Saturday, September 30, 2006

If you are not outraged, you will be!

The Republican head of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, who introduced a bill this summer to protect children from internet predators has just resigned as Congressional Representative from Florida. Why? Because he supposedly sent salacious emails and IM messages to underage pages. (Copies of some of them are online, and they make my skin crawl. These are not marginal in any way -- it is very clearly a sexual and smarmy conversation that you would not want any adult to have with your child.) At least one page told his parents, who told someone in congress. In 2005!!!! Apparently, according to the AP :
" Rep. Thomas Reynolds, head of the House Republican election effort, said Saturday he told Speaker Dennis Hastert months ago about concerns that a fellow GOP lawmaker had sent inappropriate messages to a teenage boy. Hastert's office said aides referred the matter to the proper authorities last fall but they were only told the messages were "over-friendly."

Oh, this is going to be interesting. This is deplorable on so many levels it is hard to list them all.

First, (and in no particular order) someone who may well be a predator, had risen to a position where his job was to protect children. The Chicago Tribune described him as "a firefighter who turns out to be an arsonist."

Second, even after the right parties were told, including the House Majority leader, it looks as though a hush-up was in force. It smacks of the self-anointed immunity of the Catholic Church when they first got the news of abuse in their ranks. It makes me wonder what else and who else has been allowed to walk free while they are known to do this in our government. The House Speaker supposedly knew in July and according to the Washington Post
"And Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) who oversees the congressional pages as head of the Page Board, the group responsible for the teenagers who work essentially as gofers and doorholders for lawmakers, knew even earlier."

Everyone involved in not doing anything says they didn't know how inappropriate the emails and conversations had been. This supposedly exonerates them from responsibility? That they didn't ask? You have a high ranking Congressman on a high visibility committee dealing with sexual predators who is accused of sexually inappropriate behavior with a minor. And they didn't ask HOW inappropriate?

Now all the Republicans are running for cover, distancing themselves in a difficult election year. Instead of demanding an immediate investigation, this has been referred to the Ethics Committee to see if an examination is warranted. Gee, it might take a while to decide..maybe even til after the elections? D'ya think?

In the meantime, how many others were there? How many others are still out there? Let's be honest about what this is -- it is about an abuse of power, no different than in the Catholic church -- where a group of men in leadership positions decide that they are immune from being held responsible to the standards that they are called upon to uphold. It is about an abuse of power where protection of an institution of power is more important than protection of our children. And it is wrong -- not just for Foley, but for all those who "protected him" from justice.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Contemplating Canines

In my current living situation, a dog is not possible ..but when I move in February-ish, first on my agenda after getting a few boxes unpacked is to get a dog. (Cats are out of the question due to my severe allergy.) Plus, my idea of a pet starts at the size "armload". I have been without a dog for many years, and have missed that canine companionship. Working all hours and travelling around the globe and living in and around NYC in apartments has meant no dog.

But the time's they are a-changin'.

Here is my list of Reasons To Become EmPooched.

1. Dogs get it about loyalty and devotion.

2. Dogs give the appearance of listening when we need to talk, and manage to gaze at us soulfully.

3. Dogs play. And big dogs play heartily.

4. Living alone, a dog provides some fine house-guard services.

5. No kitty litter.

6. Dogs tend to be even-dispositioned.

7. No one will ever be happier to see you come home, but after the fuss is made the dog knows to go about its own business.

8. Dogs could teach joy lessons.

9. There is something lovely about the fur.

10. When God handed out The Ability To Communicate His Grace,dogs got an extra share.

11. Dogs cuddle well, like stuffed toys come to life.

I have always had dogs -- Princess, a black American Cocker Spaniel arrived when I was in 1st grade, and she lived until my senior year in high school. She was my friend and defender.

Toby came on the scene when I was 21, a mangy mutt that was half collie and half terrier of mixed persuasions. He could charm the pants of a poodle. Everyone loved Toby, and Toby loved everyone -- even the muggers who robbed us when we were taking him for a walk. He licked their hands. What a pup!

Then there was Free Angela Puppy, a black lab that we sprung from the pound in the 1970's, and most beloved of all, a purebred dark brindle boxer named Argos, the standard by which all dogs must be measured. He was a flawless fit for my dog-needs. I could never have another boxer because I know I would unfairly compare it to Argos, the Sublime Pooch of Blessed Memory.

I have a few friends who are badly dog-allergic, so some time ago I went to the site to what was then their 'select a breed' feature, and I input that hypo-allergenic was a must-have feature for me. They indicated that I would be best off with a Bichon Frise, any of the three sizes of Poodle or the three sizes of Schnauzer, or a Portuguese water dog. All are fine dogs, and I would never give any of them the "show ring haircuts" that make them look like deformed wigs with silly legs.

I have the kind of personality that would love to just rescue a mutt dog from the pound, but I also want my dear friends to be comfortable in my home. And I would never restrict a dog from being able to explore any room in my house.

Then there is the health advantage of mutts, who tend to live longer, healthier lives that a purebred. But the other side of the coin is that a purbred puppy is predictable in size and general disposition, and a mutt puppy is not.

I am smiling as I write this. I have had a rough couple of years here. My life has been turned inside out in more than one way, by more than one event. Yet today the biggest personal worry I can gin up is over what kind of dog to get.

I love an oasis, don't you? They are such sweet miracles.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Finding the Blessing

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
As You Like It

I was talking with a friend who has just had cancer surgery. As a cancer survivor myself (surgery over 20 years ago), I know the scary place she is in right now. Before I had the surgery, I would not have been able to be the same kind of loving friend.

I remember thinking that before I was divorced, I probably did not listen well enough, or deeply enough to friends living through divorce.

And I know that before I lost my parents, I expected people to move through that grief much more rapidly.

Those wounds in my life - whether abuse as a child or hardships as an adult, have been and continue to be blessings in that they have sheared off layers of insulation between me and others in the world.

I don't say this to point at my incredibly flawed self as some sort of example of Lady Bountiful. I will miss a chance to care and to love as easily as the next person -- but I think it is important to find ways in which those things/events/sorrows in our lives are refining us in life's fire -- grinding us fine in life's crucible -- so that at least in some ways we do become better able to hear and be of help.

There have been a few areas of my life that have felt like they were burned to ashes - but if I look honestly enough I will find blessings in those ashes -- tongues in those trees -- sermons in those stones.

It may be that when my life's clock has run its course, that I will be most thankful for the wounds that, when healed, allowed me to better love.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Delicate Balances

I am not a morning person. I have low blood pressure. So, when I wake up, it takes a while to get my old slow circuits humming right along. I warn anyone who will have the occasion to see me in the morning that rational conversation is not really possible before my first cup of coffee is completed.

My ex husband was (probably still is) a morning person. He would arise, relentlessly cheery about the events of the day, or curious about whether I had paid the bills, or wondering if I had decided which items to get rid of from the garage. He would immediately ask me endless streams of questions as though I were absolutlely capable of answering them.

I was not.

I would say things like "Mmmmphhh mkfff." Or I would bury my head under the covers in protest, and as a feckless plea to be allowed to come into the day as I was best able. He, on the other hand, had already been up at some dawn-related absurd hour, made and had his coffee, jogged and showered. He was brim full of endorphins screaming for happy release into the delightful events of a boundless day.

I was not.

Come sundown, the situation reversed with me being raring to go, to do, to be -- and he settling into his short slide into sleep. When he felt sleepy, he would sleep -- even excusing himself from evening dinner gatherings at our own home to do so.

I do believe that a test entitled "Are You A Morning or Evening Person" should be given by clergy as part of all pre-nuptual couseling. I know with certainty that I cannot co-habitate intimately with a man who is a "morning person".

It just would not be fair.

To either of us.

Although it is my personally held prejudice that the profoundly held and expressed cheeriness of the morning person is thin veneer indeed for a latent smidgeon of sadism. My ex even attempted to awaken me once by singing (offkey, as only he could) "Zippidy Do Dah Zippidy Ay, my oh my what a wonderful day..." while accompanying himself on the banjo.

Once, he even tried releasing our two pet guinea pigs beneath the blankets. While this did increase my blood pressure rapidly, as sudden mad panic will, it was far from the kindest awakening I have had.

Now that I ponder these events, he is lucky to have lived to father two children by his second wife. The most I can manage in the morning, anger-wise, is a harsh look. I assume his second wife is a morning person.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Autumn's Coming

Autumn is my favorite season. I was raised in New England, where Autumn is iconic. My little home town nestled in the Berkshire mountains, near towns with little white clapboard churches that stand in stark contrast to the robust explosion of color of the hills that surround them. Autumn has begun to creep up on us - with some vines and some young saplings starting to turn -- and with the return of chilly evenings and nights. Soon there will be frost and the whole coloration process will start galloping down the east coast. The abundance of sugar maples in the northeast cause a great deal of the brighter red colors not seen everywhere.

Each year I start almost itching for autumn to arrive. I love it. I am happiest by far in autumn. Life feels possible in every way in autumn. I don't know why. It has always been so for me. The years that I lived in non-autumnal areas (by Massachusetts standards) brought sadness at this time of year as I missed the changing of leaves so keenly -- but I would still always manage to get this deep hit of autumn that revitalized me.

The season brings forth so much -- scent-memories of fallen leaves buring (before city ordinaces banned the practice) in big burning barrels, or the sight of morning frost still light on the tips of grass, roadside stands full of pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn, yards decorated with cornstalks and jack-o-lanterns, and everywhere this mass riot of color exploding from every corner.

Nature goes mad in autumn, tosses her head and flings her tresses in our faces. In Autumn we learn the passionate, musky, rutting, earthy difference between Eros and Agape. It isn't like the sweet longings of innocent spring. Oh no, autumn is the Harvest of that longing, the bittersweet culmination of the best of what Nature has wanted and waited for through the other three seasons.

This is the time to find a patch of the earth to hurl oneself upon, and to hold it close, to press up against the earth that sustains us. This is when our heartbeats can perfectly match the heartbeat of the earth.



Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fragile Arcs

Well, here I am, almost back among the living. I am still weak as a pup and definitely not well, but I am past the worst of it. I had the strength to actually assemble the ingredients for chicken soup from my fridge and freezer and to hurl them in a pot and cook it today. It strikes me that I need to be better prepared, living alone as I do. I am going to stock in some potein bars and over the counter cold/flu remedies. Oh sure, I might have called someone and asked them to go run some errands for me, but that is not really my nature.

Health is such a fragile arc, even among those of us who are well and thriving. My week of illness has left me watching a fair bit of TV. I saw an appeal for relief of world hunger. It said that every six seconds a child dies of hunger. Every six seconds. That means that even if you read very fast, in the time it took to read only this paragraph two children died. If that amazed you and you had to re-read it -- 3 died.

They are dying like rain.

Rainstorms of dying starved children.

And now 4.

It made me write a check out to my charity of choice. It hurt too much not to. I am too lucky a woman not to. And now 5.

If it is true that we are all God's children and that no life is less precious than another in His sight, how can it be that we let this happen to our baby sisters and brothers? Now there are 6.

Is there anything more important than to help save a life?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

achoo cough snurfle sniff

I hab a code.

I just got back from 4 days in Massachusetts and I have a whomping huge cold.

I can bury my nose in Vick's Vaporub and not smell it.

I'll post again when I feel better (soon)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wait Here -- Godot

I used to be a waitress (back in the halcyon days of my youth). In fact, waitressing put me through college and graduate school. As an English Literature undergraduate major, finding jobs that allowed me to just read books all day was not possible, so waitressing arrived as the next best option. I worked in a Howard Johnsons, in various sandwich shops and family restaurants, in a vegetarian jazz club coffee house and in a fancy tea room. The uniforms may have varied, the menus may have been vastly different, but the clientele was always the same -- by that I mean that they were always "The Source of Income". In America, the minimum wage laws do not apply to waitresses. It is common, even today, to find waitresses earning a dollar or two an hour from their job...depending entirely on tips.

I am an elaborate tipper. For minimally good service, I pay about 20%. A waitress has to be downright horrible to earn leess than that from me. For extra fine service, I pay extra fine tips. If I do not have enough cash to tip, I do not dine out. Tipping in America is not an optional expense, although it is a variable one.

And, like all waitresses, I have my stories to tell about bad tippers - people who "stiffed" me (i.e. left without tipping). There are certain groups known to be bad tippers among waitresses. They are (and yes, there are exceptions -- but one always braced onesself when these groups sat down).

1. A family with multiple children. They may not abandon without a tip, but you can be sure they will make a lot more mess and a lot more demands than other customers and will not factor that in. I even had a woman change her baby's diaper in a booth and hand it to me to throw out. And then tipped 10%.

2. Groups of women. Sigh.

3. Church Groups - these are probably the worst. I once had a group of 20 at a large table. They left me a stack of Bible pamphlets and a pre=printed envelope that said they knew it was easy to store up money in our earthly homes, but that they had a far better treasure for me in the envelope -- and inside was an invitation to worship with them. No tip. None. One hell of a messy table. Lots of trips back and forth. No tip. I went back to the wairess break room and just cried. I was 23 and had bills to pay. My landlady was not going to accept some Bible leaflets as rent.

4. Then there are the innocents -- the first time visitors to the US who may not know that the gratuity is not included in the bill. I tried noting their bills "service non compris" until one man yelled at me "What do you think I am, madame, Stuuuuuuuupid?"

Well, that was long before the internet, Now there are some great sites to vent ones spleen... where waitresses file public complaints about bad tippers and call them out by name! where an urban waiter has his say. where the quest for justice continues.

Guilty Pleasure

I confess. I watch Project Runway . Not only do I watch it, I watch it avidly. Not only do I watch it avidly, I have gotten a friend interested in it as well. Not only are we both interested, but we call eachother during the show to kibitz what is unfolding as the week's drama.

For those of you who have not become so afflicted, the show is on BRAVO network, Wednesday at 10PM. This is its 3rd season. It is a competition among a dozen designers who have successfully competed against others to have berths on the show. The designers are male, female, gay, straight, and from a variety of ethnicities. Each week they are set a challenge, and have to design something in accord with that challenge. They are judged and one person is sent home. The final shows have 3 designers left who then take a month to build their own clothing line, show it during New York Fashion Week and then go through one more judgment for fabulous prizes and cash. For the extent of the series, the designers share living arrangements and a common workroom.

Well, in its defense (or in mine) what I like best about it is watching creative minds respond to creative challenges. I loved the episode in Season Two when the designers were asked to make dresses out of plant leaves and flowers. Occasionally a celebrity will be brought in and the challenge will be to design something for them to wear. Or they will have to make fancy clothing out of recycled paper, or out of whatever they can find to use in their hotel rooms. They've designed for Barbie dolls and for high society pooches. You get the idea.

Tim Gun is the affable mentor who works with these folks, and rather the Greek Chorus figure in the ongoing Sturm und Drang that results from so many high energy creative people competing so fiercely.

Every season I have had my favorite designer -- I was delighted when Jay won the first season, because he was so eye-poppingly brilliant and unapologetically avant garde (yet a farm boy at heart). I was sad when Santino, that LA bad boy with a golden heart, lost in Season Two, but resigned myself to the fact that he had undone himself by sassing back to the judges, who are the Prima-est of Prima Donnas.

Now we are nearing the end of Season Three, and next week's show will narrow it down to the Final Three. We are left with:

Uli -- a lovely designer gal from Miami who keeps designing different versions of long flowy multi-patterned dresses with spaghetti straps or bare shoulders. She is, however, very polite and sweet. And her dresses are really lovely.

Laura - a 40 year old architect, mother of 5 1/2, who wants to change careers. She keeps designing versions of a deep vee necked black dress. Her groove is a kind of stark elegance, but it is starting to feel like Laura -one-note. She always has an unkind word to say about someone.

Jeffrey - This season's bad boy - complete with tattoo around his neck (of his son's name)who designs with a rock and roll edge. Think Madonna. Although he won the week when he did a couture gown, he still has yet to put his stamp firmly on elegant design. He may be the most brilliant of all the designers, but I'm not sure I'd like to have coffee with him.

Michael - My personal favorite. Simple lines, clean construction. Interesting asymmetries. Original concepts. His things look wearable, comfortable, up-market without looking pretentious. He is honest about his strengths and weaknesses, and tries to be helpful to the other designers. I am hoping he makes it to the finish line as the winner.

Am I alone out here? Are there others of you who have secret guilty television pleasures?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Super Soups

My friend Jayne, who loves home-made soup, was just complaining about how hard it is to cook from scratch. Here are a few easy easy easy soup recipes.


1 Chicken. Put in large soup kettle.
2 cut up onions. Add to soup kettle.
1 lb carrots, unpeeled. Cut in chunks, add as above.
1 finger-length pice of fresh ginger, cut in half lengthwise. Add.
3-4 stalks celery, cut up. Add.
some cheery green herbs..I like parsely and dill m'self. Use your imagination.
salt and pepper
Add water to cover. Bring to fast boil. Slow down to a simmer. After about an hour the chicken will be cooked. (You can tell, because when you stick it with a fork, the liquid that comes out is clear, not pink.) Pull the chicken out of the pot. Take the meat off the bones and put that back in the pot. Cook, on simmer, covered for a couple of hours. Add water once in a while. Serve plain or with noodles.

Hint on fat: The easiest way to remove fat from a meaty soup is to let it cool in the fridge. The fat will rise and harden. Lift it off and *poof* all gone!

POTATO SOUP (great for cold nights)

Boil 6-8 peeled potatoes, Big 'uns.
And a chopped up onion.
When potatoes are done, drain, but reserve the water.
Mash potatoes/onions til soup-like with the water in which you have cooked them.
Add salt/pepper. (chopped fresh Parseley and dill are optional but nice)

To serve: Here is the magic. Place a handful of grated cheddar cheese (orange) in the bottom of each bowl. Pour soup over the cheese. At the table, have a bowl of chopped up red onions and a cruet of red wine vinegar. The soup tastes best with a dollop of red oniuons and a splash of red wine vinegar to taste. Trust me -- this soup has always gotten rave reviews, even from the doubtful.


The basics:
1 bag dried green peas
1-2 chopped onions
4-5 cut up carrots
2 stalks celery, cut up
salt, pepper

Put in water, simmer, when the right consistency has been obtained, eat.

The Options to be added when cooking:
Cooked Ham, cut up -- with or without bone.
Fresh green herbs.
chopped cabbage.

Option after cooking:
Throw it all in a blender to get it super smooth if you like it that way.
A dash each of sherry and sour cream when serving.
Croutons on top -- big chunky ones.


Monday, September 11, 2006

for those who DIDN'T die on 9/11

Today I am praying for all those public servants who did not die on September 11th. For all the fireman and policemen and EMT's who lost their lives on ordinary days, on days the media does not commemorate. I pray for the families of these devoted servants who did not get lauded or cared for in the same way as the families who died on 9/11. I pray for their children who were not given the same benefits or praise, who are not reminded daily that their parents died as heroes, too.

I pray for fireman who died in an ordinary fire, and his family.

I pray for the policewoman who died at gunshot in an ordinary robbery, and her family.

I pray for the EMT who died in an ordinary accident and his family.

I do pray for the dead of 9/11. I do not diminish the impact of their deaths. May God rest their souls and comfort their beloveds.

But I pray today for all those who wonder why the deaths of their loved ones are not as honored, as revered. These losses as just as sad, just as meaningful. The child of a man who dies in a car crash mourns no less than the child of a man who died in his office in the WTC. The child deserves no less care. His wife deserves no less attention. Their father deserves no less monument.

The woman who died selling newspapers in the WTC is no more or less precious than the woman who died in childbirth or from cancer. Their families will mourn them each as deeply. Their incomes will be as much a loss to the family. Their chairs at the family tables will be no less empty on holidays because one died on a more historic day than the other.

There will be millions of prayers today for those who died in 9/11 circumstances. So my biggest prayer today is for the families who are not honored, who mourn as deeply, who need as much. My prayers are for those who died in more ordinary circumstance.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Make Over -- Moving On -- Unearthing a Dream

We must either find a way or make one. -Hannibal

I have been thinking about my future. Or, rather, thinking about The Now. I am a consultant, and have been for about 6 years. I chose this way after deciding that I had enough of corporate life. I have done well at it, not elaborately, but well enough. It has also allowed me large blocks of time when I can decide to do things like drive around the country for 3 months -- a luxury never available to me in corporate life. I work mostly at home.

If you had asked me 7 years ago if this would have been possible, I would have told you that it was neither possible nor desireable. Basically, it was not in my "coinsideration set" so it was not even on the map. If a friend of mine hadn't pushed me to speak with someone who had a consultant position open in England for a year, I never would have started. England was the lure, and off I went.

Lately I have been attending to the disposition of two storage units of antiques located 200 miles from me. I have let the effort to acquire new consult projects lapse as I deal with this, just riding along with a couple of ongoing small projects that give me a bunch of spare time.

OK..enough background. Me. Consultant. In NJ. Driving back and forth to Massachusetts dealing with stuff. Wanting to move to AZ or New Mexico eventually. Needing income and needing to settle this estate. I've been going to auctions and am disappointed with the prices that I see things being sold for.

Suddenly I realized that there is an option that I might not have considered. I could move to Massachusetts and sell the estate items myself over ebay and get several times what I would get at auction. This would take a year. . . to move, set up 'shop' and to get it all disposed of.

I could move to Massachusetts -- that would solve so much. (My residence here in NJ would just not work..even if I transported all the antiques here -- it is just not practical for such an endeavor.)

Ok so I am thinking about that -- and marvelling that it did not cross my mind sooner. I think it would make my life a lot better.

While in that state of wonder I was doing some research on the net and came across the Peace Corps site. I started sighing to myself about how I had always wanted to serve with the Peace Corps. About how now it was too late. Then I noticed the whole section they have about senior volunteers, and how they have volunteers in their 80's!

All of this hit me like a brick -- what I had seen for myself over and over again in my life had been too small to hold the real possibilities.

I am not saying that I am about to run off with the Peace Corps -- although someday I might. I am saying that I need to Dream More Largely.

Just think of the top best five things you may have thought of doing in your life, that you have not done -- what is standing in the way? Will it be in the way forever? Why not do what your best and highest dreams tell you?

And so, to whomever reads these words, I lovingly wish BIG DREAMS, expanded horizons, a widening of possibility and a resurgance of life-invention!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How A Polar Bear Came to Believe In Heaven

It's all because of my Uncle Joey.

Uncle Joey (really a rather distant cousin) was a strawboss at a shade tobacco farm, a tough guy in lots of ways. He and his wife, Mary, had never had children; and he and I seemed to form a special bond.

For one thing, I loved his green pick-up truck. It was just so fabulously different from my family's car. On Christmas Eve back in the 1950's, one year in small-town Massachusetts where I was born, Uncle Joey suggested that his wife, his four sisters, my Mom and I all get in the back of his truck and go Christmas caroling. He had piled in some haybales for us to sit on, and had a stack of blankets for us to bundle up with. It was snowing softly.

Off we went to the houses in the Polish neighborhoods. We'd all sing our favorite Polish carols and people would come to their windows and doors and sing with us. It was a magical night.

When we got back to his mother's house (my great-aunt) I was covered with snow, and he called me "his polar bear". I was about 5 and giggled enormously, saying the *he* was the polar bear. Finally we decided that we both were polar bears, and even signed our greeting cards "Polar Bear" for the rest of his life, long into my adulthood.

Joey was a former MP in the Army in WWII. But what was his favorite hobby? He hand-cultivated gladiola plants, and developed his own hybrids. Gladioli were his passion, and he had years worth of painstakingly ledgered references to what strain he had cross-pollinated with what other and the resultant bloom colors. Glad season was always dazzling at his house -- and for the few short weeks they blossomed, it was breath-taking.

Fast forward to me at age 40. I am at work in NY. My mother calls from Massachusetts to say that Joey is on his deathbed, having taken suddenly quite ill. He has hours to live.

I drive 4 hours through blinding rain, but before I do I tell my mother to find glads and to bring them to his room -- "Tell him that Polar Bear is coming." I say.

I fly through the hospital lobby and race to Intensive Care. My mother, bless her, has convinced them to allow flowers in an Intensive Care room - usually a no-no, on the grounds that there was no more damage left to do.

He was a shell of the man I had known, weak beyond imagining, an oxygen mask over his mouth. But he knew me. I hugged and kissed him, quietly crying, and he patted my hand, and said my name. I told him I loved him. He squeezed my hand.

The nurse comes in, looks at the monitors, and tells us he is at the edge -- to say our last words...we hold his hands and his feet (depending on where we are standing/sitting) ..we tell him it is OK to go..that we love him..I tell him I will always be his polar bear and he mine...

The nurse asked me what I said. I repeat it --- "Polar Bear?" she asked. "YOU are Polar Bear? He kept talking about 'Polar Bear' -- 'Polar Bear' is coming. He kept saying that. We thought he was hallucinating!" She tells me that he clearly waited for me.

She encourages us to "talk him across from this life to the next". We do, and my Uncle Joey passes gently across that holy line between one life and the next, encouraged and emboldened by the love of his family. I look at his body and know that what was once my Uncle Joey is now gone.

But this is just the beginning of the story.

That evening I cannot sleep. I am in that wakeful-semi-dream-not-asleep-not -awake state when I see Joey in front of me, surrounded by clouds. He is wearing his old farm work clothes, including his old shapeless hat. He is smiling. He tells me that he is stopping by so that I can tell his sisters and my mom not to worry. He says (in words so perfectly his own) that "Heaven is really the greatest. You know what it's like? It's like playing hookey and not ever getting caught!"

We talked for a while (about family things) and then he started to say good-bye, but he stopped and said - "Isn't it beautiful here?" as he gestured behind him at the clouds. "Oh yes, " I said-- "those clouds -- they are magnificent!"

He got a huge grin on his face and said with his old teasing tone -- "That just shows how much you know, kiddo! Those aren't clouds."

He just smiles for a while. I feel bathed in the love of his smile.

Then he says, as he turns and walks off into them -- "They're Polar Bears!"

Then he is gone.

See it how you will -- a dream , an hallucination, a visit from a beloved uncle who didn't want anyone to worry about him.

From that moment I knew with certainty that Life After This Life was an absolute truth. Thanks to my beloved Uncle Joey.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wrestling With The Angels Again

It was in the early 1980's and my friend Theresa and I were having a glass of wine in the outdoor courtyard of a Denver restaurant called "The Ratskeller". Muzak was being piped out from a local radio station to the courtyard of tables. The music playing was Tom Petty's "Refugee" and we were the only customers on a quiet early evening.

...Somewhere, somehow somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped
Tied up, taken away and held for ransom
It don't really matter to me
Everybody's had to fight to be free
You see you don't have to live like a refugee
I said you don't have to live like a refugee...

We sang the last two lines together.

Theresa, smart and savvy New York Italian that she was, arched one wry eyebrow and said.. "I don't have to live like a refugee, huh?" She paused, and took a deep sip of wine, gazing at me over the rim of her wineglass as she said, "News to me!"

It is perpetually news to me. I am always surprised how much less struggle I have to take on when I stop struggling! Well, DUH.

Attention: All Passengers on Planet Earth: Please Step Away from the Drama!

It is the nature of our brokenness to make simple things -- like love, like joy -- more complex than they really are.

Could it be that we really don't have to live like refugees, after all? I can choose where I look -- at what is absent in my life, or at what is abundant. And when I face my own abundance, I am able to help those who really *are* refugees in the world. When I acknowledge what I do have in life, I see that there is so much to share.

But surely it is not that simple, that facile. Do I have to stretch the reality of who I am to the snapping point before I can be called back into that simplicity? How many angels have to appear for a spiritual wrestling match so that I, like Jacob, can awaken with a new sense of the world and my best most useful place in it?

I think that interim is required -- that exile, that time in the desert -- before we understand that the Promised Land is ours and everyone else's too. The trick is to not fall so in love with the desert that we forget to step into the oasis.

Maybe Leonard Cohen is right when he sings --"Ev'ry heart to love will come -- but like a refugee."


Monday, September 04, 2006

Surgical Wisdom

This past week saw the death of Verna Dozier, an Episcopalian lay theologian. I thank the world of blogs for letting me know who she was. One of the blogs I quite enjoy reading is written by an Episcopalian priest, Elizabeth Kaeton, whom I have never met, although she serves a congregation not that far from me. I stumbled with joy across her blog recently. It is called Telling Secrets. Thank you Elizabeth-whom-I-do-not-know for your words. I may just have to stop into your church some fine Sunday.

Here is one of her memories about Verna Dozier, may her soul rejoice in Glory.

My favorite memory of Verna Dozier is the "charge" she gave to Jane Holmes Dixon at her consecration at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

I'll never forget it.

Ms. Verna, also affectionately described by neophytes to the church as "that little itty bity African-American woman," was in that grand stone pulpit, standing on a box and yet still not quite visible from the congregation.

When it came time for the "consecration charge," she peered up over the microphone and, speaking like the spiritual giant she was said, "Jane Holmes Dixon, stand up."

And, of course, Jane did. Immediately.

She cleared her throat and began, "Every leader in Christian community most often wants one thing," she said, pausing before she continued, "They want desperately to be loved."

The silence was deafening. Everyone in that big cavernous cathedral who knew anything about Christian leadership knew exactly what she was talking about. We held our collective breath waiting for what was coming next.

"Jane Holmes Dixon," said Ms. Verna (but she was speaking to everyone else in the congregation, herself included), "you must find that place in you that wants desperately to be loved . . . and," she slowed down for effect, ". . . let . . .it . . . die."

I could hear myself gasp even over the gasps of recognition all around me.

I'll never forget that moment. Ever.

Whew. This one goes straight through the bones right into the cells. Thank you Verna, and thank you Elizabeth.

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky!

I Am Determined

One regret, dear world,
That I am determined not to have
When I am lying on my deathbed
Is that
I did not kiss you enough.

--Hafiz, Persian mystic and poet

I woke up this morning with the blues. I am 56, divorced, unpartnered, no family, no children, alone in the world in that respect.

My next thought was of my beloved friends, and my dear godson. I immediately had a spiritual slap to my own face, for which I am eternally thankful.

I next went to the computer and clicked on a link in my favorites list. I clicked on the wrong one, and ended up on a site for Sufi poetry, and the above poem was on my screen.

OK God, I get it. Thanks!

I had forgotten for a second how very sweet each moment of life is. What a treasure. What an opportunity to be thankful. For something, for someone.

I went to google and found a prayer for my morning's turning.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;
this is the birthday of life and of love and wings:
and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-ee cummings

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ascribing Value

My head has been buried in the land of auctions and estimates of value lately. It is odd as worlds go. I have a small glass bowl -- maybe 5 inches across with very delicate fluted edges. It is signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is "worth" about a thousand dollars.

This makes me crazy.

Granted, it is beautiful. The irridescent color is soft and compelling, almost mystical. But at the end of the day, it is a little glass bowl. Its utilitarian value is very slight. I have a bunch of plain glass bowls that I use every day that cost me $2 each. And if one broke, I could replace it.

How does one decide that the Tiffany bowl is worth more? Is it prettier? Rarer? Made by someone our culture has decided was important?

Make no mistake; I will happily sell it for $1,000. Or more, if I can get it. But it is not holy, although those handling it treat it as though it were.

In the west we too often confuse what is sacred and what is merely expensive.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Auctions -- Going, Going

I am in the process of trying to select an auctioneer to handle the bulk of items of my Mom's that I now have in two storage units in Massachusetts. I have, with the help of my dear pal Sandy and her husband Jim, gone through 80 boxes and catalogued the contents. I am not done yet. There are maybe 20 more boxes or so, and a lot of furniture, some of which with full drawers to go through.

But the most of it is sorted out between what I will auction and what I will keep. Now to find the auctioneer. Sandy and I have been checking them out and may have found one, but we are not done with our list. This has meant actually attending these auctions, and I am surprised at how much I enjoy that.

There are sites on line like that will show you lists of some auctioneers and auctions in your state. No matter how many you thought there were, you have probably underestimated. There seems to be a never-ending stream of people auctioning off a never-ending stream of merchandise. Add this to ebay and suddenly an entire below-the-horizon economy emerges. Who says Americans don't recycle?

The auctions that I remember from my childhood usually took place in the home of someone who had passed on -- whatever the children did not take was auctioned off by the auctioneer on-site. He would set up a small tent, some folding chairs, maybe a small hot dog and soft drink stand on the lawn, and the auction would go on. The goods would form a picture of that person's life and times.

Today's auctions are indoors in regularly scheduled events that combine the goods of multiple homes. I do not know how it is done in all states, but in Massachusetts there is a difference between an "estate auction" which is pretty much anything ...and an "antiques auction" which has strictly antiques and is full of items that command a higher price and more retail interest. Both are collections from multiple homes or consignors.

Auctions are odd places. It is easy to spot the dealers -- they don't bid the high numbers and they usually buy a lot of stuff. I did bid on a few items, but have long ago lost the ego need to win at my own expense. Not so the man in front of me who spent far too much for something because he didn't want to "lose it" to someone else.

The problem with auctions is that it is easy to impulse-buy. After all, when will you see a 3 foot long wooden sauerkraut slicer again? But one item that did catch my eye which will be sold at an upcoming auction is a beautiful portrait on silk of the Buddha and the 100 bodhisattva. The only problem is, that it was easily 10 feet square. But where would I ever see it again? (you see? Auction fever.)

It is a combination of good luck and judgment to select the right auctioneer -- one who is honest, who will aggressively promote their sales, who has a fair price, a high-dollar audience, etc etc ... and I have never had to do this before. I sure would like your prayers and best wishes that I figure out the best way to make this all happen.
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