive level that I was not an equal….to experiencing my body as something shameful and not completely mine.

Even at eleven years old….I knew it was a violation, but in that confused and disoriented state….I was reluctant to tell.

I never played the hiding game again.

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Fast forward.

I was a nineteen year-old young adult woman working in the Athletic Department of Holy Cross College with two other women who became cherished friends.  We were similar in age with one another and with the student population.  We had great working relationships with the coaches, the players, and other staff in the office, dated some of the student athletes, were close friends with many of them, and our social lives with all of the above were intertwined.

A kindly, playful older man, “Connie” was the janitor in our facility.  He would pop in the office multiple times a day, bring us coffee, hang out, share in the college gossip and was generously available to be of assistance to the three of us…from jumping a car battery to carrying heavy boxes…always friendly and helpful.  He was harmless, a grandfather type with an Irish brogue, a good guy….it was not unusual for him to put his arms around our shoulders and give us a “bear” hug.

And then there was the afternoon his hug became a clear groping and grabbing.  He held onto my breast and for several seconds didn’t let go.

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I never looked at him the same way again.  I never trusted him again.

And I never told anyone.

I couldn’t bear having this man, my friend of several years, the man who I relied on like a relative, possibly fired from his job, I told myself, because of me.  He had a wife, grandchildren.

Again, the confusing self-talk.  Did I behave with him in some way that gave him the wrong impression?  Maybe I was mistaken and in his exuberance to hug his hand slipped?  That same disorientation and disbelief I had as a little girl.

On the other side of my bewilderment, I wondered why someone I trusted, someone who was my friend, would do this to me?   So my rationalization was…it must be me.

I minimized it, justified it, sucked it up….and never forgot.

That same year, one of the football players, someone I knew well, exposed himself to me.   I was in the dorm with friends.  We were planning to attend a party on the bottom floor of the building.

He and I were both sober.  He asked me if I would be willing to type a term paper for him, I said I would, and I followed him to his dorm room to pick it up.

Again….the same confusion.

And silence.

According to the Child Sexual Assessment Center in Houston, Texas….“the prevalence of child sexual abuse is not known because so many victims do not disclose or report their abuse.  Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006).  This means that there are 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.  The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year, 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least five years.  Some never disclose. (Smith et al, 2000; Broman-Fulks et al, 2007).”

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For the past few days, I have been aware of the internal visceral reactions I am having to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination and to the female professor who has come forward to accuse him of attempted rape when she was a fifteen year-old freshman and he was seventeen years old.  All my old fears and sha materializing on the television screen.

Professor Ford, the accuser, has become the target of ridicule by the son of the President of the United States….his crayon scribbled, cartoon-like writing mocking the alleged victim of Kavanaugh’s sexual assault.  She has been accused of having a personal vendetta against the Supreme Court nominee;  pro-Trump websites according to CNN are “publishing stories to sow doubt about Ford’s credibility;” she’s been described in print as an “unhinged liberal professor” a “far-left accuser”;  the conservative leaning Wall Street Journal argued that “Ford’s claims should not warrant a hearing nor a delay in the Kavanaugh confirmation”, calling it a political ploy.  Her accusations are being referred to as “fake news” by some conservative activists.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who sits on the Hearing committee, has said that Professor Ford is “mistaken” and that “even if the accusation is true, Kavanaugh is a good man and Senators should judge him on who he is now”.

All of this pushback, even though a licensed psychotherapist and a polygraph test support her story.

This is exactly why women remain silent.

This is precisely why I did.  This is why many women do.

Women know there is a high potential and probability they will be re-victimized.

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I am old enough to remember Anita Hill grilled by a lineup of white, male, pin-striped Senators.  She was not believed.  Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court Justice despite the accusations of sexual harassment, corroborated by others.

What’s different this time?

This time the accusation is attempted rape.

There are four, fierce, formidable female Senators sitting on this Senate Judiciary Committee who will be questioning Mr. Kavanaugh and Professor Ford.

And…the “Me, Too” movement has created a more supportive and protective backdrop for women to be heard, believed, validated…for many women, providing the first crucial and important steps toward healing.

Brava, Professor Christine Blassey Ford….for your courage, your willingness to put your reputation, your family, yourself on the line in order to present a clearer depiction of the character of this man who wants to be a Supreme Court Judge.

Your voice is our collective voices.

As Symone Sauders, a former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders and victim of rape said in an interview today, “there is no incentive for Professor Ford to come forward, except to tell the truth.”

I believe Professor Ford.  Period.

 

 

 

 

 

UNITED WE STAND….DIVIDED WE FALL

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I am a Democrat.

I didn’t agree with his politics.  I campaigned and voted against him….his conservative views fairly consistently in direct contrast with my liberal perspective.

And yet, like many, I mourn the man, John McCain.

Regardless of our differences on policy, and they were plentiful, there were a few issues on which we were aligned.  We agreed that extravagant salaries and severance packages of CEO’s negatively impacted the compensation of workers….and….like me, he supported reduction in unnecessary government spending;  he was an outspoken critic of pork barrel spending and supported free trade.  He fought to save the future of Social Security, but was not in favor of privatizing.  McCain was a friend to Native Americans, favored the concept of equal pay, he sponsored legislation to eliminate any form of torture as part of interrogation of prisoners, believed in global warming and supported the ADA which sponsors the rights of the disabled.  Although he had a contradictory history on LGBTQ rights, his views were regarded as more liberal than most of his Republican colleagues.

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However, not until this week did I foster a more elevated appreciation and admiration for this man.

I watched and listened to multiple televised events during a week of grief for….and celebration of….a unique person with a life history to be admired and revered.  I was most impressed with the fierce and unapologetic eulogy by his eldest daughter.

What emerged most for me was this Senator’s ability to cross party lines to get things done and create an atmosphere of camaraderie and respect, in spite of differing opinions and views on policy and law.  His intention always to unite, not divide.

In reference to the week-long tribute to Senator McCain, a Seattle man wrote in a September 6th letter to the editor on the opinion page of the New York Times, “For a few minutes, I dared to dream that the America I loved had reappeared.”

I share his sentiment.

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In contrast, less than a mere week later, we have a scheduled book release entitled “Fear” by Bob Woodward, a key reporter on the Watergate Scandal, currently an associate editor at the Washington Post….which according to Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, a columnist for the Guardian and senior lecturer in Harvard’s English Department….is a “meticulous, frightening look inside the Trump White House.”  

Simultaneously, just yesterday, an anonymous Op-Ed appeared in the NYT by a “senior official in the Trump administration”, titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”….which spoke to the current atmosphere in the White House…. “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” and, “….many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”  The Op-Ed concludes, “Senator McCain put it best in his farewell letter.  All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this nation.”

“Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolf,  and “Unhinged” by a former member of the White House staff, are consistent with other recent books and opinion pieces describing a pattern of erratic behavior by our President, often at ‘loose ends’, “unpredictable and emotionally overwrought.” 

High level officials, including Gary Cohn and Rob Porter, are reported to have “conspired to keep certain documents out of Trump’s reach….shocked by Trump’s lack of knowledge and utter lack of interest in learning anything at all.”Unknown-2

President Obama weighed in today citing, “in a healthy democracy there are some checks and balances on this kind of behavior and inconsistency, but right now there is none.  This is not how our democracy is supposed to work.  This is not normal.  These are extraordinary times.  They are dangerous times.”

As one by one the seemingly functional members of this administration either quit or are fired….we are left with urgent questions:  who will be left to run the show?  keep our democracy in tact?  reassure the American people in time of crisis?  be the truth tellers in an atmosphere of persistent lies? make crucial decisions that impact the lives of all American citizens, worst case the potential use of nuclear weapons?

Have we arrived at a compelling crossroad?  Is it possible that liberals like myself, conservatives and independents can come to a consensus that our love for country trumps our tribalism?  Can we unite in agreement that our government is in chaos and our leader is incapable of leading?

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We have an opportunity to make a difference in November.

We can vote our conscience, reunite our country, uphold our democracy.

We can keep our economy humming while coming together united in preserving the best of who we are, moving forward in unison….with respect for one another, regard for one another, resolved to make America, as referred to by Ronald Reagan, once again, the ‘shining city on the hill’.

We The People.….have the power to restore the image of America as the most respected and revered country in the world, admired and counted on for leadership.

We the People.….have the capability of reigning in the chaotic character of the White House, promoting and influencing the quest to once again be a dignified and distinguished world power.

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Our Congressmen and women in their current state of impotence will not save us.  It seems our Congress….and the White House….are hell bent on dividing us.

However, lest we not forget……

WE THE PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER!

Obama said it perfectly today….“there is actually only one real check on bad policies and abuses of power.  That’s you.  You and your vote.”

Let’s come together!  Let’s reunite!

The task is simple.  The solution could be at hand.

Vote on November 6th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A NEW DEFINITION OF FAMILY

 

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While exercising at the gym yesterday, just outside the window I noticed a small maple…its  bowed branch displaying a splash of red and orange, an advance sign of fall.  At that same moment in parallel, I flashed to the previous weekend celebrating my partner’s 75th trip around the sun and entry into the autumn season of his life.

I will ride his coat tails into this next phase of existence, incredulous, realizing I personally will count seven decades in the fall of 2019.

Seems our numbers…seventy and seventy-five…crept up suddenly, spooked and stunned me into consciousness.  As tho the billions of cross links, neurons and synapses in my anesthetized brain integrated at once, I was suddenly aware…at a mind, heart and soul level…there are distinctly fewer years ahead of me than behind.

These autumn years differ from all others.  Life is more pronounced, in focus…..clarity on what matters and what does not becomes undoubtedly obvious.  As time available squeezes into a funnel of fewer days, the challenge is to be more selective and discerning in regard to how to spend your time….and who you prefer to spend it with.

This time of life is a time of contrasts.

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I find I spend more moments quiet, in soft reflection….sorting memories, reticent, asking questions:  How have I shown up in this life?  Have I been kind enough, open enough, authentic enough….given enough of myself, made a difference?  Contemplating….what is left to say, to do, to see, to try…to talk about, to think about, to write about?  Acknowledging loss…..envying the youthful faces/legs/bodies of young women, agitated by knees/fingers/toes that don’t bend as well or move as nimbly, eyes that don’t see as well, thoughts that don’t come as fast.

And…then there are the gifts.

With children grown, work at a trickle…there is time to pause….internalize gratitude, create a mindful list….extending it further each day….savoring the images of gratefulness.  It presents the opportunity to slow down enough to be present, make a vigilant effort to remain in the now….embracing the freedom to try something new, make time with friends, have play dates, travel….or just be.

I would count last week as one of those precious gifts.

We rented a lake house.

I have always been drawn to the ocean….still am….with my thick slice of introversion preferring the beach all to myself….preferably in the midst of winter….shared only with gulls, shells, gentle wave sounds and stretches of uninhabited sand.  However…I have developed a new appreciation for the morning mystical stillness of bound water as the sun initially peeks, then boldly appears on the horizon;  or the delightful sounds of the peeping osprey, the soaring of a majestic eagle, the heart-piercing cry of a loon, or the sight of deer peering from deep in the wood….all newly discovered rewards of lake-living.

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The added bonus and what has become the encompassing purpose for almost any occasion now in life….is spending and sharing time with family.  Again, driven by the recognition of aging, the desire to commune and connect with the people I love most overrides all other wants and needs.

First….we have two adult sons who rock our world.  I won’t embarrass myself in a gushing attempt to express the depth, breadth and width of the love I have for them. It is boundless. Suffice to say, when I am around them, interacting with them, investing time in them….it rivals whatever my image of heaven might be.  My youngest son’s partner was gratefully added to the mix in the last five years….and along with the pleasant addition of a second female into our inner circle…..she is beyond my wildest dreams the woman I would have hand-picked if it had been up to me.  She adds an additional layer of heart, mind, soul and spirit to an existing circle of love.

To make work schedules align and have a full week of immediate family….priceless.

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At the beginning of the lake week, we included a couple who are close friends of our son and his partner.  The connection was immediately playful, interesting, inclusive and intimate.  Later in the week, a surprise gathering for the birthday brought to the lake over twenty-five friends spanning five to forty-plus years….and the viewing of a video including clips from friends all over the country, with images spanning a life time of memory and friendship.  The symbiotic energy of the evening….and the entire week…..mingled with emotional and physical embracing, the camaraderie and closeness…..all indicative of a family of choice.images-2Within this chosen family, I consider some of the men “brothers”, the women close and dear “sisters”.  We easily laugh together, share our cherished stories, seek input or advise and long to be in each other’s presence.  We vacation together, celebrate the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays, a graduation, wedding, birthday or other special event.  We connect by phone, by card or letter, by email, by text, over dinner, on Facebook, in person.  We show up at the funerals of loved ones, help sort through concerns and fears, share our joys…and tears….with one another.

We are clan.  We are tribe. We are family.

As we merge into the harvest years of our lives ….work, titles, possessions, acquiring, consuming….become of little import.

We seek comfort….enough dollars to pay the bills, stock the refrigerator….and a little left over for an occasional Portland restaurant and a summer and winter vacation….with an eagerness and passion for creating community…bringing together as many of the people we love as possible.

Whether spending time with our immediate family, a couple we adore, another family we cherish or a group we treasure….it is always a rich experience of abundance for my soul.

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Family is precious….and it does not have to be defined by the communal blood running in our veins.

My Dad in his later years would say, “nothing is more important than family.”  Although family has always been significant to me, I am not sure I totally understood what he was attempting to convey until now.

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When all else is stripped away….when we reach the final few decades of our lives….and eventually those final days and moments of existence on this earth….connection with others, creating community and concentric circles of “family” is what will sustain, feed us and deliver us to what….is next….

Family….in its many facets and forms….is indeed….all we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REUNITE OUR UNITED STATES

I am incapable of separating the personal from the political.

I just can’t.

Often I’ll hear….”I’m not interested in politics” or “I hate politics.”

It does not register or resonate with me.Unknown-2

I have to admit, I find those statements puzzling.  It is near impossible for me to divert my eyes from the current spectacle of chaotic governance and divisive rhetoric….and remain silent.

Now, I get it that I can obsess.

I know my passion often spills over into compulsion….and being a Scorpio with a Sun and Moon sign in water….my tendency is to navigate the world with emotions on screech, and at times….ferociously on fire.

Yes….I know, I know….I am working on balance.  Truly I am.

And yet, I cannot tease out politics from value issues like civil rights, a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body….or concerns addressing climate change and healthcare….and all sorts of other critical topics that directly affect and impact our day-to-day lives and that of future generations..

I tend to lean politically left…okay…probably even a bit to the left of Elizabeth Warren…when it comes to social issues.

imagesI was raised in a Democratic household.  A framed picture of John F. Kennedy hung on our living room wall….just above a photo of Mary Corcoran, my Irish grandmother, arrested four times for midwifery.   (That might explain my cantankerous, rebellious side).

As a child, I lived in a small, rural, central Massachusetts town with a population under two-thousand.  There were one hundred and ten in my senior class, many I had known since first grade, largely of Italian, French and Irish decent.  Most, like myself, were second generation grandchildren of immigrants.  I had a grandfather fluent in Portuguese, a grandmother who understood Gaelic, a maternal grandmother that taught me a few Swedish words and how to bake when I was very young and a maternal grandfather who was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States.  My great-grandparents came to America with little to nothing from Ireland, the Azores and Sweden..Beach Eggs

Most of us had dads who served in WWII and mothers who supported the war effort by working for companies that supplied the troops.  My mom made bullets

Our parents grew up during the Great Depression.

Mom was one of nine…she wore hand-me-down clothing and someone else’s shoes.  Her father, a butcher, stole meat from the shop where he worked, and brought it home hidden under his jacket in order to feed his family.  My Dad, as a child, picked pieces of coal along the railroad track with his brothers to warm their family home during the harsh winter months, and his father traveled to California in search of work, leaving a wife and four young children at home, scraping to make ends meet.

Our mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters of the Depression era, were adamant about creating a better life for us….their children.

We lived a handful of miles west of Worcester, an urban center teeming with difference, divided geographically by nationalities.  In one section of the city, handmade pasta, meatballs and sauces were sold from stores owned by families whose last names ended in vowels.  From another side of town, the alluring scent of mouth-watering bagels drifted in the air from several Jewish delis.  One neighborhood was Armenian, another Polish….the Swedes lived down by the lake.  The Nipmuc tribe who first inhabited the city, left their mark by naming the lake a Native American name, Quinsigamond.

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I am grateful for those early experiences that exposed me to people who were different from me. I found the dialects captivating, the aroma of their foods inviting, their traditions fascinating.  However, it was not uncommon to hear derogatory terms like ‘kike’, ‘dago’, ‘frog’, ‘greaseball or guido’, ‘mick’, or ‘polack’ to describe persons of Jewish, Italian, French, Irish and Polish decent….spoken by neighbors….and even some family members.  As a young person, I had an internal, deeply uncomfortable reaction to this offensive name-calling.

I was a child of the 60’s.

The Vietnam War and the assassination of a President, a civil rights leader and a candidate for President….are searing memories of the baby boomer generation.  The Cuban Missile crisis caused serious worry of annihilation for me and my teen-age friends for several days.  The turmoil and chaos, and the drafting of young men to fight a war with muddled purpose sparked protests on college campuses.

This period of time also birthed a rebellion on multiple fronts.

The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan and NOW (National Organization of Women) launched the feminist movement challenging the subordinate and diminished role of women in our society;  the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  The Stonewall Riots began the Gay Liberation Movement.  Cesar Chavez organized farm workers and an unassuming heroine named Rosa Parks, unwilling to give up her seat on a bus, helped initiate the quest for civil rights.

Although this was a time of disorder and upheaval…it also represented a period of positive change and hope….with the potential of creating a country authentically reflecting the words…“liberty and justice for all”….the concept that every American is equal under the law….not to be deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Difference runs in our family.  I have a son who is gay, a great-niece who is bi-racial and another with cerebral palsy.  There is a wide socio-economic spectrum as well, with some family members barely living above the poverty level.

Being straight, white, ‘able’ and not having to worry about meeting my monthly mortgage payment…I experience privilege not easily accessible to the people I love most.

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Our country prides itself on its diversity.

People have come here for decades,  in search of a better life…escaping war, crime, famine and countless forms of danger and oppression. Some have sought freedom from horrific, life-threatening circumstances.  And although we, as a country, have strived to realize the dream of President Reagan who said, “America is the shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere”, perhaps more than ever before, we seem to fear and in some cases loathe ‘the other’.  Those different from ourselves are perceived as suspicious, persons to avoid or demean.

We are creating a sordid legacy of fearing those who look, talk, believe or behave differently from us…and in response the tendency is to discredit, ridicule and in some instances, vocally or physically attack anyone whose opinion, especially political, differs from our own.

We have sadly become a nation with a tribal mentality.

I have been a Democrat all of my life.  Not sure exactly what I am right now.  Progressive ‘socialist’ seems to fit best based on my values…believing all American citizens should have access to quality healthcare, a good education, and a standard of living raised for the ‘average’ member of our society to ensure more equitable economic opportunity for all.

I did vote for Hillary.  I admit, I wanted to witness the election of the first female President in my lifetime.  And, no, she probably wasn’t the best candidate for the Democrats.  I think persons on both sides of the political spectrum have grown weary with the succession of Bushes and Clintons.  But given the two choices, I felt she would bring more experience to the job, possess more refined leadership skills, continue the movement toward equality, healthcare for all, a living wage, clean climate, improvements in the education system, fair and reasonable immigration policies….and take the lead on addressing gun violence.

images-3The current state of our government and our country concerns me.  Deeply.

I hope I am mistaken when I say our democracy may be shattering and the ideals of the 60’s, seeking equality and freedom, may be in peril.

Our Congressmen and women appear impotent.  They seem mute, unable to speak for the ‘people’….their employers.  Decisions are being made to eliminate laws that advocate for clean air and water, education budgets are being cut including monies that provide needed services for disabled children like my great-niece, Rhyen.  Babies are being separated from their mothers at our border and kept out of view from lawmakers and the media, some never to be returned to their biological parents.  Laws to protect the rights of LGTBQ persons, like our son, John….and friends, family members and colleagues that do not identify as straight….are experiencing, especially at the State level,  the erosion of basic civil rights we have fought so hard for.  Foreign powers are interfering with our voting system and infiltrating social media generating further alarming divisiveness in our nation.

The common discourse of our country is fraught with anger, threats and violence between those who see things differently.

It has become difficult to assess truth from lies.  The assault on our free press and free speech could eventually limit access to a wide range of free-flowing information sources,   potentially creating an authoritarian dictatorship with a strong central power and limited political and individual freedoms.

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My grandparents….and parents….are deceased.

I realize, full well, I am next in the queue.

The legacy my generation leaves behind will impact my children, nieces and nephews and their offspring.

Their ability to live on a planet with air they can breathe, water they can drink, the freedom to marry who they love, choice to give birth, ability to acquire a good education or a decent job, or have access to affordable health care….basically a wholesome, healthy and happy life….will be dependent upon politics….our lawmakers and the enactment of laws.

So, yes….the political is personal…for me.

Perhaps it should be for all of us.

 

 

 

P-l-e-a-s-e…Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Although ten years apart in age…both of my sons grew up tuned into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mister Rogers….the lean, soft-spoken, slow-speaking, perpetually smiling host of the program….was a prominent and welcomed presence in John and Jeremy’s young world every afternoon.

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To begin each episode, Rogers would enter the set through a fabricated doorway into a pretend house, stroll slowly toward a coat closet, remove and hang his suit jacket in trade for a colorful zipped cardigan, and in his un-hurried manner, change his dress shoes to sneakers…..all the while singing the popular theme song memorized by every little one watching, speaking directly to the camera, inviting each child individually into his world of fantasy and unconditional love.

From a low-budget, simply designed studio backdrop, he filled our television screen with make-believe….laced with life lessons and unbridled warmth.

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I recently watched the documentary based on the life of Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”

Sitting beside me in the theatre was my husband of forty-five years who was moved to tears multiple times.

So was I.

All those many years ago when our boys, now forty-two and fifty, were riveted to the tube…I honestly wasn’t paying close attention. I felt I didn’t need to. Who didn’t trust Mister Rogers?  I knew the content and material my children were absorbing on this PBS sponsored program would be illuminating and educating.

What I didn’t realize until seeing the documentary film, is that I missed an opportunity to enlighten myself.

Fred Rogers understood children.

He had a deep appreciation and understanding of their psyche.

After 9/11, he addressed that tragedy straight on with the use of hand puppets….inanimate objects perhaps indicative of his alter-ego….giving them life and  voice….reflecting and expressing the fear and worry he imagined felt by the youngsters who made up his audience.

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He was a man of essential goodness.  His ability to walk in the shoes and dwell in the minds of children….reassuring, comforting and consoling young people across the nation…was the key to his knowing how to enrich and enhance their tender lives, as simultaneously they absorbed his love.  His programs tackled the hard issues of divorce, death, bullying, war and the assassination of Robert Kennedy with candor and openness…his intent always to give voice to their angst and soothe their terror.

He served as a ‘moral compass for generations’, as noted by Rafer Guzman, a movie critic from Newsday.

In a poignant moment from the film,  Mister Rogers invites a regular member from the cast of the program, Officer Francois Clemmons, one of the first African-American characters on any children’s’ television series, to join him in the ‘kiddie” pool to ‘cool off his feet’ on a hot summer day.

As explained in the documentary, this gesture of invitation to share the water with his Black counterpart was in direct response to an incident in which a segregated public swimming area was deemed off-limits to people of color.  Captured on film and viewed on national news was an event involving several African-American adults who refused to comply and boldly entered the pool.  In response, as they swam in the water, a clearly aggitated white male vigorously poured large buckets of harmful chemicals directly into the area in which they were swimming.

Fred Rogers, appalled by this abhorrent incident, on his next show extended the invitation of joining to Clemmons, often utilizing staged moments like the sharing of his pool to counter what he deemed to be alarming injustices in our country.

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Mr. Clemmons, also a gay man,  was asked by Fred Rogers to not divulge his sexual orientation publicly for fear it would harm the integrity of the children’s show.  Years later, as both Fred and the country evolved in supporting the rights of the LGBT community, he physically and figuratively embraced Clemmons, who, in tears, recounted the moment when Mr. Rogers told him he loved him.  This was a compelling moment for Clemmons who regarded Fred Rogers as a father figure.

Another heart-warming segment featured a small boy with an illness that extensively limited the use of his body and required confinement to a wheelchair.  This charming and endearing young child was scheduled for delicate surgery on his spine with a prognosis of questionable survival.

Mister Rogers hosted this courageous little one on his show and sat at his level, where their faces were but inches apart.  They sang together, both joined and suspended in an intimate space of human connection and understanding…almost spiritual in nature.  A scene that cannot be viewed without forceful tugs at the heart. This same boy was later featured at the end of the film surprising Fred Rogers at an event in his honor….now a grown man who had in fact survived the perilous surgery.

Fred Rogers was once quoted as saying:  “What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than his or her sickness. A person with a disability is much, much more than a handicap. A pediatrician is more than a medical doctor. You’re much more than your job description or your age or your income or your output.”  

He was capable of both honest and straight-forward interaction with children while affirming the compelling fact that we are multi-faceted beings to be perceived with a multi-dimensional lens.

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As he boosted the confidence and esteem of his audience, Rogers often, through his puppet characters, acknowledged struggle with his own insecurities.

He was an overweight young boy, a target of ridicule and bullying as a child.

In a segment of the film, Rogers’ hand puppet sings about being a ‘mistake’, deficient, a defect.  He sang this in duet, face to face, with a young woman whose singing response simultaneously was positive, confident and affirmative….their words overlapping one another….creating the conflicting, dual, inner experience that all of us can relate to when we waver on the question, “are we good enough?”

In a dazzling review by New York Times writer A.O. Scott, he aptly describes Fred Roger’s character…..“His warmth carried an aura of gentle formality.  He was not shy about being a role model or a benevolent authority figure.  On the contrary, he took the responsibilities of adulthood seriously.  He might have been the last of his kind.  He acknowledged that anger, fear and other kinds of hurt are part of the human repertoire and that children need to learn to speak honestly about those feelings, and to trust the people they share them with.”

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and a life-long conservative.

I made the mistaken assumption he was, therefore, straight-laced and conceivably a bit rigid, but the documentary proved me wrong.  The stage hands on the production were prone to perform pranks on the star.  One story involved a producer cavorting backstage donning the crown of one of the puppet characters, taking a snapshot with his pants down to his knees exposing his derriere, and then mixing the photo with pictures that Rogers would later be sorting through.  He noted that nothing was said by Rogers in regard to the incident for months until at a Christmas gathering, Fred’s gift to that producer was a poster-sized copy of the butt-exposed photograph.

Fred Rogers was a simple man of delicious complexity.

Although Republican and a conservative, Rogers was once criticized by right-wing cable news voices who suggested he was responsible for spawning a generation of ‘entitled’ young persons…..believing  he created in children a mindset that everything should be handed to them.  In contrast, Scott sites in his article that Roger’s message was in fact, “a call to recognize and respect the dignity of others.”  He added, “the most radical thing about him was his unwavering commitment to the value of kindness in the face of a world that could seem intent on devising new ways to be mean.”

If Fred Rogers could be held responsible for anything, it was for instilling confidence and self-esteem in thousands of children over decades with a persistent reminder that everyone has value and deserves to be loved.

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This documentary is timely.

We need a public figure who reflects Roger’s aura of gentleness and kindness….who has the capability of inviting each and every one of us to appreciate and own our uniqueness, our specialness, our inherent capability to love….one other, our country, our planet, ourselves.

We need someone who will set an example of loving kindness to counter the current atmosphere of suspicion, ridicule, oppression and hatred.  Someone who sees the ‘good’ in everyone and influences the belief that you are worth something;  someone who advocates hope;  someone who promotes self-respect and models the respect of others.

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day” was a phrase repeated at the opening of every show…..along with the question, “won’t you be my neighbor?”

Amen….Mister Rogers….Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON FRIENDSHIP…..

Friends.

Fabulous, marvelous,  juicy and fierce……utterly magnificent, inseparable friends.

We all have them.  

Thank goodness!

Friends we cherish.  Women we adore.

For me, it is simple.

I cannot imagine life without friends…the ‘girls’ who rock my world.

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They are as essential as breath.

A crucial, life-giving force.

A delight.  A necessity.  A cherished gift.

Deliriously delicious!

Almost an obsession.

An assortment of types….like a box of truffles!

Tall or short….full-figured and thin;  active, sedate, energetic and calm.

Single, married, divorced and widowed…some with children….and some without.  Young or gray-haired.  Working or retired.  Sisters and aunts….mothers and step-mom’s….and ecstatic, heaven blessed, ‘nana’s and grandma’s’.

Stoically serious…..or playful as a box of kittens.

Successful, self-reliant….at home and at work….all a formidable force to be reckoned with.

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You are Black and Asian, Brown and White.

You are new to me……or you span decades.

You are straight, lesbian, transgender….and bi;  flighty, grounded, outrageous and centered.

You are religious and spiritual, agnostic and atheist……Buddhist, Unitarian, Christian and Jew.

You are beautiful, extraordinary, plain and fancy.  Bold and timid, assertive and passive.  Wonderfully extroverted or gorgeously introspective….contemplative, content, curious and caring.

You face challenge and loss, unimaginable grief…..with dignity, courage….awe-inspiring grace.

You have my back, calm my angst, soothe my heart when it shatters….when aching for comfort, you nourish my soul.

You have means, you have little…regardless, you share.

Politically like me…. and unlike me, as well….conservative, liberal, socialist, and independent.  Somewhat indifferent, totally uninterested, or deeply involved….you bring gentleness to the world….you promote peace….encourage harmony….and liberally exude love.

Unknown-2From you I learn, from you I grow.

You model what I need to know.

When I have a secret to share, it is you I tell.

For honest, direct feedback….I turn to you.

Daring to be wild….or totally outrageous?  It is you I think of…. it is you I call.

When I seek deep…and shallow….you are it!

When play and laughter is what I need, it is with you that I can feel young again.

For escape and diversion….you and I will connect.

Want intellectual stimulation, political discussion?  You and you and you ….I seek.

Craving pure love, unbridled joy….I know where to find it….and you, my friend, I know will provide.

When I am at the edge…flailing and raw….you are my go to, my angel, my spirit guide.

When I am lost, untethered….you show me the way.

Seeking strength and courage?  Optimism and hope?  I can count on you to put me on course.

When I was alone, afraid, my world collapsing…..you held my hand, you taught me to ‘walk’.  In the throes of despair, searching for solace….you suggested I meditate, reminded me to breathe.

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When I thirst for authenticity….for guidance, for wisdom, encouragement, direction….a safe space in which to be vulnerable and real….I sit in your circle, the circle of women, immersed in your loving compassion and care.

When I celebrate, when I question, when I collapse or cry….at my best or hopeless worst….you are there.  Always near.

Always…in all ways…always right there.

You were there:

when I first drew with crayons, when I first learned to write;  when I maneuvered the pitfalls and challenges of adolescence,  my first break up, first heartbreak, first pimple, first period;  when I married, gave birth, divorced…and remarried.  When my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers….when my Dad took his last breath.

My rock, my anchor, playmate and confidante…guide and coach….you are all of these.

I envy, I emulate….I admire, I adore.

I hold you always in the highest esteem.

My mothers…..my sisters.  

My family.

My world.

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Grateful, beholden, beyond blessed to have found you….

women who complete me,

who sparkle 

like jewels.

 

I have them….

you have them….

who are YOUR dazzling, treasured, most precious of friends…..?

 Today is National Girlfriends Day.…take a moment….to let them know….

…..I just did