Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Different First Mother's Day

The following blog post is about my own personal journey.  Each of us travel the road of parental loss in very different ways.  And none of them are to be measured or judged.  No one way is right or better.  It is a journey and anyone in my city can tell you  - you can take the same journey 6 days in a row and its length and obstacles differ each day.  

As the first Mother's Day approaches since my mothers passing, I am oddly not filled with loss as many would expect.  I know this isn't normal.  And as my husband would confirm I've not been normal for a very long time.  But, I don't feel far from her.  And my heart is so full for having had her.  In essence my heart is just as overwhelmed on this Mother's Day eve as it was last year.  
In my home I am surrounded by things that bring her to me.  The piano that I now use as a tool to prepare my daughter for her first NYSSMA solo competition.  Many Sunday afternoons were spent at that pianos side learning from her.  The pictures of my family that hangs from the wall above that piano.  Each and everyday I look into the faces of her brothers and sisters.  The large very old old Tupperware measuring cup I use so often, I wonder how I ever did without it.  Every Summer we would use that measuring cup to make her freezer jam.  I wrap my hands around her knives as I slice into my morning bagel.  One of them has a plastic melted plastic handle that I presume got that way on my account.  

After my mothers passing select items of hers became mine. She would love the placement of one of her paintings in my bedroom.  And every time I open my drawer of kitchen utensils that barely closes - ok sometimes it doesn't - I can hear her saying to me "Honey, I know you want to keep it all - but I wouldn't be offended if you got rid of my things - you make things so hard for yourself."  

Oh  and the voice of my mother.  It is forever in my head. It's like she's my conscience - the reason I pause before I speak or speak too loudly - ok yell too loudly.  I hear her reminding me that children don't see the world as we do - to measure their actions and words accordingly.  She always encouraged my parenting.  By encouraged I mean challenged.  She would provoke me by asking questions that would many times bring things into focus for me.  I assume her voice will be with me forever, as she often shared her mothers voice with me.  

Then there are her grandchildren.  Her granddaughter Katheryn, that wears grandmas necklace to school every day - except gym days.  Or Anastasia who likes to remind me that I sound like my mother.  They are amazing in that they love reminiscing about grandma.  And when they do they smile and they don't even seem to approach sadness.  They loved her dearly and realize how lucky they were to have had her.  

Yes, there are times when I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.  We always tussled over politics.  So the news that Paul Ryan was not going to seek re-election or that yes I was right that Tillerson is now gone, or did you see that Comey interview.... We would have discussed all of this in length.  But in a deeper reflection, I think she enjoyed the back and forth merely bc it gave her time on the phone with me. It really was of no deep consequence to her otherwise.   

And yes, I would have loved for her to have known that I sang at Carnegie Hall recently. Or better yet, that I am four weeks into my  Diet Coke elimination experiment.  She hounded me over that for years.  But, I reflect on these things and am just so satisfied to have had a mother that would push me forward towards a better me.  

When she died I knew the best way I could honor was to continue living. I could hear her saying to me, "I died, you didn't."  And when I reflect on how hard she worked to move to NYC, 21 days before she died  - she was not going to let one minute pass where she wasn't persisting onward.  She was so weak - yet so determined. And living honors her.  

So tomorrow as the sun rises on Mother's Day - I will do what I do every Sunday.  I'll get my family ready and out the door and head to church. Then we'll go out for a nice lunch.  Maybe settle in to watch an old movie.  Then I will start to get my tribe ready for the start of a new week.  And that, will honor her. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Lament

The heat that floods my body from my head to my toes.

The heart pounding so hard that individual beats collapse upon one another.

The emotions that tangle up the pain, the anger, the sadness, and the fear.

The mind attempts to untangle the mess, but mystification overtakes all sense of reason.

Wisdom, seems outside the scope.

The burning flame of racial hatred.

The chilling chants of deluded racial superiority.

The manic'd masses so fearful of the browning of America, and yet cowardly won't accept the role their ancestors played when they tore families from their homes and treated them like cattle.  

The utter lack of repentance as God has lifted His children out of shackles.
Bringing to light the brilliant, innovative, hard working souls
that for generations laid in ruin crushed under the feet of oppression.  

You still act as if you don't hear the voice of the Creator screaming

I am the God who shows no partiality, I accept no bribes.

I am the God the maker of them all.

I am the God who does not show favoritism.

I am the God who commands that the foreign born
be treated as the native born.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

True Normal New York City Conversations

Yesterday Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey asserted that the conversation Donald Trump had with James Comey was just a normal New York City conversation.  It is fair to say that most saw that conversation as assertive at best, bullying and nearly mafioso at worst.  After living here since 1994, I can now call New York City home.  And during that time I have had some memorable conversations that sounded nothing like the one characterized as "normal" by Chris Christie.  In fact the only time I ever had a conversation like that was with a misogynistic bully of a man that I refused to work for and at great risk walked away.  For I too was asked to to do something that would risk my integrity and would risk the career of an esteemed colleague.   

So, I take exception to a Governor from another state trying defend and define how New Yorkers talk to each other.  Yes, we are opinionated and aggressive.  But there is a reason why nearly every tourist purchases some souvenir with a big read heart that proclaims I Love New York.  New Yorkers have heart. To help you further understand what I'm trying to say I wanted to share with you some truly normal conversations that happen with great frequency in my daily life.  

On the R train with my girls after a long day of fun the train approached Roosevelt Ave and on came one of my local CVS pharmacists, a 60 or so year old woman.  She sat next to me and for the rest of the ride we spoke about her day at the Bronx Zoo. That conversations included sharing photos, talking about her work schedule and the fact hat she hit her 10,000 steps for the day.  

Last Friday Morning
Working on some writing at Starbucks that morning, two older Jewish women told me that they thought my laptop looked really nice. She proceeded to share with me how her laptop was so heavy she never moves it. Except this one time, when she went to her sisters because she was sick. Then it wouldn't work, so she used her sisters.  The other woman then helped her realize, by telling her 3 times in 3 different ways,  that she just wasn't connected to the Wi-fi.  (FYI - My laptop is a low end Lenovo) 

Starbucks, 2016
One of my baristas shared with me how he never worked on Sundays because no matter what he does on Saturday night his abuela (grandmother) wants him in church and he goes.  Then he shared how much his life will change when she and his parents move to Florida the next year.  He is both excited and anxious.

Uber Driver, 2015
Heading to my local mall on a random errand run with my girls, my driver shared with me about how grateful he was to be here.  When I inquired as to why, he explained it was because he could practice and observe his Christianity with much more freedom than back in his home country.

NYSC, 2014
One day as I came into the gym the receptionist shared with me her worries about her son - his struggles with school, their upcoming move to Michigan etc.  The only thing that gave her peace was that her church the Jehovah Witness Hall was helping her get set up.   

Waiting Room at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Early 2011
In 2010 and 2011 I would accompany my dear friend to chemo and on one occasion I got there early.  As I waited I met Despina.  She was a women in late 70's waiting for her chemo appointment all by herself. She had children but she was always there alone.  At the end of our conversation, she handed me a change wallet with a dollar in it.  It was a thank you for merely visiting with her for 15 minutes. I still have the wallet and the dollar. I'll never spend it.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Dissent - A Tenet of Democracy

Dissent according to Google means "to hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed." Dissension in its truest form is a tenet of democracy. It is one of the sweetest fruits of freedom.  Starting on on December 19, 1773, when the most important act of dissension took place in the Boston Harbor.  The Sons of Liberty, revolting against the previously accepted practice of paying taxes to England, threw chests of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor.   Dissension was the only way.  They didn't necessarily know what was coming next.  But what they did know, without a doubt, was that taxation without representation was just wrong.  This was a pivotal moment of dissension for our country, and there were many more to follow.

Now, 244 years later that country can't seem to disagree without having a nervous breakdown.  Any act of dissension is deemed unpatriotic. There is an expectation to get in line.  There are those who are quick to remind you of the soldiers who died for what - for you to spit on the country.  These days online it is like the age of McCarthyism.  Friends argue incessantly, un-friend each other,  and hide each others posts if opinions don't align with their own.  To be clear arguing is not the same as ideological sparring. Sparring does not evoke name calling. All of this madness is simply confounding. Edward R. Murrow made it clear when he said, "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

The nation we call home, right now was built on the backs of dissenters.  We have not descended from a line that merely gets in line. Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us that, "Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." There were two pivotal workers strikes in Pennsylvania - one in 1889 the other in 1909.  Both strikes were to protect workers wages and in one instance to protect the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union.  In both cases there was violence. Yet, both cases resulted in the preservation of workers rights and the continued existence of the steelworkers union. These workers had to dissent. In one instance the railway car builders were being paid via a pool system that changed daily at the whim of the foreman.  They had to eat, they had families and wages that weren't set were prohibitive.  What these workers did was in perfect alignment with the dissension that founded this nation.

Yet today, whenever an act of dissension turns even remotely uncivil there is a high brow clearing of the throat elitism that reveals our collective ignorance of what real dissension and nation building looks like.  We are still a nation under construction.  Yet we act like any act of disturbance is beneath us as a nation.  Instead of understanding that discord brings about a new day. We find proof of that in music - harmonic resolution can only occur with discord.  We find additional proof in science  - with the smooth finish of a stone that only happens when friction takes place.  Yet, we treat the state of the nation as if it were as fragile as a fresh egg.

This is a nation that has endured one movement after the other.  Each movement found its footing in the act of dissension. Dissension can be a petition, a letter to a leader, a blog, a strike, a walk, a boycott, and according to google dissension can be merely "holding" an opinion. If your daughter participates on a schools sports team she can thank Bernice Sandler and the 269 letters of complaint she filed that eventually led to Title ix.  The simple act of boycotting grapes grew to a boycott that included 14 million Americans in 1969, causing the Delano growers to sign with UFW - which brought much relief to the farmers and workers that were paid poorly and treated unfairly. Each act has led to a necessary change.  In the words of Antonin Scalia  "A good, hard-hitting dissent keeps you honest."

As we move through this time of true national division - we have to stop pretending that dissension is unpatriotic. Just the opposite. In order for our union to remain strong we must dissent when the situation calls for it.  We need to be able to sit around a table with eight seats and eight different opinions.    If you can't do that, if you can't support the ideal of dissension, then I fear that it isn't democracy you love. Simply put, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members..... Democracy represents the whole, not the faction, not the squeaky wheel, not the richest, not the poorest, not the most religious, not those who have been here longer, not the newest of us, but all of the above.  And from time to time, dissension must occur, ensuring and proving the durability of a free and strong nation full of the truest of patriots.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Outrage

This time last year as the Presidential Primary process was just beginning in all of my imagination I could never believe that today we would be where we are right now.  Seriously, of all the outcomes - this was dead last on my list.  Now, on this side of history I understand it and hate it all in one breathe.  The electoral process as designed I have deep respect for.  Politics and the nuisanced dances it takes to make a country and the world work have long captured my attention.  But this - this bastardized process, the permanent case of amnesia that seems to plague both sides of the electorate, and the persistent intolerance of exercised freedoms that are so sacrificially fought for is at the core of my outrage.

As snow fell last Winter, rumors fell like snowflakes that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was repeatedly interfering with both the caucus system and debate scheduling.  Despite the inability to substantiate these claims - the conservative media ran with the story calling Hillary Clintons ascension a coronation.  It would become clear in the heat of Summer, as the DNC Convention was about to begin, that these claims had legs and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, would soon find those legs cut off.  But it was too late.  Bernie Sanders was forced to get in line and his supporters were bullied into doing likewise. And yet after all that, there was an air of arrogance, a sort of counting your chickens before they hatch, that allowed the campaign of Hillary Clinton to overlook and under-address real voter concerns.

Meanwhile over on the RNC side a more complexing story was unfolding.  As the snow melted away and the Republican candidates withdrew one by one. It became very clear that both the party and the media were out of touch with deep issues that were plaguing the very constituents they were trying to woo. They (Republicans) were loyal through 8 years of George W Bush and still ended up with nothing to show for it. Then after eight years of President Obama, a man who they villianized and refused to legitimize, they were ready for a real Maverick.  Before we knew it, all the other candidates were gone and Donald Trump remained victorious.

In years past, the religious right would played the role of Scrutinizer In Chief. Mitt Romney's failure to secure the GOP's full support rested solely in his Mormon faith.  Despite the alignment in values - the division that doctrine created made Mitt Romney the wrong man for the job. But this time around - the church was done with loosing. They were willing to look past Donald Trumps failed marriages, rumored romps, foul language, massive ego, and policies that fail to align to Christian values in order to secure the White House. The end goal is the overturn of Roe V. Wade at all cost. And if you ask some, this will cost the church current members and the ability to reach future members. 

 Now in this bleak mid-winter we are buried in a blizzard of hypocrisy.  At times it feels like we the citizens are stuck between two first graders that are screaming  - He Did It  - No She Did It.  The GOP wants everyone to move on when their current Commander in Chief didn't move on until about a year ago.  The Dems are outraged at being lied to out-rightly. Lest they forget how the media was misled about a certain videotape and country called Libya.  The party that elected a Commander in Chief who at the onset of his campaign was so fouled mouthed is now feigning offense at a foul mouthed Pop Star for protesting doesn't reconcile.  What neither side is willing to admit is that they both use the same methods and they both characterize those methods as audacious.  

As this process has moved along, it has become increasingly clear to me that we don't understand how freedom works.  We have soldiers dying for our freedom to practice or not practice a religion, to speak or not to speak, to protest or abstain, to vote or not to vote, etc.  Yet, when anyone exercises a freedom that offends us, or ones expression doesn't match our own we call them unpatriotic.  And realize that if you loose an opportunity because of a freedom you participated in - understand they are free to do so.  This is freedom, plain and simple.

So currently I sit here outraged. As some would describe it, I live in an urban liberal bubble, Yet most of my huge (not bigly) extended family are proud passengers on the Trump train.  I know, that my family has been devastatingly impacted by trade decisions and I also know that they are lawful highly responsible gun owners.

My family has a long long and respected tradition of military service- my Grandfather fought in WW I, 4 uncles fought in WW 2, 2 Uncles fought in the Korean Conflict, 1 Uncle was in the service in Germany during Vietnam, and a wide variety of cousins have served and still serve.  I may not always meet them eye to eye ideologically, but understand their concerns and respect them dearly.

All the while I live in a city surrounded by people that are being dramatically affected by the new Presidents policies. Issues that if you don't live it, you may not fully appreciate it.  The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I understand that there is no black and white.  There are varying shades of grey that require contemplation.  So, here I sit outraged.  

The only way forward I see is to let the process as laid out by our forefathers play out. We must exercise the freedoms we have with the wit and wisdom that keeps us civilized.  We must remain diligent; reading always, deciphering always, empathizing always, and dissenting as required. And most of all, let's restore our respect for each other.  Because when all the dust settles, and this presidency has run its course, we have to move forward with each other.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What We Tell Our Children

When Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, I was in the fourth grade.  That night, I cried.  I cried because I liked President Carter, and to my little 9 year old heart I felt bad that Amy Carter would have to move out of the White House.

Tonight, as it moved into the darkest part of morning, it became painfully clear that a Trump presidency was no longer a possibility, but an absolute certainty. As we wait for the Sun to rise and wrestle with the need for sleep, the issue, as I scrolled through my feed for many parents rests in what to tell their children in the morning.  

As a politics obsessed mother of two, I was so eager to get my girls looped into the years election.  But, as the cycle droned on it became a challenge. There were times when the topics were just not age appropriate for my girls.  But, we can't hide it all from them. So eventually they caught wind of the many foibles and flaws of then candidate Donald Trump.  And now we have to face their shining faces in a few hours with an explanation that will equip them with truth and yet not destroy their faith in our country.  

So to the families that are wrestling with this, here are a few ideas to help you shape that important conversation.  

1.  Loosing is hard.  But, that should never stop us from trying again.  We don't give up. In four years, we will get another chance to vote for the President of the United States.  In the meantime, we do our best to be our best.

2.  What is right and what is wrong has not changed.  When someone who is acting badly wins - that does not mean that their behavior was/is right.  Eventually we all reap what we have sown. We need to keep listening to that little voice, our conscience, and act accordingly.  

3.  Adults can be afraid too.  Many Americans yesterday, went and voted for Donald Trump because they are afraid. They fear that we, as a country, have been making mistakes that are hurting us.  So, they voted for what they believe is a better future.  We simply may not agree on how to make our future better.  

4.  People can love this country but not agree with each other.  We are all different in so many ways and our ability to agree should never stop us from working together and respecting each other.

5.  The majority isn't always right.  Between you and me (Mom, Dad) history is rich in examples of the herd mentality gone wrong.  Again, we need to listen to our conscience.  There will be times when we need to stand alone, firmly on what we believe despite the voices that surround us.  This little lesson should be familiar to all of us.  Remember.....if all of your friends were going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump off too?

6.  Depending on the age of your child, this might also be a good time for a tiny civics lesson - with a focus on citizen participation.  Explain, that they can write letters (send e-mails) to their representatives if they don't like something.  Introduce them to the concept of a petition.  

7.  Remind them that we don't just need good leaders to make this country great. We make this country great, with every kind gesture and act of charity we do. We start by loving and caring for our neighbors and neighborhood.  

Most importantly, they will look to us. They will listen to what we are saying and watch how we react.  Children hear what we say,. But, they focus more intently on what we do and how we do it.  So they will be listening....they will be watching.  And above all, be honest.  Integrity and truthfulness have been such a hot topic during this campaign.  Let them see the truth in you.  Because, when things aren't going your way, it is great to know you can trust your parents.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Don't Be So Predictable

The myriad of misery that we are confronted with on a daily basis is one very large tangled mess. Every morning before my feet hit the floor, I check my phone and read through all the news tweets that have pushed through to my phone overnight.  And, it has been a long time since I was greeted with good news.  A bit later in the morning I click onto Facebook, and the news gets even worse.  How?  Scrolling through my newsfeed, I see one predictable reaction after the other.  If only the solution to all of this incessant madness were as easy to obtain as your status update was to post.

To know me, is to know that I do enjoy Social Media.  However, the events of the first week of July, this Summer, had me disturbed to the point where words escaped me.  I went silent on Social Media.  And when I finally did post something, it was a picture. Then a day or so later I posted the prayer of St. Francis.  The persistent onslaught of anguish and agony in this world is not something that can be boiled down into a meme. These issues deserve our reflection and serious consideration. It simply drives me insane that we are so flippant, so absolutely glib about issues that seem to have us completely off course.

The world we live in gets smaller and smaller. We learn about international issues as soon as they occur.  On  the evening of July 21,  as my husband and I left NYC, headed to upstate NY, story in Turkey began to unfold.  There were tons of moving pieces and a lot we did not know. As I was the passenger and had the great "fortune" of NYC Friday commuter traffic, I began to look into the issue a bit deeper.  By the time we got to our destination, we had a better handle on what was happening and where it might be headed.  We didn't draw any immediate conclusions.  It would have been easy to be outraged that an army would do this to its leader when he was away.  Given my husbands families history with Turkey, we could have easily cheered them on, hoping for the destruction of Turkey.  But you see Turkey is important for countless reasons. There is nothing simple when it comes to Turkey.

We need to stop and grapple. But we don't.  We are so hell-bent on proving our position right that we fail to dig beyond the surface. I the thrust of Olympic excitement, as I was scrolling through Twitter, I was stupefied, we had managed to politicize an Olympic Event.  Ginny Thrasher, on day one of the Summer Olympics, captured gold in the 10-meter air rifle event.  She not only won the event, she set an Olympic Record.  But, suddenly all of the NRA sympathizers were giddy and propping her up to fortify their gun positions.  Yet, based on her recent interviews  - she believes that the controversy surrounding gun control in our country distract from her sport. Days later Gabby Douglas underwent intense scrutiny for failing to place her hand over heart during the medal ceremony as the U.S National anthem played.  Have we only one lens through which we see the world?

As this election has droned on, I hear one thing that all sides of the aisle agree on...everyone is sick of politics. Yet, everyday I see countless political posts and they seem to grow as we draw closer to November 8. And the sad thing is, half of these posts are riddled with inaccuracies. I don't care if you are "with her" or you want "to make America great again" - take a moment to ensure your posting is accurate.  And don't be so predictable.  If the way you see the world, or your lens hasn't changed in 20 years, you are not a thinker. You are in a rut.