FIRE

The West Coast of America is on fire. Normally that would be deemed a ridiculous exaggeration. Today, it isn’t. We’ve had more than a share of breathing in smoke this summer where we live along the frontline of the Rockies. As I write the now too familiar tale of growing fires, rage out of control in California, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Reports abound from friends in these states whose circumstances range from coping with copious amounts of ashes falling from the sky, to having newly been evacuated, to having escaped with only their lives as their homes spontaneously combusted behind them. At this writing Mother Nature continues to spew forth her rage at what we’ve wrought, with no immediate end to the ongoing catastrophe in sight.

I drove through Yellowstone shortly after it had been ravaged in 1988. What struck me most was the evidence of fire’s surgical precision. Charred stumps stood next to barely singed emerald evergreens. Evidence of mercy? Of a random act of kindness? Of nature’s economy? Of the hand of God? Perhaps all of the above. I talk to the fires in my mind as I hear accounts of them encroaching on friends’ communities. “Be precise”, I tell them. “Take what you need but leave what is not yours.” It is the same voice I heard in my head when I was in the black hole of depression years ago.  Teeth chattering, I would say to the dark side “I acknowledge your presence and you may not have me today.”  That would not solve the inner upheaval but it did get me through the next minute and the next until finally the dark abated and the skies cleared.  

Three weeks after 9/11, a friend and I walked the perimeter of the Twin Towers’ ruins.  Our nostrils burned with the stink of sulphur, ours and everyone else’s cheeks were wet with silent, involuntary tears as we walked on the traumatized, turn sacred pavement.  At some point we stopped, rather were stopped in our tracks by the fallen, now twisted facade of one of the towers that stood before us. You’ve seen it..that mangled, once beautiful grid. In that moment I felt I was staring, plainly, into the face of evil.  That’s how the fires seem to me and somehow its all of a piece with the foment we’re living in America. Democracy under threat, the recent and continued ravaging of environmental protections ratcheting up the attack on our planet for the sake of profit, the anguish of racial injustice finally coming to the fore, not to mention the ravages of Covid…the list goes on.  A great deal has been unleashed on us to process, to live through and in spite of, to keep our flames of hope and joy and wonder alive. 

And yet….stories of incredible generosity abound. Reports of neighbors banding together to keep watch,  of dropping everything to help a family in danger evacuate. Prayer circles, inter faith and otherwise, have formed in number. Extraordinary acts of heroism on the part of fire fighters are ongoing. These outpourings of the very best of humanity, I chose to believe, will ultimately calm all the fires we’re living through at this moment. May it be so sooner than later. 

Mazama’s Bodhisattva Blue

I got to visit a gorgeous place the other day, Crater Lake, Oregon. Sitting at 6500 feet, with a perimeter of 913 kilometers, it’s round basin is filled with Bodhisattva blue waters. Klamath Indians call it Mazama. According to their lore Mazama is where the spirits of the Earth and Sky often come to talk with the people. A place where the forces of the Below-World are imprisoned forever beneath the weight of the lake’s surface, and calmed by her tranquil waters. It has been and remains a favored spot for Vision Quests.  Absorbing its transportive elegance, its easy to understand why. 

Klamath oral tradition holds a memory of when and how it was created 7700 years ago after the volcano erupted, collapsed in on itself to create a perfect basin which, over the centuries, has captured and continues to hold only the purest waters. So pure that no bacteria grows in it even today. I’ve heard of and sometimes experienced various sorts of geological phenomena…earthquakes, eruptions, shifting sands..but a crater lake? New to me. 

The geology of any one of our life paths is one lens through which to look back.  We’ve all had tectonic plate shifts, tremors, mountain ranges of immeasurable beauty emerge unexpectedly, glaciers carve valleys both awe inspiring and austere. Looking at the lake I think maybe we get to experience crater lakes too.  When something blows up to the point that it collapses in on itself and leaves a gaping hole in our lives.  Looking at Mazama I could see that that doesn’t have to be the end of the story, of any story. That a cavity does not have to be without meaningful purpose. It can, over time, become a vessel of wisdom and make peaceful the Below World of our lives, be a place so pure no rancor grows but instead boasts wondrous, still beauty.                                                                                                                                  

In meditation today, I was suspended somewhere in space. I could look up and feel a part of the stars. Looking to the east the regenerative dawn, the west the call of the frontier, south the encouraging warmth of the sun, north, the straight and narrow clarity of direction forward… forward momentum that beckoned.  Looking down I could see all my tears have not been for naught for they’ve filled cavities, watered the good ground that in turn has translated them into new life. Nothing is wasted, everything matters because everything folds into itself to ultimately find purpose. Thank you Crater Lake. Thank you Mazama. 

The Gray

I’m not ready…but here it comes.

I have many beautiful girlfriends. I’m writing about one in particular this morning…a person who has been like a sister to me for over 40 years. She’s an accomplished woman who has moved full tilt into life at all stages and we who adore her have always noted among other things, how fabulous she continues to look.  Fit, trim, lithe…the works. 

I’ll ramble here for a bit and eventually work my way to the thought  I’m trying to pull into focus. 

I know our experiences in the isolation of this quarantine chapter in all our lives are varying greatly. I have pals who’ve been stretched more than thin trying to be all things to all people working full time from home whilst continuing to raise their young children in a world of no playdates, schools, nor camps. Still others have been handling the stresses of keeping safe whilst being out in the workforce. Some of us fortunate enough to be able to shelter at home have taken on new projects.  I’ve started, however haltingly, to play the piano again. Be grateful you’re not under my roof to hear the struggle.  I’ve managed a couple of paintings…not that they’re good but I’ve enjoyed the process. Both of these I might add have proven somewhat antidotal to the heartache and madness we’re all witnessing. I’ve tackled house projects…upholstered, spackled, painted, etc. Believe me you would not want me to come anywhere near your house projects. In the fixing up department the success rate on home administered hair cuts, I’ve noticed kindness of social media posts, have varied enormously.

The mention of all this is a preamble to not being prepared for the update my beautiful girlfriend sent out this morning.  A photo of herself gorgeous as ever but with her long brown tresses shorn to a chic close crop and gray. Gray? Wait! If she’s gray then I am too. If she’s gray then she’s embracing her age, means she does not have endless years ahead to lead the charge as she has always done. Means that perhaps she has some aches and pains, that she’s entering a chapter when the horizon is not necessarily more life but you know that other thing. Death. There I said it.  Not that death itself is scary…that feels more like a new beginning to me…but to cross that threshold means to say good by to all of this, to the-infinite possibilities of life, that time is up, that the story is written, the chapters done. It means that the time for building has passed.

This begs the question “What about the chapters I thought I’d have?” If she is gray then the time for those dreams has passed and it is time instead to begin to look back and accept the brutal fact that I missed the boat on many fronts…not, mercifully on all but totally, tragically on some.  If she is gray I will have to make my peace, deal with the left undone-ness of life and come to terms with the fact that there are things I will never attain in this life time, that I screwed up, got unlucky, lived a life in some ways I intended and in other ways absolutely did not.  It means that some losses will go unredeemed, full stop. Life’s gains will not be castles so much as buoys I got to hang onto on the stormy sea of the story of my life.

But if you embrace the gray…what are the gifts? Does it mean that you’ve earned the privilege of finally giving yourself permission to say out loud how you really feel at times and to not continue to pour energies into those you should not? Is the letting go of dreams, whatever they may be, a grace note? A shelter from the exhaustion of longing? A blessing of forgiveness for others as well as for yourself? Does it mean to step off the gerbil wheel and exist in the contentment of now? If so, then maybe I am ready after all.

Bring on the gray. Metaphorically anyway…in the meanwhile I’m not quite as brave as my beautiful girlfriend has been so for now anyway, Amazon…one more box of Clairol please.

Forbearance

When my son was 5 we’d moved to a new city in the middle of winter. His lip quivered as we parted on his first day at his new school but his little self sucked it up and marched into the classroom. All day I fretted over how he was coping. When it was time to collect him 4 hours later, one of the longest four hours of my life, he bounded out of the school bursting with glee anxious for me to meet his new best friend Zack who towered over him, indeed still does. Playdates turned into sleepovers, birthday celebrations, ski trips and the obligatory rounds of playful boyhood mischief. 

One of the gifts to me of this fine friendship has been knowing Zack’s Mom, Ghislaine. The weave of our friendship deepened as we moved through our boys’ various rites of passage together. Conversations covered all aspects of our lives…from the joys and mysteries of parenting, to the stresses of being sole financial providers (both of us divorced), to the challenges of balancing career with Mommy duties. We were constant, bolstering resources for each other for tutors, coaches, minor medical issues, sales on school supplies. When it came time for our boys to get their driver’s licenses we fretted. Would they be good drivers? Would they, please Lord, be safe? Responsible? We talked about everything…or so I thought. 

A year into the boys enjoying autonomy zipping around town in their respective cars, a young African American man not much older than our sons was wrongly felled at the hands of a white police officer. Then another and another. I’m a white woman and with great remorse I confess that I had not been aware that these shocking, tragic and senseless events had been a fact of African American life. My veil of ignorance began to drop and as I started to become aware of a level of terror I’d not even been cognizant of, I called Ghislaine. Addressing her for the first time through the paradigm of my being white and she being an African American woman, I asked her if she had always been worried for her son Zack’s safety over and above the obvious dangers of driving on account of his being African American? There was a long pause, a deep breath and a simple, thundering, “Yes.”  

How was it possible that through the myriad layers of conversation this excruciating concern had never arisen? What metal of forbearance, of long-suffering was at play in juxtaposition to my blindness? 

In George Floyd’s final moments of slow assassination he cried for his Mother to save him. Experiencing the involuntary, primal rage and grief that ignites in me I am astonished at the forbearance so very many African American mother’s who have suffered the ultimate loss have maintained.  From what depth of faith have too many found the will to turn the other cheek let alone get out of bed in the morning?  I would not have it, I’m sure I wouldn’t.

These words, this confession of ignorance comes out with Frankenstein like awkwardness. I do not know how to begin to have this necessary conversation. What is the starting point? From where does the tide turn? Do we at first have to see one another as separate in order to come together? Is that the process? Have we all along been lying to each other? Will our voices unite above the cacophony of suffering in a universal cry to find higher ground together? I pray we will.

I continue, in the meanwhile, to be astonished at the level of forbearance expressed in the midst of the ongoing protests. This letting out of grief, rage, fear is needed. This unveiling. I need it. I need to hear it, witness it, understand it, bear its burden to the extent I can, be culpable to the extent I am. 

Saints and all that is holy, please protect all our children, keep them safe from harm in order that they live to thrive in better times than these. 

The Tunnel

I like to ride my bicycle. That was likely a statement I uttered for the first time at four when I was wont to pedal my red tricycle as fast as I could to the edge of the world. Of course the edge of the world then was to the post box at the end of the driveway but still, those wheels took me to new vistas with discoveries and challenges aplenty along the way.

For many years I was not biking but rather would pedal vicariously when I could get my brother in law, Larry (an expert and daring bicyclist) to tell me of flying over boulders and tackling near perpendicular single tracks.  Next lifetime for me on all of that, however, he did inspire me to try fire trails which are in abundance where I live. I knew from hikes that these fire trails were wide, well maintained and boasted no boulders.  Boring for most, perfect for me.  

So, one morning about 15 years ago after getting my son to school, I GPS’d to a nearby fire trail and dragged my spanking new bike out of the car. Helmet, gloves on, shoes clipped in and off I went sailing down the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains with the Pacific Ocean in full view. I was in heaven. Wondering why I had stayed away so long from one of life’s great pleasures blinded me to the fact that every stretch I was sailing down was every inch I’d have to climb back up.  At the eventual stopping point I caught my breath and started pedaling…up, ever up.  You will quickly surmise that I’m no expert on wheels.  I panicked when a heavy patch of gravel lay ahead.  Helpful sayings like “You’ll fall! Get your toes out of the clips! Careful! Danger!” were just some of the voices that would go off in my head.  More often than not, down I’d go. Besides hurting, this started to piss me off so I started to experiment with mind games that might distract me from the mental fear trap that would gape wide open at the slightest challenge ahead on the trail.  To my glee I discovered that looking past the gravel patch or deep divot to a smoother patch just a bit further ahead, allowed me to sail past the challenge with no effort at all. OK, I get it…don’t get so focused on the challenge at hand that you loose your way. In life too? Why not. 

I became brazen. When a Colorado pal invited me to go up a single track through some pines I accepted. Things were going so well until I missed a turn and came off the trail. Mid air and still clipped in I heard a voice in my head say “I don’t belong here.” Got lucky. Crash landed to no ill effect except ofcourse to my pride.  Another life lesson…”Don’t be an idiot.”

These days I’ve been riding a trail that was formerly a railroad bed wending through the mountains. Perfect for me…flat, gorgeous vistas, graded inclines. There is however a tunnel. Uh oh. They ignite all those pesky voices. Ofcourse I could solve the pitch blackness of them with a helmet light but…I don’t know…maybe its the Yankee voice in my head that says that would be weedy. 

In an effort to foil the upcoming darkness I developed an utterly unglamorous system that’s equal parts superstition and logic. I shut one eye hoping to acclimatize atleast one eyeball to the void into which I’m about to enter. At the last possible second I lower my sunglasses, open the sealed lid and hope for the best.  All would go well for the first few meters but then, no matter what time of day, there would come that utterly disorienting moment of being plunged into total darkness save the mouth of light toward which I’d now be pedaling furiously.

Until recently panic would arise, my body seize up, I’d white knuckle grip the handle bars. Challenged by real and imagined giant potholes, what sense of center I’d been enjoying in the light of day would give way to the certainty that with nothing to orient myself, I would loose balance and crash…and did so more than once.  That pissed me off again. With nothing but black void to look ahead to the previously discovered remedy would not work here. The only place it seemed I would be able to go was inside….me. So I did. Easiest way in was to breathe, something I realized I’d not been doing in the tunnel.  Breathing, besides being good for you if you want to stay alive leads to the core, to the center. Riding the breath, if that makes sense…the focus went directly to the center and to everything I needed in the moment: balance, security, safety. Within a few meters I was back into the light, event free.

I look forward to the tunnel now…to the moment of continuing forward by going inward. In fact in quarantine mode, as we all are for now, that seems a pretty good practice to enjoy. 

Happy breathing. Happy pedaling and happy discoveries beyond the post box at the end of the drive. 

Swimming With Turtles

In an absence of a future and in the stillness of the now my mind has been unearthing old memories…really old.  When I was very little, four, I had a pet turtle. We were both little, seems to me he could sit in the palm of my hand. I hadn’t thought of him…or was it a her?…since he wandered off into the garden one day.  I loved that turtle, and somehow I knew he loved me back.  We had a dog…small wonder she didn’t eat Turtle, that was his name. I loved our chocolate lab, Chessie who could play and run and patiently lie at my feet as my four year old self pretended to read to her from my picture books…but Turtle was just there. It was enough, he was enough, I was enough.
The memory prompted a google search which revealed qualities affiliated with these noble creatures such as patience, longevity, wisdom, fertility, persistence.  Dr. Google also pointed out that while slow on land, turtles are agile in water and if you’re inclined toward the symbolic…expert, experienced travelers through the subconscious.  
This could well be defined as a turtle chapter for many of us, after all who better to consult on sheltering in place?  Every once in a while as I shelter I dare to turtle swim through underwater imaginings and envision what the new normal will be when we emerge from this pause and isolation. Depending on the day I’m either buoyed with the discoveries or find myself thrashing through currents of a full on downward dive.  The buoyant version has us all living at a more realistic pace, being kinder to the planet, cherishing what matters and practicing with far greater fluency the better qualities of resilience and compassion. On the downward dive days I fear for my son and his generation’s future, I fear for our nation, I fear for the live arts and the crucial balm it’s connective tissue dispenses. Fortunately a lilac bud about to burst open in my garden or one of the dog’s delight in the moment reminds me that the spiral is mere conjecture and a more immediate sense of self-sustaining life that is good, comes to the rescue. 
Another memory surfaces. A penchant of Dad’s when my sister and I were little was to take us on road trips. When we’d invariably get lost it would never be too long before one in our family declared, “Here we are in this place!” My sister and I would peel with laughter from the back seat…though it was a statement of the painfully obvious it was strangely comforting, grounding. We may not have known where it was but we were somewhere. We were there.
Not that it’s a laughing matter but that’s sort of what it feels like now midst quarantine retraction. We don’t really know where we are but wherever it is, it’s not where we were nor do we have a clear sense of what the road to our destination will be like nor in this case, what the destination will look like when we get there. 
Apparently the assignment du jour besides sheltering in place and washing our hands is to make do with what we have, to sort thoughts and belongings, to support and work to the extent we can and to the extent our life circumstances demand. No small task. It calls on us to be patient, persistent and wise. I look forward to seeing and hugging as many of you as I can in the new normal. In the meanwhile, may the spirit of the turtle be with you. 

Big Dog

I got a dog.  A BIG dog from the pound a five days ago.  I have a history with the pound. Last time I went with the desire for a mid sized, older dog to companion my aging lab. What I came home with was a bouncy one year old blue heeler who turned our lives upside down. As per her herding instincts DNA, she was very bossy…ordering my lab around, nipping heels, human or otherwise to keep them away whether I wanted it or not. The one time she shooed a bear easily ten times her size off the property she got a gold star and a bowl of tuna fish. That sweet doggie now lives on a ranch in Montana. Happy ending for all.

This time I was going for a smaller dog, female, say 5 years old. Predictably I came home with a 70 pound one year old, male shepherd.  The first time he jumped up on me in glee I realized, as I was falling over, that he and I were almost the same height. Moral of the story..do not send me to the pound. 

This four legged had been surrendered to the pound by a family who had lost their home. I wish I could get a message to them to let them know that for all their challenges, their doggie has a home. He came with the name Courage. I liked it. Appropriate for our moment in history but I wanted my son to have a say in this.  We’re 1200 miles apart at the moment so we face timed as our newest family member zoomed around the yard in puppy frenzy, gazelle like taking flight over the occasional bush. My son, quick as a wink said “Rex..let’s call him Rex.” Great name but weird…had my son ever even heard the boyhood story of his Grandfather’s favorite dog, dramatically lost and then found, named Rex?  

The first night Rex spent about half an hour barking at his own reflection in the window, demolished two shoes, pooped and peed on the white carpet three times and woke me up at 2am to play. We had work to do. Luckily he appears to be smart. Day one, he learned how to come and go through the doggie doors, happily chomped on a rawhide chew rather than more shoes and so far no more deposits in doors.  Day two we went for a trial walk on a leash…clearly he had done this before. Next day I thought we’d try for something a bit more ambitious so we ventured up a small nearby mountain. The way up went well enough, the way down was a very different story.  Parts of the trail on the north side had ice. Down I went, cuing apparently Rex’s inner sled dog and away we flew….only without the sled. As it turned out it was a very efficient way down the mountain. I don’t remember when I’ve laughed so hard. Good for the soul even if not so much for the derriere.

In isolation as we all are at the moment, having giant Rex bounce around the property I feel less marooned. He gets me outside first thing, we hit the trails, his joy is infectious. I think pound doggies know they’re lucky.  Rex frequently comes to me unprompted and plops his head in my lap, goo goo eyed. Unconditional love at the ready. Dogs really are one of God’s better inventions.

Wish me luck on day six. 

Dreaming of Joe

I’ve been having bizarre dreams over the last week or so. Reaction I’m sure to our swiftly shifting sands.  Here’s one…
I was in the audience of a one person play being performed by the very brilliant, Joe Spano. So far so good. He was seated at a dining room table across from an empty chair. No idea what the play was about. Irrelevant. 
From my purview I could see that a man in white, complete with a white beret, was approaching the apron with the clear intent of joining Joe on stage. I could see this was about to happen yet felt powerless to do anything about it. Said man in white did indeed climb up onto the stage. Joe, sussing up the situation to be dangerous decided to placate the man and give over to the intruder’s  plan to speak. The man in white explained to Joe that he’d wanted to see what it was like to be a star on stage in front of a large audience. Weird, naughty, innocuous enough but there was an unconscious menace lurking in the man. Somehow Joe understood this and rather than put himself in harm’s way attempting to shut him up alone, Joe decided to let white beret man have his wish.  Whilst the unexpected guest was talking…going on about having had a toxic childhood, escalating in emotional timbre spewing forth emotional vomit…Joe was writing something on a piece of paper. Then slowly, so as not to disturb the man who was now fully engulfed in his own rage, Joe held the paper up to the audience for us to read.  “Are you really just going to sit there and do nothing?? Is this really ok with you, this…what’s going on?”  
What did it mean? Not a clue but it was disturbing even if it was nice to see Joe on stage. 
The next day as I walked blissfully to the off broadway theatre I was working in, a text message pinged. It was one sent to all our cast instructing us please to come to the building and collect our belongings as the run of our show had been cancelled. Not just for the night…for the rest of the run. That night all of Broadway was shut down for the foreseeable future.  The next day all city performances in venues 500 and up were to be closed. Within 48 hours all venues of more that 50…plus restaurants and …well, you’re living it too. I don’t have to tell you. The only thing far as I can tell that is thriving atleast in my neighborhood, are the grocery stores whose lines look like disco club cues from the 70’s. 
Looking forward, I fear for the live arts. Knowing this kind of scenario can pop up now, who will buy a museum membership or live performance subscription? Who will invest in a play without a fiscal contingency plan?  What on earth could that contingency plan look like?  At the very least the quantifying of actual need us mortals have for the live arts will be mightily put to the test. I mean, do we really need them? Will we or won’t we insist on our live entertainment once we’re past this round one of extreme peril? Will the heart and collective psyche again find a way to bring them about in a sustained continuum? 
The weather happened to have been stunning yesterday and what with distancing out of doors being an acceptable form of isolation, I took a long walk.  Normally on such a saunter I’d have passed hundreds of people. Instead, I’d be hard pressed to say I passed 60, if you don’t count the homeless. They were were out enjoying the sunshine in number. My path took me through Central Park. There, patterns were the same but greatly diminished which gave the illusion that things were going on as normal but in fact they were not.  The weekend playing fields were empty of kids and cheering parents. The number of joggers, bikers, lovers…decimated and then some.
I think things die in stages. Posters for performances are still up, there’s still an Arts and Leisure section in the Times but soon there will be no new shows to promote. Does this mean we have atleast for the moment entered anew into the Dark Ages? If so we’ll have to dig deep to rediscover why we as artists do what we do and figure out a way to do it anyway. We’ll have to keep the flame alive and find a way to continue to hold the mirror up to our flawed selves.  Find ways to tell jokes, be the bellwether, companion our common tragedies, rejoice in victories of the human heart, process for the collective the times we’re living in and ignite imaginings of a better future. These and more are the artist’s duties. 

Theatre as we know it came about at the birth of democracy. It companioned democracy’s gestation posing possible scenarios that helped form it’s founding principles. If we are moving into a new reality then isn’t theatre just as crucial now as it was in Greece 2500 years ago? We will have to decide.
In Japan the color white is symbolically reserved for death.  I think the man in white was foretelling a death of what all I cannot know….but something and it’s too soon to tell.  We’ll get through this to some kind of new normal, just as we did after 9/11.  What it will look like in the long term is anyone’s guess.  What institutions, thought patterns, social patterns, greeds and generosities will evolve in the new, only time will reveal.  Artists have a particular brand of stubborn resiliency.  If the live arts are to survive I think it will be up to it’s own community. Maybe tonight’s dreams will reveal something. I’ll let you know. 
In the meanwhile, bravo Joe.

American Citizen

Watching the news tonight I heard myself being called a lot of names I am not. “Damn commie, socialist, a do-nothing, unpatriotic, unAmerican.” On the very off chance that you dear reader see me through this lens, I’d like to introduce myself to you. Though I am a Democrat I am non of the above.

When I was 15 my parents, avid travelers, took my sister and me to Moscow. It was the height of the Cold War but Americans were permitted to travel there in extremely limited number. We were among the lucky few. Going from our world to their’s was akin to entering into a black and white movie. Even a 15 year old could see the soul crushing monotony etched into Moscow faces. With no competitive commerce, no possibilities for new anything on anyone’s horizons, individual expression and entrepreneurial spirit that are so much a part of the free world had been sucked into a black hole. I suffer no illusions about what life could become for the human spirit under a communist or socialist system that allows few freedoms. I had similar impressions in Beijing in the mid 80’s when I got to go there on a black market visa. 

I’ve since had the chance to return to both of those magnificent capitols over the last decade which though they have challenges (don’t we all), now thrive. Judging by the ebullience of their 21st century citizens, the former down trodden-ness had nothing to do with them but rather with the repressive systems under which they had lived. 

I am not a do-nothing. I contribute, work, work hard, ok..play hard too, I stay relatively up to date with trends, news, world events, new books. I chase facts, not doggedly but I rely on a compilation of accredited news sources through which I form my own opinion. I give back, I enlist and yes I could and should certainly do a good deal more than I do. 

I am patriotic. Having been raised overseas I got to experience first hand the envy with which parts of the world used to eye us.  Because we did not experience America tangibly in our daily walk we were free to know it as an idea, an ideal even, a dreamscape…the land where you really could become whatever and whomever you aspired to be. For many years I attended the American School in Japan. Our student body boasted 32 nationalities at the time and countless spiritual disciplines. As a community we were living proof of the best of America’s intent to welcome all and to cherish the ability to live harmoniously with persons of all faiths.  The can do, shimmering American grit with a forward pressing optimism were no doubt romanticized through distance…but every time I came to the US I felt renewed by a spirit of life’s unfettered possibilities and unlimited horizons.

I vote, I pay taxes. I pray. I do not pray against anyone. Not anyone. Not ever.

If you and I happen to be on different sides of the aisle, I bet that if we were to talk for even a short while we’d find we have a good deal more we agree on than not.  I bet we both love our families, want clean water to drink, want our kids to be able to read well and have good critical thinking skills. We’d want for them to be industrious and to contribute to their communities as part of a fuller life. I’d bet we both want decent roads, health care we can afford and would feel for a down trodden immigrant family if we ever we had the occasion to talk with one. 

Shortly after Nancy Reagan died, I read an interview with I believe it was Larry Speakes who had become Acting Press Secretary following James Brady’s injury from Hinckley’s bullet. Speakes recalled that once President Reagan was out of danger from the wound sustained, he’d been in conversation with Mrs. Reagan strategizing on who might be the best person to visit the recuperating President at his hospital bed.  A minister perhaps or close friend? Mrs Reagan insisted it be Tip O’Neill knowing that an invigorating conversation with someone with whom her husband did not see eye to eye would be the best possible tonic. The meeting came about and as Speakes was leaving the hospital room with Mrs. Reagin he’d turned around to witness Speaker O’Neill on bended knee holding the President’s hand as they, together, recited the 23rd Psalm. Now that’s beautiful, just beautiful and representative of the best of America, representative of the best in any of us. It’s also common sense behavior. When the low roads diverge there is always the high ground on which we can meet. They found it. We can too. 

Happy Birthday Pere

My sister came home from school one day years ago, proud to have learned in French class that the word for Dad, was “Pere.” Lingering at our dining room table, we laughed and giggled. In a collective family decision, it stuck. From that moment forward our beloved father was known as Pere. That and so many memories have come to mind today on what would have been Pere’s 105 birthday. He died peacefully at home a little over five years ago now, just days away from becoming a centurion. Four weeks before he took his leave, at 10am this particular morning I felt sure his passing was imminent. Wanting him to feel that he made it to his full 100, I hurriedly filled his syringe for liquids with his favorite scotch, poured a shot for myself, quickly sang Happy Birthday to him and down the hatch went our celebratory liquids. I wondered if, as he lay peacefully with his eyes closed in his little bed, he had heard the tune?  When I then noticed a tear rolling down his aged cheek, I knew he had. 

Our Pere was an American Gentleman. Self made and hard working like so many of our fathers, he had four degrees. Three in engineering…civil, mechanical and chemical with honors from University of Chicago and the forth in drama, from Yale. He never met a stranger, loved our Mother, Marshelline fiercely for 72 years of marriage and was devoted to his family. He had an ebullient optimism, an infectious joie de vivre and an insatiable enthusiasm for learning. One of his many passions was ancient history. Following this interest he took special pains to get all of us on a leisurely and glorious sail through Greece’s storied isles.  Another particular delight for him was a trip to the pyramids in Egypt. 

Reaching back even further in time, he said he would dream sometimes of being able to fly like a helicopter in a time warp over the earth witnessing volcanoes shape mountains, and glaciers cut great swathes to form valleys. He enjoyed his mind and so did we.

In my belief system and I’m bold to say experience, persons you love who have passed on visit occasionally. I don’t mean sit down for a cup of tea nice as that would be, but send signs, make their presence known. 

Two weeks before she died my darling girlfriend who had a tumor on her pineal gland (so named for its likeness to the shape of a pine cone) promised to send a sign if she could, after she died.  Six weeks later whilst walking in the New York City, there in front of me on the ground was a fully intact giant sequoia pine cone. What? “Hi, Heather.”

Mom has visited several times. Once, a month after her death, I was hiking down a hill off the trail with my beau deep in Yellowstone. Processing her absence I was crying most of the way when suddenly her scent was pungently in the air.  So certain was I that she was standing right behind me that I turned around.  There, at eye level isolated and perched atop a giant boulder was a ruby crystal about the size of a baseball. Mom’s birthstone was ruby. “Hi Mom.”

Pere has come to me far less frequently. I would say, but twice since he passed. The more memorable was on a trail we would walk whenever he visited me in LA. Pere loved to hike and had done so with frequency all his life. So, there I was alone a few months after he had died on that beautiful trail when suddenly I was surrounded by a swarm of dragonflies. I had hiked that trail easily 100 times over the years and never had even seen a dragonfly.  I cannot tell you why but I felt in the moment that it was Pere’s presence, that it was Pere accompanying me as he had done so many times, right there. “Hi, Pere.”

There have been other such experiences and ok these may not speak to you, feel free to call me a nut but these moments have been meaningful to me. I have felt both comfort from and a tangible presence of my beloveds gone before.

You will understand then that reading the paper today on his birthday, my eyes fell with some interest on an article about dragonflies. It said new research had revealed that their “neural system is more than 250 million years old.” That they had “taken to the skies long before birds were even on the evolutionary horizon” and “flew with precision much like helicopters, in bursts of speed.” Dragonflies in other words, have been around for a very long time, long enough to have witnessed geological shifts just like Pere had dreamed of being able to witness.  

I hope your beloveds gone before, visit you. I really do. It’s special. We’ll see how it feels when I get there but from today’s point of view, it has made me unafraid to die.

In the meanwhile, Happy Birthday Pere. We love you and now we know, your dream came true.  Enjoy your flight!